Last week saw me engaged in an unusually high number of surreal activities, too many to recount here, but the highlights included chatting with Bobcat Goldthwait about our mutual childhoods in upstate New York, getting a club-full of people to dance to the sounds of The Peanuts and Pink Lady, and receiving a tour of a 100+ year-old battleship in the company of a group dressed up as the Ghostbusters. I also watched the new Guy Maddin movie in a five-seat theater, saw a chamber orchestra cover The Specials’ “Ghost Town”, and had dinner with a group of well-known (not by me, by others) wiccan adventurers. So you can imagine my mindset going into Exhumed Films’ eX-Fest this past Sunday in the company of Katie and my Pittsburgh-based friends Alicia and Dan (the latter of which happens to be the owner of the Kindergarten Cop tattoo that recently made the internet rounds; Dan said that later this year he’s going to get the exact same tattoo on his other leg, but with the caption changed to Jingle All the Way). I was up for anything and, by day’s end, was happy to have received a little bit of everything.
So if you’re not in the loop, eX-Fest is a marathon of seven previously unannounced exploitation films held at the International House from the same gang that present the annual 24 Hour Horror-Thon. 2012 was its second year.
Film 1. The No Mercy Man (1973) An Arizona-set cheapie with a charming regional feel that featured a rowdy group of carnies squaring off against a troubled Vietnam vet, his family, and friends (“the best trained jungle killers in the world”). Sid Haig (star of Creature, one of our least favorite films of 2011) appears briefly as a ruffian; most notable as the first feature shot by famed cinematographer Dean Cundey (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?).
Film 2. Fear is the Key (1973) An impressive series of car chases over all terrains strangely evolves into a twisty underwater revenge story; starts strong, but the second half is a draaag (fun climax though). Ben Kingsley appears as a heavy in a near silent role.
Film 3. The Man from Hong Kong (1975) Brian Trenchard-Smith (BMX Bandits) directs this Australian/Hong Kong co-production starring Jimmy Wang Yu (Master of the Flying Guillotine, The One-Armed Swordsman) and George Lazenby. Lots of goofy humor and kite sailing (is that what that’s called? Wind sailing?); the only “fun” movie of the day.
Film 4. Death Weekend (1976) An early Ivan Reitman production that has the same home invader/rape and revenge format as the rest of the genre. I searched for some sort of commentary or subtle comedy, but couldn’t find anything. My girlfriend liked it, I thought it was a bore.
Film 5. Wipeout! (1973) Henry Silva stars in this occasionally over-the-top Italian crime film that put me to sleep after about 20 minutes. Every time I woke up over the course of the following 80 minutes there would be two guys on the screen discussing their boss named Cocchi, I don’t think I missed much, but I understand the appreciation of others.
Film 6. Vice Squad (1982) A super-serious portrayal of the prostitute-ridden streets of early ’80s Los Angeles. The tone is often rattled by scenes of unnecessary absurdity, but even those match the well-intentioned sleaziness of it all. Wings Hauser plays a wide-eyed creep; my favorite film of the day.
Film 7. Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975) A fun classic though I was hoping the capper would be an upbeat celebration of sleaze along the lines of last year’s Cinderella.
An impressive and well-rounded collection of unknown films, all shown on 35mm, so I really don’t have any complaints. The guys behind us would yell “Yes!” after every movie title came on the screen, but I eventually started doubting both their sincerity and knowledge. It’s that excitement though that makes these events worthwhile; the movies themselves feel like a bonus at times.
Additional thoughts on eX-Fest 2012: