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[whitespace] Horror Heaven

Another Hole in the Head film festival in San Francisco deliver the scares and gore

By Richard von Busack

Stephen King ranked the experience of the scare in three levels: gross-out, horror (something bad happening to someone else) and terror (something that might well happen to you).

As a film festival, "Another Hole in the Head: Seven Nights of Unrelenting Terror" aims for the highest level of scary movie, but there's a lot of material here that's at the level of the gross-out. While there's nothing wrong with honest disgust, it demonstrates that the really scary movie is yet another endangered form of art.

It's actually rather humble of the festival to refer to San Francisco's surfeit of film fests in the very title of this series, organized by the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, a.k.a. IndieFest: "San Francisco needs another film festival like it needs ..."

So the hole in the head doesn't just refer to the weeklong fest's timely revival of an artifact from Times Square's most intimidating era. I mean, 1979 Driller Killer starring and directed by that Dostoevsky of the grindhouse Abel Ferrara.

Playing a deranged artist who decides to turn power tools on the too-hip-to-live downtowners plaguing him, Ferrara anticipates his career using that other power tool, the movie camera, as a weapon against the world.

Ferrara's in need of his own retrospective, having also been provocative director of The Addiction (a brilliant Catholic vampire movie starring Lily Taylor, irresistible with other people's blood smeared on her mouth) and the Citizen Kane of rape-revenge movies, Ms. 45.

Three other revivals at the fest: a matinee Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), one of the newer high-tech Gojira fests with widescreen and subtitles. Here, Gojira's purpose as a metaphor for the atomic bomb becomes completely outlined; and his monstrous opponents turn out to be elemental symbols of ecology, opposing the radioactive monster. Sounds deep dish, yet children go for it, the beautiful model work shames the ugly CGI in the overpromoted American version, which is referred to here, along with The Blair Witch Project.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) was considered a bummer in its day, but like the collected works of John Hughes and The Goonies, it's gotten a second life. Drugs may be the culprit. The very-little-seen Vampire Circus (1971) is a work of Hammer Studios in its last stage, and uses a background of plague to illustrate its horror (as in Val Lewton's Isle of the Dead). The idea of nature trying to kill us provides a contextual mood for more surreal monsters: in this case a group of mountebank vampires who like to pick off the rubes.

Of the newer movies, one promising picture is Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed, a sequel to the bright werewolf movie. The hilarious 12-minute short Roommate From Hell, by Boston's Allen Piper, is an argument against summoning a demon named Tod and ordering him to clean your apartment.

I'd had good hopes for the sleep-inducing The Human Beeing, with its charming re-creation of the '50s mutant-bug drama, Certainly Eric Hoffman's villain is savory; he plays a cigar-chomping plutocrat who plans to use human/bee hybrids as slave labor in his typing pool.

I Pass for Human (which could be also be called I Pass for a Movie) was a disappointment directed by Chris D, a one-time ornament of the L.A. punk scene with his band the Flesheaters. Mr. D is obviously a scream-film fan, naming his band, his albums and his songs after psychotronic cinema (for example: his album A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die," from the title of a spaghetti Western).

While I'll always love the Flesheaters' anthemic "My Life to Live," I doubt if Jean-Luc Godard will be returning D's favor by titling a song on his next album I Pass for Human. The plot's arresting--a junkie girl starts seeing dead people, heroin fancying ghosts that still get a contact high from the living--but the pace is interminable.

The Pacific Rim's contribution to violent horror is noted with Inner Senses, starring the late box-office star Leslie Cheung as a psychiatrist who takes care of a woman who insists she sees dead people. Battlefield Baseball is a Japanese hit, loaded with slapstick gore, and A Living Hell, by Fujii Shugo, is another example of how far extreme Japanese horror goes (as per the ghastly Audition, released last year). In A Living Hell, a mentally ill handicapped case is severely abused by his two caretakers, and it's claimed the situation gets worse than that, even ...

The Festival takes place March 19­25 at the AMC Kabuki in San Francisco; tickets are $9 for evening shows and $7 for matinees. For info, call 415.621.4969.

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Web extra to the March 17-24, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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