Housecore Horror Film Festival arrives in Austin with its 2nd edition this weekend, a combination of brutal metal and brutal horror. Last year’s fest was a triumph, with one of the crowning achievements of the year in Austin, a live performance of the soundtrack to Dario Argento’s Suspira, played by Italian prog horror maestro’s Goblin. This year the emphasis seems to be more on the music, with such exciting announcements as a Superjoint reunion (from founder Phil Anselmo), Gwar (in one of their first shows since Oderus Urungus’s return to space), and Glen Danzig to play both Danzig and the often-overlooked Samhain portion of his discography. However, for those looking to venture out of the mosh pit and take in the film festival portion of the film festival, Anselmo and co-founder Corey Mitchell have served up some tasty and horrifying options.
I’m not going to offer too much advice of the music portion of the festival, but I personally will not be missing Gwar or Napalm Death and I am anxious to see if Danzig can redeem himself after the debacle that was Fun Fun Fun Fest 2012. As for the film component, the centerpiece of the festival is surely The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and its ‘family tree’ which spreads its roots through the entire film slate. Therefore, I deliver to you on a silver platter, with a side of questionable carne con skin, my can’t miss picks for Housecore Horror 2014:
1). Experience some part of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 40th anniversary. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, that’s right, both films will be screening at the fest, as part of the 40th anniversary of the original. Of course, most attendees have already seen these films, but have the seen them with pretty much the entire cast present? Part One’s Teri McMinn (Pam), Allen Danziger (Jerry), William Vail (Kirk), Ed Neal (the Hitchhiker), John Dugan (Grandpa), Ed Guinn (the wrench-wielding truckdriver), and of course the original Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hansen. The original TCM has often been called the most influential horror film of all time and of course is an important part of the development of the Austin film scene. Part 2 will follow the next day with Bill Moseley (Chop-Top), Caroline Williams (Stretch), and Bill Johnson, the second Leatherface. A much funnier and bigger budgeted film than the original, the film also features Dennis Hopper as a Texas Ranger here to solve the case of the original murders. The film was a box office bust upon its original 1986 release but has since become a cult classic to rival the original. The TCM-inspired programming continues through the lineup with Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive (Also staring Marilyn Burns), a 1977 horror gem about worst hotel proprietor ever (take that Norman Bates) – look for a young Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) eaten by a crocodile. Also at the fest is 2012’s Butcher Boys (formerly Bone Boys) written by TCM scribe Kim Henkel. While the film is difficult to stomach (yes, it’s about cannibals, obviously), it does show that the horror of the original TCM has been recreated over and over again for the last 40 years.
2). Rediscover some classics on 35mm. This year’s retrospective program is robust with ‘HHFF Cellulord’ Justin Giallo joining Anselmo and Mitchell in selecting an array of titles that go from recognizable to downright unheard of. Films you’ve probably heard of that are worth a second view include CREEPERS (AKA Phenomena), the 1985 Dario Argento film starring a very young Jennifer Connelly as a boarding school student with the ability to communicate with insects. Another classic is 1986 heavy metal horror TRICK OR TREAT about a ‘secret message’ in a record that can be heard by playing the album backwards… unheard of! The film features Gene Simmons as a radio DJ and Ozzy Osbourne as a televangelist disparaging the evils of heavy metal music. I’m looking forward to some more obscure titles, especially THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA, a 1976 film about a sexually abused girl who takes her revenge that was notoriously banned in the UK for 20+ years as a ‘video nasty.’ Another exciting 35mm offering is TOURIST TRAP, a 1979 sort of low-budget take on Westworld in which a museum’s mannequins are strangely lifelike.
3). Dig even deeper into depravity at the VHS Vomitorium. Giallo, the former programmer for the Grindhouse Theatre in Tacoma Washington, approached Mitchell with a new idea for Housecore’s sequel, a small room filled with comfortable beanbags and couches and a big screen television to host horror films from the ‘70s and ‘80s, all on VHS cassettes. Since a majority of these films were seen for the first time this way, it seems a perfect excuse to relive some middle school memories. All I need is some Kool-aid spiked with Everclear and a lava lamp and the evening would be complete. Oh, and shag carpet. And wood paneling on the wall. And the vague smell of someone’s grandma in the next room. Anyway… ELVES is one of the most bizarre Christmas films ever. Basically, it involves a pagan ritual that awakens an ancient demon elf, that is somehow tied to a Neo-nazi plan to bring about the master race by having the elf copulate with the last remaining pure-blood virgin. Yep. It’s that good. For something that’s actually (an unquestionably) great, check out David Cronenberg’s first film, SHIVERS, a 1975 sexual horror film about lab-created parasite that turns people into uncontrollably horny molesters of anything and everything. At the time, it was the most profitable Canadian film of all time, and was debated in parliament for its social value. And don’t miss Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout, a parody of the 80s workout video craze featuring the star of Night of the Demons and Return of the Living Dead.
4). New and Newish Films. With all these retrospectives filling the screens, you would not be blamed for thinking horror had ceased to be a thing in the eighties, which of course, is far from the truth. In this, their second year, the programmers at HHFF continue to refine their place in the Austin festival cycle, namely, bringing the same curatorial eyes that program seldom-seen retrospectives to newer films that may have also slipped through the cracks. These films, though mostly unknown to me, look like perfect compliments to the carefully chosen showcase screenings and the ear-grinding metal, and should satisfy attendees. Here’s a few films I’m hoping to catch myself.
CIRCUS OF THE DEAD — Family man Don’s visit to an old, run down Big Top circus and chance encounter with a nihilistic group of clowns leaves him fighting for his life and the lives of those he loves. As Don becomes drawn deeper into lead clown Papa Corn’s games, he comes closer to the edge of reason and sanity. Armed with guns, knives and a ’68 Camaro, the clowns lead Don on an all night crime spree through oil soaked West Texas. Papa Corn’s wild ride brings blood, gore and mayhem to all he encounters.
PIECES OF TALENT — Set in the small coastal town of Bright Leaf, North Carolina, “Pieces of Talent” centers around Charlotte, a disillusioned aspiring actress working a night job as a cocktail waitress in order to make ends meet. Charlotte catches a break when seemingly chance circumstances put her in contact with a local filmmaker, David Long. David and Charlotte form a quick friendship that leads to Charlotte landing the starring role in David’s newest project. David quickly becomes obsessed with Charlotte and begins building his bloody masterpiece by killing members of the community. He films each encounter with the ultimate goal of filming Charlotte as his final installment.
SERIAL KILLER CULTURE – Serial Killer Culture examines the reasons why artists and collectors are fascinated by serial killers. Through music, painting, filmmaking, writing, and collecting, thirteen individuals are interviewed about creating art and searching for murderous artifacts. Featured artists and collectors include Joe Coleman – Collector and Artist, Macabre – Murder Metal Band, Rick Staton – Collector, Hart Fisher- Publisher of the Dahmer Comic Book, Joe Hiles – Founder of Serial Killer Central, The Dahmer Tours, Sam Hane – U.K. Artist, Stephen Giannangello – Author and Criminal Investigator, Sparzanza – Swedish Metal Band, Matthew Aaron – Owner of the Last Dime Museum, John Borowski – Filmmaker, David Van Gough – Painter/Artist of the Man/Son series, and true crime musicians The World Famous Crawlspace Brothers.
SOULMATE — Recently widowed Audrey moves to the countryside in a bid to get her life back on track. When she realizes the cottage she’s renting is haunted, she decides to stay and strikes up an odd relationship with the ghost. The film stars Anna Walton (Hellboy 2), Tom Wisdom (300), Nick Brimble (A Knight’s Tale), and Emma Cleasby (Dog Soldiers) and was written and directed by Axelle Carolyn, a noted horror journalist. Her husband, Neil Marshall (The Descent, Dog Soldiers, Centurion) served as producer.
AMERICAN GUINEA PIG – the synopsis for this one just reads “Death.” Seriously. Apparentally this is a new film inspired by the Japanese gore series of the 80s/90s which achieved global notoriety mostly for the first two films as the producer needed to prove that nobody was actually hurt or murdered. In addition, a noted Japanese serial killer may or may not have reenacted scenes from these films as part of his crimes. With the subtitle Buquet of Guta and Gore,” the film may be an adaptation of the second film in the seven-film series in which a man dressed as a samurai kidnaps a woman and dismembers her for his collection.
JUNKIE – A black comedy about the dangers of going sober. When Danny wakes up one morning and decides he’s going clean, Nicky’s not taking it lying down, and drives Danny from one insane experience to another as a whole host of bizarre, surreal characters descend on their sprawling, dilapidated mansion, all with grievances to bear, debts to reclaim or trouble to cause. As Danny’s life spirals out of control he must fight tooth and nail to kick the habit and rescue himself from the personal hell Nicky has consigned him to, whilst simultaneously attempting to repair the deeply damaged relationships with his increasingly bizarre friends and family.
FINALLY…there is Ben Wagner’s DEAD WITHIN, a fantastic psychological zombie thriller that made its US Premiere a couple months ago when OTHER WORLDS AUSTIN did a screening at the drafthouse. I did a whole interview with the filmmaker about the film and all the extra-cinematic supplementary materials (webisodes, comics, etc) and the article can be read here.