Joe Zerull's splatter film 'A Cadaver Christmas' mixes the droll and over-the-top to humorous effect.

Another Hole in the Head Scares Up New Round

Dennis Harvey June 2, 2011

What's not to love about good, or at least enjoyably bad genre films? Audiences at Another Hole in the Head film festival weather even the most un-fun cinematic storms—that is, when a particular program turns out to be not only “extreme” in content (good), but formulaic, tedious and/or dreadful in execution (bad)—with patient amusement. They are friendly and responsive, and their enthusiasm and tolerance are infectious. They're there to have a good time—and if the film doesn't provide it, they will themselves.

Which is not to say AHITH, now rolling out its 8th annual program at the Roxie (with a concurrent lineup of parties and special events at other venues), lacks good movies. It's showing and has always shown some very adventurous, surprising and impressive genre cinema from around the globe. It was where I first saw the work of U.S. horror surreallist Dante Tomaselli (Horror, Satan's Playground) and Simon Rumley's brilliant British brain-scrambler The Living and the Dead, to name just a few personal highlights. But yes: The adventure of Hole Head requires you risk seeing the occasional dud to seek out the gems.

This year is no different, with a number of impressive genre discoveries and a few titles that...aren't. In the former category are a number of modestly scaled but resourceful and entertaining U.S. indie efforts.

At the top of the list is Mike Flanagan's Absentia, an unusually nuanced tale of two sisters living in a Glendale neighborhood where a lot of pets—and the occasional human, including one heroine's husband—regularly disappear, a phenomenon that proves somehow connected to a nearby pedestrian tunnel. Some viewers may be disappointed by the lack of graphic horror content here, but Flanagan's attention to character psychology (not exactly a usual hallmark in this genre) and creepy atmosphere more than compensate.

Another offbeat, character-based exploration of horror themes is Scott Leberect's Midnight Son, about a young L.A. night-shift sanitation worker who's allergic to sunlight and eats constantly but remains painfully malnourished. Turns out he's on the wrong, er, diet, as he discovers when accidental exposure to human blood triggers an ever-escalating addiction. You can guess where this is heading. But like George Romero's classic Martin, this is an empathetic, surprising and (comparatively) realistic treatment of “vampirism.”

Two horror comedies are also well above average. Joe Zerull's A Cadaver Christmas finds a contentious handful of losers confronting the undead results of a scientific experiment gone wrong in a university building on Yuletide eve. It's co-written by two of its talented stars, like Mike Bradecich and John LaFlamboy's The Mole Man of Belmont Avenue, in which squabbling slumlord brothers must eradicate a humanoid creature preying upon pets, then humans without informing their few remaining tenants. Both these films mix the droll and over-the-top splattery to very funny effect.

Not American, or exactly horror, but definitely a must-see at Hole Head this year is Joseph Stephen Sims' Australian Bad Behaviour, a complicated a-chronological mashup of eventually interweaving storylines amongst variously misbehaving Queenslanders ranging from a philandering wife and partying teens to a sibling duo of conscienceless serial killers. It plays June 8 and 9—you might want to catch the first showing in case you then want to see the second, as this ingenious modern black-comedy Grand Guignol definitely rewards multiple viewings.

Elsewhere, AHITH8 offers several things several times. One is an unusual amount of locally produced features: An unprecedented five, no less. These encompass The Book (written and directed by a person whose “name” is a unique symbol, like Prince in his Artist Formerly Known As days), a campy dress-up fantasy that recalls the Brothers Kuchar; Valerie R. Castro's The Craving, in which a lesbian celebrity chef indulges a taste for voluptuous human flesh in her off-hours; Sean Cain's Breath of Hate, a trickily structured thriller with supernatural elements involving a trio of young prostitutes fatefully delivered to a gated mansion “party;” Michael Fredianelli's world-premiering Apocrypha, another polished attempt to bring vampire bloodlust closer to relatable real-world behavior; and Ralph Hyver's Red Ice, doubtless the first movie to throw together a renegade succubus (played by the transsexual star of XXX films like Bitch Got Balls), Beezlebub, and a crack-addicted flautist software engineer. You want to see death by flute? Here ya go.

There are also three—count 'em, three!—new films by notorious alleged “worst director ever” Uwe Boll. I strongly disagree with that fanboy assessment, having rather enjoyed some of the movies (Tunnel Rats, Postal, and yes even House of the Dead) he's brought to Hole Head before. Alas, this year he's not attending—despite all reason to be resentful he's one of the nicest, most accessible mainstream filmmakers you might meet—nor are the films being shown among his best.

Auschwitz is an excellent educational tool if nothing else, as its somewhat awkward mixture of interviews (with modern-day German high school students who know distressingly little about the Holocaust) and one long, grim re-enactment segment make a potent case for the fact that this most famous of 20th-century genocides should never, ever be forgotten. But its good intentions aren't flattered by sharing some footage with Bloodrayne: The Third Reich, in which our sexy half-vampire heroine objects to concentration camps in the series' cheapest, silliest and most tasteless chapter thus far. The Nazi theme is eventually milked yet again in Eaters, an Italian-language global-epidemic zombie actioner that's OK but not memorable.

Other notable Hole Head categories include revived Japanese monster films (with and without Godzilla), gleeful Japanese fantasy/gore excess (opening night film Helldriver, the Ultraman-like Karate Robo Zaborgar, Yakuza Weapon), and similarly deliberate-bad-taste exercises in fanciful critter carnage (Rat Scratch Fever, Krakoon). There are features from Italy, England, Singapore and Finland, not to mention an array of shorts including T. Arthur Cottam's intriguingly titled 52 Takes of the Same Thing, Then Boobs.

Plenty of filmmakers (if not Uwe) will be in attendence during AHITH. The starriest are frequent past James Cameron actor (The Terminator, The Abyss) Michael Biehn and wife/co-star Jennifer Blanc, who will appear in support of his official writing-directing debut The Victim. Inspired by the ’80s grindhouse aesthetic imparted by Roberto Rodriguez's zombie Grindhouse contribution Planet Terror (which Biehn acted in), it's a hermit and stripper vs. psycho cop melodrama purportedly “based on true events”...though maybe that's a retro-exploitation in-joke.

Another relatively big name attending—though that wasn't absolutely confirmed by presstime—was Heather Langencamp, who at a tender age achieved horror immorality as the one high schooler who manages to fight off Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. (Plus ANOES 3: Dream Warriors and 1994's New Nightmare.) Arlene Marechal's documentary I Am Nancy chronicles the actress' grappling with her sorta-fame, which is so much less than “Freddy” thesp and personal friend Robert Englund's, yet has possibly constricted her own career over the last quarter-century-plus. Not really a horror fan, not quite getting why her resilient victim barely interests fans (who often sport Freddy tattoos) compared to the flamboyant villain, she's an engaging subject, even if this search for self-affirmation ultimately rambles longer than necessary.

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