Cannibals, Spooky Ghost Stories, & THE MONSTER SQUAD Thrilled Audiences at The Overlook Film Festival

The second Overlook Film Festival took place this year from April 19th to the 22nd in New Orleans at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, which was probably a relief for those adventurous souls who returned after being snowed in at the Timberline Lodge for the 2017 festival! Just as last year, in addition to a solid slate of features the festival had a number of events, live performances, VR experiences, and an overarching game that played out over the course of the weekend. Daily Grindhouse’s Mike Vanderbilt was in New Orleans with boots on the ground to cover the fest, while Jason Coffman was able to cover some titles playing the fest remotely.

 

CANIBA (France, dir. Véréna Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor)

While a university student in Paris in 1981, Issei Sagawa killed and partially ate Dutch classmate Renée Hartevelt over the course of a weekend. He was quickly apprehended, but never stood trial and instead was returned to Japan where he went on to become a minor star appearing on television cooking shows and films like Hisayasu Sato’s The Bedroom and Tomoaki Hosoyama’s Weather Girl. Following a severe stroke, Sagawa now lives in the care of his brother Jun with his days of questionable celebrity far behind him. Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab–best known for 2012’s Leviathan–visited the Sagawa brothers to examine their relationship in a series of conversations that largely play out in extremely intimate close-ups of one or the other’s face. This would probably be uncomfortable regardless of the subjects, but given the nature of Sagawa’s story it’s no wonder the film inspired walkouts at many of its festival appearances. As horrific as Issei’s actions are, when his brother’s fetishes are revealed it becomes almost impossible to draw a line between the two happy children shown in old home movie footage and the men they are today. CANIBA is an intensely difficult experience, but that’s exactly the point. It confronts a terrifying human evil in a shockingly fragile and vulnerable state, raising questions that will linger with viewers long after the film ends.

 

DON’T LEAVE HOME (USA, dir. Michael Tully)

Melanie (Anna Margaret Hollyman) is an artist who creates miniature dioramas, and her latest exhibit focuses on a series of disappearances that have taken place in Ireland since the 1980s. The first disappearance occurred after a priest named Burke painted a portrait of a young girl, and the next day both the girl and her image in the painting mysteriously disappeared. Following the early publication of a very negative review, Melanie receives a call from Burke’s representative Shelly (Helena Bereen) inviting Melanie to visit Burke’s home in Ireland for a commission. When she arrives, she finds Burke (Lalor Roddy) in poor health and Shelly seemingly in total control of his life. Melanie senses she is in danger, but as she gets closer to Burke she finds herself unable to leave without learning the truth about his story. DON’T LEAVE HOME is a low-key supernatural chiller that takes its time, building its characters’ relationships before revealing its strange secrets. Hollyman gives a solid, understated lead performance, but the show is largely stolen by Bereen in a role that requires her to switch gears from kind and nurturing to intimidating without warning. Overall it’s perhaps a little too subdued for its own good, and some viewers may find its leisurely pace less hypnotic than simply sleepy, but anyone looking for a slow burn that takes some unexpected twists will find it worth a watch. It’s also worth noting that writer/director Michael Tully’s previous two features were PING PONG SUMMER (a 1980s coming of age comedy) and SEPTIEN (a bizarre family drama with a Satanic bent), so at least he can’t be accused of being predictable!

 

THE FARM (USA, dir. Hans Stjernswärd)

A young couple on a long road trip stop at a diner in the middle of nowhere and have a burger, then decide to stop and spend a night in a run-down cabin rented out by a creepy landlord. When they wake up the next morning, they’re being held captive in a factory farm where the livestock is people and the employees all wear animal masks. Can they escape before they’re turned into meat? Considering the audience doesn’t even learn these characters’ names until they are eventually spoken later in the film, are we even supposed to care? THE FARM is built entirely on one idea, namely “What if people were treated the way animals are on factory farms?” The answer, unsurprisingly, is that watching the result is not that much different from any other generic “country cannibals” movie. The only things THE FARM brings new to the form are an admittedly admirable commitment to keeping its “animal” characters silent and a suffocating layer of pretentiousness and overt classism on top of the gruesome happenings. The people who run the farm are portrayed as the same kind of gross inbred stereotypes who are always the villains in these movies, while the final shot awkwardly underlines THE FARM‘s High Art aspirations. If nothing else, watching this movie may give the viewer a better idea of why so many Americans voted for our current president out of spite–if this is what “intellectuals and academics” think of everybody who eats a cheeseburger, who wouldn’t want to screw those eggheads over?

 

SEX MADNESS REVEALED! (USA, dir. Tim Kirk)

Jimmy Morris (Patton Oswalt), host of the podcast The Film Dick, is excited to broadcast his latest episode live with Chester Holloway (Rob Zabrecky), the grandson of the filmmaker behind the infamous 1938 VD scare film SEX MADNESS. Holloway claims to have extensive knowledge of the history and production of the film, which he insists was not made for quick cash on the exploitation circuit but instead was part of a conspiracy involving a shadowy organization he calls “The Order.” Director/co-writer Tim Kirk’s previous feature was DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY: TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, which was presented as a commentary track on an obscure horror film that unearthed terrible secrets behind its production and the lives of those involved in it. This film takes a very similar approach, playing out as Jimmy Morris and Chester Holloway discuss the weird story behind SEX MADNESS as the film as it plays out in full. Like DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY, SEX MADNESS REVEALED! feels more like a radio drama than a fully-realized film and would probably work better as a live performance. Set down in concrete, the performances can feel distractingly stagey, although thankfully there are moments of weird humor that help keep the proceedings from getting too heavy.

 

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (Mexico, dir. Issa López)

Estrella (Paola Lara) is a 10-year-old girl who is left alone when her mother never comes home one day. She makes a wish for her mother to return, but flees home when her wish comes true: Her mother is dead, and returns to haunt Estrella. The girl takes to the streets where she joins a gang of boys roughly her age who have all been similarly abandoned or orphaned by the violence that plagues their city. Estrella tries to keep her other two wishes a secret, terrified of what may result from them, but the brutal crime lord responsible for her mother’s death and his gang become an imminent threat to Estrella and her friends. TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is an bleak, heartbreaking “fairy tale” from writer/director Issa López that looks at the horrific life of children left behind by a society devastated by violence. The children all give amazing performances, and López seamlessly integrates their daily life with touches of magical realism. It’s little wonder that Guillermo del Toro took notice of López and her film as it made its way around the festival circuit last year to huge acclaim–it feels very much like a modern take on del Toro’s supernaturally-bent historical dramas. This is a beautiful, difficult film that should be seen by any serious cinephile, and one of the best genre films of the year.

 

WOLFMAN’S GOT NARDS (USA, dir. Andre Gower)

As hard as it may be to believe now, Fred Dekker’s THE MONSTER SQUAD was a bomb when it was first released theatrically. These days the movie regularly plays to packed houses on the repertory circuit, often with Dekker and/or members of its cast in attendance. Andre Gower, who played “Sean” in the film, was so inspired by the film’s long-delayed success that he has directed a documentary about the film, the people who made it, and its huge resurgence in the popular consciousness. WOLFMAN’S GOT NARDS talks to Dekker and co-writer Shane Black, along with stars Ashley Bank (“Phoebe”), Ryan Lambert (“Rudy”), Stephen Macht (“Del), and Duncan Regehr (“Count Dracula”) about the film, including video footage from the original production. It also follows some of the actors as they make appearances at screenings and conventions across the country, having a blast with fans of the film. Additionally there are interviews with many genre luminaries including Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Graham Skipper, Seth Green, Kristina Klebe, and Heather Langenkamp as well as writers like Jen Yamato and Rebekah McKendry among many, many others. The enthusiasm and love for THE MONSTER SQUAD is infectious, and it’s genuinely moving to see how much of an effect it has had on the lives of so many people. WOLFMAN’S GOT NARDS is a great time, and even if you’re not already a MONSTER SQUAD convert this is a fun an interesting look at how a cult film occurs in the wild.

Jason Coffman

Jason Coffman

Unrepentant cinephile. Contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly. Member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. Co-director, Chicago Cinema Society. Attempted filmmaker. Proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's GURU, THE MAD MONK and Zalman King's TWO MOON JUNCTION.
Jason Coffman
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