Friday, May 19, 2023

Notes on Film: The 2nd Annual Movies From Hell Film Festival

 by Anthony King

Two days dedicated to sleaze, art, and weirdo cinema.

Junesploitation is close. Can you smell it? I started a little early this year, digging into some exploitation that borders on straight art film. My good friends Bradley J. Kornish and Dan Pullen host a podcast called Movies From Hell, a show I've been lucky enough to guest on a bunch of times. In the many years since it's been going, Dan has been good enough to keep a rolling list on Letterboxd of all the movies discussed (at length and in passing) on the show. They cover everything that could be considered outre, from David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (2001) to the films of Roger Watkins, like Shadows of the Mind (1979). Last year around this time, in order to gear up for Junesploitation I decided to dedicate two days to watching a handful of films from the Watchlist From Hell. Since the Junesploitation bug is deep under my skin already, and because I had such a great time discovering some cool movies last year, I had to do it again. So here, dear reader, is my write up of the 2nd Annual Movies From Hell Film Festival (not a real film festival, just something I made up).

I kicked things off with a movie I'd first heard about from Elric Kane who, as is his personality, built this movie up to heights that were seemingly unattainable. Seemingly, being the operative word, because Sandor Stern's Pin (1988) exceeded all expectations. Leon and Ursula's father was a peculiar doctor who used a lifesized, anatomically correct, sentient (?) medical doll in his practice. The kids call the doll “Pin” (short for Pinocchio), and Leon in particular becomes obsessed with it. After a tragic accident which leaves the kids orphaned, we cut to several years later and Leon and Ursula are living together. One day Leon brings Pin home and the obsession kicks into high gear. As Ursula tries to move on with her life, Leon sinks deeper and deeper into a dark pit of compulsion, and Pin begins directing Leon to do bad things. I think the words “bonkers” and “batshit” are grossly overused, but Pin certainly fits the definition. David Hewlett as adult Leon is charming and remarkably frightening the more delusional he gets. The final shot of the film left me speechless, giving me the creeps so badly that I had to stop my wife from telling me about her nightmare right after I finished the movie.
The weird train rolled right into the next station which displayed for me the perfect blend of art, plot, and WTF. Toshio Matsumoto's Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) is about as hypnotic as a movie can get. Presented as a mix of faux documentary, fever dream, and narrative tale, we follow a group of trans women and cross-dressing males working as sex workers referred to as “gay boys” in the film. Eddie (Shinnosuke Ikihata) is the primary subject, and as her feelings grow for one of her clients, a relationship develops between the two. Eddie now must contend with her heart, her pride, and her loyalty. Funeral Parade of Roses is a remarkable achievement in queer cinema, from a time and place that transgresses traditions of society, political and social beliefs, and popular entertainment of that era and floats between that place of art and narrative while still delivering a very human, very honest, heartbreaking love story.
From a bananas and shizophrenic tale of talking medical dolls in the States, to a gorgeous queer love story in Japan, to a quiet, paranoid mystery set in Sweden, Laszlo Benedek's The Night Visitor provides yet another hard left turn from where we just were. The film opens with tall, handsome, young, and blonde Max von Sydow running around the snowy Swedish countryside in his underwear, peering into a farmhouse. Inside he finds Liv Ullman and Per Oscarsson having a discussion about her brother who has been in prison after being convicted of murder. Her brother, you guessed it, is Max von Sydow, playing a character called Salem. Oscarsson plays Dr. Anton Jenks, and he had a hand in getting Salem convicted for the murder of a farmhand by way of reason of insanity. Salem is now hellbent on getting his revenge, and murders one of the girls in the house. Trevor Howard arrives on the scene as the detective in charge of the case, and while everyone is convinced Salem is guilty, after visiting the prison, it becomes clear it would be impossible for Salem to escape the institution. Part detective story, part revenge story, part Swedish giallo, The Night Visitor is brooding and magnetic to the point you join the victims in their paranoia because how could Salem actually be guilty of all this?
The final film of the first day and the first film of the second both hail from Italy, both from 1975. Umberto Lenzi's Eyeball follows a group of tourists traveling through Spain. One by one, the numbers dwindle as people keep getting murdered. The killer's trademark is removing one eye from each victim. While it could be considered a giallo, the black glove is replaced by a red rain slicker, and Lenzi's signature gore is on prominent display here. Eyeball was a wonderful end to day one. The second day began with coffee, donuts, and Armando Crispino's Autopsy. Mimsy Farmer is a pathology student in Rome writing a thesis about murders that appear as suicides. Barry Primus is a disenchanted priest whose sister recently committed suicide, yet he's convinced she was murdered. Together, like Jessica Fletcher and Father Dowling, they must get to the bottom of what is really killing all these people. While Eyeball is more of a straight ahead Italian murder mystery, Autopsy experiments with some hallucinatory imagery that elevates it to more than your typical thriller.
I stayed in Italy for the sixth film overall with Elio Petri's A Quiet Place in the Country (1968). Franco Nero stars as Leonardo Ferri, a philandering painter who is struggling with a creative block. Vanessa Redgrave is Flavia, Ferri's mistress, who invites him to her country villa to get his creative (and other) juices flowing. The tagline reads, “In a quiet place she strips away the structure of his mind and body... piece by piece,” and while intriguing, I find that to be a little misleading. Like Funeral Parade of Roses, this blends a narrative structure (however loosely) with art, giving us a truly chaotic trip inside an artists unravelling mind. This is one of those “just go with it” types of movies, full of moments that don't necessarily make sense. Yet when you're spending 106 minutes with people as beautiful as Nero and Redgrave, I'll go wherever the hell they want to take me.
The 2nd Annual Movies From Hell Film Festival came to a close with Richard Elfman's directorial debut Forbidden Zone (1980). Heather Drain first told me about this movie when she recommended it as a double feature with The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Being a huge fan of Herve Villechaize and especially of Susan Tyrrell, I figured this would be the perfect time to finally push play. Now, while I typically don't like self-aware, over the top, comedic, weirdo movies, Forbidden Zone played exceptionally well for me. In the basement of the Hercules family's house is a door that leads to the Sixth Dimension. To get there, though, one must pass through a set of intestines. Frenchy Hercules (played by Elfman's then wife, Marie-Pascale Elfman) goes through the door, through the intestines, and winds up in the Sixth Dimension where she meets King Fausto (Villechaize) who falls in love with her. Queen Doris (Tyrrell) flies into a jealous rage and takes Frenchy captive. Are you keeping up? Frenchy's family then employs Squeezit (Matthew Bright, writer of FZ) to rescue Frenchy. No doubt very strange and the epitome of “just go with it” movies, Forbidden Zone is at once a musical, a comedy, a science fiction film, and a masterful, beautiful work of art.

Once again, the Movies From Hell Film Festival was a raging success, introducing me to some of the most interesting movies I've ever seen. I encourage everyone to do something similar. Make your own festival. Take a weekend and watch a bunch of weird stuff. After all, Junesploitation is right around the corner!


  1. LOVED this festival review. Thanks Anthony!!

    First up, i will definitely be checking out Movies from Hell podcast! thanks for the tip.

    Second up, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on these under-the-mainstream-radar flicks! Im particularly stoked with Eyeball and Autopsy reviews and will seek them out during Junesploit! And ive been thinking about checking out Forbidden Zone for a while..maybe its time. Great lineup dude!!!!

    1. Thanks, Mashke! MFH is a wild ride every episode, so be prepared for lots of rabbit holes. And I hope you get to check some of these titles out during Junesploitation!

  2. Great read. I just added a few titles to my ever expanding watchlist.