Screamfest promises a horror-ibly good time

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Screamfest LA is in town at just the right time of year.
Image: Courtesy of Screamfest LA

The 19th annual Screamfest began on October 8, taking over the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The “Sundance of horror” brought in a massive crowd on opening night with the debut of “Eat, Brains, Love” directed by Rodman Flender. The nine-day festival runs through October 17 and will feature a lineup of independent films that celebrate the horror and science fiction genres.

Film producer and festival founder Rachel Belofsky began the Screamfest tradition in 2001. After nearly two decades, Belofsky has solidified a home where independent filmmakers can gather with fans and other creatures of the night, to not only celebrate their work but to honor the genre itself.

Some of the notable films that have been discovered here include cult favorites such as “Paranormal Activity” and “The Human Centipede.”

The Films and Their Makers

All nine days of Screamfest are packed with screenings and Q&As that spotlight the best independent filmmakers within the genre and the artists who are attached to their projects. The festival essentially nurtures an entire community and celebrates what it means to work hard in order to bring a unique vision to life.

“Killer Date” is among the films being featured this coming week. Director Colton Tran joined the film’s writers, Joey Beni and Brandon Shypkowski, on opening night, marking their very first Screamfest experience. Their short will screen on Sunday, Oct. 13. For those who like a little levity with their horror, “Killer Date” seems like a killer choice. The short gives nods to the horror films of the ’80s and ’90s. It’s loaded with Easter Eggs, conjuring up heavy nostalgia vibes for horror fans.

The Wretched playing at Screamfest 2019
“The Wretched” image courtesy of Screamfest LA

Jamison Jones, whose movie, “The Wretched,” screened on Wednesday, Oct. 9, was also there to kick off the festivities on opening night. The “General Hospital” actor spoke on the choice the filmmakers made to move away from CGI on this project. He says that using practical effects made the film even more appealing. Opting out of some common post-production techniques, Jones says made the whole experience that much better for the actors.

What To Do In Case of a Zombie Apocalypse

Naturally, at Screamfest, the conversation of what to do in a zombie apocalypse came up – numerous times. And we have an answer. In case of an undead emergency, find Hal Sparks. The comedian/actor/musician was on site for Screamfest’s opening night and offered up some advice for anyone who might find themselves caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. “At this point, if you don’t know how to escape a zombie apocalypse, I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you,” Sparks tells The Burn-In.

Sparks’ exit strategy (which involves a plane ride to Napa) sounds as good as any movie. Upon further discussion, it became clear that if zombies were to take over the world, Sparks is the one you would want by your side. “If I die, at least I would die funny. As a comedian, what more can you ask for,” Sparks said after revealing all of the details.

Sparks stars in the upcoming “Laid to Rest: Exhumed,” which is the third installment of the film series from Robert Hall. The two have a history as Hall created Sparks’ creature effects on his show, “Talk Soup.” Hall is one of the best special effects makeup artists in Hollywood. His work can be seen in shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.”

According to Sparks, Robert Englund, Corey Taylor, and Josh Todd are also likely to star in the next “Laid to Rest” movie. The soundtrack will be heavy on the metal; which includes music from Sparks and his bandmate Stephen Brewer. He and Brewer have formed a side project, and their first single will be featured in the movie. Sparks says that the completed project should be out for the world to see by Halloween of 2020.

For The Love Of Horror

On Saturday, Oct. 12, “The Dionaea House” will kick things off. It was directed and co-written by Tom Kircher and is based on the story by Eric Heisserer. The original idea came from a short story that was posted online about 15 years ago. Heisserer, of course, went on to have a successful career after that. He penned films such as “Arrival” and “Bird Box,” which he also executive produced.

Kircher met Heisserer at a film festival while he was in college and expressed interest in turning his short story into a short film. Heisserer was immediately on board. “It was one of the best filmmaking experiences of my entire life,” Kircher told The Burn-In on opening night. “What am I saying? It WAS the best filmmaking experience of my entire life.”

The film becomes even more intriguing, knowing that the composer of “The Conjuring” was in charge of the score. He actually brought in a string ensemble for the project.

“A lot of filmmakers use horror as a jumping-off point. For me, this is what I want to do,” Kircher explained. “This is a genre where you can say things. You can be political, and you can have a message without getting preachy because it’s coated in the context of horror. For example, George Romero [“Night of the Living Dead”] uses zombies to represent different societal problems; like consumerism. Or Wes Craven, who has this intense dig at the Reagans in ‘People Under the Stairs.’ People don’t really do that in other genres.”

The Universal Message

As Kircher pointed out, “What’s funny to one culture isn’t necessarily funny to another, but every culture has ghost stories. And every ghost story has a lot of similar conventions; whether it’s a Japanese ghost story, a Spanish ghost story, or an American ghost story; we all understand what that means. It’s such a rich genre, and I feel like people don’t take it seriously enough. At the same time, you look at things like ‘Hereditary,’ and it’s very powerful. You can make a really rich, dramatic film that also benefits from the fact that it stimulates the audience in a scary way every so often. You can make them intelligent, interesting, and different.”

Kircher also feels that a small budget is beneficial and gives the filmmaker room to play. “You don’t have to do things the ‘standard’ way,” he said. “You can do something where it’s just one character alone in a house for an hour-and-a-half; if you like that character enough, and if what’s happening to them is interesting enough.”

There was a long list of talent on hand for opening night. Among those in attendance were Jake Stark from “A Mother’s Love,” as well as Hannah Reese and Frantz G. Saint Louis Jr. from “Murder Ballad.” Both films will be screened on Saturday, Oct. 12. For a complete schedule, you can visit the Screamfest website. Additional talent will be there throughout the week.

If you’re in Los Angeles, check it out. It’s a scary good time.

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Sari Cohen is a journalist based in the Greater L.A. Area. She began her career in the entertainment industry as a stand-up comedy writer/performer and over the years has developed scripts for both the stage and screen. She currently covers music and live entertainment for AXS, reviews movies for Hollywood First Look Features and writes for InLove Magazine. She also pens funny stuff for popular sites such as Cracked and Screen Rant. You can often find her at concerts or on a red carpet somewhere, talking to someone about something. From on-the-scene reporting to exclusive interviews, she tackles every topic from music, movies and television, to fashion, lifestyle and politics. You can check out more on Twitter at @ask_sari or follow her adventures on Instagram under @thesavvyscribbler.