Tag Archives: Nightmares Film Festival



by George Wolf

You get the sense early on that the German thriller Trunk may have some pleasant surprises in store.

Malina (Sina Martens, terrific in a physically demanding role) wakes up to find herself badly injured and confined to the trunk of a car. The trunk is ajar, and before the driver returns to shut her inside, Malina is able to retrieve her cell phone.

And lemme guess, the phone’s almost dead, right?


Okay, then, here we go! Dialing a series of well-chosen contacts, Malina has to 1) stay alive, and 2) piece together what’s happening while she looks for an escape route.

Writer/director Marc Schießer proves a solid triple threat here, also handling the editing duties with a deft hand and solid instincts for pacing and tension.

The cinematography is on point, as well. And while this particular trunk seems unusually roomy, Scheiber consistently lands precisely the type of claustrophobic camera angles and POV shots that Liam Nesson’s recent car-centric thriller Retribution tried in vain to achieve.

You may end up sniffing out some the mystery at play, but even so, Schießer’s finale will be no less satisfying. Trunk is a tense, crowd-pleasing thriller, one that adds enough detours to a well-traveled road until it’s fun again.

So climb in, and enjoy the ride.

Fright Club: Nightmares Film Festival New Distribution Panel

In this bonus episode recorded live at Nightmares Film Festival from Gateway Film Center, the fest’s panel on what distribution looks like in 2023 for independent horror filmmakers.

This year Hope got to join a panel with Justin Seaman of Nevermore Production Film (and filmmaker behind The Barn & The Barn 2), Cicely Enriquez of The Owens Group, and Scott Donley of Good Deed/Cranked Up Films. Thanks to everyone who participated!

The Beast of Walton St.

by Brandon Thomas

A good creature feature is hard to do on an indie budget. Many filmmakers have tried – and failed spectacularly – to bring monsters to life with little money and even worse, little imagination. The Beast of Walton Street bucks that trend by delivering thrilling monster mayhem and a steady supply of wit and heart. 

In a nameless Ohio town, a beast is roaming the Christmas decorated streets and picking off the most vulnerable: the unhoused. Friends Constance (Athena Murzda) and Sketch (Mia Jones) live on the fringes of society – barely scraping by and living in an abandoned auto repair shop. As the two notice more and more of the city’s at-risk residents disappearing, they decide to take matters into their own hands and defend their town from the ravenous beast. 

There’s a palpable level of energy that flows through the entirety of The Beast of Walton Street. Director Dusty Austen’s competency behind the camera is evident and admirable. The level of care and skill shown toward the craft of filmmaking is immediately recognizable in the editing, blocking, lighting, and shot composition. Craft is something that unfortunately falls to the wayside in many indie films, but in The Beast of Walton Street it’s on full display.

Austen is wisely economical when it comes to showing the titular beast (which is actually a werewolf). How Austen chose to shoot and edit around the beast is truly impressive. This reviewer was reminded of Ridley Scott’s Alien on more than one occasion. The ferocity of the werewolf is never lost on the viewer and so much of that is due to Austen’s confident handling of craft.

On the flip-side, the human element of Beast of Walton Street is just as impressive. While Murzda carries the film as the lead, both she and Jones have a delightfully charming chemistry that makes the beast-less scenes just as fun. While neither actor has a long resume (yet!), their comfort and flexibility in front of the camera is evident. 

The Beast of Walton Street doesn’t reinvent the werewolf wheel, but what it does is offer up an Amblin-esque punk rock creature feature, and that is more than enough for me.

Hundreds of Beavers

by Daniel Baldwin

Earlier this year, quirky auteur Wes Anderson gifted us Asteroid City, which is probably best described as “What if Looney Tunes did its own take on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and then poured it through a theatre kid filter?” Some folks found that off-putting, as though Wes Anderson had gone a bit too Wes Anderson for them. Others, like me, found it to be an utter delight. Such a movie was one I never pictured myself needing, yet when it was finally presented to me, I could no longer picture myself living without it.

What does this have to do with Mike Cheslik’s Hundreds of Beavers? Nothing, and yet also everything. This is not Asteroid City, nor should it be. What it is, however, is the answer to the question “What if Looney Tunes did its own take on Jeremiah Johnson and then poured it through a silent movie filter?” I’m not sure who – outside of those who made it – asked for this movie. But I’m glad they did, because for the second time this year, I have been gifted an absolutely lunatic slice of cinema that I never knew I desperately needed.

Not everyone is built to appreciate a movie where a buffoon wanders around a cartoonish wilderness landscape full of animals that are portrayed either by people in mascot suits or puppets. Similarly, not everyone is built to appreciate such lunacy when it feels like it was made by mad scientists who Frankenstein’d together a plushy beast composed of parts from Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Buster Keaton, Terry Gilliam, and the Keystone Cops. This is darkly violent, yet deeply comedic work that blends a love for classic cartoons and early cinema history together into an inspired near-masterpiece of a film. I say near only because it becomes a bit too indulgent during some of its lengthier set pieces, causing the pace to sag a bit at times. Well, that and maybe utilizing an anvil at some point would have also been nice!

Hundreds of Beavers is a gift. It’s one that some might want to return, but by God Bugs Bunny, it’s one that just as many are bound to cherish for the rest of their lives. This lunatic included.

Murder Ballads: How to Make It in Rock ‘n’ Roll

by Daniel Baldwin

Rock music and horror have always gone together like peanut butter and jelly. Given that both are considered outsider artforms, it’s just a natural pairing. After all, rock (and metal or punk) music tends to be aggressive and there is no genre of film more aggressive than horror. Even action cinema tends to be less brutal.

Comedy is another genre that fits well with both horror and rock. Both artforms love to roll about in camp on occasion, cutting loose with over-the-top subject matter and black humor. Murder Ballads knows all of this and revels in it, while also mixing doses of British crime into the mix as well. What results is an offbeat concoction that feels like someone dumped elements of ‘90s slacker comedies, music biopics, and ‘90s crime comedies into a blender. The trappings are lo-fi due to its indie budget, but the throwback sentiments remain intact.

The story follows a struggling British rock band in desperate need of a new image – including a new member – and a new hit song. If they cannot swing either one, their label is going to give them the boot. Desperate times call for desperate measures and those desperate measures end up involving theft, deception, and murder, among other things. If that weren’t enough, most of the band members also happen to be morons. Given that morons are prone to making mistakes and mistakes are the last thing one should be making when committing crimes, well, you can see why things inevitably get out of control.

Writer/director Mitchell Tolliday has crafted a fun little film here about the darkly comedic and supremely chaotic rise and fall of a British rock ‘n’ roll band. The performances are pitched properly to the film’s playful tone, the faux documentary cutaways to actor Simon Callow are amusing, and the segues between sections are cute and inventive. Aside from some occasional pacing issues, this is a fun time.


by Daniel Baldwin

Genre-bending mysteries were big in the ‘80s and high concept thrillers were all the rage in the ‘90s. Attempting to combine both is a bit of a tall order, but it’s one that writer/director Evan Marlowe aims for with Abruptio. What we have here is an increasingly tense and weird tale of a mild-mannered sad sack named Les (James Marsters – more on that in a moment) who finds himself at the center of an increasingly weird and violent conspiracy. Forces beyond his comprehension are compelling him to commit heinous acts at the drop of a hat. If he refuses, he dies. But will he be able to live with himself if he continues to accept these diabolical missions?

You’d think that would be enough of a tightrope act for Marlowe to walk, but you’d be wrong. Not satisfied with crafting just any mere genre-melting pot thriller, Evan decided he should also do the entire thing with puppets and other handcrafted effects. The potential failure rate for such an additional complication is high, but Abruptio nonetheless manages to pull it off. Because of this, every last bit of tension, violence, and weirdness gains an extra layer of uncanniness, absurdity, and existential dread.

Quite a few of our puppet leads are voiced by familiar genre performers. There’s the aforementioned James Marsters, who voices a troubled middle aged lead who 30 years ago could have easily been played in the flesh by J.T. Walsh. We also get the late Sid Haig as a sketchy stand-up comedian, the great Robert Englund as a haunted neat freak, and Christopher McDonald as a gruff intimidating police chief. All of this is an added bonus atop a film that bears multiple influences from genre filmmaking luminaries like David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Don Coscarelli, David Lynch, and Joel Schumacher.

An experimental, genre-bending, high concept thriller performed entirely with advanced puppetry should be a recipe for disaster. In the hands of Evan Marlowe, his crew, and his voicecast, it sings. Abruptio should not work, but it very much does. The world has been gifted a wild little midnight movie here that isn’t for everyone, but the people who it is for are going to love every last bit of it.

The Wheel of Heaven

by Hope Madden

The Wheel of Heaven delivers oddball charm and horror in equal measure.

What’s it about? That’s an excellent question, and not a simple one to answer. We seem to be stuck on late night, all access TV, which is running through a wild set of programs and sponsors. (My favorite sponsor is Rad Abrams, Skateboard Attorney.)

And my favorite show is undoubtedly The Uncle Bobbo Show, which was also the focus of director Joe Badon’s 2021 short, The Blood of the Dinosaurs.

Kids’ TV host Uncle Bobbo (an eerily unblinking Vincent Stalba) wants to teach us where oil comes from. With assistance from his vampire puppet co-host Grampa Universe (voiced by John Davis) and his young helper Purity (Stella Creel), he seeks to enlighten and entertain. And misinform. It’s sort of a Pee-wee’s Playhouse for sociopaths. If that does not seem like a ringing endorsement, you’re not reading it correctly.

So, we’re watching highly local TV programming. Or are we? Maybe each story is a little diorama dreamt up by local artist Margaret Corn (Kali Russell)? Or perhaps we may instead be reading along with Marge the Mechanic (Russell again), who picked up a “choose your adventure” book at a thrift store.

Russell plays at least half a dozen distinct but related characters, each a fully formed and often bizarre individual. Her range and effortless skill with characterization ground the segments in something tangible, however goofy the character.

Whether these characters are part of a book, TV programming or one artist’s imagination is irrelevant. Badon’s upended the concept of a framing story for what is essentially an anthology of short films. Every tale, including the framing stories, morph and mutate and as each folds in on itself, Badon and his crew appear to emphasize the illusion versus reality of this absurdist storytelling.

What else does Badon hit on? Birth. Death. Choice. 3D glasses. Kitch. Homage. Dinosaurs. Storytelling. But mainly creation and how the act of creating is linked to all of these. The Wheel of Heaven throws a lot at you and not all of it hits, but Badon’s instinct for the bizarre, humorous and horrific generate a wonderfully oddball effort.

Departing Seniors

by Hope Madden

With her feature debut, director Clare Cooney skates some familiar ice but tweaks the high school slasher enough to produce a charming, compelling and strangely fresh slasher with Departing Seniors.

Jose Nateras’s script centers on Javier (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio), a high school senior who loves his best friend Bianca (Ireon Roach) and his gig on the high school paper, and maybe new guy William (Ryan Foreman). Otherwise, high school blows, but it’s almost over and then – even if Ginny (Maisie Merlock) steals his slot as valedictorian – he and Bianca will be out of this Podunk town and on to better things.

Graduation can’t come soon enough, though, because Ginny and her letter-jacket buddies have amped up the bullying. Things are so bad Javier barely even notices when the first of the popular jock dumbasses dies in the pool of apparent suicide.

At its best, Departing Seniors breathes life into the tropes of coming-of-age horror films. Cooney has gathered a truly talented and memorable group of young actors to elevate a clever if somewhat predictable take on the high school slasher. This cast, top to bottom, impresses and Nateras writes characters that they can sink their teeth into.

Diaz-Silverio reimagines the bullied teen with tenderness, resilience and humor. An exceptional, empathetic central figure, it is impossible not to root for Javier. 

Roach continues her streak (after Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin and Perpetrator as well as Nia DaCosta’s Candyman) of carving memorable characters regardless of screen time. She brings a relatable, cynical humor that also emphasizes Javier’s kindness.

The traditional plotting eventually limits the film’s creative success and the speechifying undoes a lot of the nuanced storytelling that preceded it, but you never stop caring about the characters. Departing Seniors subverts every one-dimensional high school slasher cliché to deliver a startlingly empathetic and effecting thriller.


by Rachel Willis

In the anthology horror film Cryptids, horror veteran Joe Bob Briggs plays radio show host Major Harlan Dean. Dean hosts the call-in show, The Truth Serum. With that kind of name, you might suspect a show dedicated to all manner of conspiracy-style neuroticism. However, in the episode we’re privy to, Dean’s focus is cryptozoology – he wants callers to recount their encounters with cryptid creatures. 

By setting up the framing story this way, each call into the radio show becomes its own entry. As with any anthology horror, some of the shorts are better than others. In this case, all deal with creepy creatures – some familiar beasties, like chupacabras, and others that are unique to this movie. 

The first segment is a bit of a stretch for its inclusion in a film about cryptids since the creatures in question are technically human. However, they’re creepy and unnerving enough that you probably won’t mind their presence. The first short is also a nice warm up for what’s to come. It’s not the best of the bunch, but it’s fun and just a little creepy.

Since each mini movie has only so much time to work with, every short opens with a call into Dean’s show before jumping right to the heart of the matter – the monsters.

The movie’s best aspect is the creature effects. Each creature has its own unnerving features, and each is unique, though some resemble monsters you may have seen before. Little creatures that hatch from a giant egg were my personal favorite beasties as they were both creepy and adorable (something only a mother could love?).

There is always a certain amount of enjoyment that comes with anthology horror since you’re not always sure what will come next. While in this case, it’s clear to be some kind of creature, what they are and what they do is where the fun comes in. Some of the creature antics are gruesome, leaving no shortage of gore and carnage in many of the segments. While the writing can sometimes leave a little to be desired, the film’s overall effect is entertaining. If you like creature features, each of Cryptids little creature slices is enjoyably nasty.