Diary of a Geek Week at the Glasgow Film Festival 2020

It opens at escape velocity with Proxima from Disorder’s Alice Winocour’s and closes with the FrightFest weekend which will see thirteen horror films (dis)grace the city, many of them UK or Scottish premieres, including Synchronic, from the team behind The Endless, A Ghost Waits, Saint Maud and a return visit from Bliss‘ Joe Begos with VFW, while other highlights include Vivarium from Without Name‘s Lorcan Finnegan and The True History of the Kelly Gang from Macbeth‘s Justin Kurzel, but there is much more besides…

Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway – Thursday 27th February – CCA

It is the year 2035 and CIA agents Palmer Eldritch and D T Gagano are required to enter the virtual reality world of Psychobook as part of Operation Jungle, locating and deleting the anomalous code that indicates the presence of the hostile Soviet Union virus which has infiltrated the digital realm and is attempting to take over.

Their link to base where the Professor and Commandant Rebane monitor their progress an avatar named Jiminy, Gatano dreams of handing in his notice and opening a pizza restaurant by the shore with his girlfriend Malin, but the presence of “the substance,” a virtual drug sold by costumed kingpin Batfro, indicates this will be far from the expected reconnaissance within Psychobook followed by a timely exit.

Written and directed by Miguel Llansó, Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway is a lo-fi retro science fiction microbudget action thriller whose production spanned Ethiopia, Estonia, Latvia and Spain, as well as the virtual world of Psychobook, originally a data network experiment conducted at MIT in 1997, with post-production dubbing taking place in the UK.

Daniel Tadesse is Gagano, betrayed, trapped in Psychobook and replaced by a duplicate, while Agustín Mateo is Eldritch, Gerda-Annette Allikas is Malin, Solomon Tashe is Batfro and Guillermo Llansó performs a number of different roles, among them the manifestation of Soviet Union, while Rene Köster’s Captain Lagucci takes the stage in the nightclub scenes, another ingredient in the mad Molotov cocktail furiously shaken and thrown by Llansó into the midst of his bewildered audience.

Built around dream logic and paper mask representations of primitive computer graphics, the stylistic conventions are not enough to carry an entire feature film and the path is far from clear, yet Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway is a diversion that is unique and unexplored even though not all will appreciate the trip, but remember: “Captain Lagucci is not dancing for you, baby, she’s dancing for the universe.”

Tammy and the T-Rex (Gore Cut) – Friday 28th February – CCA

It’s a forbidden love for Tanny and Michael, her parents trying to keep her chaste in her bedroom and her possessive ex Billy unable to comprehend that it is over between them and threatening Michael any time he sees them together, a rivalry which culminates in Billy and his gang kidnapping Michael and quite literally throwing him to the lions.

Seriously mauled, Michael is taken to hospital where he is attended by Doctor Gunther Wachenstein and his tall and equally sinister assistant Helga, but healing is not what they have in mind; instead, they require a fresh brain which is to be installed as the controlling mechanism in an animatronic dinosaur.

“One simple life sacrificed for the good of all mankind,” the forbidden love between Tanny and Michael continues when he escapes in his robotic reptilian body, savaging those responsible for his condition then going on the run with Tanny even as she and their mutual bud Byron seek out a new body in which to rehouse his brain.

Originally released straight-to-video in 1994, the Glasgow Film Festival presents a new extended “Gore Cut” of Tammy and the T-Rex, strangely listed in the opening titles as Tanny and the Teenage T-Rex, with the end credits confirming that in her first leading film role Starship Troopers’ Denise Richards does indeed play Tanny, while Michael is played by a teenage Paul Walker.

Directed by Stewart Raffill, previously behind The Ice Pirates, The Philadelphia Experiment and Mac and Me it is possible that even by those standards Tammy and the T-Rex represents an astonishing career low point for all involved, a lame high school comedy of bullies, parties, rawk music, hormones, homicide and mad scientists.

Less Frankenstein and more One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing by way of The Brain of Morbius, the development of the premise and the execution are so basic it is difficult to believe that this is the twelfth feature credited to a then-fifty-year-old man, aimed at a painfully narrow audience of teenage boys and even then struggling to hold attention with the childish antics.

Raffill formerly an animal handler on Tarzan, thus the presence of a real lion in addition to an animated Tyrannosaur, his other casting choices are drawn from the B-roll of genre cinema, The People Under the Stairs‘ Sean Whalen, Children of the Corn‘s John Franklin, The Witch Who Came from the Sea‘s John F Goff, and perhaps Tammy and the T-Rex is best viewed as a time capsule of a less sophisticated time.

Where the film is more successful is in the, for the time, impressive animatronic Tyrannosaur inhabited by Michael and in the easy and uncomplicated friendship between him and Byron (Theo Forsett), the obviously straight football jock and the obviously gay sassy black man, an incongruous choice even in a modern film let alone one that verges on prehistoric times.

Spookies – Saturday 29th February – CCA

Screening in the Future Cult strand, Spookies is an inexplicable inclusion, any hopes of cult status having evaporated sometime between when it was first released in 1986 and its unlikely resurrection some thirty five years after it was shot by directors Brendan Faulkner and Thomas Doran under the title Twisted Souls.

The production falling apart due to financing problems and being completed by Eugenie Joseph under its new title, to consider it finished is also possibly optimistic, the footage assembled to become Spookies disjointed and rambling, almost as though different films shot on the same sets and locations had been edited together with no attempt to pull them together into a coherent whole.

There is Billy (Alec Nemser), the child who ran away from his thirteenth birthday to find the empty house and a party with no guests, and there are the two carloads of friends with nothing in common who later end up at the same house situated within a vast graveyard, finding themselves trapped inside and hunted by the demons summoned by a sinister Ouija board.

And in the crypt below there is ancient Kreon (Felix Ward) who has kept his bride Isabelle (Maria Pechukas) asleep in her coffin for seventy years, waiting for her to wake and accept him, while his servants and creations taunt those upstairs, not a challenging task considering how volatile their tempers are, particularly the intellectually challenged PVC clad Duke (Nick Gionta).

Collapsing into a mass zombie fun run around the graveyard in pursuit of Isabelle before abruptly ending with the fate of several characters unclear, the acting is as stiff as the plywood doors which jam with infuriating frequency and it is only the efforts of the special effects artists which redeem Spookies in any way.

Despite being primarily inspired by Evil Dead both in premise and design, though other influences emerge in isolated scenes, the practical effects encompass makeup, prosthetics, animatronics, and stop motion and are a showcase for what was an impressive achievement in terms of the sheer volume of creatures presented in what was in no way a well-funded project.

Ghost Master – Centre for Contemporary Arts – Tuesday 3rd March

The set of Today, I Met an Angel is not the harmonious cooperative unit the director and the producer might have wished it to be; it is the final day of shooting in an abandoned school and the leading man Yuya cannot find his enthusiasm for the key scene with his leading lady, his call to cut the cameras leading to a mass walkout among the crew, including the director who hands over to his first assistant, Akira Kurosawa.

A fan of the horror greats who has his own dreams of directing, Kurosawa has with him the treatment for his own project, Ghost Master, but his ambition leads only to mockery and dismissal from the others on set, the producer laughingly stating he does not know the difference between Tobe Hooper and Cyndi Lauper, yet a splash of blood absorbed into the paper of Ghost Master unleashes a different story.

The pages taking on a demonic life, the book eats Yuya’s faces and flies into his body, possessing him, creating mayhem on set as he proceeds to slaughter the remaining cast; with nobody in charge, least of all the director, it is up to Kurosawa to pick up the camera and lead them through the final scenes and defeat the demon, if his homicidal lead will stay on script.

As manic as a Tamagotchi wired to the mains, Ghost Master (Gôsuto masutâ) is a spoof of the tropes of Japanese teen cinema, the “idol” perfection of the flawlessly skinned and impeccably dressed multitasking actor/model/pop star/spokesperson somewhat sullied by the behaviour of the starlets when the cameras aren’t rolling, issuing the ultimatums of adults before stomping off like sulky teenagers even before they’re possessed by demons.

Taking the stylistic flourishes of Japanese cinema and presenting them as absurdities, it’s unlikely that director Paul Young would dispute the influence of Evil Dead on his gore, with crushed heads, flying eyeballs and the demonic Ghost Master text itself, but with repeated scenes of screaming and endless pratfalls the premise would have been better served by focusing on select characters rather than trying to carry an ensemble.

Including a surprising homage to Hellraiser III, the animatronics and prosthetics are far beyond the achievement of the rest of the film, and despite commenting on the structure of LifeForce, a science fiction film which becomes horror then love story after a bloody fashion, Ghost Master‘s desire to twist the “soppy girl’s Manga” never breaks out of the schoolyard until the symbolism of the final scene, too little and too late.

En El Pozo (In the Quarry) – Glasgow Film Theatre – Friday 6th March

It’s been a long tradition for FrightFest to showcase foreign language films, previous seasons having included the Danish torture endurance test of Finale, the Brazilian hostage situation of O Animal Cordial, the Spanish supernatural fantasy Errementari and the French cannibal drama Raw, the latest being the Uruguayan En El Ponzo, unfortunately also continuing the tradition of wildly varying quality.

Co-written and co-directed by Bernardo and Rafael Antonaccio and screened immediately after The Cleansing Hour, like that film En El Pozo is principally a single-location film though unlike the film studio of that mock exorcism it is set as the name suggests “in the quarry,” stagnant muddy water and sheer bare walls of dried mud under the sun as four friends drink and smoke and swim.

Returned frequently to her hometown, for the first time Alicia (Paula Silva) has brought with her Bruno (Augusto Gordillo), her lover from the city, and they have taken his car for an afternoon in the quarry in the company of Tincho and Tola (Rafael Beltrán and Luis Pazos), Bruno unaware that Tincho is Alicia’s supposed ex-boyfriend but whom she has still been seeing when she is away from him.

Three guys and one girl on a hot afternoon of beer and grilled meat cut with sharp knives, Tincho and Bruno inevitably begin to compete over Alicia, a foolish situation for her to have allowed to occur in the first place, the men possessive and aggressive and Tincho willing to risk serious injury in the waters of the quarry if it will eliminate Bruno.

Like a cautionary public information film of the seventies warning of the dangers of entering industrial sites or swimming when there are notices prohibiting such, En El Pozo is populated by selfish idiots who spend an hour and twenty minutes throwing themselves on jagged metal even as they attempt to tear apart their friendships and themselves.

A portrait of the primitive urges and the fragile male ego, all of the four are singularly dull individuals for whom there is little sympathy, each as bad as the other, a microcosm of all that is base in the psyche without any attempt by the brothers Antonaccio to develop the characters or the situation past the initial premise or present a more evolved subtext.

Glasgow Film Festival continues until Sunday 8th March




Show Buttons
Hide Buttons