The Thriller Chiller Film Festival is back, a labor of love showcasing labors of love
The Thriller Chiller Film Festival returns to its bloody, bloody roots this year: Cult classics, genre films and a devoted bunch of enthusiasts sharing their appreciation for such things.
In other words, the Grand Rapids mini-institution is doing what it does best.
To use a weary but more-than-apt metaphor, like a zombie erupting from the grave, the festival returns to prominence this year. Founders Shirley Clemens Griffin and Anthony Griffin are bringing the event back after a three-year hiatus, hosting the multi-day affair at Wealthy Theatre this week, kicking off at 8 p.m. Tuesday with a John Carpenter double-feature including “The Thing” (“First goddamn week of winter”) and “They Live” (“Well, they ain’t from Cleveland!”), a tie-in with the Meanwhile Film Series.
Admit it -- you expected me to quote “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s “bubblegum” line. I’m getting there. In fact, it’s right here, paraphrased: Thriller Chiller is here to kick ass, and it’s all out of bubblegum to chew while kicking ass, so it’s just going to kick ass, as usual. No other festival within a nuclear-explosion radius of Grand Rapids has the cojones to program a full slate of action, sci-fi, suspense and horror movies, many of them made with minimal budgets, but maximal devotion to the art of the thrill and/or the chill.
To pare the entire affair down to a soundbite, the Griffins’ labor of love is an opportunity to showcase others’ labors of love. Outside the few Hollywood classics on the schedule -- including the traditional screening of George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” showing at 8 p.m. Wednesday -- the collection of international and regional films are all independent productions you’re not likely to see anywhere else. For anyone with an appreciation for the art of film and/or a lick of sense, this should be a major draw.
In the many years I’ve written about and participated in the festival, I’ve seen some significantly funny, strange, ambitious and outright crazy-ass shorts and features. Some are polished and sophisticated. Others are raw and ragged. All are well off the beaten path. None are Oscar-bait-style dramas the likes of which choke the life out of bigger, snootier festivals.
Yes, that’s an endorsement.
You can peruse the complete schedule here. For weekend programs, ticketing is mostly restricted to super-cheap day passes -- $12 (or $10 for Grand Rapids Community Media Center members) for Thursday’s exclusive slate of movies by Michigan filmmakers, $12 ($10 for GRCMC) for Friday and $15 for Saturday. Considering I just paid $15 to see one movie at a commercial theater, this is a bargain.
For what it’s worth, I’m one of the Thriller Chiller judges this year -- the awards ceremony is at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. I’ll also moderate a Q&A with filmmaker Bryan Enk after a 2 p.m. Saturday screening of his movie “The Passion of Paul Ross.”
The Thriller Chiller goal, per Shirley Clemens Griffin, is to provide “an oasis of fun” for moviegoers. As I work my way through the weirdly arresting and arrestingly weird movies on the judging slate, I can vouch for that sentiment. The work on the screen is about the art of escapism, and the event is about a community of like-minded people gathering to celebrate it. I’ll see you there, right? Right.