He's not quite the next Boris Karloff or Lon Chaney, but Fessenden's roots as an actor and filmmaker go back to the East Village scene of the late 1970s. (Other young bucks on the scene in those days included Jim Jarmusch, Vincent Gallo and Steve Buscemi.) It's probably not much more than an accident that Fessenden's name is in the opening credits of no fewer than three films this weekend.
Zombie Honeymoon, which Fessenden executive-produced but didn't act in, is the best of the three, and is one of the highlights of the festival. The special inspiration of Zombie Honeymoon is that director David Gebroe brings the undead to the WB crowd. Danny and Denise are an earnest and appealing pair of newlyweds (and vegetarians, har-har) who wouldn't be out of place on Dawson's Creek or One Tree Hill. But disaster strikes shortly after their marriage when Danny suffers a horrible accident that makes his heart stop long enough to kill most people. Instead, he comes back to life, physically the same but now this vegetarian has a ravenous appetite for uncooked human flesh, ripped from human bones.
This movie is bare-bones in its execution but it proves that such productions can succeed with committed actors and a simple gag. Despite Danny's new homicidal behavior, the young couple remains as devoted to each other as ever. Denise decides to cover Danny's tracks, much as a wife might conceal her husband's gambling addiction or alcoholism. The film's comic logic reaches a giddy peak when Danny, his face covered with blood, wails to his wife, "I'm just trying to kill as few people as possible before we fly to Portugal tomorrow!"
This film will be shown at 7:25 p.m. on Saturday and at 1:15 p.m. on Sunday.
The biggest feature attraction at the festival was to have been Takashi Miike's The Great Yokai War (Yôkai daisensô), a recent offering from Japan's prolific auteur of butchery, still best known for Audition and Ichi the Killer. Just last week, however, the film became unavailable due to legal complications.
Undaunted, the programmers of the festival located something that may well be even more blood-curdling, an omnibus film entitled Three ... Extremes that features shorts from three Asian horror-meisters: Hong Kong's Fruit Chan (Durian Durian), South Korea's Chan-wook Park (Oldboy) and ... Takashi Miike. Be warned, these films contain images of torture and abortion, in addition to the usual incest and other unmentionables. Line up with your smelling salts at 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
One of the festival's comic highlights is the short film The Netherbeast of Berm-Tech Industries, Inc. This is a great short subject in the purest sense of the form. A single office serves as the set, and a single outrageously funny situation is the subject of conversation between two characters, supervisor Kevin and drone-like underling Daryl. There's a third person in the room, as well, but he's slumped dead in his chair, the victim of an impaling by wooden stake. Kevin explains the carnage with a shrug: "He was a vampire."
Director Dean Matthew Ronalds' only misstep is a too-loud and distracting synth underscore--Bruce Dellis' script needs no such help, and it gets funnier and funnier before delivering the perfect payoff. Netherbeast will precede screenings of Sigma on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m.
Among the other shorts, The Big Thing is particularly worth seeking out. In its scant nine minutes, it has some of the most expensive production design we're likely to see at the festival. Set in Moulin Rouge-era Paris, it's the story of eternal travelers Lucifer and Archangel Michael as they fight existential boredom, a predicament that leads them into a sex club with the anti-Christ. This film, from Carl Laudan, was recently nominated for a Canadian Oscar and will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and at 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, preceding the festival centerpiece Within.
Less successful but still intriguing are Legion: The Word Made Flesh and Stephen King's The Gotham Café. The former is evidence that Catholicism, whatever else it may provide, also contains plenty of raw material for horror, starting with its ritualized consumption of human flesh and blood. The Gotham Café, on the other hand, comes off largely as an underemployed actors' vanity project, but one that's enlivened by a rather droll tale by Stephen King.
Most films are star-free, but several "names" will be flitting across the Carolina Theatre screens this weekend. In The Roost, an otherwise sluggish and routine teenagers-stuck-in-the-middle-of-nowhere effort is considerably enlivened by a television horror host played by actor-playwright Tom Noonan, who played the psycho killer Francis Dollarhyde in Michael Mann's Manhunter, the first Hannibal Lecter film. Two other noteworthies are Olivia Hussey, still best known for her lead in Zeffirelli's 1968 Romeo and Juliet, and Sean Young, a now-eclipsed actress who nonetheless owns a corner of the cosmos for her ghostly android in Blade Runner. Both of these actresses are in Headspace, a well-photographed but glacially-paced film that also has Fessenden playing a gun-wielding dad in its early scenes.
Tickets to Nevermore films are $7.50, and five-packs are available for $32.50. Call 560-3030 or go to the festival Web site for more information.