in Movies

Beyond Fest: ‘The Mind’s Eye’ & ‘Phantom of the Opera’

phantom of the opera

Beyond Fest is the perfect Halloween companion, a 12 day festival featuring the bizarre, classic and cult, melding live music, cast and crew Q&A’s, reunion screenings and tributes with a punk rock, give-no-fucks vibe. This is a festival that featured a free cart of beer (in vintage beer cans) going down the aisle before the LA premiere of The Mind’s Eye, had Bruce Campbell in attendance for an Evil Dead double feature and Al Pacino there to discuss Dog Day Afternoon.

Beyond Fest, in accordance with Shudder and Death Waltz Records, is a grungy, psychedelic gonzo film festival featuring an increasing embarrassment of riches in terms of programming each year. This was my third year covering the festival, and it pained me that I could only go to two screenings this year: the aforementioned The Mind’s Eye and a 90th anniversary screening of Universal’s The Phantom of the Opera in 16mm, the iconic silent picture starring Lon Chaney as titular Phantom, accompanied by a live score.

The Mind’s Eye isn’t trying to work your brain. It’s trying to explode them. Indeed, at least two instances of exactly that occur during writer-director Joe Begos’ awesome, gorey follow up to Almost Human (not to be confused with the show I love to hate by the same name).

Before the screening, actor-editor Josh Ethier, promised us: There’s nothing subtextual in this movie. This isn’t a metaphor. They aren’t making any statements. They just want us to have fucking fun.

And unless you’re queasy around some glorious practical FX blood and guts, that’s exactly what you’ll have watching The Mind’s Eye.

The non-stop grisly thriller stars Graham Skipper as Zack Connors, a powerful drifter psychokinetic (or telekinetic, someone who can move shit with their minds), who is picked up by renowned psychokinetic doctor Michael Slovak (John Speredakos), who also happens to have Zack’s former flame (and current psychokinetic) Rachel Meadows (Lauren Ashley Carter) under lock and key. Slovak is quite obviously a batshit crazy villain, seeking to dope up the world’s psychokinetics and steal their juice for himself, injecting it into an ever increasing pus-filled spot in his neck.

Speredakos is hilariously evil and great; it’s hard to remember anyone being so gleefully self-aware about their quintessential 80’s villainy. He chews his lines like they’re laffy taffy, his body becoming a playground for disturbing and gross blood-pus-vein makeup.

mind's eye

The Mind’s Eye seeks out carnage, with almost every scene featuring Skipper or someone clenching every bone in their body, concentrating, to use their psychokinetic gifts (I will forever know what Skipper looks like when he’s constipated). It’s wonderful, and features a badass synth score from Steve Moore (who also just slayed with The Guest) and a memorable supporting turn from cult movie star Larry Fessenden.

The Mind’s Eye is a shit show lovingly made for fans of John Carpenter and David Cronenberg and promises to be a drunken movie choice for any film nerd lucky enough to find it.

Whereas The Mind’s Eye is a throwback to 80’s horror, Phantom of the Opera was one of the first horror films ever made, coming out in 1925 and representing one of the most indelible turns of Lon Chaney’s storied career.

The afternoon event was special for innumerable reasons: Lon Chaney’s great-grandson Ron Chaney was there to introduce the film, providing an original print of the film, and bringing along two musicians playing from the original score made expressly for the 1925 version of the movie, and not the re-edited version that was rereleased in 1929.

90 years later, it’s remarkable how well Lon Chaney’s makeup and performance hold up, considering prints of the movie itself barely hold themselves together. The music and one of the many faces Lon Chaney created during his Hollywood-defining career still hold up, with many iconic shots unfolding like an origin story for the film industry.

Beyond Fest, fittingly, isn’t just about movies. It goes beyond: to the past, present, and future, with piano, celluloid and latex. Where else are you gonna be able to get a picture with Ron Chaney wearing a mask based on his great-grandfather’s most treasured work?