Saturday, December 20, 2014

2014 Another Hole in the Head

SF Indiefest's Another Hole in the Head was held from December 5 to 15.  The primary venue was the Viz.  I saw five films.

R100 starring Nao Omori; directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto; Japanese with subtitles; (2013) - Official Website
Limo Ride; directed by Marcus Rosentrater & Gideon C. Kennedy; (2014) - Official Website
Suburban Gothic starring Matthew Gray Gubler & Kat Dennings; directed by Richard Bates Jr.; (2014)
The Astrologer starring & directed by Craig Denney; (1975)
Bloody Knuckles starring Adam Boys & Gabrielle Giraud; directed by Matt O'Mahoney; (2014) - Official Facebook

The centerpiece of the festival was the screening of The Astrologer.  This film was made by Craig Denney in 1975 and should not be confused with James Glickenhaus' 1975 film of the same name (aka Suicide Cult).  Mike Keegan (formerly of the Roxie) introduced the film.  I'm not quite sure what his affiliation with the film is.  Keegan likened the film to a private-press records.  I've heard of bootleg records but not private-press records.  Keegan described a situation where someone would commission a record and only a handful of copies would be made.  I'm not sure if that is what The Astrologer is.  According to Temple of Schlock, The Astrologer had a VHS release in Australia, a screening on CBS and a regional theatrical release.  It was filmed on 35 mm so the costs alone would be more than most would be willing to privately commission.  Instead, I would call The Astrologer a vanity project.

Keegan did add one tidbit which reminded me of novel I once read (Umberto Eco?) which involved a scam where people could get their novel published but essentially had to pay the publishing house to do it.  Anyway, Keegan mentioned that most of the actors in the film paid Denney to appear in the film.  A search of IMDB reveals that Denney and several of the credited actors in The Astrologer have no other acting credits.

The Astrologer is the result of the single minded efforts of Denney.  A plot synopsis wouldn't make sense because the film barely made any sense.  I'll give it a shot.  Denney plays Alexander - I believe he was an orphan who grows up at a travelling carnival.  Alexander goes from pickpocket to carnival act to diamond smuggler to media mogul to official psychic to the US Navy to jealous husband to bankrupt.  Frequently, the transition from one state to the other are extremely abrupt.  I should mention that the production standards are very low and that the acting is wooden.  Also, The Astrologer makes liberal use of some songs by The Moody Blues (although I doubt the song rights were properly secured).  Actually, the way Denney dragged out some montage scenes set to the music made me wonder if he had paid something for the rights and was trying to get every last penny from the music rights.

To say The Astrologer wasn't very good doesn't capture the experience.  Denney was obviously earnest in his desire to make an epic film.  His budget, plot, direction and acting skills were not up to the task.  Fortunately, these obvious shortcomings didn't deter Denney and we are left with this film that should never have been made and could only be financed by non-traditional means.  It's like curio or some strange artifact that future generations will be left to ponder.

The phrase "so bad it's good" may also be used to describe The Astrologer.  I don't think that applies here.  Denney had a vision and he implemented it to the best of his abilities given the limitations imposed on him.  Amateurish would be a better description.  I particularly recall a montage scene (one of several) where the ending shot was of a cigarette butt in a urinal which I think was meant to signify the dregs of society Alexander was associating with.  The image evoked from the audience (myself included).

The Astrologer had a coherent plot (which at times was badly edited or acted) and story arc of the rise & fall of Alexander the world's most famous psychic (his secret was that he practiced sidereal not tropical astrology).  Denney's reach exceeded his grasp which is not unlike many other films made by more celebrated directors.  That his budget was small only increases the appreciation I have for Denney's accomplishment if not his skills as a screenwriter, director and actor


Limo Ride has the distinction of having the highest mid-film walkout rate of any film I've seen.  At some point in the film, a person walked out and s/he was followed by another and it led to a stampede for the exit doors.  I would guess a third to half the audience walked out in 60 second period.

I stuck it out.  I didn't think it wasn't quite as bad as others apparently thought.  Billed as the greatest bar story ever told, Limo Ride is a documentary which relied on actors to recreate the scenes being narrated by the actual participants.  Basically, a dozen men (and one woman) take a limo ride from Alabama to Florida on New Year's Day.  There is a lot of drunkeness and drug use which leads to bar fights, nudity, armed robbery, etc.  Frankly, I can't recall the events because the film is more about the telling the story than the story.  In particular, I found one participant's voice to be hypnotic - gravelly with a slight Southern accent, it sounded a like the voice of a guy who smoked and drank too much.  It was perfectly suited to narrate this story although I seem to recall some people on radio with a similar voice.  Lacking in any redeemable qualities, the films' main caution is to not hang out with drunk idiots, especially these drunk idiots.


As seems frequently the case with Hole in the Head, the Japanese film was my favorite.  This year, that film was R100.  The film starts with a middle aged man and a young woman on a date.  The highlight of the scene is the roundhouse kick she delivers to the man's face.  The premise is that a S&M club exists.  A one year membership must be paid up front and cannot be cancelled.  The members are visited by dominatrices at anytime and abused in various ways.  You may wonder why even the most avid submissive or masochist would agree to this.  In the case of Katayama (Nao Omori), it is because his wife is in a coma and his guilt and frustration about her condition leads him to self-abusive behaviors.

Katayama has bit off more than he can chew as the women who abuse him become more bizarre and intrude in his personal life.  At one point, Katayama's young son is blindfolded and tied up in the traditional style of Japanese bondage.  It's both funny & disturbing.  Of course, at the same Katayama is being spat upon by a rather large woman.  It is her accidental death which sets the entire film in a different direction.

The Queen of Saliva's death causes the S&M club to declare war on Katayama.  The CEO (an even larger woman listed as 6'9" on IMDB) arrives in town to personally oversee his destruction.  With her army of female ninja warriors (who dress like the Gimp from Pulp Fiction), the final showdown is set to strains of Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Silly but undeniably funny at times, this film defies convention and good taste in a way only the Japanese could pull off.  The title refers to the R-100 film stock which the audience occasionally sees as the film breaks the fourth wall by having the censors or studio executives complain about the film's content or plot inconsistencies while watching a preview.


I recently saw an episode of Criminal Minds for the first time.  I wasn't particularly impressed.  I noticed the habitually referred to the suspect as "the unsub" which was confusing.  It's a short of UNknown SUBject.  I also noticed that Matthew Gray Gubler sounds a lot like Rob Lowe.

I was completely unaware that Gubler was the star of Suburban Gothic.  In fact, I wasn't even going to see the film but while buying tickets for The Astrologer, I read about the film preceding it (Suburban Gothic) and inadvertently bought tickets to both films.

Suburban Gothic was better than I expected; mostly likely because of its well known cast.  In addition to Gubler, Kat Dennings (2 Broke Girls) plays Gubler's potential love interest and Barbara Niven & Ray Wise play Gubler's parents.

Raymond (Gubler) is an unemployed MBA who is forced to move back in with his parents.  As a youth, Raymond had psychic abilities - he could communicate with the dead.  As time passed, he has lost the ability.  However, moving back in with his parents and encounter the people who bullied him as a teenager seem to bring back his paranormal senses.

Suburban Gothic is a comedy and it gets its share of laughs.  As a horror comedy, it never quite "nails it.'  It never reaches that sense of meta nirvana like say Scream.  Of course, maybe that's not what the director was going for.  It's a well made film with strong actors and a workable script but it left me mild.

Bloody Knuckles is reminiscent of several films.  A comic book writer/illustrator writes an issue criticizing a local crime boss.  He takes offense and has the man's hand severed.  The severed hand begins to commit murders in retribution.  I definitely recall seeing a film with almost the same plot.  My knowledge of horror films is not encyclopedic enough to discern which film I am thinking of although I will note I saw a variation on this premise earlier this year in The Hands of Orlac (1925) at Cinequest.

The acting was wooden but the highlight of the film was a bloodbath at a gay S&M club where the otherwise mild-mannered owner turns into Homo-Dynamous, a, leather-clad, Darth Vader sounding avenger.  The bad guys were Asian which also seemed unusual although I'm not insinuating there was an racial element involved.

Overall, this year's Hole in the Head was as good as any I recall for the past few years.  I think I enjoyed last year's films slightly better.  I haven't bought a festival pass in a few years so my sample size is probably less than statistical valid.

Hole in the Head has a hardcore fan base.  In addition to the "usual suspects" I see at most film festivals, I saw the same people at several if not all of the screenings I attended this year.

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