Saturday, April 16, 2016

Northwest Horror Show 2016: a Shane Burzynski interview

The Northwest Horror Show is practically upon us! Taking place April 22nd-24th at the Vancity Theatre, it boasts some seriously shocking, splattery cinema, opening with Fulci's Zombie and closing with Peter "The Hobbit" Jackson's hilariously gory early feature Bad Taste, pictured above - a sort of masterpiece of outlandish horror effects and clever stupidity that is absolutely essential viewing if you're a Jackson fan (it was, I recall it being said, banned in Ontario for a time for "indiginities to the human body;" he wasn't always so respectable). And it's way more fun if you see it with an audience, too, which opportunity arises all too seldom.

Also screening - besides shorts and swag draws and guest Q&As and other fun things - are grindhouse classics Maniac, Cannibal Ferox, I Drink Your Blood, and Street Trash, plus the somewhat lighter Night of the Creeps and the almost unbearably heavy Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom (pictured below).

I wrote previously on the inclusion of I Drink Your Blood, my unequivocal favourite "Satanic rabid bikers on acid" movie, featuring Lynn Lowry in her first film role. She will be present to do a Q&A. There will also be a Skype'd in Q&A from Night of the Creeps' Tom Atkins, who is in John Carpenter's The Fog and Escape From New York, the under-rated, Carpenter-related Halloween III, as well as a whack of other films, including culty favourites Maniac Cop and Two Evil Eyes. 

I do not, alas, have the mojo at present to interview either of them - I'll be lucky to be able to press some Blu-Rays at Ms. Lowry (DVD in the case of Shivers) and ask for signatures, please. But I did manage to fire a few emails off to festival curator Shane Burzynski, who took the time to answer about the films in this year's program.

We start with Salo - an essential film, but an unspeakably sad one, which needs to be understood as highly political and made with total compassion for the victims of fascism, even if its main characters are perpetrators. The film is structured - following de Sade - around the exploits of four fascist dignitaries who kidnap a group of youths and subject them to untold humiliations, from shit-eating to eye-gougings, while spouting crypto-fascist philosophy, listening to old whores tell dirty stories, and preening about how elite they are. It's a notoriously hard-to-watch film, but it's not just a shits-and-giggles experience; I remember being kind of grossed out by friends in high school, who, hearing of it, wanted to see it like it was a specialized kind of pornography...

The interview with Shane follows!

           AM: Okay, first off, thanks for bringing in a print of Salo! Was it hard to acquire? Expensive? 

SB: Not at all! It was really easy to get a hold of as the rights belong to Park Circus who have just struck a bunch of new prints for Pasolini's work, and since it's such a rough film it doesnt get booked as much as his other films. Was fairly cheap too as we were able to work out a box office deal.

How did you first see
Salo? What's your history with it? (It was my first Pasolini and ill-prepared me for his other films). Have you seen Salo with an audience before? I have, but it's been a long time and don't remember reactions. You?

I had heard about Salo for ages, I used to read all those lists people had compiled about the most difficult movies to sit through/most disturbing films things like that, and for the longest time I didn't think I would be able to handle it. Eventually as I got into more Italian films I had seen a couple of Pasolini's other works like Mama Roma (which is probably my favourite of his) as well as Accatone and decided I would finally give it a shot. I was still living in New York at the time when BAM Rose cinemas did a screening of it on the 4th of July so one of my friends and I decided to go see it. The place was packed with a very diverse audience, a majority being 70 year old men which did and didn't surprise me. I pretty much sat there with a pit in my stomach the whole time just due to the sheer sense of dread that the movie filled me with but I was also blown away by the craft of the film, especially the production design and the moments of black humour. I remember also watching the one woman in front of me squirming throughout the entire film which was really entertaining. Not too many walkouts, maybe one or two. I had also seen it at MOMA on one of my other visits too with similar experiences.

Do you ever see films theatrically JUST to see them with an audience? Do you ever NOT want to see certain films with an audience, because they might mis-react to them, taint the experience? (I remember someone getting really pissed off with a friend of mine who giggled and cheered all the way through the ear-cutting scene in
Reservoir Dogs...)

Absolutely! Some movies are way more fun with an audience, Pieces being one of them which is why I booked it last year. It's also why I'm booking Street Trash this year.

There are times though where I have definitely been annoyed seeing movies with an audience. I was just reading about someones experience seeing Suspiria with an audience who all laughed and jeered at it which would drive me crazy. I know its got its absurd moments but it would frustrate me to no end. My recent encounter with The Mask was also kind of similar but the audience at least weren't making cracks or comments throughout so that was at least good. I think its people's exaggerations that annoy me the most, like, most of the time those moments of dated acting aren't THAT funny, chill the fuck out and keep watching.

I have to challenge you on one thing: Salo, while a masterpiece, is on a whole different order of filmmaking from Cannibal Ferox, say; I love Cannibal Ferox plenty, but it's TRASH and Salo is, truly, ART, no? Plus the people I know who have seen Salo hoping for titillation are invariably disappointed; it's one of the saddest, darkest, most despairing movies I've ever seen, but it's also bone serious. I (harumph) kind of object to the company it's keeping, here, and am worried that the audience will be less serious than the film generally deserves - I'll be crying when they're laughing. Seeing Salo for its gore (and shit!) and such seems, I dunno, vulgar, no?

A pretty good question that I thought long and hard about when setting up this festival. I was actually originally going to do a separate screening of it outside the festival as a fundraiser until Vince D'Amato convinced me that it was a great idea to put it into the line up. And he's kind of right! At the end of the day a big part of why I'm putting on this event is to get films that rarely screen in Vancouver played on the big screen the why they are meant to be seen, on 35mm (or -very rarely- DCP if they're unavailable on film). It was also a good way to bring in a crowd who might not be interested in the festival otherwise. I will also be showing some other more "artsy" stuff for future line ups as well, I'm currently on the hunt for a print of Singapore Sling that wont cost a fortune to bring in.

In terms of the audience I think most people are aware of what they're getting into with Salo, its not really a film you can laugh at outside of a couple of moments that are intended to be darkly comical. You'd have to be pretty fucked up to be able to laugh at it and it wont be something I'll be very kind to if it happens either (unless its clearly a nervous laugh). Context will definitely be provided beforehand and I'm also thinking of foregoing the usual pre-show. Most of the people I've interacted to who have attended the festival will definitely be able to appreciate it for its merits and hopefully we'll also draw more of those types of people, I have faith in it.

I'm surprised you're playing Night of the Creeps in digital projection. How did that happen? (By the way, I've never seen it. Am I missing out?).

It was actually a matter of availability. When I contacted Sony they told me they did have a print but it was booked for the same weekend we were going to show it, which meant I had two choices: I could replace it and wait until next year or accept their DCP. I actually decided to go for the DCP for two reasons: the first was that it was coming from Sony, so I knew their DCP would look almost as good as their print. They take care of all of their films very well and their DCPs don't look like mushy trash like a lot of them do (you hearing me Universal Studios?). The other thing that persuaded me is that we would get to screen the Directors Cut of the film which wouldn't have been available had we booked the print, so I decided that it would be okay this time to go through with it. The only other times I will allow DCPs are if the film isn't available otherwise or if I'm screening in a venue that runs platter projectors. I have another event I'm looking to book at the end of the summer that will also be screening heavily on DCP, but I won't be able to announce any other details on what it is until the final film of the festival, so be sure to come out for that if you wanna know what it is! ;)

Re: Zombie, do you feel like you understand Fulci? The Beyond seems like some sort of surrealist horror masterpiece, while Zombie seems a lot  more straightfoward. The only thing I can see in common between them is punctured eyeballs (is violence against eyes a "thing") in his cinema? What are the high points, by you?

Probably as much as there is to get with Fulci. Someone actually just wrote a piece on Fulci's focus on eyes (whether being punctured or the use of extreme close ups) , Arrow Video just shared it the other day. Was pretty neat!

The high points of Fulci for me are definitely The Beyond and Don't Torture a Duckling which I consider his best film. There's a scene in Duckling where one of the characters is beaten to death with chains that is just perfect, the images matched with Riz Ortolani's score work together to create a really unforgettable moment.  He did a great job at building atmosphere in his films, I remember how much dread Zombie used to fill me with when I was younger.

                                         Is it known how he did the shark/ zombie thing? It seems pretty unbelievable. 

I believe it was just with a wrangler in a tank. There's some more information on it on the blu ray releases and online but I think thats just what it was.

Can you tell me about tracking down
I Drink Your Blood, and your guest Lynn Lowry? 

Didn't expect to find a print of it but it turned out that Grindhouse actually did have access to one that was in good shape, so I decided to switch it out as I originally wanted to show that over The Crazies anyways (which had been previously, briefly announced). So maybe we'll screen that one at another time. I still havent seen some of her more well known performances actually. Cat People for instance has been a big blind spot for me, ditto on Score. 

Gonna make sure I right those wrongs before she comes over though.

How did she get in touch with you?

She actually just contacted me through twitter. She sent a tweet my way saying she wanted to come out for the festival because she loves Vancouver and we started talking further through email. It was a real ego boost and I can't wait to meet her. 

I have never seen Street Trash. What am I missing?

A lot! It's one of the best sleaze comedies I've ever seen. It's a really great exercise in poor taste with things ranging from a group of bums playing keep away with a severed penis, necrophilia, piss, puke, and several melting and exploding bodies throughout the film. It's a really crazy, gross and hilarious ride that I highly recommend taking!

If someone has a girlfriend who doesn't like horror or extremity, what is the "lightest" movie in the programme, in your opinion? Or is it all for hardy types?

Without a doubt Night Of the Creeps! Its basically an 80's comedy that just happens to have brain invading aliens and zombies. Really easy to recommend to pretty much anyone.

Final question: is there a better shotgun-to-the-head scene anyone where in cinema than Tom Savini's appearance in Maniac?

I seriously doubt it! The only exploding head scene that rivals it is in Scanners, but that wasn't a shotgun I guess.

Well, sorta...

Friday April 22nd:

6pm - Opening night reception
7pm - Zombie
9:15pm - Maniac
11:30pm - Cannibal Ferox

Saturday April 23rd:

6:30pm - Night Of the Creeps
9pm - I Drink Your Blood
11:15pm - Street Trash

Sunday April 24th:

6:30pm - Salo, Or the 120 Days Of Sodom
9pm - Our SECRET closing night screening! (although not too
secret for those of you who have been following since the beginning)

Note; see my 2015 interview with Shane here!  See you at the Vancity Theatre!

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