A Weekend of Weird: FEARnyc 2017

The second annual FEARnyc Horror Film Festival took place October 27th-29th at the Producer’s Club in Times Square. From serial killers to haunted boneyards, satanic rituals, and psychological nightmares, FEARnyc had it all. As a horror fan, it’s been my experience that the genre can sometimes be underrepresented in libraries, so my goal at the festival is to see if any of the new films that premiere over the next week are worthy of being added to collections. I won’t be discussing shorts (which is a shame, because most of them were phenomenal), since they rarely get wide releases.

Below are reviews for the films that really impressed me and that I hope get wide releases in the future. Keep your eye out for these hidden gems if you’re looking to boost your horror collection. The whole schedule is available on the festival’s website.

Scars of Xavier (Germany)
Directed by Kai E. Bogatzki
Starring Marc Engel, Constanze Wetzel, Alexia von Wismar

Xavier (Engel) lives on the fringes of Prague’s society; he works as a car wash guy, has no friends, and he generally tries to stay out of people’s way. All for good reason, because at night, he is a terrifying serial killer, picking up lone women on the streets and taking them back to his flat, with no rhyme or reason.

The main reason why Scars of Xavier is so frightening is that the film focuses on Xavier’s life—his day jobs, his interactions with people, and of course, his murders—all without a storyline of the police trying to catch him. Most movies about serial killers, they all have killer vs. cop trying to take him down? That’s absent from Xavier and you don’t really notice it until the film is over, and you realize that there was no one trying to stop him the whole time. It’s very unsettling.

This is Bogatzki’s first feature, after having served as an editor on a number of independent films (he’s credited as the editor on this film as well), but you wouldn’t know it from first glance. The direction is really tight and controlled, especially during Xavier’s kills. There’s one memorable murder, which is shown in slow motion and in reverse; coupled with Klaus Pfreundner’s heart-pounding score, this scene is truly terrifying. The whole film is like that. It grabs you by the scruff of your neck and doesn’t let go. And of course, there’s gore galore. It features some of the best kill scenes I’ve ever seen in a horror film. Marc Engel’s Xavier is super creepy. Apparently, he and Bogatzki did a LOT of research into serial killers; the result is a seriously unhinged protagonist. VERDICT Got a section on your DVD shelf dedicated to serial killers? Stick this on there; your patrons won’t be disappointed.

Steven Berkoff’s Tell Tale Heart (UK)
Directed by Stephen Cookson
Starring Steven Berkoff, Hugh Skinner, Henry Goodman

Berkoff’s (A Clockwork Orange; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) interpretation of one of Edgar Allen Poe’s most well-known short stories does make you feel a little crazy by the end of the film. The story of a servant who kills his master, dismembers him, hides him under the floorboards, and is eventually driven mad by the sound of the dead man’s beating heart, all because the old man has a weird vulture eye, “The Tell  Tale Heart” is the height of Gothic horror.

In order to enjoy this film, you have to a) be super familiar with the story because the film won’t have as big an impact otherwise and b) you have to be comfortable with basically watching an 80-minute-long monologue. Berkoff is genuinely creepy as the narrator, and he displays varying levels of insanity throughout, but he breaks the fourth wall constantly in order to keep the narration going; if you’re into the sort of thing, then you’re going to love it.

My biggest complaint is that the climax of the story—when the narrator is entertaining the police in the old man’s bedchambers and he begins to hear the old man’s beating heart, which leads him to confess—loses a lot of its potency on the screen. It just doesn’t translate well from the page to the screen for some reason; I’ve never seen any other adaptation of this story, so I don’t know if it’s the source material or the way the filmmakers decided to shoot the scene, but the climax was a little anticlimactic. VERDICT Despite the disappointing ending, the exceptional acting and creepy sets earn this a spot on your horror shelf next to other Gothic horror.

Flesh Blanket (USA)
Directed by Brandon Graham
Starring Ramsey Moore, Brandon Graham, Christina DeRosa

First things first: this is a mockumentary. What starts off as a pretentious documentary about free speech, in which Graham rounds up a bunch of comedians (all playing themselves) to do a show in honor of Lenny Bruce (arrested for obscenity twice during his career), turns into a nightmare when Moore (in his final performance before his death in 2015), fed up with how lightly everyone is taking the whole thing and stressed out about his estranged father’s involvement in the shoot, begins killing off his fellow comedians.

Graham, who plays himself as the director, actually did gather all of these comedians under the guise of making a documentary about Lenny Bruce; he booked a club and told them all that they were doing a show celebrating free speech. Moore helped write the script, and therefore was the only comedian who was in on the “joke.” Literally everyone else involved with the film had no idea this was going to be a horror movie up until right before Ramsey killed them, so the whole film is Cannibal Holocaust-esque real. And it creates something horrifying.

Moore ended up posthumously winning the Best Actor award at FEARnyc this year, and for good reason. His “performance” was chilling, and it’s probably because he didn’t spend a whole lot of time performing. According to Graham, Moore channeled all of the pain from his life—from watching his little brother drown and having to cover it up to protect his father’s political campaign, to his life as an overweight comedian (at the time of filming he weighed more than 500 pounds—into a truly monstrous performance. VERDICT Please try and get your eyeballs on this film, and if you do, add it immediately to your horror shelves. Completely revamps the mockumentary genre.

Charismata (UK)
Directed by Andy Collier & Tor Mian
Starring Sarah Beck Mather, Jamie Satterthwaite, Andonis Anthony

A series of grisly murders with Satanic undertones draws greenhorn detective Rebecca Faraway (Mather) and her partner Eli Smith (Anthony) into the investigation. Their search leads them to Michael Sweet (Satterthwaite), a real estate mogul who coincidentally owns all the properties where the murders have taken place. Despite his alibi being air-tight, Rebecca is convinced that Sweet is the murderer, but no one takes her seriously. Rebecca delves deeper into the case and it begins to drive her insane—the case takes up every waking moment, and she starts seeing Sweet everywhere she looks. As her sanity unravels, more and more murders occur.

I loved the realism of this film, from the misogyny Rebecca faces from her fellow detectives to the special effects. I didn’t feel like I watching a film so much as I was watching an actual murder investigation—albeit one that centers on Satanism. The acting was on point, and really contributed to the immersive experience of the film. The tension and chemistry between Mather and Anthony was fun to watch, and Satterthwaite’s Michael Sweet was deliciously creepy. The abrupt end will divide viewers, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Charismata is an extremely well-made psychological thriller. VERDICT Add this if you want to boost your horror collection. A sleeper hit in the making.

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