Sunday, November 12, 2017

CINEPOCALYSE Film Festival 2017 wrap-up!!!

It was never my intention to dive back into the movie watching fray with such gusto following the madness that was the October Horror Movie Challenge and Scare-A-Thon 2017. Not because I watched so many titles (the final total of 31 was the bare minimum; in years past, I’ve watched over 100), but because it was a jam-packed month what with First Folio’s The Man-Beast and doing full-length DVD/Blu-ray reviews at the same time that I was holding down my personal training practice. In short, it was a full plate, and I was looking forward to chilling out come November. But all that changed with an email from our very own Music Box Theatre, informing us that Cinepocalypse was upon us!

Now, I’d been hearing the rumblings of this event, a genre film festival in its first year at my favorite screening room in town, for a while. But because I was more than a little distracted, I hadn’t really paid much attention and the fact that it was a “new iteration of the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival” did nothing to stir my loins. (I had pointedly ignored the previous three installments because Bruce is going to be waiting a long, long time before I give him another dime. Love some of his movies, not so much the man himself. Buy me a veggie burger sometime and I’ll tell you a few tales.)

This Friggin' Guy

However, the Great Chin was nowhere to be seen this time around, but head programmer and Awesome Fest artistic director Josh Goldbloom was. Goldbloom is the guy who had assembled the slates for previous BCHFF installments, which included such cult hits as WolfCop, Starry Eyes, Meet Me There, Zombeavers, He Never Died, Dead Snow 2, Found Footage 3D, Here Alone, and Don’t Breathe. This guy, I felt I could put my faith in.

Instead of relying on Campbell’s “name” to draw the crowds, the focus this time was on the films and the filmmakers, which pleased me to no end. With tributes to independent maverick Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, Q: The Winged Serpent), Eric Roberts (Runaway Train, Best of the Best), and Antonio Fargas (Foxy Brown, Starsky and Hutch), and with special guests Jessica Harper (Phantom of the Paradise, Suspiria), Simon Barrett (V/H/S, You’re Next), Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Gary Sherman (Death Line, Vice Squad), and Joe Carnahan (Narc, The Grey) in attendance, there was plenty of marquee value on display.

Applecart (2017)

Meanwhile, the onscreen roster included new releases from Paco Plaza ([REC]), Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Midnight Meat Train), Can Evrenol (Baskin), Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here), and Mickey Keating (Pod, Carnage Park). The event was running a full week, Friday, Nov 3 – Thursday, Nov 9, with over 60 shorts and features screening. In short, after doing a bit of research, I was ready and raring to stuff my cinematic maw once again.

Dead Shack (2017)

Unfortunately, due to my own weekend theatrical obligations, I was unable to indulge in the Cinepocalypse experience until Monday, which meant that I missed a goodly amount of prime attractions over the weekend, both in terms of celebrities and featured films. However, I still had four full days and I was going to make the most of them. Things kicked off with the Canadian comedy/horror effort Dead Shack (preceded by James Moran’s enjoyably dark comic short, Blood Shack). I had a few issues (full review here), but overall I dug it. Then the crowds started rolling in for what was to be one of the best-attended screenings of the festival: the Chicago premiere of the recently unearthed uncut 35mm print of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (review here)

Following the film and a Q&A with star Jessica Harper (charming and self-effacing as ever), I shared the co-pilot seat with blood brother Jon Kitley for Veronica, a rock-solid “dark spirits from beyond” thriller from Paco Plaza (following Chris McInroy’s hilarious short, We Summoned a Demon). (full review here)

Speaking of shorts, playing in the smaller theater at the same time as Veronica were the official short films in competition, which included award winners What Metal Girls Are Into and Your Date is Here, as well as recent Project Greenlight winner Danny Delpurgatorio’s latest, Third Wheel.

The evening wrapped up with probably my favorite offering of the festival, Cam Evrenol’s Housewife, which perfectly blended sex and splatter and synapse-bending WTF moments, all in a nice and tight 82-minute package. (Good thing too, because as we passed the midnight mark, I could feel myself losing steam in a hurry.)

Housewife (2017)

Tuesday was a bit of a game of hopscotch, balancing work and personal obligations with the screening schedule. As a result, I was not able to see the Midwest premiere of Trench 11 (a popular entry at the Toronto After Dark Festival) or sentimental fave (and Cinepocalypse jury chairperson) Barbara Crampton’s latest, Applecart. But I did make it to the Lovecraftian indie drama The Crescent (which will make you a fan of marbling art if nothing else) and Ted Geoghegan’s Native Americans vs. The White Man action flick Mohawk. (Packed with great action sequences and production value on what I assume was a minimal budget, I couldn't help but wonder how it might have played with a little less dialogue, a la Apocalypto, which it reminded me of in a favorable way).

And then there was the much-touted “Secret Screening” at midnight which – after a hardy-har-har prank of the opening scenes of Barney’s Great Adventure – turned out to be the shockingly so-so It Came from the Desert, a film which pretty much no one had heard of and that no one was excited to see, so it was a decidedly odd choice for a mystery movie. Generally, for a surprise slice of programming, one can expect a battered print of a long-lost classic or a completely unhinged midnight movie or some feature that has been generating buzz on the festival circuit to justify such build-up. Instead, ICftD is little more than a self-aware, smart-alecky, CGI-laden big-bug movie that would not be out of place on the SyFy Network, which is not intended as a compliment. Better luck next time, kids.

Wednesday was nostalgia day, as director and guest curator Joe Carnahan (Blood, Guts, Bullets, and Octane, which had screened the night before) hosted a slate of films that were both impressive in their variety and in stretching the boundaries of “genre” programming. First up was John Woo’s masterful big-bam-BOOOOOM Vietnam action drama, Bullet in the Head. On more than one occasion, I found myself saying aloud, “Everything is on fire. EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE.” I thought I had watched it before, but I was wrong and WOW is all I can say. It’s like someone took Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter and said, “Yeah, sure, but what if we added some martial arts and a lot more guns and a shitload more car chases? That would be better, right?” This was the 126 minute English-dubbed version (as opposed to the 136 min Hong Kong original), but it was still plenty entertaining and seeing it on film was pretty special.

Next up was Walter Hill’s (Southern Comfort, 48 Hours) Depression-era bare-knuckle boxing drama Hard Times, starring a never-better Charles Bronson and James Coburn respectively as a fighter and his smooth-talking manager. I had seen the picture a few years back at home (on VHS, no less) and thought it was fine, but seeing it on the big screen (via a brand new 4K restoration print) definitely took it to another level.

"AC, you big baby. Sleep when you're dead. Or undead."

I was pretty much running on fumes at that point, so I opted to skip out on the Finnish anti-superhero movie Rendel (though I hope to catch up with it at some point, because it looks pretty awesome), as well as the 35mm screenings of Foxy Brown, Near Dark, and Maximum Overdrive. (I’ve seen the former numerous times, most recently in prep to interview star Pam Grier a few years back at HorrorHound Weekend, and I saw the other two on the big screen during their theatrical releases back in the day because I’m, you know, old.) Sleep was a necessity at this point for me; I knew that the second the lights went down, I would have been O-U-T.

Jailbreak (2017)

Things wrapped up on Thursday with a quadruple feature, kicking off with the French/Austrian/Swiss smash from Fantasia, Animals (aka Tiere), a skilled and intelligent exercise in untrustworthy narrators and narratives. This was followed by the Cambodian martial arts extravaganza Jailbreak, presumably created for fans who thought that Gareth Evans’ The Raid was fantastic, but wished it had a little less plot. Jailbreak is nonstop fighting for nearly 90 minutes and fun as hell.

We headed into the final lap with a special screening of Keenen Ivory Wayan’s blaxploitation send-up, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, starring such luminaries as Jim Brown, Isaac Hayes, Bernie Casey, Clarence Williams III, Steve James, and John Vernon. I had seen it once before on home video, but watching it with an appreciative crowd made it a far more rewarding experience. Then it was time to honor Antonio Fargas with a Lifetime Achievement Award, the second of the fest (the first given to Larry Cohen on Saturday), who took the stage following the screening and proved himself to be a man of big dreams, generous heart, and words aplenty. Like, lots and lots of words. Too many, perhaps. Not to say he hasn’t earned the right to take as much time as he wants and he is a sweet, sweet man... but... that was some serious ramblin’.

Things wrapped up with the closing night film, Beyond Skyline, which is, yes, a kinda-sorta sequel to the 2010 critical car crash that was Skyline. Now, programmer Josh Goldbloom told the audience flat out that he booked this before he’d even seen it, just based on the trailer, but that when he finally got to see it, he couldn’t have been more happy. I’m not quite sure what to say in response, because in spite of the presence of everyone’s favorite modern-day tough guy Frank Grillo (Warrior, The Purge: Anarchy), this was nothing more than a slick alien invasion movie that felt like something we’d all seen before.

Full disclosure: I’ll confess to being more than a little annoyed and decided to break my cardinal rule of leaving a movie early, about an hour or so in. In my defense, it was late, I was tired, I knew there was snow on its way, I was on my bike, and there was no indication that things were going to be getting any better. Of course, as I later found out courtesy of Unrepentant Cinephile Jason Coffman, the second I walked out the door (just after Grillo and Co. get off the spaceship and land back on Earth), things picked up considerably, with the stars from The Raid - Iko Uwais and Yuyan Ruhian - showing up to drop-kick some alien ass. So, I suppose I'll be revisiting this (or at least the third act) when it hits VOD in a month or so, since it sounds like the final third is what makes it semi-worthwhile.

That said, like It Came from the Desert in the “Secret Screening” slot, I had to wonder why Josh  picked This Film to be his Closing Night Film, because this was not what I would have expected from a programming team that also included Nerdist’s Scott Weinberg, Ain’t It Cool News’ Steve Prokopy, and Bloody-Disgusting’s Brad Miska.

Again, I didn't see the movie in its entirety, but I still feel like there had to be better flicks out there, ones that audiences were genuinely enthusiastic about seeing, as opposed to one that was average at best. It's hard to imagine people being excited about reporting that they saw Beyond Skyline here first. For my money, a closing night film should inherently come with bragging rights.

Lowlife (2017)

Still, this was an inaugural year, a building year, and I was very impressed with how many things went right in spite of the minor quibbles I’ve mentioned above. I was sad not to have been on hand for the screenings of the Larry Cohen documentary King Cohen or seeing Eric Roberts sitting down with the guys who run the “Eric Roberts is the Fucking Man” podcast. I was likewise bummed not to have been able to catch the U.S. premiere of Ryan Prows’ Lowlife, which swept the festival’s awards, as well as a variety of other flicks that screened at inconvenient times. As mentioned above, there were 60+ films (including shorts) and I only saw 15 of them, which should give readers an idea of the scope of the fest. (Still hoping to get a few online screeners, but we shall see.) I am absolutely looking forward to next year, and marking out the calendar so as to be able to appreciate it fully.

Cinepocalypse is sponsored by, The AV Club, IFC Midnight, and The Music Box Theatre, with special thanks to Ryan Oestreich of the Music Box for his generosity, assistance, and enthusiasm throughout. Until next year!

Full Line-up of New Films (with links to trailers)

Sweet Virginia


The Terror of Hallows Eve

The Lodgers

Tragedy Girls

Get My Gun

Primal Rage

Dead Shack

Attack of the Adult Babies



King Cohen




Get Even

Poor Agnes



The Crescent


Sequence Break



Trench 11




It Came from the Desert


Animals (Tiere)

Beyond Skyline


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