It’s that time of year where we throw on our horror T-shirts, slip on our finest jean vests with macabre flair and slide into the comfortably reclining chairs of the cinema. It’s time for Sin City Horror Fest!

The festival, which takes place in Vegas, is such an amazing juxtaposition. There are the cute older crowds with their cigarettes and floral dresses, walking about as slot machines ding and sing. Meanwhile, there is a man in full demon make-up who looks up, smiles, and says “See you in Hell!” What a goddamn great time to be alive.

The fest was started by Justin Bergonzoni, Darren Flores, Mike Lenzini, Drew Marvick and Clay Lake. Each year, they have grown the fest into a powerhouse of a weekend filled with some really stand out films. This year, the festival took place at the Brenden Theatre located at the Palms Casino. Each block was sold out, but I camped out on the floor for one or two in hopes of catching a sneak peek at the creative minds behind the films.

There were some truly amazing films that were standouts this year. First, the short film CERDITA, directed by Carlota Martinez-Pereda, took my breath away. There were no subtitles during this movie which was a true testament to the beautiful way in which it was shot. No words were necessary because we all speak the language of fear, shame, and revenge. CERDITA follows Sara, played by Laura Galan, as she attempts to enjoy a normal day alone. Swimming by herself, without the watchful eyes of anyone, she is able to enjoy the water alone. The day takes a turn when she is accosted by a hateful group of girls. They steal her clothes resulting in her walking home in the blistering sun in just her bathing suit. Scared, burnt to a crisp, and feeling embarrassed, she not only endures cruelty from the girls, but more vicious attacks from a group of men driving past her. Poking, prodding, and cruel worlds, it breaks you down as you watch. I wanted nothing more than for her to turn around, stand in her space, and tell them to fuck off.

But we’ve all been there, standing on the other end of treatment we did not deserve, screaming things we wish would, or could, have said. CERDITA shows us that sometimes the things that you should fear, are the things that help us see the real evil in our lives. It helps us see the shame and embarrassment that can hold us captive, while reminding us that fear can motivate and move us forward.

ONE MUST FALL, directed by Antonio Pantoja, is a horror/comedy set in the 80s. Julie Streble plays Sarah, our lead, who has been wrongfully fired from her job. In order to keep herself, and her young son afloat, she takes a job in crime scene clean-up.

ONE MUST FALL felt as if all the elements were there, they just somehow couldn’t find a way to coexist in a fluid way. Sarah is working an okay job, has a shitty boss who is consistently hitting on her, and a sweet gay friend who always has her back. It’s fun, with the comedic beats established early on, with banter that works even with her boss being a little over-the-top. That said, I still enjoyed the set up.

There was beautiful chemistry between Sarah and her co-worker Alton, played by Andrew Yackel. Each scene built a stronger bond between the two of them and the connection they had was really lovely up until the end. On the flip-side, though, we have our killer, played by Barry Piacente. He was wonderfully sinister in his movements, his portrayal, and speech. Everything about his scenes screamed pure, honest-to-God horror. There was a way in which he spoke that was really mesmerizing and the practical effects used for the kills were done incredibly well. With nods to movies like Saw, the whole gory package worked for me. The problem was it felt, at times, like I was watching two different movies: one where the comedy was very on the nose and fun, and then where the horror was just that, horrific. It left the movie feeling disjointed in a way.

As I mentioned earlier, all the elements were there and I did enjoy watching it, but it lacked a cohesiveness that would have really done the entire film justice. ONE MUST FALL deserves a watch as it’s for sure for anyone who has ever said fuck it and walked off a job – and then found themselves stalked by a killer.

It was such a privilege to be in a packed theater to watch Z. Once again, Brandon Christensen (Still/Born) has given us a peek into what should be a normal family dynamic and completely turned it on its head.

Z is the sinister and creepy story of a boy and his imaginary friend. Jett Kylne plays Joshua Parsons, a sweet and regular boy. A little shy, he’s the type of kid who you would cross paths with on the playground. Slowly, his attitude starts to change with the introduction of an imaginary friend named Z. Joshua’s behavior beings to become more erratic, with his classmates and parents no longer wanting to be near him. All the while we see his mother, Elizabeth Parsons (Keegan Connor Tracy) juggling her sanity while trying to figure out how to help her son.

There is a beautifully paced sense of dread that happens in Z. It was reminiscent of the way the fear and dread builds in the original Poltergeist. I don’t want to give too much away, but there is one particular scene where a classmate is hurt badly. It’s such a kick to the gut and the sound that accompanies it is one that will immediately do something to your mind, it’s truly terrifying. Hands down, one of the best performances goes to Keegan Connor Tracy. She transforms consistently throughout the film, becoming so many textured characters that I just kind of sat with my mouth open in awe. The story that Brandon Christensen and Colin Minihan have written is a foundation for which these characters build. Each character adds strength to the story, giving it life and terror. Z shows us that we never outgrow our imaginary friends and if we do… they will find us.

Sin City Horror Fest came to a close the way all good festivals do, with giant hugs, dark circles under the eyes from lack of sleep, a deep love for the genre. It’s a festival not to be missed and continues to grow bigger every year. Each of the founders has put so much time, love and blood into making it a memorable experience for each person attending. With that said, thanks for the scares, we can’t wait to see you next year!

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Kamarra Cole

Kamarra Chamberlain, born in San Diego, currently resides in Hollywood. Raised on all things Horror and Gore, she's an actress, competitive outrigger canoe paddler, constant hugger, and is always on the search for the best California burrito.
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