Saturday, March 08, 2014

Fest #10: Cockneys vs. Zombies

A fitting finale to this year's fest, and the final zombie movie off the evening. An ancient cemetery is opened up during construction of new luxury apartments, and an unspeakable evil unleashed (of course). Zombies invade the nearby old age home, which was scheduled to be demolished to make way for the new flats. Meanwhile, The grandsons on Ray, who leads the pensioners in their fight against the undead, have robbed a bank to get money to save granddad from being sent away. After a botched robbery (the second in this year's Fest) in which they nonetheless net 2.5 million pounds, they make their way to the home to rescue the pensioners. Great fun with the usual zombie elements, although creatively applied. Decent makeup and effects and the acting is spot on, although the accents can be a bit tough to follow at times (we left the subtitles on for that reason). A notch above the usual zombie comedy, although how it compares with the earlier zombie comedy "Go Goa Gone" I am not yet certain. Got to let it all perk in a bit. So that's all for Fest 22. Tune in next year for another episode! Same bat time, same bat blog!

Fest #11: The Devils

Rarely show, Ken Russell's The Devils tells the dark story of a priest in late England in the late 1600 who becomes victim of a convent of hysterical nuns. They take on the aspect of possession and, with the help of corrupt officials and priest, accuse, try and execute the priest who, though innocent of that crime, has sinned plenty himself. Another disturbing outing involving treachery, deceit and the devil - in this case totally imaginary, drummed up through the sort of mass hysteria Republicans are pretty good at creating. It is a picture off its time in its pacing, acting and production values, but all serve to push along a story that will make you think, but make you cringe even more.

Fest #10: The Loved Ones

There has to be a name for the genre of horror films in which an innocent is tortured nearly to death, and when they are just on the brink, either escape or seem to die. They don't really, and come back for even gorier revenge. An early example might be "I Spit on Your Grave." At Fest, we've seen many films like this, but the ones we've seen differ from the more mainstream torture films like the Saw movies. They all have some element that makes the situation even more extreme, but not necessarily in a blood and guts way. In the Loved Ones, a rejected prom date, with the help of her father, kidnaps her prospective date and puts on a prom of her own, although ultimately rejecting our hero and tossing him into the cellar with the other loved ones. As Australian film from 2009, The Loved Ones kept everyone's attention as many are tempted to give in to the nods.

Fest #9: Teeth

Not much I can say about this movie, except that it was quintessential Fest and very scary.

Fest #8: Eating Raoul

The first of the two Fest films that I've seen this year, "Eating Raoul" was one of those low-budget films that hit it big on the art circuit back in 1982 or so, and found an even bigger following on home video. The story of a couple (Paul Bartel, who also directs, and Mary Woronov) who want to open their own restaurant but are desperately short of cash. So desperate that they begin killing swingers by advertising in a local adult newspaper and stealing the money. Raoul sells them new locks for their apartment and then breaks in, where he discovers their scheme and muscles in on it. But the last laugh, or last serving, will be on him. The movie bears all the hallmarks of low-budget 1980s Hollywood, with cheesy production quality and exploitation elements. However, the performance of the two main leads, as well as Bartel's inspired lunatic direction and the witty script, which he co-wrote, made this one a classic, and it looks great in a new Blu-Ray version.

Fest #7: Bug

A drifter takes up with Ashley Judd who is being stalked by her ex, Harry Connick Jr. (Chatham summer resident). Michael Shannon's ex-army head case reveals that he was the victim of government experiments. Or was he? Are there really bugs in this movie? Is the tin foil linking Judd's motel room/apartment really doing its job? These are some of the philosophical questions raised in this William Freidkin film from 2006. The acting is strong; all three main characters at some point are menacing, and Judd's descent into madness is skillfully handled. What makes this a good Fest film is its ambivalent ending. We've had a couple of those this year, including the last film. Breakfast break. Bagels.

Fest #6: Symbol

A man is trapped in a room. Gradually he discovers that the many "buttons" lining the wall have different effects when pushed. He moves through different levels until the buttons start having an effect on another story line we've been following. At the end, he gets to push the biggest button of all. I confess I nodded through portions of Symbol, but what I saw was an ingenious exercise in story development and the human condition. Coolest parts: cartoon inserts and Escargotman!

Fest #5: Santa's Slay

Santa rampages around. Lots of people die, including some pretty big Hollywood stars. Bison or reindeer? You'll be wondering too. Cheesy effects, about par with the acting, a stellar combination.

Fest #4: Dead Sushi

Yes, this is a movie about killer sushi. Is there much else to say? Ironically, the sushi itself isn't dead; but plenty of others are in this 2012 about Keiko, who leaves her sushi chef father to strike out on her own, ending up working in an inn near a pharmaceutical company. Several officials from the company are staying at the inn, and their arrogance about sushi is the catalystic for the chemically induced deadly delicacies. There are also flying squid and a giant tuna who wants to get revenge on one of the company officials who was complicit in sending him to jail when an experiment went back while he was working for the firm. Maybe they should have called the film Killer Calamari. In the end, the day is saved by a lowly egg sushi named Eggy, who sacrifices itself for our heroine. The fight choreography is slightly askew, and the performances are over the top, but who cares? It's killer sushi. Just watch out for the salmon roe!

Friday, March 07, 2014

Fest #3 Las Brujas De Zugarramurdi

Witches take center stage for this Spanish thriller directed by Alex de la Iglasia. It's got everything you would expect of a robbery-gone-wrong-Basque-flying witch-earth mother-messiah rumination, with lots of blood and tangled interpersonal relationships to add depth to the characters. Child-rearing philosophy takes center stage as Jose, posing as Jesus, takes young Sergie along to knock over a pawn shop in Madrid. It was Jose's turn with the boy, and he makes it a very special day, along with his fellow unemployed sidekick and a taxi driver who goes along for the ride. Jose falls for Luna -- not too much pressure there -- and together they attempt to escape from a ceremonial ritual that's something to see. Fast-paced, with lots of flying witches that take the film in unexpected directions. The ending leaves you wanting more finger food to carry you through to the sequel that seems promised at the conclusion. AKA Witching and Bitching, the film has both, as well as a frenetic style that kept most of us awake past midnight. Snack table remains pretty full.

Fest #2: Go Goa Gone

Mike's wearing a t-shirt that says "More Brains." Mine says, "In case of zombie uprising, rembember to severe the head." There are several zombie films on tap tonight, the first of which was "Go Goa Gone." In India, they do gods and ghosts, but zombies are something new, the result of globalization. Or so we're told by the hapless trio who spend most of the movie fleeing from the undead. They're away at Goa for a reason that doesn't really make much of difference; it gets them an invitation to a rave on a remote island (where else?) where a new drug brought in by the Russian mafia turns most of the attendees into zombies. Our trio, a girl and Russian mobster named Boris who is actually Indian, seek a way off the island, and much carnage and hilarity ensue. In many ways this is a run-of-the-mill zombie movie, albeit with a high body count and fairly convincing effects. A Harold and Kumar vibe gives a new twist to the zombie comedy sub-genre that keeps this one step ahead of expectations, with many clever situations. The body count is about the same as the short we saw earlier, "Fist of Jesus." The Savior cuts a wide swatch through a sea of zombies, parting them with the help of a chainsaw-like spinal bone. Groovy.

The sack table

Fest Post #1: Pumaman

Fest is underway, and while the rest of the Fest-ers are feasting on Mike's lasagna, here's a brief review of our first film of the evening. Pumaman draws his powers from an alien which designates one person whose descendants inherit the abilities, which include "flying," done through a kind of "pouncing" motion, and super strength. He must locate the Aztec Golden mask, which the villain of the piece, played by Donald Pleasance, is using to control the minds of the world's leaders. Along with his sidekick Vadinho, he defeats the bad guy and wins the girl. Walter George Alton plays Pumaman with all the pizzazz of a wooden plank. At one point in the film, a character asks another, "Can you tell me what's going on? None of this makes any sense!" Amen, we say, to this worthy Fest opener, made in 1980 and directed with panache Alberto De Martino. Next, lasagna for me and a surprise short. See you in a few hours.

Thursday, March 06, 2014


Part 3 of 3

Beginning tomorrow (Friday, March 7), I’ll be blogging live from Boston (Brighton, actually), providing updates roughly every two hours from the 22nd Annual 24 Hour Film Fest.  The posts will consist of short reviews of the 12 movies that will be shown, most -- probably all -- of which most of you have never seen.  If you’ve read the past two blog posts you know that have a particular passion for unusual and interesting films, and I have only seen two of the ones being shown this weekend.

Fest, as we stalwarts like to refer to it, happens in the apartment of my friend Mike.  It’s curated by Mike and another friend, Lynn, and they’ve been doing it for 22 years now.  How they manage to keep coming up with so many obscure, strange, bizarre and wonderful films I will never know, but thank god they do.

I’ve attended at least 17 Fests, maybe more.  I can’t remember if I was at the first one, and I know I missed several in the mid-90s due to such inconveniences as illness and having kids.  Other than Lynn and Mike, there are only a handful of folks who have attended more Fests than I, so I consider myself one of the long-standing veterans with more than a little perspective on this unusual annual ritual.

Fest’s goal, it seems to me (from my perspective, without having consulted the organizers) has always been to find the most interesting, strange, unusual but most of all entertaining films possible and show them to a room full of people jacked up on junk food (the snack table is venerated almost to the point of idol worship).  There’s no way I would ever be able to see many of the films shown at Fest any other way; I’d never even hear about them.  Lynn’s specialty is Asian and other foreign cinema; it was through Fest that I first saw a Jackie Chan movie and was exposed to all the wonder that Honk Kong and Korean cinema had to offer.  Not to mention some wacky and bizarre Japanese films, way outside the mainstream.

Mike finds the horror, science fiction and other genre chestnuts, sometimes reaching back as far as the silent era or sometimes as recent as a few months ago. Some choice examples include “The Penalty,” a 1920 Lon Chaney movie; “Slither,” “Giant Claw” and “Midnight Meat Train.”  And who could forget “Sonny Boy?”  Nobody who’s seen it, that’s for sure.

We’ve also watched “Bride of Frankenstein,” “Bedlam” “Evil Dead 2” (and 1), “American Movie” and “Descent,” mainstream and near-mainstream films that have that certain Fest-ness to them.   

There’s a rhythm to Fest.  It ramps up from the 6 p.m. starting time, and is usually best-attended after the dinner break through the late-night to early-morning hours.  If you get through the 2 to 6 a.m. part OK, you’re doing great.  Morning usually brings a second wind.  Only the most stout of heart can brave the afternoon into the home stretch.  The miasma of snacks helps, as does lots of caffeine.  Enduring that many movies and junk food creates an atmosphere of camaraderie among Fest-goers which is hard to understand; just ask Mike’s wife.

I won’t be able to vouch for my posts at certain times.  Coherence may be sacrificed.  But those may also be the most entertaining.  Coupled with the roster of films slated to spool out through the 24-hour period, we may be talking some breakthrough moments here.  No spoilers; you’re going to have to wait to find out what the films are as they play.

And maybe we’ll post a photo or two of the snack table, just to make you jealous.

Watch for the first post Friday evening around 8 p.m.  And please, forgive the typos.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Opera Man

Part 2 of 3

When you live in a resort town, you get to meet lots of different people. And when you work for a newspaper in a resort town, you get to interview many of them.  Back in 1993 my friend Otis introduced me to Joe, an opera composer who was staying in town with his wife and daughter for the summer – maybe longer.  Opera composer?  How many of those do you get to meet, let alone interview?

What brought us together, however, wasn’t opera (I am not a big fan, sorry) or my need for a constant stream of interesting people to interview, but movies.  Bad movies.  Incredibly bad movies.

Joe, it turned out, was a connoisseur.    In comparison, Otis and I were rank amateurs.  Joe had even acted in a bad low-budget genre film made by a friend of his.  He invited Otis and I over to the cottage where he was staying one evening to sample some of the films in his collection.  That was the first time I saw a Russ Meyer movie (“Vixen”).  We watched a number of other films that night – “Mesa of Lost Women” is one I remember – but most of the details are lost to the haze of memory. 

It wasn’t just Joe’s videotape collection that was impressive.  His philosophy about these mostly abysmal movies struck me was entirely pragmatic.  You can’t really learn anything about filmmaking, he said, from watching good or even average movies.  To learn about making films, you had to be able to see how not to make films.  To appreciate great filmmaking, you had to appreciate the movies where mistakes were made, where the filmmakers just weren’t competent. 

That winter, I got the chance to truly appreciate great filmmaking.  Joe and his family went to St. Thomas and he left his movie collection behind.  With me.  Several boxes of videotapes, more than 100, each with containing two or three films.  I nearly OD’d on incredibly strange cinema that winter.

Now I could see many of those films I’d only heard about before, films by Ray Dennis Steckler, Ted V. Mikels (though I soon realized that I’d seen “Corpse Grinders” before, at a drive-in during high school, but I hadn’t made the connection at the time) and Doris Wishman (definitely a boob theme going on).  I became schooled in early nudie-cuties, early gore (Herschell Gordon Lewis), and other strange genre films.  Later filmmakers were also represented, the likes of Larry Cohen and Frank Henenlotter. 

But the Opera Man Collection, as it was dubbed, also contained quality movies – “Rashoman,” “Beauty and the Beast,”  “8 ½.” And lots of operas. But it was the not-so-good-quality films that attracted me, and pulling a few off the list I just dug out of my files, I watched  “She Demons,” “The Sadist,” “Horror of the Blood Monster,” “The Worm Eaters,” “Child Bride of the Ozarks,” “Teenage Frankenstein,” “Free, White, 21,” “Wild World of Batwoman” and “Avenging Disco Godfather.”

Most of these were second, even third or fourth generation copies, so the quality of the tapes ranged from OK to barely watchable.  But I didn’t care.  At the time, these were hard to find – available mostly from specialty video outlets at relatively high prices.  Now, most of these movies are easy to find. Many are available on Netflix or other online services and on cheap DVDs.  Some are still specialty products; Russ Meyers’ films are all owned by his estate and only available through them.  But at least they are available.

These films, together with my previous viewing experience and appreciation for enthusiastic though less than stellar filmmaking, created the groundwork for how my tastes have development.  In this, however, there is also one other major influence.

Next: Fest

Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Dawn Of Video

Or How I Came To Appreciate Bad, Even Awful Films As Art, Of A Sort
Part 1 of 3

It’s all sort of cloudy now, those days before commercially available video and the Internet brought the entire world of film right to our television and computers screens: being at the mercy of broadcast TV schedules, searching TV guide for the obscure old films that ran at odd hours of the day and night.  For those of us who didn’t have access to anything other than mainstream movie theaters, many of the films we read about in books or saw in Famous Monsters of Filmland might just as well as have been showing on one of those distant stars we gazed up at on summer nights while we were waiting for the news to end and Creature Feature to come on so we could thrill to “20 Million Miles to Earth” or “Dracula’s Daughter.”

I’d long sought out the most obscure horror, science fiction and fantasy films, first on TV and then, when possible, driving to nearby theaters (I remember after my older brother got his license going to see “Night of the Living Dead” for the first time at some ramshackle fourth-run theater somewhere in rural Connecticut).  That was what appealed to me; I saw my share of mainstream films, but I was most intrigued by the unusual and obscure. And  video opened me up to new wonders. Obscure films I’d never known existed, movies long-whispered about, legends of cinema unlike anything I had dreamed of.  It was back in the days when electronic shops began to rent videos and the machines to play them on.  First there were the independent, quirky new releases like “Liquid Sky” and “Repo Man.”  Then, as separate video rental shops opened and I bought my first videotape player – an expensive model with “HiFi” sound – I plumbed the shelves for even more obscure titles.

That’s how I learned to love what many might call “bad” movies.  Usually low-budget, independent genre titles, but sometimes big-budget studio films, too.  They stretched over the history of cinema; many had been buried and forgotten until videotape made it possible to disseminate them widely.  There was something about these movies that caught my attention, riveted me to the screen like my head was nailed to the floor…a train wreck in all its splendid awfulness.

Ed Wood made several of the best-known films, but a good bad film could also be made by mainstream directors like John Landis (“Schlock”), Peter Jackson (“Bad Taste”) and John Boorman (“Zardoz”).  It was through these films that I came to appreciate how cleverness, creativity, ingenuity and sheer energy could be as exhilarating and entertaining – often more so – than a huge spectacle with state-of-the-art special effects, big stars and a big budget, or even just an average film that lacked the spark that working with next to nothing could coax out of a director, writer and actor, even if there was no heat and precious little light.

Friends were instrumental in pointing me toward more and more unusual filmic fair, particular the annual 24-Hour Film Fest organized by friends in Boston.  That’s how I discovered Asian cinema, Jackie Chan and learned to love Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Combs and many more.  But I get ahead of myself; the Fest figures in part three of this essay, as will be my subject for a planned marathon 24-hour blog experience March 7-8.

Before marriage and kids, I watched a lot of videos.  I was lucky to have a fairly good independent video store nearby, with an owner who knew my predilection for obscure, unusual and interesting films.  But it was through my friends Otis, who as bartender at a popular local bar came into contact with all sorts of characters, that I advanced to the next level in my film education.

That’s when the Rosetta Stone of incredibly strange films fell into my hands.

Next: Opera Man