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Buffalo Screams

The Caretaker

The horror intensifies as the festival moves into the weekend

The third edition of the Buffalo Screams horror film festival, which opened on Wednesday, moves into high gear this weekend with eleven programs each including a feature film, a short or two, and in many cases Q&As with the filmmakers. Although screenings have been moved to the move spacious Market Arcade Film and Arts Center, the closing night dinner and awards ceremony (open to the public) will still be held at the Screening Room in Amherst.

Of the films available for preview, my favorite was The Caretaker, from Australia, a small-scale apocalyptic drama about a handful of people in a remote farmhouse trying to survive an epidemic of vampirism that is sweeping the world. A powerful vampire makes a deal with them: If they will protect him as he sleeps during the day, he will protect them from others of his kind at night. It’s the festival’s best bet for moviegoers who don’t consider themselves horror fans. While it doesn’t lack for shocking scenes, the focus is on characterization in a story that lacks obvious heroes and villains. Beautifully photographed in widescreen with an intriguing (if sometimes overdone) orchestral score, it’s a mature work in a genre that doesn’t always aim this high.

At the other end of the spectrum but equally enjoyable in its own twisted way is Rat Scratch Fever, from the school of low-budget sci-fi/horror whose motto might be, “If you can’t do it well, at least do it fast.” The sole survivor of an outer space mission to a rogue planet comes back to earth under the control of a mutant rat, one of many that soon overtake Los Angeles. Gleefully ripping off cinematic references both obvious (Willard, Alien) and esoteric (one character is clearly modeled after Peter Lorre in 1935’s Mad Love), it’s a fast-rolling ball of cheese that never lets a low budget stand in the way of what the filmmakers want to do: If some of the special effects are terrible, they’re only on screen long enough to make their point.

Honorary chairperson and veteran scream queen Debbie Rochon channels Joan Crawford and Judy Davis in Exhumed, one of at least three films she has in the festival. Filmed in luxuriant, carefully lit black and white, it’s a story set almost entirely in a decaying old house inhabited by a handful of people who are related not by blood but a dark, mysterious bond. If you’re a fan of the 1960s cult classic Spider Baby, this is one to check out.

From England, The Casebook of Eddie Brewer is a low-key but involving story about a paranormal investigator who agrees to be the subject of a documentary film crew. He doesn’t know that they are also working with a professional skeptic who is hoping to discredit him, something that will prove harder than any of them imagine. It’s a mood piece with a better cast than you might expect—Mike Leigh fans will recognize co-star Peter Wight, for one.

This edition of Buffalo Screams introduces what I hope will be a recurring feature, the Faux Grindhouse Trailer Competition. Competing for a $500 prize, filmmakers were invited to create a trailer for a grindhouse movie that doesn’t exist. If you saw Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, you’ll recall that the fake trailers there were the best part, just as the real trailers for movies like this are usually more fun than the actual movies. A program of submissions will be shown on Saturday: My vote is for The Camper (“He’s getting his merit badge in murder!”)

Here’s the complete schedule for the remaining days. For more information, visit www.BuffaloScreams.com.

Friday Oct. 19

5pm: The Case Book of Eddie Brewer (see below). Shorts: “Exit 7A” and “Prodigal Son.”

7:30pm: Debbie Rochon and director Richard Marr-Griffin present Exhumed (see left). Short: “The Awakening.”

9:55pm: Turnpike Killer, another 1980s grindhouse homage from the creators of last year’s Buffalo Screams hit The Super, featuring much of the same cast. Short: “Birthday Boys.”

Saturday Oct. 20

1pm: Debbie Rochon and director Michael P. Lucas present Billy’s Cult, about an abused serial killer being tracked by a pair of cops who have their their own issues to work out. Shorts: “Midnight Daisy” and “Historia Muerta.”

3:45pm: The Caretaker (see left). Shorts: “Shadow of the Unnameable” and “Before You.”

6:30pm: Faux Grindhouse Trailers (see below). After the feature, the over-the-top Troma trauma Father’s Day, guest speaker Paige K. Davis, director of business development for POP Cinema, will discuss the market for low-budget horror on DVD.

9:30pm: Come in your Halloween outfit for a costume contest after Krackoon, a monster comedy about a mutant raccoon on the loose in the South Bronx. Shorts: “God Like Feeling” and “The Outlaw.”

Sunday Oct. 21

1pm: Rat Scratch Fever (see left). Shorts: “Wormchild” and “Stella Buio,” starring Linnea Quigley.

3:45pm: An all-local program including Sexquatch, tongue-in-cheek horror from Rochester’s Chris Seaver about horny campers who encounter an even hornier monster. Shorts: “A Private Place” and “What Comes From Within.”

6:30pm: The fracking controversy provides an excuse to revisit the 1970s eco-horror genre in Demon Messenger, in which a vengeful Indian demon protects the land from greedy businessmen. Short: Debbie Rochon in “Onyx: Origins.”

8:45pm: Zero Killed, from Germany, a documentary featuring interviews with people who were given a chance to star in a short film in which their enacted their fantasies of murder. Short: “Killing Me Softly.”


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