Fandomania’s coverage of the Rhode Island International Horror Film Festival (RIIHFF) continues with the remaining three films that screened on the festival’s opening night, October 22nd. These films include two Spanish titles — Lazarus Taxon and Zombies and Cigarettes — as well as The Taxidermist, the first short film from the U.K. to be screened at the festival.
Lazarus Taxon (2008), Spain
Spanish writer/director Denis Rovira studied film direction at the University of California Los Angeles and is well known in Europe for his award-winning short films, including a horror short called Lazarus Taxon, which was screened at this year’s RI International Horror Film Festival. The film, which clocks in at just over 15 minutes, depicts a future in which the effects of global warming have turned land to sea and thinned the oxygen in the air to a level barely capable of sustaining human life. Viewers watch as a man, near death himself, pushes his body to its limit in order to row his daughter across the New Sea to a man he believes will be able to save her from death. Scavenging the bodies of the less fortunate as they float by the small rowboat, the film’s protagonist takes the hits of oxygen that he finds there and uses them to stay alive long enough to row his dying daughter to safety.
Lazarus Taxon is a film that examines the human spirit and tries to answer the ever-present question of how far humanity will go in order to survive. Rather than accept the death of a loved one, a man is willing to journey across an endless body of water to meet a man based on nothing more than that man’s word that he can bring the dead back to life. Unfortunately for the film’s protagonist, this mysterious acquaintance failed to elaborate upon his definition of “bringing the dead back to life”… a misunderstanding that causes the father to suffer a psychological break.
Rovira’s film can easily be described as disgusting — a tribute to the special effects used to create the blisters and boils on the protagonist and his daughter, as well as some of the other stomach-turning aspects of the film’s imagery. The way that Lazarus Taxon depicts the less pleasant side effects of overexertion and lack of oxygen, including the very graphic illustration of the main character’s upchuck reflexes, helps to justify its inclusion in the horror genre. So does the heavy wheezing of the film’s protagonist, which can evoke in audience members intense feelings of discomfort and anxiety, especially for viewers who have firsthand experience of oxygen deprivation from severe asthma, anaphylactic shock, etc.
Overall, Rovira’s film was an excellent inclusion for the RIIHFF, bringing a unique blend of feasible and science fiction to the festival not present in many of the other selections. Lazarus Taxon was awarded Best Horror Short at the 2009 Atlanta Underground Film Festival, Best Script Award at the 2009 SciFiWorld International Shoft-Film Festival, and Best National Short Award at the 2009 Vi Fic Móstoles Madrid. For more information on Rovira’s film, visit the official Lazarus Taxon web site.
Zombies and Cigarettes (2009), Spain
It’s interesting what a zombie film becomes when cut down to about 17 minutes. In order to pack a sufficient amount of bloody zombie mayhem and gore into such a short span of time, a film like Zombies and Cigarettes seems forced to sacrifice key bits of plot information and exposition. Fortunately for zombie fans, directors Rafael Martinez and Iñaki San Roman still put together an entertaining “horror” short that is both hilariously entertaining and extremely bloody. Zombies and Cigarettes tells the story of a shy, somewhat geeky guy named Xavi (Samuel Viyuela Gonzalez) who finds himself in the middle of a zombie outbreak at a local mall. Somehow managing to survive the initial waves of attack, Xavi bands together with a handful of other survivors, including a girl named Carol (Aroa Gimeno) that he has been trying to impress.
Zombies and Cigarettes follows the survivors — Xavi, Carol, a handsome athlete named Kendo (Javier Ríos), and an ice cream vendor named Anselmo (Paco Hidalgo) — as they try to escape from the mall and are inevitably picked off, one by one.
The film’s truncated timeline leaves audiences clueless as to the source of the zombie outbreak, although Xavi’s clumsiness and quick thinking leads to the discovery of how to kill the undead menace: perfume. No explanation is given as to why the zombies are susceptible to a particular type of perfume, and those responsible for facilitating the end of the epidemic are never specifically called out when the zombies disappear almost as quickly as they first appeared.
Aside from the aforementioned plot holes, Zombies and Cigarettes is a fun short film that will be an instant hit with zombie fans and horror fanatics alike. The special effects are very impressive and the cinematography, although at times feeling somewhat schizophrenic, works well with the film’s overall goal — to give audiences a taste of zombie mayhem purely for the sake of voyeurism. Zombie and Cigarettes is also noteworthy based on the performances of its main cast, all of whom are believable and do an excellent job combining classic horror with a hint of comedy (example: when trapped in a small hallway with hordes of zombies trying to break in from both sides, it may be the perfect time for a cigarette break).
The Taxidermist (2009), United Kingdom
At one time it was convenient to have Stiff & Son Taxidermy nestled right next door to World of Pets. But 50 years have passed since the last pet died in the desolate town of Gibworth, thanks to a solution concocted by the owner of World of Pets (Paul Bhattacharjee) and his daughter, Milly (Camilla Rutherford from the television series Rome). When regularly administered, Pet Pro Formula prevents people’s beloved pets from dying. As the popularity of Pet Pro Formula increases and the demand rises, the building’s greedy landlord (Ford Kiernan) becomes involved, pressuring Milly’s father to expand World of Pets so that he can evict the taxidermist (Craig Parkinson) next door.
Milly is upset by the idea of evicting the taxidermist, even if doing so will allow her father’s business to prosper. Through a hole in the wall between the back room of World of Pets and the taxidermist’s workshop in Stiff & Son Taxidermy, Milly fondly watches her frustrated and intriguing neighbor. When Milly’s parrot accidentally overdoses on one of the Pet Pro Formula ingredients and dies, Milly is inspired to sabotage the remainder of the formula so that the taxidermist will have work.
The film’s cinematography is superb, especially when compared to some of the festival’s other selections, and The Taxidermist was awarded First Prize for Best Cinematography at the 2009 RI International Film Festival and also won Best Live Action Over 15 Minutes at the 2009 Palm Springs International ShortFest. The lighting and framing that directors Bert & Bertie and Katie Ellwood (The Getaway, Phobias) use in The Taxidermist lend a postmodern feel to the picture that is reminiscent of some of the darker episodes of the Doctor Who television series or the popular BioShock video game.
The Taxidermist is an excellent short film (it clocks in at just over 20 minutes), but its subject matter has the potential to polarize audiences; viewers will either find it absurdly humorous and slightly disturbing or will be saddened and disgusted by the death and subsequent dismantling of beloved family pets. While the widespread result of Milly’s actions remains to be seen, audiences are offered a consolation prize when the mutual and obvious attraction between Milly and the taxidermist is resolved by the film’s end.
Opening night of the RIIHFF saw a well-rounded selection of films ranging from horror/comedy for the sake of horror/comedy to a realistic look at the post-apocalyptic existence of those who survive the effects of global warming. The films screened displayed various visual effects, from a combination of live action and CGI to animation and classic filming techniques. Homicidal penguins, demonic possessions, Frankenstein’s monster, and even cannibals (Lazarus Taxon) graced the small screen set up in the basement of the Bell Street Chapel in Providence, RI as heavy rain pounded on the windows outside. This year’s RI International Horror Film Festival ranged over four days, from Oct. 22nd-Oct.25th, so stay tuned for the remainder of Fandomania’s coverage of the festival’s various events. For more information on the RIIHFF, head to the festival’s official web site, where an event listing, program details, and film descriptions may be found, among other things.