The second weekend of Southend's horror festival was held at the White Bus Cinema last month and kicked off on the Saturday afternoon with "Dark Awakening" (Dean C. Jones, 2014). This American thriller features a cute young couple with their photogenic little boy who move into deserted mansion in the countryside. Their en famille attempt to live in rural seclusion is marred by the fact the entire town appears to be inhabited by sinister old people who won't stop staring at them. Their little boy starts insisting there are imaginary friends around the place and draws creepy crayon pictures of them, when not investigating the deserted basement against his parents' orders. There's an entertaining backstory of the dad's previous career as a murdering child (pushing a child on a swing then sneaking up behind them with a pitchfork to stick in their back).
Writer Josh Edwards plays this as a very obvious riff on The Shining, with the child even called Danny and rides around the huge house on a trike. Even Lance Henriksen as the priest determined to help can't save the day, and the only mildly unnerving scene was when Danny and his mum visit the local town mall, and are chased by scary old people.
"Beyond the Grave" (Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro, 2011) is an interesting Spanish post-apocalyptical zombie road movie, with lone survivors driving around. It's an interesting idea but marred by crossbow-wielding hammy actors and unconvincing undead. "The Apostate: Call of the Revenant" (Andy Dodd, 2015) is a slice of Brit gore with office nobody Mr Cooper awakening locked into an office storage room, smeared with blood. There's a tough blonde female 'tec, determined to get the truth, who demands to know if he wants to be known as the "Midlands murderer". But despite increasingly gory flashbacks, nothing seems to be coming back to him: is he a lucky lone survivor or corporate killer?
Spanish short "The Old Man and the Dust" (Khris Cembe, 2015) centred around a young house help and her elderly employer and his obsessive dust collection, which leads to an unexpected conclusion. Harvest (Martin Sonntag and Kim Sonderholm, 2015) is a sharp, funny Danish short about a killer looking for victims to sell their organs. After a clichéd opening of the anti-hero dissecting a blonde who was unwise enough to walk home on her own late at night, he decides another unwilling donor is needed. He contacts an attractive young woman online and meets her in a bar, spikes her drink and plans to usher her back to his lab before she loses consciousness. But the resourceful young lady has other ideas.... "My Horrible Love" (Charles Edmond, 2014) was a low-budget (£10,000) comedy of four Essex boys and girls staying in a caravan. It could be described as a scatological comedy (with characters taking pictures of their own waste on their iPhone to show it to the others) and only just verges on horror in the last 15 minutes when a zombie arrives out of nowhere to eat the rest of the cast. The undead makeup was excellent, with striking electric-blue contacts, and the end credits neatly used the cast's real life childhood photos with the eyes zombified as a foreshadowing of their eventual fate. This could have been seen used earlier in the film to create a sense of unease, or at least ensure that there were some horror elements to the film (apart from a line about the attractiveness of Myra Hindley).
The quartet's arguments about repaying money, incest, and inappropriately sexy outfits at funerals were repeated, getting steadily less funny each time and unfortunately not using the cast's obvious comedic talents, which were very well used in the "Who am I?" game. Director Edmond addressed the audience on the filming, and his enthusiasm shone through for the genre.
Sunday afternoon started with five shorts from Horror Network, Volume One (directors: Brian Dorton, Joseph Graham, Manuel Marin and Lee Matthews). The consisted of "Edward" featuring a young man receiving counselling who starts to mention a recurring nightmare he has about a murdered schoolmate. "Quiet" sees a schoolgirl with hearing loss, whose mum texts her about someone picking her up from the bus stop, but instead makes her own way home through the woods. "Merry Little Christmas" was a disturbingly explicit case of domestic violence on Christmas Eve, and "The Deviant" featured neighbour who is also a kills next door's dog and murders then buries a young man. "3am" had a woman in a deserted farm house receiving anonymous phone calls at 3am, and then is alarmed by some children's toys.
"Clinger" (Michael Steves, 2015) sees the downside of true love, when a young woman's highschool sweetheart dies while trying to prove his eternal devotion and then becomes a complete nuisance from beyond the grave, in a gorily-slapstick comedy.