Review: Kaifeck Murders (2009)

hinter_kaifeckDirected by Esther Gronenborn

Starring: Benno Fürmann, Henry Strange, Alexandra Maria Lara

Ah, the countryside, so serene and peaceful. Yeah, right, unless it’s the remote Bavarian village of Kaifeck. Like Tom Waits sang, there’s always some killing you gotta do around the farm.

Photographer Marc Barenberg (Fürmann) and his son Tyll (Strange) are on a tour of the Bavarian hinterlands. They’re looking for the last traces of rural culture and folklore, and they find that in spades in the mist-shrouded Kaifeck. There they still celebrate the old ways, like the annual Epiphany festival, where the locals dress as wild spirits or percheta to chase away the devil.
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Interview: Mark Millar and John Romita Jr on Kick-Ass (2010)

From page to screen: Kick-Ass, as portrayed on film Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and drawn in the original comic by John Romita Jr.

Every boy dreams of becoming a superhero and fighting crime. Then he wakes up, realizes that’s a dumb idea, and gets on with his life before he gets his dreams and skull crushed. Same thing tends to apply when a comic writer dreams that there will be a faithful movie adaptation of his creation: When it gets to the big screen, he just cringes through the premiere, takes the paycheck, and retreats to his fortress of solitude.

So nobody would have expected a comic like Kick-Ass, in which a nerdy teen decides to become a costumed vigilante, could make it to the screen intact. Yet somehow the tale of powerless and clueless less-than-super heroes has become one of the crudest, lewdest, and wildly entertaining big-budget indie films ever.

While Kick-Ass the comic seems like a poke at mainstream superheroes, it’s actually published by Marvel Comics where …. Hold up; we need a secret origin flashback: In 1993 a young Scottish writer named Mark Millar started working for the British anthology comic 2000 AD. America beckoned, and the Scot crossed the Atlantic to work for DC Comics and then Marvel. There he met artist John Romita Jr., son of industry legend John Romita Sr. and a superstar sketcher with a reputation for down-and-dirty, action-packed panels. The pair collaborated on the superbloody “Enemy of the State” storyline for the firm’s top-selling Wolverine title. Millar said, “After it was finished, we said, ‘Let’s do it again,'”

Marvel, eager to keep Millar writing its big-gun titles, allowed him to self-publish his less mainstream, creator-owned work through its Icon imprint – the perfect home for Kick-Ass. When it came to the gritty, crude, and bloodily realistic tale of a dumb kid in a mask, Millar knew it was time for a team-up. “The honest truth is, I only ever had Johnny in my head doing this, and I told him I would wait a year for him. It’s kind of like when a director has an actor in mind. Anyone with too clean a style, it just wouldn’t have worked. I can’t visualize these characters being drawn by anyone except him.”

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Review: House (1977)

hausuDirected by Nobuhiko Obayashi

Part of the appeal of Japanese cinema to the occidental audience is that it is a little more likely to catch a viewer jaded by Western conventions off guard. And then there’s House.

The last film to see the inside of a US cinema that made this little sense was probably Transformers 2. Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 oddity has previously never escaped Japan, and there are probably good reasons for that: Not least that it’s completely insane, borderline incoherent, and shot with so much visual panache and mid-70s excess that it comes off like Ringu on a Pixy Stix-fueled hug-a-thon.

It’s in many ways a fairly conventional Japanese supernatural horror film. Seven schoolgirls travel to visit an infirm old aunt and start getting picked off, one-by-one, by the occult forces that lurk in her home. But Obayashi abandons any pretense of horror, instead shooting in a neon palate and day-glo mindset that may have inspired such more recent oddities as Happiness of the Katakuris or Big Man Japan.

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Interview: Michael Tucker on The Prisoner, Or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (2007)

theprisonerWhile making the Iraq-based documentary Gunner Palace in 2003, cameraman Michael Tucker was embedded with U.S. soldiers raiding what they thought was a bomb factory. What they found was four brothers in their family home – and no evidence. One brother spoke straight to Tucker’s camera. He didn’t seem angry at the soldiers in his garden but bitterly disappointed. Now Tucker tells the rest of his story.

He was Yunis Khatayer Abbas, an Iraqi journalist working for CNN and other foreign stations. He had been tortured as a dissident under Saddam Hussein and initially welcomed the Americans as liberators. He had no links to the insurgents. Yet, instead of being released, Yunis disappeared into the machinery of the occupation. For nine months, he and two of his brothers were held without charge at Camp Ganci, the low-risk section of Abu Ghraib. With the same clarity that he held the camera’s attention in Gunner Palace, Yunis explains the increasingly bizarre and terrible treatment he and his fellow inmates suffered. Yet he also praises the humanity of American guards who tried to provide some comfort to the prisoners.

(A version of this story previously appeared at
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Interview: Alan Ormsby

Last year’s Housecore Horror Film Festival was a celebration of an unusual talent in the history of cinema. Alan Ormsby is the definitive underground hero, a filmmaking polymath (writer, director, actor, make-up effects artist) who is beloved of hardened horror fans, but still

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (recently released on Blu-ray by VCI Entertainment) was the first in a series of Ormsby’s collaborations with Bob Clark. Two years later, Clark produced the Ed Gein-inspiredDeranged for writer/co-director Ormsby, before directing Ormsby’s script for post-Vietnam horror Deathdream. After their partnership collapsed, Ormsby went on to have a career in Hollywood, plus he designed the massively popular Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces dress-up doll.

However, it’s his first film that is probably his most famous. Appearing in between the revolutionary Night of the Living Dead and the equally epoch-changing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it was a quirky outlier – satirical, gory (for the era).

(A shorter version of this interview appeared in the Austin Chronicle)


Richard Whittaker: You’ve been the star attraction and celebrated filmmaker at this festival. Looking back, how does it feel going back and looking at this run of your career?

Alan Ormsby: Children seems to have been around a lot. It was in drive-ins and than it was on TV for years, whereas the other two had really disappeared. I was surprised a couple of years ago to see that they had a following. They put them out on DVD and I did a commentary on Death Dream and Children and Deranged. I was amazed. Obviously, it’s had some influence, along with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
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Interview: Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker on I Am Big Bird

iabbDocumentarians Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker spent five years unfurling the life of the man behind one of the most famous figures of modern culture: Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who has played Big Bird on Sesame Street since 1969 (portions of this interview originally appeared at

Richard Whittaker: Everyone knows Big Bird, but how did you even become aware of Caroll?

Dave LaMattina: In 2005, I was interning at Sesame Workshop, because I wanted to go into family entertainment, and it was the pinnacle of place you could be for that. Great internship, and then a year or two later I was telling a friend about the various internships I’d had, and I said something about Sesame Street, and she said, oh, I’m actually family friends with Caroll Spinney. I didn’t know who that was, and thought Carroll was a woman, and she proceeded to tell me that he’s a man, and he’s been Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since 1969.

So Chad were emailing, as we are want to do, and we were kicking around some doc ideas, and that came up and we couldn’t really let go of of it. We reached out to Sesame, thinking this would be a lot of red tape. and I think within a week we had a meeting set up with Carroll.

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Interview: S. Craig Zahler on Bone Tomahawk

screens_feature6In September 2015, I sat down with writer-director S. Craig Zahler in the bar at the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas. His debut feature, horror-tinged Western Bone Tomahawk, was scheduled to play as the closing film at Fantastic Fest that night. We talked about the influences of the film, his approach to shooting its more gruesome moment, and his refusal to compromise on making the film the way he wanted to make it (parts of this interview have previously appeared in the Austin Chronicle).


Richard Whittaker: Was there ever a point where you thought, “I’ll do the soundtrack as well,” because you did everything else on this?

S. Craig Zahler: Well, I did! I did it with a friend of mine, Jeff Herriot. He and I have an epic metal, slightly doom metal band together named Realmbuilder. We’ve been working together forever, and he’s a music PhD, and I knew he knew all the orchestral stuff, and I said, well, I can come up with some melodies, and he can orchestrate it, and we worked on it, and he came up with some melodies and I orchestrated some stuff.

I don’t want to give away any surprises in the piece, but there are certain things connected to the troglodytes that came from me knowing, as I was writing it, there was going to be very little music. I wanted it to be very, very natural , and if it’s not going to be emotional for you, I don’t want to tell you it’s emotional with a bunch of music to pout frosting on it. If it doesn’t work for you, it’d doesn’t work for you, and that’s OK.

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Review: Paper Covers Rock (2008)

pcrDirected by Joe Maggio

Starring: Jeannine Kaspar, Sayra Player, Juliet Stills

Paper Covers Rock is, at its breaking heart, a simple three-hander: Sam (Kaspar), a woman recovering from a failed suicide attempt; Ed (Player), her well-intentioned but domineering sister; and Sam’s young daughter Lola (Stills), who Sam yearns to get back and whose absence defines and drives her descent back into despair. Depression in cinema is often an excuse for mawkishness or shrill overacting, but director Maggio uses it here quietly, delicately, and to debut his philosophy of incidental film: an anti-Dogme 95, where narrative truth is everything.
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