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Tabloid Witch Awards

Weekly Universe




by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [October 1, 2020]




[]  For the 17th year in a row, the Hollywood Investigator is happy to announce the winners of its Tabloid Witch Awards horror film contest. Winning films came from Brazil, Canada, Greece, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Each year we like to assess current trends. This year's biggest news is the return of horror comedies. They had been in short supply in recent years, but this year saw many strong comedic horror entries.

A total of 203 films were entered this year, with just under 10% walking away with at least one award. In selecting winners, films were assessed for originality, technical mastery, acting, thematic depth, aesthetics (how well the technical aspects supported the film's story, characters, and themes), and entertainment value.

Here now are 2020's Tabloid Witch Award winning films:



* Best Horror Feature: Threshold


Virginia (Madison West) is acting crazy again. Her family suspects she's back on drugs. She insists this time it's different. She is possessed. Not your usual demonic possession. Instead, Virginia had joined a cult where they "did something" to her and this guy. Bonded them together, in some occult fashion. Each can inhabit and experience the other's body.

This man can make Virginia do things. Hurt others. Hurt herself. She can resist. Fight him. But the bond can only be broken if one of them dies. Virginia thinks he wants to kill her for that reason. She intends to find and kill him first.

Virginia's brother, Leo (Joey Millin), thinks drugs are making her paranoid. But he humors her. He will drive Virginia across country to find this man. Presumably he's in Las Vegas. But if they don't find him, she agrees to return to rehab.


Threshold is a small, intimate film, more creepy than scary. It's structured as a road trip film, screen time largely devoted to Virginia and Leo driving to Las Vegas, laughing, fighting, and sight-seeing along the way. The few other actors have only scant lines and brief moments. Because this pair are siblings rather than lovers (as in Jeepers Creepers), the promise of romance is removed, allowing us to fully focus on their paranormal dilemma.

Threshold is also psychological horror. We, like Leo, are uncertain if Virginia is possessed or merely hallucinating. A somber malevolence permeates the film, but the threats are intimated rather than explicit. Leo witnesses some unnerving incidents, but they are essentially harmless and could be coincidence. A cloaked figure runs past him in the hallway. Is it a cultist following Virginia, or merely a kid trying out his Halloween costume? (Yes, Threshold is set in late October).

Finally, because of the film's meandering "slow burn" plot structure, quietly menacing atmosphere, psychological complexity, and overall ambiguity, Threshold may also be classified as horror art. The following phrase is often unjustified and pretentiously self-applied, but in this case it fits: Threshold is "a thinking person's horror film."

Threshold is not strikingly original. It feels a bit like It Follows, in that a young person insists that an unseen terror is stalking her, to everyone's disbelief. Its ending was no surprise, reminding me of both The Blair Witch Project and The Ring. (I can't explain why without spoilers.)

But originality is rare in horror. Threshold displays moody lighting and beautiful photography, despite being shot on iPhones. Principal leads West and Millan offer strong performances as the sister and brother duo. Engaging characters that will draw you into to story, wanting to see how it turns out. Some viewers might grow impatient with the film's slow pace, but, yes, Threshold is horror art.

Co-directors Powell Robinson and Patrick R. Young have a website.



* Best Horror Documentary: Disregard the Vampire


Mike Messier is a Rhode Island based, micro-budget filmmaker. A few years ago, he attempted a feature film, Disregard the Vampire. Principal photography commenced, but was never completed due to lack of funds. Determined to salvage something from his project, Messier reedited some footage, added new interviews, and created this 40 minute record of his failed production.

(Its full title is Disregard the Vampire: A Mike Messier Documentary, so as to distinguish it from the abandoned feature.)

There's an Ed Wood quality to Messier's documentary. He comes across as a man whose ambition, enthusiasm, and promotional skills exceed his artistic reach. Like Wood, Messier has gathered a repertoire of actors and technicians who believe in him. An actress praises Messier's ability to raise funds and bring people together for a project. She suggests his promotional skills would serve well on other people's films.



Sometimes this work seems less documentary than mockumentary. Disregard the Vampire (the unfinished feature) was plagued with problems. A snowstorm delayed filming, thus limiting their shooting days. The lead actor dropped out due to a death in the family. At the last minute, Messier cast a lounge singer who'd never acted before. The singer opines that singing and acting are the same; it's all performing.

Well, some singers have made a successful crossover, some have not. But none of Messier's cast or crew is short on confidence. They discuss their aborted vampire project as if it were great art. Whether such self-assessments are justified, viewers must judge from the feature's clips, seen out of context and lacking a post-production polish.

Big studios often release promotional documentaries, heavy on mutual admiration and self-praise. There's some of that in Messier's documentary. But a raw honesty also shines through. Interview subjects appear unselfconsciously sincere rather than calculating. And Messier's exaltations over his grandiose creative visions are tempered with self-deprecating admissions of frustrations and failure. Overall, his documentary is a noteworthy addition to the history of low-budget, indie horror filmmaking.

Mike Messier has a website.



* Best Dramatic Horror Short: The Knock


The most common horror subgenre we receive most years is what I call the Boo! film. Very short films with a simple setup that end with a Boo! It can be a frightened child in a bedroom, or a woman alone at home, perhaps waiting for a date, or a night watchman alone at work. There's little time in these bite-sized films for rich characterization or elaborate story-telling. Just a spooky buildup, then out pops the monster. Boo!

Such films are often well made because they are so simple, but offer little originality. Rather than fear, they rely on a final shock.



Zach Lorkiewicz's The Knock goes the extra mile. Under five minutes long, The Knock elicits fear right from the start. It opens with a mysterious threat (an unknown woman knocking on a bedroom door), and keeps ratcheting up the fear and suspense, offering new twists and shocks as events progress. This short-short never falters. Fast-paced and relentless, it delivers terror from start to finish. The Knock was the scariest of this year's short film entries.

Production values are excellent. Beautiful blue and pink lighting and set decor contribute to the film's eerie atmosphere. Sound design is frightening and appropriate within the story's context. Despite her brief role, Lauren Buckley's performance (as the girl hearing the knock) is professional and engages our sympathy for her character.

No explanation is given as to why this is happening to Buckley's character. The Knock offers pure terror, not logical storytelling. Lorkiewicz says his film was inspired by one of his nightmares. That makes sense. The Knock effectively conveys a nightmarish surrealism.

Lorkiewicz has a website.



* Best Comedic Horror Short: Holy Hell


Some of the images in Holy Hell seem borrowed from Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick's profound examination of a sinister Deep State pagan sex cult. Holy Hell is a bit less profound, despite its full title: Holy Hell! or: A Profound Tale of Evil and Satanic Wickedness. Its cult members haven't yet made it into the Deep State. They bring cookies baked by their mothers to their Satanic ceremonies. They probably still live at home.




Holy Hell is a neat little film that does everything right. All three principal actors (J.B. Chen, Alex Malcolm Mills, Zack Shultz) create distinctive and memorable characters despite the film's brevity. These actors are fun to watch. Garrett Diffenbaugh's editing maintains a quick pace, as does Nick Farinola's sparse, witty dialog. The music is appropriately sinister, yet used in a way to support the humor. Cinematography and production design are slick.

The story is simple and entertaining. A group of none-too-impressive Satanists hope to conjure the devil with a human sacrifice. Like a classic Saturday Night Live skit, Holy Hell holds up to repeated viewing. That's been a common trait for most Comedic Horror Short winners over the years.

Directed by Nicholas W. Callais.



* Best Animated Horror Short: Welcome to Darkmoor


One eerie night in 1920, a woman drives through the English countryside and comes upon a strange town called Welcome to Darkmoor. That's its name. Not Darkmoor, but Welcome to Darkmoor. She is greeted by I Am Steven Cobb. Again, his full name. Everyone in Welcome to Darkmoor has odd names. The woman realizes she has forgotten her own name, as happens to all who come here. So she buys a new name from Call Me Charlie McGee. She pays for it with her hunger. Call Me Charlie McGee buys her hunger so he'll be in the mood for pizza.

Welcome to Darkmoor can be described as Alice in Wonderland done in the style of The Nightmare Before Christmas. An overall Tim Burton sensibility permeates the film, as things get curiouser and curiouser. Except that, unlike Burton, Harrison Allen uses Lego bricks for his stop-motion animation.




It's apparent that careful thought went into the beautifully cinematic compositions. Moody lighting enhances the film's black & white photography, occasionally enlivened with fierce splashes of red. Highlighting black & white with bright red has become a common trope in modern black & white films, but it still makes a visceral impact. Joshua David Mitchell's Burtonesque (or rather, Danny Elfmanesque) musical score adds to Welcome to Darkmoor's eerily surreal atmosphere.

Harrison Allen's body of animated work can be found on YouTube.



* Best Avant-Garde Horror Short: Shunkan


As with many experimental films, Shunkan has no logical story. Amy (Carolina Watts) appears to be in her apartment, yet her bathroom walls are covered with graffiti. Ominous, disembodied laughter resounds. A radio news report relates strange events. Someone set himself on fire. People with their eyes burned out. Some say they've lived this day before. The announcer suggests the listener might not exist. Be careful outside. You might meet yourself.

Amy goes out into the night. It's always night in Shunkan. Streets are mostly deserted. A few people in hoodies, masks, or eye coverings (as if they were blind). Their presence is menacing.

Shunkan is an impressionistic film, full of unexplained images and sounds. Like a nightmare, events feel as if they make sense, but we can't make sense of them. As filmmaker Ricardo Albuquerque explains, "The world decays in a Sao Paulo that exists outside our 'when', away from our 'where'."

Shunkan's hazy images emphasize pastel shades, as if seen through a mist, lending the events an insubstantial, dreamlike sensibility. Well, more nightmarish than dreamlike.




Although it might be serendipity, Shunkan is remarkable for capturing the current zeitgeist. The film feels both aimless and foreboding. The news announcer says that people report feeling as if they've lived this day already. That's how one might describe the real world since the Covid-19 lockdowns. Days pass uneventfully, generating no new memories. Every day feels the same. Aimless.

And the foreboding. The societal decay. Portland, Seattle, New York, and other cities have been plagued for months by masked protesters engaged in riots, looting, arson, vandalism, assaults, and the occasional shooting. It might have been unintentional, but in the current climate, the masked men in Shunkan can't help but evoke images we've seen on the news throughout much of 2020.

Because of Covid-19, shelter in place, economic uncertainty, masks, and riots, society feels as if it's disintegrating. Long stretches of boredom, with periodic outbursts of violence, and increasing stress levels. As early as March, filmmakers began flooding festivals with Covid-19 or BLM protest related films. Shunkan makes no mention of either, yet ironically, it captures the mood better than most.



* Best Trash Horror Film: Cold Blooded


A great Trash Horror film is a glorious failure. Several elements are required. The budget is usually miniscule. Production values are always rough. Actors can either chew scenery or do an impression of wood, but they must never display emotional depth, subtlety, or talent. (Re-Animator's stellar cast disqualifies it as Trash Horror). There should also be ambition -- a filmmaker whose vision extends beyond his abilities. And for true Trash Horror greatness, that vision should be outre -- too crazy for anyone to take seriously. Nevertheless, there must be sincerity. As with the Great Pumpkin's choice of pumpkin patches, great Trash Horror displays sincere artistic effort and love of horror. Finally, the result must entertain (e.g., Blood Feast, Don't Look in the Basement, Horror High, Basket Case, Shock 'Em Dead.)

Kidd Tommy's Cold Blooded pays homage to both Horror High and Shock 'Em Dead. Set in the 1980s, it's the tale of Moonie (Teva White), a young mad scientist who also manages her boyfriend's rock band. Then Rick (Nolan Potter) dumps Moonie for a hot blonde, and she concocts a potion that turns Rick into a lizard-man -- leading to rock & roll stardom and a trail of dead bodies.



But it would be inaccurate to call Cold Blooded a failure in the true Trash Horror sense. The film is also a "genre parody" -- a film that painstakingly mimics past genres, eras, and cinematic styles. Examples include Shafted (1970s blaxploitation), Isle of the Damned (1970s Italian cannibal horror), Automatons (1950s robot sci-fi), Man of the Century (1930s musical comedies), and Francesca (1970s Italian giallo). What these films have in common is a love for their source material.

That same love shines through Cold Blooded. Writer/director Tommy's film looks to have been shot in the 1980s and distributed on VHS. You have the hair styles and fashion, the hair band, the video store, and the color bleeds and tape glitches one expects when watching an old VHS tape.

Essentially, Tommy set out to make a film that's "so bad it's good." That's not as easy as it sounds. Directors who make an intentionally bad film rarely produce a film that "so bad it's good," but more often a film that's "so bad it's unwatchable." Their films lack sincerity. We sense the cast and crew got lazy because they thought bad filmmaking didn't require effort. The results on screen are more often slipshod than entertaining.

Cold Blooded is not true Trash Horror, but a painstaking parody of Trash Horror. Which, ironically, because of its sincere effort at parody, succeeds as both parody and as Trash Horror. It's actually Trash Horror, once removed. (Are you still with me?)

Kidd Tommy does an excellent job capturing the look, the sound, the vibes of the 1980s. Plus, she successfully depicts it through the direct-to-video prism of that era. Finally, she tells an entertaining story with engaging characters -- despite the actors' hammy performances, we are emotionally invested in Moonie and Rick. We care what happens to them.



* Best Horror Music Video: Head Down


The music video for "Head Down" (performed by The Royal Volts) is done in classic horror comic book style. A mad scientist creates a monster, and must then destroy it. The video features all the familiar elements: Bright, primary colored lights. Canted, comic book frames and dialog bubbles. Exaggerated, melodramatic expressions on characters' faces. Test tubes, brains, and grave robbers.




Creepshow is an obvious influence, one which director Benjamin Stewart freely acknowledges. A copy of the comic book makes a cameo in his video. As horror fans know, Creepshow was a horror anthology film based on a non-existent comic book, which in turn was an homage to the very real E.C. horror comics of the 1950s. Thus, Head Down is an homage to an homage.

Although the video's conceit isn't all that original, its execution and production values are top notch. The beautiful photography is complemented by the ghoulish monster makeup and appropriate set design. Energetic editing propels the story at a brisk pace. The video is entertaining and will please fans of classic horror.

Directed by Benjamin Stewart of Weird Wolf Productions.




* Honorable Mention


The Honorable Mention prizes, like the "Best ... Film" prizes, are shared by the film's writer and director.



* Sonrisas (aka Smiles)


After a period of dating, Borja (Luis Miguel Jara) has agreed to meet Sara's (Loreto S. Santamaria) parents. But when they arrive for a family dinner, Borja is surprised to see Sara's father wearing a mask. Borja asks Sara about it. She is perplexed by the question and brushes it aside.

Borja soon discovers that everyone in Sara's family wears a mask. Or ... is it a mask?

It's hard to categorize Javier Chavanel's Smiles (aka Sonarias). The opening in this Spanish film is light-hearted and whimsical. Is it a comedy? Yet our initial smiles soon give way to the sort of nervous laughter used to release tension.



Chavanel knows how to draw fear from cheer. Set decor, costumes, and lighting are bright and colorful. The "masks" are those insufferable yellow happy faces. Yet the mise-en-scene is too cheerful. It's cheerful to the point of being creepy.

Heightening the tension, no one in the family speaks. Can they speak? Nor do they eat. They bring food to their mouths, then toss it aside, or dribble it down their chins. Can they eat? Or is this their idea of a joke? Or are they insane? Would it be impolite, or dangerous, to suggest they open their mouths to eat?

Making matters worse, Sara sees nothing amiss. Sara is Borja's sole lifeline to normalcy and sanity. If he can't rely on her, he is alone.

Smiles walks a fine line between humor and horror. Borja talks to Sara's family, and they react, but silently. They nod, or shudder as if laughing, or -- most unsettling of all -- suddenly halt and "stare" whenever Borja says something wrong. Are they angry? Who can tell? Such scenes are both funny and unnerving. Tension builds to a shockingly gruesome revelation.

The film also has a theme. Meeting your girlfriend's family can be difficult. Chavanel describes this as "a tricky moment and even awkward. ... The best way to overcome the situation: to give smile and wait." Although that didn't work out too well for Borja.

Among Smiles's many merits is originality. It's perhaps the most original entry this year. Production values are excellent. With only a few actors and sets, and some happy face masks, Javier Chavanel has crafted an intriguing story with engaging characters; a film that's funny, terrifying, entertaining, and memorable.

Javier Chavenel has a website.



* Bad News


A nervous "virgin" (Blake Ridder) enters a young woman's (Annie Knox) home to conduct some business. She came highly recommended. We may assume she is a prostitute. But things are not always as they appear.

Bad News wins primarily for its entertainment value. This film emphasizes story, incorporating conflict, drama, humor, and a bit of originality. It hooks us from the start, carrying us along for several clever twists and turns, before a final surprise. It's a fun ride, well paced and never boring.



But apart from the story, the film has other merits. It's nicely photographed. Low-key pink and violet hues create an appropriate atmosphere -- colorful (this is a comedy), fantastical (about the occult), but a bit somber (a dark comedy). The musical score, whimsical with a touch of fantasy, supports the film's theme and tone.

Shot in London, Bad News is an auteur's film. Blake Ridder not only stars, he also wrote, directed, and produced this project. He has a website.



* Peter the Possessed


Peter the Possessed opens as an ominous tale of demonic possession. The lighting and mood are somber. Father Frank (Liam Carty) arrives at the home of a woman (Cara Lofton), who is seeking an exorcism for her poor Peter. Father Frank appreciates the gravity of the situation. Until the woman introduces him to the possessed Peter -- her cat.


Gillian Naughton's film shares many of Bad News's merits. Peter the Possessed is entertaining -- funny, cute, and enjoyable. Carty and Lofton create likeable characters who engage our interest. Anyone who's ever loved a cat to the point of obsession -- or knows a woman who did -- can empathize. Or if not, the film can be interpreted as a gentle poke at California flakiness.

Peter the Possessed also earns points on originality. Its story takes a familiar horror trope, then gives it a fresh twist. Overall, the film is yet another example of this year's many strong comedic horror entries. Production values are strong, from lighting to music. The "silent film" title cards are additional humorous touch.

The film has a website.


* Odd Girl


Belinda (Kayla Janelle Tellier) is the misfit at her high school. The cool kids shun her. But Belinda persists, trying to worm her way into the cool crowd and gain their acceptance. Cool kid Mindi (Parmiss Sehat) feels sorry for Belinda and accepts an invite to dinner at her house. There Mindi learns that some nerds should be shunned.

High school and college nerds who are bullied -- and get revenge -- is an old horror conceit. Odd Girl's premise is not original. What sets it apart is its subtle and balanced handling of this premise, and the film's thematic complexity.

Most such films portray the cool kids in a broad, heavy-handed manner: snobs, spoiled rich kids, shallow girls obsessed with their looks, sexist jocks, drunken frat boys, and outright homophobes or racists. They bully, mock, torment, and even physically assault the nerd. But Odd Girl's "villains" (if they can be called that) aren't bad. Indeed, it's hard to say who are the villains -- Mindi's cool crowd or the nerdy Belinda.



In Odd Girl, the cool kids' great sin is "exclusion." They don't want to hang around Belinda. That's it. True, they mock Belinda, but only behind her back. They don't actually bully her. So, unlike in Carrie and its ilk, the cool kids aren't actually bullies.

And as it turns out, there was something wrong with Belinda. Something unnatural and dangerous. So long as Belinda is shunned, everyone is safe. It is only after Mindi feels sorry for Belinda, and includes her in her life, that Mindi is punished for her good deed.

Writer/director Rami Kahlon says that her film is about "the consequences of the all-too familiar phenomena of exclusion in high schools." Had Belinda not been ostracized by other children in her formative years, she would not have become a threat by high school. It was Mindi's misfortune that her outreach was too little, too late. The lesson seems to be: Be nice to others before they're broken beyond repair, at which point, avoid at all costs.

One can debate who is the real monster. Were the kids wrong to exclude Belinda? Was Belinda wrong to intrude where she was not wanted? In America (Odd Girl is Canadian), freedom of association includes the right not to associate. But under Christianity, one should welcome the stranger. Viewers will bring their own perspectives in interpreting this film.

Production values are very good, as is the cast. Tellier is appropriately creepy, without losing our sympathy. Apart from its well-trodden high school setting, Odd Girl also borrows from The Ring. Not a strikingly original film, but thought-provoking in its handling of an old subject.



* Additional Winners


Every year we see some bad actors, some mediocre actors, and some talented actors who do a professional job. Among the latter are those few who leave an impression. Who go beyond the job and create a character that lingers in our minds. This last quality is often the crucial difference between the winners and the merely talented.

Another consideration is aesthetics. Many films are technically slick. They are nicely lit, the sound clearly recorded. But if a film's technical choices also aesthetically support its story, characters, and themes, then so much the better.


Losing her son in a car accident drives Cheryl over the edge. Only insanity can numb her unbearable grief.

Jamal Hodge's Mourning Meal horrifically captures the moment when Cheryl realizes that her son has been killed. It's a scene reminiscent of the car accident that killed the little boy in Twin Peaks: Season Three. Time slows and external sounds fade as the mothers realize their sons have died.

Ruya Koman sears our memories with her piercing, plaintiff cry, "Not my boy, not my boy, not my boy!" It's a plea to fate, the universe, and whatever god might be listening, to reverse the tragedy before her. She later explains, with blissful rapture, that God has answered her pleas, as she drugs another mother and steals her child.

Koman's unforgettable performance conveys the overwhelming grief of any parent who's lost a child, so intense that some might descend into madness.

Ruya Koman wins for Best Dramatic Actress.   

A familiar horror trope is that of a novelist harassed for (or haunted by) his work. It can be a deranged fan, or an offended reader, or his characters come to life, or his own imagination. The only certainty is that writing horror novels attracts trouble.

In Alter Ego, that trouble comes in the form of Ivan, a psycho who arrives on the day that Alan completes the final book in his serial killer trilogy. Ivan has a beef with Alan's first two books.

As Ivan, Steve Stanulis traverses a rich character arc. His cat-and-mouse interplay with Alan evokes the two men in Sleuth. Ivan initially appears to be a good guy, even a protector. He mannerisms are low-key and disarming. He starts off as Alan's ally, then grows indignant, self-righteous, and finally savage as his true intentions are revealed.

If Alter Ego is a slow burn, then Stanulis is the wick. He embodies the slow burn in this film.

Steve Stanulis wins for Best Dramatic Actor.




In Lonely Hearts, Celeste has trouble finding love. (Hence, the film's title.) Her relationships always "end badly." She calls anonymous help lines, but therapists can't help. Partially, it's because Celeste can't open up and share her problems with anyone.

The reason all her relationships end badly is because Celeste is a serial killer who murders all her partners. Until the day she tries online dating, yet again -- and meets another serial killer.

Celeste explodes with glee upon realizing that she's finally met a kindred soul. Her joy heightens when she hears her date's British accent. Setting aside thoughts of murder, Celeste wants to know if her date likes the Beatles. She wants to compare notes, share trade secrets, and work on their common interests.

As Celeste, Bethany Watson can play somber, but with the expressive, rubbery face needed for comedy. She elicits sympathy when sad and laughter when funny. A serial killer one will root for, whether she's seeking love or a new victim.

Bethany Watson wins for Best Comedic Actress.


Holy Hell is a short film, but a skilled actor can make a strong impression in little time. We remember Master Cthulhu because J.B. Chen layers his character with tiny physical quirks that are both funny and revealing, from patting his hair into place after removing his hood, to his lazy fist pump as he tries to enthuse the cultists, to raising an eyebrow while determining if the human sacrifice is actually dead.

Chen's low-key delivery evokes the dry satire of a Christopher Guest film. As with the characters in Guest's mocumentaries, Master Cthulhu accepts his situation with straight-faced seriousness. Chen avoids forcing the humor by being wacky or over-the-top. Thus, the audience takes the situation seriously. Which make the resulting absurdities all the more funny.

J.B. Chen wins for Best Comedic Actor.



O. Henry's The Last Leaf has been filmed many times. Sia Aleskovskaya's version is part lesbian romance, part Edwardian ghost story. In her gently haunting reimagining, pneumonia is portrayed as a sinister spirit, a sort of angel of death. There is also a twist ending which, while borrowing from The Others, still manages to surprise and satisfy.

The Last Leaf reminds us that horror can be beautiful. The film's beauty derives from its story, its colorful yet muted production design, its lush piano score, and Ilya Chegodar's photography. Chegodar's work resembles a turn of the last century portrait, painted with light, and elegantly supports the story's tone and theme.

Ilya Chegodar wins for Best Cinematography.




Bea (Maria Maroto) receives an unexpected gift from her father, currently in Mozambique. An African ritual mask. She tosses it aside. But as with the Zuni fetish doll in Trilogy of Terror, Bea should not be so dismissive of primitive magic.

Soon something dark and supernatural invades her home, threatening her baby. We catch only glimpses of it. But we always hear it, moving, emitting strange noises that are hard to identify. Sometimes organic. Sometimes scraping or creaking. Sometimes almost mechanical.

Bea desperately glances about her apartment, trying to follow the sound. Trying to visualize, along with us, what creature can emit such sounds.

In Luis Orti's Spanish film, Souvenir, the monster is heard rather than seen. Our imaginations must fill in the blanks. Many film entries had clean, well recorded sound. But in Souvenir, sound is both an active participant, and a character, in the story.

Xavi Mulet wins for Best Sound Design.


Alter Ego is a rarity. A slow burn with a fast pace.

The slow burn comes from the writing, the acting, the interplay between the characters and the secrets that are revealed. But the editing maintains a breakneck pace.

The film opens with a crime scene. Whose? What happened? Shots are brief. We shift quickly between scenes, past and present, subjective and objective. A whirlwind of confusion that keeps us guessing as to what happened or is likely to happen.

Even the longer scenes between Alan and Ivan are intercut with fancy closeups of knives, typewriter keys, whisky glasses, manuscripts, postcards. All relevant to the tale, but also inserted in a way to keep the pace lively, and the suspense increasing.

Tetsuo Lumiere & Ezio Massa win for Best Editing.



A young boy follows a red-hooded girl through a forest, into a (sort of) gingerbread house. Within the house are all manner of sweets, toys, and electronic gadgets. Temptations both old-fashioned and modern to entice children. And a portal to another dimension.

Vivian Papageorgiou's Hansel is a reimagining of Hansel and Gretel set in modern times, with a dash of Red Riding Hood. The bulk of this Greek film occurs inside the magical and terrifying gingerbread house.

In any "haunted house" film, the house itself is a character, so its production design is especially critical. Constantinos Papageorgiou delivers with a look that's creepy, fantastical, imaginative, and appropriate to the story.

Constantinos Papageorgiou wins for Best Production Design.


On Halloween night, Peter, a disgustingly obnoxious boy, destroys a creepy old woman's Jack O'Lanterns. Because, hey, she's creepy, so why not?

Big mistake. The old woman is a witch. The Jacks are her children. Whom Peter has just murdered. So as might be expected, supernatural revenge is in the offing.

Nathan Block's Peter Peter is a classic, old-fashioned Halloween spook tale. Nothing too original. No big themes or complex characters. Just over-the-top black comedy and wicked scares. Mostly derived from the witch's magic and the results thereof.

We won't show any of her handiwork here, so as not to spoil the surprise. But it's colorful and memorable. And so much fun to see Peter get his comeuppance.

Jeremy Wanek wins for Best Visual Effects.



Clearly influenced by Night of the Demon, with a dash of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Evil Dead, Night of the Witch is an energetic gorefest.

The story is dumb, as are its characters. Set in 1989, a group of young people party on Halloween night. One of them relates the legend of Maddy Martha, an evil witch who, ten years earlier, had laid a curse against sinners. (An evil witch who kills sinners? Go figure.) Naturally, Maddy makes an appearance, and the body count mounts.

The carnage is up-close-and-personal, done with knives, a chainsaw, and a shotgun, leaving the survivors covered in blood and gore, both red and green. (Witch's blood is green.) They're the sort of indiscriminate, yet visually creative, mass killings popularized by 1980s horror. Gory, gross, and over-the-top.

A good gorefest requires good gore. A hideous monster is also a plus. Night of the Witch delivers on both counts.

Amy Calkins & Tresa Black win for Best Make-Up Effects.


Mourning Meal is a dark drama that traces a mother's descent from joy, to despair, to madness and murder. The story is told in nonlinear fashion, the scenes like scattered pieces that only coalesce into a complete picture at the end. Thus, the film is the proverbial emotional roller coaster, with past scenes taking on new meaning as new puzzle pieces appear.

Mourning Meal is also highly visual, in that many of its scenes are enigmatic, with little or no dialog. This is a film that shows more than tells. We are on our own in interpreting events until the final revelation.

Bryan Nguyen's impassioned music score lends emotional depth and dramatic meaning to those puzzling scenes, helping us fill in the blanks. It's music meant to lead, and mislead, as the story dictates.

This is an award for Best Music Soundtrack, not for Best Music. How the music relates to, and aesthetically supports, the events on screen is a key factor in deciding the winner. Nguyen's fervent music does much to carry the story along its dramatic and thematic trajectory, and us, the audience, along with it.

Bryan Nguyen wins for Best Music Soundtrack.

* The Final Tally


* Best Horror Feature Film ........................... Patrick R Young & Powell Robinson (Threshold)

* Best Horror Documentary ......................... Mike Messier (Disregard the Vampire)

* Best Dramatic Horror Short Film .............. Zach Lorkiewicz (The Knock)

* Best Comedic Horror Short Film ............... Nicholas W. Callais & Nick Farinola (Holy Hell)

* Best Animated Horror Short Film .............. Harrison Allen (Welcome to Darkmoor)

* Best Avant-Garde Horror Short Film ........ Ricardo Albuquerque (Shunkan)

* Best Trash Horror Film .............................. Kidd Tommy (Cold Blooded)

* Best Horror Music Video ........................... Benjamin Stewart (Head Down)

* Best Dramatic Actress .............................. Ruya Koman (Mourning Meal)

* Best Dramatic Actor .................................. Steve Stanulis (Alter Ego)

* Best Comedic Actress .............................. Bethany Watson (Lonely Hearts)

* Best Comedic Actor .................................. J.B. Chen (Holy Hell)

* Best Cinematography ............................... Ilya Chegodar (The Last Leaf)

* Best Sound Design ................................... Xavi Mulet (Souvenir)

* Best Editing ............................................... Tetsuo Lumiere & Ezio Massa (Alter Ego)

* Best Production Design ............................ Constantinos Papageorgiou (Hansel)

* Best Visual Effects .................................... Jeremy Wanek (Peter Peter)

* Best Make-Up Effects ............................... Amy Calkins & Tresa Black (Night of the Witch)

* Best Music Soundtrack ............................. Bryan Nguyen (Mourning Meal)

* Honorable Mention .................................... Javier Chavanel (Sonrisas aka Smiles)

* Honorable Mention .................................... Blake Ridder (Bad News)

* Honorable Mention .................................... Gillian Naughton (Peter the Possessed)

* Honorable Mention .................................... Rami Kahlon (Odd Girl)

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