This year Mayhem widened their remit to include horror, science fiction and cult cinema. It was a wise decision, as it allowed them to include such oddities as the Spanish-Ethiopian sci-fi Crumbs, and this morning’s first film, the Japanese sci-fi-horror-comedy poised for cult success, Parasyte: Part 1. Mayhem programmers Chris Cooke and Steven Sheil seem to enjoy starting Mayhem Saturdays with some retro-schlock or manga madness, and this offering from director Takashi Yamazaki fitted the bill perfectly. An adaptation of the cult manga, Parasyte starts with an invasion of intelligent parasites into the brains of Tokyo inhabitants, including that of seventeen-year-old Shinichi (Shota Somatani), except in his case the assimilation process goes wrong and a parasite (called Migi) takes over his right hand but not his mind. An uneasy alliance develops between boy and parasite as both find themselves outcasts battling against the invasion. What begins as a splatstick comedy morphs into quite an engaging coming of age story as Shinichi tries to save his mother, Nobuko (Miko Yoki), and his love interest, Satomi (Ai Hashimoto), from the attack. Finally Yamazaki’s film turns into a superhero origin story as Shinichi/Migi emerge as humanity’s only chance against the parasites. Hardly original (the film borrows liberally from numerous sources - from Brain Damage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers to The Faculty) but great fun, Parasyte: Part 1 leaves itself wide open for a sequel, which we hope Mayhem will show at some point in the future.
Henry Rollins eats people. That, apparently, was director Jason Krawczyk’s elevator pitch for He Never Died. Rollins plays Jack, an anti-social deadbeat who spends his time eating in seedy diners and playing bingo with the old folks. But try as he might to keep a low profile, trouble always seems to find him: his long-lost daughter turns up out of the blue, and mobster goons keep attempting to kill him for some inexplicable reason. It turns out Jack has a dark secret, and, yup, it involves his dietary needs, and the fact that he has been around since the earliest days of the bible. Rollins is brilliantly deadpan as the reluctant flesheater whose attempts to stay on the wagon are bound to failure. Krawczyk sets his tale in a noirish underworld of small time gangsters and lonely waitresses. You can’t help but like Jack because none of it is his fault: all he wanted was to be left alone. This is the vampire movie that Jim Jarmusch should have made instead of Only Lovers Left Alive; the down-at-heel-milieu and sense of comic desperation would have been right up his street. Krawczyk is apparently planning to turn He Never Died in to a miniseries and it will be interesting to see if the bone-crunching ultraviolence makes it to TV.
The Scary Shorts programme kicked off this year with David Wayman’s Lab Rats, a sort of sixteen minute retread of 28 Days Later that sees a bunch of animal liberationists raid a lab facility with gory results. Himiko The God Slayer Versus The Daemon Legion of Azure Dragons proves that it is possible to make an perfectly entertaining five minutes with just a few plastic props, a female samurai and a movie camera. In Ultravioleta, directed by Paca Plaza (who co-created REC) an art restorer uncovers a hidden painting beneath a canvas that turns out to be of the Beast itself. Alice Lowe (Sightseers) makes her directorial debut with Solitudo, an atmospheric tale of a nun in a secluded convent who is overcome by the darkness coming from within. An eye for detail and a talent for mood mark Lowe as one to watch. Surgery, based on the last work of Brian Clemens, provides his sons, the Clemens Brothers, with a nicely nasty showcase short film that bodes well for future offerings.
True horror is not to be found in films but in reality, is the message of Melanie Light’s The Herd. With animal cruelty as the subject, Light poses the question: what if we treated human beings the same way we treat animals in the dairy industry. Substituting women for female cows, we see caged females forcibly fertilized, tortured and inhumanely slaughtered in Light’s allegorical drama before cutting to actual video footage taken from YouTube of cows being subjected to the same atrocities in real life, as part of the dairy industry. It’s an appalling state of affairs, and the truth of it needs to be exposed.
On to lighter subject matter, Juliet is the first super-competent companion robot in Marc-Henri Boulier’s mock-corporate video of the same name that manages to do everything Skins did - in eleven minutes. Count Magnus, meanwhile, is a puppet adaptation of the classic MR James story showing here in its world premiere. Nice silhouette animation by Richard Mansfield. Heir is Richard Powell’s follow up to Familiar, which played at Mayhem in 2013, and again stars Bill Oberst, Jr, with equally disturbing prosthetic effects from Canada’s The Butcher Shop. Nicholas Verso’s Kobold updates the Sandman legend, relocating it to the Australian bush. Finally we have Crow Hand. At every festival this film screens at, audience members chant “Crowww Haaannd” for days afterwards. Or so we’re told (you had to be there – Ed.) Brian Lonano’s three-minuter is certainly a crowd pleaser.
With The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula – Hammer’s lost script – performed live; and a 35mm screening of Brian Yuzna’s buttface-tastic Society rounding off Saturday night, Day 3 of Mayhem did not disappoint.