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Entries in Cult Cinema (3)

Saturday
Nov052016

PREVIEW: MONSTER FEST 2016

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.

Tuesday
Sep062016

DARING DIVERSITY IS TRUMP CARD IN 2016 MUFF SEASON

For 17 years, Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) festival director Richard Wolstencroft has programmed his event fearlessly, often counter to that which is considered socially acceptable; in 2010, he defied a government ban and had his home raided in the wake of a ‘protest screening’ of the gay undead shocker, LA Zombie. But in 2016, has he pushed too far? Does the ominously familiar festival tagline ‘Make The Australian Film Industry Great Again’ imply the unthinkable? Is MUFF and its headline-grabbing founder declaring an allegiance with (cue ‘Imperial March’) Donald Trump…?

At first, Wolstencroft (pictured, below) laughs off the suggestion. “The ‘Make the Australian Film Industry Great Again’ line is more about how the industry is just lousy now and not like the dynamic 70's and 80's,” he says. That may be so, but SCREEN-SPACE points out that four of the eleven narrative features playing this year – Marcus Koch’s 2007 clown-horror B-classic 100 Tears, Aussie alt sector icon Mark Savage’s Stressed to Kill, Paddy Jessop’s revenge-themed Shotgun and the closing night pic, Revenge of The Gweilo from Nathan Hill – all riff on the Trump-ish obsession with denial of white man privilege and patriarchy.  

“Sure, there's a bit of that,” he admits. “I'm a bit that way and I run MUFF. But (any) accusation that MUFF does not embrace diversity in filmmaking is wrong. Of the 80 films showing (this year), about a quarter are made by women. The mix of white directors and those of mixed ethnicity is about the same.” He notes that the festival was co-founded with a woman, Rebecca Sutherland; selection committees and staffing has always reflected Melbourne’s distinct social complexity; and, the event’s assistant director role has been filled by young men of Lebanese (Hussein Khoder, 2011-2015) and Indian (Roshan Jahal, 2016) heritage. Says Wolstencroft, “MUFF is a far more diverse festival than many ‘indie’ ones around, who may preach PC-ness but be made up of entirely white crews.”

There can be no denying the 17th annual MUFF line-up, which unspools September 9 at both the Alex Theatre and Backlot Studios in the southern capital, comprises a vastness of vision, with long- and short-form works from home and abroad across fiction and factual genres. Opening the feisty 9-day programme is the world premiere of The Perfect Nonsense, director Addison Heath’s off-kilter romantic odyssey starring Kristen Condon and Kenji Shimada. Other Australian auteurs under the MUFF banner in 2016 are Daniel Armstrong (SheBorg Massacre; trailered, below); Enzo Tedeschi (A Night of Horror Vol 1); Dee Choi (Mui Karaoke); Todwina J. Moore (Rock in a Hard Place); and, Rohan Thomas (The Other Option). Accompanying 100 Tears as part of a retro-themed sidebar presented by the cult film website Fakeshemp.net will be Alec Mill’s Blood Moon (1990), a late and under-appreciated entry from the Ozploitation era.

Also of that period is filmmaker Mark Savage, a kindred spirit of Wolstencroft’s and prominent underground identity in Melbourne, having directed such defining low-budget cult items as Marauders (1986), Sensitive New Age Killer (2000) and Defenceless: A Blood Symphony (2004). In programming Savage’s US-shot thriller Stressed to Kill, Wolstencroft has honoured a peer and friend of four decades standing. “I think Mark is one of the most important voices in Australia cinema of the last 35 years,” he says. “He made Super 8 films about violence, rape and the darkness of the human spirit; totally out of this world for Australia back then. (His films were) aggressive, exciting and completely contemporary and 30 years ahead of the game.”

While staying determinedly committed to Australian talent, the short film program dubbed Mini MUFF and programmed by Seamus Ryan and Michael Taylor will screen works from six international territories including Canada, The U.S.A., The U.K. and France. From Spain comes the supernatural story of a ‘soul taker’ in Eva Doud’s El Lardon del Luz; Irish underground cinema is represented by Robert McKeon’s Wifey Redux (pictured, right). One of the highlights will be the opening night screening of A Thin Life, an Australian production from 1996 that was believed to be lost forever until Wolstencroft and director Frank Howson tracked down and reassembled the original negative; the session on September 9 will be the completed film’s first-ever screening.

Despite a commitment to avoid labels (“I don’t really give a shit about definitions”), Wolstencroft does note that the underground scene has irrevocably changed since the term was coined. “Underground is the new word for ‘indie’,” he states. “Sundance films all star George Clooney and Brad Pitt and are not real ‘indie’ anymore. Underground film festivals play the real independent films.” In this years program notes, he concedes that only a select few festivals (SUFF, Revelations and Monster Fest) imbue the truly counter-culture filmmaking spirit in Australia. “At MUFF, we foster mostly low-budget to micro-budget genre cinema. We don’t look for production value; we look for ideas, spirit and an aggressive, self-promoting attitude. We look for something out of the ordinary. I have selected films for MUFF based on the personality and drive of the filmmaker alone.”

The 17th Melbourne Underground Film Festival runs September 9-17. For all ticketing and session details, visit the event’s official website.

Wednesday
Aug102016

PREVIEW: 2016 SYDNEY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL

Works from alternative sector giants Todd Solondz, Sion Sono, Richard Tuohy and John Waters and the world premiere of Australian director Ben Ferris’ urban decay documentary 57 Lawson highlight the 10th anniversary line-up of the Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF).

Harbour City audiences attuned to the subversive, political and shocking have been well-served by the internationally recognised event, still programmed by founder Stefan Popescu and wife, Katherine Berger. The 2016 gathering, running September 15 to 18, will present 35 feature-length screenings, including 20 documentaries, 12 narrative features and 3 retrospectives, with 20 Australian premieres in the mix. As in past years, the event will stretch beyond the darkened rooms of its spiritual home, The Factory Theatre in Sydney’s inner-west, and offer masterclass tutorials, exhibition content and panel chats from a diverse range of academic and artistic guest contributors.

Opening night honours have been bestowed upon Weiner-Dog (pictured, top), the latest dramedy of discomfort from underground icon Todd Solondz. Other high profile features include Mexican auteur Emiliano Rocha Minter’s We Are The Flesh (pictured, right), hot off a triumphant screening at Fantasia 2016; SUFF alumni Richard Bates Jr (Suburban Gothic, 2014) with his offbeat shocker Trash Fire, featuring a career-redefining role for Entourage star Adrian Grenier; Japan’s prolific enfant terrible Sion Sono delivers The Virgin Psychics, a raunchy teen-telepathy romp that Variety called a “cheerfully gutter-minded supernatural farce”; and, the Sydney premiere of Billy O’Brien’s cult-bound nightmare-piece, I Am Not a Serial Killer, featuring a welcome (if against type) return to the bigscreen for Back to The Future star, Christopher Lloyd.

Closing out the festival will be the highly-anticipated, fully restored print of the iconic John Waters’ 1970’s trash classic, Multiple Maniacs, featuring Waters’ muse Divine in one of the roles that solidified her counter-culture reputation. Other retrospective sessions include a 25th anniversary screening of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, starring Peter Weller as William Burrough’s drug-addled protagonist; and, a 40th anniversary honouring of Brian De Palma’s high-school horror classic Carrie, which will screen in support of the documentary De Palma, an in-depth career appraisal overseen by A-list fanboys Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow.

An impressive 20 mid- and feature-length docos will screen at SUFF, which has rattled cages with rare, occasionally outlawed factual films (in 2012, Keith Allen’s Princess Di conspiracy theory piece, Unlawful Killing, played in defiance of ongoing legalities). In 2016, it has yet to be determined if the suited heavies appointed by Tommy Wiseau, director of the bad-movie classic The Room, will force the festival to withdraw Rick Harper’s making-of doc, Room Full of Spoons, as happened to organisers of the recent Melbourne Documentary Festival (pictured, right; Wiseau, far right, with Harper and crew).

Social issues tackled by the SUFF documentary schedule include internet misuse and abuse (Irene Taylor Brodsky’s Beware the Slenderman; Neal Broffman’s Help Us Find Sunil Tripath), the psychology and passion of the artist (Jai Love’s Dead Hands Dig Deep; Thorsten Shutte’s Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words; Laura Israel’s Don’t Blink Robert Frank; Jason Pine and Jason Georgiades’ Desert Age: A Rock & Roll Scene History; Louis Black and Karen Bernstein’s Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny), human rights in destabilised societies (Nanfu Wang’s Hooligan Sparrow; George Gittoes’ Snow Monkey) and mental health (Justin Schein’s Left on Purpose; Roberto Minervini’s The Other Side).

On a lighter note, all-age audiences can enjoy a vivid wander down memory lane courtesy of renowned author and curator Kier-La Janisse, who offers a two-hour celebration called Saturday Morning All-You-Can-Eat Cereal Cartoon Party. Pyjama-clad patrons can dine on bowls of retro cereal, bursting with sugary anti-goodness, while watching classic animation and giggly PSAs (content details are top secret, apparently).

Since its inception, SUFF has supported the short film sector and in 2016 once again offers its popular short film sessions under the banners of ‘Love Sick’, ‘LSD Factory’, ‘Ozploit’, ‘Reality Bites’ and ‘WTF’. The legacy of the festivals commitment to makers of short films is celebrated in a ‘SUFF Blast From The Past: Short Films 2007-2015’.

For those that embrace the truly cutting-edge, SUFF will present Re:Cinema, which organisers describe as “a program of experimental video and film work that examines the notion of the ‘cinematic’ in relation to the contemporary imagescape.” This will accompany a retrospective of the works of Richard Tuohy and his collaborator, Dianna Barrie (pictured, right), titled Hand and Machine; Tuohy will also host The Chromaflex Experimental Colour Film Workshop at the Sydney College of The Arts. Finally, filmmaking skills will be examined in the Masterclass sessions, with contributors Gordy Hoffman (screenwriting), Ross Grayson-Bell (producing), George Gittoes and Helen Rose (documentary techniques) and Ben Ferris (directing).

The 10th Sydney Underground Film Festival will commence its 4 day schedule on September 15 at The Factory Theatre, Marrickville. Session and ticket information can be found at the event’s official website.