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It's always seemed a little sad that as a culture we try to shoehorn our celebration of everything disturbing, creepy and horrific into damp ol' October. Horrible stuff happens year-round, after all, not just in the month leading up to Halloween, and we as human beings pretty much always need to blow off steam, even when the birds are singing and the daffodils are popping up all over. The folks at the Little Rock Horror Picture Show clearly get that. The festival, which will kick off its third year on March 20, features four days of horror cinema in all its gory glory, smack dab in the middle of mostly-sunny March.
The LRHPS, one of the festivals under the Little Rock Film Festival umbrella, has been especially kind to indie filmmakers since its inception, celebrating horror made on tight budgets by up-and-coming directors, often with casts of unknown actors. While the festival is branching out a bit to include sci-fi, fantasy and animated fare this year, Horror Picture Show coordinator Justin Nickels said most of the more than 40 films on the schedule are still about the scares. Nickels believes the genre hits a particular nerve with many fans.
"I think people like horror films because we get to live out our fears and just have a good time," Nickels said. "It's generally fun, because with some of them, you don't have to think too hard, but there are others that are interesting in an intellectual way as well."
Below are some horrific highlights from this year's slate of films. For a full schedule, visit the LRHPS Facebook page at facebook.com/LittleRockHorrorPictureShow. Day passes to the festival are $20 and a festival pass is $50. If you bring three or more non-perishable food items with you, you'll get $3 off a day pass or $5 off a festival pass. Full passes get you priority seating and full access to all afterparties.
Though high school is often a Jello shot-flavored dream for the jock princes and cheerleader princesses that always seem to run the joint, it's usually partly cloudy with a 60 percent chance of suckage for the peasant classes, often due to the machinations and mockery of those previously mentioned high school royals. In "All Cheerleaders Die," co-writers/directors Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson play on all that teen angst with a remake of their own 2001 shot-on-video film of the same name. The plot is a supernatural twist on the ugly duckling story, with geeky Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) returning to school her senior year as a hottie, intent on seeking vengeance against the cheerleader mean girls who make life a living hell for everybody without tooth veneers. Maddy joins the squad to put her plan in motion, but after her rivals are killed in an accident involving the corresponding jerks on the football team, Maddy brings them back to life with the help of a little black magic, and things quickly get all grrrl powery and weird. There will be a Q&A with stars Brooke Butler and Tom Williamson after the screening, followed by an afterparty at W.T. Bubba's in the River Market district featuring music by Bonnie Montgomery and Gossip's Nathan Howdeshell.
While it may seem like horror cinema eventually gets around to exploiting every conceivable idea that might terrify, horrify or just plain disturb the hell out of the audience, there's still a sort of third rail in the genre that few want to approach, and that's the idea of a child's death. Those films that edge into that territory quickly gain a sort of notorious reputation, even in today's anything-goes horror film climate. One of the latest films to take hold of that rail is "Proxy," by director Zack Parker. It's the story of Ester Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen), a woman who is heading home from a doctor's appointment in her ninth month of pregnancy when she's jumped in an alleyway and brutally attacked by a hooded assailant, causing her to miscarry. Seeking help from a support group for those who have lost loved ones to violence, Ester meets a woman named Melanie (Alexa Havins), who is there because she lost her husband and son to a drunk driver. Soon, however, Ester realizes that her new confidant may not be everything she claims. Q&A with director Zack Parker after the screening.
Looking to get into making horror films yourself? The Little Rock Horror Picture Show will teach you how with three filmmaker panel discussions. First up at 11 a.m. Saturday is a panel on acting in horror, featuring stars from films highlighted at the festival. Next, at 3 p.m., is a panel on writing and directing. Last, at 5 p.m., you can learn how to get your spewing brains, spraying blood and foam rubber tentacles on during a panel discussion on the all-important subject of horror makeup and special effects.
The Horror Picture show has branched out into sci-fi and fantasy this year, and in the landmarks of early sci-fi, the Rock of Gibraltar might be "Metropolis," director Fritz Lang's lush, 1927 German Expressionist masterpiece, which features the Frankenstein-ian story of a mad scientist who builds a mechanical copy of his dead love. Rather than just screen the silent film and leave it at that, however, the festival has lined up a real treat for lovers of classic cinema: an all-original score for the film, written and performed live by 2013 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase winners Sound of the Mountain. Should make for a fun, interesting time at the movies, with a legendary sci-fi film on tap.
One of the primary ways to break into big-budget filmmaking these days is to shoot a short film that goes viral on the Internet, eventually reaching the eyes of someone with enough pull to give you some real money to make a feature. Because horror and sci-fi are such attention-grabbing genres to begin with, the short films in those genres have a reputation for being consistently strong. The Little Rock Horror Picture Show will be screening more than 25 shorts from around the world this year, scattered throughout the festival.
On Saturday, however, they'll show them all in three blocks. Check the LRHPS Facebook page for more information.
One thing this writer misses from the 1980s is the sci-fi comedy — think "Weird Science," "Real Genius," "Ghostbusters," etc. — a genre you really don't see that much of anymore. Science and scientists in film these days are all dire and dreary, and who wants to sit through that? The folks behind the crowdfunded science-fiction comedy "Point B" hope to fill the gap. Shot on a shoestring budget in the Salt Lake City area and billed as an " '80's influenced sci-fi comedy," the film centers on four grad students who accidentally build a teleportation device while trying to create a "clean energy" machine. As you might imagine, things quickly go to hell in a handbasket for everyone involved. Q&A with the filmmakers after the screening.