Presented by the American Cinematheque, Los Angeles’ inaugural
Beyond Fest (October 10-31) kicks off this week with a sickening slate catered to genre nerds
looking for both new, never-before-seen films and repertory screenings of
classics you might only find in the most primitive cult video store. If you’re not in
LA to attend this first-ever festival, or even if you are, you’ll find plenty
of films by Beyond Fest-featured directors to stream at home for your viewing (dis)pleasure. Trailers, and more films, after the jump.
Among the highlights of this first edition of Beyond Fest is a trio
of 35mm Dario Argento screenings, including cult classic “Deep Red,” starring the great David Hemmings, and of course “Suspiria,” the midnight movie to end all midnight movies. The films will be accompanied live by Italian rock quintet Goblin who, in their first LA
appearance, will appear in concert to play their nerve-plucking original scores.
While forgivably dated and irresistibly cheesy, Argento’s 1970 directorial debut “The Bird with
the Crystal Plumage” (Fandor) delivers a taste of the visceral thrills, mod atmosphere and stylized violence to come from the man who went on to direct dozens of
visually stunning thrillers that launched a 1970s wave of Italian arthouse horror. If you can overcome the ghastly dubbing that has permanently marred his work — possibly at its worst in “Suspiria” — the pleasure of Argento’s films is how he flaunts their inelegancies and imperfections.
To supplement your own personal Giallo retrospective at home, two
seminal Argento films are available free to Amazon Prime users. Unfortunately
for purists, the stream of “Phenomena” (1985) is the heavily truncated
U.S. version, which came to our shores under the moniker “Creepers.”
But having seen the original full-length cut of this eerie cinematic nightmare about a girl (young, sublime Jennifer Connelly) shuttered in
where-else-but a repressive boarding school where she communicates
telepathically with insects, it’s safe to say “Phenomena” could have
used a little trimming. Argento’s lack of focus and errant subplots hamper an
otherwise compelling central story. But nitpicking aside this is one of Argento’s more digestible efforts in spite of the corniest, hair-metaliest Goblin score of all time.
Swimming in infernal Technicolor imagery and glorious, gory set
pieces, Argento’s “Tenebre” (1982) ranks among his most visually splendid to date. Like “Crystal
Plummage,” this half-procedural, half-slasher centers on an American crime writer (Anthony
Franciosa) who find himself entangled in a murderous web of mystery. Here, a serial killer starts recreating scenes from his fiction. Plenty of beautiful
Italian women are hacked to bits in “Tenebre” — something that
Argento does best, even if he can’t always string together a coherent
story to save his life.
Cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, who brilliantly lensed Antonioni’s
late-career film “The Passenger,” floods the frame with bright light,
perhaps a first for Argento who tends to lurk in the shadows. All the better to
make the blood go pop.
On October 18, Drafthouse Films goes Beyond to screen the LA premiere of Brit
auteur Ben Wheatley‘s latest, “A Field in England,” a B & W head/acid-trip set in the 1648 during the English Civil War. For now, you can
stream his 2011 film “Kill List” (Netflix), probably the most bitter, nasty
little thriller to come out of the UK in awhile. If Edgar Wright is the genre
geek angel on your shoulder, Ben Wheatley is the conniving devil on the other.
While caustically funny but never comforting or reassuring, “Kill
List” slowly yet suddenly goes from Fincher-esque procedural fare with
spooky undertones to a what-the-fuck-did-I-just-see level of pure terror. Under
vague circumstances, two ex-British soldiers are tasked with assassinating a
priest, a librarian and a politician. Wheatley and cowriter Amy Jump carefully
conceal information about the men’s brutal past until the bitter end. A smart filmmaker who plays with mood and
tone to present the interiors of his characters — though we’ll see what
he’s up to now when “A Field” premieres — Wheatley mixes genres and
styles with eager abandon. Scenes of intense domestic distress, such as a
dinner party from hell, weave realism into more surreal moments sheered from
the pages of horror. If you’re not appalled by this movie, you’re beyond help.
Also streaming is Wheatley’s debut feature
“Down Terrace” (Netflix), a more by-the-book and LOL-funny crime
family film than “Kill List” but certainly just as violent and
button-pushing, and on iTunes is “Sightseers,” his twisted ode to the
lovers-on-the-road movie. (TOH’s “Sightseers” interview with Wheatley is here.)
Beyond Fest also screens the new crimson-stained yakuza film by
Japanese director Sion Sono, “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” which
nabbed an Audience Award at TIFF this year. On Fandor, you can check out two of
his ultra-violent films, “Noriko’s Dinner Table” (2005) and
“Ekusute” (2007), which personify Japanese cinema at its most extreme
and fetishistic, and catapulted Sono to the ranks of Takashi Miike
(“Audition”) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa (“Pulse”) as a master of
international horror. Like Sono’s earlier “Suicide Club,” “Ekusute” reeks of hopeless nihilism but, as a film that’s literally
about a vengeful head of hair and the hairdresser who loved it, doesn’t shy
away from the occasional wink. Don’t miss his icky serial killer chiller
“Cold Fish” (Netflix) either.
Meanwhile, one of the films playing Beyond Fest
is available to stream for free on SnagFilms. Terror starts at home, literally,
in Juan Piquer Simon‘s grindhouse masterpiece (yep!) “Pieces” (1982), which opens with a freckly little boy axe-murdering his mother. Cut to decades later and a serial killer is at large on a
Massachusetts university campus, leaving only a trail of amputated female body
parts in his wake. Could these incidents be related? Of course they could. “Pieces” is the kind of artless, kitschy trash
that only could exist after the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”
scared up sexually budding teens in 1974. The October 12 screening of
“Pieces” features a live score by recording artist Umberto. While I don’t want to discourage from checking it out in theaters, SnagFilms offers a high quality stream.
Check out the Beyond Fest schedule over at their official website here. Among other highlights are a pair ’60s Japanese horror classics, “Onibaba” and “Kuroneko,” and a screening of John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13.”