SFFF Day 6 – Into the Unknown

The final day of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival opened with Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century (2019), a fictionalized portrait of Canada’s weirdest, longest-serving, and middlest-of-the-road Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. The film side-steps Mackenzie King’s secret spiritualism and instead creates a broader, stranger fantasy of Canada at the dawn of a new era. Rankin’s prerecorded introduction for the film described it as “nightmarishly Canadian” and his words were apt. The Twentieth Century is an Eraserhead/Isle of Dogs-esque imagining of Canadian history and culture, one obsessed with maple walnut ice cream, the scent of fresh timber, passive-aggressive manners, Indian leg wrestling, and medicinal “puffin cream.” Inspiration was taken from the Prime Minister to-be’s personal diary and Rankin connected with Mackenzie King’s tendencies toward vanity, repression, self-righteousness, and self-pity. Played by Dan Beirne with petulant primness, Mackenzie King struggles to achieve his maternally prophesied political and romantic aims (and sublimate his dominating shoe fetish), and the film traces his misadventures through the brutalist interiors of Rideau Hall, the frozen utopia of Quebec, a sunny and freshly logged, new age Vancouver, and a baseless and fetid Winnipeg.

A former Winnipegger himself, Rankin carries on the prairie post-modernism of Guy Maddin and John Paizs, and like his predecessors, Rankin finds ways to make a hard earned dime look like an eccentrically spent dollar (or loonie). Hand-painted and animated in sections by Rankin himself and utilizing a palette that evokes the colours of Canadian banknotes, The Twentieth Century’s stunning production design recalls earlier film eras with its intertitle chapter cards while it also embraces the fresh Canadianness established in the aesthetics of Group of Seven painters like Lawren Harris and York Wilson and the modernist designs of Expo ’67. Rankin even loads his historical subject with a gleeful perversity and a shameless phallocentricism that would do Ken Russell proud – watch out for that ejaculating cactus and that narwhal horn! The Twentieth Century is an acid trip-take on peace, order, and good government and it is staunchly glorious.

Oscilloscope Laboratories has picked up the rights to Rankin’s brilliant film and we can only hope that its eventual hard media release will not only include The Twentieth Century but also many (if not all) of Rankin’s short films including Negativipeg (2010), the most Winnipeg-ish thing I’ve ever seen committed to film.

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SFFF Day 3 – Dark Places

Short films led the charge on the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s third day with an eight film block of female focused shorts and another two short films that could have probably fit into the same section. Readers of last year’s coverage might recall my frustration with shorts that offer little more than spooky premises or creepy contexts, however you’ll find few such complaints amongst Day 3’s titles. Yfke van Berckelaer’s Lili (2019), an MMC! favourite at this year’s Buried Alive Film Festival, was screened, as did the Chattanooga Film Festival short, Sydney Clara Brafman’s gory and brief The Only Thing I Love More Than You is Ranch Dressing (2018). Adele Vuko’s The Hitchhiker (2018) was an entertaining blend of female road trip goodwill, real world violence, and well-timed supernatural intervention and was probably the easiest short to enjoy on Day 3. Valerie Barnhart’s Girl in the Hallway (2019) offered a true crime tragedy that powerfully wrestled with guilt, grief, and inaction through pained and worn stop-motion animation. Daniel DelPurgatorio returned to the SFFF with In Sound, We Live Forever (2019), a beautiful short in the agrarian horror mode that finds two young lovers beset by a monstrous killer in the rural American heartland. The short looks gorgeous, contrasting the serenity of its pastoral present against the intimacy and then terror of its past tense soundtrack, and it elegantly pivots into the full present tense to depict a desperate escape and a grim conclusion that posits the monstrous violence of the genre but also a kind of existential smallness that makes its horror seem almost meaningless.

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In Fabric (Peter Strickland, 2018) – Chattanooga Film Festival 2019

FIRST FLOOR: WOMEN’S FASHION, ACCESSORIES, TERROR

Writer-director Peter Strickland’s latest effort is his most demented vision to date, a bizarrely terrifying combination of Suspiria and Phantom Thread that is awash in blood (and other bodily fluids). Set in the world of 1970s fashion, In Fabric is a psychosexual phantasmagoria initiated by a murderous dress that is sold by an unusual department store and the hypnotic coven that runs it. Recently divorced bank clerk Sheila is the garment’s first victim, completely unaware that her purchase at Dentley & Soper’s will unleash the frock’s curse and set in motion an absurdly brutal chain of fashion related brutality.

With In Fabric, Peter Strickland blends Italian supernatural horror and Europudding erotica with corporate micromanagement and baroque customer service-speak, producing an incisive parody of consumer culture that still manages to feel legitimately unsettling and truly terrifying. In Fabric is a must sees for surreal fashion addicts and kinky horror fans alike!

Special Edition Comments:

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by horror film journalist Mark Kermode and excerpts from the Dentley & Soper store catalogue

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Shura (Toshio Matsumoto, 1971)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Shura.

Experimental filmmaker and critic Toshio Matsumoto followed up his queer opus, Funeral Parade of Roses, with a “mere” samurai film, yet underneath its seemingly traditional surface lurks just as many subversions. In Shura, a samurai poised to join the famous 47 ronin and avenge the death of his master becomes distracted from his duties by his love for a lowly geisha, who in turn betrays him. Driven mad by his desire for vengeance, the samurai embarks on a bloody path of revenge marked by riveting intensity, a nightmarishly black aesthetic, and an uncertain blurring of fantasy and reality. A Borgesian satire in the guise of samurai horror, this nocturnal masterpiece is one of the darkest films of its era, both visually and politically.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with critic, filmmaker, and festival programmer Tony Rayns
  • Security Treaty, a 1959 short film by Toshio Matsumoto
  • For My Crushed Right Eye, a 1969 installation piece by Matsumoto
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays on the film by Matsumoto and Nagisa Oshima, director’s notes, and an essay by Japanese film scholar Hirofumi Sakamoto

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Luz (Tilman Singer, 2018) – Ithaca Fantastik 2018

A STYLISH AND DEMONIC DEBUT

On a dark and stormy night in an unnamed German city, a young taxi driver named Luz (Luana Velis) arrives at a police station in a state of shock. Meanwhile, at a nearby bar, the mysterious psychiatrist Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) is approached by Nora (Julia Riedler), a woman with a disconcerting manner and an unexpected connection to Luz. They strike up a conversation over drinks and before it’s too late, Rossini falls into the thrall of a malevolent force intent on finding Luz. When Dr. Rossini arrives at the station to hypnotize Luz and assist in taking her statement, a claustrophobic journey into anxiety-inducing horror reaches a terrible crossroads.

Shot on 16mm with impeccable visuals, Tilman Singer’s audacious art school thesis project is an unexpected horror revelation. An experimental shocker with an irresistible retro vibe, this first feature fluidly assembles elements from the horror and art house cinema of the 1970s and ’80s, deftly deconstructing the demonic possession narrative and turning a simple police station into an intersection for the occult.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
  • Newly translated English subtitles
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Tilman Singer
  • Under the Influence, new interviews with actors Luana Velis, Jan Bluthardt, Julia Reidler, Nora Vanderkurt, and Johannes Benecke
  • New interviews with Singer, director of photography Paul Faltz, production designer Dario Mendez Acosta, composer Simon Waskow, and sound designers Jonas Lux, Henning Hein, and Steffen Pfauth
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by horror film journalist Heather Wixson

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Knife + Heart (Yann Gonzalez, 2018) – Ithaca Fantastik 2018

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Knife + Heart.

In the neon glow of 1979 Paris, Anne (Vanessa Paradis) makes her living producing low-budget gay pornography and struggles with the heartbreaking rejection of her longtime lover and current film editor Loïs (Kate Moran). She aims to inspire Loïs back into loving her with increasingly ambitious productions, even using the murders of her actors by a leather clad killer as inspiration, but as the killings continue and her troupe becomes increasingly cautious, Anne assumes the role of amateur sleuth investigating the secret of the mysterious figure that stalks her company. Deftly blending Parisian porn silliness and Italian slasher conventions with a pulsing score by electronic music group M83 and a perfect period production design, Knife + Heart is an affectionately queer tribute to cinema’s body genres and to love in its many forms.

Disc Features:

  • 4K digital master, approved by director Yann Gonzalez and director of photography Simon Beaufils, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Two audio commentaries, one featuring Gonzalez and actors Vanessa Paradis, Kate Moran, and Nicolas Maury, and the other featuring Gonzalez, Beaufils, co-writer Cristiano Mangione, and production designer Sidney Dubois
  • New interview on the film’s soundtrack with Yann Gonzalez and his brother Anthony Gonzalez
  • New interview with historical advisor Hervé Joseph Lebrun on the 1970s Parisian porn scene
  • Mondo Homo: A Study of Gay French Porn in the ’70s, Lebrun’s 2009 feature-length documentary
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by Anthony Nocera

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