Before nearly every screening at this past weekend’s inaugural edition of the Sin City Horror Fest at Downtown’s Eclipse Theaters, festival co-founder Drew Marvick joked that he was happy to see anyone in the audience, since he and fellow founders Mike Lenzini and Darren Flores weren’t sure people would show up.
It was a valid concern, not because Marvick and his team did a bad job organizing the festival, but because starting up any new film event, especially in Las Vegas, is an uphill battle. For its first year, SCHF did pretty well, bringing in a solid program of features and shorts, mostly running smoothly and providing an impressive platform for visiting filmmakers to share their work.
My favorite feature at the festival was a local production, Colin Minihan’s innovative zombie movie It Stains the Sands Red, which combines the survival drama of a movie like 127 Hours with classic lumbering zombie terror. Brittany Allen is very good as a strung-out single mom who finds herself stranded in the desert following an apparent undead uprising, pursued by just a single relentless zombie. She must deal with basic wilderness survival issues (finding food, water and shelter), along with a predator who never stops or gets tired. Minihan is a rising star in the indie horror world, and Sands, which is one of the best local movies I’ve seen, is available on VOD.
I also liked Ryan Nelson’s horror comedy Mercy Christmas, about a hapless, lonely office worker who accepts an invitation to Christmas dinner from a beautiful co-worker, only to discover that she and her family are murderous cannibals. It’s a sort of comedic yuletide take on the finale of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with a winning lead performance from Steven Hubbell and an endearingly cheerful tone despite all the carnage.
Other features were hit and miss, to be expected from a festival showcasing underground genre movies. Even the movies that didn’t quite work often had interesting thematic concerns, including Ruin Me’s take on codependent relationships, The Child Remains’ look at the long-term effects of PTSD and Gnaw’s treatment of domestic violence.
At times I was reminded of the defunct PollyGrind film festival, which was a more chaotic event but always brought in unique (and sometimes uniquely terrible) genre movies, thanks to the passion of founder Chad Clinton Freeman. PollyGrind ended in 2014, and Freeman recently left town, but former PollyGrind regular Jessica Cameron was at SCHF with her new film Mania, screening for a dedicated audience of just a handful of people (crowds at other screenings ranged from three or four attendees to nearly full auditoriums).
If Marvick, Lenzini and Flores (who have already committed to a second year of the event) can combine the enthusiasm of PollyGrind with the polish of more professional-level local festivals, SCHF might just become an institution.