“Be afraid. Be happily afraid.”
This is the cheerfully grim greeting at Nevermore, Durham’s long-standing horror film festival. Billing itself as a “three-day feast of the macabre,” Nevermore brings the latest frightful offerings to horror fans of Durham. This year was the festival’s 16th anniversary, with fans converging on the Carolina Theater from February 20th-22nd.
There’s a little something for everyone at Nevermore, whether you’re a psychological thrill-seeker, a monster maniac, or a lover of gore. There are feature films, long-forms, short films, and a great mix of international and domestic creations. And for the truly dedicated, there are director talk backs, actor Q&As, and even some screenings of old cult classics. Whether you’re buying one ticket for $10, or a 10-ticket pack for $80, Nevermore is a fantastic deal and a guaranteed good time.
This year, I saw 5 films – two features, and three compilations of shorts. Each offered something unique and entertaining.
Our (my fiance is movie buddy) weekend started with an amazing film called “Dig Two Graves.” The film is a suspenseful exploration of a young girl’s agonizing dilemma, and the long buried secrets and cycles of violence that led to it. This film had me holding my breath for two hours, keeping the tension high but the gore low. Just my breed of horror. Another of the film’s strengths is exceedingly beautiful imagery; “Dig Two Graves” is a visual feast. Shot in the gorgeous and gnarly wilds of non-glaciated southern Illinois, there are some beautiful wild locations. A trio of moonshiner characters who cross the line between mystical and mischievous a dizzying number of times, are costumed in amazingly creative “ringmaster meets trapper” attire, making for further optic delights.
At the end of the film we were treated to a chat with the writer-director, Hunter Adams. One of the most fun things about intimate moments of access like these is the opportunity to peek behind the curtain of film-making. Adams shared anecdotes and insights about the film’s inspirations, challenges, and secrets. As an example, a major character shows his grand-daughter a 35mm film reel, a home movie of his wife and daughter. He then explains that when he was abroad in WWII, he had to bribe the projectionist at their weekly film screening a bottle of whiskey to show his home movie before the feature film. His fellow GIs loved it so much they asked to see it every week, because it reminded them of their own wives and children left behind. This story was a real story, told to Adams by his own grandfather, which he then incorporated into the script. A fun fact we might never have otherwise discovered.
Our next film was “Late Phases,” about a blind war veteran who retires to a community where people keep getting killed by wild animals (who, not-actually-so-spoilery-spoiler alert, turn out to be werewolves). This was a fun film, written by Eric Stolze and directed by Adrián García Bogliano. One of my favorite things about this film was the suspenseful score, composed by Wojciech Golczewski. There was also a fun appearance by an actor I most associate with teen movie “Can’t Hardly Wait” – Ethan Embry. It was neat to see him all grown up and playing a disgruntled middle age son. Another excellent performance was turned in by Tom Noonan, as Father O’Brien.
The rest of my weekend was spent watching a mixture of long and mini form shorts. “They’re Coming to Get You Barbra” is the festival’s annual collection of US Shorts, with a dizzying ten films packed into a two-hour viewing. There were several standouts, including “Death Has a Son” which picked up both the jury selection prize and the audience favorite prize for best U.S. Short Film. It gave us a quick look at what happens when a cheerleader bargains her way out of choking to death on a chicken bone with another kind of bone, and the accidental pregnancy that results. How can Death show love to a son he cannot touch? It was by turns both funny and touching. Also included was a personal favorite of mine, “I Owe You” about what happens when the bonds of friendship are pushed too far.
“Four Bloody Footprints” was four long-form shorts, and included the truly-harrowing “The Huckster,” which was a tale based on a true story of one of Spain’s most deadly serial killers in the early 1900’s. This film was a technical achievement, shot in grainy black and white and featuring terrifyingly-believable props, makeup, and effects. It also took some truly violent reality and made it slightly more palatable, exploring the reason more than the action.
Last we saw “Nightmares of the Foreign Invaders,” which was a collection of international shorts. There were some real gems here as well, including “Puzzle,” which without using any dialogue, was one of the most complete ideas I’ve ever seen explored in a short-form film before. Beautiful shots, amazing character development in a short amount of time, and an extremely creative tale.
Looking back, I hope I’ve given you a good idea of the types of films that await you at Nevermore – technical feats, great stories, amazing acting, and mastery of the horror craft. See you there again next year!