It’s not news to anyone that we’re living in a whole new world these days (and for the immediate future, at least), and it’s forced both people and businesses to adapt at a fairly quick pace. With tightly packed gatherings not currently allowed, film festivals have had to re-think the way they go about presenting and celebrating movies that would otherwise be premiering to crowds of in-person movie-lovers. While some understandably canceled or postponed their events, others have moved forward with plans to host their festival virtually — and the Chattanooga Film Festival 2020 was the first out of the digital gate.
The fest’s inaugural (and hopefully final as this pandemic moves towards its conclusion) installment experienced a handful of minor bumps — casting to TVs was disabled without the inconvenience of a physical cable, at least one film had a watermark, some people experienced connection issues — but the three day experience still managed to be a success as it brought a varied selection of films and filmmakers into “contact” with eager moviegoers.
Our own Brad Gullickson and I both attended the virtual fest, and now that its digital curtains have closed (and fest winners have been announced) we wanted to highlight some of the films that we enjoyed the most. Keep reading for the best of the Chattanooga Film Festival 2020!
Attack of the Demons
Attack of the Demons (2019) is a South Park as fuck rallying cry for all the dweeby horror nerds who rejected the normal friendship ceremonies of high school in favor of a demonic pact with the drippiest and goopiest VHS box art of the 1980s. You thought you were alone in your love of all things Stuart Gordon and Sam Raimi, but director Eric Power and writer Andreas Petersen offer kinship and understanding. Set in a small town besieged by wretch-spewing zombies of the human and fox variety as well as your basic cultists, Attack of the Demons is silly, dumb, gross, and utterly loving. Mom and Dad won’t get it, but anyone who argued the merits of Deathstalker II over Deathstalker I most certainly will. (Brad Gullickson)
Fulci for Fake
There is little in common between Fulci For Fake (2019) and the infamous Orson Welles pseudo-documentary from which the first film steals its name, but through such titular theft, filmmaker Simone Scafidi lays tremendous import atop the work of the Italian master of gore. Scafidi is having some serious fun with his device, hiring Nicola Nocella to play a man preparing to take on the mantle of Lucio Fulci, who dares to understand his subject via one-on-one interviews with Fulci’s daughters, collaborators, and friends. However, the nudge-nudge-wink-wink gimmick quickly disappears, leaving a fairly basic discussion on Fulci, and it will most certainly not engage mainstream audiences. That’s fine. Fulci For Fake is made for the die-hards; the folks who ache to know more about the man who produced The Beyond and City of the Living Dead. Fulci had a massive career before he ever directed the films that would send him into legend, and his life was equally as large and dramatic and filled with just as much shock and horror. You cannot go into Fulci For Fake blind, the film requires plenty of preconceived infatuation, but if you come packing, you’ll be rewarded. (Brad Gullickson)
The bliss of the Chattanooga Film Festival is that they are not only a haven for contemporary genre gems but also one for the misunderstood and forgotten treasures of yesterday. Their partnership with Vinegar Syndrome put a spotlight on a couple of older flicks this year, but Hell Riders (1984) was by far my favorite. The film technically stars TV Land legends Adam West (Batman) and Tina Louise (Gilligan’s Island), but since they only worked a single day on set, nearly all of their work was captured in close-up, leaving the rest of their performances to be shot via body double. The result is a laughably entertaining jigsaw production about a crazed biker gang laying siege to Anywhere, USA. Hell Riders is a mess of a movie, but its raucous energy and absurd by-any-means-necessary approach to landing “bankable” talent for its marquee secures its place as you-gotta-see-it genre fare. (Brad Gullickson)
A film’s synopsis, even a one-sentence one, can’t help but set expectations, and a French feature about a young woman who strikes up an “intimate bond” with a Tilt-a-Whirl ride immediately gets your mind racing. Jumbo (2020) is that film, and writer/director Zoé Wittock delivers far more than even the odd premise suggests. Noémie Merlant (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) brings warmth and wonder to the young woman who falls inexplicably in love with the carnival ride she nicknames Jumbo, and while touches of everything from Adventureland to The Shape of Water to a sexy Close Encounters of the Third Kind abound the film finds its own voice. The specifics may seem absurd, but the theme is ridiculously human — we can be more accepting towards those around us even when we don’t quite understand them. Especially if we don’t understand them. Jumbo won the fest’s audience award this year, and it’s easy to see why. (Rob Hunter)
Remembering the Game
One of this year’s highlights was the forty-five-minute Surviving the Game (1994) celebration between CFF Artistic Director Josh Goldbloom and star Ice-T. Ernest Dickerson was meant to attend as well, but whether through technical difficulties or forgetfulness, the director did not make the Q&A. That’s okay. Goldbloom and Ice-T did just fine on their own. Goldbloom grabbed gold from Ice-T, siphoning stories of Gary Busey’s terrifying-yet-perfect dinner table improvisation as well as how Ice-T’s “popped ass muscle” accentuated his wounded dog performance. We tend to dismiss Surviving the Game as the lesser homage to The Most Dangerous Game, with John Woo’s Hard Target stealing the majority conversation, but this chat made me reconsider and forced a re-watch on Saturday night. Dammit, Surviving the Game is legit. You can never watch the film the same way again, knowing that during a good portion of production, Ice-T was wearing compression pants. (Brad Gullickson)
Anthology horror films and horror/comedies are some of the toughest sub-genres to get right, so right off the bat the makers of Scare Package (2019) deserve some kudos. Seeing them mostly pull it off is even more impressive, and while there are still a couple duds the majority of the film delivers big laughs and lots of fun for horror fans. It’s purely a comedy using horror knowledge as the basis for the bulk of its humor, but the lack of actual scares doesn’t hurt the film. And besides, the practical gore effects are plentiful, gooey, and frequent. The biggest highlights come courtesy of Emily Hagins, Aaron B. Koontz, and Chris McInroy, and I recommend you give the film a spin when it opens wider this summer. (Rob Hunter)
Skull: The Mask
You don’t see a lot of Brazilian horror films, but hopefully this energetically gory romp will help jump start more. Skull: The Mask (2020) opens with Nazis fucking around with the occult, and after going sideways in bloody fashion we jump forward tot he present as the magically imbued mask of the title finds its way into more wrong hands. Writers/directors Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman maybe bite off a little more than they can chew plot-wise, but they nail the core of the tale involving a muscle-bound fool who dons the mask and becomes an unstoppable brute tearing victims limb from limb, crushing heads, and more. The filmmakers have a clear appreciation for professional wrestling too as their killer pile drives at least one sucker into oblivion. This is an ultra low-budget feature, but it’s no less of a blast for it. (Rob Hunter)
The Wanting Mare
The log line lists this as a film about a family of women who pass the same dream down across generations, but The Wanting Mare (2020) is about far more than that bit of curiousness. The film creates a world many years removed from our own on a tiny budget, and it’s impossible not to admire the ambition and artistry on display in its tale of people trying to earn passage to a fabled better place. Gangsters, civilians, strange dreams, mysterious babies, and those inexplicable horses — seriously, I still don’t understand their importance here — make for a compelling and ethereal tale. This is Nicholas Ashe Bateman’s baby, but with producer Shane Carruth (Upstream Color) along for the ride you know in advance it’s going to be far from clear cut in the story department. Still, whether you see it as a metaphor for creating a life where you are rather than merely dreaming of a better one elsewhere or more cynically take it as being about how motherhood sometimes holds women in place and stifles their own dreams, it’s a captivating experience. And let’s be real, it’s probably about neither of those things meaning you’ll probably find your own meaning within its dreamy world. (Rob Hunter)