The Tasmanian horror festival with a focus on female filmmakers returns for its fifth year. Originally founded by Briony Kidd & Rebecca Thomson, the festival is programmed and run by Kidd over the course of four days, this year 4th - 7th May, and amongst showcasing a small selection of features and shorts, it also sports numerous Q&As and symposiums, as well as being home to the 48-Hour Tasploitation Challenge.
This year’s program includes the following features: The Book of Birdie from the UK, Dearest Sister, a co-pro from Laos/France/Estonia, the American anthology XX, Innuendo from Australia, and three retrospective screenings; Wes Craven’s 1991 The People Under the Stairs, and from New Zealand, Gaylene Preston’s Mr. Wrong (1984) and Perfect Strangers (2003). The cinematographer from People Under the Stairs will be present for a Q&A, and Gaylene Preston will be present for Q&As for both her screenings.
Mr. Wrong was one of those runaway success stories, a sleeper that kept a lot of Wellingtonians awake back in 1984. I remember it ran in Wellington for months and months. A micro-budget affair, based on a story by Elizabeth Jane Howard, the screenplay was co-written by Preston, Graeme Tetley (who would go on to script several other successful New Zealand movies, such as Vigil, Bread & Roses, Ruby and Rata, and Out of the Blue), and director Geoff Murphy.
Murphy was probably still riding high from the huge success of his road movie, Goodbye Pork Pie, which came out a few years earlier. In fact, both movies, along with Smash Palace (1981), were part of the first wave of Kiwi movies to make an impact overseas. In 1986 Mr. Wrong was released on VHS in the States, and re-titled Dark of the Night. Quentin Tarantino must have seen it while he was working at Video Archives, as he was eventually quoted as saying how impressed he was with the movie in particular the unconventional (plain Jane by Hollywood standards) casting of Heather Bolton as the central character.
Bolton plays Meg, a lonely Wellington woman, who buys a second hand Jaguar (a beautiful machine), and finds that the car is haunted. David Letch is perfectly cast as a leering stalker (he’d appear as Spider in David Blyth's cult exploitation-horror Death Warmed Up released the same year), as is Perry Percy, as a silent ghost waiting for revenge. Meg struggles with her fear and the car’s supernatural clinginess.
It’s a classic example of the low-key, but surprisingly effective approach Kiwis have had in telling cinema stories. Sure, the movie moves a little slow for a horror, and the suspense and scares, while atmospheric, aren’t exactly going to have you on the edge of your seat, yet there is a quaintness to the movie, both in performance and vibe, that works in its favour, especially watching it more than thirty years later. Thom Burstyn’s cinematography (with legendary Alun Bollinger doing the camera operating) is excellent, especially the location shooting, in particular a creepy set-up with the car by a creaking fence by the edge of the cliff, up on Paekakariki Hill.
Mr. Wrong has aged in a pleasantly surprising way. For X-Gen Kiwis it's curious to spot the local actors in their younger years (including a very young Rebecca Gibney in a blink and you’ll miss her moment), but it’s also a fascinating example of very economical, but effective storytelling.
Mr. Wrong screens at 8pm, Friday May 5th, followed by Q&A with director/co-writer Gaylene Preston, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart, Tasmania, as part of the Stranger With My Face International Film Festival.
For Film’s Sake is an organisation focusing on diversity within the film industry and championing gender equality. As more and more female filmmakers are rising up and making strong independent, artistic, and challenging ciné statements, particularly within the genre of horror, it’s becoming increasingly clear that their voices are proving to be more exciting and interesting than the majority of male filmmakers. I’m generalising, of course, but FFS’s “Fright Night” mini-festival, being staged at a pop-up Sydney venue, “Alaska Projects” (in a darkened carpark!) is all about hearing the female voice in horror roar sharp and loud.
In conjunction with the Los Angeles mini-festival Etheria Film Night, comes a selection of four short films that are accompanying three features, all screening on one night. The Puppet Man (US), Nasty (UK), The Stylist (US), and Black Cat (AUS), all play alongside the new horror anthology XX (which consists of four segments), new twisted, blackly comic drama Bitch, and the fangtastic, late 80s cult classic Near Dark.
Jill Gevargizian’s short The Stylist is an elegant tale of one very troubled woman’s search for perfection. Claire (Najarra Townsend) is a hair stylist working in a small salon. She may appear pretty and composed, but she has a very dark and disturbing nature. It is the end of another working day, and the last client, Mandy (Jennifer Plas) arrives with the simple request of wanting to look perfect for her boss’s 25th anniversary celebrations. Claire offers Mandy a wine, then quietly listens to her rant and gossip, as she shampoos and treats the woman’s blonde locks. Soon enough it is time for Claire to do her other thing. The thing that helps her deal with her own ingrained insecurity, her dark desire for some kind of elusive beauty, of “perfection”.
I saw Jill’s first short, Call Girl, a few years back at Sydney Underground Film Festival, and was very impressed with her style and originality. She continues her collaboration with screenwriter Eric Havens, this time mining her own experiences as a hair stylist, but portrayed as a slice of “Sweeney Todd” meets Maniac nightmarishness. The Stylist works a charm due to Jill’s assured direction, Colleen May’s excellent special effects, Nicholas Elert’s brooding score, but particularly fast rising star Najarra Townsend’s superb performance, who left a memorable impression on me after seeing Contracted a few years back.
The Stylist’s final scene punctuates the film with an emotionally resonant edge, pushing the horror into unusually melancholy territory, and proving that “Jill Sixx” is a director whose debut feature will no doubt be something worth waiting for.
Saturday, April 29th, 6pm
Alaska Projects - Level 2, Kings Cross Car Park, 9A Elizabeth Bay Road, Elizabeth Bay, Sydney.
Tickets ($30) for the event can be purchased at forfilmssake.org/frightnight
Friday, March 3rd, 6pm - with introduction and Q&A with the filmmakers.
Warren (Aussie ex-pat Martin Dingle Wall) is a man on the edge of the abyss. He’s scrambling to get enough dosh together to retrieve his baby daughter from across the US border, born to a Mexican woman. He attempts to sell some crystal meth to a couple of rednecks, but that scenario goes very rotten. Now he’s in a real bad situation, and to make matters worse, he’s a chronic alcoholic, complete with paranoia and tremors when he hasn’t had a drink for a few hours.
En route to Mexico Warren finds himself in the no-horse town of Bedford Flats where he meets Steve (Ken Lally), an eager chap who leads a small 12-step recovery group. Warren’s gonna need some assistance sooner than later. But this tiny dump - population 135 - has a dark history, and it’s time to put some new bison on the run.
Dang, this sweaty, grimy horror-thriller might be riddled with cliches, the kind of b-movie which woulda ended up lost on the bottom shelves of video stores about to go bust, then dumped in the sale bins, but the two buddies - Joe Dietsch and Lucian Gibson - behind this dust-laden, hillbilly shoot ‘em up have put together a real tasty, entertaining piece of exploitation fare that never tries to be anything other than a rollicking, spit-in-yer-face, ultra-violent deliverance, and yessiree, it delivers in spades! Yeeee-hah!
Lucian “Louie” Gibson is the son of Mel, and this is his and Dietsch’s first feature, having worked together on a couple of TV mini-series. The two filmmakers have written, directed, and edited Happy Hunting, and they sure know how to throw a camera around, with Dietsch as cinematographer, it looks fantastic, certainly the movie’s most striking element. The performances are all solid, with Lally threatening to chew the desert scenery to bits in the movie’s second half.
Hunter and the hunted movies are a dime a dozen, but Happy Hunting, despite its routine plotting, is keen as mustard, taking the bison by the horns, and shooting from the hip, right down to the blackly comedic Trumped-up denouement. In fact, the whole movie smacks of bloodied satire, perhaps even a loose-as-hell study in going cold turkey. Hell, if I scull a few more shots of bourbon, I’ll probably slap this short, sharp piece as a cult classic in the waiting. Make sure you catch it on the big screen, its moody and grey, its mean and its restless.
MidWest WeirdFest screens at the Micon Downtown Cinema in Ear Claire, Wisconsin, Friday March 3rd - Sunday March 5th. Get tickets from here.
Thursday, November 24th, 7pm
What better way to kick off the 10th anniversary of this legendary festival than with zombie action in a strip club. An unashamedly exploitative b-movie dressed up in, no wait, hell no, this flick isn’t dressed up at all, it’s running amok, buck naked, and aiming it’s crooked teeth straight for the jugular. The perfect piece of horror trash for sculling beer, stuffing popcorn, and hurling inappropriate comments at the screen. Peelers is a hot date flick for the romantically challenged. Director Sevé Schelenz, a Canuck fest alumni, and screenwriter Lisa DeVita, have concocted a loud, brash, and crude party movie for flesh fiends.
A small town strip club owner, Blue Jean (Wren Walker), is determined to defend her turf, even if it’s the final night of business, when the club is infiltrated by a messy, gross infection causing patrons and staff alike to become hideously sick and attack savagely. It’s every man and woman for themselves. There’s a definite dark streak of humour dripping off the sweat-splashed, blood-soaked walls of this dive bar. Wren Walker is definitely alpha female. Grab a bat, clutch your balls, peel it back, and prepare to be slapped and tickled. If you want elevated horror, you’ve come to the wrong bar, this joint is strictly for perverse thrills and spills.
We Are Not Alone
Thursday, November 24th, 9pm
With a firm nod to The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror, this intensely atmospheric, Peruvian account of demonic possession (apparently based on true events) is a sombre, tenebrous, slow-burn (but not long) affair. It’s essentially a chamber piece, set almost entirely within a house, and with just three main characters, Mónica (Fiorella Diaz), her husband Mateo (Marc Zunino), and their eight-year-old daughter Sofia (Zoe Arévalo), plus the support of the well-intentioned father, and troubled soul, Padre Rafael (Lucho Cáceres).
The family have just moved into a new home on the outskirts of Lima. Almost immediately Sofia becomes the pet of some supernatural presence, but soon enough the force that is haunting the house focuses on Mónica, turning her into an insomniac and playing mercilessly on her perceptions. Everything moves into very familiar territory, but director and co-screenwriter Daniel Rodriguez has excellent control of the mise-en-scene, teasing the audience brilliantly, and adding genuinely deep, creep factor. It’s superbly shot, and the three performances, especially Fiorella Diaz, are the splendid horns on the pentagon cake. Great last shot too.
Friday, November 25th, 7pm
It’s not often a Ruski horror movie makes the rounds, and this supernatural shocker is a cut deep above most haunted vehicles - and there have been plenty of those. Marshrut Postroen (as it’s pronounced in its native language) follows the plight of Andrey (Pavel Chinaryov) and Olga (Svetlana Ustinova) and their wee daughter Kyushu (Vitaliya Kornienko). Andrey has just got a great deal on a used BMW SUV. It’s seemingly in immaculate condition, so surely they haven’t bought a lemon, right? This is no lemon, this is hell-on-wheels. Haunted by the horrific murder of a woman by her deranged husband the car and its proverbial ghost play malevolent games with the new family.
Director Oleg Assadulin has fashioned a slick and tense journey indeed. Sensational cinematography and terrific editing lift an essentially run-of-the-mill idea into a nerve-wracking 85-minute dark carnival ride. But it’s the performances from the two parents that really carry the movie. You can feel the tension ratcheting up, the paranoia descending like darkness. Andrey has been playing bad boy with young Lena (Diana Melison) and the spectre wants revenge vicariously through Olga. Can they get Kyushu to her grandmother in time? There’ll be tears before bedtime, for this is one hellbent phantom determined to spill blood on the asphalt.
Smoke and Mirrors: The Tom Savini Story
Friday, November 25th, 9pm
Director Jason Baker, a special effects makeup artist, took several years to paint an intimate and revealing portrait of one of cinema’s greatest modern makeup magicians. Tom Savini has been responsible for creating some of the most memorable set-pieces and characters in horror movies since the 1970s. For True Believin’ horrorphiles he’s a household name, up there with Dick Smith, Rob Bottin and Rick Baker, one of the pioneers. His technique owes a lot to the illusionary art of the golden age, in particular Lon Chaney Jr. His credits include George Romero’s seminal zombie flicks Dawn and Day of the Dead, and Creepshow, The Burning, Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th; The Final Chapter, and many more. All of Savini’s amazing work on these movies are showcased in this fascinating doco, and if it's just to see this body of work in one sitting, hell, it's worth the price of admission!
But like the best documentaries, Baker chooses not to narrate or try and sway the viewer, instead letting Savini do most of the talking, and a bunch of his colleagues and luminaries offering insight into his magic and attitude, including his adult daughter’s heartfelt recollections. From his time as a Vietnam combat photographer, through his breakthrough work on Dawn of the Dead, ultimately delivering some of the most impressive practical effects and prosthetic monsters in modern cinema history, to eventually opening a special effects school, and passing his skilled knowledge onto award-winning Greg Nicotero of KNB EFX. The turbulent life and brilliant career of a gregarious exhibitionist makes for essential viewing.
Gehenna: Where Death Lives
Saturday, November 26th, 9pm
A Japanese/American co-production and helmed by special effects whizz Hiroshi Katagiri, it’s the tale of a group of of opportunist entrepreneurs who have traveled to Saipan, a lush US-owned island in the Western Pacific, to search for the new spot for a resort. It seems they’ve found the perfect spot, but a derelict bunker on the site left over from WWII presents a few possible issues. The small group enter the bunker to explore the underground tunnels and rooms only to find a subterranean hell where they are terrorised by their own nightmarish secrets and forced to attack each other.
It’s the classic study of a motley crew in close quarters in even closer encounters with their worst enemies; themselves. The word “gehenna” derives from the Hebrew and is referred to in Jewish and Christian faith as a kind of realm of hell. For the tourists in Saipan it is indeed a hell-on-earth. Katagari has created an intensely claustrophobic showcase for a plethora of phantasmagoric images, shrouded in shadows, bursting forth with evil. It is a grim, labyrinthine, and relentless experience with some excellent special effects, as to be expected!
Sunday, November 27th, 7pm
The evil dead have returned once again. Cabins in the woods are not your friends. Poor Emily (Margaret Judson) just wants to make her pitiful brother’s existence a little better. Zach (Michael Johnston) suffers from cerebral palsy. Along with her boyfriend Jesse (Devin Goodsell), his mate Woodrow (Mark Furze) and lover Michelle (Bobby T), they’ve arrived at a small remote alpine abode in order to provide Zach with some tranquility. The cabin was a cheap purchase, but what Emily and co. don’t realise is that the deceased estate holds a hell of a dark secret. Let the demonic shit hit the fan.
Writer/director Alexander Babaev isn’t interested in re-inventing the wheel, so he makes sure the chaos is steady and nasty. Take a bunch of stereotypes, throw in a little exploitative nudity and raunch factor, lace with a perverse sense of humour, elicit solid performances from the cast, deliver some great gore gags, and you’ve got a bloody fun night out with the demons. Bornless Ones delivers in jokers and spades.
All screenings at Dendy Newtown, Sydney.
For more information, the complete festival programme, and tickets visit anightofhorror.com
I'm proud to announce Australia's premiere - and longest-running - genre film festival celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, with a cracker program! I've been supporting the Sydney-based festival since its third year, and this is my third year as short film programmer (my second as head of international horror shorts).
Presented by Deadhouse Films, The 10th annual A Night of Horror International Film Festival, and Fantastic Planet: Sydney Sci-Fi and Fantasy Film Festival, screen simultaneously at Dendy Cinemas Newtown from November 24 to December 4, 2016.
“The 10th annual festival is going to be our biggest event yet,” says festival director Dean Bertram. “Featuring over 100 films, several international filmmaker guests, multiple parties and a horror filmmaking master class; Sydney's genre fans and filmmaking community are going to be treated to eleven days of the best and freshest horror, sci-fi, and fantasy from around the globe.”
The festival opens on Thursday November 24, with the Australian premiere of the international festival hit PEELERS, plus a Q&A with special international guest: Canadian director Sevé Schelenz. And in keeping with the spirit of the bloody hilarious film, the screening will be followed by a “zombie and strippers” themed after party.
The closing night film, presented by Monster Pictures, is the outrageous Sundance hit THE GREASY STRANGLER. The screening will be introduced by the film's stars Michael St. Michael and Sky Elobar, and followed by a special “Greasy Gala” after party. Audience members who come in GREASY STRANGER inspired costumes have a chance to win prizes given to them by the stars of the film themselves!
On Saturday, November 26 the festival presents a Horror Filmmaking Masterclass. Several of the festival's guest filmmakers will present an in depth look at the horror feature filmmaking process: from developing and financing, through production and post-production, to distribution and festival strategies. This is must attend event for anyone wanting to produce their own feature film.
Along with the full program of feature films listed below - most of which are Australian premieres - the festivals maintain an impressive commitment to short films: Showcasing over seventy of the world's most stunning genre shorts from twenty different countries.
The short film programs are: FANTASTIC VISIONS (international sf/fantasy), LOVECRAFT X (H.P. Lovecraft-inspired by/adapted from), AUSTRALIAN HORROR GALA, AUSTRALIAN SF & FANTASY GALA, WORLD OF DREAD (international horror) [Ed: programmed by yours truly!], and AMAZING ANIMATIONS (international animated sf/fantasy & horror).
For tickets, full schedule of films, and more information about the festival, visit:
Full list of feature films screening at the 2016 event follow:
THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE (dir: André Øvredal) From the director of TROLLHUNTER! Brian Cox (THE BOURNE IDENTITY, TROY) and Emile Hirsch (INTO THE WILD, LONE SURVIVOR) play father and son coroners who receive a mysterious homicide victim with no apparent cause of death. As they attempt to identify the beautiful young "Jane Doe," they discover increasingly bizarre clues that hold the key to her terrifying secrets.
BORNLESS ONES (dir: Alexander Babaev) Fans of EVIL DEAD will eagerly devour this atmospheric and demon-filled fright-fest. Starring Australia's own Mark Furze, this is the best and bloodiest cabin-in-the-the-woods film in years.
DEAD BULLET (dir: Erik Reese) Desperate to turn his life around, a hard-luck gambler risks everything to sell stolen casino chips to a ruthless criminal. It's the worst bet of his life. With a fantastic cast, non-stop thrilling twists, and the spectacular backdrop of desert and casinos, DEAD BULLET is a top notch addition to the neo-western heist movie.
FOUND FOOTAGE 3D (dir: Steven DeGennaro) In the same way that SCREAM deconstructed the slasher sub-genre in the 90’s, FF3D takes a found-footage horror movie and populates it with people who are aware of all of the rules, tricks, and clichés of the genre. They know how to make a found footage movie. But do they know how to survive one?
GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES (dir: Hiroshi Katagiri) The terrifying directorial debut from special effects artist Hiroshi Katagiri (A.I., WAR OF THE WORLDS, THE HUNGER GAMES). When a group of property developers are trapped in a bunker beneath sacred native land, they soon discover that there are worse fates than death waiting in the claustrophobic darkness. Appearances from genre favourites Lance Henriksen (ALIENS, MILLENNIUM) and Doug Jones (HELL BOY, PAN'S LABYRINTH) add to one of the most frightening films of the festival season.
GELO (dir: Gonçalo Galvão Teles, Luís Galvão Teles) Ivana Baquero – star of PAN'S LABYRINTH, THE NEW DAUGHTER and THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES - captivates in this emotionally charged and unforgettable sci-fi mystery. Born from the DNA of a frozen ice age corpse, Catarina grows up incarcerated in an isolated palace. A film student named Joana, falls madly in love with Miguel - only to see him tragically ripped from her hands during a journey to a snowy mountaintop. What can possibly unite Joana and Catarina? How many lives are there in one lifetime?
THE GREASY STRANGLER (dir: Jim Hosking) Every year at Sundance one film takes pundits totally by surprise, in 2016 that film was Jim Hosking’s THE GREASY STRANGLER. This is a film like no other, a greasy smorgasbord of filth and depravity that is as repulsive as it is sweet – part comedy, part horror, part love story, all greasy mayhem! The kind of film that festival audiences adore and the kind of film that once seen cannot be erased from the mind.
NEIL STRYKER AND THE TYRANT OF TIME (dir: Rob Taylor) If DOCTOR WHO was genetically spliced with STAR TREK, by a mad scientist with a wicked sense of humour (who also threw in a sprinkling of malevolent goblin puppets just for giggles), you might have something resembling this soon to be cult classic. And with STAR TREK's Walter Koenig on board, this film boldly goes to new comedic heights.
THE NIGHT OF THE VIRGIN (dir: Roberto San Sebastián) On New Year's Eve a desperate and lonely young man is lured back to the apartment of an attractive older woman. The man thinks he is in for a night of pleasure, and perhaps the night of his life. He is half way right... because he is never going to be the same after he experiences what this night will bring. A dark - and darkly humorous - journey into strange and forbidden territories. Some scenes are so outrageous that you won't be able to sit still in your seat.
ORION (dir: Asiel Norton) In a desolate future, where science is a memory, and mysticism and savagery rule the wasteland, a hunter (David Arquette in a transformative performance) must save a virgin (Lily Cole, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS) from a cannibalistic shaman. ORION is a visionary thriller and unique exploration of the post-apocalytpic sub-genre.
PARANORMAL DRIVE (dir: Oleg Assadulin) Russian genre cinema continues to accelerate with this jump-in-your-seat supernatural chiller. A Russian family road tripping across country in their newly purchased car, are unaware of the vehicles horrifying history. Will they survive its dark secrets and reach their final destination?
PARASITES (dir: Chad Ferrin) The industrial barbarianism of downtown Los Angeles is equal parts player and punisher in this survive-at-all-costs tale of a group of friends who get lost in the seedy streets where they encounter a crazed gang of homeless derelicts. One surviving man escapes on foot, naked and unarmed. With only instinct to guide him, can he survive this coliseum of horror?
PEELERS (dir: Sevé Schelenz) The festival horror hit - with over 50 international festival screenings - is premiering in Australia at A Night of Horror. Festival alumni Sevé Schelenz (SKEW) serves up a riotous horror action flick: filled with zombies, strippers, gore, gags and chainsaws!
PLANK FACE (dir: Scott Schirmer) From festival alumni, and emerging master of confrontational horror cinema (FOUND, HEADLESS, HARVEST LAKE), comes this shockingly original tale of a man forever transformed by a savage clan of back-woods women.
SCANNERS (dir: David Cronenberg) A Night of Horror is delighted to present a special 35th anniversary screening of SCANNERS, the mind-bending blend of horror and sci-fi from genre master David Cronenberg (THE FLY, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, EASTERN PROMISES). The film is one of most important and best loved gems of the 70s-80s exploitation boom. Here's your chance to see the film the way it was meant to be seen: On the big screen, in all of its head-exploding glory!
THE SECOND COMING: VOLUME 2 (dir: Richard Wolstencroft) Australian film maverick Richard Wolstencroft won the “Best Australian Film” award at Fantastic Planet last year, for Volume 1 of his SECOND COMING series. Now, Richard returns with Volume 2. Based on the poem by W. B. Yeats, this final confronting instalment continues to delve into the underbelly of occultism, physics, and political paranoia, as it travels over multiple continents, and through the lives of an eclectic group of fascinating characters.
SHE'S ALLERGIC TO CATS (dir: Michael Reich) Indie hit of this year's Fantasia Film Festival, SHE'S ALLERGIC TO CATS is a genre-defying mind-trip filled with mesmerising imagery formed by an 80s video art aesthetic. A video artist and reluctant dog groomer (Mike Pinkney), falls head over heels for a gorgeous client (Sonja Kinski). One problem: his run down Hollywood home is infested by rats, and she's coming to visit.
SMOKE AND MIRRORS: THE TOM SAVINI STORY (dir: Jason Baker, USA) A legend in the modern horror movie business, Tom Savini revolutionised special effects makeup in cult classics such as DAWN OF THE DEAD, FRIDAY THE 13TH, and CREEPSHOW. This fascinating portrait on his life and career features interviews with George Romero, Robert Rodriguez, Greg Nicotero, and many more, along with juicy clips of Savini’s work, and exclusive behind the scenes.
SOMNIO (dir: Travis Milloy) Trapped in a futuristic prison cell, and watched over by a faceless warden, a wrongfully imprisoned man must escape his intolerable present by travelling into a violent yet romantic-tinged memory from his past. A Kafkaesque nightmare blended with a sci-fi premise reminiscent of the best of P. K. Dick. Lovers of cerebral science fiction will adore this haunting film.
TAX SHELER TERRORS (dir: Xavier Mendik, Francesco Giannini, Deke Richards) Fans of exploitation cinema will be mesmerised by this Canadian documentary - reminiscent ofAustralia's NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD - which explores Canada's golden age of horror and sci-fi, from the 1970s into the '80s, when a lucrative tax incentive program enabled the production of a slew ofgenre classics from DEATH WEEKEND through BLACK CHRISTMAS and MY BLOODY VALENTINE to David Cronenberg's early masterpieces SHIVERS, RABID, THE BROOD, and SCANNERS.
TELEIOS (dir: Ian Truitner) A genetically perfected crew are on a rescue mission to recover a deep space mining vessel. All that remains of the drifting space ship's crew is a catatonic male human, and a subservient female android. But with its precious cargo missing, and the rescue party themselves becoming unhinged, they must race to discover not only the location of the ships's missing cargo, but what happened to the rest of its murdered crew. A taught sci-fi action/thriller which brings to mind sci-fi classics from ALIEN and EVENT HORIZON to BLADE RUNNER and EX MACHINA.
TONIGHT SHE COMES (dir: Matt Stuertz) After a girl goes missing, two of her friends and a mysterious set of strangers find themselves drawn to the cabin in the woods where she disappeared. They will laugh, they will drink, they will kiss, they will have sex, and THEY ALL MUST DIE. A clever and often hilarious film that spins into unpredictable and shocking directions. With plenty of gore, laughs, and shocks: TONIGHT SHE COMES will leave even the most jaded horrorphile satiated.
WE ARE NOT ALONE (dir: Daniel Rodriquez) Based on terrifying true events. Mateo, his eight-year-old daughter Sofía, and his fiancée Mónica move into an old house. Sofía feels a disturbing presence in their new home. Mateo attributes the child’s warnings as a ploy to come between him and his new bride to be. But as the supernatural presence grows, the family's salvation might require the ultimate sacrifice... Fans of paranormal and haunted house films will shiver in delight at this atmospheric tale of terror.
More details are available at the festivals' official website:
We Are the Flesh
Friday, September 16th, 10.30pm
If Gaspar Noe raped Alejandro Jodorowsky the bastard offspring might look, sound, and behave like this perverse mind-fuck of a movie from Mexican director Emiliano Rocha Minter. It’s a sexual baptism by ciné fire, a bewildering and shocking existential study of identity, crisis of faith, and freedom. Or maybe it’s just about sexual entrapment and carnal oblivion. Whatever the hell it’s about, it’s a wildly sensual and visceral experience, part Enter the Void, part Holy Mountain, and part snake eating its own tail for nightmarish measure. Tenemos la carne is a journey that will test your boundaries, it will grab your crotch, lick your neck, and then slap you hard across the face.
But what is it about? Two young adults, a brother (Diego Gamaliel) and sister (Maria Evoli), find their way into a derelict building, seeking refuge from an apparent ruined outside world, and are befriended by a madman (Noé Hernandez), who has been surviving on his own, making oil from animal fat, and dosing himself with an elixir of some kind. He preaches a kind of sex magick. He is, without a doubt, one of the most genuinely creepy and quietly menacing characters you will ever see on screen. He coerces the two siblings to engage in sexual intercourse, and that’s just the start of their descent into this cavernous wilderness.
We Are the Flesh is demanding and gruelling, it drips and it oozes, it is confronting and unapologetic, it screams and it crawls. The performances are wonderfully unhinged, the production design and cinematography grimy and lush in equal measure. Leave your sensibilities behind, shed your inhibitions, throw caution to the wind, and let yourself be embraced, groped, and ravaged by this subversive piece of lurid art-porn.
I Am Not a Serial Killer
Saturday, September 17th, 2pm
A UK production set in Clayton, Minnesota, this independent thriller, with strong science fiction and horror undertones, is one of the year’s most surprising movies. It feels like a kind of Catcher in the Rye gone awry. A Cat Sick Blues on the back of a White Reindeer. Yes, it’s blackly comic, rather disquieting, disturbing even, and yet, never fully becomes the horror movie you’re expecting it to be. This is Irish writer/director Billy O’Brien’s third feature, and it’s a highly atmospheric and accomplished tale of teenage confusion wrapped up in a small town mystery.
There is a serial killer on the loose and John Cleaver (Max Records) is being bullied at school. He understands himself to be a borderline liability; that if he doesn’t keep control of his emotions, especially his rage, he will murder people. He assists his mother, April (Laura Fraser), a mortician, and he seeks therapy from Dr. Neblin (Karl Geary), who is keen to help John get through this difficult period. John feels a sense of abandonment from his father, and he tries to act normal, but he struggles with an even stronger sense of ennui. Matters become complicated when John suspects his next door neighbour, the elderly Crowley (Christopher Lloyd), as the town’s psycho butcher.
Great performances from the leads, and a suitably chilled tone add real weight to this curious caper. Though the ending doesn’t quite hit the mark it should, and the movie definitely demands a pay-off, the rich characterisations and its dark sense of humour provide the movie with more than enough mettle. This is the less hysterical, alternate Stranger Things, and well worth it too.
Saturday, September 17th, 6pm
Owen (Adrian Grenier) and Isabel (Angela Trimbur) are having some problems. Well, to be precise, Owen is the one with the big issues (he’s an emotionally stunted bulimic orphan), and poor Isabel is the long-suffering girlfriend who deserves better. Perhaps Owen can sort his shit out (if his therapist doesn’t keep falling asleep), or maybe his demon drink will devour him? There are definitely some skeletons in his closet that need rattling, but truth be told, the wool’s been pulled over his eyes, this lamb is off to the slaughter.
Trash Fire is Richard Bates Jr.’s third feature, and he loves scraping horror’s funny bone. I’m a huge fan of his first movie, the nightmarish, contemporary fable Excision (2012), and while I enjoyed Suburban Gothic (2014) for what it was, a latter John Waters-esque melodrama, I was hoping Bates would return to the sharper, darker edge he brandished on his debut. Trash Fire is a stunning, immersive piece of work, with sensational performances, especially Grenier and Trimbur. The light reflecting off this satirical blade is brilliant. Easily one of my favourite movies of the year.
With the kind of razor-sharp dialogue and jaded characters you might find in a Bret Easton Ellis novel, combined with the clean, symmetrical, widescreen compositions favoured by Stanley Kubrick, Richard Bates has fashioned a scathing, but truly memorable study of relationships, and the spectre of vengeance. Owen is an asshole, a prick, but you can feel the familial thorn in his side. Isobel matches his snide remarks with her own acerbic wit, and the two of them play a game, set and match of wicked verbal tennis. But let’s not forget the two characters whose presence and agendas will throw big spanners into the proverbial clockwork; Owen’s tough-as-nails grandmother, Violet (Fionnula Flanagan), and his deeply scarred younger sister Pearl (AnnaLynne McCord).
There’ll definitely be tears before bedtime. And there will be blood.
For further information on the complete SUFF program and venue visit suff.com.au
Friday, July 8th, 6.45pm, Monday July 11th, 6.45pm, and Saturday July 16th, 8.45pm
First things first; you have not seen a movie like this ever before, and are unlikely to see anything quite like it again. Yet, there is much going on that will remind you of things you’ve experienced. It’s both comforting in its familiarity, yet frightening in its strangeness. It is, most definitely, an acquired taste. But if you’re keen for the mustard, then pass the ketchup, let’s all grunt and screech, beat our chests, and fling food together. Steve Oram (from the brilliant black comedy, Sightseers, directed by Ben Wheatley, who is also the executive producer on this) wrote, directed, edited, co-produced, and performs in this extraordinary “study”. Have you ever imagined what daily domestic and social life would look and sound like if humans acted like apes? Yup. Consider yourself warned.
Oram plays Smith. He and his mate, Keith (Tom Meeten), step out of the “jungle” and gatecrash a small party in a suburban terrace home that belongs to Barabara (ex-pop star Toyah Willcox), her young adult daughter Denise (Lucy Honigman), young adult son Og (Sean Reynard), and new father figure Ryan (Julian Rhind-Tutt), who was previously their washing machine repair man. Original patriarch, Jupiter (Julian Barratt), has been banished to the backyard. What ensues is the usual power games and inter-relationship shenanigans, only with a lot more crude, vulgar, and violent displays of emotion. This is, quite possibly, the most brilliant expression of human savagery ever depicted on film. It’s also funny as all hell. Think Shane Meadows’ Small Time meets Lars Von Trier’s Dogville meets Mike Leigh’s Naked meets Monty Python, and you might get an inkling of the inspired social satire masquerading as low-brow hi-jinks that Oram put together in just two weeks, and shot in medium format. Forget Trash Humpers, this is the real shit, and one of my faves for the year.
Friday July 8th, 10.30pm, Saturday July 9th, 12.45pm, and Sunday July 17th, 6.30pm
I’m a big fan of writer/director Zach Clark’s White Reindeer, and while his new family melodrama is not as subversive or quite as black in the humour stakes it’s still a very enjoyable left-field romp through domestic dysfunction and familial foibles. This time round Clark wants things a little rosier for Christmas. It's a yuletide family reunion, albeit with a few casualties and edgy hilarity along the way, otherwise it just wouldn’t be a Zach Clark slap. It's definitely his most accessible movie. But take that with the parson’s nose. If you get my turkey drift.
Colleen (the lovely Addison Timlin from The Town That Dreaded Sundown remake) is heading home for festivities with her damaged family, after learning her older brother, Jacob (Keith Poulson), has returned from his Iraq tour of duty. Colleen used to be a goth, but now she’s a nun. Her brother is hiding out in the family guest house. Which makes sense, since his entire head is one big lump of burn scar tissue. Mom (Ally Sheedy) is borderline. She pops pills and smokes pot to self-medicate. Colleen has the good news work cut out for her. Clark gets wonderful performances from his entire cast, especially Timlin and Sheedy, both who shine in delightful contrast.
The Other Side
Saturday July 9th, 3.20pm and Sunday July 17th, 3pm
There is a sense of the forbidden, of danger, that simmers below the surface of this Louisiana docudrama, like the spicy flavours of a Southern gumbo, just waiting to hit your tastebuds. It’s a curious perspective, drifting along the everglades, wandering through the trailer park, meandering like a snake, hitting to bite. This is where the lost souls survive and the quiet rages on. This is a carefully composed observation on a part of America so entrenched, you can almost smell the desolation and fear exuding from the screen. It’s darkly fascinating, and utterly compelling.
It’s an Italian production, and director Roberto Minervini is keen to simply observe, but with a very precise eye, both in the coverage and the editing. The subjects themselves are so relaxed in front of the camera that the result almost feels like it’s more of a slow-burn thriller than an actual documentary. There’s the trailer park lovers who are meth addicts rolling from one hit to the next. He knows they need to get clean, and the only way for him is for another stint in jail. She’s more concerned about the effect his mother’s passing will have on him. The narrative shifts to a group of cocky, anti-government militia, self styled as the New America Infidels, who are preparing for when the freedom goes to ground and martial law is enforced. The swamp on the other side is thick with dysfunction and discontent, and it makes for a beautiful wound.
Wednesday July 13th, 9pm and Sunday July 17th, 12.45pm
The small township of Bridgend, Wales, on the edge of a forest, has become infamous for a bizarre and seemingly inexplicable phenomenon. Since 2007 there have been almost eighty suicides, with nearly all of the victims being teenagers and hanging being the choice of death. The adults and parents of the community have been left heartbroken and confounded. Danish director Jeppe Rønde has fashioned a gripping and very disquieting drama about the youth culture that exists in Bridgend, and focuses on the relationship between impressionable teen Sara (Hannah Murray) and her father Dave (Steven Waddington), who arrive in town. Dave is the town’s new police inspector. Hannah is immediately the “new kid in town”. She becomes involved with Jamie (Josh O’Connor), and soon enough is pulled deeper into the murky world of the suicide cluster.
Excellent cinematography by Magnus Nordenhof Jønk and a brooding score from Karsten Dundal add much weight to the movie, which sits like a cross between River’s Edge and Twin Peaks. It doesn’t offer any real answers to the mystery of the teenager’s morbid motivation, suffice to say, there is very strong peer pressure, and an online chat room presence that provides a psychological wedge. Combining the age-old “they just don’t understand us” chestnut, and the whole “truth is stranger than fiction” flag, Bridgend slides on down the proverbial dark railway track of elusive nightmare fabric into the pool of fire. Solid performances all-round from a cast of mostly unknowns.
For more festival information, including screening venues for individual sessions, please click here.
The Man From Mo’Wax
(Friday, June 17th, 8:45pm & Saturday June 18th, 8:15pm - Event 9 & Dendy Newtown)
Matthew Jones, a successful commercials creative director and producer, has fashioned a brilliant documentary about a pivotal era in contemporary electronic music and the ambitious young man who spearheaded one of the most influential record labels of the 90s. James Lavelle was a teenager with big ideas and a serious passion. Dropping out of school he landed himself a column, “Mo’Wax” with respected rag Straight No Chaser, and before you can say "bangbangboogiesayupjumedtheboogie" Lavelle had formed a record label named after his column, and had a swag of artists clambering at his feet. He was the architect, the visionary, and he was just eighteen. In a world of cowboys and indians, he was the pirate, an honourable rogue ... and he triumphed and suffered for his art and ambition.
The Man from Mo’Wax (formerly known as Artist & Repertoire) features interviews and appearances from all the key players of the period (with the notable exception of co-founder Tim Goldsworthy), including DJ Shadow (instrumental to Lavelle’s initial success), Ian Brown from The Stone Roses, Thom Yorke from Radiohead, Grandmaster Flash, Gilles Peterson, and 3D from Massive Attack (Lavelle’s primary inspiration), plus many of the long-suffering friends and colleagues who were part of the evolution of Lavelle’s baby, UNKLE, and Lavelle's ongoing vision. It’s a very colourful collage and it's fascinating stuff to watch the rollercoaster career of someone like Lavelle, who lived fast and furious, nearly lost it all, and in very recent years has been able to enjoy his own legacy (as curator for Meltdown’s 2014 program, the most successful one yet, and which featured an exhibition of all the Mo'Wax art, merchandise and memorabilia), and even bury a few hatchets.
This is essential viewing for anyone remotely interested in the hiphop culture that merged with the trip-hop scene from Bristol, essential viewing for anyone remotely interested in the machinations and pitfalls of the late 90s music industry when selling vinyl was considered in its swan song, and essential viewing for anyone remotely interested in DJ and club culture and the headstrong creative artist caught in-between. Man, I just can’t recommend this documentary highly enough. James Lavelle became very wealthy, very quickly, and his unorthodox methods - being A&R and artist and not playing by the commercial rules - subsequently lead him into troublesome, divisive waters. His naiveté was a double-edged sword; he was a revolutionary, a pioneer, and some of the risks didn’t pay off. But what a legacy, and what a great documentary this is.
Under the Shadow
(Friday, June 10th, 9pm & Saturday June 18th, 6:15pm - Event 8 & Dendy Newtown)
It’s not often you see a horror movie from the Middle East, and it’s not often you see a ghost story that gives you not one, not two, not three, but at least four terrific scares, and I mean, jolt out of your seat stuff, these aren’t just your stock-standard “Boo!” machine effects, these have serious grunt. Yup, this is a double-whammy rarity; a Middle Eastern ghost story that’ll make you jump out of your skin.
It’s the story of a mother and daughter, struggling with a war-torn post-revolution Tehran, at the end of 80s. The father, Iraj (Bobby Naderi), has been called away to work in another city. Shied (Narges Rashidi) can no longer continue her medical training as her political active past has caught up with her. Her young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) relies on a cuddly doll for comfort, and when that doll goes missing, all hell breaks loose, for it becomes apparent a malevolent spirit, Djinn, has entered the apartment building, having arrived in an unexploded missile that has torn into the top story of the building. Where there is fear and anxiety, and in the war zone it is rampant, the evil winds of these insidious spirits blow.
This is the first feature for director Babak Anvari, and Under the Shadow is a co-pro between Iran, Jordan, Qatar, and the UK. Essentially its a chamber piece, taking place primarily in the apartment and the building's basement, and it’s a two-hander with most scenes between just Shideh and Dorsa. Anvari does a masterful job at creating suspense, tension, through his camerawork and the use of sound and music, and he delivers some truly powerhouse nightmare shocks that would give any of the best J-Horror a run for their money. The performances are excellent, especially Narges Rashidi, as she is in almost every scene. I sigh when I say that no doubt when the American execs see this dark gem they’ll be clambering over each other trying to get the rights for a Hollywood makeover/remake, so, get in quick and see the scariest ghost story the other side of The Conjuring 2.
(Fri 10 June, 6:15pm, Event Cinema 9)
Crammed full of the social claustrophobia and tunnel vision that comes with a one-horse town full of miners, and reminiscent of the nightmarish, dust-laden cult classic Wake in Fright, comes the tale of two Finnish girls (well, actually one of them is half-German) “trapped” in Coolgardie, an isolated township west of Kalgoorlie. The Denver Hotel is its name, but "hell" all the same. The two young girls are desperate to save some money, having been ripped off in Bali. It’s simple bar work, but they are pounded by the bully owner, and hounded by the sex-starved locals, mostly young miners needing to slake their thirst. Lina and Steph’s contracts are for three months. Can they make it.
Director Pete Gleeson, who also shot and edited the documentary weaves in a sly sense of humour. He’s essentially a fly-on-the-wall, and how he manages to get the locals to act so, well, local-like, is terrific. It’s warts-and-all as the two girls work shifts, and sleep in rooms above the pub. There’s sweet little else to do in the town. A few of the local lads try their darnedest to get their leg over, but the girls won’t have a bar of it. The pub owner is none-too-impressed with their attitude. But the girls are endearing, and, despite the crusty, hardened machismo that permeates the place, the doco steadily envelopes the viewer’s emotions. The epilogue is heartbreaking.
(Sat 11 June, 6:15pm & Wed 15 June, 6:15pm, both Event Cinema 8)
Tubby, middle-aged Kostis (Makis Papadimitriou) arrives on a small Greek island as the new local GP. Summer is just around the corner, and the island comes alive with the smell of swinging, hedonistic young flesh. Kostis is a lonely man, and after being befriended by a small group of young European tourists, he falls for the most flirtatious of the group, Anna (Elli Tringou). She strings him along, but it’s obvious this isn’t going to bode well for either party. The endless nude beach romps and all-night imbibing in the island’s hotspots can only last so long. What has become an obsession for Kostis has only been a frolic for Anna.
Director and co-writer Argyris Papdimitropoulos has fashioned a compelling modern fable on love’s bitter cruelty. Excellent performances, especially the two leads, combined with a subtle, but affecting score, and the director’s sly use of thriller technique, gives Suntan a surprising edge. The sun might be out in full force, but this is definitely a dark tale. I’d be more inclined to call the movie Sunburn, as there are definitely tears before bedtime, but in the end it’s all in the contrast; the juxtaposition of the fertile, supple young against the grasp and slip of the ageing. Stay for the end of the credits for a final, lingering image that bookends the narrative in disquieting, but satisfying style.
Letters From War
(Mon 13 June, 6pm & Tues 14 June, 11:45am, both State Theatre)
One of the most beautiful monochromatic movies I’ve seen in a long time, deeply reminiscent of the high contrast luminescence of the 1964 docu-drama I am Cuba, and in many ways similar in style and tone. Director Ivo M. Ferriera’s romantic lament is a powerful tale of longing, told in a beautiful, sensual style. A voiceover (Maria José) reads the letters of Antonio Lobo Antunes (taken from his novel), one of Portugal’s most acclaimed writers who served in East Angola in the early 1970s for the Portuguese Army. His pregnant wife is occasionally observed, almost like an apparition, trying to cope with her husband’s absence, as he does the same, but is constantly distracted and embroiled in the machinations of war, and increasingly the corrupt politics that has fuelled the conflict.
Like all the most affecting and memorable war movies, Letters From War manages to find a distinct sense of beauty amidst the chaos and carnage of the frontline. The high contrast cinematography is absolutely stunning, and the camerawork floats through the mise-en-scene like a butterfly. What lingers is an elusive, but profound melancholy; a romantic, tranquil sadness, if there is such a thing.
Wednesday June 8th - Sunday June 19th
Of course, my favourite part of the Sydney Film Festival is the “Freak Me Out” section, now in its sixth year, and always wonderfully selected by guest programmer Richard Kuipers, a fellow horror, exploitation, and and arthouse-nightmare geek like myself. There are seven flicks in the FMO mini-program this year, one more than usual (Ben Wheatley’s hugely anticipated J.G. Ballard adaptation of mid-70s upper-class apocalypse High Rise).
The artful weird dream of Evolution from Gaspar Noe’s partner Lucile Hadzihalilovic looks to be a big-screen treat, as does the American Gothic of The Eyes of My Mother, a monochromatic descent into madness in the middle of nowhere. There’s the Frankenstein perversion of Patchwork where three women regain consciousness only to discover they’re each 1/3rd of a newly stitched together person. Dee Wallace stars in an Australian (the first time an Oz flick has appeared in the FMO program) yuletide spooker, Red Christmas, that promises much carnage, and finally, the Middle Eastern ghost tale of Under the Shadow, a kind of sand-blown J-Horror-style study of mounting dread.
I’m a great fan of the documentary format, and so I always look forward to the doc section of the SFF. This year there are several hot docs that have taken my fancy. From the Czech Republic comes a stylish, multi-narrative piece following four couples and their levels of intimacy, called Europe, She Loves. Jim Jarmusch’s love letter to Iggy Pop and The Stooges, Gimme Danger, ‘nuff said. Hotel Coolgardie is a rough and ready look at the trials and tribulations of two Scandinavian girls working in a small Aussie mining town pub. The Man from Mo’Wax covers the extraordinary career of James Lavelle, the prodigy who founded one of the most respected downtempo electronic labels of the 90s.
Alongside the documentaries are the biopics and docu-dramas that grab my attention. This year several have strongly appealed to me; Letters From War, a stunningly realised romance shot in black and white, based on the real letters of one of Portugal’s most celebrated writers. Down Under captures the intensely palpable threat of violence that was the Cronulla race riots via a black comedy (no pun intended) that will no doubt cause friction in the audiences. Goat, from the States, is a startling expose on the freshman antics and rites that besiege young college men.
Other dark-hued features that I’ve earmarked include the Greek Suntan, about a middle-aged doctor who becomes embroiled in the shenanigans of a bunch of carefree young tourists on a sun-kissed isle. From Italy, Suburra, a gangster epic that combines the usual; the Mafioso, the church, and the socio-political machinations and meddlesome machismo in between. The US indie, White Girl, follows a streetwise young uni student who inadvertently becomes a drug peddler, whilst her dealer boyfriend is doing time. The Polish hybrid, The Lure, is a romance-cum-horror-cum-musical about two vampiric mermaids, while the German Wild deals, rather transgressively, with a young woman’s unusual relationship with a wolf.
There are a bunch of restorations at the festival this year, and the standout for me has to be Ray Lawrence’s adaptation of Peter Carey’s searing and strange black comedy Bliss. This is the kind of production that would not get made anymore. Also of note is Rowan Woods’ slow-burn character study The Boys.
David Stratton is hosting a Martin Scorsese retrospectives of ten pictures (as Marty looks to call them), from 1973’s Mean Streets up to 2004’s The Aviator. The mini-program includes almost all my favourites: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Goodfellas, and Casino. Shame he left out After Hours though. These are all essential viewing on the big screen.
Among the other festival events, the most notable, and certainly the one that has leaped out at me, is the free event, Down the Rabbit Hole: Virtual Reality at the Hub. A mini-program of immersive cinema put together by Mattieu Ravier in association with Jumpvate VR. This promises to be a eye-opening and mind-blowing introduction into the future of the cinema experience, or at least one avenue of it.
Check out the full SFF program online here.
Thursday, November 26th, 9pm
A German-Russian co-production drenched in a surreal, fever dream atmosphere, this is a post-apocalyptic, mystical drama unlike anything you’ve seen or felt. The emotional and psychological weight bears down on you as the tenebrous dream-like imagery, grotesque and beautiful in equal measure, tears at your sensibilities. III takes no prisoners.
One of the most brilliantly evoked oneirdynia I've seen in years, director Pavel Khvaleev, who co-wrote the elliptical, haunting narrative, has conjured some of the most startling images of the year. Charismatic performances and a powerful sound design and score make III a darkly delightful enigma worth succumbing to, especially in the cinema.
Landmine Goes Click
Friday, November 27th, 9pm
This is the low-budget shocker of the year, and another from Eastern Europe. Georgian director Lavan Bakhia’s second feature (his third is set on a super yacht, so he knows a thing or two about keeping your locations minimal, yet interesting), Landmine Goes Click (a great title) is the predicament from hell. Buddy with his engaged friends finds himself treading on a live, leftover landmine, whilst on a tourist jaunt. Infidelity is revealed, betrayal exposed, and revenge dealt most cruelly.
But that’s just the beginning. Through an unhinged local into the mix, and a more dangerous fuse is lit. This is one movie I can bet you won’t be able to predict the nasty third act. Great performances from the small cast, especially ex-Neighbours and Aussie Idol star Dean Geyer as spurn fiancé Daniel, and Kote Tolordava (who passed away earlier this year) as Ilya, the spanner in the works, some cracking dialogue, and some very brutal violence. You’ve been warned.
Saturday, November 28th, 5pm
A Canadian arthouse actioner, The Demolisher is an extended act of vengeance, a study of rage and psychological damage, punctuated by extreme violence. The lines of ethical behaviour and justice, and the disintegration of sanity blur the boundaries of who or what is actually the truth. The fabric of the fragile mind is torn asunder.
Bruce (Ry Barrett) is a handiman who has taken it upon himself to be the punishing vigilante desperately seeking those responsible (and there is much collateral damage!) for the injuries that crippled his policewoman wife Samnatha (Tianna Nori). In the process young Marie (Jessica Vano) is caught in Bruce’s crosshairs, and must fight for survivial, just as Bruce and Samantha fight for their sanity.
The Demolisher is ambitious, wayward, at times confused, but very driven. There is definitely a wild beast in there somewhere bristling to cause utter chaos. The dialogue is minimal and in some ways, even less might have worked in the movie’s favour (a silent revenge movie has a certain ring to it), but it does pull together for an oddly satisfying end.
Monday, November 30th, 7pm
Mexican director Isaac Ezban is a man possessed. His wonderful short, Nasty Stuff, won Best Short at A Night Of Horror Film Festival five years back. Ezban is already at work on his third feature. The Similars (Los Parecidos) is his second, a nightmarish tale concerning a very strange phenomenon that appears during a rainstorm. A group of strangers are trapped in an isolated bus station and must deal with an extreme case of xenophobia and mutant familiarity.
Ezban cleverly utilises a small budget, creating a theatrical environment, but shot with a very cinematic eye. The hazy, green-blue palette and early 60s production design reminds the viewer of shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. The atmosphere and special effects are excellent, the tone and mood unique (even with the heavy references), and the overall vibe lingers like a strange dream.
The Second Coming
Saturday, December 5th, 5pm
Melbourne maverick and provocative raconteur, oh, and the director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, Richard Wolstencroft unleashes his latest endeavour, a fusion of exotic travelogue and ode to the poet Yeats, in particular the author’s fascination with the occult. The Second Coming - Volume 1 is an acquired taste, a meandering, curious muse on the darkness summoned by dark magick practitioners and those that take that sweaty, slippery bull by the horns.
Shot over a period of several years the wandering, beguiling narrative follows Michael Tierney, who was the subject of Wolstencroft’s porn lament The Last Days of Joe Blow, and Gene Gregorits, gonzo subversive arts and culture author, as they stumble lecherously around the desolate City of Angels, the beach bars and urban sprawl of Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Australia, making dodgy deals and indulging in vice. Wolstencroft himself pops up from time to time as a shady dealer of rare literature.
All screenings are at Dendy Cinemas Newtown, Sydney.
Saturday, November 28th, 9pm (Dendy Newtown, Sydney)
With its blood openly splashed on its sleeve, Sam Curtain’s debut feature is a relentless exercise in brutality, displaying a vengeful savagery not seen in Australian cinema in quite some time. Dean (Dean Kirkright) and Claire (Kahli Williams) are young lovers, hitting the road for some quality snuggle time, whilst Knuck (Thoams Roach), and his mates, Heath (Benjamin Denmeade) and Jarred (Eli Halliwell) are bogan thugs itching to rumble, preferably something more heinous. The two parties collide on the roadside, and it’s all blood, sweat, and tears from there.
What Blood Hunt lacks in originality and complexity, it makes up for in economy and clarity. The stark, no frills cinematography paints a crisp chill and a washed out grimness to the rural setting and the horrific proceedings. It’s a pared-back revenge nightmare reminiscent of the rage of Steven Kastrissios’s The Horseman and the gruelling inhumanity found in Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left and Meir Zarachi’s I Spit on Your Grave (and, arguably, much better than the latter two, to boot!)
With solid performances from the cast and some truly wince-inducing moments of extreme violence, Blood Hunt takes no prisoners, so prepare to be slapped hard.
Friday, December 4th, 7pm (Dendy Newtown, Sydney)
Harnessing an extreme nihilism similar to the realistic edge that made Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin such a powerful waking nightmare palpability is Jason Koch’s third feature, the story of young Zack (Lucas Koch), known to his bullies and enemies as Pig Pen, a 13-year-old skateboarder so numbed by his grim surroundings he seems like an adult trapped in the body of a boy. His dear mother (Nicolette le Feye) is a junkie and is kept in check by her boyfriend, Wayne (Vito Trigo), who is a psychopathic ticking time bomb.
Wayne is a misanthrope just waiting to explode. Zack is the lit fuse. Nothing will come between them, not even dear mommy. Boom!
Co-written with Mark Leake, Koch’s study of despair is as dark and dingy as can be. It’s talky too, but boy, does it eventually kick arse, and when it does, just like Blue Ruin, it kicks arse into the middle of next week. Pig Pen features some truly horrendous acts of violence. The director’s background is in special effects, and he’s made sure that the grisly stuff gets a lot of graphic love (if you can call it that).
Vito Trigo plays the handlebar moustachioed thug with frightening authenticity, he’s the good-looking monster ... the creepiest of all. Lucas Koch and Nicolette le Feye deliver solid performances, but the real dark star is those horror set pieces, saving the most brutal and shocking for last. Consider yourself warned.
Saturday, December 5th, 7pm (Dendy Newtown, Sydney)
Pingo (an excellent Nicola Fiore) is an artist in Brooklyn, NY. She is a loner, a troubled soul with an affliction deep down that is burrowing its way to the surface. She quells the darkness coiled within her by exhibiting and indulging a fetishistic sex drive that keeps all sense of romanticism well at bay. Intimacy is a beast that howls, and the secret that rears its ugly head will bite the head off of any would-be well doer. Hell hath no fury like a horny bitch.
After a bunch of shorts writer/director Michael Turney has embarked on his debut feature with a tunnel vision of provocative and dangerous sexuality. The horror of normality is forged in the transgression of aberrant behaviour, and Pingo is about to find out the hard way.
Normal is one of those early on scratch-your-head bad dream thrillers that further down the wayward path becomes curiouser and curiouser, and perversely revealing the deeper into the nasty dark shadows that it crawls. To call this movie “erotic” would be misleading, for the sensuality that exists is too elusive and slippery. But, oh, what a perversely satisfying denouenment Normal descends down/rears up into!
For more details and the complete festival program click here.
HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT
Fri Sept 18, 8:30pm (Cinema 4) & Sun Sept 20, 3pm (Cinema 3)
Based on the hard truths of one Arielle Holmes (who plays herself, as Harley) who penned her exploits under the title Mad Love in New York City, and capturing the raw essence of a junkie’s life on the streets Heaven Knows What is a grim study of desperate love and the inherent loneliness that shrouds such a fragile existence. It is the mundane routine of searching for the next fix, the angry chaos that spikes the day-to-day grind, and the small jagged pleasures of those heroin hits. Directing brothers Josh and Benny Safdie bring the kind of powerful authenticity that hasn’t been seen since the likes of Paul Morrissey. It’s the kind of movie that begs you to ask why am I watching such depressing squalor and yet there is an elusive beauty that permeates this contemporary tale that floats timelessly and tragically. Caleb Landry Jones co-stars as Harley’s volatile boyfriend Ilya, the other object of her affections.
DIGGING UP THE MARROW
Sat Sept 19, 10:30pm (Cinema 3)
Taking five years to make (I was wondering why Frozen artwork was appearing in the background of so many shots) Adam Green’s mockumentary (and, indeed, the tongue is definitely lodged in cheek) is a highly entertaining monster movie collaboration with artist Alex Pardee who specialises in depicting all manner of grotesque beasts from other realms. In this case, Green and his production partner and cameraman Will Barrett follow a nutcase by the name of William Dekker (Ray Wise) who knows where the monsters hide, underground in The Marrow. Digging Up the Marrow melds the found footage sub-genre with the basic concept of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed and comes out with an amusing treatise on just what are monsters? There are some genuinely tense and creepy moments, even if it’s hard to see what the hell is going on in the thick of the darkness. Turns out Green is quite the comedian, whilst Wise is obviously relishing his inspired lunacy with aplomb. And those Pardee monsters are something else!
Fri Sept 18, 6:30pm (Cinema 3) & Sat Sept 19, 10:30pm (Cinema 2)
Quite possibly the most original horror movie of the year, certainly the most brazenly surrealistic, and I soaked it up with glee. The hardworking Canuck Bruce McDonald returns to the horror genre, after the existential Pontypool, and delivers one hell of a cool ride. This is the Halloween concept I came up with twenty-five years ago, dammit! A teenager, Dora (an excellent Chloe Rose), is left to fend off a bunch of demons in the guise of masked children, who are after more than just lollipops and chocolate. There are no treats here, just nasty tricks. It looks and feels like End of Days, the sky awash in red, and the trusty town sheriff (Robert Patrick in perfect grizzled mode) might not have what it takes to protect our pregnant angel. A brilliant original score by Todor Kobakov & Ian LeFeuvre soaks the movie in a truly nightmarish atmosphere. Think Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava trapped in an American cul-de-sac on All Hallow’s Eve. There’ll definitely be tears before bedtime, and there will be blood. Hellions is definitely one of my favourites for the year!
Fri Sept 18, 8:30pm (Cinema 1) & Sun Sept 20, 5pm (Cinema 4)
Sick of rom-coms? The Baine brothers will provide you with the perfect cure. This is one dark romance, black as a kettle, the comedy smeared in coal, the kisses tasting of copper. A date flick for the sexually adventurous, a horror movie for the lonely-hearts, Nina Forever is sarcastic, and oh, so sweet. Ben and Chris have made numerous shorts, but now they apply their talents to a feature and the result is one of the best fucked-up genre flicks of recent years. Rob (Cian Barry) is struggling to deal with the accidental death of his girlfriend, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy). He meets Holly (Abigail Hardingam), who almost immediately takes his mind off Nina. Until Nina’s broken and bloody body materializes through the sheets of Rob’s bed whilst he’s making love to Holly, and proceeds to spout her displeasure. Holly is bewildered, and Rob is in despair. Holly and Rob want to be together, so they need to deal with Nina. Yes, deal with Nina. With excellent performances, and a striking narrative and visual style (sensual!) the Baine brothers have created quite the exploration of identity and affection. Just who is screwing with who?
All Sydney Underground Film Festival screenings are at The Factory, Marrickville. Tickets and complete information available from the site, click here.
Dark Star: HR Giger’s World
Sun 5, 1:45pm (Luna), Fri 10, 8:15pm (Paradiso)
Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger died before this documentary had its premiere, and so it becomes a kind of eulogy. It is a sombre and intimate work directed by Belinda Sallin, who was granted access to Giger’s darkened domestic realm; a large cottage, cluttered with the artist’s work, shrouded in dim light, embraced by close-knit trees, the property surrounded by the urban sprawl of Zürich. Giger’s second wife, Carmen, is the director of the Giger Museum, but this documentary focuses chiefly on the extensive work found within Giger’s home, and gently probes into the man’s work ethic and inspirations, which included his lover and muse, Li Tobler, who committed suicide in 1975, and, most famously, the amazing, award-winning design work he did for Ridley Scott’s Alien.
Dark Star feels like a portrait made by a dear friend, who has visited for tea. It is an unassuming study of a truly brilliant artist who sketched, painted (a champion of the air brush), sculpted, and built (including a small train and track that circumnavigated his labyrinthine garden). Giger delved into his own “nightmare” world and preferred to inhabit it, rather than just pluck from it. He fetishised the vivid themes of birth, sex, and death, and fused them with a fascination with industrial machinery and gadgetry: startling, often erotic, bio-mechanoid creations that shone from the abyss of his soul.
Sat 4, 7:15pm (Luna), Sun 5, 9:15pm (SX), Sun 12, 3:15pm (Luna), Sun 12, 9pm (Paradiso)
Imagine a screenplay written by Hal Hartley, and then snatched away, manhandled by David Mamet, and directed by the Coen brothers. Hollywood might be that bastard, might be that bitch. Or it might be something else entirely, perhaps early David Lynch delving into some of the Mulholland Drive ideas that he’d revisit later. This is a Tinseltown that is so highly stylised and self-conscious it threatens to slap it’s own reflection in the mirror. Instead, it lays the mirror down, snorts a line or two from it, winks knowingly, and laughs hard at the once-pretty and weathered face it sees lying in the gutter, staring hopefully at the stars.
Writer/director/actor Davidson Cole made a feature back in 2002, which almost no one saw. The ideas about fate, identity, self-control, and free will have surfaced again in Hollywood, only this time they are bitten by a very dark satirical chomp. A father (Grainger Hines) and his adult son (Cole, uncredited) are holed up in a Vegas hotel with a pretty pricy call girl (Dana Melanie). The father has a ton of baggage, the son is a struggling screenwriter, and the hooker gives great eyebrows and has a sensational wardrobe. Over the next few days the father’s bullshit surfaces and barks loudly at the son. Hollywood features great performances from the core players (Hines, Cole, and Melanie), an excellent score, and a peculiar (and frustrating) narrative (with literary-style “chapters”) that makes for a most memorable strange dream experience.
Vixen Velvet’s Zombie Massacre
Fri 3, 9:45pm, Fri 10, 10:15pm (Luna)
Writer/Director Stefan Popescu’s third feature, shot once again in the wintery Canadian landscape, features Kathryn Foran (who co-starred in his previous Canadian co-pro Nude Study) as porn star Vixen Velvet, who has loftier aspirations, but is clutching onto reality as the fictional horror premise of her latest porn flick invades the real world. Can she save the world, or at least, save herself and her hapless colleagues? The spit and mascara might be running, but it’s the blood and jism that’s gonna hit the fan!
A guerilla mockumentary that straddles the no-budget rodeo and takes the crazy bull by the horns, this is one black comedy that takes no prisoners, as much a gonzo satire as it is a horror parody. Vixen Velvet’s Zombie Massacre is the lowbrow exploitation indulgence for highbrow’s wanting to get down and dirty. A classic example of DIY filmmaking, that takes the creative urge and shoves it into the proactive blender. A shameless cult projection that threatens to tear up the undead etiquette book and use it as a gimp gag! All hail Velvet!
For more information and complete Revelation festival programme click here.
Hey all you harmonious surf rock legends!
Cult Projections in conjunction with the lovely folk at Icon Film have four DOUBLE-PASS movie tickets to giveaway for the awesome new bio-pic on the career and life of The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson called LOVE & MERCY.
"We all know the music, but few know the true story of musical genius, Brian Wilson and his struggles with brilliance and balance. LOVE & MERCY paints an unconventional portrait of the artist by interweaving seminal moments from his youth and later life. The role of Brian Wilson is masterfully shared between Paul Dano (12 Years a Slave, Little Miss Sunshine) as the younger, 1960s Brian; and John Cusack (Maps to the Stars, High Fidelity) as Wilson in the 1980s. The film explores the many challenges Brian has faced, both from his point of view in his younger years; and from the perspective of his now wife, Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) when she meets Brian in his 40s and under the questionable medical care of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). The Beach Boys were already experiencing chart topping success with Surfin’ Safari, I Get Around, Help Me Rhonda, California Girls and Good Vibrations when Brian found himself driven to move in a new musical direction. Whilst this would ultimately lead to the creation of what is widely ranked as one of the greatest albums of all time - Pet Sounds – and songs like Wouldn’t It Be Nice, Sloop John B and God Only Knows [Ed: One of my favourite pop songs of all time!]; it also lead to the band breaking up and Brian breaking down."
Drop me a message in my LETTERBOX and tell me what you think is the greatest rock bio-pic of all-time and one sentence why. Don't forget to include a mailing address!!
I will pick the four best answers and drop a double-pass AND a bonus biopic DVD (of some other musical legend) in the mail.
This competition is only open to Australian residents, sorry!
LOVE & MERCY is released in cinemas in Australia on 25th June.
The 62nd Sydney Film Festival opens tonight and it's going to be a sensational fortnight season of international cinema, to be sure!
I have around forty-five movies I want to see, but my reality is, I will only get to see around half on my list. Cue: deep sigh. Hopefully I will get to catch up with some of them a little further down the track, some, however, slip through the net and are lost in the movie mist for years. Tickets are booking fast so don't delay!
Here then are twelve movies playing at this year's SFF that I am particularly excited about (and hopefully get to see!)
BLACK SOULS (Tues 9 June, 6:30pm & Wed 10 June, 2pm - State Theatre)
A brooding, slow burn tale of organised crime from Italy that follows three brothers face with a feud and its deadly consequences.
TANGERINE (Fri 12 June, 6:30pm & Sat 13 June, 11:40am - State Theatre)
Two transgender sex workers in the City of Angels on Xmas Eve. Shot on an iPhone 5S (with custom anamorphic lens added) this is the utterly indie buddy flick of the year.
GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF (Sat 6 Jun 2pm & Wed 10 June, 8:35pm - State Theatre & Event Cinema 4)
L. Ron Hubbard's bizarre "cult" is given the full exposure treatment by controversial and acclaimed documenteur Alex Gibney.
DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON (Fri 5 June, 8:45pm & Mon 8 Jun, 2:15pm - Event Cinema 9)
The short and curlies on America's original counter-culture magazine and its more mainstream, but still very funny, cinema excursions. Expect outrageous anecdotes and transgressive humour.
IVY (Thu 4 June, 6pm & Sun 7 June, 4:50pm - Event Cinema 8 & 9)
An atmospheric, psychological drama from Turkey and Germany that follows a bunch of disgruntled sailors and the darkness that permeates their vessel.
THE SMELL OF US (Thu 4 June, 7pm & Tue 9 June, 8:40pm - Dendy Newtown & Event Cinema 4)
Controversial US photographer Larry Clark returns to the adolescence-in-the-streets he first exposed in his blistering Kids, this time with a bunch of mischievous Parisian teens.
SUNRISE (Fri 5 June, 8:30pm, Sun 7 June, 8:30pm & Sat 13 June, 6:15pm - Event Cinema 4, Dendy Opera Quays 3 & Dendy Newtown)
A neo-noir from India? Yup. And it looks stunning. Saturated in rain, and shot in vivid colours, this is a surreal and gripping thriller about a cop searching for his kidnapped daughter.
BEING EVEL (Wed 3 June, 8:20pm & Mon 8 June, 6:45pm - Dendy Opera Quays 2 & Event Cinema 9)
The story of Evel Knievel's life and career. The legend on the bike, the man under the helmet. Not to be missed for extreme sports enthusiasts.
MR. DYNAMITE: THE RISE OF JAMES BROWN (Sun 7 June, 6pm & Thu 11 June, 8:30pm - Dendy Newtown & Event Cinema 4)
The Godfather of the brand new heavy heavy funk, soul brother #1, the teacher, the preacher, the man known as Mr. James Brown. Another superb doco from Alex Gibney.
DJANGO KILL ... IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT! (Sun 14 June, 7:45pm - Dendy Opera Quays 3)
Part of the "Destruction Cinema" restoration section, this surrealistic Western from Italy/Spain from 1968 follows a Mexican bandit and his troubles. Essential on the big screen.
GOODNIGHT MOMMY (Thu 4 June, 8:15pm & Sat 13 June, 9:20pm - Event Cinema 8)
Austrian domestic nightmare shot with elegance, infused with grindhouse aesthetics. I've been hanging for this one for quite some time.
SPRING (Wed 10 June, 7pm & Sat 13 June, 8:30pm - Dendy Newtown)
From the talented directors behind Resolution (one of my favourite movies of 2013), comes a European romance that descends into Lovecraftian dread and horror.
WE ARE STILL HERE (Wed 3 June, 7pm & Fri 12 June, 9pm - Dendy Newtown & Event Cinema 11)
Burnt Offerings meets Lucio Fulci weirdness, or something cool like that. Set in 1979 and with more atmosphere than you can shake a stick at.
For the full program and booking details click here
In what is easily the best selection yet for SFF’s hugely popular Freak Me Out section, the sidebar dedicated to all things weird, wild, and shocking, programmer Richard Kuipers has garnered an excellent looking array of confrontational nightmare movies. Seven features and an attack of the double feature!
From the dark corners of Bavaria comes German Angst, an anthology (very hip at the moment) featuring three short films from three of the country’s maverick shockmeisters; Jorg Buttgereit, Michal Kosakowski, and Andreas Marschall.
From neigbouring Austria is one of my most anticipated horrors of the year, Goodnight Mommy, combining elegance and grindhouse style to bizarre and nightmarish effect.
Three flicks from the US of A; Karyn (Girlfight) Kusama’s dark thriller The Invitation, from the producers of the superb The House of the Devil comes We Are Still Here, a haunted house number that echoes the atmospheric depths of Fulci. And from the directors of the excellent low-budget Resolution is their sophomore effort, Spring, a romance steeped in Lovecraftian dread.
New Zealand is currently enjoying a fantastic limelight in horror, and there are two in FMO: the comedy-horror metal extreme of Deathgasm, and the post-apocalyptic thrills and spills of Turbo Kid (a co-pro with Canada).
The double feature delight is none other than two of the great black and white horror movies of the 50s: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (a stone-cold classic of paranoia), and Them! (arguably the best of the plethora of post-war American nuclear-threats).
Also of note is Sunday June 7’s free Horror Tragic Talkfest upstairs at the festival Hub, with Richard Kuipers and Ant Timpson (executive producer on Deathgasm and Turbo Kid) going head-to-head on a freewheelin’ discussion about everything horror juicy.