If the post-Christmas, pre-New Year's Eve limbo gets down, the strange, annual horror show known as Zed Fest will definitely reinvigorate the celebration-starved brain. Founded by North Hollywood indie filmmakers Ed Stephens and Wendy Medrano in 2008, Zed Fest honors the very best — or worst — of low-budget-amateur horror and sci-fi. Following a buildup series of informal screenings and festival events, this Saturday's climactic finale, held at the Burbank's Banshee Theater, is guaranteed to provide an orgiastic overdose of thoroughly weird cinematic entertainment.
"We started it because there are so many different film festivals around town, but it seemed that no one could get any horror stuff featured at any of them," Medrano said. "There are so many people around Hollywood making their own films — and these movies should be seen — that finally got Ed and I got so upset we just decided to see if, maybe, we could do it ourselves."
With that tentative, frustrated start, Zed Fest — the title itself is derived from their mutual love of Z-grade movies — quickly blossomed into a thriving forum for offbeat Tinsel Town misfits. Inspired by the works of Roger Corman, George A. Romero, John Waters and, most importantly, Phil Tucker, the man responsible for mind-bendingly primitive 1952 3D sci-fi stinker "The Robot Monster," Stephens and Medrano have seen both interest and participation grow at an alarming rate. Zed Fest today enjoys international submissions, with entries from Brazil and Britain, and hands out a bevy of awards, from the anti-prestige of their "Phil Tucker Spirit Award" to oddball categories like "Outstanding Frightener," "Edgar Allen Poe-etics," "Bad Ass Villain" and "Outstanding Killer."
"A lot of film festivals won't even bother to email you back after you submit a film," Medrano said. "We keep the line of communication open and we've built up a community through Zed Fest. People will submit a short film and then next year or two they come back with a feature. It's become a real social circle for us, which is great."
Saturday night's grand finale not only features ceremonial recognition of this year's top talent but also a screening of Theodore Gershuny's 1972 exploitation horror-shocker classic "Silent Night Bloody Night," starring Patrick O'Neal and the great underground icon Mary Woronov, along with half a dozen of this year's winning shorts (such instant indie classics as "Zombie Casserole") and a highlight reel featuring the most low-and-outside thrills and chills from Zed fest's numerous competitors.
"We have so many shorts, seven hours' worth, from all over the world, and we try to squeeze in as much as we can," Medrano said. "And some of these films are really beautiful, like 'Rose, Mary & Time' from England. The guy who did it is a cameraman for the BBC and he funded this movie himself. We invited him to come but he can't afford to attend because he spent all his money making the film!"
"A lot of these people's films aren't seen, or aren't seen enough. And we always volunteer to help, if they want us, to work on the films. I am always willing to pitch in because I like to see people's dreams come true."
"We are very happy to be a part of this community, and of the fact that, with Zed Fest, we've helped to create it," Medrano said. "Every year we get to visit with all the filmmakers and volunteers — people come in from Canada, Florida, and we'll up end hanging out in some diner until 2 or 3 in the morning, eating pancakes and talking and learning from them. It's always a lot of fun and we're very proud of it."
What: Zed Fest
Where: Theatre Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank
When: Saturday, Dec. 28, 6:30 to 11:30 p.m.
More info: (818) 846- 5323, zedfest.org
JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of "Ramblin' Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox" and "Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story."