Last year a new horror event made its debut. The After Dark Horrorfest is an intriguing idea--a handful of independent horror films get shown in mainstream theaters around the country for one weekend. In 2006 it was advertised as "8 Films to Die For", which made no sense because there were 9 films (apparently they added "Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror" at the last minute) and played for one weekend in early November. This year it actually is 8 films, and they're spread out over a full week (including both weekends).
Last year, despite a huge ad blitz online (and as far as I saw, only online), attendance, at least at the theaters I went to, was pretty low. Personally, I think the kind of audience that sees their online ads is more likely to download pirated versions of their movies than to actually go out to a movie. But that's neither here nor there, apparently they decided they were successful enough to expand (at least in days, if not in number of films), and perhaps they're making their money on the DVD releases of their movies. I doubt they made anything on their other regular theatrical release, the universally reviled "Captivity" (in fairness, I didn't see it and therefore can't comment). Basically, they seem to be a lot more hype than execution. On the other hand, I've seen film festivals grow from next to nothing to big events, so anything's possible, as word gets out--depending on what that word is.
Anyway, I only mention the attendance woes just as a segue into my first night at this years festival, where I went to my local Fremont Cinedome and was one of only 3 people in the theater (I did talk a bit to the two kids who were also there, and they planned to go back and see everything over the weekend. I'm going to have to see most of it during the week or next weekend).
So the first movie was a British flick produced by SFX monster wizard Stan Winston, "The Deaths of Ian Stone". It starts with Ian Stone having a very bad day. His winning goal in a hockey match is called off, despite the clock stopping with 2 seconds left. Then on his way home, just in front of railroad tracks, he sees a figure slumped over in front of the tracks. He tries to call 999 (equivalent of 911, I assume), but there's no cell signal. He looks again and the man is gone. Then he's attacked by a giant black winged shadow monster and thrown in front of the train and dies. Then he wakes up apparently several years later in a boring office job. And the cycle starts again. A very promising, mysterious start, but unfortunately nothing else in the movie is as interesting as the mystery presented in the first 10 minutes. Clues trickle out via clunky exposition about creatures who live alongside humans but in a different plane. The exposition becomes more and more explicit, leaving absolutely no mystery by the end. There's one semi-big surprise, and then it devolves into a rather sappy moral. It's pretty close to a good movie. The monsters of course look cool and appropriately scary, the acting is fine. If they just cut out a few lines of exposition and let the audience figure out some things for themselves (trust me, they can) it would be much better.
And the second was an appropriately nasty Mexican-American movie based on an allegedly true story of a drug running gang who believed that demonic rituals involving human sacrifice would make them invisible while smuggling drugs. American college kids go to Mexico on break and of course it becomes a teens-in-trouble flick. Rider Strong ("Boy Meets World", "Cabin Fever"), Brian Presley, and Jake Muxworthy play the teens in trouble. Sean Astin shows up as a really filthy, mean thug working for the gang (looking nothing like Sam Gamgee). Marco Bacuzzi also makes a really bad-ass looking gangster, and Damián Alcázar does a great job as the Mexican cop who tries to rescue the victims. But really, the movie hangs (no pun intended) on the torture and sadism. And on the premise that it's based on reality. I don't really want to believe it really happened, but it makes the movie about 100 times more powerful, and saves it from just being "torture porn". One final note--I hate the term "torture porn" almost as much as I hate the actual sub-genre. And I'm not going to go on a rant here. I'll just say that while "Borderland" has torture scenes, it's not torture porn. It has a social conscience, it's not exploitative, and it looks at the torture with appropriate disgust and the victims with appropriate sympathy/outrage.