FANTASTIC FEST: September 24th
KAMMATTIPAADAM (India, dir. Rajeev Ravi)
Krishnan (Dulquer Salmaan) is working as a guard on a movie studio lot when he gets a cryptic phone call from his old friend Ganga (Vinayakan). After he starts to make calls and discovers Ganga has gone missing, Krishnan reluctantly heads back to the home he hasn’t seen in thirty years and finds himself right back in the middle of the same mess that he had thought he left behind forever. KAMMATIPAADAM runs on a pair of parallel storylines following Krishnan in the present and in his wild teenage years running with a street gang. It’s obviously heavily indebted to sweeping crime epics like ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, which is no surprise as director Rajeev Ravi was cinematographer on two of fellow Indian director Anurag Kashyap’s similarly large-scale crime dramas. Ravi’s film is nowhere near as gritty as Kashyap’s GANGS OF WASSEYPUR, but it’s also not quite as slick as ONCE UPON A TIME IN MUMBAI (the lack of song-and-dance numbers in particular sets it apart from more mainstream Indian movies). This leaves KAMMATIPAADAM in an odd limbo that it never quite escapes. It looks good and the performances are solid, but similar stories to this one have been told much more compellingly in recent memory. There is a four-hour version that will be released on Blu-ray, though, and it’s compelling enough to inspire checking out the longer cut to see how it stacks up to those other films as well.
THE DWARVES MUST BE CRAZY (Thailand, dir. Bhin Banloerit)
While out hunting for food, several members of a village of dwarves eat glowing green bugs. They taste great, but unfortunately they turn whoever eats them into ass-eating floating heads with dangling guts. A group of men from the village strike off to find a wise old hermit to ask for his help while everyone else hides out at a local monastery, but the shit-obsessed ghosts might not be the worst thing lurking out in the jungle. THE DWARVES MUST BE CRAZY is an aggressively zany horror comedy, with cartoon sound effects accompanying every gesture and facial expression. The slide whistle is employed more here than it has been in maybe all of world cinema in the last five years. It’s charming and fun for a while, but at 92 minutes it eventually becomes exhausting.
TERRY TEO (New Zealand, dir. Gerard Johnstone)
Cat burglar and high school student Terry Teo (Kahn West) aspires to join the coolest and most successful gang in the city, but when his estranged father is killed Terry finds himself reluctantly on the right side of the law. Well, mostly. Gerard Johnstone’s HOUSEBOUND is one of my favorite horror movies of the last half-decade, and his follow-up here is quite unexpected. Instead of a feature, TERRY TEO is four episodes of a six-episode TV series directed by Johnstone based on a 1980s children’s adventure show. Johnstone updates the story for modern day, and the results are charming, and very lighthearted despite dealing with murder and other criminal undertakings. It’s a little weird that only four of the six episodes screened at the fest, since snipping the opening and ending credits from each one probably would have gotten all six in right around two hours. It’s not quite as inventively manic as HOUSEBOUND, but it’s a breezy good time.
JUNGLE TRAP (USA, dir. James Bryan)
Dr. Chris Carpenter (Renee Harmon) is charged with leading a research group into the deep jungles of South America to retrieve a priceless artifact from a native tribe forced into extinction by international development. She led a previous expedition to the same place and lost a member, so she’s already reluctant to return. To make matters worse, she has to take along her estranged husband and his new young girlfriend. When they arrive they find a mysterious hotel in the middle of the jungle, and learn the native tribe may not be as dead as they thought. Cult filmmaker James Bryan shot JUNGLE TRAP on video back in 1990, but it was never completed until the folks from Bleeding Skull met Bryan and found the materials for the movie stored in his barn. They ran a successful Kickstarter to raise funds to complete the movie, finished editing it and composed an all-new score, and this Fantastic Fest screening was the film’s world premiere. It’s a ton of fun for fans of SOV horror (and Bryan and Renee Harmon, of course), and the new score is absolutely dead-on perfect. Hats off to Bleeding Skull for exhuming movies like this for future generations to scratch their heads over!
BUSTER’S MAL HEART (USA, dir. Sarah Adina Smith)
Jonah (Rami Malek) works the overnight shift at a remote hotel and lives with his wife Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil) and their young daughter at Marty’s parents’ home. They’re trying to save money to move out, but the overnight shift is taking a physical and emotional toll on Jonah. When a stranger (DJ Qualls) shows up at the hotel claiming to have knowledge of a vast conspiracy, Jonah’s world starts to change for the worse. Meanwhile, a haggard man known as “Buster” (also Malek) who believes an apocalyptic event is imminent roams the mountains breaking into seasonal cottages to survive while the police hunt for him. BUSTER’S MAL HEART is driven by excellent performances from Rami Malek and DJ Qualls, who absolutely walks off with every scene he’s in. He has an unsettling confidence and a weird charisma, and he gives the film–which is already intentionally structured to be disorienting–a shot of unpredictable energy. There are some great images and ideas here, and moments of easy, genuine humor that rises from the characters and situations. The journey is the point here, which is good since the ending is a little underwhelming considering all that came before it, but BUSTER’S MAL HEART is a solid second feature from writer/director Sarah Adina Smith (THE MIDNIGHT SWIM) and will no doubt garner a huge following once it reaches a wider audience.
THE EYES OF MY MOTHER (USA, dir. Nicolas Pesce)
Francisca (Olivia Bond) lives on an isolated farm with her Mother (Diana Agostini), a Portuguese immigrant, and Father (Paul Nazak). Their quiet lives are upended when young drifter Charlie (Will Brill) wanders up to their house. Years later, Francisa (Kika Magalhaes) still lives on the farm, but loneliness has taken its toll on her. THE EYES OF MY MOTHER is a quiet, spare film shot in beautiful black & white that will probably read to some viewers as pretentious. But debut feature director Nicolas Pesce uses careful observations and long periods of silence to build toward moments of gut-churning horror. At its most harrowing, the film rivals similar intimate psychological portraits of unstable individuals; while it shares little on the surface, the film feels strongly reminiscent of Lodge Kerrigan’s underseen classic CLEAN, SHAVEN (1993). THE EYES OF MY MOTHER is a fascinating work of art and an unsettlingly effective horror film.
PHANTASM: REMASTERED (1979, USA, dir. Don Coscarelli)
If you’ve been reading Daily Grindhouse recently, you might have noticed that there are more than a few rabid PHANTASM fans who write for the site. I’ve seen the film well over a dozen times, at least four of those on the big screen (and once at a drive-in!), but the chance to see it remastered in 4K on the big screen with a packed house full of genre fanatics and some of the folks who worked in front of and behind the camera on the film was too great an opportunity to pass up. This screening was also the big event for the first Arthouse Theater Day, and the intro and post-screening Q&A was simulcast from the Alamo to over 100 theaters across the country screening the film at the same time. As expected, the remaster looks fantastic, but the truly astonishing thing about it is the new sound mix. And sure enough, seeing it on the big screen with an appreciative crowd was an amazing experience. Writer/director Don Coscarelli was in attendance along with Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury, and Kathy Lester. Tim League led a fun Q&A, and Thornbury and Lester performed the song “Sittin’ Here at Midnight.” It was a fitting tribute to a film that has taken its place in horror film history and is a hugely important movie to many horror fans.
HEADSHOT (Indonesia, dir. Kimo Stamboel)
The same day criminal mastermind Lee (Sunny Pang) escapes from prison, an unidentified man (Iko Uwais) washes up on a nearby shore and is hospitalized in a coma. Two months later, the man wakes up with amnesia and his doctor Ailin (Chelsea Islan) gives him the name Ishmael. Soon thereafter, Lee sends his army of killers to bring Ishmael to him. Iko Uwais is probably best known as the star of THE RAID and its sequel (not counting his cameo in THE FORCE AWAKENS, anyway), and HEADSHOT is appropriately badass during its impressive fight sequences. There’s an interesting mix of martial arts styles, frequently complemented by all manner of firearms, and and whenever people are beating the hell out of each other it’s a blast. Everything in between is less compelling, drawing heavily on tropes John Woo perfected in his Hong Kong action films. It’s always a treat to watch these folks at work kicking ass, but at a full two hours HEADSHOT could have used some additional streamlining to focus more on those strengths.
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