Scary Movies X, New York’s top horror festival returns to the Film Society of Lincoln Center from July 14 to 20, 2017, opening with the New York Premiere of Damien Leone’s aptly named Terrifier, the follow-up to his earlier All Hallow’s Eve, which finds creepy cult killer Art the Clown back on the prowl. The screening will be followed by the fest’s “Cake, Clowns & Corpses”– themed 10th birthday party.
Scary Movies X closes with a double dose of dread: the New York premieres of Brandon Christensen’s Overlook Film Festival prizewinner Still/Born, serving up heaps of new mommy trauma; and Colin Minahan’s It Stains the Sand Red, an inventive zombie picture set in the blistering desert.
Other highlights include Damien Powers’s Killing Ground, a “straight-up, stripped-down suspenser” (Variety) about a camping trip gone wrong in the Australian bush; Caught, Jamie Patterson’s subtle, otherworldly home-invasion pic starring Mickey Sumner; Pavan Kirpalani’s Hindi head-trip Phobia; and Daniel Castro Zimbrón’s The Darkness, a highly atmospheric post-apocaylptic thriller lensed by Diego García (Neon Bull, Cemetery of Splendor).
Continuing the fest’s 10th anniversary celebrations are a quartet of delightfully nasty party-themed flicks from the 1970s and ’80s: Ed Hunt’s Bloody Birthday, George McCowan’s Frogs, J. Lee Thompson’s Happy Birthday to Me, and William Fruet’s Killer Party. And to top it all off, Scary Movies X presents an evening with comedy legend and horror maestro Bob Balaban in person, featuring screenings of his Parents and My Boyfriend’s Back, both films ripe for rediscovery.
FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS
All films screen digitally at the Walter Reade Theater unless otherwise noted.
Damien Leone, USA, 2016, 82m
Coulrophobics beware! It’s Halloween night and Art the Clown, the cold-blooded killer who also stalked Damien Leone’s previous short of the same name and his 2013 omnibus feature All Hallow’s Eve, is not wearing a creepy costume just for show. He’s as evil as he looks—seriously, the scariest clown to ever hit movie screens—and, after an evening of partying, two young women unluckily enter his sights. At first they’re mildly amused by his presence (the ditzier of the two even dares take a selfie with him), but soon they understand the true danger he presents, as he proceeds to terrorize them, as well as anyone else who crosses his path. Lean and oh so mean, Terrifier is grittier, and more jarringly depraved, than most horror movies these days, oozing ’80s slasher–style gore. New York Premiere
Friday, July 14, 7:30pm (Q&A with Damien Leone)
Brandon Christensen, Canada, 2017, 84m
Young couple Mary and Jack are about to become proud first-time parents to a set of twins. But something goes wrong in the delivery room and only one baby makes it out alive. Mary, feeling somewhat displaced, living in a new home and neighborhood, begins to exhibit paranoid tendencies—is she dealing with postpartum depression or are demons in fact trying to steal her newborn as she vigorously claims? Winner of a special jury prize for “scariest film” at the recent inaugural edition of the Overlook Film Festival and co-produced and -written by Colin Minahan, director of the other closing-night selection, It Stains the Sand Red, the film is indeed chockful of frights. And as everything continues to spiral further out of control, Still/Born stays grounded thanks to the intense, dedicated performance of Christie Burke as the mother who means business in keeping her baby safe no matter what forces are against her. New York Premiere
Thursday, July 20, 7:00pm
It Stains the Sand Red
Colin Minahan, USA, 2016, 92m
The solo feature directorial debut of Colin Minahan, one half of the Vicious Brothers (Grave Encounters, Extraterrestrial), makes his strongest impression yet with this engaging, visually striking film, set during apocalyptic times, about a woman, Molly (a fearless Brittany Allen), who finds herself stranded in the desert after her dumbass boyfriend is killed by a zombie. As she’s pursued by the threatening yet slow-moving creature, who relentlessly trails her close behind, the film becomes something of a character study of victims, both monster and human—a zombie humanized with a happy past, and a woman desensitized by a more troubled one. The mortals that pop up in the story, as per usual, are often just as bad as the monsters; Molly herself is flawed, a drug addict who has abandoned her young daughter, but who throughout a series of terrible incidents remains strong because hardship is nothing new for her. A Dark Sky Films release. New York Premiere
Thursday, July 20, 9:30pm (Q&A with Colin Minahan and Brittany Allen)
Better Watch Out
Chris Peckover, USA/Australia, 2016, 89m
Encompassing three great traditions of horror—the Christmas, home-invasion, and babysitting subgenres—Better Watch Out is a twisted and twisty mash-up of dark delights as filtered through the lens of an ’80s teen comedy. Cheeky 12-year-old Luke (Levi Miller) has long crushed on his super-cute, and of course already taken, babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) and decides that while under her watch on Christmas Eve he will finally make his move. But the big night is disrupted by the arrival of a menacing masked intruder, setting the scene for a chain reaction of progressively disturbing events. Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton appear as Luke’s parents, who, along with audiences, are in for a truly chilling holiday surprise. A Well Go USA release. New York Premiere
Tuesday, July 18, 7:00pm
Ed Hunt, USA, 1981, 85m
“Just because you all have the same birthday doesn’t mean you’re special,” a teacher informs tight-knit trio Steven, Curtis, and Debbie as they turn 10. She’s right—it’s that their simultaneous births in 1970 Southern California occurred during a solar eclipse that makes their situation out of the ordinary. Apparently, Saturn, which is known to control the emotions, was blocked, leaving the astrologically ill-timed children cold-hearted. And, for some unexplained reason, a decade into their lives, the little maniacs set out to wreak some bloody havoc, sparing no one, not even their own families, in their murder spree, on which they put to use a wide array of weapons, including guns, ropes, cars, and arrows. With inspired direction, loads of nudity, and a moody score, this is pure ’80s trash cinema, and evil-kid horror, at its finest.
Saturday, July 15, 3:15pm
Jamie Patterson, UK, 2017, 85m
One afternoon, married journalists Julie and Andrew (Mickey Sumner and Ruben Crow) residing in the remote English countryside are paid a visit by an impeccably styled couple, whose odd manner of communication suggest there’s a disconnect, to say the least. Roles are reversed—the journalists become the interview subjects as they are questioned about their current research—and it begins to look like they may have stumbled upon something sinister. The behavior of the unwelcome guests (played perfectly by Cian Barry and April Pearson) becomes increasingly bizarre, and that Julie and Andrew have a tiny baby at home and a young son due back from school any moment only adds to the tension. Like its title, so succinct, even generic, until its meaning is put into clearer focus, Caught is a stellar example of what can be accomplished with little means but a whole lot of imagination, while also reminding us that it’s often the unknown that can be the most terrifying. North American Premiere
Sunday, July 16, 7:00pm
The Darkness / Las tinieblas
Daniel Castro Zimbrón, Mexico/France, 2016, 94m
After a mysterious apocalypse, Gustavo (Brontis Jodorowsky, who channels an intensity worthy of his family name) is left to care for his two sons, adult Marcos and teenage Argel, and his sickly young daughter, Luciana. The family has made their stand in a cabin in the woods, bathed in an eternal twilight and perpetually surrounded by toxic fog that may hide monsters. Gustavo keeps the children locked in the basement for their safety, but when early in the film he and Marcos venture outside to hunt for food, Marcos didn’t come back—and Argel is left to discover the secrets that his father and the woods are hiding. Claustrophobic, and exquisitely shot by Diego García (Neon Bull, Cemetery of Splendor), The Darkness transcends the horror tropes it gets its bones from, and becomes something beautiful, fantastical, and truly unnerving. New York Premiere
Sunday, July 16, 5:00pm
An Evening with Bob Balaban
Bob Balaban, Canada/USA, 1989, 35mm, 82m
As supremely black as a comedy can be, Bob Balaban’s brilliantly subversive feature directorial debut is deranged in all the right ways. Ten-year-old Michael, a socially awkward only child living in 1950s suburbia with his doting mom and emotionally abusive dad (Mary Beth Hurt and Randy Quaid, both great), is plagued by bizarre nightmares—which are about as terrifying as his reality: he suspects his picture-perfect parents to be cannibalistic, while not having a taste for meat himself. Recently relocated to a new town, Michael finds comfort in school through an equally oddball friend, who claims she’s from the moon, while figuring out how to survive his home life, and more specifically mealtime. You’ll never think of “leftovers” in the same way.
Monday, July 17, 7:00pm (Q&A with Bob Balaban)
My Boyfriend’s Back
Bob Balaban, USA, 1993, 35mm, 85m
At the start of this horror-comedy for the highest of lowbrow tastes—produced by Sean S. Cunningham, written by Dean Lorey (who went on to Arrested Development), and directed by the great comic actor Bob Balaban—geeky teen protagonist Johnny Dingle (Andrew Lowery) announces in voiceover: “This day was the beginning of the end of my life.” And, yes, after a severely botched attempt to play hero for Missy (Traci Lind), the girl he has forever lusted after, he gets shot by a masked robber at the deli where she works, but not before making his dying request that she go to the prom with him. When she says yes, he will do whatever it takes to make that a reality—decomposing body be damned!—much to the annoyance of Missy’s jock boyfriend (Matthew Fox) and his bullyish sidekick (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who nicknames Johnny “Dead Boy.” Unfairly maligned by many, this film is a delight due for a serious revisiting.
Monday, July 17, 9:30pm (Introduction by Bob Balaban)
George McCowan, USA, 1972, 35mm, 90m
It’s Jason Crockett’s birthday weekend and a group of family members have assembled on his Florida island plantation to celebrate. Environmentally unfriendly, the cranky, wheelchair-bound old man (Ray Milland) finds the growing masses of frogs inhabiting his space to be a menace and has no second thoughts about poisoning the waters to get rid of them. So when “nature” begins taking revenge, it’s easy to root against “man,” even if Crockett’s guests, as well as a photographer researching the area (played by a totally hunky Sam Elliott, in one of his first screen appearances), are unfairly caught in the path of destruction. Despite the film’s ludicrously misleading title—the killer creatures featured actually encompass a wide range from mainly toads to snakes, turtles, spiders, gators, and beyond—the gloriously campy B-movie provides a darn good creepy-crawly time.
Sunday, July 16, 1:00pm
Happy Birthday to Me
J. Lee Thompson, Canada, 1981, 35mm, 111m
Recovering from a highly traumatic event that took place around the time of her birthday many years past, pretty and popular Virginia (Melissa Sue Anderson) appears to have made some real progress. But as she approaches her 18th year, there’s a black-leather-gloved killer on the loose, knocking off her elite-private-school friends, which brings her stability into question. Giallo-like in its plot convolutions as well as its stark, shadowy visual style, this rare foray into strict horror by dark crime thriller master J. Lee Thompson is perhaps best known for its infamous shish-kebab murder scene, but the underappreciated slasher film has much more to offer, with a whole slew of show-stopping death set pieces and a stellar supporting cast, including Glenn Ford as Virginia’s doctor.
Saturday, July 15, 1:00pm
William Fruet, USA/Canada, 1986, 35mm, 91m
In 1986, a pair of April Fool’s Day–themed horror-comedies opened in theaters. The wider release of the two, April Fool’s Day, was a hit and remains a genre favorite, while the other was overlooked and lives in semi-obscurity. But today, Killer Party looks better than ever. It kicks off with a clever, awesomely cheesy pre-credits prologue that sums up the ’80s in just under 10 minutes, before shifting the focus to a group of friends eager to join a sorority, who prepare for a raging initiation party at a long-off-limits—for good reason!—frat house. Twenty-four hours of gags, hazing rituals, and demonic possessions ensue in this genuine treat of a slasher film—no surprise coming from William Fruet, the director responsible for The House by the Lake, Spasms, and Funeral Home.
Sunday, July 16, 3:00pm
Damien Power, Australia, 2016, 89m
The story starts like so many others: a couple are en route to a campsite. But unlike most survival thrillers, instead of the standard idiotic chatter, the relaxation-seekers here actually engage in intelligent conversation—revealing right away that this isn’t going to be the usual ride. On arrival, they find an eerily empty tent pitched nearby, its presence casting a dark shadow over their lovely spot as well as a sense of mystery about the whereabouts of its inhabitants. And as the action progresses, with an intriguing turn of the cinematic clock we begin to go back and forth in time so it can be revealed what happened to the other family—made up of a mom, dad, teenage daughter, and little baby. Expertly constructed and strongly acted—the two sadistic villains are truly skin-crawling and their prey authentic and sympathetic—Damien Power’s feature debut is at times excruciatingly cruel, yet always positively stunning. An IFC Midnight release.
Saturday, July 15, 7:15pm (Q&A with Damien Power)
The Limehouse Golem
Juan Carlos Medina, UK, 2016, 105m
In Victorian London, Scotland Yard inspector John Kildare (a great Bill Nighy, in a role originally meant for Alan Rickman, to whom the film is dedicated) takes a special interest in the well-being of Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke), a young stage performer accused of murdering her husband. She seems an unlikely killer and he becomes obsessed with proving her innocence, all while the title “monster” is leaving behind a string of mutilated corpses à la Jack the Ripper—a case that may just be connected to Lizzie’s. This jam-packed, handsome, highly literate film—adapted from Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 novel Dan Leno & the Limehouse Golem and featuring real-life historical figures (such as Karl Marx, novelist George Gissing, and theater actor Dan Leno) woven into the fictional narrative—satisfies as a gothic murder mystery and an inside look into the lively world of the music halls so popular at the time, while also offering its fair share of bloodletting. An RLJ Entertainment release. U.S. Premiere
Saturday, July 15, 5:00pm
The Night of the Virgin / La noche del virgen
Roberto San Sebastián, Spain, 2016, 117m
Spanish with English subtitles
Every developing boy has sex on the brain and his “first time” is a momentous occasion. So when a sexy older woman at a New Year’s Eve party shows interest in Nico, an awkward and unfortunate-looking late bloomer at 20, the offer to go home with her is one he can’t refuse. That her name is Medea is only the first of many red flags, and it becomes rapidly clear that Nico would have been way better off holding on to his virginity a bit longer. The insanity that unfolds that evening in Medea’s cockroach-infested apartment is better witnessed than described, because nobody would believe the half of it. Audacious, inventive (featuring some spectacular practical effects), sometimes hilarious and jaw-droppingly disgusting, and always totally bonkers, the film has more on its mind than pure gross-out—though it succeeds in that too. In any case, we promise you have never seen anything like it… New York Premiere
Tuesday, July 18, 9:00pm
Jon Ford, UK, 2016, 105m
After his father passes away, Bernard (Russell Floyd) inherits a sprawling home in the French countryside—but on the condition that he and his wife Helen (Lisa Eichhorn) actually live there for a designated period of time. The retired urbanites decide that a more idyllic existence might do them some good, but sadly it’s not peace that awaits them, as a pack of barbaric local teens promptly begin tormenting them. With no one to turn to (the neighbors are all terrified and the cops corrupt) a war rages between the feral youth and the more civilized older folks as they’re pushed to their limits. Rough and raw (visually as well as thematically), the ultra-tense film is painfully cruel yet purely satisfying, and, with the introduction of some revelations about Bernard’s father, it also serves as an intriguing exploration of three generations of violence. New York Premiere
Sunday, July 16, 9:00pm
Pavan Kirpalani, India, 2016, 111m
Hindi with English subtitles
Mehak (Radhika Apte) is a talented, vivacious painter, but after a horrific attack she becomes afflicted with post-traumatic agoraphobia. Her condition overwhelms her sister Anusha’s hospitality and sympathy when it starts affecting her young nephew, and she soon finds herself living alone in an apartment lent to her by an old friend. She’s too afraid to even approach the door and unwilling to accept anyone’s offers for help, while strange neighbors and even stranger images begin to appear before her. And as the hallucinations become increasingly violent, she falls deeper and deeper into madness. Or is she in fact haunted? Are those severed fingers real? Phobia is the strongest Hindi horror outing in ages, anchored by a fiery performance by Apte, who absolutely rivets the screen. North American Premiere
Saturday, July 15, 9:30pm