Since 1998, Quentin Tarantino has hosted QT Fest in Austin every year or so. For a week each time, he shows films from his personal collection, grouping them loosely by subject matter: biker-film night, Italian crime film night, sexploitation night, and the traditional all-night horror-film marathon. Last week, Tarantino returned to Austin for Best of QT Fest, in which he showed his favorite films from the series. Despite being an Austinite, I had never attended a QT Fest movie before, and wasn't sure I wanted to watch a bunch of grindhouse and horror and martial-arts films. But I decided that I needed to broaden my filmgoing horizons and see movies in different genres -- plus, many QT Fest films are not available on DVD and are rarely screened. And happily, Best of QT Fest turned out to be a blast. I was a little sorry I didn't go every night, although seven consecutive nights of double and triple-features, including an all-nighter, would have been a little punishing. Monday was the first night of the festival. I showed up at Alamo Drafthouse Downtown for the second feature, Snake in the Monkey's Shadow, which was hyped to me as "the best monkey-fu film ever." Turned out that Snake in the Monkey's Shadow has not only monkey fu, but snake fu and drunken fu. The highlight of the movie is a kung-fu fight intercut with scenes of an actual monkey fighting a snake. I liked watching the film, but realized that I prefer more comedy with my martial arts. (I feel the same way about horror movies.)
Tuesday night's biker-film lineup took place at The Glenn, an outdoor venue west of Austin. The weather looked bleak and stormy and the QT Fest veterans I had dinner with beforehand were certain the event would be moved indoors. Luckily, the weather turned out fine, although it was a little chilly for Austin in April. Many attendees wrapped themselves in the blankets they brought to sit on, especially during the second film. In Tarantino's rousing endorsement of The Savage Seven, the first biker film of the night, I was surprised to learn that the director of The Savage Seven was Richard Rush, who later directed The Stunt Man. (The Savage Seven was supposed to be loosely based on Seven Samurai, but I can't imagine Kurosawa ever writing the line "You barfed on my broad!") The second movie of the night was film-within-a-biker-film, Hollywood Man. Tarantino introduced the film by discussing its catchy, memorably theme song which, once you've heard him belt out "Hollywood maaaaaannn ...," is indeed unforgettable. "You will have this song in your head for the rest of your lives," he warned us. (Turned out the theme song from Twisted Nerve was a whole lot catchier, but I'm getting ahead of myself.) Sadly, I don't remember much about the movie except that it featured a young Mary Woronov.
I hadn't planned to attend another night of QT Fest before Saturday's horror marathon, but I was having such a good time that I showed up Thursday night for two movies that turned into three. The first film of the night was The Outfit, which Tarantino said he once saw in Tennessee under the title The Good Guys Always Win (Many QT Fest movies were originally shown under multiple titles.). In his introduction, he explained that The Outfit is based on one of Donald Westlake's Parker novels. The movie was a good solid heist film starring Robert Duvall and Joe Don Baker, and featured a great line from Duvall: "I don't talk to guys wearing aprons."
The second movie of the evening was The Dion Brothers, also known as The Gravy Train. Tarantino introduced the film by telling us that "after a movie about the best robbers in movie history, we're going to watch one about the worst." He described the movie as "one f---ing hysterical line after another." He also slipped and referred to the QT Fest venue as "Alamo Grindhouse," which drew a lively round of applause. The movie opens with an awe-inspiring speech from Stacey Keach's character as he quits his job. Keach and Frederic Forrest are brothers who decide to make their fortune through a life of crime -- after they pull off a few lucrative heists, they plan to retire by opening a swanky seafood restaurant (with the most appalling menu items you can imagine). The only trouble is that they aren't very bright. The Dion Brothers leaves Live Free or Die in the dust and is even funnier than Bottle Rocket. There's a hilarious comic set piece in a restaurant, and a thrilling climactic fight sequence in a building that is being demolished. I also loved a scene in which Forrest and Margot Kidder enjoy bbq ribs together. The Dion Brothers is one of those movies that grows on you -- I didn't think I liked it all that much immediately after seeing it, but I couldn't get it out of my mind for days afterwards.
The surprise midnight screening was The Muthers, which Tarantino explained was one of the better Filipino blaxploitation films, a genre I did not even know existed. He practically gushed over the four actresses who starred in the film: Jeannie Bell, Rosanne Katon, Trina Parks, and Jayne Kennedy. The Muthers was a fun midnight movie, but not the same caliber as the other two films.
Six films were scheduled for Saturday night: five horror movies plus one drive-in exploitation film added for a change of pace. I took the advice of various friends and film geeks and decided to skip the first film, The Blood-Spattered Bride.
The first movie I saw that evening turned out to be the best: Twisted Nerve, a 1968 British film starring Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett. Bennett plays a psychopath who decides to get revenge on his nasty stepfather and at the same time, have a little fun meddling with the lives of others. (That sounds weirdly like the plot of Amelie, but I assure you, Bennett is the anti-Amelie.) Before the film, Tarantino invited us all to whistle the theme song from Twisted Nerve in unison. (The theme song, written by Bernard Herrmann, is the song whistled in Kill Bill Vol. 1, and after you've heard it continually throughout a feature-length movie, you'll discover you can have nightmares involving music.) Twisted Nerve was wonderfully suspenseful and had some brilliant dialogue, although some of its assumptions about the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill are dated today. I was glad we saw Twisted Nerve before the night grew longer and I grew sleepier. Before the next scheduled film, we got a surprise: a short suspense film called Thinning the Herd, directed by Rie Rasmussen. Rasmussen, who also starred in the film, was in the audience that night.
The next movie on the agenda was Don't Go in the House. The movie is shot from the viewpoint of the killer, a latent pyromaniac whose overbearing mother dies of natural causes, thus leaving him free to do whatever he wants. What he wants to do is to lure women to his house and ultimately into his special metal room. Tarantino warned us that the scenes in the metal room would be disturbing, and he was absolutely right. However, there are long passages where the movie slows to a crawl as our protagonist stops torturing and killing women and decides to pursue a social life.
Police Women, the non-horror movie of the evening, was a goofy 70s film with lots of scantily-clad women who were adept at kung fu. (While watching it, I realized that the only films I've seen recently with kickass female stars have been second-tier (or lower) exploitation flicks. Maybe I need to see more of these movies.) The high points of Police Women for me were the scene in which the main character (Sondra Currie) takes kung fu lessons (sort of) from William Smith, who played the lead in Hollywood Man, and all the scenes with Jeannie Bell. I napped briefly during a romantic interlude in the middle of the film, so I didn't miss the fight scenes.
Police Women ended around 5 am. After a short break, we had another unscheduled surprise: the first reel of Silent Night, Deadly Night. This movie was a big hit at QT 6, when Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez re-enacted the scene with the grandfather. We all enjoyed the chance to see the scary grandfather, and it prepared us for another Eighties horror film, Hell Night.
I was about half-awake during Hell Night, which at least had an easy-to-follow plot. Four college students are locked in a house with a creepy murderous past as a Greek initiation ritual. Lo and behold, it turns out that some of the murderers are still alive and on a killing spree. Linda Blair is one of the sorority girls, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood for some reason, and she has the most audience-rousing moment in the movie ("She's a mechanic!").
The Alamo was still about one-third full of people at 8 am, all psyched for the last movie of the night (or morning), about which there had been a lot of buzz: The Legend of the Wolf Woman. Tarantino explained beforehand that he'd shown this movie at the first QT Fest without having seen it himself beforehand. He showed it at the end of a horror marathon and no one could figure out whether what they remembered was the result of sleep deprivation or the actual movie -- it was that strange. So he showed it again on encore night and everyone loved it.
Legend of the Wolf Woman is indeed bizarre. It opens with a woman transforming into a wolf ... well, into a wolf woman of sorts. She's covered entirely in hair, has a dog-like nose, and nipples that defy description. It's only a dream, but the woman in question decides that she is descended from wolf goddesses. After tearing out a few throats, she's hospitalized for insanity. But she escapes somehow (this is where I started dozing) and eventually starts a happy new life with a stuntman, until tragedy strikes. The epilogue to this movie is similar to the epilogue of Twisted Nerve, so it was a nice bit of symmetry for the evening.
I am not sure whether it was fortunate or unfortunate that I was too sleepy to watch Legend of the Wolf Woman properly. I got the basic premise but there are long dreamy stretches where I could not help nodding off. I woke up fully right around the time she started dating the stuntman, which was good because I had to drive home clear across town.
It was 9:30 am by the time I staggered out of Alamo Drafthouse, drove home, and collapsed into bed. I was a little sorry I'd stayed through the entire horror marathon, because I was so tired and draggy on Sunday that I didn't make it to the Sunday night QT Fest movies -- and I'd been looking forward to seeing Pretty Maids All in a Row. Hopefully I'll get another chance.
I enjoyed QT Fest much more than I thought I would. I liked the variety of films, the company from other film geeks, and even occasionally spotting well-known film personages. During the run of the festival, I caught glimpses of Elvis Mitchell, Mike Judge, Gus Van Sant, Eli Roth, Robert Rodriguez, and Richard Linklater. QT Fest certainly draws an eclectic crowd.
I was most impressed with Tarantino himself. He has an amazing repository of knowledge about all kinds of films in his head. I overheard him discussing Preston Sturges with someone in between films one night, and realized he would probably be just as comfortable and enthusiastic in hosting a night of screwball comedies. Honestly, I think the man needs a TV gig introducing grindhouse and exploitation films -- you know, like those older guys who introduce movies on AMC and Turner Classic Movies. Unfortunately, I don't think his intros would pass muster with the FCC, and it's not the same if he can't tell you that "Jeannie Bell is so motherf---ing pretty" and "Oh, that f---ing dialogue, it's so cool!"
If you want all the scoop on Best of QT Fest from some veteran attendees, I'd recommend the following sites:
- Dumb Distraction: Micah covered every night of QT Fest in detail, including lists of the trailers shown before every film. He also bought The Dion Brothers on DVD after seeing it at QT Fest, and has a special treat to share from the film.
- Cinema Strikes Back: Blake set up the posters and lobby cards for the QT Fest movies in the Alamo Downtown lobby every night. His coverage includes scans of some of these amazing posters, photos of the events, as well as reviews of the movies.
- Matt Dentler's Blog: Matt has a short description of Tuesday's outdoor screenings as well as a great photo.
- Ain't It Cool News: Harry Knowles has extensive details on the first, second, third, and fourth nights of the festival.