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Fourteen years strong, Helsinki’s Night Visions, the biggest and oldest genre film festival in Finland (six years older than the August-held Melies festival Espoo Ciné), keeps rolling out the hits with New York’s own Frank Henenlotter as this year’s headlining guest.
Storming the town with BAD BIOLOGY, HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE and 35mm prints of BASKET CASE 2 and BRAIN DAMAGE, hundreds of Finnish fanatical freaky fans of Frank converged upon Helsinki to join the grand man in this special event.
Beginning as an annual one-nighter on one screen, Night Visions then grew to two one-nighters a year and now runs three days long in the spring and five days during Halloween. Once the editor of Gorehound magazine and now the proud director of the Night Visions festival, erudite Finn Mikko Aromaa has styled his three- and five-day extravaganzas with DVD releases and an all-night special event with rivaling films on two screens in the historic downtown Helsinki Maxim Theater, originally constructed in 1906. Ceil ing-level embedded statues and in-wall jeweled lamps frame the curtains as they unfold, allowing various bizarrities to play on screen, often subtitled in both Swedish and Finnish, sometimes not, as in the case of the very rare screening of BASKET CASE 2 (that's the film's Belial pictured below).
Henenlotter himself hadn’t seen the film since he walked into a 42nd Street theater 20 years ago. The end credits alone boast a Who’s Who of working talent today, including indie superman Ted Hope, producer of James Gunn’s SUPER, pop surrealist Ron English, editor and director in his own right Scooter McCrae, Neil Danziger, Larry Meistrich and the list goes on.
The Dowdle Brothers’ DEVIL opened the fest, followed by the Finnish premiere of Henenlotter’s BAD BIOLOGY. The second evening of the festival opened with Xavier Sayanoff and Tristan Schulmann’s documentary NEW FRENCH HORROR followed by Yann Gozlan’s CAGED. On the third night, I attended BASKET CASE 2 (hosted by Mr. Henenlotter), SEITAN’s Kim Chapiron’s brutal DOG POUND and a second viewing of Alexandre Aja’s PIRANHA 3-D, where the dual-language subtitles stuck out more than the dismembered body parts of the film’s victims.
The final Saturday night all-night marathon is where things got really mind-bending, as Finnish director Timo Vuorensola displayed the newest trailer for the long-gestating Nazis-in-space flick IRON SKY and alerted audiences to its impending shoot date—as early as next month—which was great news for RED graphic novel creator Warren Ellis, who's a fan of the IRON SKY project. From there it all got wonky as THE LAST EXORCISM played against the David Hess-starring grindhouse classic HITCH-HIKE (35mm print! Gorgeous and exciting!), the sold-out Finnish premiere of Robert Rodriguez’ MACHETE dueled with a repeat screening of A SERBIAN FILM (this was my third and definitely not last time watching Danny Trejo’s intestine-yanking underdog hero), a rare 35mm print of Henenlotter’s BRAIN DAMAGE (that's Elmer pictured above) went against a repeat screening of DOG POUND, and a rare 35mm print of the cadaverous Christmas classic SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT butted heads with a repeat screening of MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD, while Stacy Davidson’s SWEATSHOP and the comedy caper KING FRAT rang in the morning just as the sun finally set in Helsinki.
Arriving in town with his BAD BIOLOGY cinematographer Nick Deeg (pictured left in photo below along with Henenlotter and Aromaa at the Maxim Theater), the legendary Henenlotter was extremely well greeted by fanatical Finns at all four of his screenings. The joy in fans’ eyes when they get to interact with someone who’s enlivened their nightmares is always an electric experience. This year was the biggest ever in the history of the fest. The lineup for the Halloween edition included a total of 26 features (their largest festival yet), with a record number of admissions to boot.
When COMBAT SHOCK writer-director Buddy Giovinazzo was a guest of honor at the fest in April 2010, he said that he had never seen as many good movies at a festival as he had at Night Visions. Not bad for a “way east” country known primarily for saunas, long summer days and long winter nights. And this Christmas, you can treat yourself to the particular language of the Finns (to my ears, a mix of Viking and Klingon) with Jalmari Helander’s bizarre Satan Claus (not a typo) freakout, RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE. To Finland!
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