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Making the Cut: A Celebration of Genre Films at the Spirit Awards

Making the Cut: A Celebration of Genre Films at the Spirit Awards (photo)

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One of the ways the Spirit Awards has continued to celebrate what’s new and next has been by honoring genre films that are typically overlooked when it comes to year-end ceremonies and top ten lists. After all, what other non-genre specific awards show would’ve had the gumption to put up “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” for Best Feature as the Spirits did in 1995? Yet that surprising nod shouldn’t come as all that surprising to those who have followed the Spirit Awards through the years, where horror and sci-fi have long been an integral part of the proceedings, not only to highlight what’s been the best for a particular year, but what new voices are on the horizon.

Naturally, the Best First Feature category has been a hotbed for filmmakers who quickly make their mark with genre films. Although audiences didn’t immediately embrace Richard Kelly’s time-travel drama “Donnie Darko” in 2002, the Spirit Awards instantly recognized the qualities that would make it a cult classic with nods in the Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay categories. Likewise, Alex Rivera’s “Sleep Dealer,” which imagined a world where the immigration debate is reframed by companies who use technology to keep people from interacting with each other, raised its profile with a Best First Feature nomination in 2009. Last year, the biggest stir when nominations were announced came with the announcement of Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity,” the surprise box office hit that was made for just around $15,000 by a software programmer and went on to gross $107 million domestically with the simple premise of a couple tormented by supernatural house guests.

This year, another found footage flick found its way into the category with “The Last Exorcism,” which also earned a nomination for its star Ashley Bell in the Best Supporting Female category for her portrayal of a young woman that appears to be possessed by the Devil. Incidentally, the film isn’t actually the first from director Daniel Stamm, whose previous mock doc thriller “A Necessary Death” won an audience award at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles in 2008 and brought him to the attention of executive producer Eli Roth after the film’s original directors, screenwriters Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland had to leave to direct their other script in development, the comedy “The Virginity Hit.” That bit of luck gave Stamm the chance to show his mettle on a substantially larger (but still meager $1.8 million) budget and paired him with Roth, who has injected a much-needed sense of humor into the usually deadly serious arena of horror.

The somewhat tricky nature of Spirit Award paperwork led to a similar nomination oddity in 1997 and 1998, though it was no less prescient when Larry Fessenden picked up the Swatch Someone to Watch Award a year before the Spirit Awards would nominate him again for Best Director – the catch is they were for both for the same film “Habit.” Still, there’s no argument here about acknowledging Fessenden, who has gone on to become one of the most prominent and important promoters of independent genre films, both as a director himself on films like 2006’s Ron Perlman frightfest “The Last Winter,” but as the chief of Glass Eye Pix, which has produced such films recently as “Bitter Feast” and “The House of the Devil,” introducing the world to filmmakers like Ti West and Joe Maggio.

In general, indie filmmakers have long pushed the boundaries that often prevent even most mainstream films from presenting the world as they know it, so it only makes sense that many work in horror and science fiction, where at its best, they can offer effective social commentary in a way few other genres of films can be. That the Spirit Awards chooses to acknowledge it keeps the ceremony on the cutting edge and always ahead of what’s next.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.