My partner, Jerry, woke us BOTH up at around 10am this morning with a phone call. I mean, he doesn’t realize that I was out drinking until 4am, so I forgive him. It was also and IMPORTANT call because an upcoming issue of Video Business (an industry trade publication) wants to do a story on horror movies and they needed some info and photos for our upcoming EXORCISM cover. I was barely able to stand as I was talking to him.

We, rather lazily, decide to get moving and run errands early before tonight’s films. I want to catch the Japanese film ST. JOHN’S WORT and the slasher film, RIPPER.

Of course, we get totally lost on our way to the Fantasia offices and we end up stopping by the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. It is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever been in (and it better be for the $2.00 they charge just to go inside). If you ever get to Montreal, you MUST go in here. There were lots of people snapping photos (it has rained EVERY single damn day since I’ve been here, so I haven’t wanted to take my camera outside at all), people praying in the pews and really creepy looking “God-hates-you-if-you-sin-so-get-in-here” confessionals. It really needs to be used in a movie or something (I kept thinking about how cool John Carpenter’s PRINCE OF DARKNESS would have been if it was filmed here). I felt very uncomfortable, however, because I was wearing my DOGMA “Buddy Christ” t-shirt when I went in (it was underneath my long sleeved shirt, but I was still in a house of God while wearing it).

Adele and I head over to the Fantasia offices where I verify that some promotional DVDs I sent up, as well as my LONG AWAITED 1st check disc for EXORCISM has indeed arrived (I’ll watch it later).

Today, Fantasia starts showing at least three movies a day during the weekdays (instead of just two) with the first film being a new 35mm print (from Columbia Pictures) of the classic, ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA 2. I hadn’t seen this film in ages and I really wanted to check it out on the big screen. Jet Li plays the historical figure Wong Fei-Hong again in this wild action-packed sequel. Fei-Hung arrives in Canton and gets involved (in a kick your ass sort of way) with an evil cult called the White Lotus sect. The leader of the sect is worshipped as an “invincible” being that cannot be hurt, even by flying bullets. Of course, Fei-Hung discovers that this cult is only ONE of the small problems in Canton. What follows is Jet Li fighting his way through the internal corruption and trying to restore some peace caused by newly created political factions in the city.

OUATIC2 is an excellent film. It’s beautiful to look at, it’s funny and it has some outstanding fight sequences (not unusual for a film directed by Tsui Hark). The one problem that I have with the film is that it has a little too much plot getting in the way of the action. It’s still great, but there is a HEAVY political intrigue plot and many of you looking for a pure action film from Jet Li are going to have to wade through a lot of exposition before getting to one of the greatest action set pieces of any film ever made… the final confrontation between Fei-Hung and the leader of the White Lotus sect (which, in all honesty, was what I usually fast-forward to when I watch this at home). Matthew Kiernan, an old friend from my Jersey days arrived during the film tonight. He will be staying with Adele and me for the weekends during the fest.

Next up was the very “Blair Witch-like” Japanese horror film, ST. JOHN’S WORT. I had heard some grumblings about this film a few days before from the festival programmers about how interesting it was, so I really couldn’t wait to see it (and I even stayed away from the plot description in the guide so I wouldn’t have a clue as to what it was about). The poster (a painting of a man sitting amongst a pile of evil looking dolls) was creepy enough to get me really psyched before it started. The opening credits begin… loud sounds, flashes of a creepy little girl on the stairs, lightning fast editing and atmosphere… and then I see the two simple words, Asmik Ace, as the producers and a huge chill went up my spine. That’s all I needed to get right into this one and even Adele whispered to me that “she liked this one already” after the opening credits. For the uninitiated, Asmik Ace (I THINK that’s how it’s spelled) is the production company behind the insane RING series (a festival favorite of Fantasia’s past). Those of you who know these films will understand how excited I was to see their involvement with this one. But, unlike the RING series, ST. JOHN’S WORT fails a little in the scare (and plot, and pacing) department.

A group of young people is working on creating a new videogame called “St. John’s Wort” based inside an old decrepit mansion. It’s based on a real mansion inherited by Nami, one of the designers. Her father recently died and she and the head of the game designer group, Kohei, head up to the mansion to take a look around for inspiration for the game. Ala the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, the entire trip is recorded to home video by Kohei as he documents their explorations. Nami begins to hear creepy voices within the walls as the two designers wander the mansion looking for inspiration for the game. As the night falls, they discover a sinister force is indeed in the mansion, along with the decomposed bodies of seven young boys. Our two heroes are thrust into grave danger and Nami discovers the horrifying truth about her father and the evil force still haunting the mansion’s hallways.

I was very mixed about this film so I’ll start with what I did like about it. First and foremost, it is shot entirely on video using Panasonic DVCPro cameras and it is STUNNING. None of this badly transferred and grainy Blair Witch “film blow up crap” present here. For any of you interested in seeing what a REALLY WELL DONE movie looks like when shot on video and transferred to film, I suggest watching ST. JOHN’S WORT. It is unbelievably beautiful and, being in the film restoration/transfer industry myself, I can honestly say I never thought a shot on video film could ever look this good when transferred to film. The film is structured to be like a videogame. Strong, surreal colors (most scenes are colored in unrealistic hues…purples, greens, blues and other wild rainbow colors) and interesting editing to make you feel like you are actually watching a videogame. The plot, obviously created to be similar to the Blair Witch phenomenon, is an interesting one and the structure isn’t too plagiaristic. I found it interesting that they structured it like an actual videogame. Our two characters (the “players”) had to explore the mansion and find a key, or something similar that would “unlock” the next part of the mansion so their explorations could continue. Very interesting and, being an avid gamer myself, something that made me chuckle quite often.

What I didn’t like is that the film, even at a rather tight 85 minutes, spends way too much time with the two characters walking around the mansion with their videocameras doing nothing but opening a lot of doors and drawers (Oh look! Here are some shirts! Oh look! Here is a music box, etc.). One sequence went on for a full minute of them walking around a room and opening things to look inside… then the scene REWINDS itself and we see it again in partial closeup. Hmm…

Also, I don’t want to give too much away, but the ending was a little too anti-climactic for me. It just seemed rushed and a little too disappointing for all the creative buildup we’ve just watched for the previous 70 minutes.

The third film of the day was the, uh, how can I say this politely, the atrocious piece of absolute crap called RIPPER: LETTER FROM HELL. I’d rather have a barium enema jammed up my ass by a diseased ridden crackwhore than watch this again. It’s a (cough, cough) Canadian formula slasher thriller. Well, where should I begin? I guess a plot synopsis is in order… and it’s one that I can complete in three sentences or less. Ready?

A young girl’s friends are all murdered on an island, so she goes to a university to put her life together. One by one, her “studygroup” friends are all murdered in horrible ways, albeit inspired by the famous Jack the Ripper killings. The killer is revealed and it’s a big shocking surprise!

That’s it, folks! I cannot describe effectively in words how absolutely crappy this film is. Sure, it has Jurgen Prochnow (I kept thinking, “Hey! It’s Jesus!” because of his THE SEVENTH SIGN role) and Bruce Payne in a role that rivals his amazing performance in, uh, WARLOCK III (laughs). The actors are bad, but they all look like beautiful catalog models (except for the dude with the troubling facial hair on HALF of his face). Oh, I just CAN’T say anymore… I’m too tired. I’ll try to say something nice now.

The murder sequences, however ridiculous they are (one girl gets attacked, thrown from a window and caught on a chain, then miraculously ends up for the “final” death blow somehow back INSIDE a building in, like, three edits) are indeed inspired and better than the average “Jason” or “Freddy” variety kill. I particularly liked the “sawmill kill” and the “car hood” kill, actually. It is indeed competently shot and it certainly looks pretty, but (if I may steal a line from CHRISTINE for a moment), you can’t polish a turd. And a turd is exactly what this is. I looooong (114 grueling minutes) stinky, corn ridden turd that, no matter how hard you try to get it out of your system, still leaves an unsightly mark in the bowl that only goes away after repeated flushes. Oofah! Adele says this film is Mr. Hankey’s best friend… and I have to agree.

SHE said…

Woke up. It’s Friday the 13th. It tastes like something crawled in my mouth and died last night. I am vibrating slightly. It’s grey and crappy outside, but that’s ok cos the day’s film’s promise much. Once Upon a Time in China 2 (a new 35mm print!) with two shorts – Forest Gun and Boys in the Wood, then St John’s Wort, Ripper – Letters from Hell and a midnight show of Cannibal Holocaust (which I figure we might skip cos it’s showing tomorrow, too). So now a shower and then deli breakfast (more bacon! More eggs! MORE COFFEE!!!!). Help me, sweet demons, it feels like I’ve never been away.

Coffin Joe is coming into town next week. I was never the same before, but I might never be the same again…

Hey, Don just came out the shower and said he feels like ten pounds of shit stuffed in a five pound bag. He looks it, too. Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!! Let’s not discuss what looks out the mirror at me, though…

Friday the 13th at FantAsia and the day starts with a brief introduction to the joys of the Montreal public transport system. Followed by proof that both Don May and I have the crappest sense of direction, as we wander the streets aimlessly and somehow seem to end up asking other tourists for directions. We finally cab it to the FantAsia festival office where we find all sorts of glossy promotional materials to take home, and we get some online time to do all the email things we both have to do. After a late-ish start, this takes us to around 3.30 when we head to Piz Pistol for lunch and a pitcher of Sangria, and say brief hello’s to Julien and Karim who are drinking with Michael Walker, the director of CHASING SLEEP, who has just arrived.

I think we got a heavy-handed waitress cos the sangria is strong and come movie time we’re both pissed. Yay! A quick trip to buy dusters (oh the glamour of the film biz!) and much chocolate leaves us with only a few minutes to spare until the first film of the day, Once Upon a Time in China, part II, which is preceded by two hilarious shorts ‘Boys in the Wood’ and ‘Forest Gun’ – both piss-takes, sorry – homages, to Kung Fu movie trailers. Once Upon… looks beautiful as this is a new print and the enthusiasm of this cheering crowd puts me in a great mood for the treats to come.

Next up is my first Horror of the fest and is a Japanese movie called St John’s Wort. Everyone seems really fired up for this movie and the stills and reviews look fantastic. It’s the tale of a girl who inherits her mad painter father’s mansion and goes to visit with her ex boyfriend – a pc games designer. She is plagued by flashbacks and nightmares and in a movie shot entirely on video and in faux docco style, it is quite beautiful to watch. Over-saturated colouring and spectacular editing help and soon the heroine uncovers the truth behind her mysterious family. As a Horror movie, I feel this promises a great deal more than it ever delivers. After a fantastic build and some genuine scares and an ever-present creepiness, the end seems more like the leftovers from a bad 70’s possession flick rather than a suitable conclusion to the story being told. One of the things I found off-putting was that the movie seemed to be trying really hard to be an American film, and seemed to have nothing to identify it as Japanese which I thought a shame. As eye-candy and a curiousity it’s worth a look, but perhaps it’s unfair to know that it comes from Kadokawa Shoten, the people that produced the Ring series, because it raises expectations that ultimately the film won’t match.

For game players, however, there is delight to be taken in the film being structured as an adventure game, and there are innovations in the visuals – if not the story – which make the film worthy of your attention.

After a short break, we were punished for what must have been heinous sins in a previous life with the truly laughable Ripper – Letter from Hell. Just for the record, I want to say that I really wanted to like this movie, but the movie didn’t want to be liked. It wanted to be ridiculed, which is exactly what happened. Story starts with Molly running away from an unseen killer, tripping over the hacked corpses of her schoolmates as she goes. Fast forward five years and blond Molly is now redhead-with-attitude Molly – you know she’s dead hard cos she wears black and looks a bit like a goth and has a chain around her neck. Ooooooh. Scary. Anyway, here she is somehow being able to afford to be at some terribly posh school studying serial killers with renowned Ripper expert, Marshall Kane. Her class is split into two in every scene – one table of supposedly ugly kids who all look distressingly normal, and one table of supposedly beautiful people who look like they fell off a Gap advert. Within the opening five minutes, you just ache for all the beautiful people to die. They are shallow, dumb and irritating and once again, here’s a Horror movie entirely deprived of sympathetic characters so even some of the fun set-pieces are just tedious time-wasting until there’s a body count worthy of investigation by a very bored-looking Jurgen Prochnow. The film is flawed to its core, but most of these flaws – lack of suspense, lousy pacing and kill scenes with little or no blood might all have been forgiven had it not been for the truly appalling script. And when I say appalling, I can’t mean that quite hard enough. I’ve seen better scripted episodes of Scooby Doo. I wouldn’t piss on this script if it was on fire.

After all the excitement of Ripper, what I really needed was a beer, so Matt Kiernan and Don and I went to Luba and were soon joined by Doug Buck and his girlfriend Rita. Rita is in the middle of shooting a docco and she, Doug and I whiled away the hours talking about the footage she was shooting and her incredible experiences as a documentary film-maker. Before you know it, it’s 3am and the light rain is in danger of diluting the booze, which just won’t do.

We skipped the midnight show of Cannibal Holocaust because it’s on again tomorrow and like the knackered hacks we are, went home to bed. Lying in the dark, Don decides to share ghost stories about being walked over by the spirit of a demonic cat. Hmmm. I don’t know what Freud would say about his visitations by a giant invisible Pussy spirit, but it wouldn’t be good… so I leave Don and Matt to scare each other and I retreat into the world of PJ Harvey on my walkman and sleep, eventually, with odd dreams of dead padding cats and giant fish.

Don’s FANTASIA Diary 7-13-2001