SCREEN GRABS As Election Day approaches, real life is terrifying enough — making it a good moment to blow off steam by experiencing some reassuringly fictive frights at Another Hole in the Head (Thu/27-Nov 9), SF’s premiere genre festival. Focusing primarily on horror and fantasy film, Hole Head in its lucky 13th year has shifted entirely from the Roxie to the New People Cinema (opposite the Sundance Kabuki) in Japantown.
That means plenty of opportunity for noodles and/or sushi between shows. Though you may not exactly feel like eating after Thursday’s opening night selection. Bobby Miller’s The Master Cleanse, an offbeat character study with supernatural elements about a rudderless dude (Johnny Galecki) who seeks new direction at a remote spiritual retreat where “cleansing the toxins” from his system proves rather more intense than expected. Anjelica Huston, Anna Friel, and Oliver Platt also feature in this eccentric tale.
The festival winds up two weeks later on November 9 with Beyond the Gates. Affection for the formative VHS frights of their childhoods is a frequent influence for younger genre filmmakers, but seldom is that quite so explicitly spelled out as in Jackson Stewart’s closing night selection. This entertaining ode to drive-in and direct-to-video horror of the ’80s through early ’90s has Graham Skipper and Chase Williamson as semi-estranged brothers forced to reunite when their father dies — or rather disappears for so long that he’s assumed dead.
Having to clear out dad’s old VHS-only rental store, they discover a stupid old board-and-videotape game that, when played… well, y’know, opens the portals to Hades. Don’t expect any hallucinatory Hellscapes from this willfully cheesy, low-budget throwback, but it does get the retro B-movie feel just right. In between, Hole Head features plenty of shorts programs, live events, revivals, and of course myriad new indie genre features, including several premieres from local filmmakers like Doc Zee’s House of Temptation, Matthew Abaya’s Vampariah, and Jamie Ball’s The Cufew Gang. Here are a few highlights:
Less horror than fantastical drama, Geoff Redknap’s feature is a spin on The Invisible Man about a lumber mill-working loner (Aden Young) who abandoned his wife and child years earlier for reasons we don’t immediately grasp. When his now-teenage daughter (Julia Sarah Stone) turns up with a truckload of “issues,” he’s forced to confront that past, as well as the mysterious condition that is consuming his body. While the concept doesn’t entirely work, The Unseen makes up for its deficiencies as a thriller with its surprising strengths as a gritty character study set in a creditable rural British Columbia milieu of economic and spiritual depression. (Tues/1, 7pm)
Sophie Takal’s tricky, impressive psychological thriller has Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald as two aspiring L.A. actresses, alleged “best friends” whose barely-sublimated competitiveness and jealousy boils over during a getaway weekend in Big Sur. Suffice it to say, at a certain point this vacation turns into a Repulsion-like portrait of disintegrating sanity. Other female-centric horrors at Hole Head include Chris Alexander’s surreal Female Werewolf, Cody Calahan’s “evil twin” nightmare Let Her Out, and Ryan M. Andrews’ Save Yourself, in which five road-tripping women horror filmmakers find themselves at the mercy of an all-too-real latterday Nazi medical experimenter. (Shine: Wed/2, 7 pm)
This year’s leading sci-fi entry is Guy Roger-Duvert’s debut feature, an English-language US/France coproduction whose Blade Runner-esque futurist intrigue (with a dash of Matrix, plus some sword-and-sorcery elements) manages to be quite visually impressive on a relatively low budget.
Elsewhere on the foreign front, there’s a surprising paucity of the usual splattery “Japanese extreme” fare in Hole Head 2016, unless you count Tokyo Grand Guignol, an omnibus of macabre tales set in that city but created by French writers and directors. Other notable international titles include Sang-ho Yeon’s Seoul Station, an animated companion to the Korean live-action zombie hit Train to Busan, and a genially silly multi-genre spoof from New Zealand, This Giant Papier-Mache Boulder Is Actually Really Heavy. (Virtual: Thurs/3 7 pm)
Drugs in the Tenderloin
This remarkable, intimate snapshot of 1966 life in San Francisco’s “underbelly” neighborhood captures something not so unlike the melting pot of today (albeit without the looming gentrification), as dealers, dopers, dropouts and sex workers of all colors and persuasions tell their stories with surprising frankness. For 50 years Robert Zagone’s hour-long TV documentary languished in obscurity; recently, however, it’s begun to experience local revivals, and remarkably the director is still around to host Q&As.
(He’ll be in attendance at this screening.) Other golden oldies dug up for Hole Head this annum include a great Halloween double of 1988’s Killer Klowns From Outer Space (probably still the best of the whole evil-clown subgenre) and 1982’s cult fave Halloween III: Season of the Witch, an imaginative entry that doesn’t involve Michael Myers at all. (Drugs: Sun/6, 9 pm)
The Alchemist Cookbook
Also playing on a day designated as “Not Another Hole In the Head” — when programs veer away from conventional genre bounds — is rising midwestern DIY director Joel Potrykus’ delightful, unclassifiable feature. Ty Dickson plays a young African-American man living alone in a trailer in the woods for possibly paranoid-delusional reasons, though eventually we glean there may be some truth behind his supernatural quest.
More quirky absurdist comedy than straight-up horror or suspense, this is great fun if you’re willing to roll with it, highlighted by joyously unbridled performances from Dickson and Amari Cheatom. If you’re looking for other journeys on the far side, check out Pat Tremblay’s bizarro Canadian Atmo HorroX, Aaron Keene’s poetical B&W allegory Panopticon, and the numerous shorts programs that run a gamut of thematic and stylistic terrain. (Alchemist: Sun/6 7 pm)
Another Hole in the Head runs Thurs/27-Wed/9, New People Cinema, SF. Most shows $15 (discount packages available). More info here.