Horror-Comedy, Thy Name is Deathgasm
At The 2015 BiFan Festival, Part Two
Part One | Part Two | Part Three
By Cohen Perry
he 2015 BiFan Festival marks the eighth time I have flown to the Republic of Korea. My dad migrated here in 2008 for a change-up in work and has yet to escape the clutches of wanderlust these richly historical lands offer. What makes South Koran so unique is the people's long resilience against foreign influences. This tiny land mass, cut off from the rest of the world by their black-sheep twin up north, survived Japanese, Soviet, and American occupation for about five decades until their first free elections in the 1980s (though some might argue they are still under American occupation).
Another major factor in Korea’s individuality is that, following the Korean War, the country went from being one of the poorest nations in Asia to becoming an economic "Asian Tiger" in the span of about thirty years. With economic growth came a cultural revolution. While traditional Korean ways are still prevalent, each succeeding generation grows further distanced from traditional historical contexts. The result is a massive cultural gap between the young and old, visible in a society that maintains an amalgamation of old traditions and youth-adopted global influences. Each year that I come back, more and more non-Korean restaurants have cropped up; more subway and street signs have been translated into English (like one posted next to an escalator that mysteriously warned, "Don't step on it!"); and more Korean brands mirroring Western companies have sprung up (Polham the Justifiable, Teenie Weenie, The Red Face, and Bean Pole, to name a few).
With the 2018 Winter Olympics being hosted here, the adaptation of other cultural influences has never been so swift. I can't complain, because I love the Japanese curry houses and hope the adoption of fried noodles will become more widespread. Nonetheless, everything still has a Korean flare. As I sit and eat my breakfast sandwich in a Dunkin' Donuts that offers green tea donuts, cheesy waffles, and leather-cushioned chairs, it feels very different from the American brand I have learned to avoid. This is the sort of magic of Korea—food fusions, foreign inspired branding, and other cultural adoptions stand just out of reach of the uncanny valley. Things can get very weird, but I mean that in the greatest of ways.
I talked a bit in my last installment about the paradoxical nature of a family-friendly horror festival, and I stand by the claim that this sort of thing would probably not work in the States. A group of old women going to see a movie called Deathgasm would strike most filmgoers as bizarre, but more importantly, this doesn’t scream profits. Let me tell you, though—that group of old women isn’t full of macho egos trying to act as stoic as possible in an attempt to impress a silent theater. They animate the crowd, and bring on a deeper level of experience through their shameless screams of terror and shock. You come out of the theater thinking, How did they hear about this movie? By what standards did this group of women choose their tickets? And you’re confronted by your own bias. What’s not surprising is that these women absolutely enjoyed themselves, and, conversely, amplified my own experience. So while I might say this thing is weird, or that thing is unthinkable—it’s to reflect on my own American mode of deficit thinking. Not everything needs to make sense by justification of profit. Sometimes you get a better slice of humanity when you admit that somebody’s grandma still thinks fart jokes and exploding zombie heads is a legitimate form of entertainment.
There is something incredibly human in confronting what one perceives as “weirdness.” I can’t say that wearing matching pink outfits to signify a couple’s relationship is not something I find strange—but when I think about why…well, it probably has to do with some sort of subconscious masculine influence, and a fetishization of individuality. Meanwhile this couple is strolling down the street in love and happy, while I have to play Freud to make sense of things. And then I think about my own love of horror films, and how this genre has been pushed to the fringes by the same means of prejudice that I am engaging in. Are horror junkies not the same as that pink outfit touting the other half? Aren’t we both willing to accept that life is super bizarre, and trying to rationalize that everything is futile? It’s so much more fun to just accept and appreciate, and this is ultimately what makes this festival so special. People from all walks of life come together over their love of film, and that’s all that matters. So while one film might confront the ideas of morality and another might ask what it means to be human, we are all part of that process of absorption and contemplation. We all go in with different experiences and beliefs, and we all walk out changed in one way or another.
Which brings me to my first film...
Thursday, July 23, 2 pm
House of Shadows (dir. Rosella de Venutto)
House of Shadows, an Italian film by Rosella de Venutto, was hit and miss. I enjoyed it, while my dad was a bit disappointed that it wasn't really a horror film. I don't blame him—the festival’s catalog description definitely sounds scary and the movie is billed as a thriller, and the more I think about it retrospectively, the less positive I feel. It falls more under a drama with elements of magical realism that are used to build a story about the Catholic Church hiding dark secrets. As the story goes, an unsympathetic wife, played by Fiona Glascott, decides to pry into her husband’s family’s past, even if it means possibly destroying their marriage over something that hardly has any relevance to them. The film would have been ten times better had the acting been convincing, but it was quite a letdown on all fronts. It didn’t help that the filmmakers made the wife so annoying as a main character. The incoherent plot needed too much exposition, and it was just not very engaging. The filming of beautiful architecture was the high point, and if you are interested in that, the shots in Italy can be appreciated. All in all, the story is simply too predictable and drawn out to make this more than an average effort.
Thursday, July 23, 5 pm
There are Monsters (dir. Jay Dahl)
As I mentioned before, it's hard work reviewing multiple films a day. By this time, my dad and I were nursing our theater-chair-induced back injuries while still going strong. Given this, my patience for bad films was nonexistent. So, perhaps There Are Monsters might be better when your neck doesn't feel like a petrified tree stump, but I doubt that. Within minutes, this found-footage-style film (the footage was never found, so why the hell did we have to watch it in that style?) gave me a piercing headache, and I am one who has never been affected by this style in the past. The main characters are all film students that go on a road trip to shoot a commercial for their college. They decide to document this trip because apparently they want to make the most boring and self-absorbed documentary of their lives. As they travel, they notice that people are acting very strange, such as standing at weird angles and staring at a wall, or applying far too much makeup. This actually makes for a few creepy moments, but because none of the film crew can be arsed to hold a camera without spazzing out, these moments are fleeting before the camera goes through another seizure. Seriously, the cameras are constantly zooming in and out and shaking from left to right even when the person in the shot is right in front of the camera holder (“quick, zoom in and out on her nose!”). It's like they handed the camera to a five-year-old on Hot 6. The story is lifted from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as the monsters blend in with people and use their bodies as pods. Worst of all, though, the acting is cringeworthy. I usually lay most of the blame on writers for feeding them poor lines, but in this case, both fed on each other. This movie is bad, and it physically debilitated me from the shaky cam. For that, I hold a grudge.
Thursday, July 23, 8:30 pm
Deathgasm (dir. Jason Lei Howden)
If I had to pick a single movie to recommend from this festival, it would be Deathgasm, an ultraviolent New Zealand horror comedy from auteur Jason Lei Howden. A fair bit of warning: this was the first "Forbidden Zone" movie I have taken a risk on, so I was expecting repulsion and disappointment. The violence was completely palatable and nothing more intense than you might see in a Tarantino movie, which led my dad and I to believe it got “forbidden zoned” here because of the fact that boobies are on display. This film is chock full of seventies and eighties heavy metal rock references, and having grown up with a father who could tell you the difference between “real metal” and “false metal” with a straight face, it was right up my alley. A group of misfit high school students in the middle of nowhere in New Zealand accidentally summon demons from hell when they form a new band. They are forced to save the world while staying true to their metal roots. The story might be shallow, but it's a parody of itself, so it works perfectly and lends to the cornball entertainment. Everything about this film was on point, and it will be sure to leave you in tears of laughter, metal fan or not. Death to false metal!
Friday, July 24, 2 pm
Why Horror? (dir. Nicholas Kleiman)
Why Horror? is a documentary that, as the name suggests, explores why people enjoy horror films. It's a sleak look at the genre through the eyes of superfan Tal Zimmerman and a commentary on the evolution through which fright films have gone. If you are at all familiar with the genre, however, you can probably skip this film. It's aimed at folks who are generally put off by fear, and in this sense, it makes the purpose of the film a bit confusing. It simply does not delve deep enough to unveil anything that would grab a genre nerd’s attention, and so it seems to be aimed toward a very distinct crowd of moviegoers who don’t like scary stuff but are interested in the culture. It does put a nice historical perspective on things, but again, nothing is really offered here that most fans don’t already know.
Friday, July 24, 5 pm
Blood Moon (dir. Jeremy Wooding)
Blood Moon is a werewolf movie set in the American Wild West made from the perspective of (largely) British people. There are a lot of things going for this film: it's pretty old school, the lore is cool, and the beast is not a terrible CGI abomination. Aside from that, however, the film shoots blanks. The sets look like they were built in Disneyland, which is completely immersion breaking— especially the signs in modern synthetic paint exclaiming sales and discounts (I don’t know, I never really thought about how much marketing in the Old West might have mattered). Some of the acting was extremely awkward to watch, and the script was comically terrible; I mean, some of it didn't even make sense and I blame this primarily on the fact that it was written from the British perspective of how cowboys should have talked -- everything had to be a turn of phrase, and it all came from a stereotypical interpretation. I don't even know why some of the characters existed outside of being dei ex machina for a single scene. That said, my dad enjoyed it due to its throwback style, so if you love the old school, maybe give it a chance because really, this was a potentially good film on a small budget that was unfortunately tarnished by poor writing and delivery.
Friday, July 24, 8:30 pm
Yakuza Apocalypse (dir. Miike Takashi)
Yakuza Apocalypse from famed gore loving director Takashi Miike is an anime-style live-action film — that is, anime tropes are applied to real people. A Yakuza boss who is a vampire has an undisclosed disagreement with Yakuza central and thus a gang war breaks out. The first half of the movie follows this story, and it's quite funny. I usually am not a huge fan of these over-the-top style Japanese films, but the comedy was well delivered and not forced. It also doesn’t rely solely on bathroom humor or slapstick, which I was not expecting. Then, just as the story seems to be hitting a peak, it unravels into the longest, most absurd fight scene I’ve ever seen and completely ditches all attempts at maintaining a narrative. No joke, the epic fight feels like half the film, pitting giant frogs, a kappa-goblin, an otaku nerd warrior, some desperado-lookin’ freak, and yakuza vampires against each other. The film is 115 minutes long, but it honestly could have been trimmed down to 45 minutes. I don't even really remember how it could have possibly filled that much running time. It’s great fun while there is a story, but the entertainment tapers off as you get deeper into this bizarre spectacle. The fighting isn’t bad either, but even Jackie Chan needed a reason to do his thing, so it can definitely get tiresome.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three
Cohen Perry wrote about Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face in the spring 2014 issue. His writing on film has also appeared in Videoscope.