This month 'Dead by Dawn' festival director Adele Hartley takes us through all the cool movies in Part Two of her very own...
So after all the partying, drinking, dancing, eating and falling over, the place that becomes your second home for the festival's duration is the Imperial Cinema on Bleury.
The auditorium of the Imperial cinema is exactly what cinemas should look like. Red velvet seats, ornate ceiling, ancient chandelier, gold and red moulded fixtures everywhere you look. Lovely. Oh and a balcony which just makes me feel like I'm eight again and back in the Art Deco heaven of the Toledo in south-side Glasgow. The entire venue seats around 1000 people, which will be down to about 880 next year as the day we left in 2000, the seats were all being ripped out for new lush seating to be put in. A sad sight, truly, but good news for anyone that spends up to ten hours a night in the place!
As everyone who has ever been to or runs a festival knows, the event is worthless without the people who give up time and money to come see the movies. My audience are the reason my festival not only survives but thrives, and FantAsia has been equally lucky.
FantAsia crowds, though, are unique and of course invaluable when it comes to the success of the event. They start queueing round the building a good couple of hours before the film is due to start, and turn up in droves not only for hyped new movies and favourite classics, but for all the underdog obscurities, too.
So while I'm waxing lyrical about this fest, are there any drawbacks? Well, FantAsia is 'blessed' with a projectionist who does something in the dark that sounds like a water-buffalo being chainsawed to death in a mudpit.- there are some seriously worrying grunts, gurgles and growls emanating from the booth during movies which add nothing to the screening but an extra level of annoyance. Also, there are some people who think that the foyer is somehow soundproofed and are incapable of taking their conversation outside. Not such a disaster during an ear-splitting X Men perhaps, but appalling during a quiet, atmospheric gem like Nang Nak! And finally, that global disease has struck - a girl taking a call on her mobile phone in the middle of the cinema seemed to think it odd that I asked her to shut the fuck up....
But these are complaints that apply to almost every cinema experience across the world (if you can't hear it, you're eating your tortillas too loud!) and are not unique to FantAsia.
The major failing is that the Imperial has no air-conditioning, which doesn't matter so much for the first movie of the day, but by the end of the third movie, it gets a little moist in there. And you learn pretty quick that you don't want to be in the balcony for a sell-out show. The body heat of 700 sun-soaked people downstairs rises and makes breathing a luxury. The smell is something indescribable, which is probably a good thing….
The genre stuff in 2000 was varied and bizarre, ranging from the oh-my-god-I-love-it successes to the help-me-I-am-in-hell rubbish. But there were films there that I would never otherwise get to see on the big screen and for me that's the best thing about FantAsia.
Although you should check out the full programme at FantAsia 2000 the stuff of interest to me as a Horror fan was plentiful.
Mike Mendez' CONVENT had been struck down by one of the many pitfalls awaiting independent film production in that it had been forced to sell the video rights to fund filming, so it was a real treat to see it on the big screen. Mendez and his producer Chaton Anderson were around to intro the movie and he admitted that it was intended as a loving homage to the films that he grew up with and given that he is ages with most of us there, that sentiment really struck a cord. Mike and Chaton admitted that the part of wronged convent girl turned psycho rock chick had been written especially for genre favourite Adrianne Barbeau and they 'would have died' if she hadn't wanted to do it. As it was, she was utterly perfect in the role and judging by the screams and cheers of the other 900-something people in the auditorium, I wasn't the only one to think so.
The plot? Ok, there's a church where, local legend has it, a girl was forced to have an abortion by the priest and some terribly persuasive nuns and afterwards she went back in there and blew all their heads off and torched the place. These days, frat boys and sorority girls break in to spray stuff on the walls and get wasted. Fine and dandy. Except on this particular night, there are a bunch of crap English Satanists trying to hold a ritual and being a bit pathetic, and also there's a bunch of undead nuns just waiting to get their teeth into some teenage flesh. Someone says, "Let's split up". Oh dear. They do. And so ensues an hour and a half of fast-paced, funny, bloody mayhem. Coolio turns up as a cop lecturing on the evils of the wicked weed, Adrianne Barbeau turns up in mucho black leather and a big fuck-off bike, armed to the teeth and pissed off. Mendez, by way of introduction to the film, demanded that everyone get drunk, stoned and loud. What more can I say? A man after my own heart!
Paul Verhoeven's latest, HOLLOW MAN, didn't fall into quite the same category. Mostly laughable with too many over-familiar Verhoeven set-pieces to make it worth staying awake for, the film was insulting to the intelligence and turgid beyond belief. The plot such as it is involves Kevin Bacon as the egotistical, unstable genius Dr Sebastian Crane; Elisabeth Shue as his ex-girlfriend and fellow genius, and Josh Brolin as her current squeeze and only-other-good-looking-scientist. Everybody else is wearing a red shirt. Apart from a gorilla called Isobel and a puppy that's about to wish it had never been born. Caine develops a potion that can make things invisible, the only problem being he hasn't quite 'cracked reversion' yet. But then he does, and decides to test it on himself. The End. In between, however, he goes on a bit of a perving spree, kills everyone in the building and generally behaves like a spoilt bastard. Whether this version was always Verhoeven's vision or whether much of the original film lies on the cutting room floor I don't know, but what I do know is that HOLLOW MAN is the celluloid equivalent of a spoilt 8 year old running into a room full of grown-ups and shouting 'fuck' just to get attention. You have a cast of little-knows wearing hypothetical red shirts waiting to die and all the while Elisabeth Shue plays a scientist. Hahahahahahahahahahaha. Sorry.
Sebastian is, of course, her ex and her current bloke is another member of the team. Cue yet another cheap excuse for a manly fight in a strip-lit hexagonal corridor. Sigh.
.Women get beaten up quite badly (as well as getting stabbed in the breast with a giant tranquiliser dart meant for Isobel), the men die in slightly more conventional ways (ie, they get the shit kicked out of them), animals get hurt very badly, the first thing Sebastian does when invisible is sexually assault his neighbour and then there's a big explosion and a lingering close-up of Shue's arse. Welcome to the sad one-handed world of Paul Verhoeven, who these days is increasingly proving himself to be not much more than a bit of a wanker.
Lets go back to something good.
Miike Takashi's AUDITION is something of a horror tour de force. It blissfully ignores every genre convention going and instead skips through sunlit Little House on the Prairie fields pretending to be an endearing romantic comedy, dammit. So there you are, laughing gently at the sweet humour and wondering why on earth this flick is in the horror section. And then you find out. Oh god, do you find out.
Eihi Shiina is radiant as the fragile and delicate new love of our hero's life and it's this fragility that makes the second half of the movie so damn unsettling. The story moves along at an acceptable pace and will hold your attention pretty much most of the way. It only really flags a little towards the end of the middle third, but then it comes back at you with such a vengeance that a small lapse in focus is easily forgiven. The end will not only leave you to pick your gaping jaw off the floor, but will also delight as the true joy of this non-linear hallucination rattles around your adrenaline-shot imagination for days to come. Revel in AUDITION as a film this much fun doesn't come along too often.
And now back to the dross. Stefan Ruzowitzky has given the world ANATOMIE, something for which he should be stuffed and mounted. And not the good way, either. Franka Potente (in what should be retitled, thank you David, as Act, Lola, Act) is the gifted wannabe surgeon admitted to the same prestigious medical school as her beloved grandfather. The school has an exhibition hall where real corpses are displayed having been through some sort of salty preservation process. Can you spell plot device?
There's all sorts of random, boring elements thrown into the fray - Nazi experimentation, secret societies, student pranks but the outcome is that its got about as much suspense as a three-day-old cheese sandwich. Anna Loos steals the entire film as the lush, lascivious, Gretchen but even she isn't enough to save this drivel, and unfortunately she exits in a clumsy, protracted, early death. But not before she gets her kit off. To call it derivative gives it credit it definitely doesn't deserve, and its a waste of 103 minutes best avoided.
On the other hand, Nonzee Nimibutr's 1999 Thai movie NANG NAK is a far more engaging way to spend 100 minutes. In 19th century Thailand, Mak is called to war and leaves behind his distraught, pregnant wife Nak.
Unfortunately, the film shows her watching his boat recede over the horizon, all the time screaming 'Mak! Mak!' which after a while starts to sound like someone begging for a shiny new Apple laptop….
I digress. In battle he loses his best friend, but his emotional and physical wounds begin to heal when he returns to his beloved wife and beautiful, healthy baby.
Although odd things are happening around the home, Mak refuses to see anything except the ideal of domestic bliss he has so long craved. Certain brave villagers attempt to tell Mak an unpalatable truth but they wind up dead not long after. Eventually omens and warnings make reality impossible to ignore when the villagers call a respected priest to the village to bring about a peaceful end to their torment.
Deeply romantic, haunting and touching, NANG NAK is a very different kind of horror movie. Mostly ghost story with gentle-enough scares, it is a delight to watch with exotic locations and quite stunning cinematography.
A quite different movie is Higuchinksy's 1999 UZUMAKI, a Japanese tale of a village entirely possessed by a spiral. Impossible to describe but a joy to behold, this surreal movie maintains a slightly other-wordly feel, most likely attributable to its roots in Junji Ito's Manga comic of the same name. Hilarious, dark and blissfully gruesome, the minute the end credits rolled, I knew I wanted to bring it to Dead by Dawn. The great news, courtesy of Omega Productions, is that it will play to my audience in March 2001.
FREEZE ME is another Japanese movie, made in 2000 by Takashi Ishii, and is a classic rape revenge story. Raped by three men, Chihiro moves to Tokyo and five years later is doing as well as can be expected in a new job with a new man in her life. Returning to her apartment one day she encounters one of her attackers who makes her a prisoner in her own home and informs her that her other two attackers are soon to join him in Tokyo for a reunion. As the full horror of their plans dawns on Chihiro she takes matters into her own hands and clubs her attacker to death in the bath. She buys a chest freezer in which to store his body and disguising it very badly with a tablecloth, she awaits the arrival of the other two men.
A film not easily judged, this particular movie sparked more heated argument in the pub than any other at the festival. Witty and horrifying by turns, it is a movie full of poetic imagery hard to ignore as it depicts a reality too horrific to contemplate.
WISDOM OF CROCODILES, starring Jude Law, is one of two odd takes on blood-suckers at this years festival. Law stars as Steven Grlscz, a particularly tortured breed of vampire, albeit in desperate need of a vowel. He can only survive on the blood of a woman who truly loves him and as such is destined to destroy happiness whenever he finds it.
In theory, this should have been a tense, moving thriller but for something with so much blood in it, it's a little flaccid.
The other plasma-obsessed movie comes from first-time director Charly Cantor. BLOOD is the story of Lix, a girl fertilized in a lab with the egg of a dead woman and genetically modified at birth with the intention that her blood would develop a chemical which would then be used as a vaccine against most known diseases.
Where WISDOM OF CROCODILES seemed to keep its audience at arms length, BLOOD is a much more approachable and although I feel that the ideas in the movie are more intriguing than the end product, it does deserve to be seen.
Both movies, however, offer a sideways glance at the traditions of vampirism and are interesting for their non-linearity. If that's a word.
On the anime front, VAMPIRE HUNTER D was a delight on the big screen and, as the hero appeared for the first time, it sparked whispers around the theatre of is that Richard Stanley? See the movie, see what I mean! Extremely beautiful, delicate and entrancing, the film will delight vampires and anime devotees alike.
Also, the anime BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE will leave you breathless as it's a textbook example of the perfect big-screen movie. Supremely violent and poetically choreographed, the animation is textured and seductive. A truly eye-opening way to spend an afternoon, the film is funny, engrossing and extreme, by turns ethereal and intense.
ISLAND OF THE DEAD, on the other hand, is the cinematic equivalent of runny shit. Malcolm McDowell is appalling as Rupert King, ruthless property developer and all round cretin. Talisa Soto swans about a bit with good skin but wondering where her career went, and everyone else might as well be wearing a red shirt. The plot contrives to leave everyone deserted on an island where all the mad and diseased have been buried (a great zombie movie waiting to happen) but no, instead, the hapless morons get eaten by a badly drawn swarm of CGI flies. A hot marmite enema starts to look attractive after 20 minutes of this pish. I would try to think of something constructive to say about it, and although I pity the director for his predicament, he should never have put his name to such a waste of celluloid.
NAMELESS, however, is a fabulous reason to maintain your faith in great cinema. Based on a Ramsey Campbell novel, the film is an intense, distressing, horrific semi-supernatural thriller which is even more spectacular once you know that it is a directorial debut. Although the pacing suffers a little midway on repeated viewing, the first screening remains a revelation. You can see what I mean as it will be the Opening Film at this year's Dead by Dawn.
My non-genre recommendations from the festival are IN CHINA THEY EAT DOGS, ATTACK THE GAS STATION, LEGEND OF THE SACRED STONE, TUVALU and LES SIAMOISES - all of which you should see if the opportunity ever presents itself.