FILM FESTIVAL Now in its seventh year, San Francisco’s Another Hole in the Head Film Festival aims to draw fans of fantastical and shocking cinema into the Roxie and Viz theaters for its slate of 32 films. Spanning horror, science fiction, and fantasy, Hole Head features films from Singapore to Serbia, including 10 flicks from Japan.
Despite this cultural eclecticism, there is one theme that seems to crop up throughout the program: homage. A surprising number of these films are primarily interested in referencing or commenting on formative genre pictures that came before.
Of course, such an approach to genre filmmaking need not be retrograde. When it works, as in the hilarious kaiju pastiche Death Kappa, there’s no question about why someone would want to both mock and commemorate the storied run of man-in-suit monster movies. Kappa brings out the humor in an already existing template, mixing shades of H.P. Lovecraft and E.T. (1982) with Japanese folklore but ultimately ending up in the same place: city-smashing mayhem.
Among the Japanese selections is an assortment of gore films, weird fantasy-action movies entirely predicated on opportunities for spouting blood. These often feel like they’re in dialogue with themselves, lampooning older forms but also riffing on their own ridiculousness. RoboGeisha plays like a live-action cartoon, where laws of logic and good taste don’t apply and the best way to deal with a terrorist is two tempura shrimp to the eyes. Not gory but similarly frenetic is shock auteur Takashi Miike’s latest, an unexpectedly light adaptation of a children’s anime series called Yatterman, which is literally a live-action cartoon as well as a 1970s throwback.
Sometimes, though, the tribute-obsession can seem like wallowing. Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre, blessed with an absurd title and the exotic appeal of being an Icelandic horror film, is basically a by-the-numbers slasher that retreads The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and others to the point that its shocks are predictable.
Many other subgenres are represented, from torture porn to luchador action, but one of the festival’s highlights dwells outside any such bracket. Japanese comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto’s metaphysical fantasy Symbol documents the travails of a man inexplicably trapped in a mysteriously interactive white room. It sometimes feels like a feature-length comedy sketch, governed by certain rules or patterns that drive its simple but ultimately cosmic plot. Constrained though it may be, it makes no concessions to genre and feels inspiringly new as a result.
Regardless of a few staid entries, such a forum for genre cinema is absolutely crucial, particularly on such an international scale. Even if we need another zombie reinterpretation like we need a hole in the head, Another Hole in the Head will hopefully be with us well into the future.
ANOTHER HOLE IN THE HEAD FILM FESTIVAL
July 8–29, $11
Roxie, 3117 16th St, SF
Viz Cinema, New People, 1746 Post, SF