Panic Fest 2022: Crabs! and Presence

One of the best things about film festivals is the talent and unfettered creativity a creator can bring to their work. They’re [typically] not held up in front of a group of out-of-touch suits who demand things to be done a way that they see fit. In a way, it feels as if festivals are one of the only places nowadays where you can see the actual passion behind someone’s work. Now, this is not to demean the studio films and filmmakers that are making waves, like Scream or what Ti West created with X. It is just refreshing to see films at their most primal state. Thankfully, Panic Fest 2022 continues to help bring a platform to filmmakers who aren’t in it for the 6-figure checks, but rather to create an interesting piece of genre for fans to sink their teeth into.

Crabs! (Written and Directed by Pierce Berolzheimer)

A bloodthirsty horseshoe crab attacks a promgoer

This review needs to be prefaced with the fact that I have never seen Gremlins from beginning to end, but this film feels like it could be the Gremlins for a new generation of filmgoers. Pierce Berolzheimer’s Crabsdelivers a few chuckles, some great gore, but a surprising amount of wholesomeness. If I had to find a comparison to make I think it could best be described as The Scouts’ Guide To The Gremlin Apocalypse. On the opposite hand, though, this film may be playing against itself a bit too much, and it could possibly be a huge turnoff to filmgoers expecting a different experience.

At the open circulatory system of it all, get it because crabs don’t have hearts (what a bad joke), Crabs! follows Phillip McCalister (Dylan Riley Snyder) and his best friend Maddy Menrath (Allie Jennings), two insanely intelligent high schoolers, as they battle everything from high school hormones to a literal horseshoe crab invasion. Philip is wheelchair-bound, but he, and Maddy, are working on an exoskeleton prototype that will allow him to walk again. These legs rely on the power of a radioactive-like substance called an Imorium Clustergram, which by name alone sounds fantastic and super ’80s. Philip’s brother Hunter (Bryce Durfee) is a cop in the small coastal town they reside in. One of the most chuckle-inducing ideas is that Hunter and Sherriff Flannigan (Robert Craighead) both smoke pot. Now, this isn’t distracting in any sense, but this is something you would not have seen in any of the ’80s movies this was inspired by—imagine Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) puffing on a doink in Night of the Creeps.

A couple having sex on the beach gets interrupted by a nose voyeuristic horseshoe crab

One of the most enjoyable aspects about this film was its overt campiness, which, as stated earlier, could be a deterrent for a lot of people. It has the dialogue and acting choices of a Scary Movie but doesn’t lean into it enough for it to feel completely like a choice. If you’re into a movie that has the visual effects of an Asylum movie, but the practical effects of a Troma movie, then you will get along just well with Crabs!. One of the characters I think everyone will talk about after watching this, for the good or worse, will be Radu (Chase Padgett). Radu, who could easily be described as Fouad (Mike Henry) from Family Guy, is an immigrant from somewhere and is still getting a grasp on North American colloquialisms, but takes things way over the top. Padgett does a great job with the character, never taking it too far and making it annoying, but toeing the line of Borat-esque. Oh, and he has a rap in it too, which was delightful.

Crabs! kind of has everything: blood, nudity, comedy, over-the-top bad visual effects, solid practical effects, and something I can only think to describe as a Power Rangers mecha suit. If you’re looking for a fun horror movie to throw on with some friends and a beer, I don’t think you could go too wrong with this one.

Presence (Written by Peter Ambrosio and Christian Schultz, Directed by Christian Schultz)

Dave sits at the rear of the boat, admiring the sunrise over the picturesque lake

Okay, so to start? This film has no right to look as good as it does. Presence turned out to be a very surprising film for a few reasons. It really seemed like it was going to be supernatural, then took a turn I wasn’t expecting, and then it took another turn I wasn’t expecting. It dips its toes into so many different ideas, and it works. Ambrosio and Schultz don’t ease us into any ideas, they don’t ask us if we are going to accept what they are giving to us, they make us accept it. The fluidity of this film was so refreshing.

Jennifer (Jenna Lyng Adams) has gone into full worry mode at this point in her life as her business partner, and her best friend, Samantha (Alexandria DeBerry) has basically ghosted her. Add on top of that her insanely toxic ex-boyfriend Keaton (Octavio Pisano) barging back into Jennifer’s life, and you have the cherry on top of a fucked up sundae. Out of the blue Samantha reaches out to Jennifer saying they have an investor to mass-produce their new…patented…zipper. While the zipper aspect of this plays little into the actual story, the multi-millionaire David (Dave Davis) takes the two young entrepreneurs on a week-long trip on his yacht, though they all may have motives unbeknownst to us.

Even in the middle of the ocean, Jennifer is stalked by a mysterious red-eyed shadow figure

The majority of the film takes place on an absolutely beautiful yacht, which must have taken a solid chunk out of the budget; if that was a set, though, then kudos on making it look like an actual yacht.
Cinematographer John Paul Summers deserves so much credit for being able to have such solid and fantastic shots on a rocking boat. Each shot feels important, and looks important, At no point does it feel like we are being forced to watch a scene that has little or nothing to do with the purpose of creating backstory and or moving the story forward, so also props to Ambrosio and Schultz for a really tight script.

I would rather not go too in-depth with any more descriptions as I feel a film like this earns the right to stay as mysterious as possible until you watch it…much like the film itself. Presence will dig its way into your psyche with its twists and turns up until the final frame.

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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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