Good Spirits, Bad Spirits: PhilaMOCA channels the occult for Cinedelphia 666
Alfred Hitchcock famously said, “A glimpse into the world proves that horror is nothing other than reality.” This year’s Cinedelphia Film Festival aims to prove that quote true by focusing not just on horror movies but on the evil that exists in our day-to-day environment. The two week event, which officially starts tomorrow with a sold out screening of the Italian masterpiece Suspiria at the International House, is a mix of films and concerts all under the theme of “Spirituality, The Occult, and Outsider Art.”
This will be the sixth year of the festival. It is curated by Eric Bresler and mostly hosted at PhilaMOCA, which he runs. The programming includes a screening of 1970s psychedelic horror musical Phantom of the Paradise; The Allins, a new documentary about shock rock musician GG Allin, The Ranger, a horror movie about a deranged park ranger stalking a group of NYC punks who are hiding out in the woods following a brush with the law; and Zerzura, which is described in the program as, “The world’s first ethnographic acid western! A spiritual journey into the Sahara set to the sounds of improvised Tuareg-style guitar.”
There will also be two concerts during the festival: the first, on April 20th, is with Wax Trax! Records industrial legends My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, performing their first two albums in their entirety. Opening that show will be 7th Victim, Rodney Anonymous from The Dead Milkmen. The next day is the Mausoleum Monster Hop all-ages dance with The Crimson Ghosts, an instrumental Misfits cover band, and The Primitive Finks.
We caught up with Bresler to discuss Cinedelphia and everything going on at PhilaMOCA for the next couple weeks.
The Key: What have the themes been in the past?
Eric Bresler: The first festival was all Philadelphia-themed so every single program had something to do with Philly. I did an all analog, retro theme one year so it was a lot of VHS-based stuff and public access-based stuff. I think we kind of established ourselves as the underground film festival in Philadelphia so it’s always been a lot of counterculture topics and kind of cult favorite guests, you know like Alex Cox and Neil Breen.
So this year I was looking to do something a little darker just because the last few years have been really playful and fun. And it just happened to be our sixth annual festival so I just came up with doing “Cinadadelphia 666” and that gave way to the the occult theme. I didn’t want it to be like a horror film festival, so while there is a lot of horror stuff, there is tons of stuff that has nothing to do with the world of horror cinema. I think it came together really well. Everything fits within that theme. There’s a lot of witchcraft and devil stuff. We have two live rituals: one is with the Satanic Temple, the other is a Walpurgisnacht pagan celebration where we’ll be creating little pagan dolls that attendees can burn on the roof and then we’re going to watch The Wicker Man. That closes out the festival. I like how the festival is bookended by two pagan-related rituals.
The Key: How does the My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult show tie into this?
EB: Aside from the fact that ‘cult’ is in their name, Thrill Kill Kult was formed by two guys who were really into B movies and alternative, occult-related culture, so it was a perfect fit. We got really lucky with that one because they’d already planned that tour but they happened to have a day off when they were in the area so, yeah, it was a perfect fit. I think that was the first thing we booked for the festival.
Rodney from Dead Milkmen’s solo project Seventh Victim is opening that.
The Key: The other concert is the instrumental Misfits cover band The Crimson Ghosts. I think the last time they were in Philly they were supposed to play at Pi Lam and the show got moved to someone’s basement. I heard it was a completely ridiculous show.
EB: That’s an all-ages, children’s dance party so it’ll be little kids in horror costumes dancing to the Misfits cover band and the Primitive Finks, so two instrumental surf bands. It’s hosted by Ghoul A-Go-Go who’ve been doing a long-running public access show out of the New York area, kind of a throwback horror host show.
The Key: Like you pointed out, this isn’t just horror movies. What do you see as the crossover appeal in this festival? Will someone who likes Suspiria be excited to see a documentary about the occult?
EB: Suspiria is one of those great classic horror films that has kind of crossed over into the mainstream and [gained] mainstream acceptance. Then you look at something like Phantom of the Paradise that sort of has horror elements in it, but it’s a musical. It’s an amazing film which completely appeals to horror fans.
I do like genre mashups like that. There’s this amazing film that we’re showing out of Zambia called I Am Not A Witch that deals with modern witch camps. I think it shows that films that deal with witches aren’t necessarily horror. This is all based on real life, these camps. It’s an insane thought that these things exist. It deals with a very sensitive topic but it’s a kind of whimsical comedy at the same time. It’s a real achievement. So you hope something like that has crossover appeal.
You look at something like The Allins, the documentary on GG Allin and his remaining family. I think that the horror community certainly embraces a performer like him. It’s nice that somebody crafted this kind of very heartfelt document about this insane performer and the heartache that he left behind.
The Key: How do you see this as being different than other series or festivals that happen in Philadelphia? What’s the difference between this and something Exhumed might do?
EB: I mean, Exhumed have a very narrow focus: nothing modern, always on film, usually between a very specific time period and for a very specific audience. This has a much wider appeal; the demographics are all over the place.
They have a good niche and they fill it well. I never miss anything [they do]. We’ll get a lot of younger people, we’ll get a lot of seniors for certain films, we do events that appeal to families. I think we’re different than other topic-specific festivals in this city but there’s certainly a lot of crossover.
The Key: How does this interact with the regular PhilaMOCA programming like the Saturday morning cartoons you show and the Psychotronic Film Society meetings?
EB: There’s a few monthly events here at PhilaMOCA that the festival is going to handle. We’re handling the monthly Saturday morning cartoons program – that’ll be all horror – our monthly Japanese superhero night – that’ll be all scary Japanese superhero shows – and then the festival is going to handle both Psychotronic Film Society meetings. When I do that, I like to make them something special so the first meeting, on April 9th, will have a special guest programmer and then the second one, which is the 22nd, that’ll be a film that’s projected on 16mm by Harry from Exhumed Films. It will be something that fits the theme of the month.
And of course with the Psychotronic Films, we never announce what it is ahead of time because how often are you surprised in life? It’s fun.
The Key: Right now you’re hanging up these hand-painted movie posters. They’re mostly Ghanaian?
EB: Yeah, they’re all [depicting] African-made films and they are all hand-painted posters, mostly from from Ghana. They all come from Chicago’s Deadly Prey Gallery, which is our nation’s largest collection of hand-painted African movie posters. Amazing place, he probably has between two and three thousand of them. It takes days to go through his collection.
The Key: Do you get a lot of people coming from out of town for this?
EB: Always. This year there’s a lot of people coming from out of town for the Eerie, Indiana retrospective, which is a very niche program. It’s one of my favorite TV shows of all time and I think that just the fact that someone is bringing in actors from that show and honoring that show fulfills something for the obsessive fans so they’ll come in from all over.
We always get guests from all over the place, which is nice. I hope it’s a sign of creative programming.
The Key: We were talking about Thrill Kill Kult earlier and how this is a smaller room than they normally play. The same can be said about a lot of the programming at this year’s festival. Do you think you’ll ever outgrow this space? What’s the appeal of a smaller room?
EB: Well, the Suspiria screening just sold out the International House, which is 360 seats. I always have the ability to do something on a larger scale in a larger room. The appeal of PhilaMOCA is that we’ve always done events that are larger than we can hold and I just feel like that makes it more special for the attendees. I guess that just comes out of a personal preference: I would rather see something special in a small room in front of a limited number of people than in a giant room in a packed out.
Really, the festival is just a concentration of what we do year round at PhilaMOCA. It benefits PhilaMOCA in just showing the breadth of both what we’re interested in and what we can accomplish. It brings new people in. Philly is a city where there is not a lot of crossover between the arts; music people are usually music people and film people are usually film people. The idea of PhilaMOCA has always been to try and bring all those people together. The festival is just another example of that.
The Key: What’s your take on the Philadelphia cinema scene in 2018?
EB: There’s not a lot going on. International House has been the go-to room for arthouse cinema in this city for 30 years now. Landmark still owns the Ritzes, which have what is called top-tier independent films, a very specific niche. There’s the Roxy in Center City which just shows Black Panther or whatever big Hollywood movie. Where do you go to see indie film in this city? It’s been the problem as long as I’ve been here. I’ve been here since ’97.
There’s just not a lot of money in it, so I understand why people don’t invest in it. But it’s something that I’ve always done. I will gladly show a worthwhile film to a dozen people and take a hit that night because it will balance out with a music show, because music will always draw more than film in this city.
The Key: What do you hope to do next year?
EB: I mean, I’m always planning ahead. Next year I think I’m going to do it completely alone and it’s going to be a reflection of my most obscure interests. [laughs] So this year, we’ve already sold more tickets than any festival in the past, so I think we’ve reached a point of visibility and interest where we’re doing really well. The typical move for me would be to rein that in and do the opposite next year and appeal to a very specific set of people. So we’ll see.
The Key: Final question, cause it seems appropriate – What is the devil to you?
EB: The devil is a great fictional villain and nothing more. The devil is an anti-mainstream symbol and I think that’s what attracts people like me.
The Key: So that’s the appeal of this month’s programming?
EB: The devil is as far from mainstream acceptance as this festival is. And that’s how we like it. [laughs]
Cinedelphia 666 kicks off tonight and runs through the end of the month at PhilaMOCA, 531 N. 12th Street. For programming information and tickets, visit CinedelphiaFilmFestival.com