Panic Fest Film Review: “The Vice Guide to Bigfoot”

Starring: Brian Emond, Zach Lamplugh and Jeffrey Stephenson
Directed by: Zach Lamplugh
Rated: R
Running Time: 90 minutes

I used to work as a morning news producer in the Kansas City metropolitan area. One of the strangest things I ever came across during my time was during the closure of the Wentworth Military College in Lexington, Missouri. Cpt. Scott Nelson, an instructor at the former private university, believes to have tapped into the language of Bigfoot (or is it Bigfeet?). He believed in it so thoroughly, he served as a keynote speaker at several Sasquatch conventions. I guess what I’m trying to say is, not every Bigfoot believer is some backwoods simpleton. That’s one of the few charming takeaways you’ll get as well if you happen to catch “The Vice Guide to Bigfoot.”

Vice reporter Brian (Emond) loathes his job. He entered journalism in hopes of tracking down a juicy story or saving the world. Instead he’s chasing after clickbait stories and highlighting war torn Crimea’s craft beer scene. Brian’s constant in life, other than the terrible stories he reports on, are his cameraman and producer, Zach (Lamplugh). Brian reaches his breaking point when the two are tasked with going on a hunt for the infamous, Bigfoot, along with Youtube Sasquatch hunter Jeff (Stephenson).

“The Vice Guide to Bigfoot” is almost a mockumentary in the same vein of “What We Do in the Shadows,” but it’s more focused on mocking other things, like the current state of journalism and Vice’s attempts at it. It also has a lot of humor at the sake of online cryptozoologists, hillbillies and social media. While there is a lot of comedy, at a character’s expense, the film is never cruel. Everyone is given their own backstory that’s sympathetic, so that they can have their own form of redemption by the film’s end.

In a lot of ways, the movie is far from being about Bigfoot which works to its benefit. Especially since some found footage or mockumentaries prior, like “Willow Creek,” more or less tread familiar tropes despite a change of scenery. While it’s a pretty damn funny movie, it’s hard to see myself watching this again by myself. I may watch it again if I want someone else I know to watch it, since some jokes work better with a group. In some ways that’s a knock at the movie, but I feel that it’s sufficiently funny and entertaining enough, that it’s worth a watch.

Panic Fest Film Review: “Scare Package”

Starring: Jeremy King, Noah Segan and Toni Trucks
Directed by: Courtney and Hillary Andujar, Anthony Cousins, Emily Hagins, Aaron B. Koontz, Chris McInroy, Noah Segan and Baron Vaugh
Rated: R
Running Time: 103 minutes

For a moment if you could, look at two different subgenres; horror anthologies and horror parodies. There are some strong candidates in each category. For anthologies, you got “Creepshow” and “Trick R Treat.” For parodies, you got “Scary Movie” and “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.” I know I’m leaving a few movies out of the categories, but there’s a reason I want you to think about these two. How difficult do you think it is to combine them? I know what some of you are thinking. “Cabin in the Woods.” But what if a horror anthology parody film even subverted that?

I know my opening salvo promises grand things, but for most horror aficionados, I promise that you’ll love “Scare Package.” Very rarely do I want to immediately rewatch an anthology film or parody after leaving the theater, so this is a rare occasion for me. The main reason is that anthologies stay out their welcome and parodies require an audience to soak up the hit or miss laughs. “Scare Package” is the kind of film that’s prime for an audience, but will certainly make most people sitting at home alone smirk at its mocking nature.

The one thing that makes “Scare Package” work, is Aaron B. Koontz, the man in charge of the wrap-around story, as well as the overall product. One caveat that Koontz revealed at Panic Fest, which this movie was screened at, was that he allowed creative freedom to all other directors and writers, while providing oversight. He wasn’t a guiding hand, but he certain was able to cherry pick the scripts that best fit his overall vision. It’s a delicate balancing act, which pays off in dividends. While some shorts in the anthology fit the ridiculing nature, other shorts don’t sneer as much, but still pay homage to an idea or manage to riff on a pop-culture idea.

I’d really like to dive into the individual shorts, but I’d feel it’s unfair and that I’d fall into the stereotype of reviewing anthology films; breaking each one down, outlining strengths and weaknesses while revealing which ones I favored. For a movie like “V/H/S,” I’d find that as a completely fair form of critique, but for “Scare Package,” it feels unfair. While a film like “V/H/S” is so scattershot, “Scare Package” is a, not to sound cliché, complete package. Everything is so fluid, you sometimes forget you’re watching an anthology.

The one thing “Scare Package” avoids is length. Sometimes these movies linger too long, even if the shorts and movie as a whole are good. A movie like “ABCs of Death” can work, but you find yourself fast forwarding on rewatches. With “Scare Package” you’ll undoubtedly find yourself finding some new nod or wink every time. The movie as a whole, and each individual short, serve as little bows to the ideas and genres that they parody. But like I said at the beginning, it also parodies “Cabin in the Woods,” which is becoming a genre on its own, where characters knowingly acknowledge or reference the tropes of the genre that are currently on display. It’s a difficult feat to pull off, but Koontz does it well, without disregarding the merits of the idea altogether.

“Scare Package” not only serves as a blueprint for future horror anthology parodies, but a blueprint for anthologies and parodies. It’ll make horror fans roar with laughter, and for those who aren’t into scary flicks, they’ll find fun in all the pokes and prods at the films they can’t stomach. I enjoy the fact that the horror community enjoys comedy, even when it’s directed at themselves. “Scare Package” is damn near a revelation, especially considering that one of the modern lovers of horror/shock films, Joe Bob Briggs himself, arrives on scene. “Scare Package” pulls out all the stops to make the audience laugh and grin. Koontz talked about the makings of a sequel, with a promise that it’ll parody sequels. I look forward to the promise, and the possibility of a franchise that’ll inevitably parody franchises, remakes, and nostalgia culture.

Panic Fest Film Review: “The Cleansing Hour”

Starring: Kyle Gallner, Ryan Guzman and Alix Angelis
Directed by: Damien LeVeck
Rated: R
Running Time: 94 minutes
Shudder

Can found footage survive anymore? 2014’s “Unfriended” and 2018’s “Truth or Dare” played with the idea of realism by showing us that the paranormal can seep into social media and the Internet. Enter 2020’s “The Cleansing Hour,” a movie about an online stream that televises exorcisms to curious onlookers and morbid fans around the globe. Although the exorcisms, aren’t real.

Expanding on his 2016 short, Director Damien LeVeck squeezes out every drop of fun he can have in “The Cleansing Hour.” Reverend Max (Guzman) is far from being the man of God he portrays. Max and his friend Drew (Gallner) stage exorcisms, working with an online encyclopedia of demons so that every episode is fresh with a new other-worldly villain to fight. Afterwards, they generally drink and Max takes home a girl to record performing sexual acts. Their lifestyle is interrupted when things go awry during their latest broadcast though. The actor who was going to show up and be “possessed” never shows, so Drew’s fiancé Lane (Angelis) substitutes. But her acting is too good. Her voice changes, she digs her fingers into the chair she’s strapped into, shattering her nails, and her eyes have turned a stained yellow.

The movie doesn’t necessarily criticize or turn a mirror towards society, but it does take subtle digs at the social media culture permeating throughout the globe. While some people watch in horror, fully believing it’s real, others watch laughing. A livestream chat shows people who type trollish remarks as people on set begin to die, believing that it isn’t real. Or maybe they do and the Internet has made them soulless creatures. Although when the demon inhabiting Lane decides to poke fun at the digital age like one of the Evil Dead, the commentary and humor fall flat.

What helps “The Cleansing Hour,” as opposed to a film like “Truth or Dare,” is the small budget charm. The practical gore and blood effects explode, figuratively and literally. The actors, while not the best, may have a career after this film, especially Angelis who gnaws on the scenery like a demon hungry for human souls. It’s easy to forgive the cast and crew since they had a shoestring budget for a lot of the film’s flaws. Just don’t expect anything new to the exorcism genre other than the setting.

“The Cleansing Hour” is late-night fun that blends a couple of original concepts and tropes of the genre. Some might say the film has a twist, but for veterans of these movies, they’ll be able to spot the set-up. Even though I suspected the eventual outcome, I didn’t mind because of how brisk the pacing is. “The Cleaning Hour” is a surprise for those who come across it on Shudder, but don’t expect the 21st century equivalent of “The Exorcist.” 

Panic Fest 2020 Announces Short Film Showcase Lineup

Kansas City, MO – Named one of MovieMaker Magazine’s Best Genre Fest in the World in 2019 and 2020  – Panic Fest has expanded and announced films for it’s Short Film Showcase.

This year they have expanded from two blocks of films to four blocks. The first will be a Short Film Preview Night Block, which will screen on Thursday, January 23rd at Screenland Armour. The following three blocks will be on January 25th.

Opening weekend will take place January 24th-26th with extended weekday programming January 27th-30th. The Short Film Showcase will be sponsored this year by Shudder and the Best of Fest showcase winner will receive a free year of the subscription service.

PREVIEW NIGHT BLOCK (Jan. 23rd) 75 mins
Allergic Overreaction
Black Mass
Best Friends Forever
She Must Vanish
The Unseen
Merger

SHORT FILM SHOWCASE BLOCK #1 (Jan. 25th) 90 mins
Night of the Shooter
Let Me Play
Hellevate
Night Crawl
See You On the Other Side
Amber
Pepper
Imagine a World
Feeder

SHORT FILM SHOWCASE BLOCK #2 (Jan. 25th) 90 mins
Lane 9
Go Back
Killer Confidence
Haunting of Pottersfield
Swipe
Night Owls
Here There Be Tygers
Hotel
Pathosis

SHORT FILM SHOWCASE BLOCK #3 (Jan. 25th )90 mins
Conspiracy Cruise
Safe States
Momma Don’t Go
Buffalo & Trout
Daughter of Dismay
A Noise That Carries
Mateo
The Burden
The Animator

Official website: https://panicfilmfest.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/panicfilmfest/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/panicfilmfest
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/panicfilmfest/
Film Freeway: https://filmfreeway.com/PanicFest


For a Fifth Straight Year, Panic Fest Gets Bigger and Better

The folks behind Panic Fest have a deep passion for horror and it showed all weekend long. Just like the past four years, the event was an absolute blast. While there’s always room for improvements, such as the amount of room there is at the Screenland Armour, it genuinely feels like the movies, the Q&A’s, the vendors, and everything else, were passionately combed over and whittled to near perfection. The efforts behind the creators and sponsors didn’t go unnoticed by those in attendance

The highlight from my first day was the sampling of local horror. Attendees were treated to movies with a local connection. I caught “Tonight She Comes” which was filmed in Missouri, just south of St. Louis, and was not for the faint of heart, squeamish, or those with a working moral compass. The other movie I caught was “Arbor Demon,” which was directed by KU alum, Patrick Rea. Despite his desire to film in his stomping grounds, he filmed his camping trip turned nightmare in South Carolina.

The second day, since I wasn’t hungover, began with an 11 a.m. selection of Saturday morning cartoons. Forever Bogus hosted the screening of late 80’s and early 90’s cartoons. As for the rest of the day, it was an eccentric collection of B-movie horror, nostalgic throwbacks, and psychological horror. The highlight of my night though was “The Last Podcast on the Left.” The trio of hosts, Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski, tickled the funny bone throughout with taboo topics like Charles Manson, and absolutely bizarre topics like Batsquatch.

The final day was a rehash of some movies folks may have missed along with some new movies mixed in for flavoring. I feel like I caught the two best films of the festival that day though. Despite my well belief that the “Walking Dead” has ruined the zombie genre, “Train to Busan” and “The Girl with All the Gifts” is evidence to the contrary. And I’d be crazy not to mention “The Void.” Imagine if the creature effects people behind “The Thing” stumbled into a Clive Barker fever dream. That’s what watching “The Void” was like.

For those who attended, I bet you had a blast like I did. For those who didn’t, I hope to see you next year. You can check out the Screenland Armour here since they will be sprinkling some of the films from Panic Fest throughout the year. You can also go to the Panic Fest website here to keep an eye out for next 2018 and check out the movies I mentioned and didn’t mention.

 

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