About a month ago the Portland Horror Film Festival returned to Portland’s historic Hollywood Theatre for their biggest festival yet. The festival is the brainchild of festival directors Gwen & Brian Callahan and first launched back in 2016 with a two-day midweek run at Hollywood. This year, the festival’s third, and the event was expanded to 4 days, including a primetime Friday evening slot.
I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the festival all three years and get a first look at the growth. While I was only able to attend a day and a half from the 2018 edition it was abundantly clear that Gwen & Brian have created a new Portland staple that is sure to stick around for a while. This year’s festivities included 5 feature films, one of which was making its world premiere, 42 shorts and a murderer’s row of guests that headlined by Barbara Crampton and Chris Walas. Despite only getting to experience a fraction of the fun this year, I did encounter a number of worthwhile highlights.
Short Films with Demons and Metal Girls
My one full night at the festival included a block of 7 short films. In all my year’s of attending film festivals the short blocks have always been my favorite segment. This is where you catch all the gems and if you happen upon something you don’t like you know it won’t be long before you move onto something else. The 7 short films I saw this year were mostly awesome, with only one leaving me wanting more.
Mikey’s Night In — Dir. Zai Gallardo — USA
The first short on the playlist was a quick bumper called Mikey’s Night In about a lonely man that decides to stay home one night and for the first time ever indulge in some horror films. The problem is that his brain cannot differentiate between his imagination and reality. This isn’t too shocking. If someone spends their entire life cut of from the joys and wonders of horror and then just tries to dive in head first they’re very likely to experience a shock to the system. This was a fun entry that really illustrates what I love about PHFF — in addition to the film entries they accept, they put out a call for filmmakers to create these bumpers to serve as a transition throughout the night. This one worked perfectly.
Childer — Dir. Aislinn Clarke — Ireland
Childer is the story of a young mother that is very withdrawn from the rest of the world and is a bit OCD when it comes to cleanliness. She has a young boy, that I would venture is about 7 or so, and she doesn’t really allow him to live as a child. He can play outside, but he has to stay in the front yard right next to the door and he can’t get dirty. And under no circumstances may he play with any other kids. Some feral kids from the neighborhood starting showing up outside and eventually push the mother over the edge.
Childer is a great concept that has great moments but doesn’t all come together. It takes place during Halloween in Ireland and you get some really fantastic creepy costumes and the ending is a bit of a shocker but the build up is quite confusing. The whole time it felt like I was missing something so I figured that maybe this was based off an Irish folktale? I did some research and was only able to find that the word “childer” is an older way of saying “children,” but unfortunately that doesn’t really help with anything. Ultimately this ends up running a bit long and feels boring at times and that’s never good for a short. Still, the creepy masks are cool.
We Summoned a Demon — Dir. Chris McInroy — USA
We Summoned a Demon is exactly as the title suggests. A couple of nerdy dudes in an attempt to be cool end up summoning a demon and hilarity and blood ensues. This is straight and to the point, just as all shorts should be. And hands down, We Summoned a Demon was the best thing I saw at PHFF this past year. It’s funny, it’s bloody (pretty snazzy practical effects) and it’s fantastic. It even has its own theme song, just like horror movies used to have back in the day.
I wish I could tell you more about this one, but there isn’t much more to say. Two dudes summon a demon and it’s funny. One thing worth mention is that Chris McInroy is the same guy that directed Death Metal, episode 172 from World of Death. If you loved Death Metal, you’ll love this.
What Metal Girls Are Into — Dir. Laurel Vail — USA
Three women head to a 3-day metal festival out in the desert and stay at an Air BnB. Unfortunately the metal fun is interrupted when the ladies discover something disturbing in the freezer of their rental. Is the owner a serial killer? Probably.
What Metal Girls Are Into is fantastic because it uses horror, metal and humor to give us three kick-ass women that won’t stand for white male entitlement. There’s also some great discussions about metal. The three leads are very much into bands like Cattle Decapitation and Trivium and on one of the nights they bring home three guys from the festival, one of which is wearing a Slipknot shirt. When I saw this I thought it was odd because it didn’t seem like these type of metal heads would like Slipknot. Well, the next morning one of the girls was embarrassed to have made out with a guy in a Slipknot shirt. Well done, well done.
Cryptina’s Spook-Time Variety Show — Dir. Ryan Rigley — USA
Cryptina’s Spook-Time Variety Show is sort of like a short block within a block of shorts. It’s an anthology which I’ve never seen done in short format before. Cryptina is a horror host of what appears to be a no-budget access cable program that shows equally low budget horror movies with Cyrptina chiming in with witty remarks here and there.
I love horror hosts and as such I really enjoyed Cryptina. The best film within the film was a spoof of Twilight where the vampire is Nosferatu.
Judas — Dir. Joel Caetano — Brazil
Judas takes place on Holy Saturday as people celebrate Easter with the ritual of burning the Judas doll. At least that’s what appears on the surface of this film. When you dig beneath there’s a much darker layer about child abuse. At least that was my take away. Judas is one of those entries you’re glad is a short. And not because it’s bad, it’s a beautiful looking film that is well acted, but the subject is quite heavy and very effective in this format. The film is able to come in and hit you hard and fast.
Dead Cool — Dir. Simon Ross — UK
Maurice, a strange loner hosts a dinner party with a group of friends. The party seems to be going pretty well when the cops make an unexpected visit to his home. As it turns out, this fun loving dinner party isn’t exactly as it seems.
Dead Cool is a darkly humorous look at someone that is clearly mentally unstable. It’s a character study and one that is done quite well with lead actor Rob Whitcomb giving a fantastic performance. The ending is a jaw dropper. Even as someone that has watched a lot of insane horror over the years, this was an ending that caught me off guard. Not something you expect to see on a movie screen.
Features Full of Punks and Nazi Puppets
Five feature films played at the 2018 Portland Horror Film Festival. Unfortunately, I was only able to see two of the films. Fortunately, I rather enjoyed both of them. Both films have previously reviewed here on Bloody Disgusting, so I won’t give you a full-on review but I definitely want to share my thoughts.
The Ranger — Dir. Jenn Wexler — USA
Jenn Wexler’s debut feature film is a “scrappy indie slasher throwback.” A group of punks on the run after a violent encounter with cops at a punk show head out to the woods to hide out a cabin belonging to one of their uncles. While on their journey they encounter a park ranger that doesn’t really care much punks.
The Ranger is fairly predictable and you basically know where it’s going from the jump. And the cast of characters all start of charming but become a bit overbearing as the film goes on, save for the lead played by Chloe Levine. Levine is brilliant and easily steals the show. She’s a star on the rise that is going to be around for a while. Despite the film’s flaws, The Ranger is loads of fun. It has a nice punk attitude and the final act of the film is a riot. As is the case with Levine, it’s very clear that Wexler is a name to keep an eye on. Can’t wait to see what she does next.
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich — Dir. Sonny Laguna & Tommy Wiklund — USA
The number one reason I was looking forward to seeing at this year’s Portland Horror Film Festival was Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich and I must say it did not disappoint. This remake/reboot (not sure what we are calling it) of the Puppet Master franchise has taken the series to new heights. Andre Toulon (Udo Kier) is now a Nazi and his group of puppets are tiny Nazis out to do his bidding. The film takes place 30 years after the anniversary of what is known as the Toulon murders. Edgar (Thomas Lennon), a recently divorced comic book nerd moves back in with his parents and finds an old Blade doll belonging to his deceased brother. Realizing the doll belonged to Toulon he decides to head a to a convention celebrating the anniversary and at that point, all hell breaks loose.
There a lot of things I don’t love about The Littlest Reich. The script has some issues that make it feel like this was a first draft. Certain things happen that don’t make a lot of sense and probably could have been smoothed out a bit to make it all a little more clear. There are also some moments of humor that don’t work too well for me. And it’s a really big downer of a movie, which is a bit surprising for what you expect to be a silly exploitation film about murderous puppets.
You can forget about all those problems though because they don’t matter. The Littlest Reich is bonkers and so much fun. It’s bloody as hell and the cast is so damn good. Thomas Lennon is gold. Please let this be the first of a series of Puppet Master films starring him because that’s what we need and we need it bad. The film is also fleshed out a with some great supporting roles — Barbra Crampton, Nelson Franklin and Charlyne Yi all kill it. I would say as soon as you can see The Littlest Reich, do it.