Saturday, June 29, 2019

CINEPOCALYPSE 2019 RECAP!!! (Part 1 of 4)

Following its successful maiden voyage in November 2017, Cinepocalypse (formerly the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival) made a shift to a summer time slot the following year. Due to pre-existing obligations, I was unable to attend any of the 2018 festivities (with the exception of popping in for the final reel of GAGS), but this year the Doc’s slate was free and clear; as such, we were able to partake in nearly all the feature film offerings, including numerous world premieres (Glenn Danzig’s Verotika, Lucky McKee’s Kindred Spirits, Deadcon, The Swerve, Attack of the Demons, and the Chicago-set slasher The Lurker), special retro screenings (Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, Total Recall, Flatliners, Tammy and the T-Rex (in its never-screened before R-rated "Gore Cut"), Hot Dog...The Movie, and Airheads), and oodles of special guests, including GWAR, Joe Bob Briggs, Michael Lehman, and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Michael Ironside (Scanners, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, Top Gun).

It was an incredible week of Cinemania, one that featured numerous unforgettable moments between the armrests, and our deepest appreciation goes out to artistic director Josh Goldbloom, Music Box Theatre general manager and festival director Ryan Oestreich, and the sterling programming team of Brad Miska, Will Morris, Hugues Barbier, Steve Prokopy, and Katie Rife, the latter three of which traded off Q&A duties with Josh and Ryan.

Special notice should also go to stop-motion artiste Cressa Beer for the assorted Godzilla-themed “bumpers,” one of which preceded each feature: “Director’s Cut” (featuring a stop-motion Guillermo del Toro coaching The Big G and a robot co-star through their paces), “Baby Metal” (with Godzilla Jr. rockin’ out to some GWAR tunes), and, our personal fave, “The Godzilla Kid,” which manages to homage both kaiju flicks and spaghetti westerns, while our favorite King of the Monsters also claims the World’s Greatest Dad crown. Check out all three (plus Beer's other work) HERE:

Things kicked off Thursday, June 13, with the world premiere of horror film-turned-unintentional-comedy Verotika, with writer/director Glenn Danzig in attendance. I’ve documented the evening’s outcome in greater detail HERE, but suffice to say, it soon became the talk of the festival both among the attendees and online, the first of many magical moments to come.

The following day, Friday, the screenings got underway in earnest, with the terrific Mexican occult/possession offering Belzebuth (d. Emilio Portes, 2017) blazing a bold and bloody trail. Months after a border agent (Joaquin Cosio) loses a newborn infant (a thoroughly shocking opening sequence), he is drawn into a mysterious spate of murders involving young children that seem to be connected to a fanatical religious cult attempting to halt The Second Coming of Christ.

Veteran character actor Cosio (Quantum of Solace) commands the screen, with Tobin Bell (Saw) brilliantly underplaying his role as a mysterious zealot. The first act’s psychologically sinister goings-on are so compelling that it’s almost unfortunate when the gears shift into full-on demon flick, complete with glowing eyes and modulated voices; I say almost, because Portes (who co-wrote the script with Luis Carlos Fuentes) delivers the goods in this arena as well.

Writer/director Daniel de la Vega’s gorgeous throwback to 1940s murder mysteries, Punta Muerto (aka Dead End, 2018), was up next, spinning a deliciously twisted tale of a novelist whose latest literary effort involves a murder taking place inside a locked room. When a similar event occurs in real-life, it’s up to the scribbler to prove his innocence before the authorities haul him away.

Shot in gorgeous black-and-white (hats off to DP Alejandro Giuliani) with equally breathtaking production design by Cecilia Castro, it’s a masterful exercise in style and wit.

Then it was time for the evening’s main event, a 70mm screening of 1990’s Flatliners, directed by Joel Schumacher (who was also serving as the Jury President, but was unable to attend the festival in person due to personal matters). I probably hadn’t seen it since its original theatrical release, which was also the year that I moved to Chicago, so I was much more aware of the impressive use of the city’s locations this time around (even if they were a little confused as to the commute time from the city to the suburb of Bensenville).

I also marveled at Schumacher’s bold use of orange and blue-colored lighting gels throughout, and that the all-star cast of Keifer Sutherland, Julia Roberts (great hair), Kevin Bacon (great hair), William Baldwin, and Oliver Platt (wait, how did he get this gig?) who (with the exception of Baldwin) are all still working A-list actors 20 years later.

The terrific dark comedy Villains (2019), featuring Bill Skarsgard (IT) and Maika Monroe (It Follows) as an exuberant but inept pair of crooks having a very bad day following a clumsy gas station hold-up, was a very pleasant surprise from the writing/directing team of Dan Berk and Robert Olsen. Things only get weirder and wilder when they take refuge at the secluded abode of upper class couple Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice) and Kyra Sedgewick (The Closer), who prove to be even bigger nutjobs.

Berk and Olsen’s script gives everyone the opportunity to shine, with some impressively out-there plot twists, although the whimper of an ending is a bit of a head-scratcher considering the robust bloodletting that precedes it.

The evening concluded with dueling midnight screenings, that of Mope (which I had pre-emptively watched via online screener) and an all-too-rare hardtop presentation of John Fasano’s awesomely ridiculous Canadian heavy-metal horror offering, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (starring Jon-Mikl Thor). Although I was quite curious to see how director’s Lucas Heyne’s surprisingly funny and moving dramatization of the tragic true story of best friends and low-end porn actors Steve Driver (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) and Tom Dong (Kelly Sry) would play with a crowd...

Choices, choices....

I was equally eager to watch Thor bare his muscle-bound chest and wrestle demons from hell into submission on the big screen and opted in that direction.

Choices, choices....

Unfortunately (for me, at least), this was slated to be a “live riff” event with Sleazy P. Martini and Balsac: the Jaws o’ Death from the rock group GWAR on the microphones and, well, they just weren’t all that funny or clever. (Honestly, for my money, these things rarely are – people seem to forget that MST3K was a scripted show!) As such, and being that it had been a rather full day, trusty co-pilot Jon Kitley and I decided to pack it in and grab a few hours sleep before things got rolling again the next day.



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