Night Visions is Helsinki, Finland’s premier genre film festival. Founded in 1997 and run by Mikko Aromaa and his team of drivers, hosts, and programmers, it takes place twice a year. The fall edition, Maximum Halloween, happens in early November, and yours truly had an opportunity to check out this year’s event, which ran the 9th-13th.
Cult, sci-fi, and horror content from around the world screened at the Helsinki Kino Palace for five days with a marathon session on Saturday, ending on Sunday morning. Only this year it was snowing. I was told it never snows during Night Visions, and this was festival’s 20th Anniversary after all.
Mikko’s office is filled with DVDs, Blu-rays, and VHS taps. Posters from festivals past adorn the walls–signed by directors and guests. The most curious display is from 2015 when Brian Yuzna visited. There, almost in the hallway, was “Butt Face” from Society, a fest-made hand-crafted prop in papier-mâché with a hole where you, too (if you want to participate), could put your face. It was here where I picked up my program, bag with logo, and Evil Dead-themed t-shirt plus a new lanyard to add to my collection. There was a bottle of Helsinki Dry Gin 40% vol. from The Helsinki Distilling Co. in the bag as well–to help with the cold, I’m sure.
On the same floor as the Night Visions office but down the corridor were racks of grey coats with yellow armbands and an open cardboard box filled with bone-like helmets and chest armor. Next to the box were a pair of 3-fingered slip-on rubber lizard hands and a lizard mask with rhino-nose tusk—the colors of the mask and hands slightly more pale yellow than the off-white bone armor. The doorway next to the kitchen had a hand-painted sign that read “The Reich Stuff.” I’ve arrived at Iron Sky universe, where director Timo Vuorensola is overseeing the edit of the sequel’s trailer; the film, Iron Sky: The Coming Race, is set to release in 2017. The movie spins the myth of a hollowed out earth where the Lizard People live, which makes sense since Hitler (Udo Kier) is riding a T-Rex in the trailer, just like he did in the 1940’s at the Reichstag.
Appointments were then made to observe what was lurking about in the Helsinki genre world. Roger! Pictures producer Teemu Virta just wrapped It Came from the Desert with Marko Mäkilaakso (War of the Dead) as the director. It Came from the Desert is a VFX-rich film with giant ants and BMX bikers and is based on the Amiga game of the same name. The tests of the bug physics looked great and their design a bit more monstrous and mutated than your average ant.
Buffo is developing White Point, a sort of Mad Max on ice road movie. They are in the early development stage; director Akseli Tuomivaara (Korso) showed concept work depicting the frozen world that could be shot in Northern Finland—ships and whole cities intact, but buried under ages of ice.
It’s Alive Films producer Jani Pösö screened the trailer and some footage from their new film directed by Teemu Nikki (Lovemilla), titled Euthanizer, a black comedy focusing on a freelance pet euthanizer and his girlfriend, a necro, edge-playing romantic.
Along with my visit with these production companies and even a U.S. Embassy Halloween party (where I went in corpse paint, of course) was the Night Vision fest programming. The guest of honor this year was the great Franco Nero (Django), celebrated with repertory screenings of Enter the Ninja (1981) and Keoma (1976). Nero noted, as he took the stage, that Keoma was “his favorite Western.” While shooting 21 Hours at Munich in Germany, he became attached to Keoma, but it was only during pre-production that director Enzo G. Castellari and he realized they did not like the script and rewrote it where Nero was to play a “half-breed,” half-Native and half-American. He also explained the last line in the movie was taken from The Cowboy and the Cossack by Clair Huffaker: “A man that is truly free would never die.”
The mix of movies at Night Visions included films I had caught on my year-long fest circuit and some I missed—it was nice to catch them on the big screen with a whole new horror family over in Finland. I was sad I missed the Evil Dead films (all three) on 35mm, but there was other work to do. The breakthrough movies were Arrival and The Love Witch.
Out of the films I knew nothing about going in, Victor Dryere’s 1974 from Mexico–a shot on 8mm found footage possession film–was a highlight. I feel it will find a very pop/genre audience when released in the States.
The following are mini-reviews of the movies I caught and what I thought of them (I did stay for the entire Saturday marathon until sunrise). Some of these films have been reviewed this year by others in the community (links provided where available), while others could only be found at Night Visions.
Incarnation, directed by Fillip Kovacevic
Incarnation by first-time feature film director Kovacevic plays out with all the possibilities of a video game; the main character (Stain Dordevic) keeps coming back to figure out clues before being shot by men in white masks. Speaking to the director, he said the location was “stolen,” and they did not take heat from triggering squibs in a public space. From Serbia.
Don’t Kill It, directed by Mike Mendez
I somehow missed this one at Fantastic Fest (was I at the bar?). Playing like a retro 90’s made-for-TV genre film, Dolph Lundgren’s Jebediah Woodley is fun to watch as he kills demons. Don’t Kill It (review) is like Demon Knight on a budget. From USA.
Let Me Make You a Martyr, directed by Corey Asraf and John Swab
Finally got to see this Southern noir and found out Corey Asraf is from New Jersey. Being from Jersey means we understand rednecks, hillbillies, and crime syndicates. A story about junkies, revenge, and achieving a sort of state of grace, Let Me Make You a Martyr features a solid, understated performance by Marilyn Manson as backwoods hitman Pope, Daniel Martin Berkey as junkie Uncle Marvin, and Mark Boone Junior, who can do no wrong in anything, as Larry Glass. From USA.
Origin, directed by Andreas Climent and André Hedetoft
To what lengths will Julia (Emelia Hansson) go to save her boyfriend, Erik (Richard Björk), from a terminal illness? Answer: setting up a homemade lab and starting bio-hacking. But can he endure the side effects? Origin is a bit too understated and visually unambitious to create a sense of danger or consequence as ethical boundaries are being broken for love. From Sweden.
Cave, directed by Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken
Three friends prepare to sneak into a submerged cave for exploration—Adrian (Mads Sjøgård Pettersen) and Charlotte (Heidi Toini) are lovers, Viktor (Benjamin Helstad) the ex. A cat-and-mouse game of survival becomes apparent when one of them is found dead… or should I say murdered? But I’m not telling. Talking to Henrik, before this film he had never shot underwater photography before, let alone in an actual cave systems. Fearless. From Norway.
The Love Witch, directed by Anna Biller
Shot on 35mm, The Love Witch is a fetishistic 60’s/70’s retro handmade film by auteur Anna Biller. After loving her first husband to death, Elaine (Samantha Robinson) attempts to find romance the old fashioned way… through witchcraft. A feminist tale exploring gender polarity and performance and what men value in the gentler sex—very few things are better than The Love Witch. To watch it is to become obsessed with it. From USA.
Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve
A movie needed for this world, right now. As black objects appear, hovering above the earth, the US Government enlists linguistic expert Dr. Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to attempt to communicate with this alien species through writing. Arrival (review) presents flashbacks to a different time in Banks’ life as she begins to understand the symbols, and in understanding she could bring the world together. A sci-fi/fantasy fable. From USA.
1974, Victor Dryere
Found footage reveals a house possessed and then a woman possessed. Shot on 8mm, the movie is scary the way Paranormal Activity is scary. The audience waits for something to happen, and in waiting they freak themselves out–then something actually happens. In 1974 a lot happens; the film is relentless. I am surprised this film is not at every Hollywood studio ready to be remade. Or they should be hiring this director to shoot something new right now. It would be a good companion piece with the first [REC]; hopefully it will make it to the States soon. From Mexico.
31, directed by Rob Zombie
Watching it with a crowd, 31 is not “the worst movie ever made,” as noted by its detractors. Carney folks are hijacked and have to play a game of 31, wherein clowns in heavily art-directed spaces attack them: Sick-Head, a Spanish trash-talking little person Hitler clown, Schizo-Head and Psycho-Head, the Chainsaw clowns, Death-Head, a German clown with girlfriend Sex-Head. What we are really waiting for, however, is Doom-Head, as Richard Brake’s performance is THE reason to watch 31 (review) in the first place. From USA.
The Zodiac Killer, Tom Hanson
What we have here is the AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) restoration of this nasty gem from 1971. San Francisco area cops are on the lookout for serial murderer The Zodiac Killer (a very entertaining Hal Reed). He sends them letters; he could be anywhere. What one would assume to be just a rote police procedural flips to focus on the Killer himself, his inner life complete with his own monologues. The murder scenes are vicious as young people are shot in the face. Who is the maniac, and how can he be stopped? A totally fictional account of the case, but they got one thing right: He was never captured. From USA.