Sunday, August 19, 2007

Jason goes to Dead Channels--closing night

All right, three final films, and then a bonus after party the next night. Here we go:

First up was a 1972 nihilistic dystopian future drama "Z.P.G." aka "Zero Population Growth". In the future the world is so polluted that people can only go outside with gas masks. The world is also so overpopulated that the world governments agree to set a 30 year ban on childbirth. Women pregnant at the time are allowed to register and give birth, but no new pregnancies are allowed (at least, they aren't allowed to continue). People who want babies can buy robotic children and trade them in for more grown-up models as they age (problem is, everyone just wants to keep the infant versions). Anyone found with a baby is summarily executed, and the first person to rat them out gets extra ration cards. Russ and Carol accidentally conceive, and she keeps it secret as long as she can. Once Russ finds out, she convinces him to let her have the baby, and they'll raise it in secret, with the help of their sympathetic neighbors. That is, until their neighbors' jealousy causes them to turn on each other. Although some sets and props are somewhat dated (and some aren't, I love the idea of streets so thick with smog you can't see your hand in front of your face, they must have spent a fortune of fog machines), the ideas still work well today--the desperation of a babyless world, a dystopian future controlled by an oppressive government, a mad dash to freedom, etc. work so well today that they were made into one of my favorite films of this last year, "Children of Men".

Then there was a funny/scary horror master anthology "Trapped Ashes", a nod to anthology films such as "Creepshow" that celebrate the good ol' fun of making people scream, squirm, and laugh. Joe Dante ("Gremlins", "The Howling") directs the wrap-around segments, with the always excellent Henry Gibson as a tour guide on a movie set who traps his guests in an old haunted house set and forces them to all tell their most embarrassing stories. And these are some guests with some fucked up stories. Ken Russell ("Altered States") directs the demonic breast-implant story that everyone else was afraid to touch. Sean S. Cunningham ("Friday the 13th") presents a story of an American couple in Japan where the wife has an erotic encounter with a demon. Monte Hellman ("Two Lane Blacktop") directs the straightest dramatic story of the bunch, about a talented young filmmaker named Stanley and the succubus who shaped his life. And finally John Gaeta, the Oscar winning visual effects supervisor on the "Matrix" movies makes his directorial debut with the story of a woman who shares a psychic bond with her fraternal twin--a tapeworm. A sick, beautiful, cheesy, twisted, sexy movie that had me asking myself at one point, 'would it be rude to jump up on stage and start rubbing up against the screen?' (Answer: I was too chicken to find out).

And the final movie was a New Zealand comic stuntman gem, "The Devil Dared Me To". Created by Chris Stapp and Matt Heath, and based on a character they created for a UK Channel 4 show called "Balls of Steel" (it's apparently a mix of sketch comedy with real stunts a la "Jackass"). Randy Campbell (Stapp) is New Zealand's greatest stuntman, and this is the story of his origins. Coming from a long line of stuntmen, he grew up on New Zealand's South Island (aka, the shit island) dreaming of the greatest stunt--to jump the 15 miles of Cook Strait and land on the North Island. He becomes part of daredevil great Dick Johansonson's (Heath) Timaru Hellridres, but is never allowed to do any stunts. Instead he cleans the port-a-potties while washed up Johansonson bangs groupies between mediocre failed stunts. He finally gets his break filling in for an injured driver, and his career takes off. He also meets the love of his life, beautiful one-legged Tracy "Tragedy" Jones. Of course, wacky hijinx ensue all over the place, involving beer, stunts, and gross-out humor. I loved it, and I've already ordered the first season of "Balls of Steel" from

And that was the end of the festival.


But wait, there's more! Friday night there was a kick-ass after party at the Hypnodrome, the last of the "Live Acts and Dead Channels". A rock and roll theme, they presents Jack Chick's out-of-print warning about rock music--even Christian rock, in "The Angels". There was one last sing-along to "Bohemian Rhapsody" on the player piano, as well as a sing-along of "Happy Birthday" to Everett. And the final touch, a Brian De Palma's glam-rock adaptation of "Phantom of the Opera" (and "Faust"), "Phantom of the Paradise", complete with drunken fans talking too loud at too many points (sorry about that, but I wasn't the only one).

Then off to the secret after hours club, where I had a bit more to drink, passed out (more from exhaustion than alcohol), napped a couple of hours, then caught a ride home with a friend.

And that was Dead Channels. I can never come up with just one favorite of a festival, but here are my tops:

"The Devil Dared Me To", "Disquiet", "The District", "End of the Line", "Gamera the Brave", "Happy Birthday Wanda June", "Jupiter Love", "The Living and the Dead", "Postal", "The Secret Life of Sarah Sheldon", "Spider Baby", "Trail of the Screaming Forehead", Trapped Ashes", "Z.P.G"

If I had to narrow that list down, first just on contemporary, new movies:
"The District", "Disquiet", "End of the Line", "The Living and the Dead". I could also give honorable mention to "The Secret Life of Sarah Sheldon", but the projection was so dark I don't think I saw it all. Once I have a chance to watch the DVD, I'll see if I like it even more.

And for the classic revivals, I'll end with a plea for someone to release "Happy Birthday Wanda June" and/or "Z.P.G." on DVD. Better yet, someone should revive "Wanda June" on stage where it originated.

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