Although this year's Psychotronic Film Festival is populated by the usual weirdo cult movies and unfathomable foreign horror yarns, there are a few titles that stick out like a Siskel & Ebert sore thumb. They're "A" films that would not be out of place in Psychotronic Film Society chief Jim Reed's "other" series, Movies Savannah Missed.
Top of the list is Chico & Rita, screening on opening day, Jan. 22.
The dramatic musical, set in the smoldering musical climate of Havana and New York in the late 1940s and early 1950s, consists entirely of hand-drawn animation (remember that?) and therefore creates an "unreal reality."
The story of Chico (a handsome, up-and-coming songwriter) and Rita (a beautiful singer) plays out like a classic bolero - there is great sadness on the journey to their bliss.
The style of the film looks like a vibrant, vintage jazz music poster, and that's because it was created by Barcelona-based Javier Mariscal, a well-known artist and jazz fan. Chico & Rita was directed by Fernando Trueba, who first collaborated with Mariscal on the Latin Jazz documentary Calle 54.
(Among Trueba's credits, he won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for his 1994 historical drama Belle Epoque.)
In Spanish with English subtitles, Chico & Rita features an original score by Cuban pianist, bandleader and composer Bebo Valdes. Some of the composers on the soundtrack: Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Cole Porter.
"By turns wistful, passionate, indignant and melancholy," said the U.K. Independent, "this is an exquisitely composed piece of storytelling."
Here's the full Psychotronic schedule, with the occasional pithily descriptive comment by Mr. Reed:
Sunday, Jan. 22
Adhisaya Piravi (1990, India).
"Never officially released in the U.S.A., but a smash in India and somewhat legendary in the Western world as an hilarious (both intentionally and unintentionally) mixture of slapstick humor, over-the-top action sequences, grandiose interludes of singing and dancing and (unfortunately) outdated, misogynistic attitudes towards women." In Tamil with English subtitles.
The Innocents (1961, U.K.).
"Considered by many to be one of the creepiest and most haunting horror films ever made, this EXTREMELY atmospheric ghost story is directed by Jack Clayton. It's a psychological horror film utilizing eerie lighting, mood music and suspenseful pacing to draw the viewer in."
Chico & Rita
Monday, Jan. 23
The Cat O'Nine Tails (1971, Italy)
Murder mystery from director Dario Argento, with American actors Karl Malden and James Franciscus. "Not nearly as violent as much of his other work, and often overlooked here in the states. However, it's reported to be his most popular film in his native land."
The Scarlet Worm (2011, USA)
"One of the most highly anticipated niche genre films in recent memory. Made on a ‘micro-budget' (rumored to be just $25,000), this extremely ambitious and respectful homage to both Sam Peckinpah's violent Western ballets and the golden age of the ‘Spaghetti Western' is a refreshing blast of period filmmaking. The Plot: An aging killer in the last days of the Wild West trains a young hired gun in a plot to assassinate a meek brothel owner who's cruelly performing barbaric "frontier abortions" on his prostitutes." Co-producer and co-star Mike Malloy will attend the screening and conduct an audience Q&A.
Tuesday, Jan. 24
Petey Whitestraw - The Devil's Son-in-Law (1977, USA)
"The Plot: When standup comedian Petey Wheatstraw (Rudy Ray Moore) and his friends and family are viciously gunned down by rival nightclub owners in an attempt to DESTROY their competition, he winds up in Hell, where The Devil offers him a chance to return to earth (and to life) to avenge these crimes. Commonly regarded as one of the all-time greatest yet least-known Blaxpolitation films ever made. Not for the easily offended, or those with a low tolerance for afros, red velvet curtains or polyester leisure suits."
Fred and Vinnie (see feature story elsewhere in this issue)
Wednesday, Jan. 25
Deafula (1975, USA)
"In 1975, a group of hearing impaired folks thought it would be a good idea to make the world's first silent movie where all the characters would deliver their lines using American Sign Language. They probably also figured that horror movies (especially vampire movies) are cheap to make, so that's the direction they took. The only problem was that using sign language drains virtually all the emotion and tension out of what are supposed to be scary moments, and the amateur actors (most of whom look like they're either high or about to get high) involved were not capable of overcoming this inherent limitation. Out of desperation when no theaters were interested in showing their film, the producers ultimately relented and overdubbed the dialog so at least folks who did not understand sign language could tell what the hell was going on -- but they were too cheap or lazy to add any sound effects, so the entire movie is almost absurdly surreal and unintentionally hilarious."
Goke, the Body Snatcher (1968, Japan)
"This crazy Sci-Fi/Horror/Plane Crash/Alien Invasion/Monster mashup is filled with solid cinematography and acting, freaky plot twists and hokey special effects. The Plot: Survivors of a plane crash in a remote area are attacked by weird, blob-like alien creatures that turn their victims into rampaging, blood-thirsty vampires. Huh?" In Japanese with subtitles.
Thursday, Jan. 26
Everyday Sunshine - The Story of Fishbone (2010, USA)
Well-reviewed documentary about the California rock/funk/punk/ska fusion band Fishbone.
Director's Choice (mystery screening)
"An internationally known film that was shot right here in Savannah and on Tybee Island, yet has never been officially released in any format. The film provides a great snapshot of what our area looked like before SCAD came on the scene. If you trust us to showcase an unintentionally funny, so-bad-it's-good cult classic that's a real hoot, rest assured you're in good hands."
Friday, Jan. 27
Blast of Silence (1961, USA)
"Directed, produced, written by and starring Allen Barron, this completely badass and unjustly overlooked Film Noir is about as hardboiled as they come. The Plot: Having been 'away' for some time, professional killer Frankie Bono returns to NYC to do another job - assassinate some mid-level mobster. Although intending to avoid unnecessary 'contact' while carefully stalking his victim, Bono is recognized by a childhood acquaintance, whose calm and unambitious citizen's life and happy marriage contrast heavily with Bono's solitary and haunted existence."
Au Hasard Balthazar (1966, France)
"Truly one of the most emotionally touching and unforgettable films ever made. Its religious imagery, spiritual allegories and naturalistic, minimalist aesthetic style has been unanimously praised by critics. The Plot: The film follows a shy farm girl, and her beloved donkey Balthazar, through many years. As Marie grows up the pair become separated, but the film traces both their fates as they continue to live a parallel existence, continually taking abuse of all forms from the people they encounter." In French with subtitles.
Saturday, Jan. 28
Small Town Murder Songs (2011, USA)
"This modern, Gothic tale of crime and redemption starring concerns an aging police officer from a small Mennonite town in Ontario who hides a violent past, until a local murder upsets the calm of his newly reformed life. With a somber, contemplative and dark vibe openly reminiscent of the work of both The Coen Brothers and David Lynch."
Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010, Australia)
"Boasting cheap labor, exotic scenery and non-existent health and safety regulations, the Philippines was a dreamland for exploitation filmmakers whose renegade productions were soon engulfing drive-in screens around the globe like a tidal schlock-wave. A non-stop, fast-paced roller-coaster ride through all manner of Grindhouse gems. Packed with rare and restored clips from some of the most sleazy and notorious Filipino-made movies of that era."
The Room (2003, USA)
Known worldwide as a top contender for the coveted title of WORST MOVIE EVER MADE, this jaw-droppingly terrible (and terribly, unintentionally hilarious) celluloid atrocity must be seen to be believed. The Plot: Johnny (writer/producer/director/star Tommy Wiseau) is a successful banker with great respect for and dedication to the people in his life, especially his future wife Lisa, who has always gotten her way and will manipulate anyone to get what she wants. Johnny's young, successful and independent best friend Mark gets caught up in Lisa's dangerous web. Meanwhile, their even younger neighbor Denny, an orphan, gets into some unexpected trouble, OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT."
Psychotronic Film Festival
Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Rd.
Tickets: Single films $9
Day passes: $15 (Monday-Friday); $22 (Saturday or Sunday)
Gold pass (for all screenings): $100
Tickets at Muse Arts and at psychotronicfilmsavannah.org