Chopping spree

'Tis the season for ghouls and gore at Another Hole in the Head film fest

The Forbidden Zone, The 25th Reich

FILM Unlike the San Francisco Independent Film Festival's flagship event and its popular DocFest, which more or less put roots down at the Roxie, genre fest Another Hole in the Head spreads its horror, sci-fi, and just plain weird wealth around to various venues. Yeah, the Roxie's still on its list, but HoleHead also hosts events down 16th Street at the Victoria Theater, and at SOMA's Terra Gallery and the Vortex Room — the latter an inspired addition, given the Vortex's reputation as a haven for mondo cinema.

This year, HoleHead opens with a screening of Richard Elfman's 1982 cult musical Forbidden Zone, presented in — holy Tyrrell! — remastered and colorized form. Elfman will be on hand to answer all your Sixth Dimensional questions, and a party (complete with Oingo Boingo cover band) follows.

Closing night looks to be a decidedly less festive affair, with Austrian director Michal Kosakowski's unsettling Zero Killed — a feature film spun from his video installation and short film project, Fortynine. From 1996 to 2006, Kosakowski interviewed people about their murder fantasies, then used the tales (suicide bombings, school shootings, dog attacks, dinner-party poisonings, stabbings, shoving people into traffic or letting them slip off cliffs, etc.) as short-film inspiration, starring the storyteller as either perpetrator or victim.

A haunting musical score ups the creep factor, as Kosakowski tracks down each participant (many, but not all, are actors by trade) to interview them about their specific fantasies and other troubling topics, like revenge, torture, and "What is evil?" Zero Killed is a uniquely disturbing mix of fiction and documentary, cutting between horrific, blood-soaked vignettes and clinical talking-head interviews — often featuring the same subject.

There's plenty of blood gushing forth in slick British standout Axed (listed as "Fangoria presents Axed" on the HoleHead schedule, so that right there should assure you of its splatter cred). When a businessman is, uh, axed from the corporate gig that turned him into an uptight prick long ago, he goes all Jack Torrance on his wife and teenage kids. As you might guess, the titular implement figures prominently in his plans, and Ryan Lee Driscoll's film spirals from satirical to sadistic as each new body drops.

Changing gears, from in-your-face to perhaps too subtle: posting recently to his Observations on Film Art blog, scholar David Bordwell scrutinized what he called "discovered footage" horror films, with a focus on the Paranormal Activity series. Bordwell took particularly interest in the "rewards and risks" of the genre's "narrow set of stylistic choices." In these films, the camera itself occupies a heightened presence within the story. By now, everyone knows the psychological effect that's supposed to have: if we're aware of the camera, and it seems like an actual person is filming what we see, the images appear more real — and hopefully, "the reward" translates to genuine shrieks in the dark.

But for every Paranormal Activity sequel that's seen by millions and rakes in hundreds of millions, there are dozens of copycats. And why not? Found-footage horror is non-traditional filmmaking at its most democratic. It can be made on the cheap, and wobbly production values are de rigueur. Unfortunately, it's a lot easier to get ahold of a camera than to come up with an original idea, much less one that yields actual moments of fright.

Related articles

  • This stuff'll kill ya

    Feed your genre needs at Another Hole in the Head

  • The truth hurts

    Boxing, bigots, beauty, booze: Weighty themes permeate SF Jewish Film Festival docs

  • Elm Street state of mind

    FRAMELINE 2013: Gay horror icon Mark Patton revisits 'Nightmare 2'

  • Also from this author

  • "All our families are f-ed up:" Director David Dobkin on his Duvall vs. Downey drama 'The Judge'

  • Go for Goth

    'The Guest' filmmakers talk Carpenter, moody music, and finding the humor in horror

  • You better recognize

    Under-the-radar artists (and a misunderstood legend) get their due in Mill Valley Film Fest doc