SFFF Day 5 – J&B Straight Up!

After packing in 200 or so people for the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s second annual Saturday Morning All You Can Eat Cereal Cartoon Party, Day 5 was all about director Joe Dante, actress Belinda Balaski, and a trio of features film celebrating their work. Screenings of The ‘Burbs (1989), Gremlins (1984), and The Howling (1981) were each introduced by Dante and followed by a Q&A session. All three films looked great on the big screen and Dante and Balaski were open and affable with the SFFF audience, answering questions and recounting stories. Dante discussed working as a consultant to an upcoming animated Gremlins prequel and briefly acknowledged that his long desired project about Roger Corman, The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes, was being produced by SpectreVision and should see production in 2020. Balaski recounted a popular story about how the designers of Gremlins’ Gizmo obtained Steven Spielberg’s elusive approval of the creature when she recommended that they take inspiration from the King Charles Cavalier Spaniels Spielberg had recently acquired. When asked which of their films they felt deep-diving fans should explore, Balaski cited Mark L. Lester’s youth culture/crime drama movie Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw (1976) while Dante nodded at his under-seen (and unfortunately prescient) political satire The Second Civil War (1997). The pair were generous with their time, even sitting down on the Broadway Theatre’s stage floor to sign programs and badges for remaining diehards, and they proved to be excellent guests for the SFFF’s landmark 10th year.

The day rounded out with two very surprising and entertaining feature films. Scare Package (2019) is an independently produced horror anthology with more directors than the SFFF program could name – Aaron B. Koontz, Mali Elfman, Courtney Andujar, Hillary Andujar, Anthony Cousins, Emily Hagins, Chris McInroy, Noah Segan, and Baron Vaughn. Originally entitled Tropes, Scare Package is a meta-aware horror movie that cleverly and hilariously uses the anthology format to unpack, tear down, and send up some favourite horror conventions. Monstrous transformations, babysitting gigs, final girls, unkillable slashers, even the modern trope of feminist reversals of familiar conventions, all find room to play in new and clever ways. By its conclusion, Scare Package most resembles a more broadly comic, less slick imagining of The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2011), a comparison that is comfortably made given the quality of the anthology’s filmmaking, its excellent special effects, and a pair of late cameos we won’t spoil. Aaron Koontz was on hand to discuss the film’s production, bringing a real enthusiasm for horror cinema and indie filmmaking. Koontz also discussed his forthcoming horror-western The Pale Door (2020), currently in post-production and already sold, and I even had a chance to see some impressive photos of the film’s witches in their full, gory glory!

The second and last midnight screening of the 2019 SFFF was Miguel Llansó’s bizarrely trippy spy thriller, Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway (2019). This Spanish-Estonian-Ethiopian-Latvian-Romanian co-production reunites Llansó with Daniel Tadesse, the diminutive star to Llansó’s 2015 dystopic sci-fi fantasy Crumbs. Tadesse and Agustin Mateo play Gagano and Palmer, two CIA agents in the near future who are tasked to destroy a computer virus called “Soviet Union.” The pair enter a stop-motion, virtual reality world as avatars wearing paper masks of Richard Pryor and Robert Redford, however their mission is quickly compromised and Gagano is left stranded in this artificial reality, separated from his teutonic, kickboxing wife Malin (Gerda-Annette Allikas looking like a perfect realization of Archer’s Pam Poovey). With its conflicting layers of reality and its retrograde technology, Jesus Shows You resembles a Wakaliwood re-make of The Matrix informed by afro-futurism, Cold War espionage films, Philip K. Dickian cyberpunk, the sardonic hallucinations of William S. Burroughs, and the quirky animation and production designs of Wes Anderson. Plus, it has Batfro (Solomon Tashe), the corrupt, coke-addled, Batman ’66 costume-wearing prime minister of Betta Ethiopia. With Crumbs and now Jesus Shows You, Llansó seems to truly be one of God’s own prototypes, too weird and too rare for mass production but brilliant nevertheless.

The SFFF paired Jesus Shows You with Marc Martinez Jordán’s wonderful short film Your Last Day on Earth (2019), another film that evoked Wes Anderson by its dated, lo-fi production design and its fantastic fox masks. Your Last Day on Earth concerns a widower’s plan to return to the past and reunite with his dead wife, only to discover that his secret plot is even more complicated than he expected. Like Llansó, Jordán finds surprising emotion out of his twee time-travel and furry headwear, although the filmmaker’s knack to exceed expectation ought to have been anticipated given MMC!’s unexpected appreciation for Jordán’s Framed (2017) at last year’s Buried Alive Film Festival.

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