TCFF19 Horror/Thriller Reviews: Puppet Killer + Scream, Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street + 3 Day Weekend

We’ve already reached halfway of the film fest!! You can search TCFF2019 for ALL of the posts we’ve done so far this year.

Check out the recap from Saturday (thanks to our media producers + TCFF interns!):

Well, since it’s almost Halloween, here are a trio of horror/thriller reviews of films screening at TCFF! Thanks to our horror reviewer Laura Schaubschlager. Two of the films below are screening Wednesday night.

I love that Twin Cities Film Fest happens to be right before my favorite holiday (Halloween, in case that wasn’t obvious). I’m already in the mood to binge watch horror movies in the weeks leading up to the 31st, and the festival gives me a chance to see ones that I might not have heard of otherwise. I’ve been lucky enough to watch a few screeners ahead of the festival, and what I’ve seen is a promising sign of what should be another fantastic TCFF season.

Puppet Killer

Looking for a more traditional horror flick for your Halloween fix? Check out Puppet Killer for a fun, bloody parody of teen slasher movies. When Jamie (Aleks Paunovic) is a little boy, his stepmother mysteriously goes missing-but he’s convinced she was murdered by Simon, the fluffy pink puppet his late mother gave him. Ten years later, Alex returns to the cabin in the woods where his stepmother disappeared for Christmas break with his girlfriend Jessie (Lisa Durupt) and their friends Curtis (Lee Majdoub), Rick (Richard Harmon), Brooke (Gigi Saul Guerrero), and Lee (Kyle Cassie).  They find the seemingly innocent puppet in the basement, and soon after, the bloodbath begins.

The writing in this movie isn’t spectacular; it’s clearly meant to poke fun at teen slasher movies, but it doesn’t say anything new about the subject, and some of the jokes about horror cliches feel like cliches themselves. There are also these two characters, a couple sisters trying to hide the body of a guy one of them killed, who show up maybe 20 minutes before the end of the movie whose subplot is never acknowledged or resolved; they’re pretty much just there for a couple extra kills, and considering the movie already has a solid group of high schoolers, more serial killer fodder seems unnecessary, especially when the characters add nothing else to the story.

That said, this is still a really fun movie. In traditional teen slasher fashion, the actors cast as high schoolers are obviously older than their characters, and in this movie, I mean obviously; Alex Paunovic as the main teen, Jamie, is 50 years old. This makes several bits of dialogue extra funny, and the actors are clearly having a lot of fun in their performances as obnoxious, melodramatic adolescents. As far as horror goes, the movie has some fun, solid kills, with decent and bloody practical effects.

Scream, Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street (doc)

If you’re not a Nightmare on Elm Street fan, you might wonder why anyone would make a documentary about the second installment of the popular 80’s slasher franchise. But Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is more than just one of many sequels: it’s a movie laden with gay subtext and stars a young gay actor, Mark Patton, who, at the time of filming, hadn’t come out. The mid-80’s were especially hard for the LGBTQ community, thanks to the AIDS epidemic being at its peak and causing the public to demonize homosexuality. For an up and coming movie star who felt like he had to stay in the closet to protect his career, the overt homosexual tone of Freddy’s Revenge– and writer David Chaskin’s insistence, after the movie received negative reviews, that he hadn’t written it that way and that it was Mark’s performance that made the movie gay- halted his path to stardom and forced him into a life of obscurity. He went off the grid, living in a small town in Mexico until 2010, when he was tracked down to be a part of Never Sleep Again, a documentary about the Nightmare franchise.

Since then, Mark has embraced his role as a male “scream queen” and gay horror icon, attending several conventions and using his celebrity platform to talk about bullying and homophobia in the horror community. The documentary is not only a fascinating exploration of Mark’s acting and personal journey, but an insightful look at how homosexuality was viewed in the 80’s (especially in Hollywood), and why many members of the LGBTQ community connect with the horror genre.

The documentary is also narrated by Cecil Baldwin, a gay horror icon in his own right (he’s the lead in the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale), adding to what is already an excellent film.

3 Day Weekend

Okay, this isn’t exactly horror-it’s more of a thriller- but the idea of being alone in the woods and stumbling across what at first appears to be a kidnapping gone wrong, then trying to evade the criminals with no car and a phone with no service, is a pretty scary concept. When Ben Boyd (Morgan Krantz) goes on a solo camping trip in the middle of the woods, he discovers a bloody mess in the front seat of one car, a woman (Maya Stojan) bound and gagged in the trunk of another, and the apparent kidnapper (Nathan Phillips) chasing after him. But all is not as it seems, as more of the story is revealed through the different characters’ perspectives.

This movie jumps into the suspense quickly and maintains that tension throughout the hour and twenty minute run time. There’s next to no dialogue, which allows the actors’ talent to really shine. It’s well-paced, allowing a pretty even amount of time to focus on each character’s perspective.

The story-telling gets a little murky and convoluted toward the very end, and some of the brief bits of dialogue feel forced or out of place, but overall it’s a gripping mystery that keeps you on the edge of your seat and constantly going “Wait, what?!” at every new reveal.

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!



TCFF19: DAY 3+4 Reviews: Greywood’s Plot + Documentaries: The Truth About Marriage & Salvage

It’s already Day 4 at TCFF! Well, time sure flies when you’re having fun! Here’s a video recap from Saturday, courtesy of TCFF’s awesome media producers Ellie Drews & Kirstie House:

Greywood’s Plot

Greywood’s Plot, directed by MN-based director Josh Stifter (whom Ruth interviewed for his film The Good Exorcist), is a fantastically fun and funky horror comedy. Shot in black and black and white, it’s a throwback to old late night comedy shows.

The movie follows two lifelong friends who receive a mysterious VHS tape containing some footage of a vampire-type animal. They decide to go on and adventure into the woods to investigate the validity of the tape and in the process hope to make a documentary about it. The journey becomes much more than they expected as the terrifying truth is uncovered.

This full-length horror-comedy film made almost entirely by Stifter and his friends. It also stars his longtime collaborator Daniel Degnan who was in The Good Exorcist. Josh along with directing, also served as the co-writer and producer, while Nathan Strauss was the assistant director, executive producer and special effects artist and Keith Radichel rounded out the team as the films antagonist. Shot in Detroit lakes in a friend’s family’s small hunting shack the film is 100% Minnesota made. Even the extras were residents of Detroit lakes, serving as tree zombies.

Josh has been in the movie business for years, working with both Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez. He has a background in special effects which I think adds to the really playful and imaginative kind of horror comedy he makes. I also really appreciate the way he incorporated the surrounding woods and fields of Detroit Lakes. It would have been easy enough to keep the film contained in the shack but by expanding the films location it creates a much more immersive environment.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta

The Truth About Marriage (Documentary)

This documentary by filmmaker Roger Nygard (“Trekkies”) follows three not-so-ordinary couples to see how things turned out several years after the honeymoon. The film presents challenging ideas about relationships, as it answers the question: Why is marriage so hard for people?

Engaging and entertaining examination by veteran documentary filmmaker, Roger Nygard, into the complicated subject of marriage. As the saying goes, everyone’s got an opinion! And they are insightful and, sometimes, humorous. I liked the fact that there was a mix of a vast variety of “experts,” along with a variety of real life couples—some that were in untraditional arrangements. It’s another great film by him that’s a fantastic conversation starter. The film examines the history of marriage, how it’s evolved, and what we expect from it now. In the end, it’s up to us to decide: what is it’s purpose?

– Review by Kelly Lamplear-Dash

A feature-length documentary about the city dump in Yellowknife, Canada. In Yellowknife, the remote capitol of the Northwest Territories, the town dump is the city’s most popular and notorious manmade attraction, mined by a colorful community of thrifty locals. But the new city administration is determined to see it tamed, and the battle for Yellowknife’s identity is on.

An “A” for effort. This film is a unique peek into the salvage subculture of a small town in Yellowknife, Canada, which has a history of mining. There was great use of historical footage and stills. I would have like to seen more. There was an interesting cast of characters; however, maybe too many.

I am interested in the themes of re-use, re-purpose, recycling, minimum waste, environmental impact, and dumpster diving for food. It also touched on the issues of community interest versus politics coupled with the ever-increasing issue of gentrification. This film was trying to do a lot, but could have been cut back a little. Maybe even been a short. I really did appreciate it.

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!



TCFF19: DAY 2 Recap + Reviews: Well-Groomed doc | Black Hat + Misdirection (short)

It’s another gorgeous Autumn day for the second day of TCFF! It’s an extra special day for me as the short film I helped produced last year, MASTER SERVANT was screened last under under the ALL THE WRONG PLACES short block, which was sold out! In fact, TCFF is adding a second screening of that block on Friday, October 25th, 2:30pm.

It was really wonderful to see some of the people who worked on the film, some I hadn’t seen for months. Big congrats to writer/director Julie Koehnen… and to my fellow producers Steven Elbert and Kelly Lamplear-Dash.

Glad to see some cast members, crew and even some members of the orchestra who were featured in the film. I’m really proud of this historical drama and its journey so far… honored and blessed to have been a part of this amazing ride!

It’s fun juggling multiple hats again as a blogger and filmmaker, like I did back in 2017 when Hearts Want premiered at TCFF. Here are some photos from last night’s screening:

Here’s a video recap, courtesy of TCFF’s awesome media producers Ellie Drews & Kirstie House:

BLACK HAT (short)

Producer, writer and Minnesota native Phillip Guttmann returns to the 2019 Twin Cities Film Fest with his short film Black Hat, which premiered locally as part of the “In All The Wrong Places” shorts block on Thursday, Oct. 17. He serves as Writer/Co-Producer of the Sarah Smith directed short film which is described as being about “A seemingly pious Hasidic man living a secret double life misplaces his black hat one night which will cause his two separate lives to collide in a way he never imagined,” according to its IMDB page.

Guttmann previously attended the 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest, when his short story D.Asian – turned short film by Director/Writer Sarah Smith – was first shown locally. Guttmann also served as a co-producer of the short along with his director. The short film want on to win the top audience award for short film as well as honorable mention for the jury award for best short film at that year’s film fest.

I saw the Los Angeles-shot short film Black Hat at this year’s Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival, It’s part of its shorts block, and to me it stood out because it raised some important modern day issues such as sexual identity within a religious community that man not accept the person for having such desires. The short film stars the lead Adam Silver (a Chicago born and raised actor, known for the Dan Gilroy directed film Velvet Buzzsaw, who currently resides in Los Angeles) as Shmuel, a an ultra-Orthodox Jew in Los Angeles who is hiding a major secret from his family. When his family leaves town for several days, Shmuel leaves all of his religious garments and physical traits (except for a black hat) and sets off to visit the local gay bar. Prior to entering the bar, he takes off his hat and while at the bar, he stashes it away on top of a drawstring bag. He is soon approached by another man to join him in another room. Would Shmuel join him? 

According the short film’s website, “Phillip wrote Black Hat in response to his own experiences being Jewish but also based on his time spent working closely with the New York Haredi community at Footsteps. Phillip saw first-hand the struggle those seeking an outside, secular life face and has become inspired to tell these stories.

I think this is a strong short film that can easily be developed into a feature length film on subject matter alone. The story is very strong and keeps the audience guessing about whether the main character will be found out or outed for his own sexuality and/or sexual desires. And what about his wife and kids after they return from their trip? Will he continue to hide his true identity from them or will he ultimately had to confess and beg for their forgiveness? We may never find out the answers to those questions but, its worth asking them long after the end of the short film.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


College can be a stressful time in anyone’s life, especially on freshman year. Camila is a freshman who’s diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and she has a massive crush on her roommate Kara who’s pretty and popular with the boys. Victoria Ortiz is immediately captivating and sympathetic as Camila, and her struggle with Kara is palpable. Even when she to fix her up with someone else, Cam simply couldn’t focus on anyone else. Who hasn’t dealt with unrequited love? That makes the story instantly relatable.

After a particular incident that could’ve ended badly, Cam is told by her therapist to find a distraction, or an escape if you will. Soon she ends up meeting a street magician that leads her to channel her energy into something else.

This film is obviously dealing with LGBTQ issues, but the story can be applied to anyone dealing with a certain kind of obsession that potentially takes over our lives and distract us from living our life. Writer/director Carly Usdin apparently is into magic herself, she’s a member of Academy of Magical Arts in Los Angeles. She’s definitely a talented filmmaker, she’s won the Audience Award for Best First Feature at Outfest 2016 for her first feature Suicide Kale.

The story flows nicely and it’s also beautifully shot, a great example of a simple story told wonderfully in a short amount of time. It helps to have a strong leading actress as well, Victoria Ortiz is an actress to watch for.

Misdirection is part of AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women, class of 2019.

WELL-GROOMED (Documentary)

WELL GROOMED travels a year in the humorous and visually stunning world of competitive creative dog grooming alongside the women transforming their beloved poodles into living sculptures.

Beautifully done. I half expected “Best in Show,” but this was so much more. I had never heard of competitive creative dog grooming prior to this. It was fascinating to watch the journeys of these women that are dedicated to this unique art form. Skillfully captured with excellent cinematography made it a wonder to watch. I really enjoyed this film.

– Review by Kelly Lamplear-Dash

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!



TCFF19: DAY 1 Recap + WORKING MAN (2019) review

So it begins!! Today is the start of Twin Cities Film Fest’s 10th Anniversary… the first of eleven-day film festivities descends upon Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatres at The Shops at West End.

Thankfully our opening night happens to be on a lovely Autumn evening, the sun hasn’t set yet and I had a few minutes before the first film I’m seeing (JoJo Rabbit – review to come) to actually check out the TCFF Lounge, which for its 10th anniversary has been converted into TCFF Wonderpark thanks to our awesome sponsor Can Can Wonderland.

Here are a few photos from opening night… it’s always fun seeing familiar faces during TCFF!

WORKING MAN’s director Robert Jury and lead actors Talia Shire + Peter Gerety on TCFF red carpet


Making his directorial debut with Working Man is Robert Jury, who is also the movie’s writer. The story is quite simple; after years and years of working at the same job for most of his life, the main character Allery Parkes (Peter Gerety) and his entire small factory in a nameless Midwestern town are told that the factory is closing and they are losing their jobs. Allery goes home to his wife Lola (Talia Shire) but doesn’t tell her the news, but rather he gets up the next morning and goes to work, sneaking into the now closed factory. Soon Lola finds out what he’s been doing and seeks the help of a local pastor. Allery isn’t interested in listening to him, but rather he continues to go back to the closed factory, just to clean as all the power has been shut off. When he’s discovered by a former manager, he is brought home by the local police department and told not to go back there again. But some of his formed co-workers have already noticed his movements, and former co-worker Walter (Billy Brown) decides to help Allery by driving him back to the closed factory and letting him in with his spare key that everyone forgot was in his possession.

Peter Gerety + Talia Shire in WORKING MAN

There is more to both Allery and Lola’s story, including the devastating loss of a son, and Allery’s desire to work way past the point of when he should have retired. There is also more to Walter’s story, including his past relationships, substance abuse and his willingness (of lack thereof) to tell the truth. All this is played out in Working Man, including an attempt of the former factory workers to retake their jobs and reopen the factory. The movie ends on a happy note, but maybe not the kind of happy that audiences might have expected at the start.

Billy Brown in WORKING MAN

Overall, this is a successful first attempt at directing by Robert Jury, and features some great acting by the pair of Peter Gerety and Talia Shire. For me, the real star of the movie is Billy Brown and his portrayal of a broken man (both physically and mentally) who has to come to terms with the ramifications of his actions and inactions. Jury builds tension in his script, as the factory workers seem to have a leg up on the corporation that has closed down their small factory, only to learn that its all for nothing and they’ve been misled. This is a story that can resonate with in the real world of industrial labor, factory shutdowns and job losses, but it’s the mental issues that each character has to deal with that perhaps resonate even deeper with the average person. Almost everyone goes through loss of a loved one, or sees their loved one go through hard times and turn to drugs and/or alcohol to soothe their pains. It’s what people do next and how they bounce back – this is the real story of Allery Parkes, the Working Man.

– Review by Vitali Gueron

Stay tuned for my review of JOJO RABBIT… and

check out what’s in store for DAY TWO!