Saturday, 15 June 2024

Facts of life remain the same at American Film Market

The French have a saying, “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” The translation goes, “the more a thing changes, the more it’s the same thing.”

Whoever came up with this axiom may have inadvertently had the foresight to be thinking of the annual American Film Market (AFM), a gathering place for international buyers and sellers of films. The event takes place in the seaside venue of Santa Monica at the Loews Beach Hotel, with its spectacular view of the ocean as well as the famous Santa Monica pier. It’s not the glamorous French Riviera, where the Cannes Film Festival serves as a model for film markets everywhere, including the AFM.

Anyway, back to that French adage, things are looking both the same and different at this year’s American Film Market, where foreign buyers find that their currency, especially euros, has plenty of purchasing power, due to the declining value of the dollar. Since these buyers are looking at America as one big factory outlet, you’d think they would be buying scads of films, considering the writers strike may soon cause a dearth of decent product. Many people that I interviewed seemed to feel that the depressed value of the U.S. currency was not doing much to improve the fortunes of anyone other than local stores selling the usual clothes and trinkets.

Something that will never change, notwithstanding appearances to the contrary, is the nearly insatiable appetite of foreign buyers for horror films. Everywhere you turn during the market, going from one hotel suite to the next, where promotional fliers hawk the products as if you had stumbled upon a huge indoor flea market, the horror titles spring forth as ubiquitous reminders of the AFM’s primary mission.

As a general rule, horror films are so derivative that it is hardly surprising that films are increasingly promoted as imitations of better known works. One horror film called “Gag,” whose promotional tagline is “Dying is easy ... staying alive is torture,” is described in its publicity material as a film in the tradition of “Saw,” and if you only look at the poster art, the image of a terrified face encased in metal clamps should be the tip-off.

One tradition of the AFM has been the unrestrained desire of hordes of Japanese and Koreans anxious to scoop up the horror films, and that seems not to have changed. However, the market is witnessing an increased amount of Japanese-made horror films being offered for sale, and not just ones in the custom of “Godzilla,” though the Japanese horror film “Reigo” features an immense sea monster that looks like a waterborne Godzilla.

The Japanese are also gleefully ripping off famed zombie director George A. Romero, coming up with “Zombie, the Self Defense Force,” a story of the man-eating living dead running wild in the forests near Mount Fuji. The zombie genre remains incredibly popular, judging by the marketplace. “Mutants Fear the Truth” creates zombies from medical experiments gone horribly wrong. Chaos reigns in London in “The Zombie Diaries,” as the undead run amok in the shadow of Big Ben. Even the Italians are getting into the act with “Zombies the Beginning”, in which genetically altered mutants are brought to life.

Women figure prominently in many horror films, and not always as victims. In the British vampire film “The Witches Hammer,” the heroine is brought back from the brink of death by a top secret agency and transformed into a genetically enhanced vampire, only to be trained as a lethal assassin and sent on missions to kill other creatures of the night.

But women are often at risk in these films, such as “Gruesome,” where a college girl is caught up in an endless nightmare when imprisoned by a psychotic killer. The innocent-sounding title “Lilith” belies the horror that awaits five college girls who unwittingly unleash the spirit of a horrible demon while researching obscure pagan beliefs.

It goes without saying that there are plenty of cheesy horror films available, most of them involving a tawdry, but efficiently horrible creature.

“Hogzilla” is one such film, featuring a mutant feral hog believed to weigh over a ton and with an appetite to match, as it snacks on members of a camping party who also have to contend with a band of treacherous poachers. “Supercroc” taps into the fear of crocodiles on the loose, but none as fierce as the prehistoric breed that are unleashed after a massive California earthquake. And let’s not forget the reliable dinosaur, appearing in “Tyrannosaurus Azteca,” that goes on a rampage in the year 1518 when Spanish conquistadors explore a remote, lost valley just inland from the Gulf of Mexico.

One dubious area of female equality appears more frequently in thrillers and even some horror films at AFM. More and more women are cast as the chief villains. The aptly-titled “A Woman’s Rage” is about a beautiful woman having trouble keeping men, as she tends to become very obsessive and jealous. When she loses the man of her dreams, she vows revenge by stealing away the teenage son of his new girlfriend.

“The Perfect Assistant” is the cautionary tale for the married executive who learns his attractive assistant not only kills his wife but develops a fatal attraction more violent than the one realized by Glenn Close. Maybe the strangest case of the deadly female is the one inspired by true events in “Stuck,” wherein a woman (Mena Suvari) hits a homeless man with her car, allowing him to stay stuck in her windshield as she parks the car in her garage and decides to let him bleed to death.

As much fun as it is to check out some of the low-rent movies on offer, there are actually some real quality films sold at AFM and which are likely to show up in mainstream movie theaters. But the latest Paris Hilton film “Bottoms Up” is not one of them.

In even more disappointing news, Steven Seagal returns in “Killing Point” in the role of a homicide detective. How does this guy keep performing mediocre action roles when he must be old enough to collect Social Security?

The answer may not be found at AFM, because apparently some people will buy anything.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.


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