Arts and CultureSan Francisco

Incredibly Weird Films to See this Holiday Season

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GUEST POST BY PETER WONG

If it’s entertainingly weird, it’s San Franciscan.  This rule of thumb doesn’t mean the San Francisco holiday season doesn’t have its improvised ice rinks or its Starbucks Christmas Lattes.  But in San Francisco and other simpatico places around the Bay Area, you can cinematically mark the 2018 weeks after Thanksgiving and before Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa with some entertainingly weird alternatives to the usual cheerful holiday crap.  We’re talking films about a killer penis, two Asian zombie movies, and an honest to God flat earth subculture.

Welcome Home Brother Charles

The killer penis film can be seen at the Alamo Drafthouse on November 26.  It’s Jamaa Fanaka’s 1975 blaxploitation horror film “Welcome Back, Brother Charles” aka “Soul Vengeance.”   Small time drug-dealer Charles gets screwed over by the “justice” system and winds up doing time.  But he soon screws over The Man himself thanks to his acquiring a super trouser snake.

Continue your fun at the Alamo Drafthouse on November 28 with a Weird Wednesday screening of the restored “Schlock.”  This monster on the loose parody served as the cinematic debut of director John Landis and legendary visual effects wizard Rick Baker.  For those who need a laugh while “good taste” gets gleefully kicked to the curb, this film is it.

November 28 also sees the start of the 15th edition of the Another Hole In The Head Film Festival.  The genre film-oriented festival comes courtesy of the fun folks who put on the S.F. Independent Film Festival.  This year’s edition takes over Japantown’s New People Cinema to deliver two weeks of genre feature films, weird documentaries, and even a live re-scoring of a classic genre film.

(Regarding the last item: if you’re interested, you may want to jump quick on getting tickets.  Performing the re-scoring is The Firmament. The group’s previous live festival re-scorings of “Akira” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” turned out to be hot sellers.  This year The Firmament tackles the Walt Disney classic “Fantasia.”)

Other Another Hole In The Head offerings this year include:

As the strange but true documentary “Behind The Curve” shows, there’s a growing international community of people who really believe the Earth is flat.  Daniel J. Clark’s film will make you either laugh or cry as this community plans its first ever Flat Earth International Conference.

Lost in Apocalypse

While Chinese genre cinema may be filled with hopping vampires, Chinese zombie stories are few and far between.  That situation changes with the Sky Wang film “Lost In Apocalypse.”  It’s the tale of a group of strangers who fight their way out of a zombie-infested hotel only to discover it’s the end of the world outside.

LifeChanger” mixes romance, crime drama and body horror in one film.  Once shapeshifter Drew’s current body starts to decay, he has to continually kill people and take over his victims’ bodies and memories to stay alive.  He longs to reunite with the love of his life Julie. But she only knows Drew from a previous body he inhabited, and she’s very unaware he’s still around.

Reunions with long lost family members turn truly deadly In “Reborn.”   Years ago, a morgue attendant used electrokinetic power to bring a stillborn baby girl back to life before making her his captive.  The girl fortunately escapes on her sixteenth birthday and sets off to find her birth mother. But that search winds up leaving a lot of corpses in the girl’s wake…

Learn the story of the 1980s indie record label that popularized industrial dance music in the U.S. in the documentary “Industrial Accident – The Story Of Wax Trax! Records.”  At the film’s heart are the label’s founders, two music-loving gay lovers in 1970s Chicago who started out selling UK imports and esoteric music.  The label would wind up providing an initial American foothold for such bands as Bauhaus, Nine Inch Nails, and Throbbing Gristle.

The House That Jack Built

Could there be such a thing as a film that’s too controversial for either Another Hole In The Head attendees or edgy San Francisco film viewers in general?  The curious can find out on November 28 with a one-night only screening of the really uncensored director’s cut version of “The House That Jack Built.”  Cinematic provocateur Lars von Trier tells the story of failed architect Jack (Matt Dillon), who finds success as a serial killer.  As Jack recounts five seminal elaborately staged murders, the film mixes gore with philosophical musings on everything from architecture to cinema.  Interested viewers can catch these special screenings at the Presidio Theatre in S.F. or the New Parkway Theater in Oakland.  Less curious viewers can wait for the relatively tamer R-rated version theatrically opening on December 14.

For those who prefer tamer films mixing rock and alienation, the Castro Theatre’s November 30 double bill will do the trick.  First, there’s the 4K restoration of David Bowie’s cinematic debut in director Nicolas Roeg’s titular “The Man Who Fell To Earth.”  Bowie plays an alien who poses as a human tech genius so he can undertake a rescue mission for his home planet.  However, things don’t go smoothly thanks to a woman and some very greedy men. The co-feature is Alan Parker’s adaptation of “Pink Floyd’s The Wall.”  Bob Geldof (aka Mr. Live Aid) plays Pink, a musician whose non-narrative descent into madness gets brought to life by Gerald Scaife’s animation.  Needless to say, expect some very freaky imagery set to Pink Floyd’s music.

The Good Solider Svejk

Included in the Pacific Film Archive film series “The Puppet Master: The Films Of Jiri Trnka” are a couple of animated films guaranteed to warm the hearts of cinematic malcontents.  “The Good Soldier Svejk” screening on December 1, adapts the classic Czech novel about a low-level soldier who prefers telling stories and drinking beer to following his superiors’ orders.   What officers call Svejk’s utter “incompetence” actually reflects the idiocies of the military mind. The shorts in the December 5 program “Trnka’s Sixties Masterworks” range in subject matter from our imperfect cybernetic future to how the literal hand of power complicates the pursuit of art.

If you must make a cinematic nod to the holiday season, go with the film that a Universal Studios executive called “foul, disgusting, misogynistic, anti-Christmas, and anti-children.”  Yes, the Balboa Theatre is screening Terry Zwigoff’s “Bad Santa” on December 5.  Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is a department store Santa more interested in drinking heavily and making out with women.  But this particular year, the scam has lost its luster. Even the non-director’s cut being screened at the Balboa has one of American cinema’s great anti-cop jokes.

The New People Cinema still has one last surprise for fans of weird genre film after the Another Hole In The Head festival wraps up.  It’s an encore screening of the Japanese indie zombie comedy “One Cut Of The Dead” on December 15, a boon to viewers who missed out on the film’s sold-out Japan Film Festival screening.  A film crew find their troubles making a low budget zombie movie have worsened when there really is something to the local stories about the filming venue having been previously used for human experimentation.  Things predictably go off the rails, but the zombies aren’t completely at fault.

Capping your cinematic season of weird is the December 21 theatrical premiere of Susanne Bier’s “Bird Box” at the Opera Plaza Cinemas.   Sandra Bullock stars in this post-apocalyptic thriller set in a world where human civilization has been devastated by the worldwide appearance of a gorgon-like entity.  Seeing the entity instantly drives the unlucky viewer to commit suicide as soon as possible.

Here’s hoping these cinematic offerings deliver more interesting holiday dreams than ones involving dancing sugar plums.

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.