Re-animating genre: David J. Francis's goofy Reel Zombies mockumentary plays Another Hole in the Head, which opens Friday, June 5.

Another Hole in the Head

Dennis Harvey June 4, 2009

Confronted by flesh-eating zombies, werewolves, or a maniac with a very sharp object, your first instinct probably would not be to laugh—unless it were that hysterical, this-can’t-be-happening type of laughter often heard greeting tax and election results. But at this year’s 6th annual Another Hole in the Head dedicated to sci-fi, horror and fantasy, catastrophic carnage meets comedy more often than not.

As moviegoers (and genre fans), have we become so desensitized to violence that it plays best as a joke? Or in the dark real-world climate of this decade, are filmmakers just helping us let off some steam by making fear seem a laughing matter? Oh, who cares—this festival is all about fun, not analyzing content. How much analysis do you expect something called Frat House Massacre or Run! Bitch Run! (sic) to withstand, anyway?

Two of the most outrageous exercises in bad-taste mayhem and amusement have the strongest local ties. James Isaac’s Pig Hunt is one nutty mix of genre tropes. An SUV-full of callow young San Franciscans drives north for a weekend of partying and shooting things. But their leader, who was raised hereabouts, has formative frenemies to reunite with, and legend has it there’s something very big, bad and indiscriminately hungry roaming the forest. Throw in a crazy country clan out of Deliverance, mysterious New Age hippie commune, and yes one giant killer pig. Now stir, and you’ve got a horror-action-comedy hybrid as unpredictable as it is well-crafted.

Considerably lower-brow and lower budget is Jonathan Lewis’ Black Devil Doll, an Antioch-shot homage that tries to out-outrage its already flabbergasting source of inspiration: 1983 direct-to-video obscurity Black Devil Doll from Hell, the world’s first (and until now last) Christian blaxploitation softcore Trilogy of Terror ripoff in which a lonely spinster is pleasured, then terrorized by a possessed ventriloquist dummy while all-Casio music plays. It is also the first film in my knowledge to give end-credits billing to an actual medical doctor for "breast augmentation."

Less inclined to appall the easily offended is David J. Francis’ Reel Zombies, a very Canadian exercise in deadpan comedy-of-lameness. This mockumentary charts the alleged making of a zombie flick by filmmakers (nearly all playing themselves, or some clueless variation) who’ve already bombed with two inept prior such efforts. But never mind—this time they’ve got a gimmick (as well as cost-saving tactic) in using real zombies, who conveniently have reached epidemic numbers amongst a largely unconcerned population since their last feature.

Of course, on-set wrangling of these undead can easily go awry, leading to "workplace injuries" the union surely won’t be happy about. More chucklesome than laugh-out-loud stuff, Reel is still agreeably goofy.

While the films above may make it look fairly easy, mixing horror and hilarity is in fact a difficult business, as many other Hole Head entries this year prove. The aforementioned Run! Bitch Run!, in which two Catholic schoolgirls of typically advanced age run into Devil’s Rejects-style freakos, doesn’t advance past the punctuation joke (?) of its title. Med students awaken the giant-penis-utilizing spirit of a dead rapist-murderer in Someone’s Knocking at the Door, a movie whose myriad loutish and/or sloppy faults are compensated somewhat by The Mei Shi’s power-pop on the soundtrack.

Recycled-cinema piece Sex Galaxy cleverly edits together old public-domain footage (including much from fabled 1968 Roger Corman scam Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, which young Peter Bogdanovich "directed") to satirize sci-fi cliches, but the newly dubbed-in dialogue is mostly juvenile sexual yuks. Audie and the Wolf is a girl-meets-lycanthrope romance that’s mostly just silly, though given a big lift by magician/comedian/actor Derek Hughes’ delightful performance as the were-dog turned bewildered Beverly Hills man-boy.

Hitting a precarious but mostly successful balance between slasher snark and seriousness is Alex Pucci’s self-explanatory, 1980-set Frat House Massacre, which deserves props for including a vintage Leif Garrett tune and disco production number. Tappin’ some gratuitous Kate Bush (on the soundtrack I mean!) is Paulo Biscaia’s Brazilian Morgue Story, a farcical grand guignol whose sometimes over-twisty/talky progress betrays its stage origins—but which is impressively clever nonetheless.

Other international titles are less interested in mocking terror than milking it. Opening-night selection Coming Soon from Thailand is Sopon Sukdapisit’s atmospheric ghost story set in a multiplex where the new horror movie showing proves to be carrying its own all-too-real curse.

From the United Kingdom, Kerry Anne Mullaney’s The Dead Outside is a smaller-scale 28 Days Later spin, while Adam Mason’s (Broken) new Blood River finds a stranded couple imperiled by a menacing desert hitchhiker. Steven Kastrissios’ Australian The Horseman is less a horror film than a (very) violent revenge drama about a man hunting down those responsible for his daughter’s OD death during a degrading porn shoot.

What would HoleHead be without at least one Takashi Miike film? This year there’s two: Gory yet droll serial-killer mystery Detective Story and manga-based high school gang epic Crows: Episode Zero (which already has a completed sequel). Neither are among his best, but if you follow this most prolific of beloved contemporary cult directors, you’ll want to see them anyway. Echoing Crows in a more parodic key is writer-director-actor Tak Sakaguchi’s Be a Man!! Samurai School!, whose terminally competitive students off each other amidst some good sight gags.

For more from Japan, there’s the inclusion of two non-horror but decidedly out-there recent entries in that country’s long-running "pink" film genre of short softcore erotic features, nonsensical Lambs nod Silence of the Sushi Rolls and samurai satire Ninja Pussy Cat. Not actually of Japan but very much of that latter genre (plus a whopping portion o’ spaghetti western) is Kurando Mitsutake’s U.S.-made, pseudo-70s swordfest Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf.

As if all that weren’t enough, HoleHead’s two-week umbrella also encompasses splatsome live theatre (Ahhnold spoof Conanator the Barbarian and horror homage Brain-Dead Alive), live bands, parties aplenty (including roller disco!), and the inevitable "much more."

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