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Our friend Travis Crawford, who appears often in our pages, drops from view in the late winter and early spring when, as associate director of programming for the Philadelphia Film Festival he puts together his Danger After Dark program. And now, in what has become an annual tradition, he re-emerges with an e-mail in which he sneaks his program to his friends a few days in advance of the official announcement.

If you are a devotee of outre genre films — and even if you don’t plan to attend the festival — check out Crawford’s program, below. His wonderfully descriptive and witty blurbs for the films constitute a kind of “all-you-need-to-know cult cinema primer” for the current festival season. And as I’m throwing this up on the web moments after receiving it, check back in a few days to see whether we’ve come up with some good links for the below titles.

Writes Crawford:

Danger After Dark titles for PFF 2005:

ARAHAN (South Korea): Adrenaline-pumping contemporary urban martial arts eye-candy supreme, with a bullied young cop discovering he is actually a secret ch’i master. Wirework and CGI overload, but refreshingly witty and clever; no Ryuhei Kitamura movie this year, so this will have to do as your substitute. (U.S. Premiere)

CUTIE HONEY (Japan): A candy-colored and comedic fantasy-action film about a sexy female superhero (exuberantly incarnated by Eriko Satoh), this FX-filled spectacle is like an anime come to life. The best movie in the whole wide world if the whole wide world happened to be exclusively populated by 12-year-old boys — and that’s meant as a compliment. (Philadelphia Premiere)

FLOWER AND SNAKE (Japan, pictured at right above): Ahhh, I can’t wait to see this with an audience. An opulent but thoroughly brutal and un-PC example of Japanese S&M sexploitation from Takashi Ishii, this story of a wealthy trophy wife’s abduction and sexual slavery is the Danger After Dark film most likely to appal. Bring your own nipple clamps. (US Premiere)

THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS (US/UK): Asia Argento’s bold, blistering portrait of child abuse and hallucinatory psychological torment, adopted from the fearless writings of J.T. Leroy, this uncompromising little familial shocker might tie FLOWER for the highest number of angry audience walkouts – that’s meant as a compliment too, you know. (Philadelphia Premiere)

IZO (Japan): This one is likely to strongly divide people — it’s among my favorite Takashi Miike films to date, but its aggressively non-narrative experimental structure is bound to cause some viewer frustration. A samurai travels through time with just one goal: to kill every human on the planet. Miike’s most radical, insane film yet. (Philadelphia Premiere)

KARAOKE TERROR (Japan): Adapted from a cult novely by Ryu Murakami (AUDITION, TOKYO DECADENCE) this savagely satirical pitch-black comedy follows a gang war between a gang of occasionally cross-dressing teen toughs and a group of wealthy middle-aged women. Ultraviolence and apocalyptic ramifications ensue. Formerly titled THE COMPLETE JAPANESE SHOWA SONGBOOK for you Vancouver fest attendees. (US Premiere)

KONTROLL (Hungary): An award-winning multi-festival favorite, this surreal odyssey through Budapest’s sinister subway system is a fast-paced, darkly comic delight, and on its way to becoming The Little Cult Movie That Could. (Philadelphia Premiere)*

MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED & SHAFTED (US): Bad Azz Mofo zine editor David Walker’s long-awaited documentary on 1970s blaxploitation cinema, with an exhaustive wealth of action-packed clips and insightful interviews – and a deft analysis of the cultural politics that goes beyond funk and fashion. (East Coast Premiere)

MAREBITO (Japan): Takashi Shimizu’s best film by a mile. The director behind all of those JU-ON films (and the American GRUDGE remake) delivers an eerie, dreamlike chiller (shot on digital video in eight days) about the relationship between a cameraman (director Shinya Tsukamoto) and a fanged feral girl from hell. (East Coast Premiere)

OLDBOY (South Korea): Park Chan-wook. Cannes Grand Prix winner. Revenge thriller. Best film ever made, of course. Haven’t you all seen this by now? Well, perhaps not on the big screen, and it’s worth it. (Philadelphia Premiere)*

ONE MISSED CALL (Japan, pictured at right): More Miike, this time as straightforward and mainstream as he’s ever been. Perhaps the ultimate final word on the creepy post-RING Asian ghost story film, as an enigmatic cell phone message forecasts death for its unlucky recipients. Admittedly it’s no ICHI, but Miike still manages to bring a subversive wit to the proceedings. (US Premiere)*

PINK RIBBON (Japan): An appropriately explicit (and rewardingly thorough) documentary chronicling the history of the Japanese sex film industry, with a wealth of rare clips, interviews (Kiyoski Kurosawa and Koji Wakamatsu among them) and contemporary behind-the-scenes footage (from the set of a film called PRIVATE TUTOR’S LOVE JUICE, which likely tells you all you need to know). Go ahead, take a date to see this and FLOWER AND SNAKE! (US Premiere)

R-POINT (South Korea): The year’s big Korean horror hit, this is a genuinely suspenseful tale of a platoon of soldiers encountering a mysterious supernatural presence on an island during the Vietnam War in 1972. Moves away from the typical RING-styled ghost story film into more traditional haunted house territory, and rewardingly so. (North American Premiere)

SPIDER FOREST (South Korea): This year’s UNINVITED/SUICIDE CLUB/TALE OF TWO SISTERS-styled head-scratching “Huh?” Danger After Dark title (that’s meant as a compliment too), this enigmatic mystery from the director of FLOWER ISLAND follows a tormented car accident survivor haunted by visions of murder. A dreamlike thriller, and a challenging audience puzzle. (US Premiere)

SURVIVE STYLE 5+ (Japan): SEE IT IMMEDIATELY! Just incredible. Five fantastical tales of Tokyo crime and mayhem intersect in this absurdist comedy that has more inventive storytelling and surreal imagery than a dozen Miike movies (and it has Tadanobu Asano and Sonny Chiba to boot). Like a Japanese crime movie equivalent to something from the Kaufman/Gondry/Jonze camp, with a production design style that makes Wes Anderson’s films look like Ken Loach. (East Coast Premiere)

THROW DOWN (Hong Kong): Johnnie To’s best since THE MISSION. A stylish, slick ode to judo, Akira Kurosawa, and the most gorgeously photographed nocturnal streets of Hong Kong, this is a dynamic and oddly affecting genre masterwork. (US Premiere)

*Titles marked with an asterisk indicate three films that will be in general theatrical release in NYC and L.A. during the month of April, so those of you coming to the fest from those more enlightened urban areas should feel no need to see those films in our festival.

That’s it — sixteen Danger After Dark films in all, our biggest line-up ever (not counting the Shaw Brothers spin-off sidebar two years ago), and one which will hopefully be as enthusiastically supported by festgoers this year as in years past. Sorry about no CALVAIRE, BORN TO FIGHT, 2001 MANIACS, GIGANTOR, DEVILMAN, CASSHERN, WOLF CREEK, et al. I tried, it didn’t happen, couldn’t be avoided. Bring those films up to me during the festival, and see if you get either a wry smile and entertaining anecdote about the vagaries of festival programming, or a swift kick in the shin.

The general Asian film programming is particularly strong this year: I highly recommend the North American Premieres of Shinji (EUREKA) Aoyama’s mystery LAKESIDE MURDER CASE (Aoyama is also slated to attend) and the extraordinary LATE BLOOMER, a dark portrait of disability like no other (director Go Shibata also attending). Also very much worth seeing: Ryuichi (VIBRATOR) Hiroki’s excellent albeit grim L’AMANT (US Premiere), Izumi Takahashi’s excellent albeit grim multi-fest-award-winner THE SOUP, ONE MORNING (East Coast Premiere), Wu Er-shan’s excellent albeit grim triptych of contemporary Beijing murder and madness SOAP OPERA (North American premiere), romantic tearjerker extraordinaire CRYING OUT LOVE, IN THE CENTER OF THE WORLD (Japan’s biggest live-action hit last year; East Coast Premiere), and a quartet of Indian films that aren’t grim at all, so there: Mani Ratnam’s Bollywood film YUVA, the brilliant Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s road movie CHASED BY DREAMS (East Coast Premiere; director in attendance), the charming romantic comedy HARI OM, and the searing political drama BLACK FRIDAY (OK, this one is admittedly also grim…). The New Korean Cinema program returns again this year, with the World Premiere of prolific filmmaker Bae Chang-ho’s newest film ROAD, and screenings of such other acclaimed titles as Hong Sang-soo’s WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN and Lee Yoon-ki’s outstanding Pusan fest award-winning THIS CHARMING GIRL, along with the usual selections of crowd-pleasing Korean comedies again this year.

Apparently they continue to make films outside of Asia again this year, though I know or care little about this sort of thing. But, having said that, you might want to check out some of the titles that will be screening in the fest prior to their impending regular theatrical releases: Olivier Assayas’ moving CLEAN with Maggie Cheung, Arnaud Desplechin’s masterpiece KINGS AND QUEEN, Brit crime thriller LAYER CAKE, the Cesar award-winning GAMES OF LOVE AND CHANCE, Lucrecia Martel’s THE HOLY GIRL, Jia Zhang-ke’s extraordinary THE WORLD, et al — all are very much worth your time. And I haven’t even gotten into the hundreds of other international films that don’t have distributors yet…

Opening Night film is Alex de la Iglesia’s comedy FERPECT CRIME, and Alex will be returning to the event for the first time since receiving our Phantasmagoria Award two years ago. Award honorees this year include Steve Buscemi, who will be attending with his film LONESOME JIM and accepting the American Independents Award, and this year’s Artistic Achievement in Acting award recipient Malcolm McDowell, who will be discussing CLOCKWORK ORANGE following a screening of that film, as well as his new film EVILENKO, a real-life docudrama about a notorious Russian serial killer. Thelma Schoonmaker will be in town to screen I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! by Michael Powell, followed by a discussion of her late husband’s career, and there will also be a small focus on the films of Robert Downey Sr., with Downey in attendance. Other filmmakers confirmed to attend include Todd Solondz, Wim Wenders, Gregg Araki, etc., all attending with their new films.

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