Friday, April 19, 2019

The Overlook Theatre Reviews: The Haunting of Sharon Tate, Daniel Farrands'

Pregnant with director Roman Polanski's child and awaiting his return from Europe, 26-year-old Hollywood actress Sharon Tate becomes plagued by visions of her imminent death.

4 of 7 viewers "Liked" "The Haunting of Sharon Tate" (2019, USA)
Creature reviews have been minimally altered in an attempt to maintain their voice:

The Impostor - "As a fan of Hilary Duff, I was excited and looking forward to seeing The Haunting of Sharon Tate. I knew very little about Sharon Tate's death, so I looked forward to how this would play out. Sadly, with all the different scenarios it was kind of confusing. I did like a few of the crazy kills but something would happen next that would ruin it. Hilary Duff played a decent Sharon Tate and I enjoyed her in this role. I hope to see her in the horror or thriller genre again in the near future. Overall, okay film...nothing special, nothing new brought to the table." - 3 Stars

Math Mage - *Spoiler* - "Offensively terrible, made me want to headbutt the whole cast. I'm gonna spoil this right now so you don't have to watch it. Sharon Tate, plagued by prophetic nightmares, turns the tables on her murderers, except not - they're ghosts! The BGM tried its hardest to make the film scary but the bad acting continuously took me out of the action." - 1 Star

Dr. Gonzo, Toy Surgeon - "Hilary Duff steps out of her usual role and delivers a stressed-out nostalgic Sharon Tate. I enjoyed her Sharon Tate - I thought she pulled it off. The movie went into a third person POV and flipped the script. The killed became the killers. The movie didn't dive too much into what Helter Skelter is, but it brought some decent jump scares. The writer might have tried too hard going in a different direction. He took real history and just rewrote it in his own mind. I gave it a 3.5 because it was entertaining, but it was a movie that used the name for fame." - 3.5 Stars

Grey Ranger - "BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. If there's a sensitive, intelligent film to be made of this story with this approach, Farrands is not the person to do it." - 0 Stars Farrands owes me a star for sitting through it! (default 1 Stars)

Lord Battle - "The Haunting of Sharon Tate is a weird film. Combing real crime scene footage with an alternate reality Sharon Tate who's plagued by premonitions of her own death, the film becomes a sort of tragic "What if" placing Sharon in a survivor girl role. The problem here is that unlike Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards, Farrands chooses to reach for heartstrings instead of over the top revenge. I honestly would be interested in seeing a grindhouse retelling where Sharon Tate murders her would be killers and hunts down Charles Manson for some proper comeuppance... Guess we'll just have to live with this subpar/offensive slasher. Oh, and for the record, I really enjoyed Hillary Duff in this role, I just wish she was more like the Bear Jew." - 2.5 Stars

Huntress - "I think most people question the use of real police footage in a non-documentary movie, especially one that goes out of its way to distance itself from the actual events it's based on. If that question never came to mind, it sure will at the end of The Haunting of Sharon Tate! Maybe Daniel Ferrands expected the audience not to know that this was based on true events. It's not too crazy of an assumption, but it still felt unnecessary. I liked a lot of the atmosphere of this movie, the huge empty house it was filmed in had lots of ominous ajar doors and dark windows. Hillary Duff looked great playing Sharon Tate but all the acting felt somehow rusty, which made for a lot of commentary from the Overlook audience. I think the concept was stronger than the execution here." - 3 Stars

Slayer Swift - "This movie actually surprised me. I had no idea where they were going to take it after the murders were acted out halfway through the runtime. Turning Sharon Tate into a survivor girl was an interesting twist. The musical choices were really distracting though - they almost counteracted efforts to build suspense and tension at some points. Overall, I enjoyed it." - 3 Stars

The Overlook Theatre Final Rating*
(Below is for after you've seen the film)

The Haunting of Sharon Tate is the second of Daniel Farrands' narrative features the Overlook has screened. The Amityville Murders was entertaining, but not very well liked (review will be up soon). We later received a screener for his second narrative feature The Haunting of Sharon Tate the same week as several other films. As host, I made a choice I usually regret immediately after and I put the nights screening to a vote. The audience leaned heavily towards tHoST beating out the remaining votes which were all for BIG KILL. The reason I hesitate putting titles to vote is; movies don't win, audience members do. This almost instantly sours the mood as the crowd is divided into winners and losers. Not to mention the compound effect when sore losers try to disrupt the screening by complaining/riffing.
The screening played to an attentive, confused, and offended crowd. For the most part, I think everyone did a good job at describing their experience in their review, so I'd like to let Daniel say his piece and refer you to The Overlook Hour Podcast. Below is a link to the chat we had with Mr. Farrands about The Amityville Murder. If you skip past that, he spoke with us about tHoST. Keep in mind that this was before the release of the film and he was already geared up to defend his position as Writer/Director on this project.
Watch the film for yourself before you jump to conclusions. And be sure to hold on tight if tHoST offended you because his next feature is promising to do the same.

- Lord Battle

The Overlook Theatre materialized in a Residence for a screening on 2/28/2019
*Based on the star ratings turned in by character reviewers, others viewed and got to "Dislike" or "Like" but that does not affect the rating.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Overlook Theatre Reviews: BIG KILL

A tenderfoot from Philadelphia, two misfit gamblers on the run, and a deadly preacher have a date with destiny in a boom town gone bust called Big Kill.

0 of 8 viewers "Liked" "BIG KILL" (2019, USA)
Creature reviews have been minimally altered in an attempt to maintain their voice:

Huntress - "A formulaic western with no main character and a surprisingly high body count. BIG KILL looked really good and was well acted, but it could have used a sprinkle of new ideas to spice things up. But if you want to spend two hours living with a couple of characters in a small desert town, this one could be for you. I personally can't handle desert climate." - 2 Stars

The Impostor - "BIG KILL for me was a BIG waste of time and I felt it tried to BIG KILL me will boredom. Maybe it's because western films aren't my cup of tea or shot of Hennessy. In the 2 hour runtime, I had no idea what the story was even about. Just two guys in a town of 8 people and they all spend their time in the saloon. The music was laughable in the moments it were placed. Danny Trejo made his 2 min cameo 'n we never seen him again. Overall not the film for me and I would not recommend this." - 1 Star

Dr. Gonzo - "The title of this film is misleading, it was like I was watching a snooze fest. The iconic actors that were in BIG KILL couldn't save it. Lou Diamond Phillips and Jason Patrick, I grew up watching these guys. Legendary Danny Trejo had a cameo. Sorry, BIG KILL was disappointing. The writers had a good beginning but didn't really take it anywhere. No good special effects. Kills were boring, except for the quick shoot out scenes. Watching BIG KILL brought good memories of Young Guns, but BIG KILL is no comparison." - 2 Stars

Math Mage - "10 minutes of gunfighting with unintelligible dialogue lead us awkwardly into 115 minutes of nothing punctuated by absurd BGM." - 2 Stars

Lord Battle - *Spoiler* - "I'll admit I was pretty excited to see Danny Trejo and Lou Diamond Phillips in a gunfight... Spoiler, they don't even share a scene. I honestly doubt they even met on set. Actually was Danny Trejo even in this film?" - 2 Stars

Greyranger - "So earnest in its reverence for the classic western that it's too timid to give us anything new. A likable cast can't save the thing which is at least 30 minutes too long." - 2 Stars

KillDozer - "This was a real throwback western that stubbornly refused to tread any new ground. It managed to play the old-time western plots of the '50s completely straight. Jason Patrick and Lou Diamond Philips couldn't save what could have been a really fun watch. Big Kill would have played better as a made for TV mini-series. Big Kill aka Big Let Down." - 2 Stars

Wandering Panda - *Fell Asleep* - 2 Stars (Default)

The Overlook Theatre Final Rating*
(Below is for after you've seen the film)

BIG KILL made for a weird screening. I expected the initial questions about why we were screening a Western and I answered them by pointing out the fact it was called BIG KILL and stared Lou Diamon Phillips, Jason Patrick, and Danny Trejo. I think I said something along the lines of "How could it be boring?!".

Like the Math Mage mentions in his review, BIG KILL opens with a large shoot out. This would be great except that there was a distracting issue with the leads all sounding like they each had a mouth full of gravel. The very hard to understand dialogue overshadowed all of the gunfighting and betrayed BIG KILL's one potentially cool reveal...

Anyway, the creatures calmed down after the first 5 minutes but became concerned again when the characters seek shelter at a fort and have Danny Trejo turned away. I remember the joke being made that we'd never see him again... The film took an interesting turn here as we watch our now articulate leads make do in a makeshift bar in a border fort. I mentioned the possibilities for interesting stories here and after some hijinx, our characters are hired to lead an accountant to BIG KILL a town no one had ever heard of. If this sounds potentially cool to you, I'd have to agree. When the party has a travel montage backed by a humorous musical score and encounters some riders lead by Lou Diamond Phillips I still had high hopes! It wasn't until Mr. Diamond and his entourage had their 5 minutes and rode off that I became worried.

Upon reaching Big Kill (the town) it was clear that BIG KILL (the film) had peeked back at the fort. Big Kill (the town) looked like every other Hollywood low end studio western. One strip of buildings, a saloon on the corner, balconies that countless stunt doubles must have fallen from, and yet not a tumbleweed... or a pianist! BIG KILL (the film) was like Greyranger said, "so earnest in its reverence for the classic western" yet failing to capture the vibe. When I was younger I HATED westerns for pretty much the same reasons as The Impostor, I thought they were boring and full of talking. Then I learned about every film students favorite word: juxtaposition, and just how ripe the western genre was with them. The city vs wilderness, family vs the loner, the dry of the desert vs the moisture of the saloon (😉). BIG KILL explores none of this yet embodies what an 8-year-old Lord Battle and current day Impostor fear. A Hallmark drama in the desert, with occasional gunfire thrown in to keep the audience awake.

I'd like to note that the film was technically well crafted. The only complaint we had was about the mumbled speech early on, which honestly turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of the film. Seriously what's worse? A low budget shit-show that has people laughing or a well made safe studio film that's uninspired and has a crowd of people sitting silently waiting... Oh and that cool reveal I mentioned earlier was when Jake Logan (Scott Martin) turned out to be an amazing gunslinger. After navigating the film as a nonviolent comic relief, this would have been an impactful reveal... Except they opened the damn movie with that stupid shoot out that I and everyone except for the Math Mage forgot about.

-Lord Battle

The Overlook Theatre materialized in a Residence for a screening on 3/28/2019
*Based on the star ratings turned in by character reviewers, others viewed and got to "Dislike" or "Like" but that does not affect the rating.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Lord Battle Blogs: SHE @ The Alamo Drafthouse, Weird Wednesday

It's 12:25AM and I've just returned from a screening of a 35mm print of Avi Nesher's 1984 post-apocalyptic fantasy SHE. This is my first time in the presence of SHE and also the second time I've been back to the Alamo Drafthouse SF since they removed their program director. I'd like to address very briefly the fact that people think The Overlook Theatre has been boycotting the Alamo since the aforementioned separation and I will now say on the record, it's not true. Well not intentionally... 

The thing that you need to realize is San Francisco has gone through some serious gentrification and lost a lot of great independent theatres. With that, we've also lost a lot of great hosts. Recently we lost the Yerba Beuna film program department which took with it two of our favorite intro voices, followed by the Alamo Drafthouse now being booked by a shadow entity... I'm removing names from this post because I've been drinking and I've gone down a tangent. So no, we are not boycotting the Alamo, but does it feel warm and inviting like it used too? No, honestly it hasn't since they removed Lost Weekend Video and stopped booking Video Vortex and turned it into a souvenir shop. Will I still show up for a midday screening of a new Gaspar Noé film with a promised Skype Q&A? Fuck yes, but next time spare us the tool of a host (I don't know who he was but anyone other than Mike was gonna make me mad, especially while pandering insincerely).

Support Midnites for Maniacs and Super Shangri-La Show! Jesse and Kai are fighting to keep awesome cinema culture alive and they deserve our money!

Forget Stranger Things, you wanna see an old Mountain Dew can? Watch SHE!

The Math Mage accompanied Huntress and I out on this $6 10PM adventure, which I couldn't have been happier about. I have been a long time enjoyer of fantasy film and when one loves fantasy film one also knows how few and far between a kindred spirit can be!

Like most Terror Tuesdays / Weird Wednesdays, SHE had the bulk of the middle section of theatre one full with a few stragglers on either side. I'd say this was a solid turn out, especially for a 1h 45m Post-apocalyptic film starting at 10PM on a school night... So I checked IMDB to see if I could recognize any films Avi Nesher may have made post SHE and help give me some insight on the turnout.

Avi Nesher's award-winning films have played a major part in Israeli cinema's rise to prominence during the last decade. During that period, remarkably enough, four Israeli movies were nominated for Best Foreign Picture. During that era Nesher was singled out and honored several times as one of Israel's all-time greatest filmmakers.
-excerpt from IMDB mini bio on Avi Nesher

I didn't recognize anything from his filmography but that paragraph from IMDB sure got me excited. As for the larger than expected crowd, it appeared they were just looking to drink/laugh. I pass no judgment here.

The Mummy Mutant gang wields chainsaws (with optional sunglasses)!

Shove (@shovemink (IG)) intro'd the feature with the credits rolling behind her, some slight technical difficulty, and an obvious sense of disdain. Shove is very knowledgeable when it comes to film and horror specifically, but she hesitates not when she dislikes something. She did not like SHE. This set the tone for an ironic viewing and I'm not going to lie, kinda bummed me out. I am glad that she gave a nod to Avi Nesher's band Bastard, which ruled! I should probably mention that I spent my first initial moments home trying to look them up, but according to Metal-Archives there are 13 bands named Bastard and 69 more with Bastard in the name... (Let me know if you have more info on Bastard!) After making fun of the bikini warrior women, oiled hunks, and costume choice, Shove departed.

The ballerina giant from the sleeping gas woods comes equipped with a gas mask.

SHE looked, sounded, and played beautifully. Right after the film abruptly ended the Math Mage jumped up and expressed his anger that the film presented a plot line that they left out of the movie. He was referring to the one part of the movie I went to the bathroom during, but I think the mad scientist in the sleeping gas forest released the female henchmen to reunite some crystals. This character returns towards the end of the film with no mention of this. The Math Mage was clearly the only person in the theatre anticipating this story arch. After his protest of the ending, we both instantly agreed that SHE was amazing. I personally think SHE is the best post-apocalyptic fantasy film I've ever seen. The plot of CONQUEST with unique-ish warbands ala THE WARRIORS, locations that felt fresh and unique, with a bombed out city for the climactic 3rd act! 

Nazis now rule New York City.

I seemed to be the only one annoyed with the amount of laughter throughout the film, but even I had to ask myself, what did I expect? Post-screening the crowd cleared out quickly. I did spot a couple cool artist in the crowd and an SF film programmer. I just wonder if we'll ever have after film discussions like we did for the first 3 years of the Alamo. I suppose I should make an effort to keep that culture alive. Math Mage did hang out and walk Huntress and I to our car to talk about SHE some more. That counts.

I'll speak more about the film on The Overlook Hour Podcast #137 since I'd like to start doing these post-screening blog posts as a sort of diary of SF cinema culture. I was really upset with myself for not doing this sooner when the culture was stronger and I'm committed to documenting events now, albeit 5 years late.

- Lord Battle

Sunday, April 7, 2019

PARSE, Darryl Blood's Second Release, Coming This Month!

The second release from composer Darryl Blood, PARSE is an elegant horror soundtrack without a film. Unlike John Carpenter's LOST THEMES, PARSE is comprised of collaborations and themes created for films that never happened. Steel drums softly playing in the rain conjure up visceral imagery of an Italian cannibal film that never was, and they're the backbone to track #4, "Rain Song". Rain Song is also a prime example of how Darryl Blood will start us somewhere familiar but have us pleasantly lost by the end. Life Cycle (featuring Gordon Withers) paints the picture of a faded 1970's title sequence projected on scratching 35mm. Exterior, a rural ancestral house, a tree swing dances in the wind. Interior, a tall individual in a black silk robe hovers over a crib... I'm positive that Darryl Blood never intended anything bad to happen to the child crying on Life Cycle, but that's just where my mind went.

PARSE will be available through Bandcamp on April 23rd.

Get a cassette tape copy of The Campus (recently retitled Deathday) soundtrack HERE.

"Deathday" coming out on DVD and Blu-ray MAY 2019

Get a digital copies of Darryl Blood's music (including Deathday) HERE.

TURKISH DELIGHT - "Tommy Bell" / "Howcha Magowcha" double-CD re-release out on
Reckless Yes

- Lord Battle

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Overlook Theatre Reviews: Suspiria, Luca Guadagnino's

A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.

7 of 9 viewers "Liked" "Suspiria" (2018, USA)
Creature reviews have been minimally altered in an attempt to maintain their voice:

The Berkeley Blazer - "I loved Call Me By Your Name, and I love this movie.  I almost want to
mark it down slightly for the parts of the score where Thom Yorke sings (I loved his instrumental work), but the particular feeling of being lost in a cinematic world to this degree is so rare that I can't let such a triviality sway me from celebrating this movie.  More thoughts below in the wrap-up." - 5 Stars

Trash (R) - "Finally, all the elements that uptight critics approve of in horror have been packaged together into one soulless experience. Suspiria epitomizes “Elevated Horror” as a derogatory term. Bloated, constantly declaring itself artistic and formal, pretentious, and utterly vapid. Like some art school asshole who has a Hieronymus Bosch poster in their dorm but has the brains of a Rob Zombie flick. It didn’t read as feminist. I didn’t read much of anything. At the end, the most shocking thing about SUSPIRIA is that I didn’t really get bored during its three hour run time." - 2 Stars

The Wandering Panda - "I've got to say I didn't know what to expect with this film. I love the original with its striking use of colors and cinematography that at the time is just baffling. And I've got to say Suspiria 2018 is a way more dense film with so much going on in the foreground and background, with branching storylines that may be hard to follow. With a runtime of almost 2 and a half hours, this is a long film but I've got to say Suspiria 2018 has a better script, story, and acting. I just wish they'd release a version mixing the visual of the original with the storyboards of 2018." - 4 Stars

Lord Battle - "I love a polarizing film and Suspiria seems to be the cream of the crop for 2018. I've spoken to horror fans, film fans, casual fans, sentient fans, and people who wandered into the wrong theatre and no one can agree on anything! I'm not sure why this review took a comedic twist but it might have something to do with the fact I can't seem to agree with where I stand with this Argento remake... reimagining... sequel?! Okay, here's what I know: I felt like I missed A LOT while catching Suspiria on its lightly attended opening night. It honestly made me feel kinda dumb, like I should have known more about the war/global political climate with emphasis on women's rights of the time. And since I didn't I was missing something, but I couldn't get the damn film outta my head! I fell in love with the idea of current affairs washing over me as an audience member whose only focus was this dance school which was filled with fascinating rooms. Maybe the colors were mute and earthy but the textures were rich and inappropriate. The doorknobs where painfully centered but the mirrors were abundant and unflinching, and then there was the underbelly of the school... You know what, I loved this film. Suspiria climaxes in perhaps the best unholy ceremony in celluloid and did so without an ounce of religion. The unholy nature of this story is in our ability to lose ourselves in art while those outside our walls suffer and die. Do I think Suspiria is an art film positioning itself against art? No, but if mirrors represent a character's inner conflict, what is to be said about photographed, painted, and printed eyes betraying one's location and motives? Is this a commentary on cellphone use? Are we being judged by past selves? Or is this just another one of the film's philosophies that fizzles out? I really feel like liberal Germany birthing witches we are rooting for while orchestrating a world war may have some underlying meaning, but who knows? I sure don't. It definitely seems like every time I think I have an answer I end up with 2 more questions, and yet I can't stop thinking about this film. I hope this spawns a trilogy." - 4.5 Stars

Greyranger - "There was no way in hell this was going to match the viscerality and vibrance of the original. Happily, it goes hard in its own direction, taking in German politics the history of contemporary dance, coven administration and management, feminism, and a suitably twitchy Thom Yorke score. Dug it. Hope Guadagnino does Inferno, too." - 4 Stars

Math Mage - *Spoiler* - "No one respects somatic components. Everyone stresses about having enough bat guano, and magic words are all over the place. But no one thinks about how important gestures are to spellcasting (except anime ninjas and they don't count). So the next time someone asks why they can't cast spells while being seized by a giant crab, I'll refer them to this movie. Professional dance is weird; for the uninitiated, it might as well be sorcery. So witches running a dance studio makes perfect sense. That's not a spoiler, but this is: my favorite thing is when a monster's victim turns out to be even more monstrous. This has to be done correctly and it is done perfectly here." - 5 Stars

KillDozer - "I was dragged to a theater kicking and screaming to view yet another pointless and unnecessary remake. Lucky for me this remake, although still unnecessary, was made by some talented individuals with real vision. With an obvious color palette change and mood shift from the original, I believe this is a film that can stand on its own. The audience is treated to something beautifully shot with incredible performances and an intensity built up through choreography. To be honest, my experience was much different from those I watched the film with. I was pulled directly into the journey of an old man who had to go through hell to find peace but that literally is another story. The consistent mood throughout this unnecessary remake managed to capture my attention and let me have a unique experience on screen without constant comparison to its inspiration. This film had no reason to be remade but in the end, I'm glad it was." - 4 Stars (belongs on the shelf next to the greatest witch films and worth another watch)

Slayer Swift - "I appreciated Suspiria more than I enjoyed it. Susie’s first dance and Olga’s corresponding torture was so unexpected and disturbing (while also being kind of beautiful?). I still don’t fully understand what was going on underneath the studio or why, and I think I was looking for a more redemptive ending. Also, why were there so many characters? That contributed to my confusion. My favorite parts were the flashbacks to Susie’s Mennonite childhood and her mother’s realization of Susie’s destiny. Also, Chloe Grace Moretz as Patricia was magic. The Cold War Berlin setting was interesting, but I’m not quite sure what it added to the story. There was a lot going on, and I think I need another watch to take it all in." - 2.5 Stars

Huntress - "Weeks after seeing it, I still find myself thinking about some of the major moments of Suspiria. But there was so much more to this movie than its highlights and I spent a lot of the runtime wondering why we were seeing so much unrelated world building. Luckily, the remake was nothing like its iconic and vibrant predecessor, so comparing the two doesn't feel necessary, but it did take a post-viewing conversation for me to feel fulfilled after walking out of the theatre. And while I really enjoyed the contrast of cold gray buildings to cozy apartments to long dark hallways, I wouldn't say I was profoundly affected (which I feel like many reviews went for). Although the more I reflect on Suspiria, the more I want to rewatch it, for all of the not so subtle horror elements that it nailed." - 3.5 Stars

The Overlook Theatre Final Rating*
(Below is for after you've seen the film)

I’d rather not attempt to interpret this re-imagined Susperia, as better minds have published essays with words like "Jungian symbolism" and "collective historical trauma" for our reading pleasure.  I want to talk about why this was the perfect complementary mood piece to Luca Guadagnino’s penultimate opus Call Me By Your Name, which happens to be one of my favorite cinematic experiences of the last five years.

First let me ask:  Would you prefer to frolic among the hills and hamlets of Northern Italy with gorgeous creatures of culture and comfort as they explore and discover archaeological relics and their
budding sexuality?  Or, would you rather mod out smoking cigarettes in the girls locker room during of East Berlin's most tumultuous historical periods with a combative coven of dancer witches? The first scene is pleasant for most, and the second probably seems vile and repulsive to the healthy-minded.  When Guadagnino and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom are at the helm, these worlds are rendered mutually compelling.  CMBYN and Susperia both employ muted textures with vibrant color palettes and both use a meandering sense of pace to boil the audience like willing frogs. Some have commented that Susperia is a drab film, but is this merely due to the fact that there
is a lot of grey?  The use of reds -crimson, damask, blood-  spring at us with gnashed teeth against dour concrete backgrouds and ages muted wood.  Both films give me the sensation of watching a '90s foreign film on VHS but in HD.   Call Me bathes us in deep beauty and erotic longing, while Susperia jams us into a phantasmagorical bloody womb where a new world is forged from past evils.  Not pleasant.

Has the critical response to Susperia been so much more polarizing than CMBYN simply because it is a beautiful film about ugliness? I'd rather not speculate, but I can say that many who praise Guadagnino's Susperia rightly add the caveat that the film is not for everyone; I found it seductive and yet I can't call it a seductive film.  Honestly friend, if you're not hooked in the first twenty minutes of either film then you'd probably do best to abort the process (though you'd miss some acerbically brutal dance macabres)".

While viewing these movies we viewers can vaguely acknowledge there are heady themes at play, those Important Questions and What Does it Mean to be Human?isms that bearded men bring up on dinner dates. These thematic ventricles yield little blood, and work best as structural underpinnings in service to the sensuality on display.  You may be the type to have never have given the profession of archaeology a thought outside of Indiana Jones, but in CMBYN when Elio's father pulls the
boyish face of a statue from the sea, the sensual and the intellectual are synthesized though the gaze of the filmmakers and we are transported; the passion of the academic -for that moment- is our own.
You may not even be able to spell ballet, but the dance sequences in Susperia both onstage and the mirrored walls of the academy will euphorically clutch your heart and release you bowels (the highest
form bodily applause).

I would like to catch Susperia in the theatre one more time to see if it can still possess me, or maybe I will think a bit more about the implications about what is actually happening.  Hopefully, I'll get lucky and I'll get swept off my feet again, like some cozy dream.

- The Berkeley Blazer

The Overlook Theatre materialized in a Century Theatre for a screening on 11/1/2018
*Based on the star ratings turned in by character reviewers, others viewed and got to "Dislike" or "Like" but that does not affect the rating.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Found Footage Horror Comes to the Stage in San Francisco

There aren't many good things I can say about Facebook lately, but there is one thing I must give it credit for. Specifically the Bay Area Horror Group, which I visit regularly. And that is that it turned me onto what sound like a revolutionary undertaking - a found footage horror anthology play... in San Francisco! 

In exactly one week, we will be counting down to HOLY SHIT THAT WAS SCARY, which is being presented by Awesome Theatre at Piano Fight Productions. I saw those words on a poster, immediately dropped what I was doing to reach out and find out more. I was lucky enough to talk to the founder of the project, Colin Johnson. 


How did you get involved with Awesome Theatre?

Anthony the Executive Director contacted me in 2013, asking if I’d consider directing Terror-Rama, which was a horror/comedy double bill of one acts complete with a horror hostess. The show worked, against all odds, and we decided to keep pushing ourselves, eventually creating a business that exclusively showcased weird new plays by local artists.

You have directed several shows with Awesome Theatre, ranging from camp to comedy. What would you say is your favorite genre to direct? 

I love directing comedy. I direct for circus and work often with clowns and nailing the precision of comedy is absolutely invigorating, but I’m fascinated with horror. Horror doesn’t get produced a lot, and when it does it’s usually a gothic thriller or a Grand Guignol style campfest. I’m interested in translating the tools of effective horror filmmaking into the stage, what that entails, the challenges, the priorities. Much like radio, the stage limits your ability to truly frighten and manipulate what the audience experiences. You need to find creative ways to lean into your limitations, and in the process you boil the ideas down to their calcified foundation. It’s more stylized, and somewhat more tech-dependent, than most theatre, but it’s fucking exciting.

Where did the inspiration for a found footage horror anthology play come from and how long did it take to flesh out?

I’d been looking for platforms to work with horror writers, and after the success of (In Search of ) the Funniest Play Ever, which yielded two wonderful comedy commissions (and more to come), we wanted to put up another “greenhouse show”, which is a low-impact series of one-off performances designed to collaborate with new artists and develop new works. I pitched a horror angle, and then it was a matter of finding the perfect context. I'm a lifelong fan of horror and found footage, which I feel is one of the most primal and pure subgenres--as horror tends to be most effective in raw, simpler and less expensive forms. I've yet to see a truly magnificent horror film that had big budgets and fancy effects (with a few notable exceptions). I re-watched the V/H/S Trilogy and then came up with the ridiculous idea to tell stories like that onstage. The idea was broached last summer, and it literally took about five or six months to land on an approach that wasn't overly complicated.

What are some of your favorite found footage horror/ anthology movies?

The Blair Witch Project started it all for me. Man, that fucked me up. I was fifteen. It hadn't been released, yet, so there was no available information on the film. Then after the movie, like an asshole, I went for a run in the woods. Stupid idea. I'm also a big fan of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, the aforementioned V/H/S movies, Man Bites Dog, The Borderlands (which has another title that I can't remember), REC, Grave Encounters, Willow Creek, and several more that aren't coming to me at the moment. Since found footage kind of saturated a lot of the market, I try to look for stuff I haven't seen done before.

How many of the people involved in the production would call themselves fans of the genre?

Well, all of my writers, Tonya Narvaez, Ignacio Zulueta and Dani Spinks, are pretty big horror fans. As are my directors, Puja Tolton and Nikki Menez. It was really important to me that the creative crew for the show were fans. It's hard to do live horror if you don't watch horror. There's an atmospheric and pacing precision there that a lot of non-fans don't understand, and therefore can't convey.

What’s the overall tone of HSTWS? Does it take itself seriously or go for the more satirical approach?

We are taking the genre elements very seriously. We hope we can make it work for the audience. There are of course comedic elements, but the sound design, the video design and the performances will all be sincere. No winking. I made a conscious decision after Funniest Play Ever, we wouldn't break the fourth-wall for Holy Shit. I want to create and completely maintain an unbroken atmosphere. Fingers crossed.

What are the pros and cons of translating this form of visual narrative to a live production?

Some of the cons are the spacial limitations, the technical limitations, finding clever ways to translate images or ideas that would normally be viewed in a tightly-edited package. You must literally think so far outside the box you end up in some weird neighboring box. For instance, creating a found footage feel to a live performance meant having characters come across old digital cameras or torn up journals or weird things under tarps. As they investigate, we literally see the story of how that camera or journal or that weird thing under the tarp came to be here. We thread multimedia into everything we do at Awesome Theatre, but my hope is to use this workshop production as a way to subvert the idea of video transitions or video backgrounds to scenes and really put the audience in the shoes of someone who can't believe what they're seeing. 

The pro is the ability to dive into the meat of the horror. Utilizing sound, performance and very deliberate pacing to evoke what would normally take, again, a tightly-edited package, to convey properly.

Does HSTWS feature scripted dialog or was improv encouraged?

Everything is very scripted. My writers are wonderfully talented individuals. The pieces are only ten pages or so, but each one feeds the overarching narrative. We have created a shared horror mythology concerning an abandoned nature preserve and the unexplainable events that have plagued the area over nearly a century, so the writing was very important.

What role, if any, does the audience play in this production?

They have that old phrase, "If these walls could talk". I want the audience to be a fly stuck to the wall of an old, rotting cabin, subjected to these freakish events over nearly a century and not being able to look away.

What is your most memorable story from this production?

About 6 hours after we attended a day-long Bachelor Party for our Executive Director Anthony, Jess (our Technical Director and Artistic Producer) and I took two of the casts up to the Sibley Volcanic Preserve in Orinda to shoot all the creepy video and photo content. There's nothing quite like a wholesome Sunday family hike being interrupted by creepy hermits and bloodstained Cultists. So, you know, apologies to the nice people who sped up as they passed our crews.


Join me and several Overlook creatures as we venture into the theatrical depths of live found footage! HOLY SHIT THAT WAS SCARY is a one night only event happening Wednesday 10th at 7pm. You can connect with other people attending through the event page, and keep up to date with Awesome Theatre's latest projects by liking them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

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