Joe Dante's Showtime episode 'Homecoming' gets special jury prize

SITGES, Spain — German shockers “Requiem” and “Rohtenburg (Grimm Love Story)” beat out strong Asian contenders “Exiled” and “The Host” for top kudos at the 39th Sitges Intl. Film Festival of Catalonia on Saturday.

Hans-Christian Schmid’s “Requiem” took best pic and actress (Sandra Hueller); “Grimm” scooped best director for Martin Weisz and the actor prize, which was shared by Thomas Kretschmann and Thomas Huber.

Joe Dante’s TV episode “Homecoming,” his contribution to Showtime’s Masters of Horror anthology series, with dead U.S. combatants returning to their homeland as zombies in order to vote, took the special jury and screenplay awards. Its anti-Bush slant was greeted with glee at Sitges.

The two frontrunners — Bong Joon-ho’s Cannes hit “The Host” and Johnnie To’s Macau mobster actioner “Exiled” — took best effects and the youth jury prize, respectively.

The official jury’s verdict underscores the rising fortunes of European horror fare and reflects the jury’s concern with social issues: both Schmid’s rawly-told exorcism tale and the unflinching cannibal pic “Grimm” riff off true events.

“Grimm” — inspired by German Armin Meiwes’ mutilation, murder and eating of a compliant victim in 2002 — provoked at least one spectator to faint. But its classical structure, heavy on flash-backs and explanation, belies its subjectmatter.

Top Sitges plaudits could have easily gone elsewhere. The 39th edition of Europe’s biggest fantasy-horror fest proved one of its strongest in recent years, in terms of the quality of its Official Section, the number of world preems, and tickets sold, up 7% on 2005, with attendance running at 100,000.

Devoid of Hollywood A-list stars, Sitges boasted a long lineup of directors tubthumping films, led by Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), Paul Verhoeven (“Black Book”), Terry Gilliam (“Tideland”), Roland Joffe (“Four”), Darren Aronofsky (“The Fountain”) and Dante.

Verhoeven confirmed he would “love” his next film to be “The White Goddess,” an adaptation of a detective novel by Russia’s Boris Akunin set in 1876, but financing still had to be put together. Project is being produced by Peter Hoffman, Thomas Hedman, and Verhoeven’s longtime producer, Alan Marshall.

Of world preems, Thomas Dunn’s tragicomic “The Ungodly,” co-written with lede Mark Borkowski, and Daniel Monzon’s finely crafted “The Kovak Box” went over best.

Tightly written, the dungeon-humored “Ungodly,” a U.S.-Catalan coprod, charted the table-turning shifts in power between a young filmmaker, questioningly blurring distinctions between helmer and psycho.

Lushly lensing Mallorca, the Filmax-produced “Kovak Box,” played like a sci-fi riff on Hitchcock’s Cor-niche coast suspensers.

Sitges served to confirm two genre trends: the continuing rise of the Euro zombie fare and a burgeoning chiller sub-category: pics set or shot or even co-financed in Russia.

Portraying a frosted-over post-apocalypse bunker, Elio Quiroga’s zombie drama “La Hora fria,” drew strong perfs, had intriguing retro-futuristic touches. Brit zomcom “Fido,” went over well, hiking hopes of snag-ging Spanish distribution.

Fest’s first weekend was boosted by a large presence of Eastern European buyers, brought over for the Oct. 7-9 Sitges Sales Office mini-mart, including top Russian buyers Ruscico, Pan Terra Film Co. and EA Cinema.

Russia’s presence was also felt in films. Filmed in Moscow and co-produced by Russia’s Ramco and Mark Damon’s Foresight Unlimited, Roland Joffe’s world-preeming kidnap thriller “Four” (aka “Captivity”) was dismissed by local reviewers as a stock genre piece.

Shot in Bulgaria but set in Russia, Catalan Nacho Cerda’s unremittingly bleak but polished ghost-thriller “The Abandoned” split opinions.

A straight genre item, “Moskow Zero” from Luna (“Stranded,” “Whore”) has a big-bearded Vincent Gallo, a Luna regular, exploring a baleful Moscow underworld. Val Kilmer pops up as a leader of renegade homeless.

Most Catalan sidebar standouts — “August Days,” “The Chair,” “To Let” — had already played Locarno, Venice or Toronto. Of new or lesser-known items, the biggest Catalan Focus hit was Agusti Vila’s “3055 Jean Leon,” a docupic on the bon vivant founder of Hollywood eatery La Scala.

Also in Catalan Focus, Joan Soler’s docu “Abandonatii” memorably captured real life zombies — zonked-out Bucharest street kids lumbering around parks and rubbish tips, sniffing synthetic paint. Available at the Sitges Sales Office, simpatico femme docu “Reyita,” from Oliva Acosta and Elena Ortega, unveiled the ignored achievements of a seemingly anonymous 101-year-old Cuban grandmother .

39TH SITGES INTL. FILM FESTIVAL OF CATALONIA, OCT. 6-15, 2006

OFFICIAL FANTASY COMPETITION AWARDS

BEST FILM

“Requiem,” Hans-Christian Schmid (Germany)

SPECIAL JURY AWARD

“Homecoming,” Joe Dante (U.S.-Canada)

BEST DIRECTOR

Martin Weisz, “Rohtenburg (Grimm Love Story)” (Germany)

BEST ACTOR

Thomas Kretschmann and Thomas Huber, “Rohtenburg (Grimm Love Story)”

BEST ACTRESS

Sandra Hueller, “Requiem”

BEST SCREENPLAY

Sam Hamm, “Homecoming”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Jonathan Sela, “Rohtenburg (Grimm Love Story)”

BEST ART DIRECTION

Are Sjaastad, “The Bothersome Man” (Norway)

BEST MAKE UP F/X

Jang Jin, “Time” (South Korea/Japan)

BEST SPECIAL EFFECTS — PREMI INFINIA

Jang Heui-cheol, “The Host” (South Korea)

BEST ORIGINAL SOUND-TRACK

East (Troublemakers), “(13) Tzameti” (France-Georgia)

ORIENT EXPRESS-CASA ASIA AWARD

“The Host,” Bong Joon-ho

GERTIE BEST ANIMATED FILM AWARD

“The Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” Mamoru Hosoda (Japan)

SILVER MELIES, BEST EUROPEAN MOTION PICTURE

“Princess,” Anders Morgenthaler (Denmark-Germany)

OTHER AWARDS:

AUDIENCE AWARD

“The Science of Sleep,” Michel Gondry (France)

JOSE LUIS GUARNER CRITICS AWARD

“Requiem,” Hans-Christian Schmid

CITIZEN KANE AWARD TO AN UP-AND-COMING DIRECTOR “Brick,” Rian Johnson (U.S.)

SEAT AWARD — NEW VISIONS

“Edmond,” Stuart Gordon (U.S.)

SPECIAL MENTION

“The Living and the Dead,” Simon Rumley (U.K.)

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