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The Chicago Fear Fest (Apr 13 & 14)

by Erik Childress

Every year in Chicago, Mike & Mia Kerz put on the Flashback Weekend, an immensely cool convention that gathers horror icons and their fans for three days of presentations, screenings, memorabilia, you name it. It has become a summer tradition for many genre fans in the area and even across state borders and when the legendary John Carpenter arrives this August 10-12 to present a 30th Anniversary screening of The Thing, you can bet the flock will be in full migration. Of course, Chicago is no stranger to full blown horror festivals either. There's the Chicago Horror Film Festival, the Horror Society's Film Festival and the Indy Horror Film Festival to name just a few. Well now, Mike is joining forces with the Horror Society, Sinister Visions and Zombie Army Productions to add another to the mix this weekend with the Chicago Fear Fest. Though it may only be a two-day event from Apr. 13-14, to horror fans anything that appreciates their favorite genre is an event period.

Over the course of those two days at the Muvico Theatre in Rosemont, IL, the Fear Fest will screen 10 feature films and 20 shorts. Their big guest presentation comes courtesy of filmmakers Adam Green and Joe Lynch as they will conduct a Q&A over their latest FEARnet series, Holliston. Think a faux '80s sitcom complete with laugh track but without the censor bleeps about roommates (played by Green & Lynch) who host a cable access show. They will also be showing Green's Hatchet II, which may appease your average gorehound, but I felt was an unnecessary step back from his very solid thriller, Frozen. Lynch & Green recently joined Nick Digilio on WGN Radio to discuss Holliston and their fest appearance which you can listen to here.

Two films yours truly is definitely hoping to get a look at on Friday evening is the zombie double feature of [Rec] 3 and Juan of the Dead, which I have managed to miss at every film festival I have attended or covered over the previous year. Despite being quite the zombie fan, the [Rec] series have never quite done it for me. The original is OK enough, but the follow-up was little more than the Wake Up, Ron Burgundy of horror sequels. If that is not enough for your zombie appetite though, you can hop on back Saturday night for one of the closing night films, Joe Zerull's A Cadaver Christmas, which prefers to call a spade a spade and not give those walking morgue creatures their own title. You can ask Zerull all about that and his very amusing ending (a first I believe for a zombie, I mean Cadaver, picture) at his Q&A afterwards. It will be playing against The Moleman of Belmont Avenue, which was one of the screenings at last year's Flashback Weekend. Recommend you go with the cadavers.

Two other (non)-zombie films are playing the festival and if you looked up their general descriptions they are almost interchangeable. Adam Bartlett & John Pata's Dead Weight starts with a Shaun of the Dead-like approach of getting a slacker off his couch to go find his girlfriend (pay close attention for the line about "the fish") but then gets deadly serious as his mental capacity slowly begins to breakdown. Do not expect the same kind of kill action you'll get in A Cadaver Christmas as this film is more psychological and flashback-laden to a happier(?) time. Also on the defense through an apocalyptic landscape are the characters in Nick Calder's Fear Eats The Seoul. Guess where it takes place? Again, don't call it a zombie flick. These are demons with long fingers that have infected the Korean population, but not a few Caucasian survivors. This one is more intent on delivering the chase and attack scenes, though the frequent use of shaky-cam makes most of them feel like Zarkov's mind wipe from Flash Gordon. For the undead lovers who don't want to beat around the bush, you will have the opportunity to check out the premiere of Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies. Even if it comes from The Asylum, who have certainly carved out the niche of capitalizing on other movies' premises (and titles), I'll bet this one will be a lot more fun than whatever the hack Timur Bekmambetov (Nightwatch, Wanted) gives us with his vampire hunting Abe Lincoln. And if vampires are the undead of your choice, Jim Weter's At Stake Vampire Solutions takes the documentary approach with a group of fang hunters, which apparently [Rec] 3 quickly shies away from despite its pedigree. Weter and screenwriter, Duane P. Craig, will be attendance for a Q&A.

Another filmmaker who will be in attendance is Patrick Rea, whose work is all over the Fear Fest on Friday and Saturday. 5 short films and a feature to boot and horror fans may have someone to root for if he can get some extra financial backing. His feature-length, Nailbiter, I suspect will be the one that attendees will be talking about over the course of the entire fest. Part of that is because it is one of the films kicking off the weekend with a 4:45 PM showing on Friday (while one of Rea's shorts, Next Caller, plays in the adjacent theater.) But also cause it has some nifty ideas and surprises along the way. Start with a mother and her three daughters forced to take shelter from an advancing tornado in a local storm cellar. What is waiting for them underneath is another story entirely. The film definitely has some rough patches and could even be a bit more tightly paced in its under-80-minute running time. But there are certainly flourishes that suggest Rea is a filmmaker that could really advance his inspirations if given the chance.

This is very evident over the course of his short films, a medium that can be both a calling card or a curse for horror filmmakers. The recent anthology currently getting festival play, V/H/S, displays both the best & worst of it which unfortunately just becomes a short cut to an ironic/tragic ending we know is forthcoming. Rea's Next Caller and Do Not Disturb follow the similar tracks of unknown voices terrorizing unsuspecting souls with secrets over the phone. With an expanded script, the former could turn into some terrifying cross of Talk Radio, Public Access and The Corndog Man. Rea's Hell Week is a nicely-edited warning not to mess with sorority chicks. Now That You Are Dead unfortunately suffers from the same issue that Lonnie Martin's short film, Cougars, has in that its title is the very essence of a spoiler. One by name and the other by title design. Certainly not to dismiss Cougars in any way as it is definitely one of the shorts you should check out (even if you have to leave [Rec] 3 early to catch it.) It's quite fun and star Rebecca Hausman is definitely somebody that filmmakers of any genre will want in their film. It's just a shame that the twist could have been preserved as easily as taking the plural out of the title.

While Cougars has already started to make strides into becoming a full-blown feature (think "Cat People by way of An American Werewolf in London" according to Martin), Patrick Rea has hopes that his short, Time's Up Eve, will make that leap too. And the 15 minutes you will see certainly lays the groundwork for a Kickstarter campaign. B&W cinematography signifying a kind of noir-ish version of Invaders From Mars (or just Dark City) that could really pop as a mixed-genre love letter.

Like a short film, the Chicago Fear Fest is just a taste for things to come. Any festival highlighting independent film, particularly one with a particular genre concentration, is a great thing. An opportunity for filmmakers and fans to enjoy new discoveries and perhaps inspired by both the quality and failings of what they see to rush out and start their own campaign. Hopefully if Fear Fest is success, it can be expanded even further for 2013 and attract more submissions, both big and small, in a town that is certainly carving out their own place in the horror community.
You can check out the full schedule of events for the Chicago Fest Fest right here.

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originally posted: 04/12/12 09:00:52
last updated: 04/12/12 09:08:23
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