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Horrible Imaginings Film Festival Embraces The Darkness For 8th Year

Festival dedicated to expanding the definition of horror

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Quarxx

Quarxx's short film "A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky" explodes genre boundaries at this year's Horrible Imaginings Film Festival.

Cinema Junkie recommendations

"A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky"

"Martin"

"Blood and Black Lace"

"Midnighters"

"Transmission"

"Nightlight"

"Eye Love You"

"The Honeymoon"

"Blood Sisters"

"We Together"

"Adam Peiper"

"Saint Frankenstein"

"Dark.net"

"Downunder"

"Hush"

"Tik-Tik"

"The Servant"

Every year I pursue my passion for horror by volunteering to work at the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival. Here is a preview of the festival that runs Friday through Sunday at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.

Horror is a much-maligned genre. People often dismiss it as schlocky or simply unwatchable because of blood, gore, or the dark themes it tackles. But when I hear people say “horror’s not for me” or “I don’t like horror,” it’s like saying “I don’t like food” because horror is so diverse that really is something for everyone.

The whole point of the festival, which was founded and run by Miguel Rodriguez, is to broaden the definition of horror and to showcase it in all its colors.

The festival takes its name from the Shakespeare quote “present fears are less than horrible imaginings.”

It is dedicated to the horrors filmmakers and artists conceive of in their imaginations and then unleash on audiences. It ranges from a comedy about monsters under the bed in “Nightlight” to the re-imaginings of classic horror literature in “St. Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankie;” from twisty thrillers like “Midnighters” to films that defy all genre definitions as in “A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky” and “Adam Peiper.”

Horrible Imaginings Festival Trailer

This year, in particular, filmmakers form the United Kingdom and Australia have simply hit it out of the ballpark with mostly hilarious explorations of going someplace dark.

“Dark.net” serves up a man who wants to off his ex’s new boyfriend; “Blood Sisters” gives us girlfriends who experiment badly with witchcraft; “Flow” is about women fighting off threats and menstrual cramps; and “Transmission” is just deliciously dark and twisted but with a distinct sense of humor.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Libra Films International

John Amplas stars as a young man who may or may not be a vampire in George A. Romero's "Martin." (1978)

Retro screenings

The festival focuses on new shorts and features from around the globe (I highly recommend “Tiki-Tik” and “Downunder.”) I especially want to highlight the retro screenings.

Rodriguez loves to showcase new works and new filmmakers but he also has a passion for the classics.

I worked with him a couple years ago doing a year-long series of Universal Horror films from the 1930s and '40s at the Digital Gym Cinema and we constantly discuss trying to bring older horror films back to the big screen.

For this eighth annual Horrible Imaginings Film Festival, there will be two retro screenings: Mario Bava’s “Blood and Black Lace” (1964) and George A. Romero’s “Martin” (1978).

Romero died July 16 and the festival pays tribute to him with a screening of “Martin.” Romero made his reputation on the series of “Dead” films he created over more than half a century. But perhaps the film that best represents his abilities as a filmmaker is “Martin.”

Showing “Night of the Living Dead” or “Dawn of the Dead” would have been a more obvious and popular choice for a tribute screening and more likely to fill seats since the films are more widely known. But screening “Martin” shines a spotlight on a film that has been largely overlooked and will hopefully open people’s eyes to Romero’s work outside of zombies.

The film is brilliant for multiple reasons.

First, it serves up a twist on the vampire tale by having a title character that may or may not be a vampire. Romero perverts the genre by never confirming whether or not Martin is a vampire or just a psychotic teenager. He craves blood but does not have any fangs to suck blood from his victims. So he needs to carry a syringe with a sedative to knock his victims out and razor blades to cut open their veins. Romero then layers in social observations about such post-Vietnam issues as drugs, economic devastation from the recession, and crises in faith.

With Martin, Romero shows what you can do with a small budget and how you can tackle stories that mainstream Hollywood would never touch. “Martin” is the festival’s closing night film on Sunday.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: AGFA

Mario Bava's Italian giallo "Blood and Black Lace" explodes on screen in a new 2K restoration that screens at the eighth annual Horrible Imaginings Film Festival.

Giallo 101

If you do not know what Italian giallo cinema is then you are in for a treat. Here is the genre in a nutshell: Imagine a body as your canvas, a knife as your paintbrush, and blood as your medium.

Like film noir before it, giallo has its roots in literature and crime fiction. But American film noir was a black and white landscape where moral ambiguity thrived, characters spoke in terse exchanges, and plots were intricately laced with deception and betrayal.

Giallo, by contrast, is all about garish blood splattered images, an excess of just about everything, and scripts that seem more concerned with sensory overload than in laying out a conventional plot.

The word “giallo” translates literally as “yellow” but it became synonymous with a particular style of literary thriller that got its name from the cheap yellow covers of the novels published in Italy in the 1950s and ’60s.

Being Italian, I feel comfortable saying that giallo films reflect certain Italian traits, most notably going big and with a heightened sense of emotion.

Giallo is noir re-imagined in oversaturated colors and filtered through the hyperbolic language of opera (which of course was born in Italy). And if we want to reach further back in history you could say giallo draws on Italian culture’s fascination with violence that goes back to the blood sport of the Coliseum and the powerful presence of the Catholic Church, whose epicenter is located in the heart of Rome.

The repressive influence of the Catholic Church provides the kind of authority that just invites rebellion and resistance. So the two most defining features of giallo — sex and violence — are intertwined in complex ways with Italy’s cultural core.

Giallo also turns to France to draw on the Grand Guignol style of theater for a healthy dose of lurid violence and disturbing themes. You will also notice the influence of Edgar Allen Poe, Gothic horror and Alfred Hitchcock in creating an atmosphere of dread and psychological horror.

Mario Bava’s "The Girl Who Knew Too Much" (1963) is considered the first giallo although it is in black and white, and lacks both the excessive violence and heightened sexuality that would quickly come to define it.

But Bava’s follow up film, "Blood and Black Lace" (1964), epitomized the genre at its best. Fittingly set in the fashion world where beautiful victims are plentiful, "Blood and Black Lace" served up all the elements we have come to expect from a giallo: a high body count, grisly murders, an audacious color palette and a killer hidden beneath a hat, trench coat, mask and of course, black gloves.

Appreciating giallo is important in understanding the evolution of genre cinema, and its roots reflect filmmakers dealing with social changes and upheavals through their art. It is easy to dismiss giallo as mere exploitation or as lurid and misogynistic if you only look at it in passing or on the surface. But giallo represents a challenge and a provocation to repressive social norms and to cinematic expectations. It deliberately and slyly pushed people’s buttons with its explicit violence, fetishistic sexuality, pulsing scores and over-the-top style. It turned exploitation in art and seduced us with the beauty of horror.

So if you see only one film at Horrible Imaginings, see this glorious restored print of Bava’s “Blood and Black Lace,” the colors burst off the screen and the images will simply seduce you.

You can buy a special Retro Fest Pass for just "Blood and Black Lace" and "Martin," which screen back-to-back starting at 7:50 p.m., Sunday. Full festival passes are also available for $75 or VIP full festival passes for $100.

Every year I pursue my passion for horror by volunteering to work at the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival. Here’s a preview of the festival that runs Friday through Sunday at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.

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