There’s no false advertising with “All Freakin’ Night,” a post-Halloween horror sleepover running from midnight ‘til dawn. An amusing tradition at the Olympia Film Festival, currently celebrating its 31st year in Washington’s state capitol, “All Freakin’ Night” requires chronic insomnia, a triple-shot of espresso, and possibly a sleeping bag and pillow. And this year, there’s enough gore, perversion, and historically relevant fear fodder to keep even the weariest watchers awake.
Kim Ki-duk’s Korean “Moebius” promises disturbing family dysfunction and lurid mutilation on par with Lars Von Trier’s notorious “Antichrist,” while 1981’s nostalgic “The Burning” provides a stellar example of that decade’s tried ‘n true horror premise. A day camp infested with obnoxious, horny teenagers turns into a butcher zone when said campers accidentally burn a groundskeeper beyond recognition. Revenge is soon dealt out with a pair of lethal garden shears.
The comedy short “Mr. Magoo Meets Frankenstein” follows, before Joe Dante’s classic “The Howling” thrusts thing into overdrive with Rob Bottin’s groundbreaking transformation effects. Watch hands sprout claws. Behold as noses lengthen, Pinocchio-style, into drooling snouts. This was before CGI, and Bottin’s effects achieve a real, almost tangible visual quality using facial latex and air bladders. Computers still can’t compete with these nightmare illusions, crafted from the resources of reality.“The Incredible Melting Man” comes next. William Sachs’ 1977 sickening sci-fi premise involves a mutant astronaut, freshly returned to earth after a failed mission to reach Saturn. An inconvenient after-effect of his journey is the deep-space contraction of an unforgiving illness. His body begins melting away, transforming its human host into an oozing blob of candle-wax drippage. Meanwhile, the only means of slowing this dermal deterioration is to eat human flesh. Much bloody mayhem ensues.
The chaser to all of this decadent, after-dark horror buffet is John Carpenter’s “The Fog” (1980). Following her legendary turn in Carpenter’s “Halloween,” Jamie Lee Curtis re-teams with the director in this atmospheric, underrated gem. A maritime village is tormented by an ominous offshore fog, as secrets from the past engulf its doomed community. Those still awake following this fun collection of creepy celluloid terror can proudly remove their blankets and rise, zombie-like from aisle floors. Thankfully, coffee shops are plentiful in Olympia to revive these fatigued filmgoers.
On a more subtle note – and by “note,” I mean that literally – is “Heaven Adores You,” a respectful documentary recapping the career of singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. Ironically, the Portland-based Smith often performed at the Capitol Theater, so it’s fitting that Nickolas Dylan Rossi’s thoughtful tribute to the shy music-maker should play at OFF.At age 34, after a disorienting rocket-ride from obscurity into the heights of A-List fame, Smith’s life ended prematurely. He died in Los Angeles, California from two stab wounds to the chest. While the final autopsy report was inconclusive as to whether or not the wounds were self-inflicted, suicide was a plausible motive. Smith’s demons included depression and drug abuse, and his music – expressed through a unique, whispery voice and acoustic guitar strumming, conveyed a fragile, delicate sensibility. To Rossi’s credit, “Heaven Adores You” refuses to wallow in his subject’s misery, preferring to celebrate the music.
But there’s a lot of fat that could be trimmed from this bloated commemoration of Smith’s songwriting legacy. Endless talking heads from the underground music scene that nurtured him become redundant and frankly, not very interesting. Meanwhile, ongoing “artsy” scenes of Northwest imagery – including bird’s-eye views of Portland and its surrounding wilderness – also overstay their welcome.
It isn’t until the timid Smith, whose appeal stemmed from his understated everyman quality, reluctantly becomes famous that “Heaven Adores You” really takes off. Suddenly performing at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony after earning an Oscar Nomination for Best Song (“Miss Misery” from “Good Will Hunting”), Smith signs on with DreamWorks Records and tours the world. This sudden surge of commercial success proves very much at odds with the relatively low-key world he’d grown up in. His sensitive demeanor was a poor fit within the frantic, callous world of music pop-culture. Appearing progressively more disheveled, the troubled songwriter soon resembles a gaunt, greasy-haired Trent Reznor. Smith eventually succumbs to alcoholism and heroin addiction, followed by his tragic death in October, 2003.
Because of his elusive nature, Smith was seldom photographed early in his career. The interviews that Rossi incorporates into the initial stretch of his movie (mostly radio conversations) are coupled with quiet images like empty studios and city streets. As the musician’s commercial success takes over, the film becomes awash in promo pics and live footage. This sudden metamorphosis from mellow, poetic sensibility to commercialized, fast-lane imagery effectively conveys the jarring changes that abruptly transformed Smith’s career.
It’s too bad that “Heaven Adores You” is drawn-out and dull during its early passages, which nearly derail the momentum that eventually takes hold. Rossi almost redeems the film through a collection of clips showing tribute bands playing Smith’s music and confirming his considerable impact on the music scene. As it stands, however, “Heaven Adores You” plays like an album with a few great tracks, but way too much filler. Still, it’s a touching reflection of Smith’s melancholy, uniquely emotional songs when he proclaims, “I’m the wrong kind of person to be really big and famous.”