Forget about those impossibly demure, yet secretly lustful Asian schoolgirls in white knee-highs, eyes covered by long lush hair. You know, those innocent girls who turn out to be vengeful, sadistic ghosts.
That J-horror cliché, now firmly established as a tiresome Tinseltown trope, receives its death blow in the Philadelphia Film Festival's Danger After Dark series.
The murderer? That'd be the three directors of Unholy Women, a Japanese anthology that plays around with that stereotype. And how!
In one tale, a guy begins dating his boss' daughter. Trouble is, from the waist up, she's completely covered by (or actually is nothing, but) a burlap sack. (Ever kissed burlap?)
It's possible the girl is a corpse, but who can tell? She can dance and hop, but sometimes chunks of rotting meat fall out of her sack. Undaunted, even if freaked, the boy avidly pursues her. (Who said romance is dead?)
Having been dominated by Asian horror for a few seasons, this year's Danger series is particularly diverse, with films from France, Hungary, England, Denmark and Pakistan. There are even a couple of noteworthy American flicks:
Trigger Man, by the Delaware-based Ti West (The Roost), is a frantic vérité-style thriller about a psycho sniper(s) stalking three friends who are deer hunting.
Sisters, one of the most memorable films of the festival, is a cleverly subversive remake of Brian DePalma's 1973 shocker.
T. Douglas Buck's tale is about the battle of wills between the two halves of a pair of Siamese twins who have recently been separated into two women. Costarring Chloe Sevigny and Stephen Rea, it's a remarkable first feature and a nice follow-up to Buck's startling trilogy of shorts, Family Portraits.
Britain's rise as an international horror power is represented here by Severance, Christopher Smith's follow-up to his creepa-sational debut Creep. It fits a weird pattern: Along with Neil Marshall's The Descent and Michael Bassett's Wilderness, all from the last two years, it's the third film about outdoor survival (a la Deliverance), made by a young Brit director as his sophomore project. (Hear the Twilight Zone theme?)
Smith's picture is a pitch-black satire about a group of executives from a weapons company out on a team-building weekend in the middle of nowhere.
France's entry, Them, is a remarkable piece of work: One of the scariest films in years, it has no on-screen violence or gore. (See our review on Page 17.)
If you really miss the girl-ghost flick, there's the terrifying Russian ghost tale, Dead Daughters, which has made waves across Europe. Pavel Ruminov's film has a simple story: Five Moscow yuppies are cursed by three girls gunning for them from the afterlife. Like the best films from Ruminov's fave J-horror director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Daughters is steeped in a most uncanny mood.
Less spooky and more grotesque, Taxidermia by György Pálfi, the Hungarian director of the hit dramedy, Hukkle, is a triptych of bizarre - and really gross - tales that come from a universe where Hans Christian Andersen, Franz Kafka and David Lynch are the same person.
The fest offers more great Asian fare with its five-film Asian Gangsters series. It features two must-see pictures by prolific Hong Kong master Johnnie To (The Heroic Trio, Fulltime Killer). Like Breaking News, To's sensational deconstruction of the news media, Election, and its sequel, Triad Election, embody (or embloody) brilliant - and kickin' - critiques of the structure of institutional power - here the power of the Hong Kong mafia.
Sure, they're egghead smart, but they also rock. Seriously rock.
The Philadelphia Film Festival, which runs through Wednesday, is offering an encore of select films.
County Theater (20 E. State St., Doylestown, www.CountyTheater.org) will feature: The Kovak Box at 6:15 p.m., and American Fork at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Dry Season at 6:15 p.m., and Them at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
Ambler Theater (108 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, www.AmblerTheater.org) will screen: The Orange Thief at 6:15 p.m., The Book of the Dead at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Paper at 6:15 p.m., Nero Bifamiliare at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
Tickets: $8, $6 for seniors and students, $4.50 fest members. Brochures of all programs will be available. Information: www.phillyfests.com