ONLINE EXCLUSIVE – Festival of exquisite horrors

Vancouver’s CineMuerte festival is documented in Celluloid Horror

When video store employee Kier-La Janisse set out to create CineMuerte Canada’s first international horror film festival she never suspected that she was in for an experience as emotionally wrenching as the films she was presenting. One minute she’s over the moon after getting her idol French director Jean Rollin to agree to come to Vancouver as the festival’s special guest and the next minute she’s backhanded by the realization that her salary from Vancouver’s Black Dog Video isn’t going to be enough to fly the artist in from France. Not only that but Monsieur Rollin is undergoing kidney dialysis and without careful medical planning the trip could kill him. And you thought planning the company picnic was stressful.

The 2004 documentary Celluloid Horror takes a look at the famous Vancouver festival and at its tireless organizer Kier-La Janisse. Janisse who had no prior experience in organizing this kind of thing managed to keep CineMuerte going for seven remarkable years. Not only that but she did it without corporate sponsorship or even adequate press coverage; just one determined horror-loving lady and her tiny band of loyal volunteers.

The term “horror” is a touch too restrictive to properly describe the films that Janisse programs; in fact she stopped using the word to describe her festival after the first few years. For Janisse great cinema should confront audiences with damaged characters intense emotions and ugly truths leaving the viewer shaken provoked and transformed. CineMuerte is not about “fun” horror movies like Jeepers Creepers or Final Destination but about uncomfortable and unclassifiable works like Possession (1981) The Moor’s Head (1995) and The Isle (2000). Many of the films shown are subtitled several are over 20 years old and a number of patrons have criticized them for being too “arty.” Janisse has resisted pandering to unsophisticated gore-hounds and kept the integrity of the event intact even when it has hit her in the pocketbook (the festival has lost her a lot of money over the years.)

Janisse contacts countries all across the globe trying to secure films and special guests. She frequently encounters cynical film distributors who don’t seem to care if their films get shown and who spoil everything by turning her requests down flat or worse by taking her money and then not delivering the promised film print. On the other side of the spectrum are the special guests who go out of their way to promote Janisse and her festival. European film star Udo Kier makes a particularly good impression as Janisse’s knight-in-shining-armour; he brings her along to various press interviews radiating effortless charm and gently chastising the suddenly interested news media for not giving Janisse sponsorship funding or press coverage.

In addition to talking-head interview footage and reaction shots of festival patrons Celluloid Horror features clips from some extremely rare films screened at CineMuerte . These clips run the gamut from disgusting to subtle; from ugly to intriguing and unless you’re very good at tracking down obscure cinema you probably won’t see this footage anywhere else. The CineMuerte festival had its last hurrah in 2005 making this film slightly dated but devotees of horror cinema in general and the Canadian festival scene in particular will want to check this one out.