BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC From Dr. Shock to Gary Heidnik to Exhumed Films, Philadelphia has always been Horror City. And one of the elements that makes the Philadelphia Film Festival unique is the generous selection of horror films they present, under the heading “Danger After Dark.” Business-wise, it’s a smart move, and the screenings tend to draw a younger crowd. Artistically, they’ve managed to ride on the upside of a growing international wave of interest in horror.
Last night, I saw the Danish animated revenge saga Princess, which is a good example of how the “Danger After Dark” category has grown in scope. While not technically a horror film, although there is some horrifying animated violence, Princess has the sort of taboo-strewn plot that would have at one time limited it to midnight screenings. Of course, midnight movies are nearly extinct, so most people catch a film like Princess on home video. The thing is, its disturbing story involving a young girl raised within the porn industry is just the sort of thing you want to see with an audience, if only to make sure they groan in disgust as they see the cartoon kiddie act out her sexual abuse. The animated medium allows such horrors to be shown — it’s hard to imagine a director leading a real child through these explicit paces — as well as adding a little freshness to what is basically a knock-off of Charles Bronson’s old Death Wish series.
The Unseeable, which screened Thursday at the Prince Music Theatre, is more of what the “Danger After Dark” series was built on: Yet another ghostly romp inspired by J-Horror hits like Ringu and Ju-on: The Grudge. It seems like every country can boast its own homegrown version at this pint; The Unseeable [pictured, below] is Thailand’s stab at houses haunted by whooshy soundtracks, creepy tyke ghosts and curses that stick like rice. The Unseeable has all of that, plus assorted ideas ripped off from Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Rosemary’s Baby. Not much new here but Suporntip Chuangrangsri’s uncommon beauty makes it much easier to enjoy watching her creep around, scared out of her wits, as the pregnant country girl looking for her wayward husband at a haunted boarding house. Forget CGI, I don’t think there is a scare here that isn’t an old theater trick or that trusty standby of having someone suddenly jolt into the frame. I won’t oversell it, it’s modest fun at best, but watching the abandoned bride struggle against the suspected lady vampires for control of her newborn child often delivers at a gut level.
The Living And The Dead , by contrast, is plenty depressing but hardly a gimmie for a horror/thrillers series. A nasty piece of work, this British downer maps the decline of the mentally handicapped and drug-abusing James (Leo Bill, coming off like a manic Mike White of Chuck and Buck) when he’s mistakenly left to care for his physically disabled mother. If you’re not beaten senseless by the humorless tower of woe writer/director Simon Rumley constructs, let James’ techno-fueled fast-motion freak-outs make you scream out for Dr. Kevorkian to end your pain. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be worked over a little by “Danger After Dark,” just with more personality or real angst then Living and the Dead can muster. Tonight 9:45 p.m., Ritz East & Sunday April 15th 5 p.m. The Bridge
Other offerings tonight include an unexpectedly romantic movie recommended by Joe Gervase of Diabolik DVD, the Irish/Czech musical romance Once; a disturbing film of priestly abuse from Japan called Whispering of the Gods (a film so unnerving that “Danger After Dark” curator Travis Crawford was repping it at the Ritz East last night) and Edith Piaf’s broken-hearted biopic La Vie En Rose.[pictured, at top] Darn the fact that the print of Christophe Honore’s Dans Paris never arrived, it was the type of smart, funny and perceptive film about love that I probably would have recommended to almost anyone (Jesse Peretz of the I-House film program had it pegged as his favorite last time I talked to him). Its screening at the Ritz East was cancelled, and in its place is Snow Cakes, which stars Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman and sounds suspiciously uplifting.