The Chattanooga Film Festival is one of the best festivals in the United States for new genre films and retro screenings of classic exploitation and genre fare. In its sixth year, the festival is being held April 11-14, 2019.
After two nights of not much sleep, I made the four and a half hour drive into Chattanooga under somewhat grumpy circumstances. But it’s hard to stay grumpy when you get to hang out at an event that is as much fun as the Chattanooga Film Festival. It seems to have hit that festival sweet spot where it is big enough to attract interesting films and guests, yet it is still small enough to be so laidback that it is not unusual to see people like Gary Sherman chatting with fans in the lobby. But you’re not reading this for sightings of great exploitation directors in the wild, so let’s get down to business.
Director Penny Lane crafts a documentary about The Satanic Temple as it evolves from a small group of admitted “trolls” pulling publicity stunts to bring attention to the presence of blatantly Christian iconography on the grounds of state government property to a growing pseudo-religion in its own right as scores of outcasts find its progressive values welcoming.
Lane finds a good through-line in the ongoing battle between the Temple and the state of Arkansas as they fight in the courts about the presence of a Ten Commandments monument at the state capitol. The Temple’s counter-punch of arguing that all religions should then be represented alongside the Commandments—including their eight foot tall statue of Baphomet (complete with adoring children)—is inspired and plays to the strengths of the Temple’s co-founder Lucien Greaves as he slowly becomes the star of the film, flipping between smirking know-it-all and sympathetic true believer in what the Temple comes to stand for in its inclusive message.
While HAIL SATAN? moves quickly and is often laugh-out-loud funny, I wouldn’t have minded if it slowed down at times to dig deeper into some of the more interesting developments such as the way the Temple becomes just as much of an organization as any other major religion and how that rubs certain members the wrong way. While focusing on the Temple’s battle with its natural opposition in Christian and Catholic organizations that somehow think they are being oppressed makes sense, there seems to be a ton of potential drama in seeing how a new religion handles dissent among some of its more outspoken members.
After a two hour block of wonderful that was Joe Bob Brigg’s doing a multi-media lecture called “How Rednecks Saved Hollywood,” (I’m not even going to try to summarize this–just see it if you get the chance) it was on to the second and final film of the evening…
Part outlandish midnight movie, part scattershot attack on self-help gurus, FINGERS has a plot that is almost impossible to describe. Just know that it involves a woman named Amanda (Sabina Friedman-Seitz) who lives in fear of everything from the birthmark on the hand of the worker at a donut shop to the idea that she might try to kill the child she is pregnant with when it is born. But it turns out her greatest fear is missing fingers when one of her co-workers (Stan Madray) shows up with a bloody stump where his index finger should be. From there, the plot spins out in increasingly larger circles to encompass the thug (Jeremy Gardner) who is cutting off the fingers, the criminal (Michael St. Michaels) who is paying the thug to mutilate the poor man, and a pop-psychology spewing author (Michael Richardson) who is using the unwitting Amanda to kickstart his own Dr. Phil-like TV show.
As it probably should be, FINGERS is a very muddled film. The tone veers from over-the-top comedy to horrific violence to legitimate creepiness. But while it is often funny and Friedman-Seitz gives a great performance, it feels like writer/director Juan Ortiz is simply throwing as much random weirdness against the wall as he can and seeing what sticks. Fortunately, about half of those ideas land, which was enough to keep my attention through to the surprisingly satisfying ending.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)
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Tags: Chattanooga Film Festival, Fingers, Hail Satan?, Jeremy Gardner, Joe Bob Briggs, Juan Ortiz, Lucien Greaves, Michael Richardson, Michael St. Michaels, Penny Lane, Sabina Friedman-Seitz, Stan Madray, The Satanic Temple