Monday, October 22


Halloween in the Castro (and beyond)

This October 31st I'm planning to be home for Halloween, spending my entire evening here in the avenues just as I have for the past several years. The last time I tried to attend Halloween in the Castro I found it a very unpleasant experience. Still, I think it's obvious that our city leaders have fallen down on their preparations for this event in the wake of last year's highly-publicized debacle, their strategy seemingly relying on the hope that potential revelers will be deterred by little more than fear and a lack of available toilets.

The Castro Theatre will be closed to the public on the holiday, just as it has been the last few years. I'd like to draw attention to the plethora of appealing film screenings happening at other venues around Frisco Bay on October 31st, 2007.

One of the most exciting events is presented by the SFJAZZ festival. Freidrich Wilhelm Murnau's silent film Faust, with a live musical accompaniment by the 10-piece Willem Breuker Kollektief. This will happen a few miles North of the Castro, at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, an excellent venue for silent film and live music, as the stage has the size to accommodate a large ensemble and still have great sight lines for a film. And what could be more Halloween than a film about a pact with the devil?

The "other" PFA, Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive (about 15 miles to the Northeast of the Castro), closes out October with a Vincent Price Hammer film I've never seen, the Last Man on Earth. Remade once with Charlton Heston as the Omega Man, and again with Will Smith as the soon-to-be-released I Am Legend, it looks just up my alley in so many ways. Since I'll be missing the screening, I'll have to remember to rent it'd make a good two-for-one rental at Le Video on my next birthday, as I share that natal date with Price.

A kid-friendly film event in the East Bay is happening at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont (thirty miles Southeast of the Castro.) The downhome venue is hosting a Halloween afternoon matinee of kiddie cartoons from 4-5:30 PM. They're also showing non-kiddie Halloween movies on the weekend of October 26-28: the silent horror spoof the Cat and the Canary and the 1970s film the Milpitas Monster made in nearby, um, Milpitas.

Back here in Frisco, the Red Vic in the Upper Haight (about a mile Northwest of the Castro) will be showing the recent zombie comedy Fido October 31 and November 1, just after showing a couple of more established favorites of that micro-genre, Army of Darkness on October 29 and Shaun of the Dead October 30th.

The Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, about 18 miles to the North of the Castro, will be showing the 1970 Czech New Wave vampire film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders with a live score by a Philadelphia-based 10-piece group of musicians called, appropriately enough, the Valerie Project. The screening/performance will be repeated November 1st on the Frisco side of the Golden Gate at, where else? The Castro.

Indeed, it's not controversial to celebrate Halloween in the Castro, as long as it's not on the 31st. If seeing a horror movie is your idea of a good way to celebrate the season, the Castro Theatre has provided a host of opportunities this month. I missed the annual Shock it To Me festival, but this past weekend I took in another MiDNITES FOR MANiACS triple-bill of three films I'd never seen before: Flowers in the Attic (which I didn't really like), a gorgeous archival print of a Nightmare on Elm Street (which greatly exceeded my admittedly very low expectations) and an appropriately gritty, scratchy drive-in print of the Hills Have Eyes (which I'm still simultaneously skeeved out about and in awe of.) The horror continues this week with, of all things, one of the double-bills in the theatre's current Ingmar Bergman tribute. Not many of the late Swedish master's films can be slapped with the "horror movie" label, but Hour of the Wolf is one, and Persona is very arguably another. Both play on Tuesday, October 23 (and Persona makes repeat appearances at the Pacific Film Archive December 8th and at SFMOMA December 20th and 22nd.)

On October 26-28, the Castro will play host to a mini-series of horror films sprung from the mind of Stephen King. It doesn't include the two earliest, and almost surely greatest, films made from King's books, Carrie and the Shining, but those films get played somewhat regularly around here anyway (in fact, the Kubrick film plays the Clay midnights November 16th and 17th.) How often do we get a chance to see 35mm prints of John Carpenter's take on Christine, George Romero's Creepshow, or David Cronenberg's the Dead Zone? Watching the latter on VHS years ago, I concluded that it wasn't one of that Canadian auteur's great films. But I think I was disappointed in the relative lack of unforeseen orifices appearing on the characters' bodies; now that I've seen Spider, a History of Violence and Eastern Promises and have become convinced that Cronenberg can be just as masterful when depicting the transformation of a human personality as a human body, I'm eager to revisit the Dead Zone (and M. Butterfuly too, if any intrepid repertory programmers and/or DVD releasers happen to be reading this.)

On October 29th and 30th, there will be two showings per night of a brand-new print of Eraserhead. I've been waiting years to see this film, on film, with an audience. Jonathan Rosenbaum has called David Lynch's first feature film, which he began while a student at AFI, perhaps that organization's "only substantial contribution to film culture--American or global." He's also written that it "steadfastly refuses to provide a communal experience." I want to see for myself. Eraserhead also plays at the Rafael from October 26-30.

A few more horror movies, not playing at the Castro, that you might want to know about: The Last Man, the Lebanese vampire movie that's playing in Berkeley October 26th as part of the currently-running Arab Film Festival. Evil Dead 2 plays the Parkway in Oakland on October 25th, and though it'll be significantly after Halloween, the Esperanto-language devil-worship movie Incubus plays the Parkway's sister theatre the Cerrito on November 8th. More hair-of-the-dog films for your November horror hangover include the Wizard of Gore midnights November 2 & 3 at the Clay, with director Herschell Gordon Lewis in appearance both nights and Sick Nurses, a brand-new Thai horror film playing as part of the November 8-18 Asian Film Festival returning to the Four Star Theatre. I'm very curious to see Sick Nurses if only to see what kind of portrayal of medical professionals was tolerated by the same Thai censor board that banned Apichatpong Weerasethakul's poignant Syndromes and a Century for briefly showing doctors drinking alcohol and becoming sexually aroused.

It also feels worth mentioning a few screenings of non-horror films in this post before I go: Bruce Baillie will present two Día de los Muertos programs honoring "departed filmmakers who have given a piece of their souls to the noble cause of avant-garde cinema," including Stan Brakhage, Will Hindle and Marie Menken through SF Cinematheque on November 1 & 2. The Latino Film Festival opens November 2nd with a screening of Nonna's Trip followed by its own Día de los Muertos celebration.

Finally, the 1944 black comedy Arsenic and Old Lace is probably the closest thing Frank Capra ever came to making a horror movie. His films are generally considered antipodal to horror films. On December 15-18 Arsenic and Old Lace closes out (well, almost, aside from the traditional December 24th screening of It's a Wonderful Life) an impressive Capra season beginning November 2nd at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto.

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