Monday, July 1, 2019

CINEPOCALYPSE 2019 RECAP!!! (Part 3 of 4)

Ah, the late nights and early mornings that accompany festival life were starting to take their toll at this point, but knowing we only had one more long day to survive, we strapped on our Big Doc Pants and soldiered forward, fortified by good company in the form of The Blonde in Front herself, Cati Glidewell, (and good snacks in the form of the chocolate croissants she brought along in exchange for me holding a seat for her).


Sunday began with another world premiere: the high-spirited, low-tech, paper-cut animated feature Attack of the Demons (d. Eric Power, 2019) which tells the story of a small-town horror geek (voiced by screenwriter Andreas Peterson) whose burg is home to a giant music festival that is subsequently overrun by ancient demons and Evil Dead-type zombies.

Power, who handled all the animation, editing, and sound design chores, and Peterson are clearly deep-cut horror fans, peppering the onscreen landscape with allusions to classic genre pics throughout the ages and across the globe. The pair takes good-natured pokes at music nerds, videogame nerds, horror nerds, survivalist nerds, and crunchy granola types, and while the quippy script may not be as sharp as it could be and the vocal performances are occasionally on the lukewarm side, there’s no denying the DIY spirit and enthusiastic passion on display.

Next up was Kindred Spirits, the latest from writer/director Lucky McKee (May, The Woman), also making its world premiere. This throwback to ’90s thrillers like Single White Female and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle sees Caitlin Stasey running wild as a developmentally arrested nutcase back home to visit big sister Thora Birch, where she promptly starts stirring every pot in town, whether it be toying with her niece’s boyfriend or spilling the beans on her sister’s under-wraps fling with the nice middle-aged divorcĂ© next door (Macon Blair).

The performances are lively and the production values solid, although the myriad plot conveniences and character quirks make for a frustrating view, but if you've been looking to satisfy that Lifetime Movie/indie horror mash-up jones, look no further. Plus, extra points for the “fingers in the brain” mo-mo.

Expanding the boundaries of what constitutes “genre cinema,” the assembled masses were then treated to a 35mm screening of 1984’s “Animal House on the slopes” romp, Hot Dog… The Movie. I had never bothered with it or any of its ski lodge contemporaries (Ski School, Better Off Dead, Out Cold) back in the day, but I gotta say that it was far more entertaining than I would have guessed with some truly impressive skiing stunts and runs, especially by guitar-strumming, aw-shucks wunderkind Patrick Houser’s stunt double.

And while we do bare, er, bear witness to numerous scenes of gratuitous female nudity (hello, Shannon Tweed), the ick factor isn't quite as high as many of its 1980s brethren. The screening was preceded by an informative primer on ski-based sex comedies led by Mike McBeardo McPatten, whose new book Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped! is available now, and Cinepocalypse staff member and A/V Club regular Katie Rife.

It was then time for Sunday’s main event: Darlin’. I liked Lucky McKee's The Woman quite a bit when it first came out in 2011, finding it a mythic parable about a feral female captured and tortured by a “civilized” family man, one that played out like a haunting fairy tale. The feature-directing debut from that film’s star, Pollyanna McIntosh (who also wrote the script), is a sequel-of-sorts, but it would have likely fared better had it just featured another/different feral female rather than trying to shoehorn McIntosh's character back in. (It still might not have been “good,” but it would have been better.) Here, the story begins with The Woman leaving her adopted offspring Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny) on a hospital doorstep, whereupon the wild child is cleaned up and taken into the care of a transparently slimy priest (Bryan Batt) in charge of the nearby girls’ home where he hopes to exploit her transformation from godless savage to Pure Child of God.

The conceit is interesting, but there are no subtleties to be found anywhere, the internal logic is laughably flawed, and most of the characters are flimsy plot devices designed to poke an accusing finger through the Catholic Church’s eyeball (which, trust me, I have no problem with, but I’m still going to request a little nuance with my side of sledgehammer). Even worse, however, are the efforts to keep The Woman in the picture, which seem designed purely to deliver a little blood and guts on occasion before going back to the main narrative. The subplot of a ragtag band of female hobos hanging out serves nearly no purpose except to eat up the running time, and asking us to buy into Batt’s interests in Darlin’ as a sexual conquest is quite the stretch indeed. (He’s a good actor, but he’s not that good.) Plus, there’s that whole business with the drain cleaner that just makes no sense at all, to the point that it seems like everyone in the film just decided to ignore that it even happened.

McIntosh and McKee were both on hand for their respective films, and even shared the stage following the screening of Darlin’, so it was unfortunate that I was so completely underwhelmed by both of their efforts. I opted to keep my hand down and my mouth shut, since I had nothing nice to say.

Happily, things bounced back in grand style with director Chelsea Stardust’s high-spirited and hilarious horror/comedy, Satanic Panic, featuring an unfortunate pizza delivery driver's (Hayley Griffith) first day on the job that lands her in an affluent suburb with affluent Satanists (led by a never-better Rebecca Romijn) preparing a grand ceremony to invoke the three-headed, all-powerful demon Baphomet.

Easy and breezy, with a killer script by Ted Geoghegan and Grady Hendrix (Mohawk), there’s not a lot to say about this one except that it’s extremely well performed by a fantastic cast that includes Jerry O’Connell (Piranha 3D), Jordan Ladd (Cabin Fever), Ruby Modine (Happy Death Day), Jeff Daniel Phillips (Lords of Salem), and especially MADtv vet Arden Myrin as Romijn’s annoying next-door neighbor and wannabe successor.

Easily one of the best of the fest, and (hopefully) coming to a multiplex near you this summer!


Good buddy and award-winning filmmaker John Pata rolled into town on Monday morning, and we made plans to meet up at the Music Box for the first block of Short Films (which had also screened the night before in the smaller Cinema #2 opposite Satanic Panic). In alphabetical order, here are the titles screened.

DELIRIA - Dir. Tomas Stark
DELIVER - Dir. Ricardo Farias
THE FOLLOWER - Dir. Stephanie Szerlip
GO TO SLEEP: A LAO GHOST STORY- Dir. Phet Mahathongdy
H'ILOL - Dir. Julia Scalia
MUFFIN - Dir. Daniel Bolda
THE ORCHESTRA - Dir. Curtis Matzke
SHORT LEASH - Dir. Lara Unnerstall
SYBIL - Dir. Joanne Mitchell
WATER HORSE - Dir. Sean Temple and Sarah Wisner
WHO YOU ARE - Dir. Joel Jay Blacker

Several of these are available online now for your viewing pleasure, so give them a look-see!

We next settled in to watch the Russian crime flick, Why Don’t You Just Die? (d. Kirill Sokolov, 2018), which seems inspired in large part by the 1990s offerings of Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, and since I happen to like that particular breed of film, I had a high old time. Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) heads over to his girlfriend Olya’s (Evgeniya Kregzhde) apartment with a hammer in his hand, planning to use the business end of it on his lady love’s dad Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev). The opening scene where the two men are sussing each other out is pleasingly tense and extended, but when Matvey finally makes his move, it unleashes an unforgettable exchange of exaggerated violence that left the crowd gasping for breath both from its sheer bravado and exceptional comic timing.

In fact, if WDYJD has a flaw, it’s that it opens SO strongly that the rest of the film has a hard time matching that sense of play and energy again. (But, boy, does writer/director Sokolov have fun trying.) One of my favorite features for the week, and apparently I was not alone in this estimation, as it captured the Cinepocalype Audience Award as well.

And then... it happened.

While enthusiasm was high, I can’t rightly say that expectations were. I mean, the World Premiere of the R-Rated 'Gore-Cut' (on 35mm!) of Tammy and the T-Rex (1994) was a curiosity item at best. Most of my friends had never seen it before, and a great many (including yours truly) had never even heard of it, which was the most puzzling aspect because how could a film featuring a) Denise Richards (Starship Troopers, Wild Things) doing a final-reel striptease, b) a mechanical dinosaur inhabited by the brain of Paul Walker (The Fast and the Furious), c) Terry Kiser (Weekend at Bernie’s, Friday the 13th Part 7) as a mad scientist sporting an unidentifiable accent, and d) cult performer George “Buck” Flower have flown under everyone’s radar? As Pata and I hunkered down next to GAGS director Adam Krause (who had traveled down from Green Bay for the fest), we grinned gamely and waited to see what all the fuss was about.

What followed was nothing short of 90 minutes of unfettered bliss, shared with 700+ like-minded folks. Tammy (or "Tanny and the Teenage T-Rex," as the opening credits actually read) was possibly the greatest non-Turkey Day Turkey viewing I've ever had. At one point, I looked around me at all of the smiling faces and laughter joined in mutual appreciation for what we were witnessing and thought to myself, “This is what SHEER JOY looks and sounds like.” Cinepocalypse artistic director Josh Goldblum stated during his introduction that tonight was “probably the first and only public screening this print will ever see” (apparently it was quite a job convincing the Academy to allow it to be loaned out in the first place), and it will go down in history as one of the festival's high points, as well as one of my favorite viewing experiences of all time.

The word on the street is that a Blu-ray release is forthcoming (no details are currently available), though I can't imagine that watching it at home will replicate the magnificence of being surrounded by a packed crowd turning to each other every 30 seconds to ask, "OH MY GOD ARE WE ACTUALLY SEEING WHAT WE'RE SEEING??????" The answer is yes… yes, we were.

After such unqualified rapture, it was inevitable that whatever followed was going to pale by comparison. However, the world premiere of the Chicago-set slasher The Lurker (d. Eric Liberacki, 2019) proved doubly disappointing for the fact that it was insanely derivative, narratively listless, and entirely forgettable.

I don’t want to be any more unkind than necessary, so we’ll leave it at that.



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