While the next seven days find our local alternative film scene still recovering from the slowed pace brought on by end-of-the-year holiday activities and the scheduling conflicts such things reliably bring, overall, January is already shaping up to be packed with a rather amazing variety of specialty screenings at a number of familiar venues.
As a matter of fact, as both an adventurous moviegoer and film promoter, I can honestly say I have not been so excited about a given month's worth of cinematic options in a long, long while. This is a great way to kick off the new year, and the diverse selection of feature films on display over the next 30 days would seem to bode very well for a fantastic 2015.
Everything kicks off with a bang Jan. 7 at The Sentient Bean, when the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah opens its next season with an incredibly rare public screening of one of the most infamous "lost" British films of the past century: director Peter Collinson's brutal, ahead-of-its-time 1967 thriller "The Penthouse."
This was the very first feature the late filmmaker made (he'd go on to be at the helm of 16 more productions, including the original 1969 version of the recently remade crime caper "The Italian Job," a 1974 adaptation of the Agatha Christie mystery "And Then There Were None," and the 1979 Holocaust-related drama "The House on Garibaldi Street"), and caused such a stir upon its initial theatrical release that to date, it has remained essentially unavailable on home video. No DVD has yet been released anywhere in the world, and for almost 50 years, even the most ardent fans of cult and forgotten cinema have had a difficult time tracking down a copy.
Based on a controversial 1964 play, "The Penthouse" details the horrific and disturbing events of a home invasion, which finds the lovely, reluctant British film star Suzy Kendall ("The Bird with the Crystal Plumage," "To Sir, With Love," "Darker Than Amber") subjected to violent treatment at the hands of two thugs who've broken into her apartment. Balancing a sleazy, if overly talkative, script (which belies the film's origins as a stage play) with a claustrophobic sense of dread, "The Penthouse" predates such later unnerving masterpieces of psychological terror as Michael Haneke's "Funny Games" by decades, and established Collinson's reputation as a shrewd craftsman of low-budget frights.
One reviewer correctly notes that this film's dialogue is at times reminiscent of the characters' in Sartre's "No Exit," and that it would not be incorrect to liken the psychological debasement on display as akin to that found in classical Greek dramas. While certainly not for everyone's tastes, "The Penthouse" is a lightning rod for discussion, and a highly sought-after title that's prized by collectors of rare movies. The Psychotronic Film Society's screening coincides roughly with Ms. Kendall's 70th birthday. 8 p.m. showtime, with $7 admission, for mature audiences only (due to graphic subject matter).
Looking ahead to the rest of the month's alternative film offerings, the following Wednesday (Jan. 14) at The Bean, the PFS salutes controversial director Larry Clark ("Kids," "Wassup Rockers") by screening an adult-oriented art-house flick of his which remains commercially unreleased virtually everywhere in the world due to its unsettling subject matter. The exact title will remain a secret until showtime, but it's suitable only for those 18 and older. 8 p.m. showtime, with $8 admission.
Then, on Jan. 16, the Lucas Theatre welcomes the 12th annual installment of the eagerly anticipated Gray's Reef Ocean Film Festival for a two-day engagement at its 1,200-seat venue. Presented by the Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, it's a smorgasbord of ocean-themed films which are suitable for the entire family - including movies about great white sharks, dolphins and Antarctica, among other subjects.
Filmmakers will be on hand to discuss their work, and an enjoyable and educational time is virtually guaranteed. Ticket prices range from a low of $5 to select screenings, all the way up to a Full Weekend Pass, which costs $75, but gets the bearer into every single screening, plus a Thursday night gala and a closing night reception. Tickets and passes are on sale now at www.lucastheatre.com.
At the same time that film fest is winding down, SCAD's Cinema Circle will show Australian director George Miller's 1981 action smash "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" around the corner at Trustees Theater. The brilliant sequel to the blockbuster 1979 futuristic exploitation flick "Mad Max," it finds Mel Gibson (back in the good old days before we knew too awfully much about him as a person) as a cynical, post-apocalyptic anti-hero who agrees to help defend a remote outpost from a team of ruthless bandits.
Even if you've seen this film before, if you've never experienced it on the big screen as intended, you likely have no idea what you've been missing. Showtime is 7 p.m. Jan. 17, with $8 admission, or $5 for students/seniors/military.
Then, from Jan. 23-25, Telluride MountainFilm on Tour returns to Savannah with a three-day series of uplifting and breathtaking shorts and features centering on healthy, sustainable living, extreme sports, nature exploration and critical contemporary issues. One of the most unique and unpredictable touring festivals on the road, this event never fails to dazzle and inspire young and old alike. Ticket prices range from $5 for matinee showings to $15 for evening film blocks. More details can be found at www.mountainfilm.org.
And finally, on Jan. 24 at Muse Arts Warehouse, the Psychotronic Film Society joins forces with CinemaSavannah for a one-day-only engagement of the new Iranian-vampire-western film "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night," which has won a handful of awards at major indie film festivals around the world.
Yes, I did say "Iranian-vampire-western." This dizzying mashup of all manner of pulp fiction genres (horror, spaghetti western, sultry romance, etc.) is the debut feature from female director Ana Lily Amirpour, and is being heralded as one of the most creative and entertaining art-house films of the year. It would appear to be a must-see for fans of outstanding fringe filmmaking. Showtimes will be at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. only.
Until next week, I'll see you at the movies - and remember: don't forget to turn off that cell phone.
Jim Reed directs Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah. Read more at www.filmsavannah.com.