Extended run: Japan's 'Exte' features hair gone mad in Another Hole in the Head Film Festival. (Photo courtesy AHITHFF)

Critic's Notebook: Hole Head, Week One

Dennis Harvey June 17, 2008

It may not get the biggest audiences or hype amongst umpteen local film festivals, but Another Hole in the Head surely must have the most dedicated viewership of them all. To make a crass generalization: Either you’re a horror/fantasy fan, or you’re not. And if you are, you can watch a lot of the stuff—even the more low-budget, formulaic or simply not-so-good stuff—back-to-back. Many Hole Head patrons would probably just live at the Roxie for two weeks if there was room for sleeping bags. They know this will probably be their first/last chance to see most of the programming on anything but a TV or computer screen.

Going with that flow to an extent, SF360 sampled a healthy share of the festival’s first half in order to give you a sort of dear-diary, blow-by-blow overview. (Mostly omitted here are the movies already discussed in our Hole Head preview.

Sandwiched between two Asian horrors—Japan’s Exte and Thailand’s Alone—official opening nighter The Gene Generation is an English-language U.S. production marking the feature film debut of Singapore-born director-cowriter Pearry Reginald Teo, whose prior shorts made some waves amongst genre fans. Bai Ling stars as an ass-whupping assassin who offs "DNA hackers" making ill use of originally well-intentioned genetic technology that’s already had a disastrous effect on civilization in grimy futuristic Olympia. When her ne’er-do-well brother steals an object of unknown but major importance from a lab, the consequences are unpleasant for all, not excluding Faye Dunaway (or at least her disembodied voice) as a slithering wormy mass of genetically mutated scientist. The story is less compelling than the action and colorful presentation, which manages an impressive visual package on a reported budget of 2.5 million—near-nada by Hollywood if not Hole Head standards.

Friday brought four exercises in gory fun, most of them at least a little tongue-in-cheek. We’ve already discussed the virtues of Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer and The Machine Girl, which latter is highly recommended and played to a packed, raucous house. Many viewers probably stayed on for Mutant Vampire Zombies from the Hood!—but that was past our bedtime. We also missed English psycho-sexual horror thriller Mindflesh, though a conversation between patrons overheard the next day suggested it had considerable appeal for heterosexual males who’d enjoy a whole lot of scenes with a hardbodied nekkid succubus chick—but not so much for anyone else.

Saturday we checked in to a couple items that were offbeat within this schedule, as they sported no zombies, blood fountains, or deliberately campy laughs. Summer Scars by Julian Richards is a slender drama-cum-thriller about some bratty Welsh teens who cut school to frolic in the forest, meeting an itinerant man (Kevin Howarth, also the lead in Richards’ unnerving 2004 Hole Head hit The Last Horror Movie) whose behavior rapidly turns from matey to menacing. It was interesting, but finally felt a bit underdeveloped.

Ditto Philip Hudson’s local production Homeworld, a sci-fi adventure about a group of Earth humans sent to destroy man’s greatest foe on their home planet—but have our protagonists been duped into a mission whose purpose is something entirely else? Taking handsome advantage of various No. Cal. forest landscapes, the movie earns points for trying something different from current fantasy norms. But its story grows too talky and protracted, and one central performance is excessively whiny/annoying even for its antagonistic role. I didn’t stick around to re-view the evening’s two final programs, both heavy on knowing camp: The already-discussed, effectively funny-nasty Trailer Park of Terror, and a 40th anniversary 35mm presentation of Roger Vadim’s kitsch-classic comic book adaptation Barbarella, starring just-pre-"Hanoi Jane" Fonda in the delightful last of her early sex-kitten roles.

Sunday brought considerable, enjoyable silliness from Hole Head’s sole 2008 documentary (Your Friendly Neighborhood Superhero, about real-life do-gooders who don latex costumes for their public service) through the family-friendly fantasy fun of Atom Nine Adventures. The latter is a slick, nifty Indiana Jones-meets-Flash Gordon adventure from producer/director/writer/editor/FX designer/star Christopher Farley. Unfortunately it didn’t lure many Hole Head patrons—perhaps because of people like me describing it in terms like "family-friendly fantasy fun" and "nifty." Sorry. But hey people, not all entertainment that qualifies as wholesome need suck.

There was contrasting enthusiasm to spare at Yaji & Kita, Japanese comedy cult figure Kankuro Kudo’s feature directorial debut. Lifting a pair of traditional heroes into a brave new surreal stratosphere, it casts the titular characters as gay samurai lovers who blithely exit the B&W Edo era—on an Easy Rider styled hog—to taste a very colorful future of magic mushrooms, bisexual conflict, mythological jokes, musical numbers, and a whole lot more. This parade of absurdist non sequiturs goes on a tad too long, but its sheer goofiness is often intoxicatingly funny.

After a few days off, yours truly returned for Thursday night’s double bill of pleasure and pain. The pleasure was had at Matthew Hohnen’s Wasting Away, yet another zombie comedy—but a good one, despite a pacing lapse or three. This tale of four young bowling-alley denizens who are dosed with toxins and become Undead—only they don’t know it, and in their new skewed view think everyone else is "infected"—has a nice deadpan wit as well as its fair share of splatstick.

The pain was suffered watching Uwe Boll’s new 1968 Tunnel Rats, which is also Hole Head’s official closing night feature (alongside late-announced Tokyo Gore Police) next Thursday. Painful not cuz it’s bad—sorry, you Boll-haters—but because it’s a genuinely tense and unpleasant thriller. Especially if you’re at all claustrophobic. Loosely inspired by actual Vietnam War combat accounts (and not a video game, for once), the movie follows a doomed U.S. special forces unit as they raid—then get trapped in—the Viet Cong’s bobby-trapped, labyrinthine crawlways dug beneath already-treacherous jungle terrain. You know what? To me, THAT sh*t is way scarier than zombies, slasher villains or even Faye Dunaway.

Most if not all the aforementioned play again (some twice) in Hole Head’s final week, through Thursday June 19. You can still catch The Machine Girl, Atom Nine, Trailer Park of Terror, Yaki & Kita and Wasted Away, none of which are likely (alas) to surface at your friendly neighborhood moviehouse. So what’s stopping you?! Trust me, Indiana Jones, The Incredible Hulk et al. will still be around after you’ve walked on the wild side with Another Hole in the Head. And the dents they make on your brain will likely be less stimulative than those inflicted by Hole Head’s creative-by-necessity indie mavericks and ambitious no-budget fanboys.