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November 1st, 2006 David Walker | Featured Stories
 

Slave To The Grind

The Grindhouse Film Festival returns with its sleaziest lineup to date.

     
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When Dan Halsted first launched Portland's Grindhouse Film Festival in 2004, his primary goal was simply to watch some of his favorite movies on 35 mm projected on the big screen. Halsted, the projectionist at the Hollywood Theatre, was uncertain if others would even show up to see an aging collection of exploitation B-movies, chop-sockey kung-fu flicks and gore-splattered horror epics. But in two years Halsted has built one of Portland's most popular film festivals, and, because of efforts to screen obscure classics like Invincible Pole Fighter on 35 mm, he has become a hero within the community of grindhouse fans, including filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

The term "grindhouse" was coined decades ago to describe inner-city theaters that would show the sort of low-budget flicks most respectable audiences wouldn't go see. Nowadays pale imitations of these films go direct to video, but back in the day they graced the screens of theaters in New York's Times Square, downtown Los Angeles and rural drive-ins. Halsted's first two festivals offered a smorgasbord sampling of grindhouse cinema with a cornucopia of genres, including spaghetti Western, samurai, blaxploitation and Italian horror. For those who thought the past selection of films was extreme in its violence and sex, Halsted pulls out all the stops this year. His email press release warns, "All movies will play in their full uncut, unrated versions. That means samurai-sword eviscerations, blood-geyser showers, eyeball slicing, close-up porn shots, all the deadly styles of kung fu, shotgun decapitations and full-blown flamethrower torching! This year is the real deal."

Halsted isn't exaggerating. This year's festival includes some of the lowest of the lowbrow, including the sense-shattering They Call Her One-Eye (read a full rundown of this year's Grindhouse offerings on page 27). But as much of a treat as the Swedish tale of a one-eyed hooker on a killing rampage will be, the highlight of this year's festival will be a special screening of director William Lustig's Maniac, the moody, ultra-creepy, guaranteed-to-make-someone-sick slasher classic from 1980. Lustig, who will be appearing at the Grindhouse Film Festival, was weaned on the films that Halsted's program honors. Born in the Bronx (and the nephew of famed boxer Jake LaMotta), Lustig cut his filmmaking teeth in the world of adult skin flicks, where he earned a reputation directing movies like 1977's Hot Honey under the name Billy Bagg. Lustig moved into the slightly more legitimate film world of horror exploitation with Maniac, a brutal, up-close look at a deranged serial killer (Joe Spinell) that was heavily influenced by the Italian horror thrillers of the 1970s. American horror audiences were just getting used to films like Friday the 13th and Halloween, when Lustig's gut-churning entry into the genre arrived with scenes so intense it was originally branded with a X rating. Even gore-effects wizard Tom Savini disavowed the work he did on Maniac, which includes a brutal scalping scene.

Maniac was blasted by critics when it first arrived in grindhouse theaters 26 years ago. The film's violence was condemned as pornographic, which only helped to make it more infamous. But now, nearly three decades later, after films like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Natural Born Killers and Seven have all followed down the trail blazed by Lustig, some critics and historians are finally reconsidering his masterpiece, just as some are reconsidering many of the other grindhouse films that were so quickly dismissed decades ago.

"I don't think there's been a change in mainstream critics to embrace those sort of genre films. It's still the disparaged genre, for the most part. But I think when a film kind of hangs around, like Maniac, for so many years, they look upon it as being much stronger," said Lustig during a recent phone interview. "Because films like that are not made today, it becomes much more distinguished. Maniac had a certain tone and a certain look and a feel of that period that is very distinctive when you're looking at it today. That gives it a credibility."

William Lustig, along with many of his grindhouse contemporaries, may not be the sort of director whose work is studied in film schools along with Akira Kurosawa and John Ford. But that does not change the lasting impact his films have had. The blood-soaked gore of Lustig's Maniac, and the gritty violence of his 1983 crime drama Vigilante, were the grindhouse throwaways of a past era's cinema. But those movies that were dismissed in their time sired contemporary films that merely repackaged and resold to the mainstream. Joe Spinell in Maniac gave way to Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. But the films of the Grindhouse Festival prove that what is cutting-edge today is really just the slice-and-dice of yesteryear.

Grindhouse Film Festival, Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., 281-4215. Visit grindhousefilmfest.com for a full schedule and details. Saturday-Saturday Nov. 4-5. $6 per movie, $28 festival pass. See page 27 for David Walker's festival rundown.

GRINDHOUSE AT A GLANCE

The Grindhouse Film Festival returns to the Hollywood Theatre for its third run this Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 4-5. Fans of the first two GFF will be in for some real treats, but be warned, this time around festival director Dan Halsted has assembled the sleaziest of the sleazy. For a full descriptions and show times, go to grindhousefilmfest.com. In the meantime, here's a rundown of the high- (and low-) lights of this year's Grindhouse.

—DAVID WALKER.

Shogun Assassin (5 pm Saturday)—The first two films in the popular samurai series Lone Wolf and Cub were heavily edited together and poorly dubbed, resulting in this nonstop barrage of sword-slashing and arterial blood spray.

Maniac (7 pm Saturday)—Character actor Joe Spinell stars in director William Lustig's notorious portrait of a crazed serial killer with a collection of scalps he places atop a collection of mannequins. Also screening is 1979's Don't Go in the House (9 pm), a Psycho-inspired gore fest that must be seen to be believed. For those who think they can handle gruesome, disturbing violence, this flick will push you to the edge.

Shaw Brothers Old School Kung Fu Ass Kick-a-Thon (11 pm Saturday)—In case the title wasn't clear enough, this is literally what it sounds like: a nonstop marathon of ass-kicking, bone-breaking, spine-shattering kung fu action, culled from various films produced by the Shaw Brothers, the legendary Hong Kong production company responsible for some of the best martial-arts films of all time.

Sonny Chiba's Dragon Princess (5 pm Sunday)—Sonny Chiba, the man who put the kick in ass-kicking, co-stars in this heartwarming tale of a man who raises his daughter to exact revenge for him. For those who think their parents are too demanding, imagine if Sonny Chiba was your dad, and he wanted you to kill his enemies.

Demons (7 pm Sunday)—You're not likely to find more of a mixed bag of quality and crap than you will in Italian horror films. As a genre, Italian horror films are often creepy as hell, gag-inducingly gory, and so ridiculous in story and execution they must be seen to be believed. Lamberto Bava's 1985 film about a movie theater full of people terrorized by demons that come to life is everything that is great and terrible about the genre, rolled into one insane package.

They Call Her One-Eye (9 pm Sunday)—Hands-down the most offensive film I've ever seen in my life. This Swedish trip through the sewer revolves around a mute girl who is sold into sexual slavery. When she disobeys her pimp, he pokes out one of her eyes (film lore has it that the eye of a real corpse was actually poked out for the scene). Our heroine secretly trains in various ways of murder and mayhem, and then goes on a killing rampage against those who have done her wrong. Seriously, this ain't for the squeamish, easily offended, faint of heart or just about anyone else.


Grindhouse Film Festival, Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., 281-4215. Visit grindhousefilmfest.com for a full schedule and details. Saturday-Saturday Nov. 4-5. $6 per movie, $28 festival pass. See page 27 for David Walker's festival rundown.
 
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