There’s another day of repeat viewings left at the Overlook Film Festival as I type this up, but I’m rolling out of NOLA today and leaving it all behind. So long to the murderous humidity, blasting air conditioners, high calorie foods, and a vast sea of alcohol. My last day of the fest was day three, yesterday, which I spent indoors as much as possible. I also ended up partaking in the best the fest had to offer in the form of two movies – one of which I had already seen. The best event turned out to not be a movie at all, though. Instead, author Grady Hendrix returned to New Orleans to give Overlook attendees an early glimpse of his upcoming Paperbacks from Hell II: Think of the Children. The end result was one of the most entertaining experiences of my life.
Larry Fessenden Gives New Life to Frankenstein with Depraved
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been adapted so many damn times that you might think there’s nothing left to do with the story. But that didn’t deter indie horror legend Larry Fessenden from giving it a go. Fessenden has spent the last few years producing and acting, and his only directorial output has been in the form of shorts. Depraved marks his return to feature filmmaking for the first time since 2013, and the results don’t disappoint. In his time away from feature films, Fessenden has only grown stronger as a filmmaker, and Depraved ends up being his most visually stunning film to date. Fessenden directs the hell out of this thing, full of dreamy visual overlaps, graphic illustrations, montages, and immersive point-of-view shots. It’s a wonder to watch.
Depraved brings Frankenstein into the 21st century, opening with a scene of domestic bliss turned into domestic dispute as nervous Alex (Owen Campbell) ends up in a fight with his girlfriend Lucy (Chloë Levine, an actress who is becoming a familiar, and welcomed, face in the indie horror scene). Lucy wants kids, but Alex is horrified at the idea, and after a brief emotional blow-up, he decides to go back to his own apartment. The couple part ways awkwardly, but not bitterly. Alex assures Lucy they’ll continue their conversation tomorrow, but that doesn’t happen. Because on the stroll home through the New York streets, Alex is brutally stabbed to death.
This being a Frankenstein story, death is only the beginning. Alex is brought back to life, stitched together with new body parts as a taller, more muscular figure named Adam (now played by Alex Breaux). He has no memory of his past life. In fact, he doesn’t really know much of anything. He’s like a giant newborn. And he has only his “father”, a doctor named Henry (David Call) to care for him. Henry is a former field surgeon with PTSD who is working with an old buddy (Joshua Leonard) to develop a method of raising the dead.
Adam and Henry bond over the first half of the film, and here is where Depraved shines brightest. Fessenden is leaning into the Frankenstein story elements that focus on just what it is to be human, and watching Henry help his creation learn to talk, and interact, and become more social, is surprisingly emotional. That emotion is backed-up by a swooning, heartbreaking score courtesy of Will Bates.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Frankenstein story without something going wrong. Adam’s inner turmoil about who and what he is begins to become a serious problem – with deadly consequences. Sadly, it’s here where Depraved stumbles a bit. After a near-perfect first two acts, Fessenden moves the action to a new location – a house full of people as a storm rages outside. It’s obvious the filmmaker is paying tribute to Frankenstein‘s origins – dreamed-up on one dark and stormy night as part of a ghost story-telling parlor game. But this chunk feels completely disconnected from everything that came before, and drags on.
No matter: the rest of Depraved is strong. The film is surprisingly sweet and melancholic – it aches with the soul of a poet. And the make-up effects used to bring Adam to life are convincingly icky. I went into Depraved wondering if we needed yet another Frankenstein adaptation. I left realizing I had just experienced one of the best.
The Lodge is Just as Scary the Second Time Around
I tend not to revisit films I’ve already seen at film festivals. Time is short, and I want to experience as much new material as I can. That said, it was hard to resist another visit to The Lodge, the terrifying new chiller from Goodnight Mommy directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. I caught The Lodge at Sundance this year (my full review is here), and I was genuinely curious to see if the movie would still work for me now as it did months ago.
The answer: yes. In fact, I’d say I loved The Lodge even more the second time, as it gave me a chance to pick up on several tricks and clues the filmmakers have peppered throughout the movie to subtly clue the audience in on what’s happening. Awful, shitty kids Aidan (It actor Jaeden Lieberher) and his little sister Mia (Lia McHugh) are hellbent on giving their future stepmom Grace (Riley Keough) the cold shoulder. Grace wants nothing more than to bond with these children and to make them like her, but the kids have other plans. Plans that involve a traumatic event from Grace’s childhood.
Keough is the key to making all of this work. Her character is immediately sympathetic, and it’s easy to hate everyone around her – the kids, and even her future husband Richard (Richard Armitage) for putting her in one unfortunate situation after the next. After Grace and kids get snowed-in alone in a cabin near Christmas time, nightmarish things begin to unfold in the creaky, shadowy, claustrophobic walls of the location. Is it haunted? Is Grace dealing with psychological problems? Or is something else entirely going on here? You’ll find out by the time the credits roll, and I promise: you’ll be disturbed.
Paperbacks from Hell 2: Think of the Children Worships at the Altar of Christopher Pike
I’d read Grady Hendrix‘s Paperbacks From Hell, which had the author delving into the history often scary, often weird paperback horror novels and their lurid covers, but I had yet to see him perform live. The chance to rectify that revealed itself at this year’s Overlook, where Hendrix put on a one-man show in which he energetically took the audience through his upcoming book, Paperbacks from Hell 2: Think of the Children. The first Paperbacks was focused primarily on adult fic, but Think of the Children is all about tales of terror marketed at younger audiences – and their frequently terrified parents.
Decked out in a white suit and holding mass in a huge, somewhat moldy abandoned church, Hendrix took us through a hilarious journey that kicked-off with juvenile delinquent books of the ’40s and ’50s, all the way up till 1997, when the first Harry Potter book was released. Hendrix poked fun and also offered loving tribute to these books of yesteryear. Books in which teen girls run away from home to become hopheads; where an apocalyptic event leaves only children alive, leading to one child to take control after she reads Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead; and yes, books about teens being stalked and murdered by serial killers, ghosts and aliens.
A mere summary doesn’t do justice to Hendrix’s performance, full of bursting energy that never lets up. Over and over again, Hendrix seems to asking the audience, “Can you believe this shit?”, followed immediately by another question: “And isn’t it amazing?” The event ran a little over an hour, but honestly, I would’ve been fine if it had gone on all night. I could’ve listened to Hendrix preach the Gospel according to Christopher Pike all night. I came to the Overlook Film Festival solely focused on the idea of seeing movies. I head home now with the knowledge that I could’ve skipped every single movie and still left town happy having watched Hendrix’s hilarious history lesson.
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