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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘The Man with the Silver Case’ and ‘8’

While my predilection for the obscure, the independent, and the subtitled might suggest I’m a bit of a film snob, in truth I’m anything but. The very first film I ever went to see in the cinema was 1968’s decidedly mainstream Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day , sometime after which my otherwise straitlaced mother introduced me to lowbrow horror films – and it was via that popular genre that I truly fell in love with cinema.

Why, then, have I previously avoided covering the annual Another Hole in the Head film festival, a local “excursion into the realms of science fiction, fantasy, and horror” that also emphasizes things obscure and independent? I’ll leave the explanations to the amateur psychologists amongst you – but whatever the reason, the wait is over.

AHITH 2019 runs from December 1 through December 15 at San Francisco’s New People Cinema, and I’m delighted to report that among the many treats on tap are two of the most handsomely mounted and well-made films I’ve seen so far this year. Indeed, The Man with the Silver Case (screening at 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 2) would generate a rave review from me under any circumstances.

Shot in black and white by writer-director Colin Best, Silver Case stars Stuart Reid as the title character, a gun for hire tasked to deliver said hand luggage to a mysterious woman. We don’t know what’s inside it and we don’t even know The Man’s name; all we know is that he will go to any lengths to complete his mission.

Playing like a feature-length mashup of TV’s ‘The Fugitive’ and ‘The Prisoner,” The Man with the Silver Case is a triumph of both style and storytelling. Shot amidst stunning Swiss landscapes and filled with paranoia, ennui, anomie, and lots and lots of cigarettes, it’s one of the films of the year – and has left me eager to find out what comes next. Can we have a sequel, please?

Screening at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 8 is a horror film of the more traditional variety. Beautifully shot by cinematographer David Pienaar – who also takes full advantage of some breathtaking scenery – the film is set in a remote South African village where a family of three has just moved into a decrepit farmhouse.

Inherited by William (Garth Breytenbach) after his father’s death, the house holds troubling memories for Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe), a former farmhand who lingers around the property in hopes of finding work. Lazarus, however, has an ulterior motive involving an unfortunate but understandable deal with The Devil.

Insinuating his way into William’s good graces despite the protestations of wife Sarah (the terrific Inge Beckmann), Lazarus develops a close relationship with the couple’s niece Mary (Keita Luna). The two have much in common – Mary lost her parents in an accident, the grandfatherly elder his daughter in a fire – and he’s eager to teach the young girl some important lessons about life, death, and transformation.

Many of the greatest horror villains – including Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon – are deeply sympathetic characters, and viewers will be hard-pressed not to feel empathy for poor old Lazarus. Though 8 may not quite be on par with the aforementioned Universal classics, it’s pretty damn good and features an unsettling final shot that both shocks and surprises.

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