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SXSW Midnighters: Full rundown, programmer talks, first photos

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The highlights of the SXSW Film Festival (running March 13-22 in Austin, TX) for any genre, cult or psychotronic film fanatic are the Midnighters. These cinematic treasures, flickering to life at the witching hour, are fun, scary and insane in a way found nowhere else in the programming. The full lineup has been announced, and 15-year SXSW vet and senior programmer Jarod Neece talked to FANGORIA exclusively about this night-owl fare.

First, the flicks:

THE CORPSE OF ANNA FRITZ (Spain)
Director: Hèctor Hernández Vicens; screenwriters: Hèctor Hernándes Vicens, Isaac P. Creus
Anna Fritz, a famous and beautiful actress, has died recently. Three young men sneak into the morgue to see her naked. Fascinated by her beauty, they decide to become the last people to have sex with her. Cast: Alba Ribas, Cristian Valencia, Bernat Saumell, Albert Carbó (World Premiere)

DEATHGASM (New Zealand; pictured below)
Director/screenwriter: Jason Lei Howden
New kid in town Brodie and bad boy Zakk quickly bond over their mutual admiration of heavy metal. But when these two metal-thrashing losers unwittingly summon malevolent forces, their dreams of stardom may just have to be put on hold. Cast: Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberley Crossman, Stephen Ure (World Premiere)

SXSWMIDNIGHTERSNEWS

THE DIABOLICAL
Director/screenwriter: Alistair Legrand; screenwriter: Luke Harvis
When a single mother and her two young children are tormented by an increasingly strange and intense presence, she turns to her science-teacher boyfriend to help take on the violent forces that paranormal experts are too frightened to face. Cast: Ali Larter, Arjun Gupta, Max Rose, Merrin Dungey, Chloe Perrin, Kurt Carley, Patrick Fischler, Wilmer Calderon, Tom Wright, Laura Margolis (World Premiere)

EXCESS FLESH
Director: Patrick Kennelly; screenwriters: Sigrid Gilmer, Patrick Kennelly
Obsessed with her sexy roommate, Jill violently imprisons Jennifer in their apartment in a twisted attempt to bring them closer together. Cast: Bethany Orr, Mary Loveless, Wes McGee, Sheresade Poblet, Jill Jacobson, Dana L. Wilson, Kristin Minter, Robert Maffia, Jules Bruff, Juan Riedinger (World Premiere)

HANGMAN
Director/screenwriter: Adam Mason; screenwriter: Simon Boyes
Returning from vacation, the Miller family find their home has been broken into. After cleaning up the mess, they continue with their lives, shaking off the feeling of being violated. But little do they know the nightmare has just begun. Cast: Jeremy Sisto, Kate Ashfield, Ty Simpkins, Ryan Simpkins, Amy Smart, Ross Partridge, Vince Ventresca, Bruno Acalinas, Ethan Harris-Riggs, Jamie Lee (World Premiere)

HE NEVER DIED
Director/screenwriter: Jason Krawczyk
Jack is a man battling his eternal struggle with cannibalism. There are very few reasons to live when you can’t die. Cast: Henry Rollins, Steven Ogg, Kate Greenhouse, BooBoo Stewart, Jordan Todosey (World Premiere)

THE INVITATION
Director: Karyn Kusama; screenwriters: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
While attending a dinner party at his former home, a man thinks his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests. Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Lindsay Burdge, John Carroll Lynch, Mike Doyle, Michelle Krusiec, Karl Yune, Jordi Vilasuso (World Premiere)

THE NIGHTMARE
Director: Rodney Ascher
THE NIGHTMARE is an original horror documentary from the Oscar-winning producer of UNDEFEATED, the producer of JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI and the producer of THE PACT, and is directed by Rodney Ascher, the acclaimed director of ROOM 237.

POD
Director/screenwriter: Mickey Keating
A family intervention goes horrifically awry within the snowy confines of an isolated lake house. Cast: Lauren Ashley Carter, Dean Cates, Brian Morvant, Larry Fessenden, John Weselcouch (World Premiere)

TURBO KID (Canada/New Zealand)
Director/screenwriter: RKSS Collective
In a postapocalyptic future, The Kid, a young, solitary scavenger obsessed with comic books, must face his fears and become a hero when he meets a mysterious girl named APPLE. Cast: Michael Ironside, Munro Chambers, Laurence Leboeuf, Edwin Wright, Aaron Jeffrey

WE ARE STILL HERE (pictured at top)
Director/screenwriter: Ted Geoghegan
In the cold, wintry fields of New England, there sits a house that wakes up every 30 years and demands a sacrifice. Cast: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Larry Fesseden, Lisa Marie, Monte Markham (World Premiere; see our first set report here)

FANGORIA: What makes a great SXSW Midnighter film?

JAROD NEECE: We’re not a genre fest, so we have to be a little bit more curatorial in the stuff we take. I wish we could play more of the breadth of the genre stuff we get—more like a Fantastic Fest or Sitges, where they can play a good wide range of everything. We try to get a little bit of everything in there—a little bit of thriller, some horror, some brutality, some sci-fi. We play a lot of genre outside the Midnighter section, but these are the movies we just think people are going to have fun with, whether it’s mean-spirited fun or just fun-fun, a real ride, with cool tension or dread built up. You want people to stay awake at midnight. I keep that in mind.

FANG: Why are the Midnighters not in competition?

NEECE: As film-festival programmers, we’re not here, you know, trying to get movies distributed and make them money. Ultimately, if they get bought and are successful, that’s awesome. But we’re here to help these films find their audiences. And if we see things in them and their makers that we think are cool, we’re able to take chances on those movies. Maybe a film isn’t perfect, but if there’s enough about it that we like, it makes sense to include it in this program, because we want to support moviemakers who we think have a cool visual style or are telling cool stories.

FANG: What is the fun of programming genre fare?

NEECE: I love a nice independent narrative drama, but programming horror or sci-fi… In the past I don’t know how many years, that seems to be where the more unique films are happening, their creators are taking more chances and being more innovative. They’re cooler, newer ideas. They take more risks. I grew up on horror. My dad was an awful parent, showing me really bad horror films—but it worked out in the long run, I guess [laughs]! I love horror films, I love being scared, how fun that is, letting it wash over you…

FANG: What are the criteria for choosing these films?

NEECE: Story: We always focus on the story. Anybody can make crazy-looking shit, or cool practical effects, but ultimately if there’s no story, it doesn’t sustain itself. Because we can only program so few, I want every one to truly count. I want to love every one that we show. I program with my gut. I was a biochem major, so I don’t know how to talk about films like cinephiles do. I just know what I feel. All of these films, I just connected to them in some way. That’s been my strategy: If I respond to these movies, I assume other people will too.

FANG: Two of the films are from Sundance—THE NIGHTMARE and TURBO KID.

NEECE: The only two that are not premieres, yes. THE NIGHTMARE is great. I love ROOM 237, I love Rodney and I’ve always wanted to play a documentary. That was the 11th film I took—it was the exception I made, to go over 10 this year. I just wanted to play it. I tried to play ROOM 237, but they held it for Cannes, which was the smart choice. With this film… I thought I’d had nightmares when I was a kid, but then I saw this and it was like, “Holy shit!” So terrifying. I’ve never seen a scarier documentary in my life, so I just had to program it. It’s just terrifying. I haven’t seen anything like this, because it’s not just talking heads; it has those, but the reenactments are awesome.

TURBO KID was submitted a long time ago, and I just fell in love with it. You ask, “What’s a SXSW film?” Well, this—it’s so South By. It’s got a cool ‘80s synth score, the kids are great, the story is great. It’s just fun. That’s the word that comes up with TURBO KID more than anything: fun.

FANG: What made you fall in love with THE CORPSE OF ANNA FRITZ?

NEECE: It’s by a first-time filmmaker from Barcelona; I believe he’s a writer/showrunner for Spanish TV. There are five first-timers in the program, which is kind of cool. There was one year where every film had rape in it. In Fantastic Fest, there were like 70 films with rape in them. And I’ve tried to stay away from all that. But it kind of makes sense in this film. The synopsis gives away that this happens, and then there are all kinds of other things that go on, and it gets crazy. It’s very well-made, the acting is good and the story is interesting. It starts off strong, then just goes bonkers, and it handles the tension well. It’s hard to say why we took certain things. I program, I make the decisions, but there are a bunch of people who help me. All the films on this list, there were multiple people who loved them.

FANG: What about WE ARE STILL HERE?

NEECE: Barbara Crampton gives an amazing performance, and the locations are great. The tone is just spot-on for the material. I loved the look of it, and the ending.

FANG: What would you suggest for fans of extreme, intense horror?

NEECE: HANGMAN. Adam Mason makes really mean films. I saw his movie PIG at Sitges at 4 a.m., and it was the most disturbing thing I’d ever seen—and I see a lot of disturbing shit. I was just like, “Who is this guy? Why did he make this movie?” So I contacted him, but I haven’t been able to program any of his films for whatever reasons. It’s produced by Jeremy Sisto, who was here last year as an actor in the film BREAK POINT, and I got to know him. He sent me this film, and I was like, “An Adam Mason movie? How do you know Adam Mason?” They just happened to be friends in LA, not through film. I was like, “Have you seen Adam’s other films?” and he was like, “Oh yeah! They’re f**kin’ awful!” It wasn’t a dig; it was just like, awful things happen in them! I didn’t even know this film was coming. It’s definitely one of the more creative uses of found footage, and it’s actually plausible. I think I saw only one found-footage movie this year, and this was it. The performances and script are really good, and it’s engrossing and creepy, with a solid payoff. There are curveballs. Good, solid, mean-spirited, squirm-inducing fun.

FANG: What is the scariest movie you’re showing?

NEECE: THE NIGHTMARE is the scariest film we have. The fact that these people are living this in their real lives is way more frightening than anything you could imagine. HE NEVER DIES has a really strong performance by Henry Rollins, and is darkly comedic and entertaining. DEATHGASM is like EVIL DEAD with metal music; it’s really good. It’s by a first-time filmmaker, a digital artist from Weta in New Zealand. It just works. Cool gore effects and lots of great heavy metal music. It’s a bad-ass film, and was kind of a no-brainer for us.

THE INVITATION’s Karyn Kusama has done every style. GIRLFIGHT, which was at Sundance in 2000, was a contemporary drama. AEON FLUX at Paramount was crazy sci-fi, a weird big-budget movie. And then JENNIFER’S BODY was horror. THE INVITATION is definitely a slow-burn thriller, a cool take on the brainwashing-cult narrative. Great performances, great writing, great ending, great tension… EXCESS FLESH is super-intense body horror, with probably one of the craziest scenes I’ve seen this year—it involves mac and cheese. That’s really f**king good.

POD is by Mickey Keating, who did THE RITUAL, and it’s probably one of the rawest indie things we have. It has great practical effects, and a cool look to it. Super-creepy. It’s one of the films I have the hardest time talking about, but it was one of the most well-received by our screeners.

FANG: What about THE DIABOLICAL?

NEECE: First-time filmmaker again, with cool kid actors and great atmosphere. That’s another one I have a hard time talking about. They’re just strong films, very well-made with great acting and cool atmosphere. Each has a very different feel, and as a programmer, I just felt they both have something that really works.

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About the author
Heather Buckley

Heather has a dual career as a Producer (Red Shirt Pictures) and a film journalist. Raised on genre since the age of 13, she’s always been fascinated by extreme art cinema, monster movies and apocalyptic culture. Her first love was a Gorezone no. 9 bought at Frank’s Stationary in Keyport, NJ. She has not looked back since. Follow her on Twitter @_heatherbuckley

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