When I decided to turn my passion for horror into a semi-professional endeavor the idea of perks or fringe benefits never occurred to this humble columnist. Ideas such as these were foreign to even my wild, blue sky imagination. That being said, you can imagine my astonishment when, after a brief correspondence, Cryptic Pictures extended a personal invitation to Cult Classic Horror. Our host, Christian Stavrakis, had arranged for a “private screening” of their hit docu-horror film Mortal Remains, a movie that had recently been screened at our local horror con. Upon my arrival it took a moment for Stavrakis to recognize me, our last meeting having been three months ago. Once he did, though, a filmmaker’s energy lept into his eyes. This was a man whose passion for the art of horror is obvious. The location of the screening was Allegheny Smokeworks, a classy cigar shop which is Christian’s home away from home. Before starting the film we selected a cigar from the humidor. Admittedly, I am not a connoisseur, but Stavrakis was more than happy to give me an “ash” course. After lighting our cigars, Christian started the film on the large TV in the smoking lounge.
Mortal Remains is the story of two young men (co-directors Stavrakis and Mark Ricche) in search of the truth about suspected snuff-film director Karl Atticus. Our subject and his mysterious disappearance slowly drive the main characters into a fanatical state. Filmed in a documentary style, Mortal Remains boasts a robust back story that most found-footage films typically lack. By choosing not to be ambiguous with their subject matter, Cryptic Pictures was able to outshine the lion's share of movies using this format. Excellent performances from the “interviewees” forces viewers to buy into the mystique of the source material. An unexpected appearance by Nick Tallo (Dawn of the Dead 1978) would surprise any hardcore horror fan. Noted moments in the film include grainy movie-within-a-movie footage and a cemetery scene that caused at least one jaded viewer to jump. The films of Karl Atticus, parts of which are shown within the “doc,” are disturbingly believable, but more importantly they are a testament to the talent of the film makers. When making found footage films, there is a tendency to be lazy with cinematic elements. Cryptic Pictures was able to create fictional films that look and feel real, adding a layer of authenticity to the finished product. While Mortal Remains is superficially reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project - it also takes place in Maryland - it stands apart from the earlier work. This is a polished piece which creates a world so convincing that I found myself searching the internet for more info on Karl Atticus.
If Christian’s last name is familiar to you, that is because he is the younger brother of the legendary Taso Stavrakis (Friday the 13th, Day of the Dead). I was uncomfortable asking about this, but Christian assured me he grew up with Taso and Tom Savini as his heroes. He does not dismiss his older brother’s influence, but rather revels in it. Ultimately, we were all introduced to horror by someone; in Christian’s case that someone just happens to be a giant of the genre. After the movie, Christian and I talked briefly about his work on the set of the Night of the Living Dead remake. He laughed recalling that he had just returned to Pittsburgh from Maryland and essentially walked onto the production as a special effects assistant. What a lucky guy.
Mortal Remains is scheduled for DVD release on October 13th, 2017. Get your copy at mortalremainsmovie.com. Thank you to Christian for welcoming CCH and for all of your hospitality. We look forward to your next project.