Horror came to Charleston this weekend in the form of the Crimson Horror Screen Film Fest, where an enthusiastic crowd of more than 200 fans came out in weather perfect for some dark and stormy and often bloodily beautiful films.
But it wasn’t just about the films. Jasmina V.B., an artist based in Greenville, S.C., came for the flicks and to exhibit her art. Her work, which she describes as influenced by “dark humor … a combination of creepy and cute,” included prints and photographs that pay tribute to nostalgic horror images, like Lily Muenster, and reimagined well-known popular icons as monstrous friends. One of her most inventive work was a zombie Andy Warhol threatening us from amidst a gruesome sea of floating soup cans.
Like many of the horror fans that crowded Sterett Hall Auditorium at the Navy Yard this past weekend, Jasmina started her love affair with the macabre at a young age. “One of my earliest memories is watching Nightmare on Elm Street
at three,” she recalIed. “I can thank my mom for that.”
Some might be horrified at the thought of a three-year-old watching a film about a supernatural maniac, but the nearly 40 films organizer Tommy Faircloth put together for the two-day festival showed that behind the horror rare beauties, surprising moments of humor and humanity, and even a searching social conscious are present.
Saturday morning kicked off with a raucous and hilarious feature-length film called Army of Frankensteins
. The film took viewers on a strange trip that included an emancipated slave on a balloon ride with the Monster, a mutant cat, time travel, and a romance made more complicated by the multiverse. Festival-goers fell in love with the old school special effects that, unlike most mainstream offerings today, did not depend on CGI. Director Ryan Bellgardt , who won the Festival trophy for best feature director, created his textured fantasy out of old school prosthetics and makeup.
And with it being a local fest, Crimson Screen wanted to make sure South Carolina filmmakers received some special attention, and they got that on Saturday evening with a block of “Homegrown Horror” movies. Films about College of Charleston-students-turned-serial killers, a murderer hitching across the Lowcountry, and fearless vampire-hunters in Lincolnville showed off a deep-rooted regional love of the genre.
But the festival managed to balance a local flavor with plenty of international fare too. In fact, the short film I See Monsters
constituted one of the strongest entries and won the award for best short film. Featuring almost no dialogue, it managed to create taut tension by transforming every object in every scene into a source of dread. I See Monsters
goes off the well-known plot of a young boy scared of the basement or in this film’s case, the cellar. But it manages to escape being mundane or cliche by going to an extremely brutal place and concludes with a surprisingly moving message about human need.
On Sunday, a block of short films demonstrated how horror movies can have a weird and unexpected beauty. Case in point: Director Michael Sharpe’s The Destruction Artist
had a strong feminist sensibility, combining ruminations about art, nihilism, and strange yearnings.
Basing his film on a monologue written by Michael Cunningham, author of the novel The Hours
, Sharpe focused his camera for almost the entirety of The Destruction Artist
on actor Robert Haulbrook whose face managed wan beauty, psychosis, longing, and an odd yet deep vulnerability. The audience remained entranced by him for the entire 12-minute long film that concluded with a very direct message about domestic violence. Haulbrook won the festival award for best actor in a short film for his appallingly wonderful performance.
Even our culture’s obsession (maybe especially Charleston’s obsession) with gastronomic aestheticism received a send-up at Crimson Screen. Foodie
, directed by Christopher G. Moore, gruesomely took down gourmand pretentiousness in a wickedly funny way. Foodie
centers around a gourmand whose excitement at being asked to join a guerilla kitchen event turns to horror when he discovers what’s on the menu.
s screenwriter Eryk Pruitt, whose work won the award for best produced screenplay, said that the film grew in part from having “worked in restaurants for 20 years.” Pruitt explained. “I was like, there are two wars going on and these people are really needling me over the preparation of a consommé?”
But the fest wasn’t all gravitas and social comment. Horror has always been the bad kid at the back of the class in the film world and that manifested this weekend as well. Maid of Horror
laughed at both the absurdities of romantic longing and the rituals of the wedding experience. Two entries by Mt. Pleasant-based filmmaker Trent Shy used claymation to pay an homage to campy '80s horror and the omnipopular zombie genre and won the festival’s Homegrown Horror award. The fest even had some Hollywood cameos with the film The Body,
directed by Paul Davies and starring Alfie Allen of Game of Thrones
fame. In it, Allen plays a killer who thinks Halloween is the perfect night to dispose of a body.
All in all, the weekend was a success. So much so, that festival organizer Faircloth plans to bring the horror back to Charleston. “I am thrilled to see so many local people come out and support independent horror films. We had a lot working against us, such as being in an out of the way location and being on Easter weekend,” he says. "However, the horror fans and supporters showed up in numbers and are begging for more. We will be back next year!”