Horror flicks can be really cheap to make, which is why so many indie filmmakers choose that genre. But scary horror films are also really, really hard to make. Pacing is key. Also, avoiding anything campy. (I love the Evil Dead movies, but scary they are not.)
With that in mind, I just watched Dead Creek, a 16-minute film by Northfield director Mike Turner. He'll be screening it at the Vermont Horror Fest on Friday, October 30 at 7 p.m. at Outer Space Café in Burlington.
Turner, 35, has professional experience, and it shows. (His previous movie was Primevil, and he's worked on various feature films.) "Dead Creek" has already screened at five horror-themed film fests around the country and won the Best Director award at Philly's Terror Film Festival and the Best Horror Short Film award at the Fargo Fantastic Film Festival 7.
So here's my informal (and candid) review: "Dead Creek" has great atmosphere and photography. (Burlington College grads Georgia Pantazopoulos and Mark Covino did the shooting.) It's set in a vast swamp in Addison County that appears to be full of constantly drifting mist. Whenever Turner gives us a wide shot of the swamp, the beauty (and creepiness) are overwhelming. This is no shot-on-the-fly Blair Witch-type deal.
But is it as scary as Blair Witch? (I'm one of those who still thinks BW was scary.) For my money, the story by Turner and script by Travis J. Kehoe are a bit too elaborate for such a short film. The plot involves two sisters (Taryn Hough and Kerrin Jeromin, also known as the Fox 44 meteorologist) who take a hike that somehow leads them straight into the swamp where their sister died many years ago. (Now, if my sister had vanished into murky water before she hit her teens and I was partially responsible, I think I'd stay well clear of the site. But that's me.)
Getting picky now, I'm going to say I found the script and acting somewhat stilted. But — and this is a big but — when the girls stopped talking, Turner pulled off a couple of moments that genuinely startled and scared me. He says he's influenced by Japanese horror, and you can tell — he knows how to stage the sudden apparition of an icky something covered in black goo so the viewer shudders instead of laughing. His ending really reminded me of the U.K. ending of The Descent, but hey, that's not a bad thing. (And Jeromin bears a resemblance to the lead actress in that film.)
So what I'm trying to say is, check it out. Then decide where you'd rather take your midnight Halloween hike to prove how tough you are, Dead Creek or Devil's Washbowl.
Another Halloween note:
Two years ago, I covered the spooky wedding of two young horror fans, Michael Molino and Sara Robedee, at Merrill's Roxy Cinemas. Michael emailed me last weekend to say that his mom, E. Frances Molino, who lives down in Florida, just self-published a Halloween-themed kids' picture book. Sara did the illustrations.
Now, here at the office, I receive roughly one self-published book per week. They blur. But I like the fact that this one is called The Night Before All Hallows, as in a riff on The Night Before Christmas. In her bio note, Molino talks about her memories of listening to a librarian read creepy tales by candlelight. I think we can all relate. Anyway, look for it on Amazon.com soon, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.