Don't Everybody Freak Out
Dark Matters' horror shows
Fantastic Fest may have a lock on the crypt of terror when it comes to grave cinematic doings, but smart Austin Film Festival goers know from past experience that some of the best horror films tend to fall through the cracks of the exhibition/acquisition floorboards, where they end up beating away a siren song of dread like Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart." We've screened three of the four AFF entries in this year's late-night Dark Matters sidebar, and we're fiendishly happy to report that your room at the Driskill is going to seem mighty creepy come bedtime this year.
Former Austinite and I'll Come Running writer/director Spencer Parsons ventures into terror with the atmospheric and impressively creepy horror-comedy hybrid Saturday Morning Massacre. Co-written with Kat Candler, the film features local talent Jonny Mars, Ashley Rae Spillers, Josephine Decker, and Adam Tate as a quartet of twentysomething ghost hunters who get in way over their collective heads – and in some cases go utterly out of their minds – while investigating an allegedly haunted manse with their faithful canine pal Hamlet in tow. Sound familiar? Well, yes: Parsons is intentionally riffing on and subverting the beloved Scooby-Doo of our collective youths, but the director puts his own Austin-esque mark of the devil on this gaggle of ghost-busting wannabes. We caught subtle references to the film's local horror forerunners, chief among them Tobe Hopper's seminal exploration of unhappy family dynamics The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Saturday Morning Nightmare may be billed as a comic chiller, but it doesn't skimp on the red stuff, and the hackle-raising tag-team work of cinematographer Drew Daniels and cutter Don Swaynos makes for a comedy of terrors. Lovers of Hate's Heather Kafka turns up in a seriously unnerving role and notable appearances/cameos by Andrew Bujalski, Chris Doubek, and the great Sonny Carl Davis (The Whole Shootin' Match) are icing on Parsons' suitably transgressive horror show.
Speaking of massacres, co-directors Duane Graves and Justin Meeks' Boneboys is not only packed to the rafters with homage's to the Tobe Hooper classic and its underrated sequels – we counted cameos from Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Bill Johnson, John Dugan, and Teri McMinn, all Chainsaw refugees – it's also scripted by Kim Henkel, who co-scripted the original '74 classic with Hooper back in the day. Graves and Meeks (The Wild Man of Navidad) are fluent in horror like Linda Blair was fluent in devilspeak, and Boneboys, which pits a quartet of partying teens against a black leather jacketed gang of anti-PETA psychopaths, is pretty much a nonstop nightmare from the get-go. A tip of the cranium to Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" sets the tone, which veers alarmingly (in a good way) from urban paranoia and teen-terror to a more globalist, satirical 21st-century approach to the old saw "eat the rich." The directors set up a fast and furious pace from the beginning and only crank up the pacing as Boneboys heads into a jaw-dropping third act. I always knew there was something a little off about San Antonio, but I could never quite put my finger on it. Now, finally, I know.
Scooter Downey's full metal creepout It's in the Blood builds on an initially unclear but obviously tense relationship between a rural Texas sheriff, Russell (played by genre icon Lance Henricksen, late of Pumpkinhead and Aliens, among nearly 200 [!] other fear-features) and his estranged son October (Sean Elliot). Seeking to mend their somehow-tragic past – the film wisely takes its time unearthing the malignancies both within and without – the pair embark on a hiking trip into the woods where they become trapped after Russell topples off a ridge and shatters his leg. As the rain pours down and the night drags on, visions – or perhaps hallucinations – of leering faces and monstrous creatures bedevil the damaged pair. The question is: Are these monstrosities simply the devils emerging from the dark of their mind's eyes, or has their past really, horrifically, come back to haunt them in the flesh? Downey directs this atypical horror film with style to burn and both Eliot (who co-scripted) and the indefatigable Henricksen are note-perfect as the tormented father and son. Still and always, it's never a good idea to go into the woods.
Saturday Morning Massacre screens Friday, Oct. 19, 11:30pm, at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, and Tuesday, Oct. 23, 10pm, at the Alamo Drafthouse Village.
Boneboys screens Sunday, Oct. 21, 11pm, at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, and Thursday, Oct. 25, 10pm, at the Alamo Drafthouse Village.
It's in the Blood screens Saturday, Oct. 20, 11:45pm, at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, and Wednesday, Oct. 24, 10pm, at the Alamo Drafthouse Village.