Standing amidst the rows of horror rentals at Cambie's Black Dog Video, Kier-La Janisse hunts for a title she'd consider watching. It takes a little while-she's already seen a lot of them-but then her eyes fall on the spine of a DVD called Barbed Wire Dolls. "I'd probably watch this," she says, extracting the 1975 women-in-prison flick by European exploitation king Jess Franco. A quick glance at its lurid cover reveals that the film is squarely aimed at a crowd unopposed to scenes of female degradation and suffering. This ain't Driving Miss Daisy. But Janisse, as curator of the Cinemuerte Film Festival, loathes restrictions. She's not put off by the celluloid exploitation of anyone.
"Not at all," remarks the 33-year-old cineaste, programmer, and Fangoria contributor. "I mean, if you're making a fictional film and the actors have agreed to be in the movie and they don't care about the roles they're playing, then they're just having fun. They're just acting out fantasy situations, and if it's fantasy, anything goes. Whether it's torturing a woman or castrating a man, I feel like it's all fair game."
Like-minded filmgoers will appreciate the taboo-blasting works Janisse has lined up for the seventh and final installment of Cinemuerte, which runs now through Halloween at Pacific Cinématheque. For starters, there's the 1974 Japanese flick School of the Holy Beast. It's about a young woman who enters a convent, searching for clues in her mother's strange death. According to the festival's Web site (www.cinemuerte.com/), "she soon discovers a smorgasbord of vice as she's abused by lecherous archbishops, a lesbian mother superior and a line of fellow nuns ready to whip her (in the film's most deliriously over-the-top scene) with rose-thorns!" That same title is currently on the shelf at Black Dog, where Janisse worked from 1998 to 2003 before being offered a programming job at the prestigious Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, where she now resides. The question is: wouldn't most fans of kinky cinema just rent the DVD and view it at their leisure rather than jostle for seats at a crowded theatre?
"That's one of the reasons the festival is ending," she relates. "Like, it used to be really hard to find films like School of the Holy Beast. It used to be that you would have to get them from sketchy mail-order companies, and a lot of people just didn't feel comfortable sending cash in the mail to weird people they'd never met. But now so many DVD companies are buying rights to them and rereleasing them, remastered and everything, that it definitely decreases the [theatrical] audience for those movies."
Devotees of Japanese nun-whipping flicks should know that the Cinemuerte screening of School (Thursday [October 27] at 7 p.m.) will feature a brand new, "really beautiful" 35mm print. Also of note is The Birthday (Sunday [October 30] at 7:30 p.m.), a 2004 horror-comedy by Spanish director Eugene Mira that includes a "very strange" performance by lead actor Corey Feldman. It also stars '70s Eurohorror icon Jack Taylor, a mainstay of the aforementioned sleazemeister Franco's films, who will appear in person to receive a lifetime achievement award from Janisse. She got one of her contacts from the Alamo Drafthouse, famed American director Quentin Tarantino, to film a congratulatory intro for the presentation.
Festivalgoers drawn to more unsettling subject matter might consider Zev Asher's controversial 2004 documentary Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat (Saturday [October 29] at 7 p.m.). It tells the story of three young Toronto men, including artist Jesse Power, who, high on a hallucinogen, videotaped their torturous slaying of a housecat in the guise of an "art project". Although there is no actual footage of Power's cat-snuffing video in Casuistry, Janisse says that it is still the most disturbing selection at this year's festival. "I guess to a certain extent it is exploiting the situation," she ponders, "but I feel that the way the subject matter is handled in the movie is very respectful and very pro-animal- cruelty laws. Allowing the people who killed the cat to speak freely about what they did doesn't make them look intelligent; I didn't come out of the movie seeing their point. Instead, I came out thinking, 'Yeah, we should have harsher animal laws.'?"
Janisse got hooked on genre films as a kid growing up in Windsor, Ontario. Her very first memory is of watching the 1972 Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing terror-on-a-train epic, Horror Express. But her lifelong interest in movies that shock hasn't culminated in a desire to push people's buttons for the sake of getting a response. "I play things that I'm interested in sharing with people," she points out. "I mean, I've already gotten hate mail because of playing Casuistry, but I'm not playing it because I want to outrage people. Sometimes I know that there are movies that are gonna upset people, but I don't get scared off from programming them."