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The Viscera I Love: Skipp’s Personal FearFem Festival Faves!

by John Skipp

It’s been weeks since I told you about the then-upcoming Viscera Film Festival, an international traveling celebration of short horror films made by women, which launched at the Silent Movie Theater in Hollywood way back on July 17th.

Since then, I’ve been on the road myself: blowing through one-fifth of these United States, working and playing the Necon horror convention, successfully wrapping ROSE’s Kickstarter campaign, and doing a whole lotta other stuff I’ll be sure to mention later.

But through it all, I’ve been thinking about Viscera, talking about Viscera, flashing the literature and turning people onto the website. Not just because I think it’s a great, long-overdue idea that deserves to be promoted.

But because I honestly fucking loved it, and want to tell the world.

So now – as Viscera prepares to hit Vegas tomorrow with two nights of shows, including several sick chick flicks I haven’t yet seen – it seems like as good a time as any to make up that lost time.

So here are as many of my faves from the L.A. show as I can scribble down tonight.

1) 12/15/1996

Written and directed by Mae Catt

What starts out, transparently, as yet another fuckity-fuck-strewn riff on the intro to From Dusk Till Dawn abruptly pivots – with one swift, bloody punch in the nose – into something so funny and dark and clever and tense and endlessly, twistily-surprising that Tarantino himself could not have thought or shot it better. And I bet he’d agree.

This 10-minute two-character tour de force of genuine shocks and laughs-out-loud won “Best Director”, and I approve. If there’d been an award for “Best Screenplay”, I would have rooted for that, too. In a world that has now spent decades trying to replicate the QT effect, largely in vain, it was wonderful to see someone not just totally get it, but twist and transcend and utterly make it their own.

Which is to say: I love Mae Catt for precisely the same reasons I love Tarantino. So smart. So idiosyncratic. So good with actors, the casting thereof. So clear on precisely where the camera belongs, when. So on top of every visual/emotional beat. So in love with the medium. So great with dialogue. And sooooo much authentically dangerous, fiercely energetic fun.

It kicked my ass, and was my fave. I could go on all day. I wanna see her first feature. And the one after that. I think you get my drift.

2)  Nursery Crimes

Written and directed by Laura Whyte

This pitch-perfect, beyond-fractured Bizarro fairy tale was an animated marvel somewhere between Jan Svankmeyer’s Alice and the ants in Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Cheerfully alarming to contemplate, absolutely gorgeous to behold, and a whole lotta fun. I deeply loved.

From here, I’m not sure about writing credits. So I’m just gonna note the directors. Sorry!

3)  Threnody

Directed by Tyrrelle Shafnner

Hard to talk about this one without giving away its haunting, deliciously navigated twists. But this piece – conceived in what Shafnner laughingly called her “musician phase” – says so much about music and loneliness and clubs and shared passion and lost, eternally broken dreams that it would be great, even if it WEREN’T a phenomenal horror film, doing justice to a popular form of horror monster that I do not usually care for. But by God, she utterly nails it. (Guess which one.)

The music is great. The direction is great. The photography, the colors, the structure, the writing, the performances, the shockingly subtle (and subtly shocking) fx, the pretty much EVERYTHING is dialed just right.

Did I mention that I fucking loved this film?

4)  Lump

Directed by Faye Jackson

Lump won Best Film, and I ain’t gonna argue. It’s a genuine Cronenbergian medical nightmare film, exquisitely rendered every step of the way, with a deeper-than-bone-deep terror throbbing under every greenish frame. It’s not fun, but it is phenomenal, with an unstinting scalpel that knows just when to cut away, and when to dig in. And you will never unsee it. I can guarantee you that.

5)  Doll Parts

Written and Directed by Karen Lam

Another meticulous emotional meatgrinder, genuinely redolent with directorial horror film prowess. This is the rapiest film in the festival, and it does not flinch for a second. But it offers so much more.

As with Threnody – and Staci Layne Wilson’s dream-flecked tone poem, The Key to Annabelle Lee – the colors are sometimes cranked to awesome hallucinatory levels (one of the few esthetic threads I tracked in the festival at large).

That said, this bad dream walks the line between art film and horror film exquisitely. Nicolas Roeg meets Ted Bundy. Was I impressed? Oh, yes, I was.

It kills me to short-shrift the rest of the films, but I’M TIRED, and a couple of beers in.

So let me wrap by citing Kate Shelton’s hilariously disturbing Bon Appetit, which got more laughs than the rest put together. Nikki Wall’s Box and Marichelle Daywalt’s The Many Doors of Albert Whale are incredibly well-directed nightmares, as is Short Lease, by Jennifer Eiss and Prano Bailey-Bond.

Way down in the Lynchian collective unconscious, Rachael Deacon’s A Fever and a River struck a lot of raw nerves. Lori Bowen’s Aftershock took a time-honored zombie apocalypse moment and nailed it with one single stunning visual, shot through a glass door.

Annette Slomka’s gore-strewn grindhouse trailer for The Blood Shop was the most authentically 80s moment of the festival, and filled my heart with retro joy. And I can’t believe it took this long to get to Blood Bunny (Molly Amdfis), The Ghost and Us (Emily Charmicael), and Daddy’s Girl (Helen Komini Olson). Immense crowd-pleasers, all.

And then there was the trailer that made me cry: You Can Execute Her But You Can’t Kill Her, from Jasmine Hirst’s documentary on the unspeakably tragic life and death of Aileen Wuorous, America’s go-to female serial killer, who only killed men who were planning to rape her.

I don’t mean to condone murder or anything. But just look at her smile, in this candid footage, and YOU TELL ME if those fuckers didn’t deserve to get their ass kicked off this planet by a woman who just couldn’t take it any more.

Which brings me to my thesis, if I have one.

And it is this:

WOMEN KNOW HORROR. Know it just as well as men do. Experience it at least as much. Are doubtlessly more comfortable with blood. And have an awful lot to say on the subject.

And when it comes to the technical end – delivering the goods cinematically – Viscera proves that THERE’S NO GOOD FUCKING REASON IN THE WORLD why a number of these women shouldn’t be directing crowd-pleasing features. Or crowd-alienating features.

Just like men.

Incredible literary horror fiction by women has demonstrated this time and time again. But film is expensive. It’s a money medium.

So all I’m sayin’ is, Viscera showcases a whole lotta women who make that point. And the proof is in the pudding. And that pudding could kick your ass.

SO GO, VISCERA WOMEN! I’m behind you a trillion percent. You are showing me shit – as both art and entertainment – that I desperately want to see.

Keep making it. And more to the point: keep making it so good that movie moguls finally figure it out, and realize how many of us in the audience-o-sphere are deeply hungering for your insights, talents, and skills.

That’s my love letter to the Viscera Film Festival.

I LOVE YOU. And think it’s important to say so. And couldn’t be happier to do so, every chance I get.

Yer pal in the trenches,


3 responses

  1. Pingback: Glowing Review for Threnody from Bizarro Central | Tyrrell Shaffner

  2. We love you too, Skipp. And I can’t possibly express how much I appreciate the support you’ve given. I’m personally blown away to read such a glowing response from a writer I respect and enjoy as much as I do you. Thank you, again. xoxo

    August 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm

  3. Pingback: Threnody: an award-winning short film about vampires | Tyrrell Shaffner

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