I was walking out of a screening of the cheeky new animated film, “Puss in Boots,” starring Antonio Banderas as the titular bad kitty, at Grauman’s Mann Chinese 6 Theatres when a splattering of fake blood on the cinema’s glass doors, gaunt skeletal figures and assorted skulls caught my eye. This was the setup for the eleventh annual Screamfest Horror Film Festival, the largest horror fest in the United States (at the Chinese 6 through Oct. 23), which for the first time is including a slasher flick from Israel, titled “Kalevet,” or “Rabies.” The movie screens Oct. 22, 6 p.m. and is billed as the first slasher film ever from the Jewish state.
Since the Israeli film industry in general is making waves at Cannes and other fesitvals around the world, it’s not so surprising that its first genre movie made it to Screamfest—dubbed the “Sundance of horror”—which has hosted filmmakers such as Wes Craven, Sam Raimi and Eli Roth (of the “Hostel” films, who also played the bat-smashing Bear Jew in Quentin Tarantino’s Holocaust-tinged fantasy “Inglourious Basterds”). According to festival founder Rachel Belofsky, Screamfest also discovered and premiered 2007’s “Paranornal Activity”—the brainchild of Israeli-born American director Oren Peli—now a monstrously successful franchise (the most recent installment having been the box office phenonemom “Paranormal Activity 3”) .
Screamfest’s brochure describes “Rabies” thusly: “A brother and sister in their 20s run away from home after their dark secret is discovered. They find temporary refuge in a deserted nature reserve. When the sister falls into a hunting trap, set by a psychotic killer, the brother sets out in a race against time to rescue her.”
I haven’t seen ”Rabies” – nor have I seen any horror films from Israel (save for those that deal with the real-life horror of war)—but the movie caught my eye in part because it stars one of Israel’s famous leading men, Lior Ashkenazi, who also stars in Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote,” Israel’s best foreign film submission for the 84th Academy Awards.
Since “Rabies” premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, critics have lauded the curveballs it lobs viewers expecting the typical genre flick.
Popcornaddiction.com describes it as “Opening with a scene indicative of your average torture-porn – a bloodied woman trapped and later drugged by a deranged killer, harbouring a grudge against dogs – [but] the rug is quickly pulled from beneath your feet as the filmmakers take an inspired wrong turn into largely unexplored territory. We meet the usual hapless teens, the obligatory bumbling police officers (Ashkenazi and Danny Geva) and a forest ranger husband and wife, yet not once do your undoubtedly informed predictions come to pass….. Like an earnest “Scream,” a softly-spoken “The Cottage” or a ruthlessly efficient “Severence,” “Rabies” is less a horror than it is a gore-soaked comedy.”
While the actual disease, rabies, does not make an appearance in the film, by Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales, Dreadcentral.com notes, “Sexual deviancy, knives, guns, landmines, and the looming threat of serial murder invade the landscape and the minds of the characters…showing that the title acts as more of a metaphor for our rabid tendencies as humans instead of actual infectious disease driving us to lunacy.”
Los Angelenos can next see Ashkenazi in “Footnote” at the AFI Fest 2011, which runs from Nov. 3-10 (“Footnote” screens on Nov. 6). Ashkanazi—a former paratrooper—plays a role quite different from the deviant cop he portrays in “Rabies.” “Footnote” – which won best screenplay at the 2011 Cannes film festival – tells of a father (Shlomo Bar Aba) and son (Ashkenaki) who engage in a power struggle as they teach in the Talmud department of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “Footnote” is the fourth film by Cedar, who also directed 2007’s Oscar-nominee “Beaufort.”