Indie Film Masters: George Romero & Jack Hill | Festival | Chicago Reader

Indie Film Masters: George Romero & Jack Hill 

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Directors Jack Hill and George Romero will appear at this weekend tribute, presented by Movieside Film Festival. Screenings are Friday through Sunday, May 14 through 16, at the Biograph. All shows will include live music. Tickets are $10 on Friday, $12 on Saturday and Sunday; passes, good for all screenings, are $25. For more information call 773-907-8513 or go to www.movieside.com. Films marked with an asterisk (*) are highly recommended.

FRIDAY, MAY 14

Spider Baby, or the Maddest Story Ever Told

Also known as The Liver Eaters and Cannibal Orgy, this low-budget black-and-white horror comedy from 1964 stars Lon Chaney Jr. (who also sings the title tune) as a member of and chauffeur to the inbred and deranged Merrye family (which includes two bloodthirsty nymphets and a drooling pinhead), who like to eat spiders, kill people, and do other nasty things. Jack Hill, the exploitation auteur best known for such works as Blood Bath, Coffy, The Swinging Cheerleaders, and Switchblade Sisters, keeps things moving at a snail's pace, and the threadbare budget deprives this movie of the grand-scale climax it seems to need. An inept cheapo by any standard, only marginally more sophisticated than an Ed Wood production--yet it carries a certain demented charm, and there's reason to suspect that Tobe Hooper checked it out before making The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With Carol Ohmart, Mantan Moreland, and Sid Haig. 81 min. (JR) Also on the program is Hill's short film The Host. Hill will introduce the films and take questions after the screening. (8:00)

Switchblade Sisters

Teenage girl gang blasts away the men, creates Marxist revolution in the streets. A drive-in exhumation from 1975, directed by women-behind-bars specialist Jack Hill (The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage). R, 91 min. (PG) (10:15)

* Coffy

Pam Grier, with revenge on her mind and a shotgun in her hand, blasts her way through a succession of pimps, hoods, cops, pushers, and politicians in this gory, violent 1973 entry in the "brown sugar" genre. Jack Hill directs for maximal suspense, violence, and voyeuristic appeal (which Grier certainly embodies); with Booker Bradshaw, William Elliott, and Robert DoQui. R, 90 min. (DD) Hill will introduce the screening. (midnight)

SATURDAY, MAY 15

* Acne

"You are victims of corrupt men who have enough riches to feed many, yet their own hunger never ceases," a fortune-teller explains to the heroes of this moody, facetious allegory--two siblings named Franny and Zooey, whose scalps erupt in giant boils after Zooey is exposed to contaminated tap water. Their deformity compels them and other affected teens to rub fatty foods on their heads as they stumble out of New Jersey and across Pennsylvania (like some familiar movie zombies) to a town that may be the nerve center of the military-industrial complex that has condemned them to a life of unattractiveness and ennui. Rusty Nails wrote, directed, and stars in this good-looking black-and-white SF-horror exploitation movie; part of its appeal lies in the fact that its rangy political subtext seems as earnest as its reverence for the many filmmakers, writers, and musicians whose work it quotes. 72 min. (LA) Director Mark Borchardt (profiled in American Movie) will introduce the screening. A single admission covers this film as well as the early screening of Night of the Living Dead. (8:00)

* Night of the Living Dead

George Romero's gory, style-setting 1968 horror film, made for pennies in Pittsburgh. Its premise--the unburied dead arise and eat the living--is a powerful combination of the fantastic and the dumbly literal. Over its short, furious course, the picture violates so many strong taboos--cannibalism, incest, necrophilia--that it leaves audiences giddy and hysterical. Romero's sequel, Dawn of the Dead, displays a much-matured technique and greater thematic complexity, but Night retains its raw power. 90 min. (DK) Romero will introduce both screenings and take questions afterward. (9:30, 11:30)

SUNDAY, MAY 16

* Day of the Dead

Part three of Romero's "Living Dead" cycle, this 1985 feature takes an unexpected turn away from satire and spectacle and into an intimate, discursive tone. The action is largely confined to a huge cavern (shades of Edgar G. Ulmer) that serves as a research base for a team of scientists working to discover what makes the zombies tick. But the months of underground imprisonment have eaten away at both the researchers and their military aides: the chief scientist has embarked on a series of increasingly grotesque and pointless experiments on his zombie specimens; military command has passed to a brutal psychopath. As always in Romero's films, the minority characters--a woman, a black, an alcoholic intellectual--provide the only positive contrast to the raging American nightmare of power lust and compulsive consumption, yet this time Romero's focus is less political than philosophical. Beginning from a position of absolute misanthropy, he asks what it means to be human, and the answers he finds are funny, horrifying, and ultimately hopeful. 102 min. (DK) Romero will be interviewed and answer questions after the screening. (5:00)

* The Crazies

A little-seen film by Romero, whose excellent work combines intense, fleshy horror with elements of fierce satire and surprisingly appropriate socioeconomic analysis--all of which is pretty impressive for a shoestring producer from Pittsburgh. In this 1973 effort the residents of a small town in Pennsylvania turn homicidal when a tankload of government nerve gas is accidentally unleashed. White-suited SWAT teams from the Department of Defense are sent in to mop up the hapless locals, including a little old lady who impales her victims on knitting needles. R, 103 min. (DK) (8:00)

Creepshow

This five-part film (1982), based on the format of 50s horror comics, marks one of the few times Romero has directed someone else's script (it's by Stephen King), and the results are only mildly interesting by the standards of his "Dead" trilogy. Romero's concerns--with intrafamily, intracommunal violence, with the horror of quantity and the horror of the insensate--come through only fitfully, and the short-form style doesn't allow him to develop his characteristic intensity. The final sequence, in which E.G. Marshall is beset by an army of cockroaches, is the most personal and most effective. With Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, and Viveca Lindfors. R, 120 min. (DK) Romero will introduce the screening. (9:30)

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