Wednesday, April 25, 2012

BIFFF 2012 RECAP



Yes, this is about 5 years late, but since I'll be heading back across the pond in a few weeks and I never bothered to collect my ramblings from my first excursion to the Brussels International Film Festival (hereafter referred to as BIFFF) into a single, easy to read/navigate post, I'm remedying that now for my own purposes and convenience, as well as any other sucker...er, faithful readers who might be so inclined.

Enjoy!



BIFFF 2012, DAY 1 (Friday, April 6)
Guests: Terry Gilliam, Gert Verbeeck Films: Sennentuntschi, The Sorcerer and the White Snake, The Divide, Zombie 108 


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

BIFFF 2012 Makeup/Body Painting winners

Just a quick drop in, to make mention of the winners of the BIFFF makeup (29th annual) and body painting (25th annual) contests.  These were all performed on site throughout the festival in front of lookers-on, and impressive doesn't begin to cover the talents on display.  Heartiest congratulations to all who participated and especially to the select winners!

Makeup - Amateur Division


1st prize - Lynn Schockmel

2nd prize - Julie Van  Gaans


Makeup - Semi-Pro Divsion

1st prize - Rebecca Flores

2nd prize - Sandrine Lahou

3rd prize - Dewae Anke


4th prize - Marie Fontaine



Special FX

1st prize - Thibaut Franssen


2nd prize -Francis Jardim

3rd prize - Carol Descamps



Body Painting

1st Prize Christonique
Berry Arnould (Belgium)


2nd Prize : Georges Clowny
Caroline Trefois (Belgium)

3rd Prize :  La Evannah
Jémimah Raty (Belgium)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Brussel International Fantasy Film Festival 2012 - Award winners



Here are the results of the Awards ceremony, for those who are keeping score of such things:

International Jury (Mick Garris, Marjana Jankovic, Eric Valette, Guillaume Malandrin, Paco Cabezas)

The Golden Raven (Gran Prix): The Awakening (My Pick: Juan of the Dead)



Silver Raven Awards:
Juan of the Dead, for its inventive setting and sense of humor, and especially the performance of lead actor Alexis Díaz de Villegas



Tormented, for its originality and unique view of childhood through a child eyes



European Jury (Jean-Paul Bertin, Philippe Blasband, Pierre Dejemeppe, David Hainaut, Matyas Veress, Serge Dero, Kenan Gorgun)

Silver Méliès: Iron Sky (My pick: Game of Werewolves or The Sandman or Sennentuntschi)



Special Mention: The Sandman, for bringing some love at the BIFFF.



Thriller Jury (Maxime Chattam, Stéphane Bourgoin, Gigi Etienne, Philippe Dumont)

Thriller Prize: The Whistleblower (My pick: As Luck Would Have It or Hindsight)



Special Mention: Paul Rhys for his outstanding performance in Eliminate Archie Cookson



7th Orbit Jury (Bruce Ellison, Pat Cronenberg, François Marache, Daph Nobody)

7th Orbit Prize: Himizu (My pick: Himizu) (Finally, they got it right!)



Special Mention: Shuffle



Pegase Award (Audience Prize):
Iron Sky

BIFFF Day #12 (Tuesday, 4/17)



Following Monday night’s madness, the final official day of BIFFF could not help but be a little anticlimactic. Which is not to say it wasn’t enjoyable, especially since I would start off the day hanging out with Eric Valette and Mick Garris at the pre-awards Awards announcement. (Press people get all the good stuff, I’m now convinced. If you have the opportunity to gain a press pass for any event, I say grab it…unless there’s an extra VIP pass lying around, of course.) Is it wrong for me to have been ignorant of the fact that the press is given the results before they are officially announced in public? Was I just being totally naïve? Maybe. In any case, I learned who won what (which I’ll go into a little further on down), and then chatted with several of the journalists as well as cool cat Eric Valette.



BIFFF Day #11 (Monday, 4/16)


The final day of BIFFF competition shines a spotlight on Belgium’s neighbor to the north with three Danish offerings, all of equally fine fettle. The event is further spotlighted by a small reception in the VIP lounge sponsored by a Brussels Denmark Appreciation Society, and quelle magnifique, some of the journalists are allowed to enter the hallowed carpeted section for a brief 90 minute stay. (Any longer and the place would start to smell, no? Oui.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

BIFFF Day #10 (Sunday, 4/15)


Another late night leads to another sleep-deprived day, and I feel the exhaustion level inexorably rising. Of course, I also recognize it in my colleagues as well – everyone has been on this ride for a long time, and it’s taking its toll for those who are riding it morning till night. Apparently, it was also taking the toll on Gert’s aged two-wheeler that I had been using for transport between home base and the BIFFF, because Sunday morning, en route to my interview with Iron Sky director Timo Vuorensola, the back tire just crapped out on me almost exactly halfway there. I was left with a dilemma: do I continue forward to the BIFFF and then be forced to walk the sucker home at 2:30am, or do I head back, cancel the interview and deal with the bike situation during the daylight hours? I opted for the latter, since even though I dug Iron Sky for the amusing, ambitious diversion that it was, it’s not really HorrorHound material – with no splatter or alien monsters to nudge it between the covers. Therefore, I don’t feel all the broken up about it, although Timo certainly seems like heck of a big personality from what I’ve seen in his previous night’s introduction, so it probably would have been fun. But needed to formulate a plan and get the dead ducks off the road, so there you go.

BIFFF Day #9 (Saturday, 4/14)


Following the late night adventures (and extended clean-up required) of the Vampire Ball, Gert and I decided to rise a little later than usual, and with no interviews on tap, we pretty much showed up at the start of the film programming (4pm) and stayed the course until the final offering of the day. Just movies, chatting with the lovely press ladies, my exponentially expanding circle of journalist and filmmaker friends (funny how spending a week watching movies with the same people can prove to be such a bonding experience) and my now-standard dinner of an orange and baguette loaf – usually eaten during the 8pm feature. Overall, it was a solid cinematic prix fixe, highlighted by the Korean thriller Poongsan and the crowd-pleasing Finnish Nazis-on-the-moon sci-fi comedy Iron Sky.

Sorry I don’t have any interesting stories to tell for Saturday – everyone was pretty well wiped out from the previous night’s adventures and the conversations primarily centered around the celebs we had met over the course of the week (general consensus – Mick Garris is the nicest man alive, and everyone’s glad that Friedkin has left the building) and the films we were recommending to one another if they hadn’t been caught already. After all, we are now in the home stretch – only three more days of competition left!


Monday, April 16, 2012

BIFFF Day #8 (Friday, 4/13)


Following Thursday night’s awesome screening of Juan of the Dead, I was pretty well stoked to chat with one of the supporting cast, Jazz Vila, who had previously worked with director Alejandro Brugues on the film Personal Belongings. We met up in the Jameson bus that morning and had a terrific discussion about the film and how he was enjoying his role as the film’s ambassador. Jazz said that from the moment people read the script, they knew they had something special, and we talked at length about the magic act of making a movie that has a social point of view without being heavy-handed about it, something that the Juan team has managed to pull off admirably. Jazz’s role, that of cross-dressing homosexual “China,” was one that he felt honored to play, as he knew he wanted to give the character the dignity he deserved as opposed to only being a cheap laugh as is often the case in Cuban cinema. “These people exist,” he said, “and they are real human beings. They are strong and real, and it was important to represent that.” The more we chatted, the more I realized just how easily Brugues could have turned in a cheap zombie flick instead of a genuinely rewarding and thought-provoking piece of entertainment.



Sunday, April 15, 2012

BIFFF Day #7 (Thursday, 4/12)


Okay, time to get personal.

If I had a top 10 list of favorite movies (which I defiantly do not), The Exorcist would be on it. I’ve known and worshipped the film ever since I first encountered it – on television, no less – at the age of 13. I’ve seen it probably more times than any other movie, and have watched the final climactic 20 minutes exponentially more. In high school, against my coach’s well-intentioned protestations, I performed a 10-minute selection from William Peter Blatty’s source novel for our speech team and ended up attending the national finals in Dramatic Interpretation. Needless to say, I’ve been…wait for it…possessed by all things Exorcist for nearly three decades now, and even upon revisiting it last year, it still holds up. (The original cut, not the bloated and tricked up Version You’ve Never Seen, thank you very much.) As a result, I’ve known the name of director William Friedkin for a long time now, and while he hasn’t always hit the bull’s eye, he’ll go down in the history books thanks to the one-two punch of The French Connection and The Exorcist.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

BIFFF Day #6 (Wednesday, 4/11)


Okay, full disclosure: Some of the events that I’ll be chatting about in today’s entry actually occurred the day before, on Tuesday. As anyone who has walked this path before me can attest, it’s easy for everything to run together. “It’s the BIFFF!”

It’s easy to see why I was initially confused, however, since my interview with Father’s Day’s Jeremy Gillespie would have made sense to have occurred the morning after the midnight screening, right? Instead, for whatever programming and/or scheduling reasons, the interviews with Gillespie and Troma head Lloyd Kaufman took place the same day, before the film had actually screened. (In hindsight, this is less insane than it actually appears to be – it’s just that I was unaware of the upstairs press screening room computers when I made my appointments, and besides, I had already seen Father’s Day back in March courtesy of a DVD screener.) All this to justify why your sleep-deprived narrator got his days mixed up.



Friday, April 13, 2012

BIFFF Day #5 (Tuesday, 4/10)


No scheduled interviews or close encounters with celebs today, which meant that I got to actually sleep in for once. Of course, having stayed up the night before until 6am getting caught up on reviews and such more or less used up whatever credit I’d hoped to earn from the later wake-up bell. As Gert often says, “It’s the BIFFF!” i.e. any normalcy or daily routine need not apply because you ain’t gonna get it. I don’t think there has been a period in my life where I have been up past 3am every night for a week’s time. In everyday life, I’m a farm boy who’s up with the sun – this whole crashing just before dawn and waking up at noon is completely foreign to me. (You see what I did there?)

20 films in, I have also started to accumulate a list of the various BIFFF traditions that hold sway with every new cinematic unspooling. The festival crowd’s robust energy is intoxicating and contagious, their fervent passion usually elevating the viewing experience tenfold. However, for those like myself who are not really fans of “audience participation cinema,” this can take some getting used to. But if you can’t beat ‘em, you gotta join ‘em, because you can’t fight this particular ocean.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

BIFFF Day #4 (Monday, 4/9)



Later start to Day 4, as the early slots were taken up with Dutch and French language screenings of The Lorax (which I had little to no interest in seeing, even in my native tongue) plus we were slated to partake in Barbara Steele’s press conference at 2pm. I’d say that the conference itself went pretty smoothly, and since I’d situated myself down front and center, I got to make sweet, sweet goo-goo eyes with the Queen of Gothic Horror for the better part of an hour. The lone American voice amidst a sea of French and Dutch-accented reporters, I think we had a little connection there (wishful thinking perhaps, but hey, you weren’t there, you don’t know!) I got her to pose for a quick snapshot with me afterwards, and then got out of there before things got ugly. I say this because you could tell that the Reele Steele was growing tired of dealing with the rabble, especially when they started pulling out DVD covers for her to sign and blog banners to hold up for pictures. Truth be told, it was pretty evident that she was DONE with us and wanted out of there even before the interview ended, so I can’t blame her for being annoyed when the press corps refused to pick up on the signals she was putting out. Ah well, the price of celebrity, I suppose. And not for the first time, I found myself hoping that I would be more gracious should I ever find myself in such an enviable situation.

BIFFF Day #3 (Sunday, 4/8)



Day #3 began with a bit of hometown pride, screening Brussels’ own Fabrice du Welz’s breakout horror feature, Calvaire, one I’ve been a fan of since first encountering it in 2006. I was excited to meet the writer/director, but this was not to be as he disappeared following his introduction to the film…and never returned. (Apparently, he’s in pre-production on his latest feature in Paris and needed to get back to work.) Even so, I was pretty bummed and spent the better part of an hour attempting to track down his contact info so I could chat with him at some future date. Ah well.

Continuing to make new friendships (including actress Naila Ma who stars in three of the CollecTIFFF features - a dozen or so of short films shot specifically to precede the evening features - and several CollecTIFFF directors) while strengthening existing ones. Before each screening, each press member must stop by the main booth to check in and pick up admission tickets from one of the lovely ladies on hand. (This is done to keep folks from gathering tix for an entire day’s screenings and passing them off to friends, I suppose.) The upside is that each new film is now bookended by an enjoyable gabfest at the press booth with a growing group of familiar faces. I think I’m still in the lead as far as those who’ve been present for nearly every screening – hoping to keep it that way.

Did I mention that there is a body painting booth where nearly naked men and topless women are getting all dolled up with brush and pen? Well, there is and there are.



Monday, April 9, 2012

BIFFF Day #2 (Saturday, 4/7)


Despite going to bed at around 3am the night before, I found myself awake at 8am Saturday morning, my mind cooking up questions to pose to my first solo interview efforts of the fest, that of Michael Sauter (co-writer of Sennentuntschi) and bad boy Frenchman Xavier Gens, who made big horror waves in 2007 with his contribution to the avalanche of French horror that emerged in the latter half of the decade, Frontier(s). Both were held in the previously mentioned "Jameson bus," both went quite well. Got a picture alongside Gens, as well as one of him holding up an issue of HorrorHound that I could send along to Nathan for posting on the HHW Facebook wall.

Then it was time for more movies and more chatting with my ever-growing social circle. In addition to my press room gal pals, I made the acquaintance of Sven Soetemans and Thierry Wybauw, two of the many contributors to HORROR 101 that I had never yet met face to face, as well as Gert’s friends Barbara, Nicolas and Sabrina. By the end of the night, our group had taken over a full half row of seats in the epic BIFFF screening room – yes, the despicable habit of “saving seats” is alive and well in Belgium and I’ll be playing by the whole “When in Brussels” rulebook while I’m here, I guess. Saturday was also the BIFFF zombie walk, so lots of undead drippings surrounded us throughout the day.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFFF) - Day #1 (Friday, 4/6)


My first day at the festival, hereafter to be referred as BIFFF, was a rewarding and enjoyable one. The night before, when Gert was off at the opening night ceremonies, I spent my first real solo time in the city, managing to navigate my way around the myriad of twisting, turning, inner-GPS defying streets.

Seriously, you know how when you’re out in the forest and you decide to go off-trail for a while and lose your way, but then stumble upon a field of psychedelic mushrooms, chow down on them, trip out for the rest of the day and after waking up in the middle of the night in a pile of your own sick, try to navigate your way back to the car in the dark but just keep passing what looks like the same pile of rocks over and over again? I mean, we’ve all been there, right? Right?

Fool's Views (4/2 – 4/5) (pre-BIFFF)


Can you smell it, my friends?

In the days preceding the 30th annual Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival’s kick-off, my good friend and unassuming host Gert Verbeeck served as tour guide – not only to the countless sights and tastes that Belgium’s capital has to offer (of which there are many), but also unveiling the treasures of his rare and storied videotape collection (of which there are even more). With the exception of a certain Rondo-nominated documentary, all of the following Views are courtesy of the man, the myth, the legend known around the IMDb horror boards as Vomitron_G – one whose generosity and good humor are seemingly boundless. Glad to be spending the next couple weeks by his side and under his roof.

So, before we unfurl the madness that is BIFFF, we’ll indulge in a mini filmfest known as G-VHS. Hope you like…

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!

HORROR:

Club, The (1994)
(1st viewing) d. Spencer, Brenton
During their high school prom, six diverse students and a lecherous teacher find themselves cast into a nightmare dream world where they are subjected to demonic mirth and menace in this relatively obscure ’90s offering. Screenwriter Robert C. Cooper weaves an engaging if not wholly original Breakfast Club meets Night of the Demons comedy/horror scenario, populated by Spencer’s not-bad cast (which includes a younger Rescue Me’s Andrea Roth and an older A Christmas Story’s Zack Ward) and veteran Brock Jolliffe’s intriguing array of special effects. Expectations for a flick of this sort to challenge one’s intellect are low; even so, a more satisfying narrative and conclusion would have been appreciated. As it stands, Cooper and Spencer don’t really offer more than a parade of flashy, forgettable visual set-pieces.



Haunted (1995) (1st viewing) d. Gilbert, Lewis
Aidan Quinn stars as a 1920s English college professor moonlighting as a charlatan-busting paranormal skeptic. Beckoned to allay the spectral fears of an aging country spinster, he finds himself embroiled in Kate Beckinsale’s bizarre incestuous family dynamic alongside his own troubled childhood memories. This is a handsomely mounted haunted house tale, with ample amounts of sexual tension and ghostly imagery to go around. It should be noted, however, Gilbert tips his hand a few too many times as to the true nature of the situation, such that the climactic reveal is foreshadowed approximately halfway through. To keep us distracted/occupied, there’s a healthy amount of sexy skin on display, although the majority of it appears to be courtesy of body doubles (whose faces are even seen at a couple points! Um, what’s the point, guys?). Not an unsung classic, but worth your while. Based on James Herbert’s novel.




Hunter's Blood (1986) (1st viewing) d. Hughes, Robert C.
Cut from the same “city folks vs. the vicious locals” cloth as Deliverance, Southern Comfort and Rituals (although using a much duller pair of shears), this schlocky violent survival yarn – based on Jere Cunningham’s novel – pits weekend warriors Timothy Bottoms, Clu Gulager and Ken Swofford against a nasty band of backwoods bad boys led by Billy Drago, Bruce Glover, Lee de Broux and, in his film debut, Billy Bob Thornton. Played exclusively for cheap thrills and gory gags (including a wow of a shotgun-meets-face splatter moment), Hughes’ flick doesn’t prompt the same Vietnam allegory discussions as its elder, wiser brethren, but still has its own sleazy, low-grade charm. Kim Delaney puts in an early film appearance as Bottoms’ blushing bride.



Rabid Grannies (1988) (1st viewing) d. Kervyn, Emmanuel
From the land of beer, chocolate and waffles comes this enthusiastically low-budget high thrills effort from Belgian writer/director Kervyn, whose whirling dervish cinematography and multicolored grue gags serve as the European counterpart to Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson’s early efforts. A bevy of greedy family members descend upon their aged aunts’ remote country estate to celebrate their birthday (and to stay in their good graces come inheritance time), with one branch of the family tree sending a mysterious box in his stead. Said gift contains an evil misty presence that transforms the old biddy duo into a pair of wrinkled, red, fanged and clawed demons who then proceed to messily devour and decimate their assembled obnoxious bloodline over the course of the evening. The over-the-top performances are matched by frenetic camerawork and gore geysers – in other words, it’s a Troma film (who eventually picked up the film for worldwide distribution) with an accent all its own.



Rejuvenator, The (1988) (1st viewing) d. Jones, Brian Thomas
Ably assisted by underrated ’80s makeup madman Ed French, director Jones and co-writer Simon Nuchtern revive the ol’ Wasp Woman plotline, as vain Hollywood actress Vivian Lanko’s attempts to harness the scientific engines to revive her aging looks. Her local mad doc and lover John MacKay seems to have tapped into the fountain of genetic youth via a serum distilled from human brain tissue; the downside is that the results are only temporary and each backslide is more horrifying than the last, with Lanko (earning major props by donning the extensive latex jobs herself) spiraling into a bloodthirsty hag-like existence, cracking skulls open like so many walnuts to get her fix. The simple formula – injection, followed by a few hours of flawless beauty until the serum wears off, then it’s monster time – works like a charm as long as you’re not expecting anything more than simpleminded splattery fun, which it delivers by the bucketful.



Screaming in High Heels: The Rise and Fall of the Scream Queen era (2011) (1st viewing) d. Collum, Jason Paul
The three most influential, successful and beloved actresses ever to bear the title of “scream queen,” Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer, are given their rightful due in this insightful, good natured documentary which examines the ladies’ distinctive charms and the circumstances surrounding their respective rise to cult stardom. Assembling a startling amount of video clips and interview footage, Cullom (aided immeasurably by Derrick Carey’s pitch perfect editing) celebrates the charming femmes alongside various players in the direct-to-video 80s boom (Fred Olen Ray, Jim Wynorski, etc), granting these artists some long overdue respect. Far from bimbos, the trio of top-popping thespians reveal themselves to be congenial, intelligent, well-spoken and self-aware women with no regrets about the legacy they’ve left behind. If you weren’t under their spell already, you will be come the final credits crawl.

2012 Totals to date: 121 films, 102 1st time views, 61 horror, 11 cinema

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fool's Views (3/19 – 4/1)



Bonjour, my friends,

I’ll warn you right at the start, this is a healthy batch of flickers, assembly for the most part in preparation for (or viewed at) the 2012 HorrorHound Weekend held in Columbus, OH, March 23-25. Knowing I had Q&A panels with Stuart Gordon, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Barbara Crampton, Tippi Hedren, Julie Adams, the cast of the 1985 Day of the Dead, as well as the aforementioned Pam Grier, I knew I had work to do. Truth be told, I didn’t get to see near as many as I planned to, but I think I did more than passable work in my role as moderator. I also got to view four of the five features screened there (Monster Brawl had to take a rain check in favor of a late night diner meal with my IMDb horror board pals), followed by an array of CPL (Chicago Public Library) rentals prior to zipping off to Oshkosh for the world premiere of Dead Weight.

Warning #2: I am writing this on the eve of the Opening Night of the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFFF), where I am currently shacked up with fellow fiend Gert Verbeeck and preparing to view anywhere from four to seven flicks EVERY SINGLE DAY for the next 14 days, as well as interview several of the filmmakers. It’s like the October Challenge, only on the big screen and with a lot more beer, chocolate and waffles. Thus, it was imperative that I wrap up the past two weeks’ Views and clear the slate. Shite is about to get very, very real…maybe even surreal. Hope you dig the upcoming ride as much as I expect to.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!

HORROR:
Birds, The (1963)
(5th viewing) d. Hitchcock, Alfred
Following Tippi Hedren’s appearance at HHW (and discovering that my lovely femalien had never seen the former starlet’s most famous film), it was pretty much a no-brainer to program this classic, groundbreaking “nature strikes back” epic. Once again, we what separates the Master of Suspense from the rest of the clubhouse – instead of a standard programmer about flocks of killer birds, Hitch spends the first hour developing Hedren and Rod Taylor’s engaging characters, as well as the impressive supporting cast, with only a single aviary attack toward the peak of said hour. When the unrelenting feathered mayhem finally explodes, we are deeply invested in the fate of the residents of Bodega Bay, the tension accented by the extraordinary visual effects and the lack of any background musical score. Another magic trick is while we never learn what sparks our winged friends’ rebellion, this proves more ominous than frustrating, more chilling than cop-out. An undeniable high point in the annals of eco-horror.



Black Roses (1988) (1st viewing) d. Fasano, John
One of a slew of ’80s rock n’ roll/horror features released in the latter half of the decade (none of which particularly lucrative, artistically or financially speaking), but there’s enough goofy charm and insane wardrobe choices to keep kitsch-loving viewers occupied. When the titular “bad boy” band rolls into the sleepy town of Mill Basin to launch their new album, the kids rally against their stodgy elders in support of their sonic messiahs, inadvertently falling under the group’s dark spell. Before long, the little burg’s youth are turning into hairsprayed, leather-clad, sex-obsessed murder machines, offing their parents and authority figures with wild abandon. Oddly enough, the reason this fell off the “I’ll get that sometime” shelf into the player was that it represents one of Creature from the Black Lagoon star Julie (Julia) Adams’ very few other genre credits (even though she only briefly appears at the beginning as one of the teen’s moms and then disappears for the rest of the film) and I wanted to be able to ask her about it. There’s some fun monster action, horrible pop rock tunes masquerading as heavy metal, the occasional glimmer of no-name female nudity, and a smattering of cheesy gory goodness. It’s not good, per se, but it ain’t boring.



Dolls (1987) (2nd viewing) d. Gordon, Stuart
“They Walk. They Talk. They Kill.” Re-Animator whiz Stuart Gordon’s second feature shot for Full Moon (though released after From Beyond) was this dark fairy tale of murderous children’s playthings combined with the “motley crew of rain-drenched travelers taking refuge in old dark house” horror staple. While her parents (Carolyn Purdy-Jones, Ian Patrick Williams) are portrayed as over-the-top unfeeling monsters, little Carrie Lorraine provides one of the more sympathetic turns as the plucky youngster who appeals to the kindly, mysterious dollmakers (Guy Rolfe and Hillary Mason) who reside therein. Lorraine witnesses the dolls’ graphically depicted homicidal tendencies towards the other guests but of course, being a child, no one will believe her. The admirable doll effects, brought to life via a mixture of puppetry and Dave Allen’s stop-motion animation, yield some excellent scenes of suspense and mayhem, and the broad ensemble performances balance the comedy/horror scales out nicely. Not a huge financial success, but uber-producer Charles Band would revisit the theme time and again via Puppet Master, Demonic Toys, Dollman and their prolific sequels and team-ups.



Kill List (2011) (1st viewing) d. Wheatley, Ben
A wild little Brit flick, one that takes one of the more extraordinary third-act left turns in recent memory – even though the actions are more or less justified, you’ll never see it coming. Needing to pay the bills, hit man Neil Maskell comes out of his shell-shocked semi-retirement for a new assignment that proves to be a dark Pandora’s box that threatens to consume him completely. The viewer is immediately drawn into Maskell’s plight and presenting the assassin as a regular family guy with everyday problems (paying the rent, arguing with the wife, picking up their kid from school) allows us to connect with our protagonist in spite of the thick accents and frequent emotional outbursts. The doughy-faced actor is not a typical badass, which is why when his violent side explodes to the surface – which it does in several vivid blood-soaked sequences – it proves doubly shocking. While the WTF factor of the last reel may alienate some, director/co-writer Wheatley has earned our respect to that point and there’s no denying its bold narrative gutpunch. Recommended.




KRYPTIC ARMY APRIL MISSION – LET THERE BE “BLOOD”

Blood Bath (1966)
(1st viewing) d. Hill, Jack/Rothman, Stephanie
Like several other Corman quickies, the story behind this b/w flick is more interesting than the muddled one that unfolds before us. Apparently writer/director Hill was fired by exec producer Roger Corman midway through the shoot, whereupon Rothman took over. (It’s not readily apparent who shot which parts, especially since footage from a Yugoslavian film, Portrait in Terror, was also employed.) William Campbell stars as a tortured artist who believes himself to be a vampire, so much so that he runs around murdering young lasses to appease this fantasy. On the other hand, the question is whether it really is a fantasy, since we see him fang out on several occasions. On the other other hand, the question is who really cares? The whole thing only takes an hour, but I’ll be darned if I didn’t keep nodding off and having to rewind. I’m not sure if the Netflix streaming print is wonky or what, but the opening couple reels are shot in this weird jerky style that is surprisingly atmospheric at times. There’s a pretty nifty swimming pool attack, you get to see Jack Nicholson’s ex-wife Sandra Knight as the pretty young damsel in distress, Little Shop of Horrors’ Jonathan Haze, and a youngish Sid Haig (with hair). Other than that, it’s pretty slim pickings.



Blood River (2009) (1st viewing) d. Mason, Adam
I was one of the few who genuinely appreciated Mason’s 2006 two-hander Broken, as it managed to pull off the difficult task of “torture porn with a point.” I’d been curious what he’d been up to, but in looking at his filmography, I’m the one who’s been slacking, as he’s cranked out four films since then with a fifth in post-production as we speak. Again employing a small ensemble, Blood River starts off on a very promising path: a husband and wife (Ian Duncan, Tess Panzer) traveling across the southwest encounter Andrew Howard’s mysterious charismatic drifter en route. But what seems to be a simple cautionary tale about not talking to strangers evolves into something far more mystical and/or metaphysical – it’s just too bad that Mason and co-screenwriter Simon Boyes aren’t willing to be a little less obtuse in revealing just what the hell is going on. Truthfully, this probably should have been about 20 minutes shorter because it travels the same ground over and over, with characters hitting the same histrionic notes until they lose their potency, and when the big reveal is no reveal at all, the viewer can have two reactions: They can say, “oh, wow, man, I didn’t get it so it must be really deep, man…” or they can say, “Um, **** you, pal.” There’s no denying the strength of the performances (Howard is the poor man’s Michael Rooker, and that’s meant as a compliment), the terrific cinematography or the compelling nature of the first half of the film – Mason just needed to deliver more steak with all that sizzle.




HORRORHOUND COLUMBUS 2012

Collapsed, The (2011)
(1st viewing) d. McConnell, Justin
A solid low-budget apocalyptic effort about a family’s struggle following a viral outbreak, their days spent competing with other trigger-happy survivors for the dwindling necessities of life. John Fantasia gives a solid central performance as the patriarch of the quartet, and McConnell makes the most of his atmospheric wooded settings. Goes a little off course in the climactic moments, but worthwhile overall.



Death Stop Holocaust (2009) (1st viewing) d. Russell, Justin
The debut feature from writer/director Russell, whose 80s slasher homage follow-up, The Sleeper, is currently making big waves in the festival and home video markets. The Ohio auteur is proving himself an adept purveyor of style, as he perfectly captures the 80s Italian vibe when they moved from giallos to full-on spaghetti slashers. Sadly, the giddy mozzarella energy peters out about a half hour in, leaving us with a rather standard, torture-centric “gritty” indie flick that goes on much longer than it should. (The weak performances from the non-professional cast prove especially grating when we’re expected to empathize with them.) Even so, there are glimpses of promise here – Russell’s animal-mask wearing antagonists are memorable, and the sloppy gore scenes often impress. I’ll chalk this up in the “loss” column for now, but I’d keep my eye on this guy – I think we’ll be hearing good things about him down the road.




Nailbiter (2012)
(1st viewing) d. Rea, Patrick
A family of women (mother and three daughters) is forced to take refuge in a storm cellar as a wicked tornado descends; they survive the natural disaster from above, but find themselves trapped below with a mysterious, bloodthirsty something. Sadly, this terrific high-concept premise well-served by excellent production design and cinematography is undone by illogic run wild and characters that run out of juice and thesping skill about halfway through. Deserved props to co-writers Rea and Kendal Sinn for the twist on the old lycanthrope full-moon mythos, but it would have been nice for him to flesh it out a bit more. (The group I saw it with seemed to be left with a sense of, “now, what exactly happened?”)



Rage (2010) (1st viewing) d. Witherspoon, Chris
When philandering novelist Rick Crawford snatches the parking spot of a masked motorcyclist, it sparks an ever-escalating asphalt-based jousting match. Writer/director/editor/cinematographer/co-star Witherspoon whips up a pretty terrific riff on Steven Spielberg’s Duel, but sabotages himself, first by having a minor character literally reference the film out loud (come ON, Chris) and then taking the show off the road for a home invasion/rape sequence that feels needlessly cruel as well as gratuitous. Even so, I’ll be happy to see what future tricks Witherspoon has up his sleeve, as he clearly knows how to navigate the high tension ropes.



REPENT! THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH…

Dead Weight (2012)
(2nd and 3rd viewings) d. Pata, John/Bartlett, Adam
While my opinion on this Wisconsin-lensed feature can hardly be called objective (I play one of the main supporting characters), I still recommend it wholeheartedly, especially to young filmmakers feeling trapped by monetary restrictions. Pata, Bartlett and Co. have fashioned an ambitious low-budget epic that covers similar “apocalyptic survivor” terrain as Stake Land or The Road, interspersed with a Memento-like flashback narrative that propels viewers into the former life of primary protagonist Joe Belknap. More dark character study with horror flourishes than full-on fright flick, there’s still more than enough menace and bloodshed to satisfy the discerning genre fan. Coming soon to a festival site near you, or you can pick up the DVD (complete with feature-length making-of documentary 685 Miles to Wausau and tons of extras) at http://www.carryingdeadweight.com



World, the Flesh and the Devil, The (1959) (1st viewing) d. MacDougall, Ranald
Harry Belafonte stars as a mine worker who, thanks to a freak cave-in, is spared the fate of an atomic holocaust that wipes out 99.9% of the world’s population. When he finally emerges, he sets up camp in Manhattan, avoiding madness through industry, but of course things get more complicated when he discovers comely 20-year-old Inger Stevens; even more so once lascivious sailor Mel Ferrer sails into port. Unfortunately, in spite of the effective use of deserted metropolitan locations, Harold J. Marzorati’s stark black and white cinematography, Miklos Rosza’s evocative music score and the trio’s capable performances, the film (based on M.P. Sheil’s novel) lacks a much-needed dramatic urgency while the melodramatic love triangle rings particularly pulpy. (Roger Corman and screenwriter Robert Towne cribbed the basic plotline for their 1960 quickie The Last Woman on Earth at a fraction of the price.)



CIVILIAN:


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Yates, David
The missing piece in the Potter puzzle proves to be a generally satisfying one. I’ve still not read any of the Rowling books save the first, but according to reliable sources, this is a superb adaptation of the first half of the series’ ultimate installment. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen firsthand, but as a standalone film, it does the trick. (See what I did there?)




Observe and Report (2009) (1st viewing) d. Hill, Jody
After fawning over Anna Faris in The House Bunny last week, I was eager to seek out more of the underappreciated, underused comedienne’s work. While Foot Fist Way writer/director Hill’s absurdist black comedy is more a vehicle for Seth Rogen’s bipolar mall cop, Faris has a choice supporting role as an odiously self-obsessed party girl working the department store makeup counter. Naturally, Rogen harbors a mad crush and sets out to win her heart by capturing the local raincoat-wearing flasher. Overall, this is violent, dark and twisted fare; probably why it underperformed while Paul Blart: Mall Cop made millions.



PAM GRIER FESTIVAL, PART DEUX
HORROR:

Class of 1999 (1990)
(1st viewing) d. Lester, Mark L.
In the future, kids are even worse than they were in Lester’s cult classic Class of 1984. Answer? Bust out the android high school teachers (played by John P. Ryan, Pam Grier and Darren E. Burrows) to teach those lousy punks a lesson. Even though we’re supposed to relate to the youth gone wild (led by Bradley Gregg), there’s no doubt that the pleasures come from watching the ‘bots pound, crush, blast and explode the little adolescent bodies into bloody fleshbags via some darn impressive physical f/x. Super cheesy, super fun.



Ghosts of Mars (2001) (2nd viewing) d. Carpenter, John
On a second viewing, I’m convinced that if it had been made for a couple hundred thousand dollars by a no-name director and a hungry bunch of third-string actors trying to out-schlock each other, this could have been a hugely enjoyable cheese-fest. Instead, the Artist Formerly Known as John Carpenter directs everything way too seriously at an underwater pace, delivering not one ounce of tension, humor or fear in this futuristic spin on his own Assault on Precinct 13. The most enjoyable element is Grier (looking smokin’ hot in a black leather duster) but she bites the dust after the first half hour, leaving us with the comedy team of Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Clea Duvall and a fuzzy-headed Jason Statham. Fangoria editor Chris Alexander loves this film. Then again, he also put Nicolas Cage on the cover of the January issue, so there you go.




CIVILIAN:
Coffy (1973)
(2nd viewing) d. Hill, Jack
Pam exploded onto the blaxploitation scene (after serving time in the Philippines with Roger Corman’s “women in cages” movies) as a nurse out for vengeance against the drug-running lowlifes who poisoned her little sis, as well as the black politicians selling out their brothers and sisters to the White Man with the Green. Hill, who directed Grier in Big Doll House and Big Bird Cage wrote the film with her in mind and it fits the star like any number of the snug outfits she wears throughout. You wanna start with this one.




Fort Apache the Bronx (1981) (1st viewing) d. Petrie, Daniel
Grier has a smaller role here as a homicidal, drugged-out, cop-killing hooker, but it represents her entrance into the bigger Hollywood world, being that this is a Paul Newman picture. She’s great, and the film (starring a who’s who of character actors, including Ken Wahl, Danny Aiello and Ed Asner as well as the supple charms of Rachel Ticotin) paints an effective, flawed and authentic-feeling portrait of the boys in the NYPD blue.


2012 Totals to date: 115 films, 96 1st time views, 55 horror, 11 cinema

Pam Grier movies: 9

BOOKS:
Foxy: My Life in Three Acts by Pam Grier