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Buffalo Screams

"What Are They," written and directed by Kash Costner, screens Thursday, October 21.

The region’s homegrown horror festival gets underway this weekend

There’s no question that fall is film festival season. Makes sense. After three months of movies designed primarily for kids and the parents who pay for their popcorn, adults need to be reminded that their needs are being met as well. But as the lengthening nights grow deeper and Halloween draws near, a lot of you feel the need for something other than Sri Lankan coming-of-age stories, historical dramas about British court intrigue, and documentaries about endangered wallabies.

Horror movies are not rare his time of year. Unfortunately, nor are they as a rule any good. Remakes, retreads, reboots, and other regurgitations rule at the box office. Hollywood doesn’t believe you’ll go see something unless you proved you were interested in it by seeing it in the past, if that makes any sense to you.

El Monstrol Del Mar

If it doesn’t, welcome to Buffalo Screams, the film festival for horror fans by horror fans, unspooling for four days beginning next Thursday at the Screening Room in Williamsville.

Buffalo Screams was conceived by two Buffalonians who know horror. Greg Lamberson directed his first horror film, Slime City, back in 1988, and of late has had some success as a novelist with Johnny Gruesome and The Frenzy Way. Emil Novak is the proprietor of Queen City Books and a long-time fixture on the Buffalo independent scene, having photographed such films as Prison of the Psychotic Damned and directing his own features Tesla the Accumulator, Banshee, and the in-progress zombie anthology Decayed.

The initial inspiration for a Buffalo horror festival came from the number of genre films that have been made here recently or are currently under production by local filmmakers. Although there are some people who have worked on more than one of these films, the talent pools is mostly independent, so Buffalo Screams hopes to help build a community while exposing their creative work to a larger audience than they might gain on their own.

And of course there is no lack of horror films around the world trying to find an audience in an increasingly crowded marketplace. So Novak and Lamberson spread the word and starting accepting submissions. Making a point of offering constructive criticisms to everyone who entered a film, they selected 33 short and feature films from around the world to present.

What gives Buffalo Screams a leg up on a lot of similar festivals is that these guys know what they’re doing. They’ve been to enough of these kind of events to know what fans want. They have connections to give them credibility in the horror community. And they have their eyes set on the long run, determined to do everything they can their first time at-bat to generate buzz that will attract more filmmakers next year.

I’ve seen a number of the films that will be screening, and the most impressive thing about them is their range. If you think that the horror genre these days consists of nothing but vampires and zombies, you’re in for a surprise. The offerings at Buffalo Screams cover a wide range, from psychological thrillers to splatterfests, from comedy to documentary, with detours into science fiction and even a Western (albeit a gruesome, violent Western).

Debbie Rochon

With more than 175 film and television appearances since 1988, Debbie Rochon is one of the busiest actresses in the horror business. (According to, she has ten features in post-production at the moment.) So it’s amazing that she has time to appear as the guest of honor at Buffalo Screams.

It’s not the first venture to the Queen City for the Canadian-born actress, who made her debut as an extra in the cult classic Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains before moving to Manhattan and theater work in the 1980s. Along with a cameo appearance in Poultrygeist she was also an assistant to the director on that Troma movie. And she co-stars in Buffalo Screams co-founder Greg Lamberson’s Slime City Massacre, which will have its local premiere on Saturday October 23.

If her body of work weren’t enough proof that she’s not just in this business for the money, Rochon fills her spare time with a host of other pop culture activities, including writing a column for Fangoria magazine and hosting various radio shows in he New York City area. She is at work on her biography, which between her childhood as an abused homeless teenager in Vancouver and association with just about every genre filmmaker of the past 20 years should prove to be quite a read.

Among the best of the films I’ve seen:

HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS, GODFATHER OF GORE—Although he made his name in the 1960s by inventing the “gore” movie, Lewis is an awfully nice guy with a wry sense of humor about his place in film history. He likes to compare his seminal Blood Feast to the poetry of Walt Whitman—“It was no good, but it was the first of its kind.” This documentary covers his career in the last glory days of exploitation filmmaking, from his early nudie-cutie films and partnership with Dave Friedman until his retirement and second career as a direct marketing consultant. Lots of entertaining film clips and interviews with John Waters, Joe Bob Briggs, Frank Hennelotter, and Lewis himself. Sat 8:45pm (admission includes El Monstro Del Mar at 7:30 pm).

EL MONSTRO DEL MAR—This Australian feature initially looks like a sneak preview of Quentin Tarantino’s remake of Faster Pussycat Kill Kill but winds up as an homage to the 1950s monster movies of Roger Corman. Along the way it’s filled with tattooed goth chicks (one in a Bettie Page-ish leopard skin bikini) and lots of psychobilly and 1960s soul music. The titular monster (no, I don’t know why the title is in Spanish) is gloriously non-CGI, but the saturated photography of the Ozzie shore gives it an interesting otherworldly atmosphere. Sat 7:30pm.

RESIDENT HORROR—Once you get past the distraction of actors who are way younger than the parts they’re playing, this parody of the Resident Evil series by a local troupe of gamers and improv comedians is pretty funny. Shot largely in various corridors at UB’s Amherst Campus and featuring digital blood-spurting effects and an even more ridiculous turkey monster than the Florida classic Blood Freak, it benefits from actors who don’t lose the focus of their ridiculous characters. I particularly enjoyed David Autovino as an underplaying macho soldier and Richard Durham as a British commando who always refers to himself in the third person. Fri 3pm.

“THE FAMILIAR” and “CABINE OF THE DEAD”—As long as we’re talking about comedy, these two short films are good enough to build a visit around even if you’re indifferent to the rest of the program. The first is a Canadian two-reeler about a vampire aficionado who gets hired as a bloodsucker’s assistant, only to discover that it’s not the glamorous career he was anticipating. The second is a French entry about a businessman stuck in a phone booth and trying to call for help as he’s surrounded by zombies. Both look like test reels for prospective feature films that I’d love to see. “The Familiar” plays Thu 9:10pm; “Cabine” is Fri at 5:30 pm.

TRUE NATURE—Looking for something a little subtler and less gory? Check out this handsomely produced psychological thriller from Chicago about a young woman who disappears while jogging. A year later she shows up at her parent’s house, unable to remember what has happened to her. Could it be connected to her father’s shady business dealings? Be forewarned that there is some strong violence in the climactic scenes. Thu 7:30pm.

UNDER THE SCARES—It only seems like every horror fan and film student in the world has made their own micro-budget feature. In fact, half of them only want to but don’t know how to get started. They’re the target audience for this how-to documentary that offers a solid amount of useful information on how to make your own fright film, along with such sage advice as, “If you want to make a lot of money, get a job on Wall Street.” Filled with clips from gory amateur and semi-pro films and lots of knowledgeable talking heads (though someone should tell Lloyd Kaufman that Cabin Fever was directed by Eli Roth, not Eli Wallach). Thu 5:30pm.

ADRIFT—A work in progress from Emil Novak’s in-production anthology of zombie stories, this segment follows two couples trapped in a boat on the Erie Canal as society crumbles from an accumulation of chemicals in processed food. Fri 7:45pm.

Slime City Massacre

BORN TO DIE—It’s not exactly a horror movie, but those attracted by the credit “Produced by Buffa-low Budget Films in association with Zombified Studios” will not be disappointed. The dead bodies in this circular (saw?) tale of crime and revenge may not come back to life, but they sure do pile up! Directed by Jay Mager (The Pigman) and shot on familiar locations including Club Diablo, miraculously morphed into a biker bar. Sun 11:45am.

SLIME CITY MASSACRE—Greg Lamberson’s original Slime City was one of those 1980s movies that gained a cult largely for its low-budget limitations. Working on a larger but still miniscule budget, he managed to make this sequel look surprisingly professional with astute use of the Central Terminal train station, the kind of set you couldn’t afford to build even if you had deep, deep pockets. He also has very capable actors, and the result is a genuinely engrossing story set in the aftermath of a dirty bomb attack and the general breakdown of government. Too many sequels turn jokey, but Lamberson went in the opposite direction, mining his original conception for 21st-century relevance. Let’s hope this won’t be our only chance to see it on a big screen! Sat 5:50pm.

For ticket information and the complete screaming—uh, screening—schedule, visit

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