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Carnival Of Souls

RECAP:  The Mill Valley Film Festival’s arrival set off an October filled with a dozen or so film festivals.  To avoid drowning readers in data, the October preview of new films was broken up into three parts.  Aside from shout outs to such festivals as the United Nations Association Film Festival (which starts up this week), the other installments mentioned among others the solo performance version of “Fleabag” (now with screenings at San Francisco’s Vogue Theatre) and (opening this week) the greatly buzzed South Korean film “Parasite.”

In this final installment, films festivals still pop up but so do films about horror and the supernatural.  Offerings of the latter include a double bill of two of the 1960s’ seminal indie horror films as well as a homage to 1980s-era horror.  Also showing this month are a 13 1/2 hour Argentine genre-bender and even a classic British film that inspired a song by The Smiths.

October 19

2nd Sorceress Sabbath Witchcraft Film Festival–The Super Shangri-La Show presents this all-day celebration of witch- and warlock-themed films.  Included in the program are such titles as Burn, Witch, Burn (In this classic adaptation of S.F. writer Fritz Leiber’s “Conjure Wife,” an English professor’s disbelief regarding owing his professional and personal success to his wife’s use of magic leads to disastrous consequences), Night Of The Demon (The great Jacques Tourneur directs this adaptation of M.R. James’ “Casting The Runes,” in which a skeptical psychologist can’t believe he’s been marked for death by a sinister occultist), and The Love Witch (This pastiche of low budget 1960s and 1970s horror movies concerns a witch whose continual use of potions and spells to obtain the love of men always ends badly).  (Balboa Theatre)

Close Up–An Iranian family lets famed film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf into their home because they’re the subjects of his next film.  But “Makhmalbaf” is actually film buff/conman Hossein Sabzian, who gets arrested and put on trial. Director Abbas Kiarostami’s documentary recreates the whole affair from Sabzian’s initial fraud to the trial’s aftermath.  Sabzian, the defrauded family, and even Makhmalbaf himself appear in the film as themselves. Director Werner Herzog called this film “the greatest documentary ever made about filmmaking.” (Part of the Abbas Kiarostami: Life As Art film series) (Pacific Film Archive


October 20

Husband And Wife–What do you get from fusing the story of the rise and fall of a married couple’s love with Maoist ideology?  For famed Chinese director Zheng Junli, the answer was a movie that became both a popular hit and the cause of the director’s career downfall.  In this take on romantic mismatches, a Shanghai intellectual marries an illiterate peasant woman who’s become a collectivist hero. Seeing relationship-threatening differences emerge between the two is what you’d expect in romances.  But when was the last time you saw a relationship’s collapse rendered via revolutionary self-critiques? (Part of the film series “Zheng Junli:  From Shanghai’s Golden Age To The Cultural Revolution.”) (Pacific Film Archive)  

A Night To Dismember: The Original Cut–Fans of demented but prolific filmmaker Doris Wishman rejoice!  The original cut of the filmmaker’s only horror film, which she claims was destroyed by a disgruntled lab worker, has been discovered!  Wishman fans (you know who you are) who’ve only seen the commercially released version of this film are in for a trash-horror experience heavy on the weird wigs. (Alamo Drafthouse)   

October 20-26

16th San Francisco Greek Film Festival–This film festival put on by the Modern Greek Studies Foundation honors filmmakers of Greek or Cypriot descent from around the world.  This year’s program of short films and feature films include “I Am Mackenzie” (teen skater living in rural Texas has to deal with everything from toxic masculinity to having her first sexual encounter in the back of her dad’s truck),  “In This Land Nobody Knew How To Cry” (Armenaki, an uncharted island in the Aegean Sea, is a magical place where the locals’ strange and subversive lifestyle changes two foreign visitors), “Vourvourou” (curious six-year-old Marko, who wants answers to such questions as the sun’s location when it gets dark, gets introduced to the Circle of Life),  “The Silence Of The Dying Fish” (fish farmer Makis can’t prove to others that he was mistakenly pronounced dead, so what should he do next?), and “Her Job” (illiterate and nearly middle-aged housewife Panayiota takes her first job as a shopping mall cleaner to help her family financially).  In addition to the film screenings, actress Olympia Dukakis will receive the Honorary Astron Award for her long cinematic and theatrical legacy.  (Castro Theatre, the Delancey Street Screening Room, and the Dolby Cinema at 1275 Market)

The Silence Of The Dying Fish

October 21

Night Tide & Carnival Of Souls–Catch two of the three most influential indie horror films from the 1960s in this double bill.  In “Night Tide,” seaman Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper in his first lead role) falls in love with the beautiful Mora, whose day job is working as an amusement park mermaid.  However, Mora’s two previous boyfriends drowned under suspicious circumstances. And there’s the strong possibility that Mora might be an actual mermaid… Curtis Harrington’s film is presented in a 4K restoration.  In “Carnival of Souls,” after young Mary Henry miraculously survives her car’s fatal plunge into a river, she moves to Salt Lake City to take a job as a church organist. Yet who is the ghoulish pasty faced man she keeps seeing?  Why is she continually attracted by an apparently abandoned pavilion on the shores of the Great Salt Lake? (For the curious, the third influential indie horror film of the 1960s is of course “Night Of The Living Dead.”) (Castro Theatre)

October 22

The House Of The Devil–Ti West’s homage to classic 1980s horror films is presented in 35 mm.  College student Samantha does babysitting jobs to accumulate money for an apartment deposit.  Her newest job takes her to the Ulman household, where the job turns out to be far different than advertised…and the Ulman mansion just might contain something evil.  Greta Gerwig makes a small appearance in this film. (Alamo Drafthouse)  

October 22-25

Gialloween II:  Four More Classic Italian Thrillers–If “Stagefright” made you hungry for more giallos, catch the new Gialloween!  The Italian thriller film series returns to the Roxie after a two-year absence with four new titles.  This time around, viewers will see “A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin” (besides a great title, director Lucio Fulci brings on a cinematic mindf**k involving a politician’s daughter, hallucinogenic visions, murder, and painting-by-knife-throwing), “The Cat O’ Nine Tails” (Dario Argento directs and Ennio Morricone scores this tale of a reporter and a blind puzzle maker trying to solve a series of murders at a genetics institute), “Death Smiles On A Murderer” (Joe D’Amato directs this 1900-set tale of beautiful Greta, who’s left to die by evil aristocrat Dr. von Ravensbruck until Greta’s hunchback brother reanimates her with a formula engraved on an ancient Incan medallion), and “Torso” (a group of college friends flee to a secluded country villa to avoid becoming the next victims of a serial killer targeting college students, except…you can guess what’s next).  (Roxie Theatre)

A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin

October 23

38th Annual Thomas Edison Black Maria Festival–This annual festival of short films gets its title from the name of Thomas Edison’s West Orange film studio.  The festival emphasizes presenting films from under-served communities around the world as well as films focusing on contemporary issues and struggles.  Among this year’s offerings are “Madame Mars: Women And The Quest For Worlds Beyond” (local filmmaker Jan Millsapps shows why the denial of opportunities to women make space exploration a feminist issue), “Gloria’s Call” (graduate student Gloria Orenstein did not suspect a phone call from Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington would send her on a lifetime journey of exploring art, ecofeminism, and shamanism), and “Pwdre Ser – The Rot Of Stars” (the phrase pwde ser, or star poop, comes from a Welsh belief that seeing comets was a harbinger of misfortune).   (Roxie Theatre)

Always In Season–When Lennon Lacy was found hanged on a Bladenboro, North Carolina swing set, local officials quickly ruled the black teen’s death a suicide.  However, Lennon’s mother Claudia suspected her son was lynched, and sought justice. The determined mother’s struggle intersects with the stories of other communities trying to deal with the historical legacy of lynching.  Preview this winner of a Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Moral Urgency. (Roxie Theatre)

October 24

Billy Liar

Billy Liar–Part of the “Looking Back At The British New Wave” film series, John Schlesinger’s film deals with the plight of someone “who’s grown up nowhere at all, with only dreams to live on” as Jason Sanders writes in the program notes.  Billy Fisher (Tom Courtney) is a young undertaker’s assistant who lives in a small Yorkshire town. Daydreaming and truth-stretching make his life with his nagging family and boring boss tolerable.  But it’s the presence of free-spirited near-beatnik Liz (Julie Christie in a breakout performance) that offers Billy the possibility of actual escape. The memorable shot of Liz walking by a group of buildings being demolished captures an essential truth about her character.  This must-see film is a favorite of quite a few British writers and musicians such as The Smiths. (Pacific Film Archive)  

Jojo Rabbit–In Germany, it’s the waning days of World War II.  Lonely 10-year-old Jojo hopes to belong to something bigger than himself by going to Nazi youth camp and eventually fighting for the Fatherland.  Instead, the boy becomes a social outcast. His only friend is an imaginary if funny Adolf Hitler (director Taika Waititi) who’s a fountain of bad advice.  What truly rocks Jojo’s world, though, is meeting the Jewish teen (Thomasin McKenzie) his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding in their attic. For the boy had been indoctrinated to believe Jews are monsters…yet this girl is anything but a monster.  Waititi’s film has gotten mixed reviews, so judge for yourself if this “anti-hate satire” works for you. (Alamo Drafthouse)

October 26

Young Frankenstein–If you thought “The Producers” was all director Mel Brooks was capable of, then you need to watch this classic parody of Universal Studios Frankenstein movie tropes.  Gene Wilder plays the titular character, who’s trying to play down being the grandson of the famed mad scientist. But for better or worse, there are forces at work which will see young Dr. Frankenstein create a new monster…which can also tap dance.  Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Kenneth Mars provide unforgettable comic support. (Roxie Theatre)

October 26 – November 3

La Flor–Argentine director Mariano Llinas took a decade to create the year’s most audacious cinematic event.  Using a six chapter structure, his massive film stars the same four lead actresses in a B-movie, a musical, a spy thriller, an exercise in metafiction, a remake of a classic French film, and a historical drama.   However, “La Flor” is not six different stories with beginnings, middles, and endings. Instead, four of the stories lack endings while another story is joined in media res. And that’s not even counting the film’s many digressions and oddball subplots.  If you thought watching the recent revival of War and Peace was for wussies, are you ready to try the spectacular challenge of watching a 13 1/2-hour epic?  Fortunately for viewers’ endurance and posteriors, this screening is broken down into four segments spaced over several days.  (Roxie Theatre)    

La Flor

October 27

Dolemite–Watched “Dolemite Is My Name” and want to see the real Rudy Ray Moore in action?    The Alamo Drafthouse has you covered with this restoration of Moore’s film about the greatest pimp of them all.  It’s no duh to note Moore’s film is technical garbage. The plot is standard action film yadda: hero falsely sent to prison is released and seeks revenge against The Mob.  But the real reason to watch “Dolemite” is its humorous outrageousness. Our hero wears clothing that might give the Queer Eye guys nightmares. His martial arts chops would cause Iko Uwais to give WTF stares.  And his rhyming is, well… “I’ve got an all girl army that knows what to do! They’re foxy as hell and practice kung fu!” (Alamo Drafthouse)

Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? And Carrie–If you ever saw and enjoyed the FX series “Feud: Bette And Joan,” now you can see the actual movie the real-life feuding stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford made together.  The plot concerns two sisters who used to be stars in vaudeville and silent film. Now they’re stuck in a house together, hating each others’ guts. How much of what you see onscreen is acting and how much is the actress releasing their hatred of their co-star, you’ll have to judge for yourself.  As for “Carrie,” this is the horror classic that stars Sissy Spacek as the high schooler continually bullied and humiliated by her high school classmates…until she discovers her telekinetic abilities. If you’ve never seen it, your knowledge of horror film is sadly deficient. (Castro Theatre)    

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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.