There was once a time when dabbling in the horror genre or grabbing a paycheck for some tawdry ‘B-thriller’ suggested an actor’s status was on the slide. One only need skim the star power on offer at Monster Fest 2016 to know that the richest characters and most compelling narratives in contemporary film exist amongst international cult cinema’s weird and wonderfully eclectic palette.
Newly appointed festival director Kier-La Janisse has adhered to a half-decade of high standards and festival traditions, topping and tailing the fifth edition of the four-day event with two of the year’s hottest horror titles. Opening night honours have been bestowed upon Julia Ducournau’s Raw (read the SCREEN-SPACE review here), the teen-cannibal shocker that has left a trail of rattled audiences since scoring the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes in May; closing out the programme will be Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler, a bona-fide cult sensation that The New York Times noted, “overflows with extravagant flatulence, frenzied gore and preposterous copulation.”
Audiences drawn to name talent will seek out the frenzied gunplay of Free Fire, a collaboration between director Ben Wheatley, producer Martin Scorsese and the dream cast of Oscar winner Brie Larsen (pictured, top), Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and Australia’s own Noah Taylor (also fronting Nick Jongerius’ backpacker slasher pic The Windmill Massacre); Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch in The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the gory mortuary-set English language debut of Troll Hunter director André Øvredal; and, Patrick Wilson, Jim Belushi, Ian McShane and an unhinged John Leguizamo in Spanish auteur Gonzalo López-Gallego’s bloody neo-western-noir, The Hollow Point (pictured, right).
Also certain to sell tickets are director Paul Schrader’s insanely anarchic Dog Eat Dog, a blackly comic crime thriller that stars Willem Dafoe and Nicholas Cage; Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton in Chris Peckover’s Yuletide home-invasion thriller, Safe Neighbourhood; a masterfully maniacal lead turn by Natasha Lyonne, opposite an against-type Chloe Sevigny as her trailer–trash bestie, in Danny Perez’s paranoid fever-dream, Antibirth (trailer, above); and good ol’ boy icon Burt Reynolds in documentarian Jesse Moss’ The Bandit, an adoring insider’s take on the late director Hal Needham and his 1977 blockbuster, Smokey and The Bandit.
The industry respect afforded Melbourne’s premiere genre showcase has meant the presence of international guests is all but assured. In 2016, the big draw is Ted Kotcheff, one of Hollywood’s most revered and respected directors. In addition to an ‘In Conversation’ event with director and genre expert Mark Hartley, Kotcheff will present rare screenings of some of his most enduring works, including the Australian classic Wake in Fright (1971); the iconic Sylvester Stallone thriller, First Blood (1982; pictured, right, Stallone and Kotcheff on-set); the cult favourite, Weekend at Bernie’s (1989); and, a digitally-restored print of his little-seen ‘religious cult’ drama, Split Image (1982), featuring Peter Fonda, Michael O’Keefe and Karen Allen.
In addition to Raw director Julia Ducournau and the stars of The Greasy Strangler, Michael St Michaels and Sky Elobar, guest attendees include director Neil Edwards, fronting for the Australian debut of his documentary Sympathy for The Devil: The True Story of The Process Church of The Final Judgement; Lao filmmaker Mattie Do, director of Dearest Sister, and the only woman to date to helm a feature film in her homeland; director Matthew Holmes and key cast members from the Australian bushranger saga, The Legend of Ben Hall (trailer, below); veteran producer Anthony I. Ginnane (Turkey Shoot, 1982; Thirst, 1979; Harlequin, 1980), who will front the panel, ‘Australia After Dark: Tales from The Golden Age of Ozploitation’; Jai Love, the young director of Dead Hands Dig Deep, a moving profile of 90s alt-music great, Kettle Cadaver frontman Edwin Borsheim; and Evrim Ersoy, festival programmer of the Texan genre event, Fantastic Fest.
Alongside the screening schedule, the sidebar Monster Academy will present a series of panels and Q&As, several of which offer free admission. In addition to the Ted Kotcheff talk, events will include a panel of women directors and festival programmers discussing ‘Genre Matters: Women Genre Filmmakers’; exploring the ins-&-outs of film festival strategizing, curating and presenting in Film Festival 101; and, a retrospective look at genre on the small-screen, including rare screenings of the Australian anthology series The Evil Touch, a witchcraft-themed episode of 70s cop drama, Homicide, the British ‘real life’ haunted house telemovie Ghost Watch, and a legitimate appraisal of the role of the supernatural in soap operas, called ‘Diedre Hall is The Devil’.
Monster Pictures boss Neil Foley will himself front one of the highlights of the week when filmmaker Geoffrey Wright leads an evening of 25th anniversary recollections of his controversial classic Romper Stomper, in which a young Foley had a small role as a skinhead neo-Nazi.
Monster Fest runs November 24-27 at the Lido Cinema in Hawthorn; Monster Academy runs at several venues from November 23-24. All session and ticketing information at the official website.