Saturday, January 4, 2014

2013 Another Hole in the Head Film Festival

2013 Another Hole in the Head Film Festival ran for three weeks from November 29 to December 19.  The festival was held at the Balboa Theater from November 29 to December 4 and at the Viz from December 5 to December 19.

Before I forget, I found an interesting article about Jeff Ross. Ross is the founder of the San Francisco Independent Film Festival (aka IndieFest).  IndieFest is the first film festival to which I purchased a festival pass.  I can say IndieFest was my gateway drug to my current level of cinematic addiction.  I came across an article about the Santa Cruz Film Festival.  The article was interesting because it chronicled how the festival grew and eventually became too much for its founder and early volunteers.  Recently, the festival hired Jeff Ross to be its director and 2013 was the first year under Ross' laid back leadership.  I've never been to the Santa Cruz Film Festival.  I believe, I've only been to Santa Cruz twice in my life.  I'm kind of curious what it's film festival is like.

At first, I thought the HoleHead timing was problematic but in hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise.  I was out of town from November 29 to December 3.  While I was out of town, I was reading Jason Wiener's posts on HoleHead.  A most charitable sort of fellow, Jason was fairly negative about the festival in his posts.  Last minute changes in the schedule, butchered film prints and other mishaps marred the festival and seemed to sour Jason's opinion.

I'm not really into "horror, sci-fi, dark fantasy and exploitation cinema."  I guess a more accurate statement is that I have less patience with "horror, sci-fi, dark fantasy and exploitation cinema."   I get bored pretty quickly by these films.

I was going to buy a five film discount card but the staff at the Balboa had no idea what I was talking about.  So I ended up seeing seven films - two at the Balboa and I bought the five film pass when the festival moved to the Viz.

Jaws starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw & Richard Dreyfuss; directed by Steven Spielberg; (1975)
All Cheerleaders Die; directed by Lucky McKee & Chris Sivertson; (2013) - Official Facebook
Malignant starring Brad Dourif & Gary Cairns; directed by Brian Avenet-Bradley; (2013) - Official Facebook
Nuigulumar Z starring Shôko Nakagawa & Rina Takeda; directed by Noboru Iguchi; Japanese with subtitles; (2013) - Official Website
Evil Feed starring Laci J. Mailey; directed by Kimani Ray Smith; (2013) - Official Website
Cheap Thrills starring Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton & David Koechner; directed by E.L. Katz; (2013) - Official Facebook
Face; directed by Taka Arai & Norith Soth; (2012)

The version of Nuigulumar Z  which screened had the title Gothic Lolita Battle Bear which I think is a better title.

Through luck and assiduously avoiding zombie films, I think I cherry picked the best HoleHead had to offer.  Cheap Thrills won the audience award and Evil Feed was the staff pick.

There were a few things weird about this year's HoleHead.  First, all of the films were scheduled to be screened once and only once.  You had one shot to see a film and that was it.  Reading Jason's blog, I vaguely recall they screened something twice due to schedule changes.  The other odd thing was that none of the screenings took place at the Roxie which has been one of the venues of every IndieFest, DocFest and HoleHead festival I can recall over the past decade or so.  The Roxie is the most conveniently located movie theater in the City due to its proximity to 16th St. BART.  I wonder why HoleHead didn't screen at the Roxie.  


What more can I write about Jaws?  I've seen it on television many times and enjoyed it immensely.  I was too young to see it on the big screen when it was released.  I do remember having a red Jaws T-shirt which was one of my favorites as a child.  I jumped at the opportunity to see it (in 35 mm!) on the movie screen.  The print was beat up but I loved the film as much as I ever did.

The best part of Jaws is the second half when Brody (Roy Scheider), Quint (Robert Shaw) and Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) are on the boat being hunted by the shark while simultaneously engaged in some male bonding rituals.  Shaw, in particular, draws your attention with harsh New England accent and the way he says "Hooper!"  Dreyfuss plays Hooper as conflicted about Quint, both admiring and frightened by his obsession with killing sharks.

The next evening, HoleHead screened a 35mm print of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.  I was tempted to attend but I have to admit, I've never been a big fan of the film.  I'm glad I didn't go.  The print was so beat up that festival director George Kaskanlian felt the need to issue a public apology:

Hi guys this is George(Producer of the another hole in the head film festival), I am the one who should be held responsible for last nights horrible Shining screening. I want to say that I am very very very sorry about last nights screening. I knew it was an old print and I expected it to be a little beat up and worn down because of its 30+ years of being on the road but with all the constant snow and major key parts of the film missing/spliced was inexcusable. I should have watched the print that I rented from a big hollywood studio but there was no time. Im very sorry and hope you don't take it personal. We still have two weeks left of this amazing festival and I promise that The Shining Forwards and Backwards will be a pristine brand new immaculate copy with zero snow and zero film cuts. It's sad for me to think and say but last nights copy of the shining that yall witnessed needs to be put to rest and should have never been rented to the festival.

I went to the Balboa on the final night HoleHead was there with the intention of seeing All Cheerleaders Die and The Shining.  All Cheerleaders Die was the first film of the evening and was disappointing.  I was expecting a throwback sexploitation film.  Instead, I got a rehash of The Craft (which is one of my favorite horror films).  At the time, I didn't know this was a remake.  All Cheerleaders Die (2013) is a remake of All Cheerleaders Die (2001).  Same directors, different casts.  I can only wonder how good the original was.  The version I saw put me to sleep after an hour.  After an interesting setup featuring Felisha Cooper; the film goes limp.  Not much violence or nudity (gratuitous or otherwise).  Neither comedy nor horror, the film lost my interest well before it's 90 minutes were finished.

If All Cheerleaders Die were better, I may have decided to stick around for The Shining.  However, I didn't have the five film pass at this point and would have to pay $12 for the privilege of seeing a film I wasn't too keen on.  I decided to call it a night and go home.


I wanted to see a Japanese film called Sengoku Bloody Agent but I checked the HoleHead website the day it was to screen and saw that it had been pulled from the schedule.  Due to this, I wasn't sure if I could fill out five films for the discount pass.  Ultimately, I decided to get the pass.  Actually, there never was a pass.  They just wrote my name on piece of paper and tick marked it.  Even later, they didn't even bother to check my name.

The first film I saw at the Viz was Malignant - nine days after I saw All Cheerleaders Die.  Seeing and chatting with some of the festival regulars, I got the impression it had been a long nine days.

As I recall, Malignant was about an alcoholic man who is coping with his wife's death through copious consumption of alcohol.  A strange guy (Brad Dourif) shows up, inserts some medical device into him via surgery.  If he drinks alcohol, he become psychotic and people around start dying terrible deaths.  Interesting premise but the film was kind of plodding and lost my interest.  I was in and out of consciousness throughout the film.  I can't rag too much on Malignant.  I think it was a little too deliberately paced for horror film festival.


At this point, I was thinking about skipping the rest of the festival but decided to give Noboru Iguchi's latest film a chance.  At the 2008 HoleHead, Iguchi's Machine Girl was my favorite film of the festival.  Since then, I've seen three or four Iguchi films but none have lived up to Machine Girl but Nuigulumar Z was a fun ride.

I don't even know if the plot synopsis is necessary but here goes.  A planet is destroyed and the spirits of the inhabitants float to earth as dust.  One of the warriors lands on a teddy bear.  That teddy bear comes into contact with a Lolita girl (which incidentally is the theme of the cafe on the ground level of the building the Viz is located).  If you don't know about Lolita fashion, this website may help.

Shôko Nakagawa plays the Lolita as a sweet natured screw-up.  She is referred to by her teenage niece as Dameko which amusing if you know little Japanese.  Traditional Japanese names for women end in "ko;" kind of like female names ending with an "a" in the Spanish language. Dame pronounced "dah-may" means to be wrong or if said with enough gusto, "You fucked it up!"  Punning her name from Yumeko to Dameko, is kind of amusing or maybe I just feel full of myself because I picked up on Japanese wordplay in a film.

Anyway, when Dameko and the bear have a mind to, they merge into a single superhero, the eponymous Nuigulumar who looks like pink leather teddy bear.  Another speck of dust lands on earth and inhabit a man and he becomes bent on world domination.  Only Dameko/Nuigulumar can save the human race.  I think there were some zombies in there somewhere too.

Not quite as gratuitous as one would expect from a Japanese film of this genre, Nuigulumar Z has goofy sweetness to it.   Although Shôko Nakagawa portrays Dameko, when she transforms into Nuigulumar, Rina Takeda takes over for the action sequences.  Takeda plays Kill Billy, one of the evil henchman as well.

Shôko Nakagawa (left) & Rina Takeda in Nuigulumar Z

Buoyed by Nuigulumar Z, I decided to use up my 5 film pass.  Fortunately, two of the films which caught my attention when I first read the film program were screening on the third to last and penultimate days of HoleHead.

Evil Feed had a premise which could go either way.  I knew it was a film I would enjoy when the character Phat Phuk is introduced.  Presented as "fat fook," he corrects the hostess by saying it's pronounced "fat fuck."

The plot involves a fight club/restaurant which kidnaps the family members of martial arts experts.  That gives an incentive for the fighter when s/he goes up against one o the house gladiators.  All fights are to the death and patrons bid on the body parts.  The winner lives, the loser gets chopped and served to the restaurant patrons.  The house special is the Dickie Roll which looks like a fried sausage.

The nominal star is Laci J. Mailey as the kidnapped daughter of kung fu master.  She gives her captors more than they expected.  The film is more of an ensemble piece.  Alyson Bath steals the film as the nymphomaniac restaurant hostess.  She goes after her role with gusto which is another way of saying she is frequently nude.  Indeed, Bath and Derek Gilroy team up for a memorable scene where we see the process by which the Dickie Roll is prepared.

Terry Chen as the restaurant owner seems to be channeling Malcolm McDowell from A Clockwork Orange while Johnson Phan seems to be having too much fun playing a cocky kung fu fighter while doing a Bruce Lee impersonation.

Absurd, offensive and gratuitously violent - what more could you want from a HoleHead film?  Evil Feed was my favorite film of the festival.


The next night, I went back to see Cheap Thrills.  I get the definite sense I've seen this plot before but I can't place the film(s).

Pat Healy is Craig, a failed writer with a wife and child.  Laid off from his job at a garage and desperate for money, he stops in a bar where he encounters his high school friend Vince (Ethan Embry).  The two haven't seen each other for many years and after some awkward chit chat, they are approached by Violet (Sara Paxton) and Colin (David Koechner), a married couple celebrating Violet's birthday.  Quickly, Colin establishes the rules for the evening.  He will pay cash to Craig and/or Vince to do increasingly outlandish acts.  As the night wears on, Colin's dollar incentives increases as does the mayhem caused by the acts he requests.  Sex, dead dogs, severed fingers and murder ensue.  In the end, it turns out it was a $1 wager between Violet and Colin to see whether Vince or Craig would sink to such depraved depths.

Cheap Thrills was an interesting film.  We get to see the change in Craig and Vince.  As the dollar amounts increase, their behavior changes from one of former friends to rivals to deadly enemies.  The message is money is the root of all evil and as a double whammy, the evil Craig & Vince do is strictly for the amusement of Violet & Colin.

As the film progresses, the humor drains out and the audience is left with grim evidence of the cruelty of humans.


Not wanting to return for a third consecutive night, I decided to stick around after Cheap Thrills to see Face.  I was intrigued since Face was advertised as being produced by the same guy who produced V/H/S and V/H/S 2.   I liked both of those films and Face looked like more of the same.  Face is one of faux found footage films (say that three times quickly).  In this case, a sorority and fraternity have an annual Halloween ritual of scaring each other.  The "losers" have to do whatever the "winners" want.  The previous year, the frat boys won and, surprisingly, they chose sex with the sorority girls.  One of the girls was videotaped and the footage was posted to the internet.  That amps up the girls need for revenge.

The first half of the film is filmed from the perspective of the fraternity.  The second half is filmed from the perspective of the sorority which is the more "interesting" part of the story.  Cutting to the chase, the boys spike the liquor with hallucinogenics while the girls slip roofies or GHB into the pizza.  The result is the boys are rendered unconscious while the girls become increasingly unstable.  They eventually kills the boys and skin their faces hence the title of the film.

Face has an admirable concept but the execution was lacking.  After seeing it, I realized that one of the crucial elements of V/H/S and its sequel is that the "found footage" was only 10 to 20 minutes per segment.  Face's runtime was listed at 75 minutes and that was much too long.  In my opinion, Face would have made a nice 20 to 30 minute short film.  The shaky cam and large cast proved confusing to me also.  Toward the end, when the carnage was occurring, I had a hard time figuring out what was happening.  There is a nice shot at the end where a dog is wearing the skinned face of one of the frat boys but 75 minutes is a long time to wait for that money shot.

There is probably some social commentary in there about the hyper-aggressiveness and casual misogyny of young males in today's society but the underlying message and plot of Face was lost along the way.

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