Monday October 13th, 2014, a gentle calm settles over the beachside Catalonian town of Sitges. There are no more flesh-eating zombies, no more tourists or press clambering for seats in horror flicks, and no more impassioned nerds toting their Game of Thrones wares. The film festival Sitges 2014 is over, but after this year’s success, I have no doubt that directors, producers, actors, writers, and super fans are already gearing up for 2015. There’s nothing quite like the Sitges fantastic film festival, except for the come down after quite an intense, surreal cinema high.
After a long week of movies ranging from the most horrific B slasher flicks to some trippy new David Cronenberg fare, the festival closed on its final Saturday night with a slightly ridiculous awards ceremony and the film Burying the Ex, another in a wide range of zombie films screened over the course of a weird and gory week. As well, there were just as many films, if not more, on offer, and I got a chance to see some mighty twisted cinema and the utter melancholy of a beautiful event inexorably winding down. It was a bittersweet awesomeness, filled with many exhausted, sighing fanatics.
I arrived at Sitges right before a screening of Lupin the Third, an action-packed and often hilarious Japanese live-action film based on the beloved Monkey Punch manga and anime. Before getting to the central hotel headquarters of the festival, I could see people rushing to and fro, trying to see as many more films as they could before the proceedings ended altogether. Out of all the evenings at the festival, besides the Zombie Walk, this was the most exciting in terms of fan energy.
Lupin the Third, coming out in the states sometime in 2015, was wicked fun and pretty meticulously crafted. Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, also known for the crazy action flick Versus remembered for excessive (-ly awesome) gory mayhem, it was stuffed full of tongue-in-cheek action tropes, witty banter between badass heroes and anti-heroes, and a jazz soundtrack that made you feel like you were watching Oceans 11 mixed with a screwball kung fu film. Also, a standout performance by Tadanobu Asano, one of Japan’s most valuable actors, who Americans may know best for kinda being in those two Thor movies.
With a complex plot centering on a network of snappily dressed thieves, the film could have fallen flat on its face, but managed many convoluted elements with frenetic grace. It was like everyone’s favorite manga moments come to life; at one point, the anime actually appeared as part of Lupin’s scheme to hack into the main villain’s fortress. The audience almost exploded at that part in particular, and also when a samurai character Lupin hires to help in his operations flipped an SUV using only a katana. No point adhering to any sort of realism when you have the chance to make a guy deflect machine gun fire with a sword.
After enjoying the hell out of Lupin the Third, it was time for the closing gala and awards ceremony that led into the much-awaited showing of Joe Dante’s ex-girlfriend zombie flick. Highlights from the event itself were a guy and a gal, indie filmmakers both, receiving an award via a complex dance routine involving the girl taking the gold statuette while standing on one of the man’s outstretched arms, one of the presenters leaving the auditorium to supposedly get abducted by aliens, and Ángel Sala, the director of the festival, reminding the crowd that cinema is life and that it must live on at Sitges and beyond.
Also, director Zak Hilditch, accepting an award for These Final Hours, told a predominantly Catalan and Spanish audience, “I’m Australian, don’t hold it against me,” while also expressing gratitude toward so many fantasy film fans. “You all love your cinema,” he told the crowd, who applauded mostly after the translator finishes speaking. Also, Mike Cahill appeared in a video all the way from Venice Beach to graciously accept the award for best feature length film for the groundbreaking I Origins. Another winner that may concern American cinema was Julianne Moore, who won a best actress award for her performance in Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars. Throughout this whole ceremony, though, I could tell people were fidgeting about in expectation of Burying the Ex, which, as it turns out, was not all that special of a zombie flick.
The true reason for my excitement, in contrast to everyone else, was principally Kevin Smith’s new disturbing madhouse of a feature film, Tusk. For anyone in the states who has not seen this movie yet, I can’t express how much you have to see it, whilst warning you that you’ll never be able blast the images from your addled mind. Actually, I almost didn’t get to see the walrus horror show, as other engagements made me arrive a few minutes late, and security is not kind to press who also have tickets to the movie. I’ve never seen a Catalan man so impolite. So, I navigated the hotel labyrinth, dodged hotel security, and snuck into the cinema, only for the projector to short out ten minutes into the flick. Luckily, it was a diehard crowd that would not be discouraged, although a great many people whistled and made shadow puppets. A highly cathartic experience, to be among so many fans of disturbing cinema.
Kevin Smith goes above and beyond in this feature. The plot is simple: a smarmy podcaster, played to surprising perfection by Justin Long, travels to Canada to get weird stories for the show, only to be abducted by an ex-seafarer who lives in a stately manor and sews folks into walrus pelts made of human skin. To be clear, as a piece of cinematic art this film falls under the category of “filth I probably shouldn’t see,” but in that category it is a few molecules from sublime perfection. It’s gory, disgusting, entirely ridiculous, deeply unsettling, and stays with you long after the credits roll. Not only does Smith utilize as many disturbing images as possible, he also enlists veteran actor Michael Parks to play the unhinged, walrus-obsessed villain, Howard Howe. Parks is a gifted character actor, and he takes to this madman like a walrus to the icy depths. You know you’re dealing with a memorable antagonist and terrifying monster the moment you hear his voice for the first time. Also, if that doesn’t sell you on this terrible genius flick, Johnny Depp has an uncredited role as Guy Lapointe, a weird but endearing ex-Quebec lawman. Oh, and Harley Morenstein from Epic Meal Time embodies Canada in one of the first sequences.
Leaving the cinema after watching Justin Long’s soul be converted into that of the mighty walrus, I had two options: try to schmooze with press at a private hotel party, or check out the zombie marathon happening at the Retiro theater. Seeing that the press event was the equivalent of a cheap discoteca at roughly 1am, I chose to walk along the eerie, moonlit beach to the Retiro to check out what a theater filled with exhausted, passionate, zombie film fans stuffed into a theater for nearly six hours looked like. Imagine the scent of actual zombies, and you come close to what greeted me in that stuffy theater. So many zombie nerds with dead, smiling eyes.
Unfortunately, I only had the chance to catch one of the three films on offer, the rollicking comedy/horror film Goal of the Dead, co-directed in halves by Benjamin Rocher and Thierry Poiraud. I’d have liked to see Wyrmwood and Life After Beth, but Rocher and Poiraud’s darkly hilarious and innovative take on the zombie apocalypse satisfied my desire to see brain munching. In terms of production, the film was pretty low budget, but was actually pretty great in spite of that fact. With a soundtrack reminiscent of classic zombie flicks, rage zombies that spread their virus–originating from an overpowered steroid, because it’s a soccer story, of course–via violent vomiting, and a healthy helping of gore, this is a zombie film you have to see at 4am. A special nod to whoever added in the footballer fame subplot, and the idea to split it into two halves. Goal of the Dead turned out to be a gruesome, funny, awesome way to close out the festival.
Many human/walruses, zombies, sex aliens, and visits to the same cheap Japanese restaurant next to the Prado later, I have to say that Sitges 2014 was one of the strangest experiences I’ve had to date, and a definite event to get put on the permanent calendar. No matter where you call home, this film festival should be a definite destination, the perfect fantasy vacation from any and all semblance of real life imaginable. Zombies on a beach paradise? Who could ask for anything more. See you here next year so we can all go “full walrus” together.