Of the films I saw in the San Francisco Roxie Cinema's 6th annual Another Hole in the Head festival, two features stood out high above the lot: the Brazilian horror/comedy Morgue Story (Sangue, Baiacu e Quadrinhos), and the almost static, post-plague survival drama from Scotland, The Dead Outside (trailers viewable at those links.) These are two very different films, to be sure, but they share two significant common ingredients: an empowered, gutsy heroine, hell bent on survival (these chicks are neither skinny, nor do they shriek and fall down when running); and a visual and color palette that distinguishes the story immediately as its own universe. (Sadly, I left town the night the tantalizingly Mother's Day-esque Run! Bitch Run! premiered; anyone who's seen it should feel free to chime in with their thoughts.)
Morgue Story is a taut, clever and grisly horror comedy with an Evil Dead II-like dual sense of calamity and humor that leaves nothing off the, uh, slab. When Ana, a successful graphic novelist (who has nonetheless lost at love, and whose most famous character is a "living dead") ends up not-quite-dead in the morgue, she runs afoul of a sleazily efficient, God-fearing necrophiliac coroner. Also in the mix is a self-effacing cataleptic, who looks like Lux Interior's younger, paler brother and may just be an (albeit weak-willed) ally for our heroine. The three spar off verbally and physically as the English subs fly by, unpredictable shifts of power occur, and you find yourself reacting with equal measures of laughter and revulsion to the fairly graphic scenes of necrophilia. Everything is shot in grey, green and sepia tones, the washed-out institutional colors perfectly underscoring the essences of death, depravity and sickness. This is the only film I saw in the whole festival where the crowd immediately erupted in enthusiastic and unanimous applause at the conclusion. That tells me the world needs more necrophiliac comedies—or at least this one.
Come see The Dead Outside expecting buckets of blood and non-stop zombie action, and you will be disappointed. The Dead Outside is more the zombie-film equivalent of listening to your favorite Oval LP, which turns out to be not at all a bad thing. Moody and hovering, with an excellent soundtrack that veers from drony buzz into gentle piano melodies, The Dead Outside reads like a side tale to 28 Days Later if directed by Atom Egoyan. As with Morgue Story, the action here centers on an unconventionally attractive heroine, a hard-boiled, chip-toothed goth girl who's slaughtered her own family in order to survive, and is played with resonance by Sandra Louise Douglas (who seems destined to flash her violently blue eyes on bigger screens.) The danger in The Dead Outside is less in the infected that keep getting stuck in the barbed wire outside, than it is in the minds of the survivors who must live out the daily drudgery that is post-zombie-plague existence. Again, the expectations of horror purists may be let down here, and the film also loses minor points for dropping critical exposition to the lack of subtitles (it's been a long time since I saw Teenage Fanclub, and my Scots is rusty.) Though The Dead Outside does have a few scenes of seat-jumping zombie action, that won't be why you remember it. Its muted blues and greens, and matter-of-fact realism, tell a very atypical and understated horror tale.
P.S. - I'll be returning to weekly broadcasting on WFMU this summer, after a ten-year hiatus. Tune in for the premiere of My Castle of Quiet, Wednesday, June 24, at 8 p.m. ET.