You don't like what's playing at the Grand Illusion horror series? Wait a day. Hell, wait a couple of hours. You won't get just another film, but an entirely different subgenre. If there's a single organizing principle behind the pre-Halloween bash, it's that horror encompasses a world of definitions, and by gad they're going to do their best to fit everything in.
Grand Illusion Horror Film Series
The aggressively alienating Begotten (10/16), a black-and-white experimental allegory full of smeary-but-stark images, kicks things off. As the relentlessly weird images of self-mutilation and bodily fluids give way to what appears to be a primitive ritual, the film develops what fans will call a hypnotic quality, and others will simply find dreary. Director E. Elias Merhige will be on hand to answer questions (of which there are sure to be many), and remains in Seattle to teach a master class in "visual aesthetics" at WigglyWorld studios. (Call 329-2629 for details.)
The Seattle premiere of Habit (10/17-18) follows, yet another New York indie vampire flick. Larry Fessenden (who directed, wrote, edited, and stars) makes an appealing lead with his shaggy demeanor and missing-toothed smile, but he doesn't trust his material enough. Which is too bad—he's onto something in this leisurely study of loneliness and alienation. It's far less precious than its pretentious brethren Nadja and The Addiction, but a literal (and sloppy) conclusion turns this loose little psychodrama into just another indie bloodsucker.
The balance of the festival is a happily schizophrenic mix of classic creepiness, modern alienation, and just plain madness. With a dozen films to choose from, must-sees are a matter of taste, but here are a few highlights:
James Whale's ultrarare spoof The Old Dark House (10/25) kicks off the Sunday-afternoon archival series with a world-premiere screening of the Library of Congress print. Fresh from directing the original Frankenstein (10/23), Whale mixes mirth and the macabre in this gleefully black-humored horror spoof with Boris Karloff as a leering, brutish manservant threatening Charles Laughton, Gloria Stuart, and a cast of oddball characters stuck in a spooky mansion on (what else?) a dark and stormy night.
The GI has also secured brand-new 35mm prints of the following crazy quilt. Roman Polanski's cool Euro-chic marks Repulsion (10/28-29) with his own brand of dream imagery, giving us a surreal journey into the psycho-sexual mindscape of repressed young Catherine Deneuve. David Cronenberg blows away taboos with Shivers (10/21-22), a suffocating vision of modern life wherein a designer parasite let loose in an insular apartment complex turns repressed middle-class slobs into id-driven sex maniacs. For pure over-the-top fun, Peter Jackson's debut feature Bad Taste (10/24-25) makes up for stylistic slackness with sheer exuberance and adolescent gross-out gags.