AHITH 8 Review: “Hell Driver,” “Yakuza Weapon,” “Krackoon,” “Absentia”

by Peter Wong on June 1, 2011

The annual Another Hole in the Head (AHITH) film festival is San Francisco’s festival equivalent of the summer movie showcase. Fantasy, science fiction, and horror films from around the world, some too extreme for the average multiplex, get screened for the eager and enthusiastic. This year’s festival, which runs from June 2, 2011 to June 16, 2011, may not offer anything as utterly disturbing as “A Serbian Film.” But one can still find everything from future MST3K fodder to over the top blood spraying.

Opening Night feature “Hell Driver” squarely falls into the comic Grand Guignol category. In Yoshihiro Nishimura’s zombie film, near‑future Japan has been forcibly divided into a half‑human, half‑zombie country thanks to the infestation of an extraterrestrial zombie ash. Chainsaw sword‑armed bionic high school girl Kika gets drafted to kill the zombie queen. This task is personal as the queen happens to be Kika’s insanely homicidal and abusive mother Rika.

Like two unfortunate cops in the film, “Hell Driver”’s familiar storyline exists to set the stage. The film’s real fun comes from its ludicrously excessive details. Blood sprays the camera lens with a frequency rivaling water splashing front row viewers to a Marine World act. Joyous classical music provides an amusingly incompatible aural counterpoint to images of family dysfunction and abuse. Zombie horns turn out to be illegal drug sources. A climactic battle takes a central image from Clive Barker’s classic story “In the Hills, The Cities” and goes it one better.

Those seeking a zombie film as metaphorical societal critique are advised to look elsewhere. Nishimura’s ultimate zombie film unashamedly serves a supersized cinematic feast of bottomless flowing blood and flying body parts.

Yudai Yamaguchi and Tak Sakaguchi’s “Yakuza Weapon” also works best when it’s in comic overstatement mode. Yakuza Shozo Iwaki seeks vengeance against Kurawaki, his father’s former number one man who has both taken over the Iwaki syndicate and murdered Shozo’s father. But when the angry yakuza loses an arm and a leg, his quest seems over. Fortunately, the Japanese government replaces Shozo’s missing limbs with a M61 Vulcan cannon and a rocket launcher in exchange for having Kurawaki taken down. But the crafty usurper’s plans to kill the yakuza weapon include exploiting Shozo’s best friend Tetsu.

If testosterone poisoning were a life‑threatening condition, then Shozo Iwaki would need a battalion of EMTs to have even a fighting chance of survival. This is a yakuza who believes ducking bullets in a firefight is for wimps.

Yuji Shimomura’s action choreography provides “Yakuza Weapon”’s main draw. It’s especially effective when it turns skull crushing and bullet pulping into cinematic cannonballs of foreign country‑distant comic offensiveness. The only misstep occurs with a quickly tiresome extended sequence pitting Shozo against an unending stream of assassins. Fortunately, the nude heavy weaponry fight makes things better.

Where bloody violence and comic absurdity seem effortless for the Japanese features, Jerry Landi’s low budget feature “Krackoon” strains and fails to deliver the same. The title refers to a raccoon transformed by accidental ingestion of crack cocaine into a human‑attacking monster. Only a lonely boy who befriends the crack‑addicted creature escapes its wrath.

Despite the chuckle‑inducing premise and hilariously catchy title, little deliberate entertainment value can be found in the film. The only exception is a delightfully wrong image of stashing cocaine in a toy TARDIS.

Surviving sitting through “Krackoon” requires more creativity than that displayed by the filmmaker. One could guess how many MPAA members’ homes would be flattened by the F‑bombs dropped in this film. Guesswork could also be directed towards the type of person frightened by what’s clearly a bug‑eyed hand puppet. Finally, one could wonder whether Bronx residents would be more likely to scream in terror at a monster or say “Whatever.”

Despite its asynchronous sound and badly placed camera, “Krackoon” sadly doesn’t reach the zenith of cinematic awfulness unintentionally transformed into entertainment.

Mike Flanagan’s pronouncedly disturbing “Absentia” demonstrates how creativity matters more than budget size. Seven years ago, Daniel Riley disappeared without a word and never returned home. Now wife Trish attempts to move on by having her husband declared legally dead. But are Trish’s visions of Daniel manifestations of her guilt? Visiting sister (and ex‑junkie) Callie encounters some odd occurrences which suggest otherwise. Yet when a physically traumatized Daniel reappears, the real answers point to a very timeless evil.

Flanagan’s film effectively builds the menace at its heart by eschewing a full‑on depiction. Instead, a suggestive mood is created by a music track heavy with intimations of dread. Mundane details of such real‑life sights as homeless people in tunnels ground “Absentia” in our world. Then as the viewer learns about the disappearances and thefts in the neighborhood where the film is set, what was supposedly a semi‑bucolic neighborhood turns subtly sinister. By the film’s end, one understands why “Absentia”’s apparently innocuous opening image carries another meaning entirely.

Viewers who prefer in‑your‑face and high splatter horror should give “Absentia” a miss. Not counting one definitely non‑gratuitous mutilated corpse, the film is pretty much blood‑free. Aside from a couple of brief shots, shadows and sound effects are what engage awareness of a threatening presence.

Flanagan makes several characters’ relationships rather than the horror the film’s emotional center. Doing so allows him to touch on issues ranging from dealing with loss to self‑delusion and even primal fears of the dark. Despite its present day urban setting, in “Absentia”’s world humanity still remains at the mercy of unknown and malicious forces.

(“Hell Driver” screens at 9:20 PM on June 3, 2011 and June 13, 2011. “Yakuza Weapon” screens on June 7, 2011 at 5:20 PM and 9:20 PM on June 9, 2011. “Krackoon” screens at 9:20 PM on June 15, 2011. “Absentia screens at 9:20 PM on June 6, 2011 and 5:20 PM on June 12, 2011. All screenings take place at the Roxie Theatre (3117 16th Street near Valencia, SF). For tickets and further information, go to www.sfindie.com )

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