In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
The Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival’s inaugural outing occurred last weekend, and if the film gods are good, it’ll be the first year of many. Arriving just a few weeks prior to the higher-profile Philadelphia Film Festival, PUFF 2016 showcased material geared toward a more niche crowd – a crowd of which I’m proud to be a member. With films of both short and feature length, from local filmmakers to international, attendees were given reasons to laugh, cry, cover their eyes, and drink, often all at once. Filmmakers appeared for Q&As, the projectionists sold popcorn from an old-timey air-popper, and prizes were raffled off (I won a back issue of Fangoria!) — basically, PUFF 2016 had all of the bells and whistles featured at larger festivals, but with a raw, punk rock charm. Seriously, what other festival has a bar and a serving staff to bring you booze and snacks during the films?
CineMug (the area’s only coffee/movie rental shop) and Adobe Cafe hosted the screenings, which proved to be unexpectedly comfy places to sit for hours and take in some high quality – or intentionally low quality – cinema.
AND WHATS A FESTIVAL WRITE-UP WITHOUT SOME CAPSULE REVIEWS?!?
Egomaniac (2016 – Dir. Kate Shenton)
PUFF 2016 kicked off the feature programming with Egomaniac, a horror/comedy about a filmmaker’s quest to bring her zombie-romance story to the big screen. As she navigates the many difficulties facing cinematic storytellers who work outside of the system, she finds herself making increasingly ridiculous concessions to her vision.
Because EVERY movie has to have a talking dog if it wants to make money.
Equal parts comedy, horror, and exposé of the specific challenges posed to women in the business, what could have been just a goofy splatterfest becomes something more. Something relevant. Despite the rough-around-the-edges look, Egomaniac transcends its budgetary limitations to deliver a potent message in a fun way, all culminating in an inspired, gleefully mad finale. Kate Shenton is one to watch!
Dead Body (2015 – Dir. Bobbin Ramsey)
An old “Murder in the Dark”-style parlor game ends up becoming a bit too real in this backwoods slasher-mystery. While so many modern slashers lean toward metatextual commentary on the genre, Dead Body instead chooses to homage through re-creation rather than parody. It’s Death Proof rather than Planet Terror.
The strength here comes from the character work, and a cast of actors who make expository dialogue feel like anything but. There’s also a really sick nail-gun gag that made the gorehound in me squee with delight! While the mystery isn’t too tough to figure out (especially if you’ve seen a slasher film before), it’s hardly the intent of Dead Body, which is much more interested in dishing out the blood and guts.
Night of Something Strange (2016 – Johnathan Straiton)
Perhaps the most Troma-esque of the weekend’s offerings, Night of Something Strangespent the bulk of its runtime pushing the envelope, burning the envelope, and then peeing out the flames. While it was a little too much for my taste, it’s hard to fault a film for going so hard for so long without even a slight consideration for PC sensibilities.
What’s it about? Zombies that turn other people into zombies through sex. Plain and simple. During the Q&A with the cast and crew, I asked if there was anything that they left out of the film for being too much. The answer: “Haha no.” Gotta respect that.
Bad Blood: The Movie (2016 – Dir. Tim Reis)
Were-Frogs!!!! I’ll say it again: WERE-FROGS!!!! When a laboratory experiment goes awry and an uncontrollable amphibious infection finds its way into a small town, a wealth of carnage ensues. It’s a race against the clock to find the antidote before the next full moon, as a newly infected young woman attempts to keep those she loves safe from her own webbed hands.
It’s been a long time since we’ve had a proper rubber-suit monster, and Bad Blood more than delivers. Slimy, green, and packed with gruesome detail, the monster design (and the cleverly edited transformation sequences) are a throwback to a pre-CGI age of monster cinema. There’s also a completely bonkers subplot involving a private investigator who is always at odds with his own murderous desires. It’s a strange little thing out of left field that brings a richness and humor to what easily could have been a simple creature flick.
We Go On (2016 – Dir. Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton)
Hands down the best of the fest. Not at all hampered by its small budget, We Go Oncreates a palpable feeling of dread that permeates the entire film. What starts down the path toward supernatural gimmickry veers into psychological thriller territory, ruminating on love, loss, fate, and the importance of embracing the present moment.
Featuring two of the best leading performances of the year (Clark Freeman & Annette O’Toole), We Go On tells the chilling tale of a death obsessed man who puts down big money for tangible proof of the afterlife. Many people come forward with evidence, but it’s only when our protagonist meets with a mysterious stranger that he finds what he’s looking for . . . and then some.
The biggest strength of We Go On is the clever, ruminative script by the co-directors which slyly mixes humor, dread, and thematic depth to make a film that is even more than the sum of its parts. Don’t let the aesthetics fool you – while this film might not be as sleek as so much mainstream horror, it deserves a spot on everyone’s seasonal watch list. Prepare to be blown away.
Karate Kill (2016 – Dir. Kurando Mitsutake)
This movie needed to deliver two very specific things. Mission accomplished.
I don’t wanna bully the little karate movie that could, but major points were lost here due to CGI blood. I’d rather no blood at all. Buy the mop, schedule the cleaning time, and revel in the tangible karo syrup that colored so much of my cinematic youth. The CG-splatter here is used in very creative ways, but it betrays what I feel is a staple of good pulp-fu cinema.
This ain’t to say that it was employed out of laziness. One look at the movie and it is very clear that the maniacs who made this care deeply and worked hard. The choreography is mostly very tight, always very creative, and is shot with an exceeding amount of energy. During two points during the film, an action sequence is captured in a slow, 360 degree Z-axis rotation. It is legitimately a game changing move, and such a simple one at that.
As a closing night film, you simply can’t do much better than this. Blood, guts, sex, karate, parkour, go-pros, and an explicit suggestion that these things are all at the heart of what drives American tastes. This is midnight cinema in its purest form, and it simply demands a rowdy, intoxicated audience. Well done, PUFF 2016. Well done.
I’d like to offer a huge thank you to director Madeleine Koestner and Alex Gardner for putting together an event that was a highlight of my cinematic year. Double thank you for welcoming Cinedelphia to cover the events. I’d also like to offer my condolences to them — for if they plan to outdo themselves next year, it’s going to be a very difficult task . . . but something tells me they’re up to it!
Check out the festival online at unnamedfestival.com and on Twitter @phillyunnamed