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Friday
Sep152017

SITGES BOUND DOC HONOURS CANADA'S HORROR FILM FOREFATHERS

While Carpenter, Romero and Craven were crafting new wave horror works in the U.S., Canada was forging its own bloody and brave breed of genre storytellers. In director Xavier Mendik’s documentary Tax Shelter Terrors, set to screen at the prestigious Sitges Film Festival in October, some of the most influential names in Canadian film culture are finally being given their due; men who recognised that the rebellious counterculture influencers of the day would respond to bold, frightening film visions. Bolstered by healthy production sector tax initiatives (hence the film’s title), they would shape the ‘Canux-ploitation’ horror era that would become synonymous with a golden period in genre cinema….

André Link and John Dunning (Founders of Cinépix Inc.)

Hungarian André Link immigrated to Canada in 1954, joining the sales department for International Film Distribution (IFD). Earning a reputation for his savvy business acumen, he broke from IFD and, with John Dunning founded Cinépix Inc. The fearless pair embraced the movement known as Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, releasing a slate of risqué films in defiance of the conservative agenda forged by the Catholic Church and the Duplessis government; Cinépix titles included the works of Denis Heroux’s (Valérie, 1968; L’initiation, 1970; L’amour humain, 1970) and John Sone’s films, Love in a Four Letter Word (1970) and Loving and Laughing (1971). With a young production executive called Ivan Reitman at their side, Link and Dunning executive produced David Cronenberg’s early horror classics Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977). While Link worked the books, Dunning found the talent; their collaborations would include Reitman’s hit directorial debut, Meatballs (1979), George Mihalka’s slasher classic My Bloody Valentine (1981), veteran director J. Lee Thompson’s horror entry, Happy Birthday To Me (1981) and Lamont Johnson’s 3D sci-fi adventure Spacehunter: Adventures in The Forbidden Zone (1983). (Pictured, above; Dunning, left, and Link)

Pierre David (Producer)

Pierre David’s early productions spanned genres, from documentary (A Child Like Any Other, 1972) and kitchen sink drama (Les colombes, 1972) to broad comedy (J’ai mon voyage, 1973) and prestige pic (Je t’aime, 1974, with the late Jeanne Moreau). He recognised the young David Cronenberg as a rare talent, backing his breakout hits The Brood (1979; trailer, above), Scanners (1981) and Videodrome (1983). With the home vid sector providing a hunger for genre product, David exhibited a commitment to stylishly executed horror works, including two from director Jean-Claude Lord, the hospital horror cult classic Visiting Hours (1982) and sci-fi/horror of The Vindicator (1986); George Pan Cosmatos’ paranoid infestation thriller Of Unknown Origin (1983), with Peter Weller; Sandor Stern’s body-horror shocker Pin (1988); and, VHS hit The Dentist (1996) and its sequel (1998), from horror icon Brian Yuzna. His two diversions into feature directing were the instinctively commercial B-movie shockers, Scanner Cop (1994) and Serial Killer (1995).

William Fruet (Director)

Born in Alberta, William Fruet (pictured, right) is a writer/director whose first script, director Donald Shebib’s wilderness-set buddy film Goin’ Down the Road won Best Film at the 1970 Canadian Film Awards. He parlayed industry buzz into his directorial debut, Wedding in White (1972), a searing rape drama adapted from his own play that would win Best Picture at the 1973 Canadian Film Awards. He re-examined sexual assault in his follow-up film, the revenge-themed shocker Death Weekend (1976; aka The House by The Lake), starring Brenda Vaccaro as the rape survivor who wreaks vengeance on her attackers; the film would win Best Actress and Best Screenplay at Sitges 1976. Fruet would carve out a career of memorable Canadian genre works, including Search and Destroy (1979), the Genie-nominated Funeral Home (1980, aka Cries in The Night), the hillbilly horror of Baker County USA (1982, with Henry Silva) and the monster-snake creature feature, Spasms (1983, with Peter Fonda and Oliver Reed); one his most popular works was Killer Party (1986), one of the Canadian sector’s better entries in the ‘sorority slasher’ genre of the day.

George Mihalka (Director)

With only one feature credit to his name (the ribald 1980 teen romp, Pick-up Summer), Hungarian-born George Mihalka was 26 when he was offered a derivative ‘Friday the 13th’-style script by first-time feature writer John Beaird called My Bloody Valentine (trailer, below). Genre house Cinepix recognised a keen horror voice in Mihalka, who delivered a lean, mean slasher thriller that became one of the production company's most profitable properties; Paramount picked it up for US distribution and turned it into the sleeper hit in February ‘81. Mihalka followed …Valentine with the adult comedy Scandale (1982), returning to serial killer territory with Eternal Evil (1985) and a stream of commercial pics in both English and French (Hostile Takeover, 1988; Le chemin de Damas, 1988; The Psychic, 1991). His 1993 satire La Florida earned 8 Genie nominations, winning the Golden Reel award for the highest-grossing Canadian film of the year. His most prestigious work to date was as helmer of the 1995 adaptation of the Len Deighton thriller, Bullet to Beijing, an international co-production starring Michael Caine, Michael Gambon and Mia Sara.

Steven Hoban (Producer)

At the forefront of a new generation of Canadian genre talents, producer Steve Hoban learnt his craft on a series of well-received shorts before bursting into features with director John Fawcett’s critical and commercial hit, Ginger Snaps. Starring Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins as teenagers coping with the onset of lycanthropy, the film scored three Genie nominations, became a legitimate cult hit (it has spawned two sequels) and has been lauded as a rare and insightful genre work that deals with female-centric issues. His close ties with director Vincenzo Natali were forged on the 1996 short Elevated and led to their collaboration on Nothing (2003), Splice (2009), Haunter (2013) and the 2013 television series, Darknet (produced by Hoban's production shingle, Copperheart Entertainment). Hoban tipped his hat to the great Canadian horror films of the 70s when he produced the 2006 remake of Bob Clark’s landmark shocker, Black Christmas. In 2015, Hoban stepped into the director’s chair, helming a segment of his own horror anthology production, A Christmas Horror Story. (Pictured, above; Hoban, left, on the set of A Christmas Horror Story) 

SCREEN-SPACE acknowledges and thanks producer Deke Richards for his contributions to this article.

Xavier Mendik's TAX SHELTER TERRORS screens October 12 as a work-in-progress at the 2017 SITGES Film Festival, October 5-15. Session and ticketing details can be found at the event's official website.

Monday
Aug282017

THE NEGLECTED WORKS OF TOBE HOOPER

Obituary platitudes for the late Tobe Hooper, who passed away in Los Angeles on August 27 at the age of 74, have rightly focussed upon such timeless works as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Salem’s Lot (1979), The Funhouse (1981), Poltergeist (1982) and Lifeforce (1985). 

Yet despite a career plagued by troubled productions and waning industry acceptance, there are rarely mentioned, even openly derided films made by the Texan native that exhibit his consummate craftsmanship and a dedication to the horror genre that never waivered…

EGGSHELLS (1969)
A full 5 years before he unleashed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hooper worked with the core creative team of actor/writer Kim Henkel and actor Allen Danzinger on his trippy, experimental debut. A psychedelic artefact impenetrably of its time, the director (taking a break from his lecturing duties) shot his oddity in his hometown of Austin, utilising in-camera effects work, non-conforming yet precisely framed cinematography and Euro-influenced animated sequences. Often taking a backseat to Hooper’s experimental technique, the narrative follows the intertwined lives of two counter-culture couples facing a new world of adult responsibility; mixing things up is a mute child living in the basement who shares a supernatural bond with an otherworldly force. Hooper calls the thing in the cellar, “a crypto-embryonic hyper-electric presence”; of his debut feature, he says, “It’s a real movie about 1969, kind of verite but with a little push, improvisation mixed with magic. It was about the beginning and end of the subculture.”

EATEN ALIVE (1976)
Hooper’s follow-up to …Massacre saw the director revisiting the ‘hillbilly horror’ genre of his 1974 masterpiece. But gone are the dusty backroads and shrieking machinery, replaced by a bold, giallo-influenced studio set rich in dense colour and a new four-legged killing tool. Just as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre drew upon the exploits of serial killer Ed Gein, Eaten Alive reworks the true life terror of one Joe Ball, aka ‘The Alligator Killer’, a 1930s hotel owner from the deep south who would dispose of those who crossed him by feeding them to his pet ‘gator. In an eccentric lead turn, Neville Brand is terrifying as ‘Judd’; amongst the cast are Marilyn Chambers, Hooper’s discovery from …Massacre and on the verge of her X-rated stardom, and a young Robert Englund. The film is pitched very high – audibly, of course, but also visually, through the use of detailed production design and often garish colour - and did not earn much critical or commercial favour upon its initial release. But Hooper’s flair for the gory ensured a fervent cult following, and it would re-emerge in 2015 with a pristine 2K restoration. The director’s interest in crocodilian demise resurfaced in 2000, with the slightly too-cheesy home vid entry, Crocodile; inherently horrific hotel experiences came around again in his 2004 film, Toolbox Murders.

INVADERS FROM MARS (1986)
Following the blockbuster success of Poltergeist, the late 1980s held immense promise for Hooper. But the expensive demise of his poorly-marketed passion project Lifeforce (1985) and the too-much-of-a-good-thing excesses of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II (1986) put his Hollywood cache on the brink. A lot was riding on his remake of William Cameron Menzies’ 1953 B-classic Invaders from Mars, which had secured Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher (pictured, right), Alien scribe Dan O’Bannon, a then-substantial US$12million budget and a prime early-summer release date. Despite grand scale effects (from Stan Winston and John Dykstra, no less) and a perfectly pitched sense of ironic homage more akin to his contemporary Joe Dante, the critics were merciless and the film tanked. Rattled after a tough 18 months, Hooper sought anonymity in episodic TV work (Amazing Stories; Freddy’s Nightmares; Tales From The Crypt); between 1987 and 1993, he would only make one feature, the underrated but decidedly low-key and barely-seen Brad Dourif vehicle, Spontaneous Combustion.

NIGHT TERRORS (1993)
Hooper re-entered the feature film marketplace with a film that suffered some of the toughest reviews of his career; admittedly, it has some loopy stylistic flourishes, not least of which is Robert Englund’s saucy interpretation of The Marquis de Sade (the old pals reteamed to finer effect two years later, in the Stephen King adaptation The Mangler). Yet Night Terrors is a film that highlighted the director’s increasingly humanistic respect for his female leads, a trait that harkens back to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s tough ‘final girl’, Sally (Marilyn Burns) and was intriguingly evident in the lead character, Amy (Elizabeth Berridge) from his subversive 1983 slasher hit, The Funhouse. In Night Terrors, Genie (Zoe Trilling) must navigate the denizens of the dark streets of Alexandria, Egypt, to evade the allure of a dangerous cult, determined to corrupt her all-American virtue. Genie could have played out as a flatly one-dimensional damsel in distress, but Hooper and his actress imbue her with wisdom beyond her years, sturdy physicality and a mature sexual guile. Re-examining Hooper’s oeuvre with regard to his portrayal of female strength within genre film boundaries shows a filmmaker of considerable intellect and maturity.   

DJINN (2013)
As he turned 70, Tobe Hooper took on a journeyman gig for Middle Eastern financiers Image Nation and Filmworks that explored the ancient legend of the poltergeist-like Djinn; it would be his final film. The director’s command of the technology, natural instinct for composition and storytelling strengths help punch-up a perfunctory story, which owes a healthy dose to Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. Solid scares and, again, a strong female lead (Razane Jammal) make this ideal material for Hooper, who had spent the best part of the decade writing his first novel, Midnight Movie (from which his 2009 short, Destiny Express emerged) and hanging with friend Mick Garris on the set of the TV series Masters Of Horror (where he directed two episodes, ‘The Damned Thing’ and ‘Dance of The Dead’). (Pictured, above; Hooper, centre, with the cast of Djinn).

Sunday
Aug132017

SPOOKERS: THE FLORIAN HABICHT INTERVIEW

Florian Habicht is a truly idiosyncratic, determinedly personal filmmaker. Florian settled into the Auckland art scene after his family immigrated to New Zealand from Germany in the 1980s. His films have run the gamut from magical realism (Woodenhead, 2003) to edgy romance (Love Story, 2011); his documentary Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets (2014) captured the return of the iconic band to their hometown. His latest film is Spookers, an unexpectedly moving (and, yes, occasionally terrifying) study of the folks who provide the frights at the New Zealand ‘scare park’, one of the largest of its kind in the world. 

As his film continues its global rollout after festival slots in Sydney, Canada’s Hot Docs and Auckland, Florian Habicht spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about his latest walk on the weird side… 

SCREEN-SPACE: How did the Spookers project come to you? How did you determine this was to be your next film?

HABICHT: I was really determined not to make Spookers (laughs). Suzanne (Walker, producer) from Madman Entertainment dreamt up the idea. I got a phone call from them with the pitch, because they wanted to make the film with a New Zealand director. I was in the middle of writing a drama that I was, and am, really passionate about and I was coming off making a lot of docos. So I went to Spookers with a camera to do a few test shots, hoping that I wouldn’t like it and it would be easy to say no. But once there, I just fell in love with the place and especially the performers. I immediately realised that the building where it all takes place was an old psychiatric hospital. When you drive onto the grounds, there is an epic, very intense sensation, a bit like The Shining.

SCREEN-SPACE: Are you a fan of horror, in any form?

HABICHT: Oh God, no. The exact opposite! I’d never been to Spookers, never decided to make that trip, because I knew I’d just be too scared. But I knew it would be a great setting for a film. When I finally did do the tour, I had a video camera in my hand. Now, I went paragliding with a camera in my hand once and everything was totally sweet, but the thought of paragliding without a camera…just, no way. It was the same when I went through Spookers.

SCREEN-SPACE: Given that it is set in Kingseat, an old and abandoned asylum with its own dark past, were you at all conscious of how you depict the link between violence and mental health?

HABICHT: I went to a great café in Auckland called Hallelujah, which no longer exists, and I saw a young woman reading a book on mental health. I decided to talk with her, mostly because the cover of the book looked so cool, and it turned out she was studying to be a nurse and her mental health professor had been at Kingseat. That was Deborah, one of those featured in the film, and we are good friends now. Many of the people who had been at Kinsey were not really into talking about that experience on camera, but Deborah was very open. I don’t believe you could make a film about Spookers and not make it about mental health.  

SCREEN-SPACE: Did the owners Beth and Andy (pictured, right) trust you to represent them and their business positively? Did they have much say in how their story is told?

HABICHT: I had a sense that Andy was a bit suspicious about what we were up to. Beth and I had a nice connection right from the start, which provided a few sparks in our interviews. They were both incredibly generous with their time and understanding, helping the crew over the shoot, which amounted to 30 days over the course of a year. The long shoot allowed the story to evolve as we edited, which is why (editors) Peter O’Donoghue and Veronica Gleeson are credited as writers, because we shaped the doco’s narrative in the editing.  What was funny was that to get the funding we had to pretend that we knew what the film was going to be about. So we wrote a treatment that I knew was definitely not going to be the film. I probably shouldn’t say that (laughs), but that’s what you’ve got to do to complete a funding application. So there was that film, then there was the film that formed by going out there and experiencing the Spookers world.

SCREEN-SPACE: It is an inspired decision to intersperse the real-world narrative with the dream sequences of those at the centre of the Spookers story…

HABICHT: I held workshops with the eight performers. I took my hat off, placed it in the middle of the room, and just kept asking them all sorts of questions that they anonymously supplied answers to by dropping bits of paper in my hat. Questions like, ‘The last thing that broke your heart’ or ‘The last thing that made you cry’ or ‘What you had for breakfast.’ It was just to get to know them more. And a lot of the responses concerned their dreams, which I knew had to make up a part of any film that was going to tell their stories. Which then led to them taking their self-taught acting skills, the skills they use everyday at Spookers, to another level on-screen. That was really cool for them.

SPOOKERS will be released in Australian cinemas on September 14; New Zealand and international release dates to be confirmed.

Thursday
Jan262017

GLASGOW FRIGHTFEST WARMS TO HOT OZ HORROR

The United Kingdom’s leading horror showcase, FrightFest kicks off its three-tiered 2017 season with the traditional Glasgow screening schedule from February 23. The chilly climes of the Scottish port city may not seem the natural setting for a trio of films hailing from Australia (currently experiencing the hottest East Coast summer conditions on record), but Frightfest organisers have long supported Oz genre; in 2016, the Yuletide splatterfest Red Christmas premiered as part of the London leg. This year, organisers have upped the ante with two U.K. premieres and a world first that remains shrouded in intrigue…

BLOODLANDS
Dir: Steven Kastrissios. Cast: Gëzim Rudi, Emiljano Palali and Suela Bako. (82 mins; pictured, above).
Mystery surrounds this sophomore effort from Steven Kastrissios, the young director who garnered a committed cult following for his brutal, revenge-themed debut, The Horseman (2008). The specifics of the project remain closely guarded; a month out from the FrightFest world premiere, a lean website and Facebook page offer few details and no trailer has dropped. With thanks to the director’s production shingle, Kastle Films, SCREEN-SPACE got a peek at a moody, atmospheric teaser that suggests a beautifully shot siege narrative. Web coverage hints at a plot involving a rural family facing off against the forces and followers of a vengeful witch, known in Balkan folklore as the Shtriga. The FrightFest site elegantly posits it as, “A surreal, remarkable and highly unusual voyage through the fantasy lens of whispered local mythologies.” The Australian/Albanian co-production wrapped a month-long shoot in October 2014, before the director and his co-producer Dritan Arbana undertook the lengthy submissions process to secure Screen Australia completion funding. Once cashed-up, Kastrissios was able to collaborate with the likes of iconic Aussie sound men Les Fiddess (The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers, 2002) and Phil Judd (The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of The Desert, 1994), who delivered the final audio mix in July 2016 (pictured, right; l-r Fiddess, Judd and Kastrissios). The director will attend the Glasgow world premiere ahead of a highly anticipated Albanian debut in April; Australian audiences will have to wait until August. 
WORLD PREMIERE

HOUNDS OF LOVE
Dir: Ben Young. Cast: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Susie Porter and Damien de Montemas. (108 mins; distributed by Label Distribution)
One of the most buzzed-about genre titles on the international festival circuit, under-the-radar Perth-based writer Ben Young has mounted an impressively shocking abduction thriller, a work that Screen International called, “a compelling dissection of primal desires for control, validation and survival.” Drawing comparisons to Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown and David Michod’s Animal Kingdom in its portrayal of the immoral underbelly of suburban Australian life, Young’s 80s-set narrative involves married psychopaths Emma Booth and Stephen Curry (a million miles from his ‘lovable everyman’ persona in The Castle, 1997, and The Cup, 2011) and the cunning mind games they find themselves involved in when they abduct local schoolgirl Ashleigh Cummings. Since its World Premiere at the Venice Film Festival last September, it has racked up acclaim and honours at Busan, Mumbai, Brussels, Kolkatta and Brisbane’s prestigious Asia-Pacific film festivals. (Website)
U.K. PREMIERE.

CAGE DIVE
Dir: Gerald Rascionato. Cast: Joel Hogan, Josh Potthoff, Magan Peta Hill and Suzanne Dervish-Ali (80 mins; distributed by Odin’s Eye Entertainment)
The ‘found footage’ genre takes to the ocean in Gerald Rascionato’s feature debut, a mockumentary-style, man-vs-nature thriller that Fangoria called, “one of the best found footage films of the year.” In his impressive debut, the Brisbane-based filmmaker plunges a boatful of partying, adventuresome twenty-somethings into the briny deep when their cage diving charter boat is upended by a freak wave. Very quickly, the ocean’s alpha predator susses out the fleshy buffet that awaits. The film had its World Premiere at the prestigious SITGES Festival, where it wowed the notoriously hard-to-please Midnight X-Treme crowd. Some serious press coverage may come from advocates opposed to the chumming of water to attract sharks on diving tours; one theory currently rattling the cage divers is that the combined presence of humans and free food is, perhaps understandably, not a great idea.
U.K. PREMIERE. 

FRIGHTFEST Glasgow 2017 takes place at the Glasgow Film Theatre, 12 Rose St. Glasgow from February 23-25. Session times and ticket information can be found at the event’s official website here.

Monday
Dec052016

"SPAIN REIGNS", SAY SYDNEY GENRE JUDGES. 

The Closing Night award ceremony of Sydney’s A Night of Horror / Fantastic Planet Film Festival became una noche de celebración for Spanish genre cinema.

The 10th annual staging of the fan-favourite horror, science fiction and fantasy event closed out its 10 day program bestowing gongs upon body-horror shocker The Night of The Virgin (La Noche del Virgen) and twisted identity mystery, Gelo (pictured, above). Both films are in the early stages of their respective global expansion, continuing a festival tradition of rolling the dice on programming choices that don’t necessarily come with the safety net of overseas festival credibility in place.

A hilariously dark and twisted tale of foretold demonic reincarnation, The Night of The Virgin earned bragging rights with wins in three key categories in the A Night of Horror line-up. As the titular innocent who endures unspeakable black magic horrors, leading man Javier Bodalo (pictured, right) earned Best Male Performance; as the alluring W.I.L.F. whose sorcery unleashes all manner of torment upon him, Miriam Martin took home the Best Female Performance honours. Debutant director Roberto San Sebastián also guided his impressive debut to a win for Best Foreign Language Film, but was pipped in the Best Director category by Scott Schirmer for his dialogue-free woodlands cannibal pic, Plank Face.

The other highly-touted A Night of Horror feature was Matt Stuertz’s wildly entertaining gore-a-thon Tonight She Comes, a vivid and energetic reworking of classic cabin-in-the-woods tropes which impressed with its fearless doubling-down of shocking splatter effects, delivered with a wickedly perverse sense of scale and humour. The US production earned Best Film, while lead actress Jenna McDonald shared the Best Female Performance category with her Spanish genre sister.

Directed by the father/son team of Luís and Gonçalo Galvão Teles, the moody atmospherics of the Spanish/Portuguese co-production Gelo supported an ambitious, at times complex narrative. In addition to the Fantastic Planet Best Film nod, it earned the Best Female Performance trophy for its leading lady, Spanish cinema icon Ivana Baquero, best remembered as Ofelia in Guillermo Del Toro’s 2006 fantasy masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth.

The other Fantastic Planet jury favourite was Dead Bullet, a riveting Vegas-set neo-noir thriller that earned Erik Reese the Best Director trophy and actor John T. Woods (pictured, right; with co-star Andrea Sixtos) a Best Male Performance gong. Both trophies were collected by the film's associate producer and 1st AD Kat Castaneda, currently based in Sydney. Ian Truitner’s intergalactic survival adventure Teleios was granted a Head of Jury ‘Special Mention’ award for the technical prowess displayed in crafting the spectacular deep-space setting.

Held at the Dendy Cinema multiplex in the inner-city suburb of Newtown, a dedicated and enthusiastic crowd remained well into the Sunday night event. Following a rousing Q&A with actress Elizabeth De Razzo, star of the Closing Night feature The Greasy Strangler, festival director Dr Dean Bertram acknowledged his dedicated team, the support of his audience and the current high standard of international genre cinema. His Director’s Choice honourees were Tax Shelter Terrors, a work-in-progress documentary that chronicles the Canadian horror boom of the 1970s, and The Second Coming: Volume 2, director Richard Wolstencroft’s final instalment of his free-wheeling interpretation of W.B. Yeats’ epic poem.

Independent Spirit Award trophies were accepted by attending guests Seve Schelenz, for his zombie/stripper crowdpleaser Peelers, and Rob Taylor and Bryna Smith for their superhero/time travel send-up, Neil Stryker and The Tyrant of Time.