Allen Baldwin handed me “Damnationland” in a plastic baggie on a dark street, saying, “I think this is the best stuff we’ve ever done.”
Sure, it was late because he (“Damnationland” co-founder and producer, along with Eddy Bolz) had spent all day ironing technical problems for the screener DVD, but it sounds spookier that way. And he’s not wrong — the 2013 version of the all-Maine horror anthology film series is as polished and impressive a piece of work as any in its four year history. Featuring five admirably varied tales of Maine-flavored chills, “Damnationland” 2013 had its world premiere on Oct. 19 at the State Theatre and can be seen at screenings across the state in the days leading up to Halloween. (Check www.damnationland.com for details.)
So what’s in store if you dare check out this year’s festival of horrors? Let me tell you (mild spoilers).
The film begins with a gorgeously shot, witty and unsettling framing device from David Meiklejohn, tracking through the woods to reveal an incongruous movie screen which flickers to life. And then the real scares begin.
“Syrup” by Caroline O’Connor & Everett Bunker (Through the Door Productions)
A “Mad Men”-era Maine couple (Anna Gravel and Ranin Brown) see their lives thrown into sexy chaos when the husband’s tree-tapping outing brings in a harvest of decidedly unique syrup from the forbidding trees surrounding their home. Played without dialogue, the nine-minute film employs restrained sound, moody, haunting cinematography and some erotically disturbing David Lynch-ian imagery to evocative effect.
“Penelope: Once Upon a Time in the Woods” by Jennifer Widor Smith (Moving Circle Pictures)
“Anne was worse than lost — she didn’t even want me to find her.”
A young girl runs breathlessly through the woods, her white nightdress and her mouth streaked with shocks of red blood. So begins a haunting, deceptively lovely tale of how dangerous and deceptive the world can be to those too young and inexperienced to know what hides in the Maine woods — and the hearts of the people we love. With excellent performances by young actresses Sophey Potter and Jane Ackerman.
“Natal” by Corey Norman (Bonfire Films)
A pair of young couples heads off for a weekend of fun at an isolated lakeside cabin. Sure, one of the quartet is dealing with a mysterious mental trauma, and there may be some buried secrets among the four and some disturbing skittering noises in the walls, but things’ll be just fine, right? Yeah — not in the Maine of “Damnationland” they won’t. Another short filled with skillful camera work and eerily pretty Maine scenery and anchored by some outstanding performances (especially from Maine film vets Andrew Sawyer and Erik Moody), “Natal” packs a disturbing (and bloody) punch.
“Natsuki” by Shehzad Popat
An homage to Japanese horror, “Natsuki” skillfully and disturbingly employs the genre’s fragmented storytelling and imagery to tell the enigmatic tale of a pair of … somethings … as they play out a bloody, ritualized tango of violence and mutilation. Upsetting and witty, this one will keep you decidedly off-balance.
“Detour” by Gary Robinov and Dean Merrill (White Dog Arts)
“We can be redeemed only to the extent to which we see ourselves.”
That quote, which leads off this segment, is a nice sentiment, but for the film’s protagonist (played with exceptional intensity by Brian Chamberlain) it’s also a near-impossibility, as his recovering addict is hanging on by a thread, popping Prozac and possibly hallucinating. When his car breaks down on a lonely Portland road (thanks to the titular detour), he’s helped by a mysterious woman. Or is he? Gripping, emotional and enigmatic, “Detour” closes out this year’s “Damnationland” with the dark resonance and professionalism we’ve come to expect from our annual dose of Maine-made scares.
Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.————
Correction: This article was revised at 2:11 p.m., Oct. 24, 2013, to state that Ranin Brown is one of the stars in “Syrup,” one of the films in the all-Maine horror anthology film series “Damnationland.”