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Arts + CultureMoviesScreen Grabs: Another Hole in the Head fest brings...

Screen Grabs: Another Hole in the Head fest brings indie nightmares before Christmas

From Satanic Hispanics to SAWrannosaurus Rex, local theaters—including the reopened 4 Star—flow with fake blood. Plus more!

Arriving on the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday—two things that always sounded like a horror movie and a dystopian sci-fi one, in addition to often feeling like it—seems an appropriate moment this year for Another Hole in the Head. The 19th edition of SF Indie Fest’s longest-running offshoot brings its usual mix of genre-oriented fun for an epic 18 days this Thurs/1-Sun/18, both in-person at local venues (including the newly re-opened 4 Star Theatre) and via online streaming.

The 30 features and 200+ shorts on tap during that span are the latest iteration of what loyal attendees have come to expect: Horror, sci-fi, fantasy, comedy, camp, and unclassifiable work from around the globe, with particular emphasis on US independent production. It opens with the mini-festival-in-itself of Satanic Hispanics, whose five-part, mostly Spanish-language anthology by multinational directors spins fantastical tales embracing vampires, witchery, a large wooden dildo known as “The Hammer of Zanzibar,” and more. That kickoff feature plays this Thurs/1 at the Roxie.

Keeping the Latino profile high on Fri/9 is a real curio, The Curse aka A Praga, from late Brazilian horror legend Jose Mojica Marins. In his persona as the sinister Coffin Joe, he introduces this “terrifying” story of a handsome young photographer who makes the mistake of pissing off a fearsome “old hag,” which brings a consequence of grievous harm to himself and his unfortunate girlfriend. The film was a remake of an episode Marins made for his 1967 TV show, but which was later lost in a fire.

This version, too, was ill-fated—money ran out before shooting was completed in 1980, then the footage lost for over a quarter-century. Finally it was found, and the intended end product reconstructed with the help of newly-shot scenes and dubbing. Clearly made on a shoestring, it is not among this unique showman-auteur’s bizarre best. But is certainly worth a look for fans, particularly as it will be screened with a short documentary (Mojica’s Last Curse) chronicling the project’s beleaguered history.

Few films have been more fortunate, then unfortunate, than George Romero’s original 1968 Night of the Living Dead, a very low-budget B&W feature that unexpectedly turned out to be one of the most successful indie productions of all time. Alas, its distributor made a simple mistake that invalidated the movie’s copyright, putting it in the public domain and assuring that innumerable subsequent releases did not financially benefit the filmmakers at all. (Its “freebie” status has also made it quite possibly the film most excerpted in other films, ever.) Nonetheless, the gory zombiefest remains hugely influential.

It will surface no less than twice during HoleHead 2022: On Fri/2, rock/experimental ensemble Sleepbomb will premiere live their score for the complete film, whose nightmare qualities should no doubt be considerably enhanced by their mix of drone, found sounds, and more conventional instrumentation. Available for streaming throughout the festival is Cristobal Ross’ A Zombie Movie aka Una Peculia de Zombies, which uses deepfake technology to dub new actors (largely drawn from Chile’s comedy scene) and stoner-humor dialogue into a re-edit of the 1968 film.

Other notable entries in the schedule include salutes to slasher franchises (fan films Friday the 13th Vengeance 2: Bloodlines and SAWrannosaurus Rex, documentary Living With Chucky), true-crime horror (Pig Killer), creepiness (aptly titled British haunting story The Creeping), creature features (such as Cryptid, which is sorta Tremors in the Maine forest), quasi-retro grindhouse (Night of the Bastard), an anthology film whose directors include Ruggero Deodato and Uwe Boll (The Profane Exhibit), hallucination horror (SwallowedDo Not Disturb), Japanese monsters with tentacles (Extraneous Matter) and without (Yuzo the Biggest Battle in Tokyo), and lots of rude comedy, with telltale titles like Dickhead!Hayseed and Don’t F**k in the Woods 2. There are also numerous themed shorts programs, with focuses from animation and LGBTQ+ content to local filmmakers.

In the “unclassifiable” camp, there is Gary Huggins’ Kick Me, a black comedy of the “one wild night” type a la After Hours that puts Santiago Vasquez’s high school counselor through a mill of random absurdist perils with a high body count. Even odder (because it’s true!) is Oscar Harding’s A Life on the Farm, which tells the strange, sometimes disturbing, ultimately kinda heartwarming story of an isolated farmer in Somerset, England whose eccentricities extended to the creation of some exceedingly odd “home videos” in which he made cardboard skeletons “drive” tractors, carried his dead mother out to a field so “the cows could pay their last respects,” and so forth.

More on the live-performance side is The Twilight Zone Parody Series, which will be at Stage Werks Wed/14-Thurs/15; and The Warped Dimension VHS Show! (Sat/3 at the Roxie), an interactive experience that culminates in a full screening of 1987’s famously terrible franchise-ender Jaws: The Revenge. No stranger to psychotronic cinema himself, Christopher Coppola will present a mystery TBA film at the Roxie on Wed/7.

For full program, schedule, and ticket info on this year’s Another Hole in the Head, go to www.ahith.com.

In a week that begins with veteran Italian rock instrumentalists Goblin performing live their indelible score to Dario Argento’s classic 1977 occult scarefest Suspiria (Tues/29 at the Castro), HoleHead isn’t even the only major horror-ish happening of immediate interest. Two of four new releases come draped in auteurist fame and festival prizes. Yet it’s the lesser-sung other duo that I preferred.

Lars von Trier has not-infrequently flirted with horror (from his 1984 debut feature Element of Crime through macabre duo Antichrist and Melancholia, to 2018’s straight-up gorefest The House That Jack Built), and even on occasion shown a sense of humor. Still, 1994 Danish miniseries The Kingdom aka Riget and its 1997 sequel surprised everyone by being so funny, pulpy, and crazy. The two “seasons” of four episodes each parodied his own Dogme filmmaking movement, hospital soap operas, supernatural thrillers, and more, being set in a supposedly “cursed” Copenhagen medical facility where weird things keep happening—as if the staff and patients weren’t already weird enough.

I didn’t re-watch those original hours before the new The Kingdom: Exodus. Von Trier has admitted he didn’t give them much of a revisit, either—and further that he had a “rotten time” making this drastically belated followup, as he’s suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Which may partly explain why these five final episodes (no one is left alive at the end for further ones) feel forced, arbitrary, and attenuated. It’s also self-conscious, with hospital staff now kvetching about the gawking legacy they’ve been left with by “that idiot von Trier’s old show”—one of many amusing ideas here that soon become silly and repetitious.

Prankish as they were, the first two series still summoned enough Twin Peaks-y atmosphere to suggest a real mystery at their core. Here, however, it’s clear all that is just “making it up as we go along” nonsense. Even the involvements of Willem Dafoe (as some kind of Satanic emissary) and Udo Kier (a sleeping-giant “gatekeeper of the Kingdom”) never transcend rote gimmickry. There are some laughs, to be sure. But simultaneously hectic and padded Exodus wears thin so quickly, you may wish its nearly 300 minutes had been boiled down to a more manageable, inspired 100 or so. It began streaming on platform MUBI last Sunday.

A somewhat surprising winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance early this year was Nanny—if only because other films at the festival also dealt with race/class themes within a genre context (notably Master and God’s Country) in a somewhat more satisfying way. Not that writer-director Nikyatu Jusu’s first feature isn’t stylish and intriguing.

Aisha (Anna Diop) is a Senegalese emigre starting the titular job in a luxury high-rise NYC apartment, working for glam Upper East Siders Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam (Morgan Spector). They seem nice enough at first, and in fact there’s not a lot for Aisha to do—her 6-year-old charge Rose (Rose Decker) is already so highly “minded” she’s got her own therapist, as well as a full instruction binder of do’s and don’t’s. But things start to get weird, in ways that at first seem attributable to simple communication breakdowns, then to something more sinister.

But that “something” stays frustratingly vague, in the end making Nanny feel like a drama about immigrant disorientation and culture clash whose superfluous genre elements were shoehorned in as a commercial failsafe. Nonetheless, Jusu gets good performances from her cast, while the film has a textural richness in its vivid color palette and graceful craftsmanship. If the result is more a success in aesthetic than storytelling or social-commentary terms, it still does cast a certain spell. Nanny opens in limited theaters this Fri/2, then begins streaming on Amazon Prime December 16.

Also invited into a stranger’s home to her eventual regret is the heroine of Travis Stevens’ third directorial feature, A Wounded Fawn. It’s a step forward in ambition and technique from his prior ones, which were modestly impressive in their own right. Meredith (Sarah Lind) is a museum curator rebounding from an abusive relationship, which makes it a bit baffling that she accepts an invitation to spend a weekend in the country with some barely met internet match (Josh Ruben as Bruce). Alas, we already know he’s killed at least one woman prior, and Meredith begins to suspect something is off when she recognizes a small sculpture in his deluxe “cabin”—one he stole from that previous victim—as an antiquity over 2,000 years old.

Are Bruce’s actions being directed by malevolent supernatural powers, or is he simply mad? Either way, Fawn soon goes down a rabbit’s hole of possibly delusional phantasmagoria, with a significant turning of power-dynamic tables at about the midway point. Stevens’ film isn’t quite as psychedelically bonkers as it would like to be. But it is fun, and further designates him as a director to watch. It launches on the streaming platform Shudder this Thurs/1.

Considerably downscaled from the haunted yet haute abodes in Fawn and Nanny is the rather dilapidated flat occupied by New Yorker Mavis (Ellen Davis) in Andy Mitton’s The Harbinger. But poor housekeeping isn’t her real problem—that is a separate issue disturbing enough to make her repeatedly scream, to the complaints of neighbors. The concerned landlord, finding her in a state of hysteria and self-harm even while asleep, insists she “get help.”

This results in apparent sole friend Monique (Gabby Beans) breaking her own strict COVID lockdown to drive in from upstate. Perhaps the “bad dreams” Mavis cannot seem to wake from are just due to isolation-induced stress. Yet all too soon, after offering to stay overnight, Monique begins suffering the same exact predicament. The two women reluctantly begin to believe they may be afflicted by a trickster demon—something an actual demonologist alarmingly confirms via video conference. Its m.o. is an insidious predation upon memory, forgetting, and blurring the line between waking/dreaming.

The director’s screenplay is a little more cagey than necessary, particularly in doling out any specifics of the characters’ backstories. But he drums up a powerfully ominous atmosphere, and the actors are very good at making their characters plausible despite the fantastical circumstances. Flawed as it is, The Harbinger really does get under your skin, in ways that very seldom feel like standard horror terrain. It’s available in limited theaters as well as On Demand platforms as of Thurs/1.

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