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Event Report: The 2016 Another Hole in the Head Film Festival!

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After attending most of the genre offerings at SFindiefest, I was more than a little excited for their genre counterpart, Another Hole in the Head. The fest is in its lucky 13th year, but is still totally dedicated to celebrating little and local films. With a plethora of new, unseen, and unreleased genre films, buffed up by exciting retrospective screenings and musical events, I must say: Another Hole in the Head is awesome.

Attending this SF genre staple with fellow reviewers and Bay Area characters The Overlook Theatre, I was delighted to have a local experience in my new hometown geared toward indie horror fanatics. And as a regular at genre fests, I was shocked when the program was announced and I barely knew any of the titles.

The festival feels distinctly community based, this year taking place in the New People Cinema in the heart of San Francisco’s Japantown. The audiences were lots of SF locals, with many of the filmmakers in attendance. Without fail, at every movie at AHITH for which talent was present, they hung out with the audience to chat afterwards. “Friend of the festival” was a term that was used pretty liberally in conversations – if you attend, or one of your movies is shown, you’re basically going to feel like AHITH family.

This year, Another Hole in the Head opened with festival darling dark comedy, THE MASTER CLEANSE. This FANGO writer had already spoken with director Bobby Miller after catching the creature feature at the Fantasia film festival, and seeing it again at Another Hole in the Head was a perfect way to usher in the diverse line-up. Films like the Japanese-French anthology collaboration, TOKYO GRAND GUIGNOL, and two anticipated Black Fawn films from Canada, BED OF THE DEAD and LET HER OUT, brought international fare to the Californian fest. A haunted killer bed movie set in a ritzy old sex club, BED OF THE DEAD was definitely a stand-out, with creative kills splattering the ornate set with viscera.

It’s not all guts and gore, from the science fiction film PANOPTICON to the supernatural comedy ANOTHER EVIL. But when it is, it’s deep cuts – like Ryan Andrews’ SAVE YOURSELF, where a group of women are held captive in an isolated house in the countryside, starring Tristan Risk and Jessica Cameron. One night even featured a screening of the newly released MAD MAX: FURY ROAD IN BLACK AND CHROME with live musical accompaniment. The line wrapped around the block for this one of a kind experience that plays to hardcore genre fan sensibilities – although I skipped it myself. Sometimes you have to skip a movie to drink a beer after a bleak thriller like SAVE YOURSELF, and the fact that the Canadian director Ryan Andrews stuck around after the screening to drink with his audience before his flight back north was definitely a testament to the atmosphere of the fest. We were joined by programmer Sean Marks of the New York Horror Film Festival and stumbled over to a San Franciscan punk rock dive bar for indie horror industry talk. If you want to meet people working in the scene, this is a great place to do it.

Another highlight of the fest were the many shorts programs. A clever approach from the festival organizers, AHITH puts in a lot of effort to encourage short-form genre filmmaking by offering an open and welcoming place to screen them. A short called KNOCK from Sweden received an encore screening with the filmmaker Finn Deivert in attendance, having flown to San Francisco to be a part of the festival.

The found footage horror subgenre is still kicking, and this is where some of the weirdest offerings of the festival can be found. HOUSE OF TEMPTATION is something else – a “suburban nightmare”, unexpectedly bizarre, fumbling its way through the found footage genre, the movie is mesmerizing in its strangeness. Struggling with a loss of faith, a priest, his wife, and their son are lured by a seductress to move into a big old house. Should this blonde teen be filming his parents right now? No! What’s going on?! Spirits walk through the house, looking like regular people except for the fact that they simply should not be present, and the boy films them with the same fervor he films a cat. Doc Zee, HOUSE OF TEMPTATION’s director, was present for both screenings of his movie, and attended much of the festival enthusiastically – even greeting this writer with an excited hug.

Another found footage effort, THE DARK TAPES was an anthology of small horror stories presented as tapes, a bit shamelessly, albeit entertainingly, crafted to resemble an entry in the V/H/S franchise. Despite the lack of originality, this flick gave my pals and I a lot to talk and laugh about, another ongoing theme of AHITH.

One of the most memorable nights took place the first weekend of the fest, featuring the local production VAMPARIAH, a mythological action-horror set in San Francisco about a futuristic war between hunters and vampires, and the consequences of seeking revenge. When a young hunter who has lost her family to an ancient Filipino monster known as an Aswang hears rumors of the creature’s return, she goes on a rogue mission to find it. Female-centric, rooted in folklore and a clash of cultures, VAMPARIAH was a passion project for many with director Matthew Abaya acting as ringleader. Handmade completely outside the studio system, the movie is massive. Hundreds appear on-screen, and Abaya’s team of animators, choreographers, and everything else were inventive and talented, using experimental FX techniques to bring the story to screen with very little money.

Abaya attended the festival decked out in full gothic vampire gear, creepy white contacts and fangs. Although he looks intimidating at first, he’s an amiable nerd, and the VAMPARIAH gang are diverse and unique, enthusiastically geeking out about the 4 years spent working on VAMPARIAH, and what’s coming next, including a video game and more festival screenings.

The two-week long festival came to a close with Jackson Stewart’s BEYOND THE GATES. Out now on VOD through IFC Midnight, AHITH was one of the final fests to show this delightfully gory exhibit of VHS worship. Barbara Crampton stars as the host of a video game on a VHS that seems to be interacting a little too strongly with real life. As a resident of the Bay Area, Crampton was, of course, in attendance, and thrilled to be celebrating the genre at a festival so close to home.

After having the chance to explore all these new genre films and an opportunity to meet Barbara Crampton and other filmmakers, it’s very clear how Another Hole in the Head solidified itself as one of the best underground film festivals in the US. This writer will be proudly displaying her festival badge, handmade by AHITH founder George Kaskanlian Jr., amongst her movie memorabilia, and looking forward to next year’s fest.

About the author
Madeleine Koestner
Madeleine Koestner is a writer, filmmaker and performer. She plays a ukulele and sings songs about ghosts in small venues in New York City. She likes beer, synthesizers and movies about death games. Sometimes Madeleine does special FX makeup and gore for low-budget horror movies. You can follow her on twitter @DVDBoxSet, but do so at your own risk, as she's really weird and inappropriate.
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