By GARY BUTLER
Cursed board games, grudging ghost children, vampires as socio-cultural metaphors and not one but two separate twists on Tarantino torture: 2018’s HORRIBLE IMAGININGS Film Festival was chock full of hellish highlights and left no sub-genre on the cutting-room floor of horror cinema.
Convened Aug. 31–Sept. 2, the 9th-annual edition saw H.I. Fest make a significant move: from founding city San Diego, CA to suburban Los Angeles. Santa Ana’s storied arthouse cinema The Frida is the new haunt — if seen only from the street, already a visibly perfect choice given the lit beacon of its entryway-flanking logo: 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL, transformed simultaneously into a hand-held 35mm camera and the theatre’s initial (F), in art deco style.
Can horror be art deco?, you ask. Of course. Tasteful and thought-provoking needn’t conflict with gorey and confrontational (hello, one of my favourite films: À l’intérieur).
The 9th Annual HORRIBLE IMAGININGS film fest kicks off!
Countless selections from H.I. Fest 2018 ably fulfilled this schizophrenic-yet-complementary mandate. Personal highlights included: Vampire Clay (2017, feature; director, Sôichi Umezawa), a twist on cities leeching resources from rural areas; Phototaxis (2017, U.S.A.; short; director, Melissa Ferrari), a palimpsest animation pairing vintage recorded testimony from witnesses of West Virginia’s Mothman with contemporary addicts in recovery; A Death Story Called Girl (2018, U.S.A.; world premiere short; director Nathalia Bas-Tzion Beahan), which places white-picket-fence ’60s pop music front and centre to contextualize, arguably humanize?, a sociopathic murderer; and Tick (2018, Canada; U.S.A. premiere short; director, Ashlea Wessel), wherein classic colonial attitudes towards indigenous peoples are thrust into a future dystopia, to violent and long-time-coming repercussions.
Consider also that none of the superb films I just mentioned ranked as my H.I. Fest faves. For feature, my heart had to go with the win-your-heart’s-desire Hellraiser-turned-board game horror Deseo, Deseo aka I Wish, I Wish (2016, Mexico; director Eduardo M. Clorio). For short, Cerulia (2017, Mexico; director, Sofía Carrillo): quite simply the purest Tim Burton vision I have ever seen (yes, including the entire Burton canon).
H.I. Fest’s relocation was a risky but smart career move for director/curator Miguel Rodriguez, a human Tasmanian Devil with a telltale heart of gold. (I mean it as a sincere compliment when I report that I attended all four days/50+ hours of the festival and never saw Rodriguez stop moving or talking. One wonders if the man even ate or slept. The best kind of networker, his motivation is pure: he simply wants to share the infectious joy of well-executed horror.)
Rue Morgue’s ANDREA SUBISSATI shares the red carpet with HI Festival Director MIGUEL RODRIGUEZ and Suspiria’s BARBARA MAGNOLFI
The greater L.A. area is the right place for H.I. Fest to be, even if the event needs to build a new audience core mostly from the ground up — Santa Ana is a good 90min north of San Diego. Year one at The Frida fell short of selling to capacity but moved enough passes to prove a notable success. Beyond bodies in seats, H.I. Fest was also able to claim numerous world premieres, easily the most significant being a full-length cut of immediate fan-fave feature La Quinceañera (2018, Canada; director, Gigi Saul Guerrero), easiest described as Kill Bill set at Black Mamba’s sweet-15 party.
The mission statement of H.I. Fest is lengthy, but also clearly the product of a great deal of forethought, self-examination and, most important in horror, empathy — like the festival itself, for which some 75 super-smart shorts were chosen from about 1,200 entries, and upwards of 10 fabulous features from approximately 200 (all of them abiding to the criterion: released within one year either side of submission). “Our mission is to amplify voices that express those emotions that make life a little more challenging. Fear, anxiety, despair, desperation, dark fantasy, unhealthy longing, terror — those parts of the human condition all of us recognize, but few of us enjoy talking about. We sincerely believe the sharing of dark stories in community settings of diverse artists and audience members not only exorcises these emotions but also helps to foster empathy through linked experiences.”
RM’s ANDREA SUBISSATI with directors ASHLEA WESSEL (Tick) and GIGI SAUL GUERRERO (La Quinceañera).
JAY K of Horror Happens Radio with BARBARA MAGNOLFI of Dario Argento’s Suspiria.