Friday, October 6, 2023

All Monsters Attack at The Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 1 - 31 | The Month of Scarecrowber at SIFF Cinema: Oct 2 - 30

To my mind, the months of October and November could always do with more in the way of programming around Halloween season genre film and its disorienting frights, crepuscular surrealism, and discomfiting atmospheres. Thankfully, Scarecrow Video annually steps up with their curated Halloween section of domestic and international horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and psychotronic selections. The Psychotronic Challenge also returns in its eighth installment, challenging viewers to select a new theme category for every day in October from the deep trivia of the cues on offer. While we're here, let's talk the incomparable one-of-a-kind resource that is Scarecrow. Essentially it's this simple; if you live in the Northwest and are a fan of cinema, it's your personal obligation to ensure their doors stay open for business. For horror and genre aficionados, there is no other resource in North America like that offered by Scarecrow and their abundant catalog of obscure, foreign releases, out of print, and ultra-rare editions, and with 150,000+ films on offer, no singular online streaming resource can compare. Scarecrow Video themselves have programmed a series of films at SIFF Cinema spanning the month, which they have designated as "Scarecrowber". The twelve films on offer span classic Hollywood studio era classics like Jacques Tourneur's "Cat People", early American independents represented by Herk Harvey's "Carnival of Souls", Kathryn Bigelow's genre subversion found in "Near Dark", Stuart Gordon's psychedelic H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, "From Beyond", and the unforgettable international arthouse horror of Andrej Zulawski's "Possession". In previous years, the annual citywide cinematic offerings for the months of October and November have seen a great set of films exploring desolate worlds, classic Japanese horror, a vampiric romaticism double feature and a night of music from a maestro of Italian horror. Also in the way of recent Halloween seasons of note, the local arthouse cinemas presented an abundance on the theme of the haunted house in 2015, and 2013 saw no small number of invaders from beyond. 2017 was heavy on 1970s psychedelic and psychological horror from Europe, particularly from the era of abundance seen in the subgenres of French Fantastique and Italian Giallo. 2018's programming was highly attuned to American 1980s horror, as was the case with the 2019 installment, alongside a bold mix of decades of classic European, Asian, and Italian genre material. Making a return after the long pandemic hiatus, 2021 also diversified with a strong set of films that never saw a theatrical release during the 2020 season. Back again in 2022, with a diverse set of films running the gamut from silent era horror, 1970s and 80s psychotronic wonders, and 1990s big budget gothic spectacles.

One of the longest running, and most consistently satisfying of the local Halloween series has been The Grand Illusion Cinema's month-long All Monsters Attack calendar of horror, creature features, classic thrillers, sci-fi, and cult cinema. This year's slate includes new and returning genre classics and recent releases, among them is a set of invasion films from William Cameron Menzies and his 1953 "Invaders from Mars", and Rob Lieberman's "Fire in the Sky" from four decades later. In the convoluted franchise with William Friedkin's legendary original, and the troubled notoriety of Paul Schrader's remake, William Peter Blatty delivered a sequel to his own novel with "Exorcist III". With William Friedkin's passing earlier this year, Peter Bradshaw wrote in the pages of The Guardian, "William Friedkin Created Unforgettable Horror and Pleasure with Equal Brilliance", and The Grand Illusion presents two of his later, overlooked works with 1990's "The Guardian", and "Bug" from 2006. A highlight from previous year's programming returns with a memorial night for Seattle's most dedicated cinephile, music lover, and man-about-town, William Kennedy. Before his passing in 2021, Bill wished for nothing more than his friends and cultural compatriots to join together for a screening of the director's cut of David Cronenberg's classic body-horror techno thriller, “Videodrome”. A second earlier Cronenberg is also on offer, with the director's "Rabid", which followed his breakout infestation classic of two years before, and supplied Marilyn Chambers a potent vehicle for some of her first mainstream film work. The two films from the early 1960s on offer each epitomize the best of their respective genres. As Maitland McDonagh writes in "The Innocents: Forbidden Games", Henry James' tale of the sinister things hiding behind Victorian decorum, in Jack Clayton’s hands, "The Innocents" becomes one of the screen’s most refined works of psychological horror. Adapting Lafcadio Hearn's Japanese traditional supernatural and folk tales, with "Kwaidan", Masaki Kobayashi assembled one of the most meticulously crafted supernatural fantasy films ever made. A rulebook on style and atmosphere, Geoffrey O’Brien's "Kwaidan: No Way Out" details its creation for The Criterion Collection. On offer in this year's series, a set of newly minted contemporary horror is also represented by Stephen VanderpoolMichelle Garza Cervera, and Joe Lynch's "Tearsucker", "Huesera", and "Suitable Flesh", respectively. The latter having the pedigree of beginning as another of the Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli projects based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

From the early 1980s and late 1990s, we get two very different takes on John William Polidori and Bram Stoker's favorite immortal entity. The first, Tony Scott's 1983 adaptation of the novel of the same name by Whitley Strieber, starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon, was a rare genre film which exhibited an earnest and refined style, and contained a notable arthouse cast. While "The Hunger" was poorly received at the time of its release, it has since garnered a cult following within the nascent goth and glam rock cultures. The two vampire films on offer couldn't be more unlike; as a marriage of martial arts, dark fantasy, comedy and a sendup of exploitation films of the 1970s, through the lens of a Marvel comics anti-hero, Stephen Norrington's "Blade", gave Wesley Snipes one of his great roles. As part of the Grand Illusion's 16mm Centennial Celebration Series, Sprocket Society will host two nights of Danger!! Scare Films on 16mm, and a Bert Gordon double feature, presenting "Earth vs. the Spider" and a secret second film and shorts, all presented on celluloid, of course. A one-man trash cinema powerhouse, no horror genre series would be complete without a Joe Dante film or two. In this case we get the late 1970s nature unbound creature flick of "Piranha", and one of Dante's few commercial breakouts, which effectively signaled the end of the 1980s, "Gremlins 2: The New Batch". Sharing more than a little of the sensibility of the latter Dante, Bob Balaban's 1980s materialism satire, "Parents", also fittingly describes the tail end of the Reaganite zeitgeist. Going out swinging, All Monsters Attack then concludes with a bi-polar pendulum arc between what is rightly considered the most terrifying film of the 20th Century, Tobe Hooper's 1974 "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", and Nobuhiko Obayashi's 1977 unhinged kaleidoscope of absurd haunting nonsequiturs, "Hausu". Referred to by Chuck Stephens in his essay for Criterion as; "eye-poppingly demented, jaw-droppingly inventive, Japanese pop culture at its most delightfully unhinged extreme", this is more than just the story of "The Housemaidens" in an unwelcoming home. Peter Bradshaw's 2017 eulogy in The Guardian for, "Tobe Hooper: The Director Who Took a Chainsaw to Wholesome Family Life", acts as an effective summation of his life and art. Yet, none of the rest of that body of work quite ascended to the dizzyingly unconstrained heights, and unmerciful perfection, of his first feature length film.