Rare Horror

Dennis Harvey June 8, 2006

Horror movies are more popular than ever. Yet many true aficionados are dismayed at the genre’s increasing toothlessness, as numerous recent entries have been distressingly rated — the horror, the horror! — PG-13. There’s a financial logic to this, as an R rating makes it difficult for teenagers without fake ID to see, say, “Saw 2” at the first possible opportunity.

But there is a cost. When horror flicks are designed to please the MPAA rather than the Fangoria fan, we must ask: Where’s the blood? The gore? The fatal skinny dipping???

Fortunately, the good folks at Another Hole in the Head (as in, “San Francisco needs another film festival like it needs a—”) recoil from the very thought of lowbrow — or even high-arty — genre entertainment done in Good Taste. The S.F. Indiefest-produced celebration of horror, sci-fi, fantasy and just plain sick cinema is now in its 4th year. These latest eight days at the Roxie truly have something to offend everyone.

Including its official opening and closing-night selections, which for most festivals are programmed with an eye on keeping donors, sponsors, and more mainstream-inclined patrons happy — in other words, bring on the bland “crowd-pleasers.” Not so at Another Hole, where some of the most stomach-churning material is proudly programmed in these “gala” slots.

Thus the festival commences with “Rampo Noir,” a 135-minute quartetof tales loosely drawn from “Japan’s Edgar Allan Poe,” Edogawa Rampo. Directed by four of the more cultishly adored younger directors — some working with a decent budget for the first time — this fantasy/horror omnibus is equal parts visual surrealism, narrative ambiguity, directorial pretension and pure ick. Its extreme-content apex — or nadir, depending on your intestinal fortitude — is the long segment by underground auteur Hisayasu Sato in which the wife/nursemaid (Yukiko Okamoto) of a limbless war veteran (Nao Omori) takes great erotic pleasure in his further mutilation.

Even more ralph-provoking, perhaps, is closer “Feed,” an Australian feature by Brett Leonard. His prior U.S. projects have included such horrors as Stephen King-inspired “Lawnmower Man,” Russell Crowe-as-virtual-serial-killer-foisting “Virtuosity,” and IMAX flabbergaster-piece “Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Box.”

Really warming to the disgust factor this time, Leonard spins a tale that conflates paranoid, gross-out conspiracy out of something that actually does exist — the marginal subculture of “feeders” and “gainers,” wherein the former gets sexual kicks from overfeeding the corpulent (usually female) latter. If you loved that scene in “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life” wherein a hugely overweight restaurant patron gorges himself to death, well, you’ll be in hog-heaven with “Feed.”

I confess the above are not my cup of bile. But fear not, fans of straightforward supernatural gore, thrills and fantasy: Another Hole has plenty for you. There are several splattersome world premieres, including Mark Savage’s dialogue-free zombie wigout “Defenceless: A Blood Symphony,” Jay Lee’s “Evil Dead”-like “The Slaughter,” and Garrin Vincent’s camp sci-fi “Star Slyderz.” Michael Hurst’s “Room 6” is a twisted nightmare starring none other than Christine Taylor (a.k.a. Mrs. Ben Stiller and second-generation Marcia Brady) and apple-pie hunk Jerry O’Connell. Just how bloody will these celebs get? If the photos are any indication, it’s gonna be brutal.

Of course there’s no telling yet what those films will turn out to be like. But enthusiastic thumbs-up can be given such already festival-traveled Hole titles as the delightfully crass “Evil” (“Night of the Living Dead” gone Greek, set in Athens), Japanese “Tetsuo” cult director Shinya Tsukamoto’s ultimate claustrophobe frightmare “Haze,” and the Bay Area-based Butcher Brothers’ inventive black comedy “The Hamiltons.” Not to mention Andrew Leman’s meticulous reconstruction of pre-WW2 B-movie thrills, the hilarious B&W “Call of Cthulhu.”

There are also genuine archival features in Another Hole’s eight-day schedule. One is a very rare “director’s cut” screening of “Darklands” — the 1996 witchcraft tale by director Julien Richards (whose subsequent “Last Horror Movie” left a memorably chilling SF Indiefest impression) that has been difficult for U.S. audiences to see in any form.

Another is 1971’s U.S. drive-in obscurity “Simon, King of the Witches,” starring Andrew Prine as the titular shaggy Wiccan who lives in a storm drain until fate and some upscale hippies (including Warhol fave Ultra Violet) lure him out. Is it his fault that the cops, the D.A., drug-dealer informants and Satan Himself ensure these trendoids’ dip into occultism turns out very, very badly? Hardly not, as our Barry Gibb-looking hipster protagonist informs.

Speaking of psychedelic relics, few mainstream movies have ever seemed more drug-addled than John Boorman’s lunatic sci-fi fantasia “Zardoz.” This 1974 flop — even hippies couldn’t dig it — is a visually rich exercise in thin sci-fi philosophy wherein lone macho working-classman (Sean Connery) liberates the decadent, impotent aristocrats (led by Charlotte Rampling) by virtue of his sheer, hairy-in-loincloth potency. This futuristic, over-intellectualized planet is both a call for and an indictment of orgy.

Boorman wrote “Zardoz” himself, between the triumph of “Deliverance” and the studio-interfered fiasco of camp classic “Exorcist II: The Heretic.” “Zardoz” is like