Sunday, January 24, 2021
Arts + Culture Movies Another Hole in the Head fest brings a healthy...

Another Hole in the Head fest brings a healthy dose of violent mayhem

The dead will rise, the malevolent tree wraiths will conquer. Here's our critic's top picks from this year's gathering.


Are imminent global environmental and current national political catastrophes getting you down? Do you frequently wish perceived foes would “just die screaming”? Are you an essentially nonviolent person who nonetheless can understand the appeal of a cathartic bloodbath at present? Then you might be in just the mood for Another Hole in the Head, the San Francisco genre film festival that returns for its 16th annual program this Sunday, December 1 through Sunday, December 15. Heavy on the horror, fantasy, action, and reassuringly fictive monsters as usual, it provides a healthy two-week dose of violent mayhem that will harm neither your health nor democracy in general.

Programs of particular Bay Area interest include three separate bills of “Strictly Local” Shorts, as well as an opening night feature starring a slew of SF stand-up and sketch comedy talent: Michael Meehan’s long-aborning Hey Monster, Hands Off My City, which stars Jonny and Reggie Steele as SFPD detectives investigating a series of beverage-related homicides. There’s also Scott J. Ramsey’s X, a lengthy drama of duplicitous intrigue amongst people involved in a monthly, invitation-only masked erotic ball.

Local filmmakers should be in the house en masse for three events with SF Art Institute film department head Christopher Coppola. On Thu/5 he’ll host programs of both his students’ films and his own 2000 feature Bel Air, a tongue-in-cheek riff on Sunset Boulevard. On closing night he’ll world-premiere The Macbeth Syndrome, an autobiographical-sounding fantasia about a film prof/B-moviemaker from a famous filmmaking family.

While the majority of films here are US (or Canadian) independent productions, a smattering come from farther afield. From South Africa comes 8, a handsomely shot tale of a handyman (and possible supernatural avenger) wreaking havoc on the lives of a family that’s just inherited a farmstead with, natch, a dark Apartheid past. The Mexican 1974 is a found-footage fiction that requires you believe someone in the titular year would have a whoooooole lot of Super 8 film on hand to record a spouse’s apparent spiritual possession.

Globe-trotting Spanish director Adrian Garcia Bogliano sojourned to Sweden for Black Circle, in which a vintage “magnetic hypnosis” LP creates usurping doubles for its unlucky listeners. Starring as the hypnotist (and subsequent exorcist) is Christina Lindberg, who’s well-remembered amongst psychotronic cinema fans for her early 1970s run of softcore Swedish sexploitation films like The Swinging Co-Eds and Love in 3D. The Australian The Furies is an outback take on The Most Dangerous Game, as a group of captive women discover they’re being hunted for “sport” by masked men.

There are also a few revival goodies, served up variably straight. A unique double bill on Sat/7 pairs Brian De Palma’s 1974 rock musical Phantom of the Paradise with the documentary Phantom of Winnipeg, which chronicles how the now cult-beloved feature bombed everywhere on initial release—except in Manitoba, of all places, where it inexplicably gained a large, immediate following. Drone/doom ensemble Sleepbomb will provide a live soundtrack on Sun/8 to John Milius’ original 1982 Conan the Barbarian, starring The Ahnold. And Jorge Torres-Torres’ Friday the 13th “Revision” (on Fri/13) is an ultimate-fan-edit version of the entire slasher series that promises all “83 Jason kills in 85 minutes.”

Elsewhere on the schedule, there’s the usual ton of horror-comedy (Eat Brains Love, Dead Dicks, Housesitter: The Night They Saved Siegfried’s Brain!, etc.), plus a bit of sci-fi noir (The Tangle), two wilderness thrillers (Range Runners, Stay Out Stay Alive), a Christian horror (Beneath the Black Veil), retro doofus-buddy yoks (Easy Does It), feature animation (To Your Last Death), and something called Senior Love Triangle.

Here’s a few previewed highlights:


Perhaps the best movie to premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Festival this July, the Pierce Brothers’ supernatural thriller recalls 80s supernatural teen flicks like The Lost Boys and Fright Night with its tale of a summer vacation that goes to hell. 17-year-old Ben’s (John-Paul Howard) seasonal job working with his harbormaster father in a lakeside resort community takes a turn when a malevolent tree wraith takes possession of the (formerly) nice people next door. What can I say?: It’s a lot better than that sounds.


Another Fantasia find was this latest from an offscreen husband and wife team who, with their daughters, have created and starred in several shoestring features to date. Professional psychic Ivy (Toby Poser) and her Goth-styled teen Echo (Zelda Adams) are an unusually simpatico mother-and-daughter duo. So naturally it’s very disturbing when Echo disappears one night—and Ivy’s suspicion soon falls on the newly arrived house-flipping stranger (John Adams) we already know accidentally ran over the girl, then hid her corpse in a panic. This low-key yet macabre tale of haunting and vengeance recalls 1970s drive-in favorites like Let’s Scare Jessica To Death in its offbeat, atmospheric economy.


Jason Krawczyk’s 2015 He Never Died was a not-very-good black comedy horror that got some attention for the theoretically intriguing hook of having Henry Rollins as an immortal cannibal zombie vampire living in Bukowski-esque reclusive squalor. Audrey Cummings’ roundabout sequel (which Krawczyk wrote, but Rollins does not appear in) is enough of an improvement to make you think there might be a franchise here after all.

This time our protagonist is Olunike Adeliyi as an immortal homeless woman (or, er, something) with a taste for human flesh. Though on the antisocial side, she hooks up with a police detective and a young near-victim to bust up a snuff-video-producing human trafficking operation. The mix of hardboiled humor, hardcore violence and fantasy doesn’t always completely work, but it gets pretty close.


Two of the better films in Hole Head this year happen to star a young actor who’s been in a number of recent genre films, including Siren, John Dies at the End and The Guest. He’s the clean-cut if increasingly frantic hero of Graham Denman’s Greenlight, a fresh-outta-film-school newbie who’s thrilled to get hired to direct his first feature—until he realizes what dastardly collusion the producer (Chris Browning) expects in return.

In Tom Botchii’s Artik, Williamson is grunge’d up to play a loner auto mechanic and Al-Anon attendee who befriends a strange child, only to discover the boy is part of a murderous cult-leader-type man’s (Jerry G. Angelo) isolationist clan. It’s an effectively terse violent melodrama.


Not everything at Hole Head is horror- or fantasy-related. This first directorial feature by Colin Best starts out as a sort of exquisite-corpsedistillation of espionage movies in the James Bond mode, as one outlandish, chase-driven crisis in an exotic location follows another, sans any character or plot explication.

Things get a little more conventional as our nameless courier-assassin (Stuart Reid, furry, worried and antic like Steve Carrell) retreats to a snowbound cabin. But hitmen pursue him there, and the bodies pile up as everybody wants the briefcase he’s handcuffed to. Strikingly shot in widescreen B&W on  Swiss Alpine locations, with a highly eclectic soundtrack (The Cure, Conway Twitty, Grateful Dead, Grizzly Bear), this stylish oddity can be taken as an absurdist black comedy, a stripped-down action thriller, or both.


Another detour from typical Hole Head terrain is this documentary about an obscure figure of 70s music. A multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter, White was considered by some a major funk-soul talent ripe for discovery—the only problem being, he was serving a life sentence for murder. Somehow permission was gained for him to record a 1974 album (with full cadre of visiting session players, engineers, etc.) while in prison, and with the help of celebrity supporter Stevie Wonder, he got paroled in 1978.

Yet soon after, he disappeared. A less upbeat parallel to Searching for Sugar Man, Dan Veron’s film is a bit of cinematic sleuthing that eventually unearths the man himself—as well as a fiendishly complicated trail of discarded women, children, identities and lies that the charismatic, sociopathic White left behind him. It’s a fascinating portrait, albeit one that gets darker and darker.

Another Hole in the Head plays Sun/1-December 15 at New People Cinema, SF. More information here. 

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