Toll, Stasis Shine at Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror Fest

The spirit of Roger Corman was ever-present in Las Vegas over the weekend as Movie Nation Festivals presented the 2006 Festival of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror & the Supernatural at the Plaza Hotel & Casino. Dedicated mostly to low-budget horror and sci-fi movies, the four-day event also featured screenings of several animated shorts, including The Toll, a CG-animated comedy from Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based production entity Hatchling Studio.

Written and directed by Zack Pike, The Toll is an animated mockumentary that turns the camera on a troll who lives under a bridge and expounds on work, life and love, slowly painting the self-portrait of a monster in denial. The short debuted at this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego and is currently making the festival rounds. Based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Hatchling Studios offers animation, interactive and post-production services, and created the short to spotlight its CG capabilities.

Another animated stand-out at the fest was Jason A. Hite’s Stasis, the first part of science-fiction saga inspired by Metropolis, Frankenstein, The Matrix and the designs of H.R. Giger. The stop-motion film takes viewers into the bowels of a biomechanical world where deceased humans are kept in cryostasis chambers, waiting to be thawed and revived by advances in medical technology. Viewers watch as the body of one woman is extracted and invaded by ‘bio-drones,’ which resurrect her as one of their own. A sculptor by trade, Hite makes Halloween masks for a living and was able to apply his skills to his first animated project, an atmospheric and nightmarish vision of rebirth. He tells us he’s currently working on the second part, and also has a feature in development. You can learn more about Stasis and see Hite’s portfolio at www.hitestudios.com.

The funniest animated short screened out of competition since it was made by filmmakers involved with the festival. Nougat from Tibor Szakaly and Bill Filala takes place during a fourth-grade pageant in which kids relate the nature and history of popular confections by dressing ups as such sweets as chocolate and caramel. Unlike his cheery counterparts, the kid who has to be nougat is depressed because few people know what nougat really is or even how it’s spelled. As the short goes on, his despondency turns to wrath as he seeks to prove the true power of nougat by invoking the dark arts. The twisted humor of the film is enhanced by its appropriately crude paper cut-out animation style.

On the live-action side, one of the better entries was a feature titled A Mexican Werewolf in Texas, a tongue-in-cheek flick about a small border town terrorized by the mythical Chupacabra. Well made on a low budget by director by Scott Maginnis, the film is surprisingly character driven and features some fun rubber creature effects also created by Maginnis. Another highlight was a screening of Robert Sidney Mellette’s 2000 black comedy Jacks or Better, in which four long-time poker buddies reveal dark secrets while a dead body hangs on the kitchen wall.

This is the second year for the Festival of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror & the Supernatural, a presentation of Movie Nation Festivals. For more information, go to www.movienationfestivals.com.