Thursday 13 April 2017

IHSFFF 2017 - Day Seven

I'll be posting daily coverage of the Phoenix Film Festival at Apocalypse Later Now! again this year. Here's Wednesday 12th, which is Day 7.

And that's it for us, as we can't get back tomorrow for the closing night film. However, we got to see every single feature and short from the IHSFFF side of things, plus three other films that could easily have fit there. Oh, and only one other, so it was a real genre festival for us this year. And a good one too!

Here are some rough notes to help guide whether you want to look out for these last two films after they're released. None of them will be screening again during the festival, of course, as the festival is almost done.

Note 1: I'll eventually review all the films that played as part of the IHSFFF part of the event (and some PFF films too) in detail over at my main review site, Apocalypse Later, but that sure ain't gonna be this week!

Note 2: I have indexes up at Apocalypse Later that detail every film, whether feature or short, that's playing this event. Here's the PFF index and here's the IHSFFF index.

All photos are courtesy of Dee Astell.

Block 24: Sequence Break (2016)
The IHSFFF feature that blew me away this year was Hounds of Love but this one's likely to end up second on the list. I gave Happy Hunting a higher rating, but I know that's not going to change, while I have a feeling that I'm going to up this one on a second viewing.

While it's so influenced by David Cronenberg's body horror films that some will see this as an homage rather than an original work, I'd argue that it finds its way pretty well. We follow Oz, a young man born in the wrong time, given that he repairs arcade machines for a living in our now and doesn't own a phone. With his job about to be lost to progress and an actual nerdy girl talking to him and kissing him on rooftops, he's going to have to face the present and that's a scary proposition.

What we watch is really a love triangle between Oz, that girl, whose name is Tess, and a mysterious arcade machine. If you're wondering how that can be remotely possible, then you probably haven't seen Videodrome. This ups the ante nicely, with the effects work really good for a film that was completed in a stunningly short time: exactly one year from the beginning of pre-production to its first festival screening.

For those who enjoyed the short film, Spell Claire, earlier in the weekend but wanted to explore that concept in a longer and less comedic framework, this is the picture for you, as long as you're not repulsed by the body horror of Cronenberg or the hallucinations of Ken Russell. Graham Skipper, the writer and director, attended and mentioned 'Altered States' as his other primary influence. That makes sense, though these are toned down hallucinations, more sexual or sinister than blasphemous.

The other thing I'll mention here is the Tangerine Dream-style electronic score by Van Hughes, which serves as a thoroughly appropriate background to Oz's living out of time.

If the references in this brief touch on Sequence Break make it sound like your cup of tea, then you're going to adore it, but, if Cronenberg makes you go 'ick', then this really isn't going to be something for you.

Here's Graham Skipper, with producer and actor Lyle Kanouse and some random British critic in a kilt:

Block 25: Game of Death (2017)
I've been really impressed this year by how Festival Director Monte Yazzie organised the showcase features. It often felt like he was programming them with the variety but thematic flow that you might expect from a set of shorts, but over multiple nights with feature films.

This was the perfect palate cleanser to wrap up the IHSFFF because it began like a recap of the week: the acid party of The 6th Friend, the late ambulances of Killing Ground and the game theme from Sequence Break, not to mention the male masturbation scene from a surprising number of films (the most frequent elements were drone shots and male masturbaton). However, it also provided a counter to vague pictures like Tonight She Comes and Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl by playing as straight as it can.

The regular IHSFFF audience has been theorising about who was born at the end of Tonight She Comes and what the heck happened in Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl, but Game of Death is simple. There's a game. Of death. That's it. No twists. No surprises. Just a game of death. There is no more honest advertising than this!

All the recap moments I mentioned happen during the opening scenes, which are full of young idiots doing all the usual young idiot things: partying with sex, drugs and alcohol. Then they find a game called Game of Death and, like the young idiots they are, start playing.

How do you play? Well it's pretty simple. They each start with a finger on a plastic skull around the rim; it pricks those fingers and steals a little blood, then provides a random number of 24. That's how many people they have to kill to end the game. If they don't kill someone within a time limit, the game will kill one of them, so it's kill or be killed. And, they quickly realise that it's real when their heads start exploding and the game's count drops with a 'One down!' and an electronic giggle.

Yes, this is dumber than a bag of rocks. For a start, why is there an open Game of Death sitting on a shelf in a house? Either it's sitting out in a room covered in blood or it's never been opened. And who would create such a game to begin with? This movie is not for those who ask fair questions like those. It's for those who want to see blood, because it has that in copious quantities.

The effects are spectacularly good and the dark humour is rather enjoyable. One of the Harkins folk walked in to do his routine check right at the point a bullet was revolving through the air in ultra-slow motion, to return to normal speed at the point it reaches a young lady's head, which splatters all over the ceiling. He promptly left again. That was so appropriate that it was almost part of the movie for me.

There's a little effort made to keep the story interesting by having some of the characters wonder about murder vs suicide, playing along or dying with their morals intact, killing innocents or just anyone, but only a little. This isn't remotely deep. However it is a lot of fun.

And it has manatees. While they have precisely nothing to do with the price of fish in Denmark, they're all over this movie like a rash. It's the horror movie of choice for manatee fans.

I've had an absolute blast this week. I was buzzed for the first IHSFFF in a new three year set with Monte Yazzie ready to shape it to his vision and he delivered a fantastic year. I'm a week without much sleep and I can't wait for next year!

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