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Big stars, better films scream into annual horror fest

Scene from the short fantasy ‘Believe.’
Scene from the short fantasy ‘Believe.’

While it shouldn't come as a shock, the Central Valley's independent horror, science-fiction and fantasy film festival has reached the ripe old age of 7.

The seventh annual ShockerFest returns with a full slate of feature and short films from across the country and the world this weekend at the Riverbank Galaxy Theatres.

Festival founder George Baker said more than 250 entries from as far away as Italy, Canada, Japan, Germany, Australia and New Zealand were submitted to this year's festival. Some 65 films were selected for screening, including more than a dozen feature-length projects.

This year's roster includes such recognizable faces as "Bullets Over Broadway" star Jennifer Tilly (who was nominated for a supporting-actress Oscar for her role) and "The Breakfast Club" star Judd Nelson in the feature "Caretaker"; "Kill Bill" star Michael Madsen and "Mike Hammer: Private Eye" star Stacy Keach in "The Portal"; and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" alum Nicholas Brendon in "Blood on the Highway."

The event also will feature appearances each day by "The Road Warrior" and "Commando" villain Vernon Wells and horror scream queen Brinke Stevens.

Wells played the mohawked baddie who fought "Mad Max" hero Mel Gibson in the 1981 sequel to the cult apocalyptic hit. Wells also will attend a 9 p.m. Saturday screening and Q&A discussion of "The Road Warrior."

Baker said this will be the first time the studio has allowed the film to be shown on the big screen in 15 years.

Like last year, this year's event will kick off tonight with a ZombieFest. The costume party will feature music by Bernadette & the Element and a Scream Queen Contest in which attendees are invited to let out their best blood-curdling screams.

Baker said while submissions were down this year, the quality of the work has gone up instead.

"The films just get better every year," he said, "so our screeners are more selective. We had films that did not make it this year that probably would have won the festival three years ago."

While the festival's name emphasizes its horror roots, Baker said he was encouraged to see more submissions in other film genres this year.

"Sci-fi and fantasy are more difficult and expensive to make, in many ways. The technical aspects of doing the computer graphics is more complicated. But more and more people are willing to take a chance and strive toward doing new things," he said.

The festival attracted some 500 to 600 moviegoers last year, and Baker said word-of-mouth has helped it grow each year. "As the films get better, we get more and more calls from people who want to be there," he said.

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