Monday, June 11, 2012

Jason goes to Midnites For Maniacs Killer Summer 5-film all day fest

Yeah, they call it Midnites For Maniacs even when it starts at 2:30 pm. And at five films, it's more like a Marathon for Maniacs (starting with a Matinee for Maniacs.)

And I'll tell you, I don't know the last time I saw five films in one day. "But Jason," I can hear you saying, "you often go to film festivals and see five or more films in a day!" Wrong! I often go to film festivals and see five or more movies in a day, but they're rarely all on film, much less beautiful 35 mm prints. That's quite a rarity. And before I dive into the reviews, I'd like to thank Jesse Hawthorne Ficks and the Castro Theatre for making that possible. And especially Jesse for his informative introductions and proselytism for overlooked and/or under-appreciated films.

Okay, onto the films:

We started the day with ONE CRAZY SUMMER (1986): John Cusack romances Demi Moore on Nantucket while trying to save her house from evil rich people. Savage Steve Holland direct, teaming up again with Cusack (and Curtis Armstrong) for a follow-up to BETTER OFF DEAD. Plus he throws in some Bobcat Goldthwait going crazy as usual (I especially love the Godzilla scene) and animation featuring nasty, evil bunnies. And then he ramps the absurdity up about as high as it can go.

Next up was WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER (2001): Confession time (since Midnites for Maniacs is a no-judgement zone, and such confessions are welcome), I had never seen this movie before. I maintain I was waiting to see it in the best way possible, and last Saturday at the Castro was the best way possible. In any case, it's a lovingly absurd homage to so many summer camp comedy cliches, especially summer love. The absurdity is ramped up by cramming all of those cliches and assorted wacky hi-jinks into the final day of camp. Plus you get to see Amy Poehler before she was a star, Janeane Garofalo as the camp director, David Hyde Pierce as an astrophysicist, Christopher Meloni as a demented Vietnam Vet/camp cook/fridge humper, and Paul Rudd as a giant asshole. And that's just about half of the movie. With it going every which way, it feels a bit like a sketch show instead of a linear narrative, and with so many threads some of them are bound to disappoint. But enough of them work that overall it's a pretty fun experience.

Next we stayed at summer camp but took a severe turn of genre with FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980): This, of course, is the classic that started the slasher genre. Except that it's not a slasher flick, it's a stalker flick (the series veered off into slasher territory in later episodes.) And it's not that original, it's a low-budget knock-off of John Carpenter's low-budget stalker horror classic HALLOWEEN. I had seen it years ago, on VHS of course. And it's remarkable how much I had forgotten about it. I had forgotten how well it used P.O.V. shots (always from the killer's P.O.V., until we're down to one survivor and you start seeing some shots from her P.O.V.) I had forgotten Kevin Bacon was in it, suffering pretty much the best kill in the flick (I was right, however, that this wasn't his screen debut. He had a small role in ANIMAL HOUSE first.) Of course, I did (and will always) remember the great final shock scene. Still one of my favorite horror movie scenes of all time.

Speaking of favorites, next up was Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE (1992): Now I don't actually like designating anything as my favorite movie (or favorite anything, for that matter.) I think declaring a favorite calcifies a part of my personality that I would prefer remain fluid. But with that said, if I had to declare a favorite film of all time, DEAD ALIVE (aka BRAINDEAD) might just be it. It is, definitely, the movie I have obsessed over the most, and the movie that is most responsible for me becoming a big film geek. Another confession--I did not grow up watching horror films. I came to them in college when friend played a VHS of DEAD ALIVE in the lounge. I became obsessed, always wanting to rent it and watch it again (in fact, at one point I rented it and played it on a continuous loop for 24 hours in the lounge.) Later I learned that the original title was BRAINDEAD and there was a version of the movie with 7 extra minutes that was released in New Zealand and Europe but never in America. In searching for that, I found the whole world of online bootleg video stores that were all over the place in the mid-90's. Places like Gorehound Video or Blackest Heart Media running what was an arguably legitimate business providing unreleased versions of movies for collectors. These mostly went out of business when these uncut versions became available on special edition or import DVDs (once every collector got a region free player) but back in the day that's really how I built up my horror/cult movie collection. And at every one of these sites, in my first order I would test their quality by buying a copy of BRAINDEAD. So at one point I had at least a half dozen VHS bootleg copies of the movie (I've since passed these all out to friends, so don't bother asking me for one.) I also learned about a ton of other cult horror movies, including a little sickie film called CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. Then shortly after I moved to the SF Bay Area, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST made a nationwide tour for its 20th anniversary, and played at a theater in the city called The Roxie. That was my first time seeing it on the big screen, and my first time at The Roxie. I figured I needed to pay attention to what plays at a theater cool enough to play CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, and the next February there was something there called SF Indiefest--my first film festival! That was 2002, and I've seen every Indiefest film since then, as well as becoming something of a fixture at many Bay Area film festivals. But it all started with DEAD ALIVE.

I suppose I should say a few things about the actual film now. But what's to say--zombies, lawnmower, comedy. It's as if Monty Python made a horror film. And it's got a beautiful love story at its core--a love based on the two unbreakable pillars of superstition and fighting the undead. It's also the only one of the films I had seen before on the big screen. In fact, I had seen the DEAD ALIVE unrated cut at least three times at midnight movies in San Diego, Santa Cruz, and San Jose, probably more. And I saw the BRAINDEAD cut back at the Roxie in SF Indiefest in 2003 (to my knowledge, one of only two times that version ever played in the United States.) So let me end with just a few notes about the differences between  the DEAD ALIVE and BRAINDEAD cuts, and which one is my favorite. See, even though BRAINDEAD is seven minutes longer, fans are mistaken when they claim it's the "Director's Cut." What happened is when the distribution rights were negotiated, there was already a movie on the market called BRAIN DEAD (two words, not one, and starring the Bills Pullman and Paxton) and so to avoid confusion (and possible litigation) they decided to rename Peter Jackson's opus. Well, that gave Peter Jackson a few extra weeks to go back into the editing booth and make some changes, cutting out some scenes for pacing, and more importantly tweaking the color timing a bit to bring up the greens a bit more. If you see the BRAINDEAD cut, it's tinted kind of red, like it came from a slightly faded film print (incidentally, this color was one thing that kept me buying more and more versions of BRAINDEAD bootlegs hoping to find one that magically had the same colors as DEAD ALIVE.) So the U.S. unrated version of DEAD ALIVE is really the "Director's Cut." In any case, I actually like the scenes that are in the BRAINDEAD version (especially the final disposition of the priest zombie, nurse zombie, and greaser zombie's legs) but I prefer the colors of DEAD ALIVE. So my favorite cut would be one that only exists in my mind--BRAINDEAD scenes but with DEAD ALIVE color. In any case, I think we can all agree that the heavily edited R-rated version is crap.


Wow, um...sorry for rambling there. Anyway, we ended the night with a film I had never seen, THE BURNING (1981): This was a low budget camp stalker flick, i.e., a knock-off of FRIDAY THE 13TH (which remember, was itself a knock-off of HALLOWEEN.) Now I know that Midnites For Maniacs is a judgement free zone, but unfortunately this blog is not, and I'm sorry but I just couldn't get into THE BURNING. I did like the opening bit, when a bunch of campers pull a prank on the groundskeeper Cropsey that ends up with him burnt over his entire body. And I liked seeing Jason Alexander with hair. And of course Tom Savini's special effects are good. But after a strong opening it just took too long to get going and when it did not enough of the campers died. Too many damn survivors, including too many of the kids I didn't like. Oh, well. And in the spirit of no judgement, I'm happy for everyone who stuck through it and actually liked THE BURNING (like my friend Phil. Thanks for the ride home, Phil!)

And that was it. Next Midnites for Maniacs is just three movies, a BFF Triple Feature of CLUELESS, MEAN GIRLS, and HEAVENLY CREATURES on July 6th.

Total Running Time: 473 minutes
My Total Minutes: 287,672
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