FANTASTIC FEST 2021 WRAP UP

We had a blast at Fantastic Fest, the largest genre film festival in the US, specializing in horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and just plain fantastic movies from all around the world. We were honored to be allowed to review so many great films and want to thank everyone that made it possible. we can’t wait until next year!

Here are the films that we watched. You can click on any title to see a more in-depth review.

AgnesA possession film until it isn’t.

Alone With YouWhen you’re all alone, your mind plays tricks on you.

Baby AssassinsWhat do killing machines do for part-time jobs?

BarbariansWell, no more dinner parties for me…

Beyond the Infinite 2 MinutesTime travel, endless shots and no small amount of absolutely endearing ideas.

Bloody OrangesStart with a dance contest, end in a suicide pact…and in the middle, everyone gets damaged.

Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest: Can one man play the same video game for 100 hours?

Cop SecretA buddy cop comedy that goes all the way.

Dead & BeautifulSo were the rich kids vampires all along?

DealerKids dealing drugs, actors screwing up, a dark ending…

Devil StoryVinegar Syndrome’s new release of this French all over the place shockfest.

The Exorcism of GodCan you exorcise a priest?

Eyes of FireSeverin’s revised and cleaned-up print of this rare American folk horror classic.

The Found Footage PhenomenonA movie that changed my mind on found footage.

Glasshouse: Post-pandemic The Beguiled that’s still its own great movie.

HellbenderA mother and daughter metal band may also be witches in this family-made movie.

King CarPeople that can talk to cars and a car socialist uprising — all in the same movie!

KnockingOne woman, one apartment, all madness.

Last of the WolvesModern Yakuza blood and honor.

Let the Wrong One InA vampiric comedy with no small amount of viscera.

Luzifer: The world is about to change for a man child and the mother who has raised him alone in the forest.

Mad GodPhil Tippett’s life’s work. A must-see.

The Marco EffectThe next installment of the Chapter Q saga.

Masking ThresholdA complete blast of bonkers energy and rot.

Mlungu WamApartheid, old ghosts and family issues boil over.

Mother SchmuckersComedic grossout — I mean, really gross.

Name Above Title: Wordless giallo-infused film that starts with a woman leaping to her death near a killer who has just made love and strangled a woman. When they kidd, it goes viral.

Nr. 10: A movie that completely stunned me with its reveal. I won’t say much other than please see this.

Possession: The 4K version of one of the most masterful movies of all time, a video nasty and a movie that is pretty much the most accurate breakup film of all time.

PremanWhen your child goes against the gang, you either give in or start the fight.

RadYou can never have enough Helltrack in your life.

Saloum: Mercenaries suddenly come against the supernatural in this multi-lingual thrill ride.

Samuel’s TravelsWhat happens when you get lost in the woods and enslaved.

Some Like It RareVegans make the best ham.

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe ItA fishing trip goes way wrong.

There’s Someone Inside Your HouseA 90s throwback slasher that’s now running on Netflix.

This is GWARThe Scumdogs of the Universe, or at least Richmond, VA, have a crazy history. This is it.

The Timekeepers of EternityTake a Stephen King movie, print out every frame and make it so much better than it has any right to be.

The TripA married couple who wants to kill one another go on a cabin vacation and then…things get worse.

V/H/S/94: The first entry in the found footage anthology series since 2014’s V/H/S: VIRAL, V/H/S/94 brings the blood, brains, viscera, eyeball and tracking issues.

The VisitorOne of my favorite movies of all time, even if I can’t explain what the hell is going on. And that’s what makes it awesome.

Who Killed the KLF?What kind of band would delete everything they ever made and then set millions of pounds on fire? The KLF.

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk HorrorThe world’s most passionate and knowledgeable genre film expert, Kier-La Janisse, joins up with an army of film experts to explain how folk horror isn’t just something that takes place in the British fields.

ZalavaWhen reports of demonic possessions arise in a remote village, a military officer must deal with an exorcist and a demon that may be inside a glass jar.

Silent FilmsFantastic Fest @ Home is featuring a series of silent films reimagined with the music of five artists from GroundUp music. Beyond this film, there’s also Aelita: Queen of Mars with a score by Snarky Puppy’s Chris Bullock, Sirintip rescoring The Lost World, PRD Mais taking on Waxworks, Bob Lanzetti covering Nosferantu and House of Waters playing music for MenilmontantLe Voyage dans la Lune and Ballet Mecanique.

Drawn and QuarteredFantastic Fest’s celebration of animated sgorts.

FANTASTIC FEST: V/H/S/ 94 (2021)

1994: A police S.W.A.T. team swoops in on a cult that trades in illegal VHS tapes that lull viewers into drug-like trances or death. As they make their way through their compound, the tapes begin to roll and show the full range of insanity that they trade in.

The fourth film in the V/H/S/ series is here — and the first I’ve seen — with each short film converging for the first time into a unified narrative. While David Bruckner wrote much of this, he couldn’t direct — he’s working on the new Hellraiser — and Radio Silence had limited involvement as they’re working on the Scream reimagining/reboot/sequel.

Made with older video equipment, physical tape transfers and digital effects so that each segment looks like 90s video, this film has a look much like our beloved Shot On Video 80s films like Boardinghouse, yet infused with the look of found footage. There’s also plenty of first-person shooter feel to a lot of the stories, which should be disorienting yet totally works.

How can this get even better? Tons of gore — seriously, it’s out of control in the best of ways — and a soundtrack by Greg Anderson — performing as The Lord — who is one of the hooded people behind SUNN O))).

“Holy Hell,” written and directed by Jennifer Reeder (Signature MoveKnives and Skin) is the connecting story that tells the tale of the cops finding all of the static, noise and eyeless bodies.

The first tape that they watch, written and directed by Chloe Okuno, is “Storm Drain,” which has a debt of gratitude to the WNUF Halloween Special. That said, it has its own energy and I love the reveal of the creatures, including the demonic rat god that lives in the sewer and the human rats that feel a lot like Giuliano Carnimeo’s Ratman.

Simon Barrett’s (who wrote The Guest and You’re Next) “The Empty Wake” has a mortician’s assistant alone — on a night with a tornado warning no less — with a dead body that may not stay dead. This reminded me of Silent Hill — the video game — in all the right ways.

Timo Tjahjanto (The Night Comes for Us) has the most technically advanced portion of the film, “The Subject,” in which a mad scientist has turned numerous human beings into mechanized killing machines. This sequence makes an inspired leap from video diary medical gore freakout to SWAT video game attack to realizing that S.A. is the victim and then it becomes her tale as she battles her way to freedom.

Ryan Prows (Lowlife) wrote and directed the last segment, “Terror,” which has a religious militia keeping a supernatural weapon guarded day and night, ready to unleash it to cleanse the world of sinners. This segment boasts an incredible idea and close, but may take a bit too long to get there.

There’s also a commercial for a Veggie Masher that looks about as real as a TV commercial as I’ve seen. It’s directed by Steven Kostanski, who made two of my favorite movies in recent years, Psycho Goreman and The Void.

The streaming world is filled with way too many horror anthologies. So many of them don’t understand the need to have a framing story and a unifying theme. That’s because so many are just shorts all jammed together to try and take your money. V/H/S/94 has the one thing those movies are missing — well, besides actual talent and artistry — and that’s fun. Everyone looks like they had an incredible time making these, filling the screen with big ideas and plenty of guts and fluids.

You can watch this on Shudder.

FANTASTIC FEST: Last of the Wolves (2021)

Three years after The Blood of WolvesKorô no chi: Level 2 (AKA The Blood of the Wolves 2 and Last of the Wolves) finds Shuichi Hioka taking over after the death of the corrupt Shōgo Ōgami and fulfilled his mentor police officer’s plan: a truce between the various gangs of Hiroshima. Yet when Shigehiro Uebayashi (Ryohei Suzuki, Tokyo Tribe) is released from prison, the Japanese-Korean criminal reunites his old gang with their old mission and reinvents the violence his yakuza brothers were once feared for.

Based on Yuko Yuzuki’s novel, this film — directed by Kazuya Shiraishi and written by Junya Ikegami — recalls the glory days of Japanese gangster cinema. There’s some gorgeous imagery — tattooed bodies in cages, for one — that pushes against the grime, blood and brutality on display here.

Both Hioka and Uebayashi have lost a boss and have something to prove to their fellow officers and gang members. The only questions are ones of moral principles and honor: will Hioka follow the path of Ōgami and accept that he must be tainted by corruption for even a small portion of justice to be delivered, while Uebayashi feels that loyalty must be followed even if it means that he must die.

The old ways and violence of the past are giving way to the politics and business of the future. Yet for these two men, they stand at the crossroads of history. Yet the desire for power and the need for violence forever remain constants.

I haven’t had the opportunity to see much modern Japanese gangster cinema and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I adored this. Near-constant rain, plentiful blood and violence, still photo history moments — it’s stylish and exciting. If you’re looking for something new, you should track this down once it comes to the United States.

Last of the Wolves is currently plating Fantastic Fest and is not otherwise streaming in the U.S. You can learn more about this feature at the official site.

FANTASTIC FEST: Waxworks (1924)

This silent German film is one of the first — if not the first anthology films, as it tells multiple stories comprising fantasy adventure, history and horror. The connecting story is about a writer accepting a job from a waxworks proprietor to write a series of tales about the exhibits in his wax museum, which include Harun al-Rashid, Ivan the Terrible and Jack the Ripper.

As a love of portmanteau, it’s a thrill to see this film, which influenced Dead of Night and Black Sabbath, two movies that are thought to be the start of the horror anthology genre. And in the words of someone who knows way more about movies than me — Troy Howarth — “Of all the later horror anthologies, it seems to have had the most direct effect on Amicus’ Torture Garden, which reused the waxworks motif.”

There’s also a moment in the Ivan the Terrible story where the writer claims that the conquerer turned cities into cemeteries, which made me smile and say, “They will make cemeteries their cathedrals and the cities will be your tombs.”

The film has a great cast with plenty of history, including:

Emil Jannings, the first — and only German — recipient of the Academy Award for Best Actor for his roles in The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh. A fictional version of him appears and dies in Inglourious Basterds, which is fitting as Jannings’ career ending after appearing in Axis propaganda films. He plays Harun al-Rashid from the Arabian Nights.

Conrad Veidt, who plays Ivan the Terrible, is probably best known for playing somnambulist Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and as the villain in The Man Who Laughs, which inspired the Joker. He was also a powerful medium and occultist in real life who finally went to Hollywood where he appeared in Whistling in the DarkAll Through the NIghtAbobe Suspicion and Casablanca.

Werner Krauss, who is both Jack the Ripper and — spoiler — Spring Heel Jack, was called the man of a thousand faces, the greatest actor of all time and a demonic genius, which is probably the most fitting description, as he was an unapologetic antisemite who supported the Nazi Party.

William Dieterle, who plays the writer, would come to America and make The Life of Emile Zola, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as movies like the film noir films The Accused and Dark City.

John Gottowt, the waxworks owner, also played Professor Bulwer, the Van Helsing role in Nosferatu. As a Jewish man, he was kept from making movies when the Nazis took over. He was murdered in 1942 by an SS officer when his disguise as a Roman Catholic priest was discovered.

Speaking of Nosferantu, this movie has the same writer, Henrik Galeen.

Co-director Paul Leni would make it to Hollywood, where he’d direct the second Charlie Chan movie, The Chinese Parrot, as well as The Man Who Laughs. The other director, Leo Birinsky, would go on to write and direct Flirtation, a precode film about the romantic adventures of a burlesque dancer.

The version that played Fantastic Fest has the score interpreted by PRD Mais, “a collection of young and talented percussionists who combine the rich musical heritage of Brazil with an innovative mindset shaped by a limitless range of contemporary influences.”

Fantastic Fest @ Home is featuring a series of silent films reimagined with the music of five artists from GroundUp music. Beyond this film, there’s also Aelita: Queen of Mars with a score by Snarky Puppy’s Chris Bullock, Sirintip rescoring The Lost World, PRD Mais taking on Waxworks, Bob Lanzetti covering Nosferantu and House of Waters playing music for MenilmontantLe Voyage dans la Lune and Ballet Mecanique.

FANTASTIC FEST: Cop Secret (2021)

Leynilögga means Secret Log in Islandic, as far as Google tells me, which is a funny joke if true, as this film is all about a tough cop in denial of his own sexual orientation who falls in love with his new partner.

Directed by Hannes Þór Halldórsson, the goalie for Iceland’s national soccer team, it’s all about criminal mastermind Rikki Ferrari (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), who was once a model before being disfigured. Now, he’s gone full Joker and is on a murder spree that can only be stopped by buddy cop — odd couple buddy cop at that — duo Bussi and Hörđur. Bussi is the tough guy who can barely keep his apartment clean and his face shaved, while Hörđur is a male model cop. Yet the longer they’re together, Hörđur’s looks and Bussi’s repressed homosexuality soon turn their partnership into more than a work relationship. And Rikki starts to blackmail them once he learns their cop secret.

Aren’t all buddy cop movies romcoms when you really get down to it? Instead of all that macho posturing and showing off guns, didn’t you ever wonder if they really just wanted to, well, show off their guns in private? I’ve never seen a coming out in the middle of a brutal gunfight, but hey — that’s the kind of ballistic buffoonery that Cop Secret has in store.

And if the end feels very Nolan Batman, well, director of photography Elli Cassata was a cameraman on Batman Begins.

Cop Secret is not streaming anywhere outside of festivals as of yet. We saw it as part of Fantastic Fest. Keep checking the official site for more information.

FANTASTIC FEST: Some Like It Rare (2021)

Sophie and Vincent have run the family butcher shop for a decade, but business is bad. So bad that it’s on the brink of bankruptcy and so is their marriage. Yet what turns things around? When Vincent kills a vegan activist who had vandalized their business. And when he butchers the body and his wife accidentally sells it and customers can’t stop lining up and the two fall in love again, who is to say that some murder and cannibalism can be bad things?

So yeah — Sophie only cares about serial killer shows and Vincent only cares about their dog Chubster and by the end, well, their marriage of thirty years feels as fresh as that new cut they have in the case.

Get ready for plenty of the blackest of the black humor, as vegan hunting becomes the couple’s new sport. And people find that new special pig, that artisanal taste, so exquisite. Now, this is no Eating Raoul — what is — but I had fun watching it.

The French Some Like It Rare — known as Barbaque in their country — isn’t streaming yet in the U.S. outside of Fantastic Fest. If you like some dark humor, keep your eye out for this one.

FANTASTIC FEST: The Lost World (1925)

Adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel, The Lost World is most famous for its stop motion special effects, which were created by Willis O’Brien and predate his work on the original King Kong.

In some prints of this film, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself appeared in the opening, introducing what audiences were about to see. Just a few years earlier, he had shown  test reel of O’Brien’s effects to a meeting of the Society of American Magicians, including Harry Houdini. The audience was certain they had seen true footage of dinosaurs and Coyle refused to say where he had acquired the footage. It even made the front page of the New York Times, which said that Doyle’s “monsters of the ancient world, or of the new world which he has discovered in the ether, were extraordinarily lifelike. If fakes, they were masterpieces.”

The first feature-length film made in the United States — and probably the the world — to feature model animation as the primary special effect, this was also the first movie to be played on an airplane.

Professor Challenger (Wallace Berry) has been ridiculed for announcing that dinosaurs are real, yet he accepts an offer to field a team to rescue the scientist Maple White, along with that learned man’s daughter Paula, sportsman Sir John Roxton, news reporter Edward Malone, Professor Summerlee, Zambo and Challenger’s butler Austin. I mean, if you live in style, I always say take your servant to meet some kaiju.

Well, their trip is filled with peril, plenty of dinosaurs and an apeman who nearly kills them multiple times before they bring a brontosaurus back to London. Unlike Kong, beauty does not kills the beast and the gigantic quadruped sauropod swims on down the Thames to freedom.

The version that played Fantastic Fest has the score interpreted by Sirintip, whose origins and influences stretch across three continents and cultures: Thailand, Sweden and America. The young performer has stated, “I want to also appeal to people who don’t know anything about jazz… while inspiring and challenging the people who do listen to jazz in a new way.”

Fantastic Fest @ Home is featuring a series of silent films reimagined with the music of five artists from GroundUp music. Beyond this film, there’s also Aelita: Queen of Mars with a score by Snarky Puppy’s Chris Bullock, Sirintip rescoring The Lost World, PRD Mais taking on Waxworks, Bob Lanzetti covering Nosferantu and House of Waters playing music for MenilmontantLe Voyage dans la Lune and Ballet Mecanique.

FANTASTIC FEST: Drawn and Quartered 2021 (2021)

As part of Fantastic Fest, several animation shorts played Drawn and Quartered 2021. There’s lots of love here — you should try and check out each of these as they appear online.

Sunbelly (Directed by Jordan Speer): A canine astronaut travels through the galaxy yet still has to deal with fleas. This movie, packed with color and great music by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, is a great kickoff to this collection of shorts.

Dust Belly (directed by Seth Smith): This rotoscoped short is incredibly gorgeous and offers the intrigue of how a chicken looks at life and contemplates death.

Heart of Gold (directed by Simon Filliot): A poor young mother must sell parts of herself to a sick old woman for the gold her son needs to survive. Yet by the end, all of her organs, skin and even face have been replaced with mechanics. While a claymation piece, this is a pretty haunting looking segement, even if the message is pretty basic. That doesn’t take away from the artistry.

Self-Actualization of the Werewolf Woman (directed by Connell Pendergast: Two creatures of the night meet and discuss philosophy in this black and white line art cartoon. I loved that the cartoony look was juxtaposed with such mature dialogue.

 

Death and the Winemaker (directed by Victor Jaquier): A winemaker who is known for the finest vintage in the world is visited by Death, who wants to taste his wine. Yet while he shares a drink with death, he learns that his bride is on her to do list in this exquisitely animated fairy tale.

Launch (directed by Leah Shore): Of all the animated shorts in this collection, Launch has the most vibrant and in-your-face look, showing a reality on the brink of the end of everything.

Mother Bunker (directed by George Metaxas): During the robot-human war, one of the military commanders — named Mother —  dresses in drag. Human drag, that is, and performs for her troops before going back into combat. I really loved the energy in this segment. Check out the official site for some awesome behind the scenes imagery.

Nuevo Rico (direcrted by Kristian Mercado Figueroa): Winner of the Best Animated Short at SXSW, this film is set within an future version of what Puerto Rico could be, as a brother and sister become music stars at the risk of losing one another. They got their abilities by stealing them from dieties of the island, so when fame takes them far away, it may doom everyone. This is an incredible looking showcase of Latinx voices and artists and is well worth tracking down. Learn more at the official site.

This year’s Drawn and Quarterly program was a great opportunity to see films that I may never have had the chance to get to otherwise. As these animated films play fests this year, make it a point to watch them!

FANTASTIC FEST: Menilmontant (1926)

Not all silent movies are silly bits of fluff. Menilmontant begins with the axe murder of its two leads parents, sending the two sisters to Paris and rough neighborhood of the title. They try to survive just by selling artificial flowers, but there’s no way that they’ll make it.

Director Dimitri Kirsanoff didn’t include any dialogue cards in this film, simply using the imagery and the music to tell us the passing of time as the sisters gradually live a more bleam life, including the man that comes between them.

The film closes with another murder — both are rough even today in our world of special effects — as the one sister must give up the child that the man has left her with to her estranged family member, now rich from the very same man that has done so much damage to their bond.

Menilmontant is a striking film and one I would have never seen without Fantastic Fest.

The version that played Fantastic Fest has the score interpreted by House of Waters, which features “Jimi Hendrix of Hammered Dulcimer” Max ZT, Moto Fukushim and Ignacio Rivas Bixio.

Fantastic Fest @ Home is featuring a series of silent films reimagined with the music of five artists from GroundUp music. Beyond this film, there’s also Aelita: Queen of Mars with a score by Snarky Puppy’s Chris Bullock, Sirintip rescoring The Lost World, PRD Mais taking on Waxworks, Bob Lanzetti covering Nosferantu and House of Waters playing music for MenilmontantLe Voyage dans la Lune and Ballet Mecanique.

FANTASTIC FEST: A Trip to the Moon (1902)

The best remembered film of Georges Méliès, this film was such a success upon its early release that it was one of the first films to be bootlegged*. Based loosely on Jules Vernes’ From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon.

Professor Barbenfouillis and five brave astronomers —  Nostradamus, Alcofrisbas, Omega, Micromegas and Parafaragaramus — have decided to go to the moon, gifting us with that iconic image of the rocket hitting the face of the lunar surface directly in the eye.

The learned men that do make it to the moon have no issue crushing its natives, the insect Selenites, literally exploding them with just a casual push. After running wild through many of their number, the astronauts — who had been awakened by the gentle swinging of Phoebe goddess of the moon just hours earlier — escape back to Earth, enjoying a parade where they lead a captured alien through the streets as a banner unfurls with the legend labor omnia vincit (work conquers all).

Film scholar Matthew Solomon has written that Méliès, who was previously an anti-Boulangist political cartoonist, used this adventure and science fiction film as a parable within which to decry imperialistic domination. His conquering heroes aren’t really scientists and smart men, but dolts who hurt everyone they meet and still return to a hero’s welcome.

While there are black and white versions of this film, the one that played Fantastic Fest had the hand tinted colors that were created by Elisabeth Thuillier’s lab, which would make up to sixty prints of certain films, giving them an otherworldly quality which is perfect for this essential piece of cinema.

The version that played Fantastic Fest has the score interpreted by House of Waters, which features “Jimi Hendrix of Hammered Dulcimer” Max ZT, Moto Fukushim and Ignacio Rivas Bixio.

Fantastic Fest @ Home is featuring a series of silent films reimagined with the music of five artists from GroundUp music. Beyond this film, there’s also Aelita: Queen of Mars with a score by Snarky Puppy’s Chris Bullock, Sirintip rescoring The Lost World, PRD Mais taking on Waxworks, Bob Lanzetti covering Nosferantu and House of Waters playing music for MenilmontantLe Voyage dans la Lune and Ballet Mecanique.

*By Thomas Edison!