Saturday, March 28, 2015

Horror film with NC Halloween roots gets Mad Monster premier Saturday

Last October a friend and I ventured to the small town of Kannapolis for the premier of the new horror film "Honeyspider" paired in a old-fashioned double feature with the original "Night of the Living Dead" a couple weeks before Halloween. Besides being the birthplace of godfather of Funk George Clinton, Kannapolis is home to an adorable historical single screen movie house called the Gem Theatre where part of the movie is set. It was really special to see the film's theatrical premier in the very spot it was filmed with the filmmakers and actors in tow. 

The film is screening closer to Charlotte's city center this weekend. It's part of the Mad Monster Party film festival at The Sheraton downtown. It will screen Saturday at 9:30 p.m. Screenwriter Kenny Caperton, who grew up near Kannapolis and frequented that theater as a kid, will be on hand. He's running the Honeyspider/Myers House, NC table in the vendor's room. "Honeyspider" is one of a string of full-length and short films that are screened during the three-day horror fest. You can pop in any time and get your fill of horror (I still can't get this short about a giant killer chicken from the first year out of my head). 

In "Honeyspider" college student Jackie Blue (newcomer Mariah Brown) works concessions at the theater. It’s Halloween and her twenty-first birthday. She’s having issues with her family and wants to celebrate her birthday quietly, but the mysterious man that’s watching her from a distance seems to have other plans.

I was interested in "Honeyspider" for several reasons. First, it’s the first horror film to get a local world premier since the campy zombie indie "Come Get Some" (written and directed by Charlotte’s Jason Griscom) screened here in 2003. It is also the first featurel-length film from Caperton, who owns the Myers House in Hillsborough, NC. Caperton built an actual replica of the house from John Carpenter’s original 1978 "Halloween." His home was purposely patterned after the house from the movie where Michael Myers knifed his sister Judith as a child and later tried to do the same to his baby sister Laurie. 

I’ve wanted to write about Myers House since I found out about it and "Honeyspider" allowed me to kill two birds with one story, so to speak. You can read all about Myers House and "Honeyspider" in the preview we did on the premier last fall here

I knew as soon as the film ended I would need a while to digest (ahem) the movie. Six months later there are scenes that still stick with me. I tend to replay movies in my head when I can't sleep at night - particularly horror movies (weird, I know) - and I've done this as much with "Honeyspider" as I have with last fall's "Annabelle" (that creepy doll). 

Watching a movie after I interviewed the screenwriter and knew a bit about him was interesting because I found myself watching it the same way I listen to records - with references jutting out at me. I know Caperton grew up on classic horror films and that he has a soft spot for `80s horror. "Honeyspider" is set in 1989, for instance, and some of the fashion is a hoot (oh, ill-fitting jeans and side ponytails).  There’s also a classic `80s movie-within-the-movie, “Sleepover Slaughterhouse III,” which includes all the `80s tropes - bubbleheaded teenage girls, boobs, and a serial killer that’s distracted by neither. It in itself is a fun ride with a completely different tone than the actual movie. 

Caperton took the title of the film from an old Smashing Pumpkins track that served as inspiration. There are several Pumpkins references throughout. The first reference I can find online to the song “Honeyspider” was on a cassette demo released in, you guessed it, 1989. You have to admire Caperton’s devotion to weaving it all together. The song plays over the end credits, by the way, with Billy Corgan’s permission, and Caperton, who plays a college student, is introduced in the film pummeling a jack-o-lantern.

The pace is another factor. There’s not a ton of dialogue, which is probably smart for new filmmakers. The exchanges between friends and co-workers are funny and realistic. Actresses Katie Bearden, who plays Jackie’s friend Jenny, and  Rachel Jeffreys as her co-worker, were particularly at ease. And the humor and ease of those characters counters the drama, stress and obvious discomfort of Jackie's situation. 

There are also long shots of Jackie walking across campus, quietly drifting to sleep in her room, and driving through the country on her way to work. Since "Scream" horror movies have often rushed through one scare after another. "Honeyspider" is restrained by comparison. There are a few jump-in-your-seat moments and some clever Halloween-related scenes. Oh candy corn, you got me! I don’t want to give much away, but the title’s meaning is much more unsettling than I imagined. 

Besides the slower `80s pace and the `80s-like setting, two other films come to mind. The dream sequences recall "The Blair Witch Project" and the dissonant music at the end recalls John 5’s score from "Lords of Salem." I found a couple of parallels with the Rob Zombie Kubrick-esque modern witchcraft story, including an ending that’s a bit open-ended. But I didn’t find the ending of "Honeyspider" frustrating as I did with "Salem."

Pairing it with George A. Romero’s original 1968 "Night of the Living Dead" turned out to be a perfect companion to capture the spirit of independent filmmaking then and now. First of all seeing it in the theater with no commercials and, better yet, no remote control in hand, was like seeing "Night of the Living Dead" with new eyes.  I’m not a huge fan of zombies. They’re gross and slow (and that flesh eating scene is still pretty gross), but it unfolds slowly and calmly as well. I began thinking about the parallels between the independent filmmakers behind "HoneySpider" and "Living Dead" - the spirit and passion in seeing a project through and doing it with the tools you have at hand on a budget especially in an industry that seems to pour money and can build an entire film on a green screen. 

I wouldn't have thought playing a classic following the premier of a brand new film would reflect so well on the new film and add the the experience. But it did. On the way home I found myself pondering tragedy and fanaticism. 

"Honeyspider" is sandwiched between a sneak preview of something called "Toxic Tutu" (gotta check that out) and a short Hell On Earth film block Saturday. Saturday passes are $35 and that includes access to a lot of fun - the vendor's room (it's like Christmas for a horror fan), the film festival, Q&A panels (Saturday's include Batman and Robin/Adam West and Burt Ward, Leatherfaces Gunnar Hansen and Bill Johnson, William Forsythe and Steve Railsback, and voice actors that verbally animate Skeletor, Roger Rabbit, and the Cryptkeeper), live music, a costume contest, beauty pageant, scaraoke, games, and a chance to meet the guests stars from film, TV, and music(autographs and photos are usually extra). 

Check out the full schedule and film schedule here and learn more about "Honeyspider" (I hear there will be big news soon here).