Film festival fails to frighten

Courtesy/SF IndieFest/Courtesy

Due to the sheer number of film festivals around the world, some naysayers would argue we need another one as much as we need another hole in the head. Here to dispel this notion is the San Francisco Indie Fest’s line up of horror and sci-fi films, aptly titled, you guessed it, “Another Hole in the Head Film Fest.” The 2013 edition runs from Nov. 29 through Dec. 19, featuring films that explore all of the things that go bump in the night. It has become a one-stop shop for viewing all the gore and mayhem that may otherwise not make it to a theater near you.

— Ryan Koehn


Growing up with older siblings can be tough — especially when they’re serial killers.

Director Scott Schirmer’s first feature film, “Found,” is a unique coming-of-age-story told through the narration of the young and impressionable Marty (Gavin Brown). The boy’s hero image of his big brother, Steve (Ethan Philbeck), begins to falter after he finds something unusual in his closet — a human head. Steve’s dark hobby parallels Marty’s own trouble with bullies at school and his pursuit of the courage to stand up for himself. Marty’s world is filled with posters of slasher films and gory memorabilia, and Schirmer’s fascination with horror bleeds through every frame as the film serves as a love letter to the genre. Marty’s discovery about his brother triggers a chain of events that launches him into his own real-life horror movie, putting him and his entire family in danger.

The performance of young newcomer Brown carries the film. He plays Marty with a nonchalant innocence that helps balance out the film’s over-the-top moments. We get to the real meat of the story once Steve realizes someone in his family knows his secret. The dark question of how far his evil extends adds a needed vein of mystery to the sometimes expositional voiceovers.

Unfortunately, the film is plagued by the same problems as the genre it idolizes — too much gore, unnecessary nudity and a hefty dose of overacting. Schirmer does manage to find surprising nuance in capturing the human drama of Marty reconciling his naivete and the horrors he experiences — both at school and at home. This is refreshing, as many elements in the film are a bit brash and demand too much attention to themselves. At these times, the film is about as subtle as a severed head in a bedroom closet.

— Ryan Koehn


‘Cohasset Snuff Film’

Enough time has passed since 1999’s seminal “The Blair Witch Project” that the concept of found footage as a horror-film premise seems almost like a fresh idea. “The Cohasset Snuff Film” updates that foundation with the inclusion of vlogging techniques and torrent sharing as well as the way the public perception of personal video evidence has changed. This film also indulges in a greater, more skin-crawling exploration of sexual violence than many mainstream releases would dare. Connecting itself to the revenge-porn climate of the Internet while exposing the whims of a truly terrifying 17-year-old serial killer, this film compiles a horror of the information age. True to the form of “reality”-style horror films, “The Cohasset Snuff Film” suffers from some of the typical pitfalls of the genre: Shaky camera movements, talking heads and gimmicky night-vision moments abound. Hidden perspectives and partly obstructed camera angles start off as coy shielding devices for the worst of the violence, but they quickly become tiresome. The depiction of objectified young women as ornaments and come victims is stultifyingly formulaic, as is the way the killer dwells visually upon their disembodied, attractive parts. The strength of the film is mostly in star Stephen Wu, who plays an unsettling sociopath with startling stillness and a convincing malicious emptiness. The supporting players are all variations on the theme of voyeurism and the way American culture makes folk legends and collectors’ items out of murder. The combined piece focuses more on the distasteful nature of celebrity than on the killings themselves, most of which occur off-screen. Writer-director Edward Payson creates a rhyming villain,Colin Mason, a boy obsessed with himself and the way the world regards him in an indie meta-exercise of bloodlust and ego — with mixed and middling results.

— Meg Elison


‘Cannon Fodder’

Director Eitan Gafny has wanted to make an Israeli horror film since he was a child, and he finally got the chance in “Cannon Fodder.” Conflating the real-life horrors of war with the ever-present specter of biological attacks, this film brings a new conflict to the Middle East: man vs. zombie. The standard zombie movie rules apply: A well-armed group of attractive, young and muscular people who are mostly military must hold off the cannibalistic undead. Requisite gore is supplied, and gouts of arterial blood seem to have decorated every ruined wall in the film. Shot mostly in Hebrew, the film features subtitles that are occasionally a little opaque to an American viewer. The racism displayed in dialogue around a black character is quite clear, with the inclusion of such choice slurs as “porch monkey” — slurs that send a jarring note through Hebrew conversation. The effects are bright and wet but lack the gritty realism of the modern zombie genre. The result is a worthy offering in terms of cultural inclusion and the expansion of the zombie universe but is inferior in drama and effects to even the campiest of early zombie movies. The action sequences are slowed down far too often, exposing shortcomings in the effects while showing off the richness of shooting locations. It is difficult not to dismiss this film as pure propaganda of right-wing Israel. The true failure of the film is in the writing — the plot is carelessly interwoven into real-life drama, and zombies are treated as a thinly veiled (in hijab), dehumanized version of the enemies of Israel. They are apologetically and weakly made into a metaphor for war itself: the thing that eats man and refuses to die. The intent, however, is quite clear.  The overall feel is more gory than allegory, but one is more disgusting than the other.

— Meg Elison

‘Bloodmarsh Krackoon’

“Bloodmarsh Krackoon” is another grotesquely dumb film that asks the oddly intelligent question, “What if the monster is actually us?”

A plague of sinister corruption has swept the poignantly titled town of Locust Point. Residents’ souls have been desensitized by a swirl of cocaine, hookers and gunshot murders as politicians are conveniently looking the other way. The toxicity of the town’s morale gushes into the wilderness as local henchmen dump radioactive waste into the riverbanks, resulting in a new terror — a ravenous, mutated raccoon with a taste for human flesh.

The carnivorous critter shocks Locust Point into hysterical fear in a devastating feast of flesh-ripping and gore. Torsos are chomped, intestines spill out and one man is gruesomely yet hilariously castrated to death. However, a pattern unravels — a bit obvious for the audience but way over the head of Locust Point residents. The victims include thieves, rapists and gun-pointing mayors. A murderous terror becomes a strange vigilantism, leaving the audience to wonder: Who’s the real monster?

“Bloodmarsh Krackoon” wants to be so bad that it’s good. In some respects, it delivers, but the badness is painfully uneven. Its gore scenes are exhilarating, but unlike great exploitation films, “Bloodmarsh Krackoon” fails to overcome its shoestring budget. As a combination of a dull script and sound-mixing that is awfully inaudible, the film loses the viewer amid the city’s entangled, futile investigation into the Bloodmarsh Krackoon’s murders. The experience is akin to watching a porno in which two characters moronically read off their lines in a thinly veiled anticipation of having their clothes torn off as one frustratingly wonders, “What was the point of the plot in the first place?”

The film has its moments amid its blood-splattering splendor, but Bronx filmmaker Jerry Landi has miles to learn before he directs our generation’s “Plan 9 from Outer Space.”

— Jason Chen