Sitges Film Festival Report

It’s Massive! Alan Jones reports from the biggest horror Fantasy film festival in the world

Pictured: will we ever discover
The Irrefutable Truth About Demons?

Karl Urban & Katie Wolf: "... Irrefutable Demons"

A Shivers feature by Alan Jones

Selected from Shivers #84

With some competition movies not finishing until 3.30 at night and starting again at 8.00 in the morning, this year’s Sitges International Film Festival of Catalonia was not for anyone who expected to get any sleep.

Frankly, I was exhausted after the first four days of the ten I spent from 5th October catching up with all the Fantasy films from around the world. But, although I say it every year and must sound like a broken record by now, I wouldn’t miss this glittering event for anything. It’s not just that Sitges is the loveliest of resort towns, the nightlife is fantastic or that the Festival personnel are always so wonderful and accommodating. It’s the shared love of the genre you feel in everyone from the fans who travel in from Barcelona to see the latest Horror previews to the authority figures in charge that makes it such a special and moving occasion. Imagine the FrightFest atmosphere times fifty and you might begin to get an inkling of what attending the Sitges Festival is really like.

Actually, I was in particular luck this year as I joined the Ed Gein brigade of producer Hamish McAlpine, star Steve Railsback and director Chuck Parello. There was no way that trio were ever going to lose me from freeloading along with them (I was after all partly responsible for getting the film chosen to play in competition) and happily they didn’t seem to mind at all. You can imagine how thrilled we all were when Ed Gein, which received a rapturous reception at its packed-to-the-rafters screening, won a well-deserved Best Actor Award for Railsback and was also named Best Picture. I bet those of you who didn’t attend the world première at FrightFest are now even more annoyed!

Altogether a more interesting demonic entry was Glenn Standring’s film The Irrefutable Truth About Demons which, although it hasn’t been released theatrically in any territory, is already the highest-grossing New Zealand title of all time based on sales to worldwide distributors. Standring is the first to admit that his glossy shocker pays homage to Night of the Demon with an additional edge provided by a neo-punk aesthetic propelling its visual style. Karl Urban plays the apathetic professor of esoteric cults and mysticism whose life becomes a paranoid nightmare when Satanists kill his brother and make him their next target. With only reformed black magician Katie Wolf to help him, he must fulfil an ancient prophecy to end the sect’s reign of terror.

Packed with gore, elliptical CGI devils and numerous plot surprises, Standring’s debut feature is a creditable chiller that calls to mind the early work of Peter Jackson. Miramax have picked up the American rights for The Irrefutable Truth About Demons – amazingly they aren’t going to change what many think is a commercially dodgy title – and will release it next spring.

Yuzna's FaustAndrew Divoff as M in Yuzna's Faust

What should have been a Sitges high point was the most depressing event of the Festival. Brian Yuzna world premiered Faust, the first of his five made in Spain Fantastic Factory titles, and the result was an anti-climactic bust.

Based on the erotic Horror comic strip by David Quinn and Tim Vigil, Faust is a low-rent Devil-in-disguise Crow. Shocked over the murder of his girlfriend by a criminal sect called The Hand, John Jaspers (Mark Frost) signs away his soul to Satan in return for revenge on the killers.

But the hidden clause in his contract with M (Andrew Divoff) means he’s also turned into a sick superhero, armed with long metal claws, and one who will eventually play an important role in an upcoming prophesied black magic ritual.

Nothing works in Yuzna’s cheap-looking affair from Frost’s superhero make-up looking like a Woolworth’s version of Tim Curry’s in Legend and Barcelona standing in for 21st Century New York to the final Hellish holocaust orgy complete with daft CGI monster and the old-fashioned Screaming Mad George gore shocks. Yuzna’s crude comic is a muddled fiasco and is headed no further after its February release in Spain than the nearest cut-price video bin.

Faust won the Best Special Effects Award to loud catcalls, but that was more a sop to local-based producer Julio Fernandez than anything else. It gives me no pleasure at all to criticise Faust as I like Yuzna a great deal and think the Fantastic Factory ethos is a good one. But he really is going to have to try a lot harder to maintain quality control if the assembly line is to run smoother than it clearly hasn’t here. Word on the street is that his second producing effort, Jack Sholder’s Arachnid, is no better.

Shivers #84, Company of Wolves cover

For Alan Jones' reports on the success (or otherwise) of all these Festival presentations, see the issue:

  • Lionel Delplanque’s Promenons-Nous Dans Le Bois/Deep in the Woods
  • William Marsh's Dead Babies
  • Sebastian Niemann’s 7 Days to Live
  • Robert Lee King’s Psycho Beach Party
  • Ki-duk Kim’s Seom/The Isle
  • Ellory Elkayem’s They Nest

And that was the Sitges Fantasy Festival 2000. Well, apart from Lloyd Kaufman’s Toxic Avenger IV: Citizen Toxie (what do you think?), Karim Hussein’s Subconscious Cruelty (more gross fish-hook scenes less artfully used), Geoffrey Wright’s underrated Cherry Falls (it won the Best Director Award), Shinya (Tetsuo) Tsukamoto’s Soseiji/Gemini (dreadful), Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire, Christopher Nolan’s brilliant Memento (winner of the top Critics prize) and the FrightFest favourite The Criminal. Roll on next year. I should have recovered by then!

For the full feature, to order Shivers or subscribe, go to VI DIRECT

Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction

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