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Night Visions 2008: MH

October 28, 2008

Less than a month was given time to recover from the Hiff load until it’s already time for the next film festival, this time something shorter, something that turns movie watching into an extreme sport; Night Visions: Maximum Halloween 3008. Night Visions is a one weekend film festival celebrating mainly horror, fantasy and cult cinema (plus a few mainstream advance screenings as a filler). The festival is held twice a year; the main event Maximum Halloween in October, and Back to Basics in May/April. Following the tradition the event was held in Maxim; the oldest movie theatre still operating in Helsinki. It’s located only a few hundred metre from the famous Helsinki Cathedral.

The structure of the fest is simple; friday is the warm up night (films staring at 21:00 and 23:00), and saturday the actual festival night (films playing from 21:00 to approximately 11:00). There’s always two films playing at the same time so you can choose which one to see. Although two is not so much to choose from it’s not a big problem as the program is trictly customized and the target audience rather narrow. The festival is mainly targeted at hard core film geeks willing to fight the exhaustion and sit through the whole night. If you High School Musical 3 is on top if you “to see” list, you’ve come to the wrong theatre.

Friday: Warm Up

The festival kicks off with one of its most interesting new titles; Ryuhei Kitamura’s Hollywood debut The Midnight Meat Train (2008 ). Kitamura & Hollywood doesn’t sound like a promising combination, but the feedback has been highly positive, and for a reason. Using a Clive Barker novel as a base, Kitamura delivers a strong horror film that borrows its atmosphere mostly from the late 80’s / early 90’s American horror cinema. The director has left out his usual trickery for the most part and remains loyal to the source material; this is far more Barker than Kitamura. Bradley Cooper plays the lead role, but it’s Vinnie Jones as a giant butcher that takes his work to the midnight train once the day closes that really stands out. The only notable negative is the use cgi gore effects, although they don’t come even close to sinking the film. Humour is used very sparsely, and it works. Also bonus from sticking to the simple but effective base idea, instead of trying to spread it out too much to please bigger audiences.

More horror follows when Quarantine (2008 ), the American incarnation of last year’s over-rated Spanish horror hit [Rec], finds its way into my schedule. Rationally thinking, it would’ve been a better choice to go see Tokyo Gore Police instead, but since I wanted to save Eihi Shiina’s mini-skirt to saturday night, I ended up into a half empty theater, hoping the film wouldn’t be as bad as it had every reason to be. And thankfully it isn’t. It is a direct copy of [Rec] as far as screenplay goes – meaning the whole story of a group of people who get stuck in an apartment building when the government, without telling the reasons, isolates the building and allows no one to leave is seen through a reporter’s handhelf camera -, only this time shot in English and with a new cast. Technically, however, it’s an effective movie and better than the original.

[Rec] suffered from realism; the panicking and yelling characters became more irritating than likable during the film’s course. The American cast handles this aspect a tad better, perhaps making the pic less convincing to some, but overall more enjoyable. Another nice improvement is the cameraman who is given slightly more characteristics than his counterpart in [Rec] that never grew into something more than a walking camera. Admittedly the character development is not deep, and having an African-American man in the role, often consoling his nervous white female colleague, feels quite obvious Hollywood calculation, made even more obvious by making things even by casting another African-American as the bad tempered policeman. Such strong anti-racism is almost racism in itself.

The dark atmosphere continues outside the theater; it’s raing, and dark, and 1 am. I run to the train station where my buss leaves, it’s only about one kilometer from the movie theatre. When I arrive, I see several policemen in front of the station. I don’t know what’s going on, but there’s a bunch of bald men standing in rain and arguing with the police. Some bystander mentions racism, but I’m not sure if it was related to the incident. Either way, once again it’s a moment when I’m not proud of my home country. When the buss leaves, I count five police cars plus one that I think belonged to the law enforcement but was a civil model.

Saturday: The Festival Night

Bangkok Dangerous remake, or Into the Mirror remake? Obviously the mean spirited festival ministry did this on purpose, making the audience choose between two Hollywood remakes of Asian movies. The logically thinking side of my brains tells me to go see Mirrors (2008 ). Director Alexande Aja’s career has gone downhill ever since his brutally effective debut Haute Tension, but assumably he’s still capable of keeping the tech side under control. Also, the festival is playing the uncut version – the US cut was edited for R-rating.

But I can’t help myself. In the promo pics of Bangkok Dangerous (2008 ) Nicolas Cage looks so utterly confused and spiritually absent that I just have to get myself a ticket. Bangkok two way it is. And it’s a decently good trip. Brothers Pang deliver an average assassin pic that surpasses the Thai original simply by lacking the revolting disco direction it suffered from. Sentimentialism is also kept under control this time. The oriental location works, but feels a bit under-exploited.

The first thing the fans and non-fans of the original notice is that Nic talks. The main character, now an American killer for hire, Joe, is no more a deaf-mute. It’s a shame, really, as the thought of Cage as deaf-mute assassin lost in the streets of Bangkok sounded quite delicious. But the good thing is that the Pang bros have created an entirely new screenplay that only throws a few familiar elements into the mix. One of them is the female lead Charlie Young who – here it comes – is a deaf-mute. Her role is not very extensive, though. Cage and his enjoyable art of acting from the fourth dimension dominates the pic.

Up next is the first of the three UK horrors shown on the fest, two of which I would see before the night has turned into a day. Eden Lake (2008 ) is a debut film by James Watkins. A couple’s holiday to nature turns into a nightmare in a way that references the problems of the real world in many ways. Technically a superb film, with a very good cast and beautiful locations, but unfortunately the screenplay takes continuous turns to the wrong direction. It fails to surprise the viewer, and lowers the audience dedication by too often doing the exact thing you were hoping for not to happen. It’s a shame as Eden Lake is a strongly involving film that could’ve been really great if it was better written.

Yoshihiro Nishimura’s literally jaw dropping gore opus Tokyo Gore Police features some of the most impressive handmade special effects in recent memory. And plenty of blood (four thousand litres were used, according to the director). Audition’s Eihi Shiina stars as an engineer hunter tracking down mutants who can replace body parts with deadly weapons such as chainsaws. Yes, it’s Blade Runner in red. Sometimes Nishimura tries too hard – the wrist cutting scene in the beginning being a good example – but he’s also got some sense of style; the main character drives an old Saab turned into a police car in the Shinjuku neon light jungle. Additional fun is provided by movie director cameos, including Takashi “I hate the Japanese” Shimizu, and Paul Verhoeven esque commercials (Suicide is kawaii!!, by Noboru Iguchi). All in all, it’s unbelievable Nishimura managed to shoot this all in just two weeks and with no time for rehearsals. Thrilling trash, just don’t expect technical merits on other areas than special effects.

Back to traditional celluloid film. A few years ago when Paul Andrew Williams made his debut with a hard hitting but slightly pretentious London to Brighton he advised new film-makers to avoid shooting in digital as it always looks worse than film. Obviously he had little idea what he was talking about, but having personally just sat through a painful reminder of how poor digital formats can look like when used incompetently, Williams’s preference for traditional film came very much welcomed indeed. In The Cottage (2008 ) Andy ’Gollum’ Serkis and Reece Shearsmith play two men with an intention to make money with a kidnapping plan. Things go worse than possible. Instead of a thriller or pure horror, The Cottage is a comedic no hold barred ride that will surprise more than once. It the first half doesn’t work entirely, though, and the music choices are less cleaver than the one responsible for them probably thinks.

Before the next film there was a bit a of extra program, with four volunteers picked from the audience to act in a post apocalypse short play. The first player got a big advantage as he was given a cardboard bazooka – the only prop there was. The rest had to rely on their improvised ”Give me fuel, bastards” -lines. The winner got something, but I can’t remember what it was. Perhaps it was the Speed Racer promotional item that was for share (yet another sign of the festival ministry’s twisted sense of humour). Later in the morning competitors had to get into mood for a horror film to come by building WALL·E models. It’s hard to say who were more confused; the players, or the audience.

Battletruck: Warlords of the 21st Century (1982). In the recent uprise of Ozploitation (thanks to the documentary pic Not Quite Hollywood) this New Zealand post apocalypse pride could also find a new audience… perhaps its first major one. The basic elements are all there; armored trucks, lonely hero, and deadly battles for gasoline. What’s extra are the fine landscapes of New Zealand, effectively used in a couple of ’helicopter tracking shots’ but otherwise playing little role in the story. The title truck is driven by a villainous bunch that oppresses the ordinary poor people. Michael Beck has to stand up for them. The middle third features some dead moments but the action is rather good and the armored truck itself leaves no room for complaints.

Where’s that energy drink I brought with me? I fell asleep for 5 seconds during Battletruck (basically I was just having heavy thoughts… and then I noticed my eyes were closed…) sometime around 6 am. Energiajuoma, it states in Finnish in capital letters. The small printing says ”don’t drink before going to sleep”. Ah, exactly what need. Hope it’s good… uhg, no such luck. It tastes awful. But that’s not such a bad thing actually. It has an instant effect; every time I take a gulp I have to twist my face like Jim Carrey in a mid 90’s comedy and that alone keep me awake for 15 minutes at one go. Also, I better take this chance and eat those two buns I stole from school (one day they’re gonna catch me for that) on Friday.

A famous video nasty title with a creepy cover art that burned into my memory at young age, I Drink Your Blood (1970) turns out a hippie movie instead of the monster splatter I was expecting. But it’s not about free love and flower girls. No, these hippies are dangerous! I Drink Your Blood is a nice piece of unintentionally funny American exploitation cinema that works best when seen with people who have at least some understanding for the genre. The screenplay is wonderfully illogical; you’ll find yourself confused more often than not. Apparently the pic was originally rated X by MPAA, which sounds pretty far out considering the content. Perhaps 38 years ago someone did take the film with some seriousness.

If my memory serves me right, this is when the last remaining Saw 5 raincoats were given away. They really had hard time getting rid of those! Other, real prizes were also handed out to the lucky ones, although I believe the main prize went to the festival ministry after the came to the conclusion there no good competitions left and it would be easier if they just kept the items themself. The audience got smaller stuff, like posters and other items they had to discard but were too large to fit the trash bin…

The grande finale for the night, Robotrix (1991), a classic Category III title combining sci-fi, sex and kung fu. Amy Yip – delivering her usual Yiptease (the art of jumping around naked without ever really exposing anything) – and Chikako Aoyama – with a bit less restraints in front of the camera – star as female cyborgs after a mechanical villain (Billy Chow). A bunch horny male cops give ”support”. The outrageous film would’ve been great fun even normally, but as the last film of the marathon, watched at 8:45 am, after 6 other cult and horror films, it was a riot. The applauses during (especially when Chow disposes the dead prostitute) and after the film were all well deserved. No better way to end the festival.

Epilogue

Another great Night Visions experience. Big thanks to the organizers. The program was good, and so were all the films (keep in mind I’m using very harsh rating scale, with ”positive toned” ratings beginning from 1.5, and 2.5 equaling to a solid film). Looking forward to Back to Basics in Spring 2009. Films saw at Maximum Halloween 3008 in the order of viewing:

The Midnight Meat Train – 3,5/5
Quarantine – 2,5/5
Bangkok Dangerous – 2,5/5
Eden Lake – 2,5/5
Tokyo Gore Police – 2,5/5
The Cottage – 2,5/5
Battletruck – 2,5/5
I Drink Your Blood – 3/5
Robotrix – 4/5

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2 comments

  1. I’ll buy anything with Amy Yip’s name, but ROBOTRIX is an all-time fave. Classic Hong Kong cinema from the kinetic ’90s.


  2. Heh, you’re not the only one. Although myself if I had to pick one Category III (a genre I’m not overly familiar with) actress it would be the cute and sweet Lily Chung.



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