And We’re Rolling: #SSFF Night 1

Wow. So what else have I been missing, Lehigh Valley? Do you have like, gold mines and waterslides and In-N-Out Burgers hidden in the woods or something?

I had mentioned yesterday in my welcome post how even though I’ve lived in the 6-1-0 my whole life, there’s still a whole lot about the area I haven’t really uncovered. You can probably chalk that up to laziness, sure, but never lack of interest. One such attraction/event has of course been the South Side Film Festival, which has grown and flourished over the last seven years but has ultimately failed to get me off the couch and out of the house. (My fault, not theirs.) Not this year, though! Chalk that up to this newfound sense of exploration that I’m, well … exploring this summer. Also, Silagh asked me nicely to go.

Last night, I got my #SSFF cherry popped.

I rolled up to the festival’s official opening night welcome party at Home and Planet a few minutes past 7 p.m., and the place was packed out the wazoo. Hordes of filmgoers young and old filled every inch of the store noshing on refreshments and awkwardly bobbing their heads to the Dan DeChellis Trio, while the overflow congregated outside. The large attendance was certainly helped by the fact that Bethlehem’s will-they-or-won’t-they love affair with beautiful weather is very much on again. But mostly, these folks were pretty psyched to get their parade on. Thanks to the Bethlehem Pipe Band, who led the procession, we arrived at Lehigh’s Lewis Lab in style.

And check out the line! Of course, me being a member of the media elite with super special privileges, I didn’t have to wait in it. But still, I imagine the anticipation was pretty intense.

Once inside, it took a while for everyone to get situated. I’ve had a few classes in good ol’ LL270 back in the day, but I’ve never seen it as packed as it was tonight. Probably because horror and comedy films are vastly more interesting than calculus and quantum physics and whatever else they teach in that auditorium. (I took astronomy in the room, FYI. We learned about stars.) Every seat was filled to the point where the festival employees had to resort to selling those dreaded “Standing Room Only” tickets. Eventually, all the sitters and standers hushed up and the cinema magic began.

What kind of cinema magic, you ask? How about stick figures bleeding profusely and eating babies? That do anything for you? It did for all of us while we were watching Wisdom Teeth, the subversive animated German import that kicked things off in earnest. The basic plot: One stick figure unravels the other’s stitches from wisdom teeth surgery, and things get out of hand pretty quickly. Hilarious, bizarre, offensive … just about the best way to set the tone for things to come, methinks. I think I saw a few kids in the crowd before the short started, but I’m willing to bet their parents probably corrected that error about a minute in.

And if the children weren’t gone by the time Wisdom Teeth ended, then they sure as hell were by the time the next short, Can We Talk?, got to its first felatio reference. I absolutely loved the 11 minutes we got to spend with Vince and Sophie, two mumbling Brits who are in the middle of breaking up with each other when their conversation turns, well, graphic. If you’re a fan of patented British cringe humor (think anything Ricky Gervais has ever done) and also a fan of sexual vulgarity, then take some time to seek this one out as the week goes on.

Those two appetizers preceded the night’s main attraction, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, a low-budget horror comedy (with some star power) that was a crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word. When a group of unruly college students find themselves in the Appalachian Mountains for some kind of bizarro vacation, they end up sharing their rural spot with the two titular hillbillies, who the students incorrectly peg as murderers. A comedy of errors ensues, as one-by-one, the college kids accidentally off themselves while trying to kill Tucker and Dale, who are nothing more than a few harmless, dim-witted Larry the Cable Guys. While the acting, highlighted by Alan Tudyk (a.k.a. Steve the Pirate from Dodgeball) and Katrina Bowden (Cerie on 30 Rock), was nothing to write home about, the writing was sharp and the violence was delightfully tacky. Deaths proceded to get more and more absurd, and the audience continued to lap it up.

Though I have no frame of reference to judge how this year’s opening night was compared to years past, the three films really combined to make tonight special. I think everyone felt that certain “something” in the air: an excitement that this great event is happening right in our backyard, so let’s embrace it. Maybe that’s how things usually go for the #SSFF. I’m kicking myself for not knowing. But it certainly has me ready to do it all again for night two on Wednesday.

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