I Saw What You Did Last Friday At Shriekfest, or I Watch Horror Movies Where Nobody Knows My Name

A review of “The Feed” at the 2011 Shriekfest Horror Film Festival.

Halloween season 2011 has started out very strangely for this correspondent, having managed to miss critiquing a horror play twice in a single weekend, helping promote a charity burlesque event at a haunt festival in the west San Fernando Valley, and sundry other misadventures. But among the odder experiences was heading over to Shriekfest 2011 and apparently timing things so that I only witnessed the film festival’s lowlight of the weekend, a movie called “The Feed.”

Shriekfest itself is an annual film festival for horror (and SF) movies, shorts and screenplays, and on Friday night it drew an intimate crowd of horror fans and filmmakers at Hollywood’s venerable Raleigh Studios. The atmosphere was convivial, and despite a little mixup at the entrance (no name on the list!), I found it (again) a comfortable and welcoming place to be. I’d arrived too late for the festival’s first feature (Opus) and had no choice but to leave before the evening’s finale (a late screening of The Millennium Bug). This year, I had but one film to experience — a mere taste of Shriekfest, an hors d’oeuvre of horror—and what a taste it was…

Since 1999’s smash hit Blair Witch Project overshadowed 1998’s The Last Broadcast, both of them “found footage/mockumentary” horror films set on the east coast, we’ve all spent the past dozen years enduring/enjoying the new trend in horror verite. From megabucks films like Cloverfield to more modest efforts like Apollo 18 to microbudgeters shot on camcorders and “released” on a wing and a prayer on websites, the “it’s real/it’s scary/it’s really scary” genre has been given a thorough wringing-out. If there’s anything more to say about shakycam, the “OMG the camera is dropped because the operator is dead” shot, grainy webcam footage and all the now-hoary clichés of the subgenre… I’m sorry to say you won’t find it in The Feed.

I’m not saying that it lacks heart or that plucky local let’s-put-on-a-show spirit. It’s got those things, and yes, I grew up in the ‘70s and I understand the wonders of grainy, decaying 16mm film, bad magnetic soundtracks, casting local actors that do dinner theater and community college shows, and all that sort of thing. I understand the beauty of bad, the glory of cheap and the magic of make-believe… even when no one could possibly believe. None of those things are really the problem with The Feed, although some of them are present in abundance.

What’s wrong with The Feed is that it’s a cheap horror film modeled as a live broadcast feed from a cable network paranormal investigator reality show at a haunted theater in Pennsylvania. You’d think that would be much the same as “found footage” from an unfinished student movie or home video, but it’s really not. This central conceit of the story creates several major problems: First, reality show personalities are douchebags, and so are the main characters in this film. Second, a reality show happening in real time generally wouldn’t have much happening in it besides walking and talking, and as a result, neither does The Feed until very late in the movie. Third, the aesthetic of a realty TV show (despite some very enjoyable fake commercials in The Feed, including one starring the great Lloyd “Troma Films” Kaufman) is just like nails on a chalkboard to some people — among them, me.

And the film’s main “dark secret from the past” is so obviously telegraphed by the script and underlined by two subpar actresses (one giving “eyewitness testimony” in front of the theater and another as a best-selling psychic investigator) that the producers should’ve just had it done in skywriting.

So the characters are unlikable and are played none too well, the dialogue displays rigor mortis, the tone is uneven (the commercials are straight-faced comedy but the movie itself is meant to be taken seriously) and the production values and style are comparable with an episode of any reality show you’d watch on Spike, G4, the Discovery Channel or the History Channel. Besides that?

Well, The Feed has some decent tension in the last 15 minutes and a few good jumps at its climax, and one really good laugh delivered by the theater owner, who does exactly what you or I would do under the circumstances. And well… what can I say? It’s not good, nor is it fun-bad, but it’s very low budget and made with moxie, gumption and regional flair. I can’t really recommend it, but I do wish the filmmakers well. Small filmmakers have to start somewhere, and I think director Steve Gibson and producers Jessica Paquin and Sarah Nochenson have their hearts in the right place.

Other correspondents will have updated you by now on the entire festival, which I understand was a great success. So it seems timing is, as always, pretty important — in horror film festivals as in life.