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In 2007 San Francisco based filmmaker Shannon Lark’s association The Chainsaw Mafia launched the inaugural Viscera Film Festival. Like The Chainsaw Mafia, Viscera is a female-centric organization designed for the express purpose of providing women in horror an outlet for creative expression, networking and community support. The Viscera Film Festival provides a cash prize each year to a winning film that employs only female filmmakers behind the lens—although the festival is open to all submissions, assuming women maintain a key production role, such as director, writer and producer. The 2007 Viscera Award went to Reyna Young of Last Doorway Production and her film OUT OF PRINT. That film, as well as the other entries in the 2007 Viscera Film Festival are now available on DVD through The Chainsaw Mafia website.
So, without further ado let’s take a look at what this next generation of filmmakers—set to reinvent what constitutes a “Scream Queen”—have to offer.
The first short included on the disc is Shannon Lark’s film GO ASK ALICE (3:35). It’s defined as the original Viscera film—the one that serves as the template for what the festival would come to represent. Something of a surrealist take on the Alice in Wonderland story this decidedly trippy film features a phantasmagorical reenactment of the story’s iconic tea party, but with a much bloodier conclusion. In the short’s brief running time, Director Lark sufficiently fills the frames with an overwhelmingly ominous sense of the sinister. Its final moments while not overly bloody or shockingly disturbing never the less satisfy the eerie promise of the proceeding frames.
If you’re looking for disturbing imagery then you’ll find plenty on display throughout the disc and the next short delivers more than enough to sate even the most jaded viewer. Sallie Smith’s short—and I mean short—short film, clocking in at only 21 seconds, I’M A LITTLE TEAPOT is nothing more than a half a verse of the title track sung by what appears to be a child, covered in a bag, standing against the wall of a dirty room. It is as terrifying as any nightmare I’ve ever had and if you looped it over and over again for 2 or 3 minutes it would likely keep you awake for a month. If nothing else, it will absolutely ruin that song for the rest of your life.
THE CLEANER (20:00), from Co-writer/Director Michelle Fatale, is the story of Grace (Kristen Burke)—a quiet suburban housewife who suffers from a crippling case of OCD that is slowly ruining her marriage. When Grace loses her job, miscarries her unborn child and discovers that her husband is cheating on her—let’s just say she finds a better use for the household disinfectants. THE CLEANER is a lot of set up for a pretty fun payoff, but at twenty minutes it feels like Grace has lived at least 3 Country songs worth of misery. The film also features a questionable ending—although it’s easy to see that Fatale is setting the morality tale up to provide its heroine an empowering coda. It works intermittently but without a doubt it could use a trim or two.
At the opposite end of the spectrum—tonally—is the film WRETCHED (20:00) from Heidi Martinuzzi and Leslie Dano. The production stars Jamie Andrews and film critic Joe Bob Briggs as Jenny and Eric—a married couple with some serious problems. He’s overly critical of everything she does and she has an eating disorder. The film follows the disintegration of Jenny’s sanity over the course of a meal. As Eric continues to berate his wife, Jenny makes repeated trips to the bathroom while dutifully describing to us the proper method for a functioning bulimic. If the film wasn’t emotionally painful enough to witness, the climactic bathroom scene is a veritable ocean of blood courtesy of special effects guru Greg Nicotero. An amazingly engrossing film—particularly due to the tragic genius of Jamie Andrews’ performance—WRETCHED is also one of the most hateful films I’ve seen in recent memory. Watching this powerful story and not being able to act on it actually made me feel as if I were personally responsible for Jenny’s self-destruction. Not a pleasant experience by any means, but a very effective film none the less.
Less successful in terms of it’s storytelling but still visually interesting is Victoria Waghorn’s WHEN SALLY MET FRANK (9:00) a twisted plastic surgery nightmare that offers the viewers just enough information to make them think they know the what’s coming—only to change direction again at the last moment, leaving a quixotic conclusion behind. The film had a great look and an interesting idea but in the end, the satirical slant felt a little soulless.
Also not faring well is Brandy Rainey’s film SNAKE PIT (8:15)—a backwoods teens in peril tale that unfortunately brings nothing new to the table and telegraphs its twist ending long before the final credits roll.
Festival founder Shannon Lark provides two additional shorts on the disc. The first is a music video for BRAINS (4:09) by San Francisco’s Living Dead Girlz, a zombie burlesque troupe—of which Lark is the manager, member and gore wrangler. Co-directed by Amber Steele this parody plays out like Moon Zappa meets the Lords of Acid on the set of a Twisted Sister video. Actually it spoofs Liam Sullivan’s “Kelly Likes Shoes” music video. And, it’s pretty much mindless fun in a day-glo wonderland with a catchy beat. Lark’s other film is the all-women production IT’S MY BIRTHDAY (3:06). And, with a running time this quick the film is pretty much a single scene of one young lady’s birthday party bloodbath. Too fleeting to be truly effective it still shows some interesting angles and ideas. I’m just not sure it qualifies as a complete concept.
On that same note, the final film—and festival winner—OUT OF PRINT (3:18) also flies by on more of an image than a story. Director Reyna Young clearly knows what she is going for and like I’M A LITTLE TEAPOT her focus is in capturing a nightmare on camera. Shot in Sepia tone and doctored in post to add grain and scratches this silent film features a human-as-mechanical-murderer axing a bound woman in wind-up toy fashion. With all the airs of a 1920’s film, the general vibe and chilling music box-styled score, is compelling but, perhaps, not as wildly successful as TEAPOT in terms of exacting terror from its audience. Still, it features a clown and for my money, it never gets creepier than a clown. On a side note, considering the look of the film, I would have really liked to have seen Young use an in-camera title card at the start of the film as opposed to the digital titles that are currently employed. It simply would have been more befitting to the overall intention of the production.
There you have it—the selections of the 2007 Viscera Film Festival. By and large all of the shorts had some merit with a few standout performances and one 21 seconds of film that assures me a bad dream or two. It was particularly interesting watching a succession of women written and directed horror films, specifically because several of them addressed topics which relate specifically to issues that affect and interest women and would—I assume, being I’m a man—horrify women. Chief among those ideas would be abusive relationships, eating disorders, miscarriages and plastic surgery nightmares. I’m not saying those things don’t affect men, it’s simply that in the male dominated world of horror films rarely—if ever—do those plot points ever constitute the focus of the film. It should come as a surprise to no one that a man’s idea of what is inherently scary is very different than that of a woman. Of course everyone finds clowns scary right?
The Chainsaw Mafia is currently accepting entries for the 2008 festival and considering the quality that these ladies of the night managed to compile for their introductory run, I imagine that this year’s crop will be a mightily impressive bunch. For all the minor film festivals that have popped up around the country and on the internet over the past few years, The Viscera Film Festival is one that not only has a unique vision but the strength of the entries to back that vision up and that terrifying combination makes the project a very thrilling prospect for horror fans…of both sexes.