If you're unfamiliar with After Dark Films' Horrorfest, its intentions are this: Scour film festivals and film markets for great new genre fare to be part of an eight-strong lineup of films called Horrorfest. Theaters around the US can then choose to partake in said lineup, in turn bringing the 'fest experience' to those who can't travel around the world to actual film festivals to see said films. Unfortunately, the reality of Horrorfest is a little different.

They do indeed scour film markets for acquisitions, but most buzz-worthy horror films tend to attract larger distributors with deeper pockets. That means that the actual pool of festival favorites that ADF has to chose from is rather shallow. Making matters worse, over the last few years theaters have realized that Horrorfest doesn't have big enough films or a big enough advertising presence to make partaking in the fest worthwhile. So instead of having the "fest experience" brought to your local multiplex, chances are you'll have to drive quite a ways to even find a theater offering their slate.

It's not a particularly great business model (if next year's Horrorfest isn't an On Demand operation, I'll be stunned), but there is a worthwhile goal backing the whole thing. That's why I feel bad complaining that Horrorfest 4 is the third year in a row that would require a 2+ hour road trip to join in on this end. Fortunately for me, I've already seen half of their lineup...

Dread, Kill Theory, Lake Mungo, Hidden, The Final, The Graves, The Reeds, and Zombies of Mass Destruction.

Dread, directed by Anthony DiBlasi
Judging from some reactions when this played Fantastic Fest last year, I think I'm in the minority on this one, but Dread did little else for me beyond distracting me while I aged for 108 minutes. It's about a group of pseudo-intellectual college students trying to understand what it means to be human by cracking the deepest fears of their fellow students. It all begins as an innocent film class project for Steve (Jackson Rathbone), but under the manipulation of the older Quaid (Shaun Evans), their prodding of what people dread turns, of course, deadly.

Rathbone and Evans both sell the downward spiral of their characters, but the main problem is that they're both supremely unlikeable to begin with. The only characters we're motivated to care about are their female companions, but unfortunately this isn't their movie. There are a few really great shots in it - most notably when Quaid has waking nightmares about the axe murder who killed his family and we see the approach of the shadowed figure from a camera fixed to the axe - but for the most part its ugly color palette and overbearing digital photography weigh it down in muck and mire.

However, if you're a fan of Clive Barker's original story, you should get a kick out of seeing its broader ideas put to screen even though some of the events have been changed as far as what happens to who. Personally, I always thought the story was one of the flatter entries in the Books of Blood; a quality I find the film falls victim to as well. I'd take Ryuhei Kitamura's Midnight Meat Train or John Harrison's Book of Blood over Dread any day.



Kill Theory, directed by Chris Moore
I think, all things considered, Kill Theory is my surprise favorite of Horrorfest 4. And I say surprise because, well, it's not all that special. It is a Dead Teenager Movie filled with the same archetype's one always finds in Dead Teenager Movies, but there are a few key things that make Chris "the non-Damon/Affleck guy from Project Greenlight" Moore's directorial debut somehow better than the sum of all its parts.

Agnes Bruckner, Patrick Flueger, Ryanne Duzich and Theo Rossi are all interesting actors to watch, though Teddy Dunn, Taryn Manning, and Daniel Franzese seem to regularly confuse emotion with volume. But that's okay, because its pitch is both simple and fun: A group of soon-to-be high school graduates go to party at an isolated lake house only to soon find that a killer has joined them in the woods, but instead of donning a mask and a machete, he stays hidden and turns the group on themselves with an ultimatum that unless only one of them remains by dawn, he will kill all of them.

So...yeah, it's Friday the 13th and Saw combined together. Not exactly inspired, but the result builds to a welcome bloodbath as the teens do start to turn on each other. In fact, turn might not even be the right word. More than one of them just flat out snap and before long their numbers dwindle in glorious, back-stabby ways as the script gleefully bashes in the face(s) of characters that might just have survived in other horror films.



Lake Mungo
, directed by Joel Anderson
Lake Mungo is easily the most unique film of the bunch that I've seen. Were I to recommend any of them be taken in sight unseen, it'd be this. I'd rather not say too much about it lest I spoil the experience. But if you must know a tad more...

Lake Mungo is an Australian documentary about a family grieving the loss of their daughter during a family trip. The extent of their grief is soon under scrutiny, however, as they become convinced that either their daughter is either not actually dead or is a ghost. It's short, it's sweet, and it's one of the more interesting experiments with this style of filmmaking due to its reasonable examination of how the loss of a love one has a profound ripple effect on the lives of everyone involved.



Hidden, directed by Pål Øie
Hailing from Norway, Hidden is (favorably) reminiscent of one of the better film's to ever join the Horrorfest lineup, Nacho Cerda's The Abandoned. Both follow people who are called back home following the death of their mother. Both deal with confused identities, family histories, and unidentifiable things that repeatedly go bump in the night. And both are set in creepy houses in the woods that photograph gorgeously.

If we're keeping track, I prefer The Abandoned over Hidden if only because its bizarre doppelganger mystery is more interesting than the latter's. It opens well with a kid running around in the woods who accidentally causes a car accident that claims the lives of another child's parents. We then see said kid as a grown man who must return home to identify his mother's body. Something odd about his mother's house keeps him fixated in the town, which is a problem seeing as his return has not only brought back questions of what actually happened to the boy whose parents he killed, but of the campers who have coincidentally begun to disappear right as he arrives.

The main thing that holds it back from being a better film is its laboriously slow nature. Unless you're a huge fan of watching people constantly wander around without a clue as to what's going on, you'll likely wish the film's editor had been a bit more judicious. With a concerted degree of patience, though, Hidden is a freaky little thriller.



Welp, that's it for all I've seen from the lineup. I've heard that Zombies of Mass Destruction is a pretty fun time for the kind of people who would sign up for a title like that in the first place, but I've got no reading on The Graves, The Reeds, or The Finals. So if you happen to live near a Horrorfest theater, please do report back on the trilogy of premiere flicks as well as the rest of the roster.