Sunday, August 5, 2012

Fantasia Day 17 (Saturday, August 4)

A full day of flickers in the large Concordia Hall, covering the gamut from bombastic Japanese space opera to bare bones torture efforts, with a nifty creature feature sandwiched in the middle. This latter title, Grabbers, will undoubtedly end up in my top 3 for the festival, perhaps even in the top slot, so enjoyably engaging it is.

Special guests included writer/director Boris Rodriguez and co-stars Dylan Smith and Alain Goulem from the Canadian crowd-pleaser, Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal

…and 90210 veteran AnnaLynne McCord, the star of Richard Bates, Jr.’s debut feature, Excision. Due to the level of celebrity surrounding Ms. McCord, I nearly didn’t make it into the screening, being sold out to the point of discomfort (by querulously enthusiastic fans) such that a couple dozen VIP pass holders were left waiting outside until the last paying seat had been filled.

We were finally granted entry, but they were the worst seats I’ve had during the festival, way off house left, turning the screen image into a textbook example of forced perspective. Similarly, I didn’t feel inclined to force my way through the madding crowd to get photos of the director and star, especially since my first response to the film was not an especially gracious one. (I warmed up to it slightly overnight.) Nevertheless, I’m sure AnnaLynne/Fantasia pics will appear somewhere, so don’t freak out, everyone. Google is your friend.

The evening wrapped up with the boys of Boneboys (directors Duane Graves and Justin Meeks, producers Ian Henkel, Bob Kuhn and Pat Cassidy), an in-your-face Texas Chainsaw homage that sent most viewers screaming for the exits come the credits roll.

I stuck around with main man Tony Timpone and snapped a few of the lads since, as you’ll read in a sec, I kinda liked what they were laying down.

Clicked over the 70+ film mark yesterday. Don’t think we’ll reach 100, but I’m okay with that. Truth be told, I’m feeling a little shagged out. This is by far the most movies I’ve ever seen on the big screen in one concentrated burst. Unlike the October Movie Challenge, where you can pause the films, take breaks, get food, etc., here it’s pretty much nonstop – you’re either standing/sitting waiting for the film to start, watching the film in question, or dragging ass home to start all over again. Heck of a ride, ladies and gents, heck of a ride…

Space Battleship Yamato (2010) (1st viewing) d. Yamazaki, Takashi (Japan)

Overblown, overlong space melodrama about a race of aliens raining down radioactive meteorites on the poor ol’ Earth, prompting a voyage to the far end of the universe where another alien race offers assistance…if we can reach them in time. Great looking scenes and a high energy sense of kiddie fun, but no amount of whizbang effects could support the bloated mess that is Yamato. Sentimental mo-mo’s amidst two-dimensional characters abound, and we just…don’t…care. With a surer editing hand and a whole lot of tender loving squeezing (runtime-wise), this could have been a fun ride instead of the exhausting enterprise (get it?) that it is. Completed in pre-tsunami 2010, which leads one to wonder if the radiation-centric “poisoned earth” storyline led to its being temporarily shelved for sensitivity’s sake.

Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal (2012) (1st viewing) d. Rodriguez, Boris (Canada/Denmark)

Stymied celebrity artist Thure Lindhardt accepts a post as an instructor in a Canadian arts college in order to escape and recharge, where he finds himself the caretaker of the titular mentally challenged man-child with socially questionable eating/sleeping habits (Dylan Smith). Writer/director Rodriguez manages a solid end-run around the zombie mythos by presenting a cognizant, emotionally accessible antagonist who just happens to do terrible things in an unconscious state; to further stir the pot, fish-out-of-water Lindhardt finds artistic inspiration from Eddie’s horrible deeds, actually going so far as to guide the drooling somnambulist’s hand/mouth to victims of choice. An original, amusing character-based horror/comedy, filled with gory gags and splattery sentiment.

Grabbers (2011) (1st viewing) d. Wright, Jon (Ireland/UK)

Finally, an intelligent, well-executed CGI creature feature that earns worthy comparisons to Tremors, ably folding comedy into the monster mix without descending into campiness or bargain basement SyFy f/x. Hard drinking small town cop Richard Coyle is teamed with perky, by-the-book Ruth Bradley when his superior goes on holiday, a strained odd couple dynamic that only gathers steam after a school of massacred pilot whales wash ashore and a few residents go missing…incidents seemingly connected with a recent meteorite splash in the local loch. Screenwriter Kevin Lehane so effectively concocts his Irish island community – filled with colorful characters leveling witty, lived-in barbs at one another – viewers are thoroughly invested by the time the tentacled terrors from below show up, imbuing the fanciful premise with emotional stakes. The Paul Catlin-designed beasties are a fearsome lot, writhing, tangled masses radiating from a toothy maw (although in hatchling state, they’re actually quite cute, evidenced in a pub scene that evokes Gremlins in tone and hijinks), while the prospective human snacks’ counter-tactics are sly, inspired winks at the inebriated Irish archetype. Highly recommended.

Excision (2012) (1st viewing) d. Bates, Jr., Richard (USA)

Writer/director Bates’ feature debut, based on his original short, is a fascinating mixed bag; a film as willfully weird, unique and occasionally tiresome as its lead character, (AnnaLynne McCord, impressively outside her 90210 comfort zone). Much in the same way that McCord’s eccentric, abrasive adolescent acts out against authority figures and social standards, Bates’s cinematic beast may keep some viewers at arm’s length – I found myself observing without empathizing, critiquing without engaging, more distracted by the stunt casting than impressed. (Seriously, what are Malcolm McDowell, John Waters, Ray Wise and Marlee Matlin doing in this movie other than calling attention to their overqualified presence?) On the other hand, Traci Lords is terrifyingly good as the image-conscious matriarch, inviting favorable comparisons with Annette Bening’s Oscar-nominated turn in American Beauty; she is well-matched by beaten-down Roger Bart’s vanquished spouse. Genre fans take note: the horror elements exist tangentially, via several well-realized fantasy sequences in which beetle-browed McCord envisions herself as a goddess-like sensualist, bathing in pools of blood and the like – this is primarily a quirky character study a la Juno or Napoleon Dynamite that finds its way into May territory in the closing reel. Undeniably assured filmmaking, entertainment mileage may vary.

Boneboys (2012) (1st viewing) d. Graves, Duane / Meeks, Justin (USA)

Ferociously committed flick which comes close to recapturing the breakneck pace, nightmare imagery and go-for-broke sensory assault of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a film it clearly emulates throughout its depiction of a group of thrillseeking youngsters menaced over the course of a night by a hostile band of leather jacket-wearing ’50s greaser thugs. This is not to say that it possesses the same instinctive strands of genius as Tobe Hooper’s modern horror masterpiece, or that the frantic juggernaut pace and violence don’t feel a more than a little manufactured at times. But with Kim Henkel (screenwriter of the 1974 film) back in the saddle as writer/producer and good ol’ boy directing team of Graves and Meeks (Wild Man of the Navidad) fearlessly doling out the shocks, there’s a lot to admire in terms of honesty and homage, especially with the sound cranked up and images looming large. Brutal, dark and relentless, at once epic and claustrophobic, one does wish perhaps the artists had not hewn so closely to their inspirations – the “dinner scene” feels a little too on the nose and the endless parade of TCM alumni (Marilyn Burns, Ed Neal, Teri McMinn, John Dugan, Bill Johnson, etc.) prove more distracting than entertaining. (Likewise, the stream of banal profanity spewed by our bonkers band also proves ineffective; one wishes Henkel would have cut the b-words and c-words by 200%.) A movie destined to divide audiences, but one whose enthusiasm registered loud and clear within this horror heart.

2012 Totals to date: 368 films, 319 1st time views, 205 horror, 141 cinema

Fantasia Totals: 72 films, 68 1st time views, 36 horror, 63 cinema

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