Saturday, July 28, 2012

Fantasia Day 9 (Friday, July 27)

After a slow movie day on Thursday, we stepped it up a notch, taking in six features in addition to an extended interview with the team behind the sterling documentary, My Amityville Horror.

Producer Andrea Adams and writer/director/producer Eric Walter were joined in conversation by special guest Susan Bartell (a therapist who ends up playing a major supporting part in the film) to discuss their exploration of the reputed haunting’s effects on Daniel Lutz, who was 10 years old during the much-discussed/debated haunting.

Rather than focusing on what might have happened in the infamous New York abode, Walter turns his eye to what unequivocally did happen: a young boy’s life was forever altered, a shadow eternally cast over his identity. This examination of what occurs when an event obscures an individual, when Lutz became “the Amityville boy” instead of “Danny,” is as compelling as any poltergeist or red-eyed pig creature.

Then gears shifted, as they are wont to do, for the world premiere (our third of the day, behind Amityville and Buddy Giovinazzo’s latest, A Night of Nightmares) of Play Dead, a concert-film recording of co-writer and director Teller’s (of Penn and Teller) smash stage production.

The legendary silent comedian/magician – live, in person and talking – was joined by co-writer/star Todd Robbins and film director Shade Rupe for a lively post-show Q&A. With sideshow veteran Robbins eating lightbulbs...

and a stunt that involved Teller swallowing 40-odd needles (apple used as pincushion) and a piece of string, then pulling from his mouth a string with 40-odd needles tied to it (sorry I couldn't get a decent pic of the final result)...

...their informative chat will likely stand as the most memorable Q&A session of Fantasia 2012.

On to the Views!!

Doomsday Book (2012) (1st viewing) d. Kim, Jee-woon / Yim, Pil-sung (South Korea)

Most anthology films announce themselves through a wraparound story of some sort, however flimsy or contrived, and are the work of how many ever directors there are stories. But this South Korean horror-sci-fi effort colors outside the established lines, with no connective narrative tissue and two of its three segments directed by a single individual (Pil-sung Yim) with Jee-woon Kim holding down the center slot. These minor breaks with convention are in service of three tales about the way the world ends, and the means by which humanity seems bent on handling the job itself. Yim’s bookending pieces are steeped in exaggerated black comedy, opening with a zombie epidemic brought about through poisoned beef and closing with a giant asteroid hurtling toward Earth – the latter the product of an online purchase gone horribly wrong. More serious in tone is Kim’s tale, depicting a humanoid robot stationed in a Buddhist temple that appears to be the incarnation of Buddha himself, and the fear this notion installs in its human creators. The switches in tone are a little unsettling, but all provide ample food for thought, holding their respective mirrors up to a world set on its extinction.

Sons of Norway (2011) (1st viewing) d. Lien, Jens (Norway)

This disarming and compelling Norwegian slice-of-life drama has at its core a pair of dazzling performances – Asmund Hoeg as a pint-sized adolescent discovering the rules of rebellion (fueled by the UK punk rock movement of the early 80s), and Sven Nordin’s iconoclast hippie father who challenges then supports his son’s interests and beliefs. Via safety pins shoved through cheeks, snarling jam sessions, and a hilarious nudist camp sequence, individuality is celebrated and the status quo knocked with warmth and intelligence. Working from Nikolaj Frobenius’ adaptation of his autobiographical novel Theory and Practice, director Lien finds our hearts with the lightest of touches.

Night of Nightmares, A (2012) (1st viewing) d. Giovinazzo, Buddy (USA)

Infamous for his raw and jagged examinations of the human condition (Combat Shock, No Way Home), Giovinazzo turns his hand to the supernatural for the first time. Fringe music video blogger Marc Senter seeks out a new voice on the SoCal music scene, the exotic Elissa Dowling, who invites him to her remote desert cabin for an interview. As night falls, ghosts – both literal and figurative – of lives gone by make their presence known…and they don’t seem too friendly. Like many of the New York filmmaker’s efforts, the mixed bag of awkward dialogue and/or performances are redeemed slightly by the occasional arresting visual and/or concept. Like its pedestrian title, there’s not much here you haven’t seen before but there’s no denying Giovinazzo’s skill as a conjurer of memorable moments – even if they don’t always add up to a satisfying whole.

My Amityville Horror (2012) (1st viewing) d. Walter, Eric (USA)

An extraordinary work of investigative vision and grounded restraint, documentarian Walter casts an unflinching yet empathetic gaze upon the most sensational American haunting of the 20th century, but through a lens of humanity that elevates it above its ghost-chasing brethren. Daniel Lutz was 10 years old during the events depicted in Jay Anson’s haunted house bestseller (and the subsequent 1979 film starring Margot Kidder and James Brolin) – the effects of that experience have trailed after, shaping a guarded, angry individual wounded not only by the trauma of his time spent on 112 Ocean Avenue, but also 35 subsequent years of doubt and skepticism directed toward him by others. As the title indicates, this is Lutz’s story, and that personalization is key – the film is less concerned whether “authentic” malevolent supernatural forces were at work, but rather the fact that Lutz clearly believes (whether through experience or auto-suggestion) that there were. Aided immeasurably by Herman Witkam’s ominous musical score, Walter allows his subject to reveal himself layer by layer, through word and gesture, still coping with his identity as “the Amityville kid.” An insightful and balanced portrait less preoccupied with solving a ghost story and more with the emotional aftermath of a event that has defined an individual against his will.

Play Dead (2012) (1st viewing) d. Rupe, Shade / Teller (USA)

Originating as an off-Broadway production, this superb interactive theatrical mélange of murderous tales and ghoulish sleight of hand keeps audiences giggling even as the hairs rise on the backs of their necks. Todd Robbins is our master of ceremonies in this recorded concert-film version of the show, oozing malevolent charm as he guides us through a half dozen tales of serial killers and macabre practitioners, pulling the occasional unwitting individual from the crowd to assist him. Co-written and directed by Teller (of Penn and Teller), then captured on film by Shade Rupe, this is a fun night of fright.

Inbred (2011) (1st viewing) d. Chandron, Alex (UK)

A community service outing for juvenile delinquents takes a motley urban band into the back fields of jolly olde England, where they are soon set upon by an uglier, motleyer band of locals armed with chainsaws and sharp implements. Pure and simple high energy gory glory, unfettered by pretentions or underlying social commentary, Chandron and his able band of cohorts have nothing on their mind but showering his assembled ensemble with as much of the red stuff in the most mind-shattering, lunch-buckling cinematic manner possible. Mission accomplished, good sir. A ribald and raucous bit of good-natured foulness, gleefully reprehensible with no redeeming social value whatsoever. Gorehounds, rejoice!

2012 Totals to date: 335 films, 288 1st time views, 187 horror, 114 cinema
Fantasia Totals: 39 films, 37 1st time views, 19 horror, 36 cinema


  1. I hadn't heard of it until this very moment, but this longtime Penn & Teller fan really wants to see Play Dead now.

    1. Well, be advised, he never actually makes an appearance in the film or on stage. It's pretty much a Robbins one man show with audience participation. Still, pretty cool.