Saturday, June 14, 2008

2008 Hole in the Head

I have completed most of this year's Hole in the Head festival at the Roxie. Hole in the Head is self-described as "two weeks of horror, sci-fi and fantasy." I'm glad they didn't use the term "fantastic films" which irks me for some reason.

I saw 15 films but the festival isn't over even though the closing night film has screened. I guess some background is necessary. Most film festivals open on a Thursday night and close on a Sunday night. They run for 4 or 11 days. Why open on a Thursday? I don't know. Maybe they figure people will come out on a Friday without any encouragement so they line up the opening night film and party on a Thursday to attract more people. Indiefest followed this pattern for the first few years I attended. However, the problem with closing on a Sunday is that theaters like to program their regular films from Friday through Thursday. If there is a festival that ends on Sunday, it makes it difficult to program a single screen theater that week. Maybe for a true rep house, it is not as bad because they show a different film every day. However, the Roxie programs its two screens on a weekly schedule.

A few years ago, Indiefest started showing two days of extra screenings after the closing night. Originally, I believe they said they would show encore screenings of films that rated high in the audience choice balloting. In reality, I think they showed films that they could keep the prints for a few extra days. Striking a 35 mm or even a 16 mm print is expensive for independent film makers. Typically, they would only strike one print and if the film was scheduled for another festival screening, they would have to take the print after the last showing at Indiefest. However, if the film was not needed elsewhere, the filmmaker would allow it to be shown again on the Monday or Tuesday after closing night. Now, most films are digital and burned onto a DVD. In fact, I believe The Gene Generation was shown from the producer's laptop this year.

Indiefest (who are the same people as Hole in the Head and Docfest) have turned the closing night concept on its head. HoleHead "closed" on Thursday, June 12 but continues showing films until Thursday, June 19 and then in conjunction with the Primitive Screwheads, sponsor a live play until June 21, and finally show an additional two films on June 22. Even more strange is that Festival Passes were only valid for films through June 12. Typically, Festival Passes are good for all showing with the possible exception of Opening and Closing night.

Regardless of these scheduling irregularities, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the films.

Exte: Hair Extentsion; Japanese with subtitles; (2007) - Official Site
The Gene Generation with Bai Ling; (2007) - Official Site
The Machine Girl; Japanese with subtitles; (2008)
Mutant Vampires Zombies from the 'Hood with C. Thomas Howell; (2008) - Official Site
Summer Scars; (2007)
Homeworld; (2008) - Official Site
Trailer Park of Terror; (2008) - Official Site
Yaji and Kita; Japanese with subtitles; (2005) - Official Site
Wicked Lake; (2008) - Official Site
The Vanguard; (2008) - Official Site
Brain Dead; (2007) - Official Site
The Wild Man of Navidad; (2008) - Official Site
Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer; (2007) - Official Site
Wasting Away; (2007) - Official Site
Tunnel Rats with Michael Paré and directed by Uwe Boll; (2008)

My favorite film by far was The Machine Girl. Honorable mentions are Exte: Hair Extentsion, The Wild Man of Navidad, and Wasting Away.

The Machine Girl was full of references to Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Or is it referencing the original Japanese material that Tarantino, in particular, pays homage to. Machine Girl is a tale of revenge. A boy is killed by a bully and his teenage sister (in plaid skirt and knee socks) avenges his death. So much more is added to that simple plot - the bully is the son of a Yakuza gangster and psychopathic mother. The girl is captured by the gangsters and has her left arm cut off. With the help of the mother of another victim of the bully, she obtains a machine gun prosthesis and wreaks havoc. That is very similar to Rose Magowan's character in Robert Rodriguez's half of Grind House. The Yakuza ganglord is named Hatori Hanzo which is the name of the swordmaker (Sonny Chiba) in Kill Bill Vol. 1 as well as a yakuza character Chiba played in Japanese films in the 70's and 80's. This description may give the impression that The Machine Girl is played straight up but it's a comedy as the violence is over the top and the character's so outrageous that you can't help but laugh. Among the loonier moments are the hero getting her arm burned with oil and tempura mix by a demure housewife, a Jean Paul Gaultier inspired brassiere with drills bits, a ritual where the boy has to drink copious amounts of his father's blood, and necrophilia. According to IMDB, Asami (the lead actress) used to be a porn star.

Choosing the runner-up film is a little more difficult.

As long as I mentioned Kill Bill Vol. 1, Exte: Hair Extentsion starred Chiaki Kuriyama (Gogo Yubari, Lucy Liu's mace-wielding protégé). Her role here couldn't be more different. She plays a happy-go-lucky, apprentice hairdresser. Things are going well for her until her ne'er-do-well sister abandons her daughter with her. The girl is the victim of child abuse and has some behavioral problems but aunt and niece become very devoted to each other. That story has probably been made several times (didn't Catherine Zeta Jone make a film similar to that a year or two ago?) but I've never seen one where the hair of a murder victim becomes possessed. Add in a creepy janitor with a hair obsession that works at the morgue who steals the body and things are looking good for a cult classic. The corpse's hair continues to grow at an incredible pace. The janitor clips the hair and sells them to beauty parlors as hair extensions but they (the extensions) are possessed by the spirit of the woman. The extensions kill the people that wear them. The janitor takes a vaguely pedophilic interest in the little girl and to make the circle complete he gives Gogo some extension which she attached to her niece. This is one weird film but not so weird that the plot is incomprehensible. The scenes with the marauding hair are fun and Kuriyama shows surprising versatility for young actress.

The Wild Man of Navidad was produced by one of the producers of Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Wild Man has the cinematography of a 1970's low budget film and it is set in the rural Texas town of Sublime on the Navidad River in Lavaca County. Based on an actual legend, the film revolves around a man who opens his land up for deer hunting. He knows that a creature lives down by the river but he needs the money to care of his invalid wife (who is being abused by his glass-eyed, Mexican, live-in caretaker). As the deer hunters disappear, the sheriff begins to suspect the truth. The sheriff leads a posse to kill the beast. This film is all about the mood which was surprisingly understated for a horror film. The taciturn husband shows every flavor of introverted angst as he confronts the various situations. That tubby, little Mexican keeps the bizarre factor high. It was a nice touch that the two converse in Spanish while the husband speaks English with a slight Texas drawl. The beast's costume is laughable. It looks to have deer antlers for hands and wears pelts that look a rabbit skin jacket. At the end, they show a close up of its face but technical difficulties made the video skip so I could really get a good gander. It had tusks but I can't recall much else.

Wasting Away injects an original idea into the moribund zombie movie formula. The premise of the film is showing the action from the zombies' point of view. Four young people are hanging out a bowling alley. Nearby an Army facility is testing biological weapons. They test a drug by injecting it into a subject and he promptly turns into a zombie. Cut to the chase - that drug gets mixed into the ice cream maker at the bowling alley and the four people eat the ice cream. They get the worse ice cream headache ever. They think they are normal but in fact they are zombies. They view each other as unchanged in appearance but the rest of society see them as George Romero standard issue zombies. They run into a soldier who has been exposed to the drug and the five of them try to work their way through Los Angeles even though "everyone else" has been infected by the drug. At this point, the film milks the reverse perspective for everything it is worth. This film is a comedy and it gets off a few zingers. My favorite is towards the end of the film after the zombies realize they are zombies. They discuss their options. One person suggests that they can get night jobs and blend in the fringes of society. The response is "We're zombies not illegal immigrants." The film was low budget but inventive and funny. One of the main characters looked a lot like Seann William Scott.

I also enjoyed Trailer Park of Terror and Tunnel Rats. Trailer Park is one of those horror films where an area is haunted and some kids wander in. The ghosts can kill the kids but at the end of the film, the site is an old abandoned site. In this case, the ghosts are the trashiest poor white trash ever portrayed and the kids are troubled youngsters coming back from a Christian retreat. The has some gusto and the beautiful Nichole Hiltz to raise it a notch above the norm. Tunnel Rats is a dark combat film set in the tunnels under the Vietnam jungle. Most of the film takes place in dark tunnels with US soldiers and Charlies crawling around trying to kill each other. It gets confusing but there are enough grisly death scenes to satisfy anyone - hanging, punji sticks, drowning, sharp stick through the neck, and a particulary effective suffocation scene finale. Jane Le as the VC woman raising her kids in the tunnel delivers the standout performance; maybe because she is the only woman.

Yaji and Kita is about a pair of gay samurai that jumps through time and reality. It was way too incomprehensible for me. Wicked Lake was boring and unoriginal. Somehow it made scenes with beautiful, naked, women engaged in lesbian antics boring. It did have the obligatory felatio emasculation scene. I don't know much about rape but my guess is that putting your penis into an unwilling partner's mouth is not a good idea. Horror films have taught me that if nothing else.

On June 22, Hole in the Head is presenting Tokyo Gore Police by the same director as The Machine Girl. I'm going to try to make it. As I mentioned, Primitive Screwheads is producing Kentucky Jones and the Carpet of Doom - a live spoof on Indiana Jones.

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