Celebrating its thirteenth year, the Rhode Island International Horror Film Festival (RIIHFF) has quietly become one of the top horror film festivals in the world. A staple of the Halloween season in Providence, the RIIHFF is New England’s oldest and largest horror film festival. This year’s offerings came from as far as Malaysia, with Yee-Wei Chai’s bizarre film Twisted, and as close as Providence with Richard Griffin’s home grown oddity Exhumed (Winner of Best Feature).
The RIIHFF is unique in that it relies on a community effort to function. Screening venues are spread all over the city, from public places like the Providence Public Library—an appropriate spot for a program of horror literary adaptations—to facilities at the University of Rhode Island, which hosted a screening of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Barrens. The festival extends beyond the city limits to Roger Williams University, the site of a program entitled Behind the Camera Lens—a workshop designed to promote Rhode Island as a destination for film production. The Jamestown Arts Center served up its own program of eerie short films for folks living in the community of Jamestown. Cooperation amongst these communities is paramount to the festival’s continued success, and programs are tailored to the strengths of those areas.

Home of H.P. Lovecraft

For those who’ve never visited the historic city of Providence, the RIIHFF is an excellent way for them to acquaint themselves with the city’s vast waterways, elegant Victorian-era and historic Colonial-era architecture, and experience the charm of its citizens. The birthplace of horror author H.P. Lovecraft offers the perfect atmosphere for fans of the macabre, and the festival culminates in a walking tour of the most inspirational structures that appeared in stories like “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Haunter of the Dark,” and “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” Attendees also visit the former home of horror’s most influential writer, which is nestled among Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. Participants in this year’s walking tour were also treated to a screening of Tom Gliserman’s screen adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep” immediately following the tour.

H.P. Lovecraft Memorial

To get the local community involved and energized, the RIIHFF offers select free screenings to the public, horror film “date nights” aimed at couples, as well as industry workshops for aspiring local filmmakers. It’s not at all surprising to see parents having intelligent conversations with their children about the intense material on display in films that range from bleak and disturbing to whimsical. Since the festival doesn’t have a huge budget, it relies on a core of enthusiastic volunteers to ensure its machinery is running smoothly. It’s clear from the visits by this writer that the organizers and volunteers do this each year for love of the horror genre. As founder George Marshall puts it: “it’s a lot like a family.”

Despite the looming threat of Hurricane Sandy, the organizers weren’t discouraged from opening a new chapter in their annual presentation of acclaimed films. They kicked off festivities with a short film program entitled Opening Night Spooktacular. The RIIHFF is typically a short film-heavy festival with a number of programs devoted to the form. This year’s offerings were particularly strong; a number of outstanding films screened in the opening night’s repertoire:

The Other Side

The Other Side (2012) is a tense slasher film from the UK about a nanny facing off with a maniac on the eve of a new assignment in the English countryside. Though flawless in technical execution, the film suffers somewhat from dips into cliché. A predictable climax mires an otherwise solid, suspenseful film from directors Oli Santoro and Alex Santoro.

La Granja (2011), the prizewinner for Best Short Film, is an ambiguous horror film from Spanish director Ignacio Lasierra. The story deals with a troubled farmer who blames the missing children in his community on an invasion of aliens disguised as pigs on his farm. This taut thriller thrives on atmosphere, and the climax poses many questions to viewers’ interpretations.

The Narrative of Victor Karloch (2012), from Heather Henson’s Ibex Puppetry Studio, is a stunning nautical nightmare with impressive puppets voiced by the likes of Christopher Lloyd and Elijah Wood. Director Kevin McTurk keeps things spooky and atmospheric, and the story would fit nicely alongside the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.G. Wells.

Spanish director Haritz Zubillaga’s She’s Lost Control (2011) is a brutal entry in the rape/revenge genre. The presentation is wholly unique due to the narration of its protagonist as she’s brutalized while paralyzed by the drug Rohypnol. It’s a terrifying “real time” depiction of a horrifying crime.

The Narrative of Victor Karloch

La Reparation (2011) is a gripping and emotional French film by Julien Boustani and Cecilia Ramos about mending family ties, but it’s debatable whether the film should be considered horror aside from its war subtext and imagery of creepy dolls being repaired by the story’s elderly protagonist. The film is beautifully shot, and the reunion at the climax is far from a happy ending.

Rounding out the opening short program was Rob Himebaugh’s Eagle Walk (2012), a deconstruction of slasher-at-summer-camp tropes. Himebaugh swaps out a disfigured psycho for the legendary Sasquatch. It’s a fun homage to 80’s horror, and it sports a number of fine, gory sequences. This short also won the award for Best Special Makeup Effects.

For further information about the Rhode Island International Horror Film Festival, visit their website at https://www.film-festival.org/Horror_ri.php

by Chris Hallock