Thursday, November 08, 2012


Back for its 9th year "of psychotic savagery and bloody pandemonium", San Francisco's Another Hole In the Head Film Festival (Holehead) runs later this year—November 28th to December 9th, 2012—at its familiar venues the Roxie and Victoria Theatres, with additional screenings at adopted venues the Terra Gallery and the Vortex Room. Boasting 54 films over 11 days, 28 features and 26 shorts, San Francisco's original genre film festival is characterized by a scrappy, DIY aesthetic that eschews big studio content and recent trends towards elevated genre. Holehead's programming remains curatorially committed to the genre's graphic roots in shockploitation, visceral thrills and gleeful mayhem.

For its opening night on Wednesday November 28, Holehead offers the newly remastered 30-year anniversary of Forbidden Zone In Color with Richard Elfman and the beautiful "Frenchy" (Marie-Pascale Elfman). Both are expected to attend the Q&A after the film, which screens at Terra Gallery, followed by a celebratory party featuring the music of Oingo Boingo and the Depeche Mode tribute band For The Masses. The closing night film on Sunday December 9th will be the 2012 German documentary Zero Killed, likewise screening at Terra Gallery.

What follows is a sampling of the festival's line-up, two seen in-cinema at Montreal's Fantasia International Film Festival earlier this Summer, and the rest on screener. Starting with the crossovers from Fantasia, I didn't find Resolution (2012) [IMDb / Fantasia] nearly as horrifying as it was billed to be; but, I certainly found it entertaining for its natural dialogue and irreal alterities. Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead are clearly having fun making up their careers (and movies) as they go along, which affords for some intriguing experimentation and a no-need-to-explain sensibility that's admittedly refreshing. I laughed more than I screamed; but, for all concerned, that was probably for the best. The "monster" is, perhaps, the context of the film itself, accounting for the directors admitting in their Fantasia Q&A that part of the intended horror was for the audience to become aware by film's end that they have been sitting in the lap of the monster the entire film.

All in all, Casey Walker's A Little Bit Zombie (2012) [official site / IMDb / Facebook / Fantasia] is a Canadian homegrown joint that sets you up for some stoner laughs. Featuring a deranged zombie mosquito infected from having bitten one of the undead, broad comic turns by an ensemble of young Canadian actors, and an ever-entertaining performance by one of Canada's hardest-working actors Stephen McHattie, A Little Bit Zombie has no pretensions about being anything other than what it is: a slapstick zom-com.

Lead Kristopher Turner—with a touch of Steve Carell—does a fine job as our put-upon protagonist Steve dealing with his buzzkill fiance Tina (Crystal Lowe, the girl you love to hate and hate to date), his resentful sister Sarah (Kristen Hager), her thick-necked squeeze Craig (Shawn Roberts), a stinging zombie mosquito that won't die no matter how many times you slap it (uncredited), Steve's developing appetite for human brains, a countryside crawling with zombies, and a vigilante duo: out-of-control living-dead hunter McHattie and his lovely assistant Penelope (Emilie Ullerup). A shout-out to a brief but always welcome appearance by Robert Maillet (Monster Brawl). Hunk Shawn Roberts steals the show with impeccable comic timing (it helps that he has the best lines); but, even eye candy can't ward off the tiresome gay jokes that deflate Trevor Martin and Christopher Bond's otherwise buoyant script. Perhaps if they'd written in a gay zombie mosquito I'd have been a bit more gratuitously amused? My transcription of the Fantasia Q&A can be found here.

Albert Pyun's Road to Hell (2008) [official site / IMDb / Wikipedia] has a Bay Area connection to local writer Cynthia Curnan, a born-and-raised San Franciscan (Curnan is expected to attend Road to Hell's Holehead screening). As the unofficial sequel to Walter Hill's 1984 rock & roll fable Streets of Fire, Michael Paré and Deborah Van Valkenburgh reprise their characters from that film, respectively the roles of Tom Cody and his sister Reva. Road to Hell had its unofficial North American premiere at the Alamo Draft House in Austin, Texas in October 2008 when Pyun screened a work print of the film. More recently, Road to Hell was selected as the opening night film for the Yellow Fever Independent film festival in Belfast, UK, where it won Best Picture and was awarded 8 awards at the PollyGrind Film Festival, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Paré), Best Actress (Clare Kramer) and a Lifetime Achievement Award for Pyun.

The film's ambition is weakened by an uneven command of green screen. Lurid sunset backgrounds waver a bit as the actors deliver their lines. Yet despite these technical flaws, the film has a sufficiently engaging stylishness to offset its failed grasp. The interplay between Paré and murderous vixen Caitlin (Kramer) rewards the patient viewer, even as the protracted musical sequences suggest a shameless promotion of The Roxy Gunn Project. Paré retains his chiseled good looks, albeit in one too many close-ups delivering all-knowing facial expressions. You could do worse for your buck. Concurring with Debi Moore at Dread Central, while Road to Hell will certainly not appeal to everyone, "it carries on its predecessor's highly stylized tradition with vivid surrealism and a healthy dose of over-the-top carnage thrown into the mix. And who knows? Maybe it'll reawaken enough interest in Streets of Fire that the trilogy its creators had in mind back in the 80's will finally come to fruition after all!" At Flickering Myth, David J. Moore articulates the forgiving nature of Pyun's fanbase.  [Ed. Note: Please see the comment below in the comments section.]

Australian director Stephen Amis' The 25th Reich (2012) [official site / IMDb] is an enthusiastic lo-fi genre mash-up full of poorly executed sound and fury. Its frenetic momentum pushes forward an overwrought narrative concerning five US soldiers stationed in Australia in 1943 who are catapulted 50,000 years back in time to retrieve a spaceship, which the Allies need to defeat the Nazis. It's probably the only film you'll ever see where a robot spider buttfucks the protagonist. How he gets up and walks around to finish up the rest of the film is way beyond me; but, this is a fantasy afterall.

Protagonist Kurt Wendell (Jonathan Hansler) gets axed from his job and picks up an ax to vent his frustration in Ryan Lee Driscoll's Axed (2012) [official site / IMDb]. Shades of The Shining abound as Wendell aims his frustration (and his ax) at his family in a tale that encourages President Obama to come up with a solution to the country's unemployment before a rash of indie genre films emerge on the festival circuit thinly guising this social ill.

A religious fanatic (Isaac Williams) opts for a carpenter's hammer over an ax to bludgeon his victims to death for being willing participants in a sinful world in Adam Ahlbrandt's Cross Bearer (2012) [IMDb / Facebook]. The kills are violent and gooey—less funny than Baghead, and less inspired than Timecrimes—but a raw meal for gorehounds and softcore porno enthusiasts who want to see lesbian strippers get their comeuppance. As Patrick Dolan writes at Rue Morgue, Cross Bearer is "chunky splatter" and "like most other slashers, tits and blood take up a lot of the movie's run time but the cliché is addressed openly in a scene where Heather [Natalie Jean] eloquently explains that trashy flicks with mammaries and maiming are simply more entertaining than talky art pieces." The proof's in the brain pudding.

A single-word title by a single-named director articulates the abdominal emphasis of Elias' Gut (2012) [official site / IMDb / Facebook]. Its voyeuristic fetishism recalls David Cronenberg's Videodrome and Crash, purposely intending to elicit a prurient fascination with the perverse. Perversity loves company after all and—like Peer and Timo watching child porn in The Silence (2010)—evil enters through the eye as Tom (Jason Vail) and Dan (Nicholas Wilder) mollify their boring lives with edgy videos that inspire them towards questionable actions. Dennis Harvey punches Gut at Variety: "A psychological thriller requires some psychology as well as thrills, two things almost entirely absent from Gut. Its title isn't the only terse thing about this monotonous quasi-horror tale, which aims for a minimalist intensity by providing precious little character detailing or location color. But those deprivations only make this an unusually dull, suspenseless movie about the fetishistic disemboweling of women, not necessarily an improvement on the lurid, exploitative qualities such films typically sport."

Justin Paul Ritter's The Amazing Adventures of the Living Corpse (2012) [IMDb] involves "a somewhat self-aware zombie [who] takes it upon himself to keep the rest of the walking dead at bay." Though not as cohesive a narrative as one might wish for, the animated visuals are satisfying, especially the Living Corpse himself who achieves an iconicity comparable to that of the Crypt Keeper.

My highest recommendation of the films offered to me to preview would be Mike Malloy's Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s (2012) [IMDb / Facebook]. It just shouldn't be missed! Though perhaps a half an hour too long, this truly creative survey of the poliziotteschi of the '70s utilizes a nostalgically scratchy faux-35mm aesthetic, energized intertitles, effective split screen, and collaged graphics (movie posters, lobby cards, production stills) to profile a genre of Italian films that didn't quite achieve the popularity of spaghetti westerns in the United States but which prove no less fascinating, especially when remembered by such fanboy favorites as John Saxon, Fred Williamson, Henry Silva, Franco Nero, Joe Dellasandro and Antonio Sabàto.

What makes this documentary all the more entertaining is its wry flourishes. When, for example, the film documents the product placement of J&B scotch whiskey, it recognizes the opportunity to list its own sponsors. Or when Fred Williamson discusses the Italian penchant for dubbing, his lips are purposely off-synch. Welcome interviews with dubbers Michael Forest and Ted Rusoff skillfully bring into focus the pros and cons of this Italian shortcut. Reminisces of how actors performed their own death-defying stunts is equally riveting.

Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay a survey such as Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s is that I'm now gnashing at the bit to see the films featured: Franco Nero in High Crime (1973), Chris Mitchum in The Mean Machine (aka Ricco, 1973), Henry Silva in The Death Dealer (aka Almost Human, 1974), Maurizio Merli in Violent Rome (1975), Fabio Testi in The Big Racket (1976), and Ursula Andress in Loaded Gun (1975). It's a pity that one or two of these titles weren't included in Holehead's lineup.

Of the films I'm waiting to see at the festival proper, the U.S. premiere of Barry J. Gillis's The Killing Games (2012) [official site / IMDb] rises to the top of my list, specifically because it invites Bruce Fletcher (now programmer for the Calgary International Film Festival) back to Holehead, which he helmed in its early years. I've missed Fletcher's innovative, often controversial, programming and The Killing Games—reputedly banned from other film festivals for its excessive and twisted violence—promises to please.

For more information on Holehead, please call (415) 820-3907 or click on