11th Fantastic Films Weekend

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DAY ONE

Joining the Fantasy Film Weekend for a second year, I knew what to expect, plenty of films and a Monday where your body feels like it wants to sleep for a whole week.  The film festival is quite a rare gem in the festival calendar as it focuses not only on the new, but the classic and at times the downright strange films.  This year there were Attractions such as a 70mm print of Big Trouble in Little China, Coraline 3D, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm in Cinerama and most other films on 35mm where possible so this of course is one for the lovers of film of all types.

The first day was quite a leisurely stroll into the strange and horrific, just to ease into proceedings, but with Pieces being on the bill for the day it was sure to push up the gore value to a good level.  The highlights of course would come later with the Quatermass Xperiment with screen talk from Renee Glynne and the Showing of The Casebook of Eddie Brewer soon after.

Big Trouble in Little China (70mm)
Any John Carpenter fan knows that some of his greatest films come from the eighties and feature Kurt Russell.  There is The Thing and of course Escape from New York which are arguably the best, but I’m sure people would agree that Big Trouble in Little China can easily sit at the top of the list with those two.  A tale of a normal truck driver, Jack Burton pulled into a world of Chinese black magic and warfare that is hidden from the normal world.

To me, Jack was the “normal world” being pulled into the magic; he spends most of the film asking what the hell is going on while trying to be the hero he believes to be.  By the end of the film of course he does become that hero, but it’s the magic of the “Trouble in Little China”.

Watching the film for the first time on the big screen and on such a good print was the perfect way to start off the weekend for me, it’s just one of those films that has to be seen in that type of environment.  As the cinema world moves on and the cinemas look to digital screens exclusively it’ll be sad to miss chances like this.  I’m sure the Media Museum will be one place that will offer this type of showing for a long time to come.

The Monster Squad
Ah, the Monster Squad; I loved this film as a kid and now I’m grown up I still do.  It’s fair to say some of the acting is not the best (Yes, Dracula people will be looking at you) but for the most part it’s fun and for a kids film surprisingly strong horror in parts.

It’s easy to describe this film as the Goonies meet the Universal Monsters, and for those who know their horror there are plenty of nods to the classic.  One I noticed was the armadillos in Dracula’s lair, this relates to the strangeness of Universal’s 1931 version of Dracula where for reasons unknown you see the little creatures roaming around.  It’s nice little touches like that which make this film interesting for me.

A fun classic and the perfect film to show after Big Trouble in Little China it was almost a trip back to childhood, even though I saw both on VHS, so this was the first time I got to see them on the big screen.  It’s fair to say that the Wolfman definitely still has nards.

Pieces
Now that my brain had been eased into film mode, it was time to get into the gore, and to do that the choice was Pieces.  I’m not sure what the best way is to describe this film other than its totally crazy.  From the first scenes of a teenage boy chopping up his mother to the final unforgettable scene it’s hard to work out who could come up with it.

With a script that is more hilarious than scary it’s questionable if they tried to make it funny on purpose but I highly doubt it.  It’s almost like the dialogue is a little lost in translation.  The acting is also hilarious, for example look out for the slightly deranged gardener and his constantly insane looks.

One scene that is probably the funniest of them all is the sudden inclusion of a kung fu scene where a woman is suddenly attacked by a man for no reason.  When questioned as to why he attacked her, he was just practicing which I’m sure you will agree is random.  Having read up about this scene (ok I read IMDB) this is in face a cameo by Bruce Lee imitator Bruce Le as they wanted him in for a scene, they just forgot to give it any real continuity with the film itself.
It’s fair to say that that Pieces does have to be seen to be believed and it’s definitely one for genre fans to see.  As the trailer says (which was shown the next day with a collection of Grindhouse trailers) “Pieces… It’s exactly what you think it is!”

Renée Glynne Screen talk and The Quatermass Xperiment
Screen talks are always interesting and when this one is based on Hammer then it had to be the potential to be one of the best.  Renée Glynne has worked mostly on continuity in films since the 1940’s; working on films like The Quatermass XPeriment, The Nanny and of interest to me The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires with Hammer she had many stories to tell, especially from the behind the scenes perspective.  I got the feeling that she was a woman very proud of some of the films she had worked on; though she was not a fan of all Hammer (this included some of the most famous Hammers which were filmed when she was no longer with the company).  Be sure to read her film list on IMDB, you’ll find it’s quite a huge list with very many interesting names, for example she worked as script supervisor on The Krays which I would have loved her to talk about, and to a point she did, but it’s just a shame as this was more about horror so that film was just mentioned in a passing remark.

Onto The Quatermass Xperiment we were given a brief history of its re-mastering, which was actually done by MGM in America, shown on TV once then forgot about.  As Hammer are releasing classics on HD at the moment they have managed to obtain this version and it will be released soon.  Quatermass is a classic and I was looking forward to seeing it on the big screen, it’s a shame it was on Blu-ray, but that was not a major issue for me really.  Nearer the end of the film the soundtrack did go out of sync with the picture though which was more of an issue.  Luckily it didn’t ruin the experience too much though.

The Quatermass Xperiment is a classic for sure, and it’s nice to see it in such good quality and I very highly doubt the sound issue will make it to a home release.  I know it was re-shown on Sunday and I didn’t hear if they had any issues with that showing.

The Casebook of Eddie Brewer (with Special Guests)
As you will have no doubt read in my review this was my favourite film of the day.  With a Q&A with the director, producer and one of the actors from the film they showed their love for it and desire for it to be liked.  Lucky for them they have created something that is quite original and doesn’t fall into the trap these types of films do.

For my full thoughts on The Casebook of Eddie Brewer go read the review where I go into much more detail.  For the day as a whole I would say it was a huge success.  Yes, there were issues with the Quatermass sound but it did not spoil the film as a whole.  I did hear comments from other people about Fright Night (which was also on) not being on film and having visual issues which is a shame, but the overall feel I got was that people enjoyed it and were looking forward to the next day’s events.  For me that would mean The Toxic Avenger, Coraline 3D, Vamp, Barbarella, I Drink Your Blood and of course another screen talk this time with Harley Cokeliss and his film Battletruck (Warlords of the 21st Century).

DAY THREE

The third and final day of the Fantasy Film Weekend started and although I was tired there was plenty to look forward to.  The first film would be Red Sonja, which was an easy one to start off with.  I knew that the highlight of the day would of course be The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and the Masks screen talk with Andreas Marschall.  It was nice to know that the end was near of course as tiredness was starting to become normality and my brain needed some serious rest.

Red Sonja
Red Sonja is a film that can no way be called good, but it has it arguably has its place in cult history.  Not many films would pair up Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brigitte Nielsen in a Conan the Barbarian setting but this is obviously what they were looking for.  Conan is of course superior but to be fair to Red Sonja it does have its moments, it’s just a shame that to be a strong female lead role why does she have to hate men? It’s arguable also that there is no sense in Sonja hating men when the person who ordered the death of her entire family was in fact female, there was no obvious reason for the hatred.

They tried to tick a few boxes with this film, the strong sexy female lead slightly shadowed by the stronger male saviour, but it’s nice to see that Nielsen was not one to lose her spotlight, she make Sonja the true hero of the piece.  Add to this duo we have the annoying little child and his servant for the “comedy” and it’s the perfect fantasy film right? Well no; but it’s fun at least.

Red Sonja was actually shown first on Friday and from what I heard had some hilarious problems which included some of the reels being shown in the wrong order which people surprisingly didn’t notice (some said it actually improved the experience).  I’d have liked to see that version, just for the comic effect.

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm
This film in itself was quite an event for the Fantastic Film Weekend as it was a Cinerama showing to celebrate not only the 60th anniversary of Cinerama but also the 50th anniversary of the film itself.  Cinerama was the first wide screen system to be used in movie theatres.  Using three projectors it created a unique field of view on a curved screen.  What this achieves (when it’s at its best) is an amazing experience.

Using the only known print of the film there were issues, especially in the first twenty minutes or so as it’s known that the films have shrunk slightly.  This made it more obvious that it was in fact three different films on the one curved screen.  Once you got used to this though and the quality became better it was very easy to get lost in the film and the story it tells.

The way the effect is created mimics how we see things through our eyes – there is a three dimensional effect to what you watch, something that can be quite dizzying in scenes which are filmed at great heights, but what I liked was that it did not rely on the gimmick of Cinerama to entertain the viewer.  The film itself is a classic.  A stand out moment has to be Terry Thomas “fighting” the dragon, arguably the stand out moment.

Cinerama is a unique experience and when it works, it works very well.  It’s very rare to get a chance to see films this way now (there are only three Cinerama cinemas in the world and that includes the one in the Bradford museum) so if you ever get the chance to see anything on one? Snap it up.  I know for me this was yet another highlight of the weekend.

Class of Nuke ‘Em High
Sometimes Troma films can be underrated.  Yes, they are not the best directed films ever, the acting is bad at times and the special effects aren’t Oscar winning but they were always made with heart.  Class of Nuke ‘Em High is a film that wears its Troma credentials with pride, full of crazy characters, toxic waste and mutants, what more could you need?

This being my second Troma film of the weekend, it was nice to see that the museum has the uncut version of this film and again was an aged 35mm print (but in surprisingly good quality) which added to its charm.  I dare say that I’m willing to ignore many of the films failings because I’m used to what Troma were trying to achieve in their history, and this for one is one of their classics.  It’s also nice to see that Arrow Video are releasing it on Blu-ray soon.

Special Guest: Andreas Marschall & Masks
What can be said about Masks?  It feels like its Suspiria and has elements of intense surrealism that can often confuse, but that is half the point.  Masks is all about the art of acting, the ability to remove the mask that we create for ourselves to hide from the world and how in acting you have to remove that mask and let yourself out, if you are to ever be able to don the mask of the character you are willing to be.  The events of the film are about a process of removing masks and wearing others, which of course can be very disturbing.  The reaction it got in this version that was an exclusively new director’s cut that had just been finished was very mixed, but I for one loved it.

I tend to think that many did not give the time to fully recognise what was trying to be achieved, because it’s a film very much about metaphor and not what you literally see.  From comments that were made I didn’t feel that people saw that, they wanted to take it literally which was in my eyes an injustice, but I could be wrong in that, maybe people did understand it and just didn’t like it.  I for one enjoyed it immensely.

In the screen talk that took place afterwards Andreas Marschall was very interesting and showed he was very knowledgeable in his craft and the Giallo style that he was paying homage to in Masks.  I enjoyed the fact that he talked about the process of film making as well as film history and where certain styles originated from.  It was also interesting to hear about his views on German censorship and what its problems were (which are now of course finally not that much of an issue).  I for one know that this is one director I want to see more from and will be looking into his other film Tears of Kali.

As this screen talk and showing was a collaboration between the Media Museum and Fanomenon a top genre film festival from Leeds it seems only fair to give them a mention here too.  I’ll be sure to keep an eye on what they will be doing this year and hopefully give it some coverage.

The Corridor
The final film of the weekend for me was The Corridor and as my mind was quite tired by this time it’s quite a hard film to comprehend but I managed it.  Taking the theme of a cabin in the woods and a group of friends, this is more Dreamscape than the Cabin in the Woods really.  Dealing with a strange alien presence in the woods, madness and violence it can take quite some time to understand but it is interesting.  It is the type of film though that could be lost on some as it’s not really about the action, more about thinking and understanding the events taking place.

When the film ended at first I felt disappointed, and thought I should have gone to see Four Flies on Grey Velvet instead which was also showing and seemed to have been the popular choice.  Given time to think about it though The Corridor though flawed and somewhat confusing at times is a good film, it will be just interesting to see what people think about it.

Looking back at the weekend, and now being less tired (Monday was very hard to get through as my body finally decided I should sleep the entire day but alas I had to work) I consider it to be a huge success.  There were many films that I could not cover and would have loved to; especially the Rocky Horror Picture show which I am adamant I will get to see on the big screen, but you can’t see everything.

I think one thing for sure is that this is one film festival that should get more attention that it appears to at times.  The horror and science fiction genres have a huge history and fans should always look back to see how we have got to where we are now, and there are some hidden gems to be seen.  The Fantastic Films Weekend looks to the past, it also looks at films that are being released now and it also offers screen talks and events for all members of the family.  I know I for one will be looking forward to seeing what we are treated to next year.

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