ANOTHER HOLE IN THE HEAD FILM FESTIVAL—“SLICE AND DICE: THE SLASHER FILM FOREVER,” “THE G-STRING HORROR,” “ZERO KILLED”

by Peter Wong, 2012-11-29

Calum Waddwll’s documentary “Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever” doesn’t pretend to discover slasher films’ hidden psychological insights. Instead, this amusingly irreverent film owns this cinematic genre’s hallmark of delivering entertaining gore. “Slice and Dice” presents a darkly humorous consideration of slasher films’ recurring themes. Sections of the film include discussions of “character survival” techniques and visually effective gore moments. Less persuasive is the claim of the final girl theme as an exemplar of female empowerment. Such sexist assumptions as women being inherently more vulnerable and less able to defend themselves underpin this theme.

It may be hard to see a family lineage connecting “My Bloody Valentine” to “Psycho” or even “Ten Little Indians.” The latter two genre classics may have displayed a high body count. Yet the murders seen onscreen served as dramatic spurs to solving the mysteries at these films’ cores. Such bloody giallo classics as “Bay of Blood” and “Deep Red” may have turned the intensity of their murder sequences up to 12. But solving the films’ central crimes still held a giallo together.

Given these cinematic ancestors, the slasher film could be called a cinematic pitch-black sheep. The “mystery” became less important than finding new ways to kill people. The “Final Destination” films worked an exceptionally clever spin on this inversion by turning Death into the serial killer. The more disturbing development was having viewer sympathies re-directed from the victims to their killers. But this alteration in attitudes makes sense. If slasher films are violent sexual morality tales, then these films’ murders serve as punishment for guilt-free sexual expression.

Insights about the larger meanings of slasher films are largely absent from the films’ interviews with the directors, writers, and actors who worked in the genre. These creative personnel were mainly interested in having fun providing modern Grand Guignol.

Director Tobe Hooper proves the notable exception. His connecting “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” with the circle of life metaphor makes twisted sense. Hooper’s putdown of the recent remake of his film is hilariously tempered by his admiration of the remake’s shots of actress Jessica Biel’s posterior.

“Slice and Dice” communicates some of the visceral brio of the slasher film genre. But those who use critical blindness regarding “Psycho” to justify the slasher genre’s lack of artistic aspiration forget one truth. How many slasher films truly measure up to “Psycho?”

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Pounding drums provide a musical backdrop for some of the stripper performances seen in Charles Webb’s locally shot film “The G-String Horror.” Yet that music’s promise of danger, sexual or otherwise, is not supported by the rest of Webb’s film.

Once a Sid Grauman-built movie palace, San Francisco’s Market Street Cinema has now become an adult theater. Filmmaker Chuck is filming a documentary on weird occurrences at the theater. But several ghosts haunting the theater, particularly that of dancer Baby Doll, want to exploit the filming for their own purposes. Can psychic Lady Zee help free Baby Doll’s spirit?

Despite its darkened century-old theater setting, Webb manages to create a spectacularly non-atmospheric story. Viewers watching the film never develop a strong sense of either the theater’s unshakeable sense of age and decay or its potential for menace. Only an anecdote about a man unfortunately caught in a severe basement sewage accident provides a brief spark of bizarreness.

The actors’ performances are flat enough to make advocates for cinematic non-actors feel horribly embarrassed. The actress playing Lady Zee delivers a stating the bleeding obvious performance that will satisfy those missing Marina Sirtis’ Counsellor Troi.

Don’t be fooled by “The G-String Horror”’s relatively brief running time. Watching the film will make you feel as if twice as much time had painfully dragged by.

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Michal Kosakowski’s festival closer “Zero Killed” rightfully disturbs those with pat answers to the mass shootings reported on America’s nightly news.

Since 1996, Kosakowski has filmed enactments of people’s murder fantasies. The director’s only caveat is that the fantasist performs onscreen as either a killer or a victim. These homicide enactments utilize everything from poisoning to mass school shootings. Excerpts from these short films get paired with semi-classical music and present day interviews with the film participants regarding the intersection between killing another human being and society.

True to the title of Kosakowski’s film, nobody actually dies in these staged enactments. Yet the blood sprays and brutal shootings depicted in these murder fantasies will raise doubts in viewers’ minds.
Are these homicide fantasists a danger to society? If one were to judge by these fanatsists’ onscreen interviews, none of their faces display mental illness or sociopathic calculation. Yet does the power to imagine considering using a victim’s nose for stew meat makes that speculating person a potential killer? Or does the experience of facing the darker parts of their nature make these murder fantasists emotionally stronger than advocates of behavioral suppression?

Kosakowski’s documentary avoids drawing conclusions. But it is clear from the subjects' statements that their simulated killing experiences give their thoughts on violence in society greater complexity and depth. A woman who uses instant messaging to direct a killing initiates a discussion on whether drone-directed killings constitute murder. What one subject calls “thinking like an American” means thinking about effective torture methods.

The Kay Howard character on “Homicide” had been disturbed by learning first-hand that anyone is capable of murder. “Zero Killed” may not contradict that truth. But its fictional catharses offer hope that people can control the impulse to kill another human being.

(“Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever” screens at 5 PM on December 2, 2012. “The G-String Horror” screens at 9 PM on December 5, 2012. Both of these screenings take place at the Roxie Theatre (3117-16th Street, SF. “Zero Killed” screens at 7 PM on December 9, 2012 at Terra Gallery (511 Harrison St., SF). For further information about these films and to order advance tickets, go to www.sfindie.com .)