Another Hole in the Head may well be the only film festival in the world named as an in-joke comment on how there are already too damn many local film festivals. (And as its first edition was 17 years ago, that sentiment presumably goes double or triple now.) Now it’s claiming another virgin terrain as the first such event anywhere to be live-streamed entirely through your favorite COVID companion, the Zoom app.
This means, like an on-site festival happening in non-plague times of yore, programs will show just at scheduled times, not on-demand throughout the entire program window. Specially dubbed Mr. HoleHead’s Warped Dimension, this online edition takes place this Thurs/24 through Tues/29, offering thirteen features and nearly a hundred shorts from around the world.
What can you expect during those six days? Well, as usual with HoleHead, the emphasis is on to quote the festival itself) “Science Fiction, Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Horror, Thriller, Dark & Off-the-Wall Comedy, and Art/Experimental—as well as Music Videos and Documentaries with related content.” In other words, this is for the lover of supposedly trashy genres, albeit with adventuresome taste.
Or, to put it differently, the cineaste who loves horror, but can name a dozen Japanese or French favorites in that vein as well as the familiar Hollywood franchises; for whom “arty” can be a plus, rather than a dis; and who enjoys seeing out-there concepts onscreen, or familiar ones in unexpected low-budget, foreign or polymorphously perverse forms. The multiplex may be closed at present, but even if it weren’t, what you find at HoleHead is extremely unlikely to be found there. Ever.
A big spotlight this year is being thrown on Troma Entertainment, the nearly half-century-old (!) company that has variously produced and/or distributed over 1000 films to date. In the VCR heyday of the mid-1980s they began forging an identity and audience for themselves with such gory, campy, and much-sequelized cult faves as The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Surf Nazis Must Die and Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. Their recipe of lowbrow, high-concept, tongue-in-cheek schlock will be celebrated in a shorts program (“TROMA’s Future Filmmakers to Be Reckoned With”), new documentary VHS Massacre Too, new features Troma’s Mutant Blast and Slashening 2: The Final Beginning, and more.
AHITH is always big on comedy horror in general, and non-Tromatized selections in that vein this year run a gamut from ersatz hicksploitation Willie, Jamaley & The Cacacoon, about the search for a possibly-mythological “wonder of the woods,” to shorts like the half-hour Am I See You?, which spies a cult worshipping Disney collectibles in the back alleys of Anaheim, or Lost Treasure of the Valley, wherein abandoned shopping carts of San Fernando provide a trail to Indiana Jones-type adventure spoofery. One might also reasonably expect as much humor as mayhem to be displayed in Re-Elected, in which zombie POTUSes rise from the dead on the 4th of July
No laughing matter is the likes of Adam Gascho’s Stray Dogs, an indie thriller in which he plays a stranger whom two quarreling brothers (Skyler Pinkerton, Tad Davies) are perhaps foolish to join forces with as they winter-hike in the mountains—even after a ranger tells them there’s been a murder in the park. It was shot in various remote wilderness areas of So. Cal. Also of particular Golden State interest is Theo Hollingsworth’s Sirius Lee: The Problematic Time Transplant, a series of as-yet-unaired webisodes whose titular martial art master, quantum physicist and electro-funk rapper is transported from 1980 to 2020 Oakland after accidentally disrupting the space/time continuum.
Those seeking novelty may want to check out Alexander Roman’s Blackmail, a neo-noir about some upscale Parisian crooks whose soundtrack uses ASMR technology to put your head into a slightly altered state. (Headphones are “strongly recommended to experience the full effect.”)
Mr. HoleHead’s Warped Dimension features work from as far afield as Singapore, Belgium, Australia, Finland, Brazil and exotic Canada, plus special shorts programs devoted to experimental, LGBTQ, animated, sci-fi, fantasy and “rude, crude, occasionally nude” films. You can scrutinize the program schedule yourself (https://www.ahith.com/schedule2 ), but here’s a random selection of highlights among titles we previewed:
The Festival’s official closer on the 29th is this debut feature by experimental German filmmaker Thorsten Fleisch. It’s a dystopian fantasia of beats-per-minute, beatdowns, cockroach overlords and mutant flesh redolent of underground 1980s punk celluloid—but with greatly improved digital-age technology. Its amorphous narrative is less important than the sheer synaptic overload of elements that may variably remind you of Survival Research Lab videos and Japan’s cyber-splatter Tetsuo: The Iron Man, as well as Max Headroom, early David Cronenberg, and so forth.
The Berlin-shot film includes lots of phonetic English dialogue, Satanism, snark, hyperactive editing (including strobe effects—epileptics, stay away), taxidermy, collage animation, involuntary surgery, and “magical nihilism.” There are also de facto music videos inserted by acts I’d never heard of, but whose song titles (“Nuclear Fanboy,” “Dead Baby,” “I Gave Too Many Fucks”) will give you the general idea. It’s a great-looking imaginative whatsit, even if it’s also exactly the sort of movie you might imagine Mike Myers’ Dieter on SNL might make.
A disarmingly droll bit of possibly-fantastical whimsy amidst so much more gonzo HoleHead yuks, this short by writer-director Garry Crystal has a stressed young couple constantly having their baby woken up by the barking dog next door. Desperate for peace, they plead with their elderly neighbor (veteran Mike Leigh collaborator Alison Steadman) to quiet her pet. But it turns out she has some very strange notions about “Bertie”—and so, soon, do the newcomers. It’s on the “Assorted Flavors 2” shorts program.
The Hill and the Hole
Bill Darmon and Christopher Ernst’s feature is based on a vintage short story by Fritz Leiber, a classic fantastical pulp genre writer who spent the last decades of his life quietly living in San Francisco. (He died in 1992, at 81.) Dispatched by the Bureau of Land Management to do routine surveying of a remote southwestern town and its surroundings, Tom (Liam Kelly) finds the locals rather violently resistant to his inquiries.
Just what are they protecting? And what’s up with the cratered local hilltop that looks suspiciously just like the one in Close Encounters? This sci-fi seriocomedy aims for a tenor of absurdist drollery that only connects sporadically, and its narrative is not so much “enigmatic” as incoherent. Still, it’s one of the slickest films in this year’s festival, with an oddball flavor all its own.
Serious Matters in the Middle of the Night
The best fantasy storytelling is usually not a matter of spectacle or expense, but driven by something money can’t buy: Original ideas. Josh Copeland’s Nashville-shot miniature is about a female rideshare driver (Brittany Carlton) in a near future where vicarious religious experiences are the new opiate of the masses—sold and traded as contraband, like dime bags. This no-budget, 17-minute effort doesn’t need CGI or name actors to be very cyberpunk. It’s in the “Scientific Methods” program of sci-fi shorts.
Also on the “Scientific Methods” bill is this rather awesome Italian mini-epic of myriad animation techniques, whose 13 minutes lay out a societal dystopia of robots and cybernetic organisms. In the “Strangers With Eye Candy” program of global ‘toon treats, another must-see is Malakout, in which a Klaus Kinski-looking lord of the castle goes to unpleasant and painful lengths to revive his deceased wife. Farnoosh Abedi’s stop-motion-style short is Iranian, yet an ornately stylized homage to classic European gothicism.
Mr. HoleHead’s Warped Dimension plays online (Zoom registration required) Thurs/24 through Tues/29. For program, schedule and ticket info, go to www.AHITH.com