I kicked off my third day at the 18th Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan) with the most fun creature feature I have seen in quite a while. Make no mistake, Austrian offering Blood Glacier (AKA The Station) is by no means a horror comedy, but it does infuse its intensity with occasional dashes of humor.
Four scientists monitoring climate change in the Swiss Alps discover a blood-red substance in a glacier not far from their base camp. They take a sample and discover that it is organic. It affects the local wildlife by mutating animals into vicious monstrosities. Minister of the Environment Bodicek (Brigitte Kren, the director’s mother, who turns in a performance that will bring on many smiles) is hiking to the station with five other people, and three of the scientists hope that the newly found organic matter might be their ticket to the big time. Alcoholic loner Janek (Gerhard Liebmann) disagrees, sensing great danger from the affected creatures. Tensions rise, and when he finally does contact the VIP group, one member in particular disbelieves him: his ex-girlfriend Tanja (Edita Malovcic), for whom he still has varied feelings.
Monster mayhem ensues, and the action sometimes reaches high levels of intensity while being a blast at the same time, hearkening back to the feel of classic creature features — but with decidedly more grue than the old-school thrillers. I was particularly impressed with the practical special effects and creature designs. Director Marvin Kren balances the tension and humor well, and gets fine performances out of his actors, especially his mother as a very take-charge politician and Liebmann as a loner who prefers his dog and his bottles to the company of the other scientists.
Don’t be swayed against seeing Blood Glacier by reports of it being similar to John Carpenter’s version of The Thing. Although there are a few elements in common, such as an isolated group battling a mutation in an icy climate, the film has enough originality to reward curious viewers.
Next up was a screening of Destroy All Monsters; it’s always a blast to see Godzilla and the Toho kaiju gang on the big screen.
My third and fourth films of the day were a double feature of the latest offerings from the popular Japanese TV and film series SPEC Close. The series revolves around firecracker detective Saya Toma (Erika Toda) and her partner Takeru Sebumi (Ryo Kase), who belong to a department that investigates cases involving humanoid beings with supernatural powers. For those unfamiliar with the SPEC world, think of it as a sort of X-Files meets villains from X-Men with apocalyptic anime overtones but in live action. I was confused by the first installment, SPEC Close: Incarnation, because it (and the next chapter) assume an intimate knowledge of the series and its myriad characters, including flashbacks from the TV show. I didn’t have this. Though I was puzzled, I hung in there and could make decent sense out of the second part, SPEC Close: Reincarnation, which was much heavier on the anime-as-live-action style than its immediate predecessor.
My favorite comedy of 2014 so far is the uproarious New Zealand mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. A camera crew films a quartet of vampires living in Wellington for a reality-TV style show, with the promise that they won’t be bitten. The crew films the creatures of the night at home, where the movie opens with a house meeting about doing chores properly, and on their nocturnal ramblings, where the bloodsuckers encounter such problems as being unable to enter clubs because the bouncer won’t invite them in as vampires traditionally need to be. There is also a rival gang of profanity-avoiding werewolves on the prowl.
Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) co-wrote and co-directed, and they also star respectively as 379-year-old Viago and 862-year-old Vadislav. Their flatmates are 183-year-old Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and 8,000-year-old, Nosferatu-like Petyr (Ben Fransham), who lives a quieter life in the basement.
There is a large cast of supporting characters, including university student Nick (Cori Gonzales-Maceur), who falls in with the group and causes many problems for them, his humorously milquetoast computer programmer friend Stu (Stu Rutheford), and Deacon’s personal assistant and want-to-be vampire Jackie (Jackie Van Beek). All of the actors do a sensational job.
The emphasis of Shadows is more on hilarity than horror, but there are some bloody attack scenes, as well. This winner should appeal greatly to fright film fans and find a wider base, as well. I am sure that this will be on the list for my top 5 or 10 movies for the year!