The schlockmeisters behind "Popcorn Frights" are big-time teases. Like the best drug pushers, the organizers of the popular South Florida-based film festival know the best way to generate excitement is to offer a taste of their wares in the hopes they can reel in genre fiends. Like this critic.
So, instead of waiting for a proper unveiling of the full lineup of movies scheduled to send chills down their Millennial-infested audiences' spines, "Popcorn Frights" co-founders and co-directors Marc Ferman and Igor Shteyrenberg have decided to give us a li'l sneak peek at part of the program for the event's third edition, set to screen at O Cinema Wynwood Aug. 11 thru 17.
And, as first tastes go, the roster so far ain't looking half bad.
The first thing that jumps out, amid the lurid subject matter and the promise of gory mayhem, chased down with buckets of blood, is brevity. Of the nine features announced on Monday, the longest one clocks in at just 96 minutes. It's a refreshing change of pace from the draining bloat of tentpole releases currently jostling for multiplex real estate this summer.
“Short” remains the name of the game when it comes to the festival's new sidebar championing the Sunshine State's filmmaking talent. Titled “Homegrown: 100% Pure Squeezed Florida Horror,” the sampling thus far consists of five shorts, including the Florida premiere of “Primal Scream,” a documentary/fiction hybrid from Rodney Ascher, the acclaimed director of the doc “Room 237.”
I've actually seen one of this year's “Homegrown” selections, and it's fabulous. “Buzzcut,” the brainchild of South Florida-based helmers Jon Rhoads and Mike Marrero, is a ferocious nine-minute treat that's ostensibly about a lesbian who's just looking to get a haircut so her fickle girlfriend will put out. The filmmakers give the fast-paced proceedings a diabolical apocalyptic spin that's also pretty darn funny.
When asked how he feels about “Buzzcut” making the cut for "Popcorn Frights," Rhoads tells me, “It makes you feel special to be a part of a well-curated festival, so yeah, it's an honor.”
It remains to be seen which feature “Buzzcut” will precede, but it appears there are plenty of promising options. Ferman and Shteyrenberg are throwing us quite the curve ball by screening, not one, but three opening night selections. One of them is the U.S.-Canadian production “Tragedy Girls,” which follows the titular characters as they force a serial killer to show them the ropes so they can become horror legends. And famous. Because we all want to experience our 15 minutes, even wannabe assassins.
As for the other two titles rounding out opening night, well, we're just gonna have to wait a couple of extra weeks for the full lineup announcement.
Scanning through the remaining eight features teased out earlier, I'm rather looking forward to “Mayhem,” which promises to make fun of corporate culture by showing what happens when a virus that erases impulse control breaks out at a law office. Sounds like just another day in Miami, but consider me intrigued.
I'm also getting some good vibes from the plot of “Still/Born,” about a sinister force that threatens the surviving child of a woman who lost one of her twins during childbirth. The thriller co-stars Michael Ironside, so it already has something in its favor.
Perhaps even more intriguing is the buzzy “Game of Death,” in which seven suburban Millennials discover their own lives are at stake when the board game they're playing starts snuffing them out if they do not follow the rules. The film, which had its world premiere at South by Southwest in Austin earlier this year, posits a Darwinian scenario that promises gruesome sights and a large body count, always a good thing when Millennials' lives are on the line on screen.
Alas, it's not all good news. There's also a recently unveiled, blood-red teaser poster for this year's "Popcorn Frights" making the rounds online and in print. It pains me to report that the rudimentary, slapped-together image, which depicts a human skull emerging from the water with Ocean Drive proudly on display behind it, is a scream for all the wrong reasons. Here's hoping this rather unimaginative, clumsily Photoshopped artwork is not a harbinger of things to come. (Ferman and Shteyrenberg have promised knockout official poster art to be revealed in coming weeks, so let's give them the benefit if the doubt, shall we?)
For the rest of the first wave of the Third Popcorn Frights' lineup, go to www.popcornfrights.com/film-lineup/.