Friday, October 10, 2008

Changing Channels

I have some free time to riff on some of the 2008 Dead Channels films.

Far and away, the best film of the festival was the Swedish language Let the Right One In. The film is based on a 2004 novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I have not read the novel but the film (directed by Tomas Alfredson) seems to be set in the 1970's for some reason. There was a quick mention of Leonid Brezhnev which confused me. Sweden (where the film is set) was not under Soviet control during that time.

Regardless, the film could have been set in any time period because the plot successfully melds two genres - the vampire lore and lonely boy/first crush film. The plot centers around a Oskar, 12 year old boy who is bullied at school. If well told, that story always interests me because it can veer off any which way - nice guy ignores the bullies, nice guy gets a mentor to deal with the bullies, nice guy turn introverted and goes postal, etc.

Let the Right One In melds Oskar's tribulations with his first crush on his new next door neighbor (Eli). I thought the character of Eli was perfectly cast with Lina Leandersson. She looked like a 12 year old girl, she was a little tomboyish and she exhibited the awkwardness that can be prevalent at that age. Of course, Eli's age and cause of her awkwardness are not what they appear. Eli is actually a 200 year old vampire frozen in a 12 year old body. I thought that Kirsten Dunst's similiar role in Interview with the Vampire was a compelling storyline in that film. Leandersson's interpretation of a vampire trapped in a child's body is more understated and sympathetic.

The result is a film that treats the relationship between the two prepubescent with tenderness and humor while allowing Eli and her minion the standard allotment of vampire related blood and gore. I can't say enough about Lina Leandersson's performance. She captures the weariness and desperation of her existence while retaining some humanity in her relationship with Oskar.

Bruce Fletcher said the film will be remade ("crappified" was the exact quote) by the director of Cloverfield. I never saw that film so I don't know how bad that can be. I can only imagine that Eli will be cast as an older girl with definite sex appeal which changes the audience's reaction to Eli. Most studio films are crap anyway so I don't know if I'll ever see the American version of Let the Right One In.


The other film I was impressed with was Who is K.K. Downey? which is a spoof of the JT Leroy hoax from a few years back. The two leads (Darren Curtis as Terrance/KK and Matt Silver as Theo Huxtable) deliver outstanding comedic performance. Curtis' Southern drawl makes me smiles (who knew "nachos" was pronounced differently with a Southern accent?).


Viscera and the Incubus was hosted by Shannon Lark - director, actress, Viscera Film Festival founder, Chain Saw Mafia Production Company CEO, Living Dead Girlz manager and probably much more. I found tremendously appealing; she was very friendly and atriculate. She is the type of person that would probably be successful in any career although my impression is that she likes the limelight so some occupations wouldn't suit her.

The Viscera Film Festival is not a film festival like most. It's an on-line festival and since my internet connection is on a small notebook computer, I don't watch much streaming video. Based on the 2007 selections, I may have keep an eye out for it.

Three short films from Viscera stood out. Wretched with Joe Bob Briggs (I read his movie reviews in high school) and Jaime Andrews portray a dysfunctional married couple at a diner. Joe Bob (aka John Bloom) is a jerk and his wife copes by binging and purging between dinner courses in the restaurant women's room. There was a scene where she vomits copious amounts blood but I thought this film would have worked without that scene.

The Cleaner feels vaguely derivative but I can't identify which film I'm thinking of. Regardless, it was enjoyable. It's the story of a clean freak woman who lets her obsessive compulsive disorder ruin her marriage and job. After being fired, she comes home to find his wife in flagrante delicto (with Shannon Lark!). The wife gets her revenge by forcing industrial cleaning solvent down Shannon throat.

Brains is an extended music video - Valley Girl meets Zombies (and it was directed by Shannon Lark!).


I had high hopes for A Visit From the Incubus directed by and starring Anna Biller. Let me preface my statement by saying I am a big fan of Viva. Her 2007 feature film played at last year's IndieFest. A Visit From the Incubus (28 minutes and made in 2001) hints that Biller is an auteur or one-trick pony if you are less polite. Both films had similarities - Biller likes musical numbers and audacious costumes. It appears as though she likes period pieces too. Biller likes to coordinate colors on screen, e.g. her red dress matches the red curtains.

There is nothing wrong or distracting with these traits. In fact, I like musicals and noticing details like the colors on screen. However, Biller also stars in her films and her performances (for the two I have seen) are nearly identical. Biller delivers her lines with a halting cadence. She seems to orate sarcastically more than act. Her facial expressions frequently seem to extend beyond the fourth wall into the audience with a "wink wink" undertone. Now that worked fine in Viva and it could have worked in A Visit From the Incubus (after all the plot revolves around the Incubus singing in a cowboy saloon). However, having seen Viva, I was expecting something different or "more" but instead I saw Biller channel Viva from the 1970s to 1880s or whatever Old West setting that was.


Cosmic Hex sponsored Colossus: The Forbin Project. This film was a Who's Who of televions actors. It stars Eric Braeden as Dr. Forbin. When I was a kid, I watch repeats of The Rat Patrol. Braeden was the Nazi nemesis in that show. Although not a fan, Braeden has been on The Young and the Restless for 20 years. Also in the film were Susan Clark (Webster), Marion Ross (Happy Days), Georg Stanford Brown(Roots) and Dolph Sweet (Gimme a Break!) had supporting roles. Hannibal Chew (James Hong) had a non-speaking role.

The film was badly dated but at least now I know the inspiration for the Cylon voices in the 1970's Battlestar Galactica. The films stretches the imagination and even more so when you wonder how a 1970 mainframe (with about as much computing power as modern PC) could have acheived sentience and subjugated humanity. Still, Colossus: The Forbin Project is the cinematic nexus between HAL from Space Odyssey 2001 and Skynet from The Terminator. I'm glad for the opportunity to see it.


Bad Biology was directed by Frank Henenlotter. Henenlotter has a special place in my cinematic education. His Frankenhooker (1990) was one of the first cult films I saw. My friend's reaction to the film led me to realize my tastes in films are not mainstream and that there are alternatives to the summer studio blockbuster.

In hindsight, Frankenhooker isn't really that great but like a character from a Henenlotter might say, "it wasn't that great but it was available."

That reminds me that festival programmer Bruce Fletcher seems to have a penis fixation. Last year, he programmed The Secret Life of Sarah Sheldon and Welcome Home Brother Charles. Now he programs Bad Biology. There are only so many times you can go to that well. You see one animatronic penis, you've seen them all.


Golgotha was oddly effective for a low budget film - the costumes looked a little silly and the dragon was most certainly not animatronic or CGI. I don't know if director Karla Jean Davis really has a keen interest in German Expressionist films or made judicious use of her budget. She shot in black and white which is probably cheaper film stock (I believe the movie was shot on film). She also filmed a lot of scenes in shadows and darkened rooms which saved on lighting. By making much of the film silent (particularly the outdoor scenes), she didn't have to wory about sound quality.

In many instances, independent directors cannot effectively make a film in this manner. Rather than DIY, it looks cheap. To Davis' credit she adequately conveyed the silent film feel. I rather enjoyed the film and wish I could have caught the showing where she field questions from the audience.


Another short film that deserves a mention is Dead Bones. Ken Foree from the original Dawn of the Dead (1978) is the most recognizable actor. The film is about a bounty hunter in the Old West. He rides into town looking for two escapees but he soons finds out that the townfolk are cannibals. The rest of the film is him and one prisoner escaping. The film was ok but what impressed me was that they had a scene or two with galloping horses which I don't recall seeing in small budget films. It must be difficult to film and to find actors with equestrian skills. I also wondered where the exteriors were shot and was surprised to discover that it was filmed in Spain.

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