Haunting, eery and more than a little creepy, “Masqued” was a beautiful but chilling combination of fairy tale and fright. The film is based on an adaptation of two classic tales – Edgar Allen Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” and the childhood favorite “Cinderella.” With shaky camera work and the sense that the filmmakers might have taken themselves a bit too seriously, the movie almost seemed a little too pretentious and student-film-esque, but it was saved from this dreadful fate by its carefully crafted, elegant mise en scene and high-quality lighting. Overall, “Masqued” was no perfect fairy tale of a film, but it tried to come close to that level of quality and innovation, and that made it worth watching.

Starting with a set of surprisingly well-done credits and continuing all the way through with a high-quality, high-impact film, “IVFP” was a joy to watch. The film characterizes the I.V. Foot Patrol as a sinister combination of the Nazi regime and stereotypical street thugs, complete with a scene of officers hitting on girls, stealing bikes and goose-stepping in perfect formation. One of the few films at the festival with a clear and precise message, this film’s narrative clarity is echoed in its cinematography – throughout the film, the graphic shots of the officers and the citizens they terrorize are well lit, well shot and well done overall. This film could have easily swerved into gross parody, and at some points it does go there. Luckily, the filmmakers keep it reigned in most of the time, allowing the images to speak for themselves in a way that is funny but also seriously thought-provoking.

“Super Ripe”
Advertised by Reel Loud’s organizers as “a comic book story of pixilated proportions,” this film is about a boy trying to rescue his superhero girlfriend from a villainous kidnapper. “Super Ripe” feels like a combined homage to contemporary comics and old-school silent slapstick films; think Buster Keaton’s “Sherlock, Jr.” meets Superman. The film’s visuals are fascinating, with the intentional pixilation of the screen perfectly echoing the movie’s comic book roots and over-the-top humor. Speaking of over-the-top, the acting is a little much – even by silent film standards – but, luckily, the film is paced well enough to keep the overacting from becoming tiresome. The film’s catchy, upbeat score and self-satirizing style contributes to the feeling that these filmmakers had fun and, unlike some of the other Reel Loud auteurs, did not take themselves too seriously. This film looked like it was fun to make and it was definitely fun to watch.

“Sister Mary Catherine’s Happy Fun-Time Abortion Adventure”
There is only one word to describe this film, about a Catholic nun who gets pregnant and must embark on a journey to obtain an abortion while avoiding an anti-abortion sniper – brilliant. “Sister Mary Catherine’s Happy Fun-Time Abortion Adventure” is one of the few Reel Loud films to have a coherent, cohesive plot with a clear beginning, middle and end. And, boy is it a plot. The film is imaginatively constructed, with the perfect balance of comical devices – a wind-up nun toy makes the journey from America to Mexico at one point in the film – and professional-looking cinematography, lighting and costumes. Ultimately, “Sister Mary Catherine’s Happy Fun-Time Abortion Adventure” is a rollicking romp of comedy and creativity that was a perfect finish to the festival’s film portion.

By Rachel Hommel

“El Sol Es Bello”
While the sun may be beautiful, nothing is more beautiful than diamonds. This film is centered on a diamond brooch, which becomes a deadly object of desire in this “Clue”-like “thriller.” Creating a 1920s house of homicides, the film effectively uses period costumes and silent film cheekiness. Though the written dialogue may have been hard to follow in the silent film format, the exaggeration of both the music and the murders effectively told a story of betrayal, lust and money. The animated drawings further simplified the story, when each character’s death was symbolized by crossed-out eyes. The music was climatic and energetic, helping make this movie a great opening film for the festival.

“The Playmate”
Winning the Audience Choice Award, “The Playmate” definitely won over the crowd of hormonal boys and girls. While some may have expected nudity and erotica, the audience was in fact introduced to dead playmates. The lead character, an irresistible young cowboy, really gave the film a nostalgic feel. With rosy cheeks and bright eyes, the actor perfectly mirrored the mood set by the band, Simon Dawes. The happy-go-lucky soundtrack exemplified the playmate’s innocence and childhood naivety. Joe and DJ Palladino played the 21st century villains perfectly, while the boy’s father appears regal in Hugh Hefner garb. This tongue-in-cheek production produced nothing but good vibrations all over – especially when the excited expressions on each character’s face as they skimmed through Playboy Magazine made it quite clear that “boys will be boys.” And, it was nice to finally see a film that appeared to be shot outside of Isla Vista.

This movie was a knee-slapping good time of bad memories, but then again, I always hated bedtime stories. The creepy bedtime music fit right into this world of awkward animals. Through gore and guts, the father bear attempts to read the baby bear a bedtime story. However, the animals in this childhood story appear to be “slightly” sadistic, while the father bear appears to be edging towards masochism. His ugly bear smile was hysterically absurd, reminiscent of a really bad episode of “Care Bears.” The random shots of Hollywood pin-ups were, well, random. While bestiality was not suggested, perhaps a few sick minds took the time to examine this further. Either way, the title of the film means lesson and the knowledge gained from this film is more than we may realize. As humans, we learn from any early age the meaning of “survival of the fittest.” Humans are animals, and it is through these early bedtime stories that we learn the ways of the world. Obviously, the bear in the story did not understand Darwin’s teachings, for he was dismembered and done with by the film’s end.

This film truly left a good majority of the audience hypnotized. The visuals were stunning with unusual angles and shadow manipulation. The actors appeared to definitely be in a cult of aesthetic goodness, all dancing around in a crop circle. While the storyline was hard to follow, it really was of no importance to this film. The film was crisp and cool, shot in a beautiful location with even more beautiful people. The funky music only added to the manipulation of image and sound in the film. The audience readily accepted the movie’s suggestions and mind-altering elements, as if falling under hypnosis themselves.

By Will Wolfslau

“The Fruit of Labor”
The story of an illegal migrant worker on a local vineyard, contrasted with the lives of the Santa Barbarians who enjoy the wine he works so hard to cultivate. One of the few political films at this year’s festival, it hits on an issue that is very close to home. Featuring some cool turntable music, the film’s flaw is its lack of a compelling narrative, but this minor problem is outshined by the movie’s political immediacy.

“Fatty and the Sandman”
The first of this year’s two fully animated films, “Fatty” barely clocks in at a couple of minutes, but it’s a great couple of minutes. Animated entirely in colorful rubber bands, the film follows a rotund little fellow on a brief but fantastic journey. Creative and colorful, and with welcome accompaniment by rockers Wilco, “Fatty and the Sandman” is short and sweet, kind of like the cinematic equivalent of a Jolly Rancher.

“The Chase”
A whimsical chase begins when a nerd pursuing a dame becomes entangled in a mob drop, all in old-time black and white. Although its spirit is hard to deny, and it features some charming performances, its discontinuous editing and poor lighting obscure too much of the action. And, without the necessary energy, slapstick falls flat on its face.

Described by its filmmakers as “a war protest disguised as a love letter and vice versa,” the film is a brief montage of contemporary media viewed by a mother with, presumably, a husband in Iraq. “Etcetera” is narrated by the live reading of a T.S. Eliot poem. Well-acted and well shot, it is polemic without being too overbearing, and reminds us that, “Hey, we’re in a war!”

“Aesthetically Pleased”
The second, longer animated feature of this year’s festival, this film is a psychedelic cornucopia of colors and textures using any and everything – and sock monkeys! It is all style, but that is all this fine little film needs to be.