FANTASTIC FEST: Ballet Mecanique (1924)

A Dadaist post-Cubist art film conceived, written and co-directed by Fernand Léger in collaboration with the filmmaker Dudley Murphy with cinematographic input from Man Ray, Balley Mecanique is as gorgeous and groundbreaking today as it was nearly a hundred years ago.

Flashes of images — a young woman and a smile are all the humanity we get before the swirling and whirling world of technology takes over, as concentric circles of objects spin, pistons and gears do their mechanical dance, cars keep driving and even carnival rides push and pull and keep on moving. This world is always in motion, repeating over and over again.

George Antheil wrote the original score for this film, but his music was thirty minutes long while the film is only sixteen. At first — and for many years — it played without that original score. The first time they actually played together wasn’t until 2000, when Paul Lehrman presented a version that featured both the score and the visuals.

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: Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror(2021)

If you have even a passing interest in the world of folk horror, Kier-La Janisse’s exhaustive exploration — which clocks in at 3 hours and 14 minutes and could have been a thousands more if I had my way — is the film of a lifetime. From the unholy trinity that launched this trend on to screens — Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General, Piers Haggard’s Blood on Satan’s Claw and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man — all the way through British television and films around the world, this movie is quite literally the last word in what folk horror is, what it means and how it’s still part of the world of cinema today, perhaps more than ever before.

With more than fifty major names in the world of horror and horror writing — everyone from Amanda Reyes, Piers Haggard, Adam Scovell, Jeremy Dyson Samm Deighan, Kat Ellinger, Robert Eggars, Ian Oglivy, Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer and around forty more voices appear with great insights — there’s never been a more well-rounded approach to tackling a movie genre within a genre. This feels like the kind of film that I’ll be coming back to again and again.

Beyond the expected anchors of the genre, I was so excited to see lesser known films get their due, like Alison’s Birthday (which is on the gigantic All the Haunts Be Ours box set that Severin is releasing), beDevilDark AugustEyes of Fire (also beng released by Severin), Grim Prarie TalesLemora (which seemingly has footage from the mysterious blu ray of the film that never materialized) and Zeder.

This is the kind of material that you want to pause, write down, make notes on and keep updating your Letterboxd while you watch it. This isn’t just a movie about films. This is a true celebration of the magical wonder hidden within the flickering image, an exploration of a genre of all the dark old things and a journey through how each country documents the unknown through their media.

There aren’t enough stars in the firmament out of ten to rate this one. You can preorder this film from Severin now. Do it immediately.

You can also visit the film’s official site.

FANTASTIC FEST: Mad God (2021)

We shouldn’t have to tell you who Phil Tippett is. He’s the artist who animated everything from the Star Wars miniature chess scene to ED-209 in RoboCop, the aliens of Starship Troopers and the dragons in Willow and Dragonslayer. He’s been working Mad God for thirty years and let me tell you — it was worth it.

An assassin explores a decimated world following a map that is rapidly falling to pieces, taking him through lawless mutant worlds and followed by faceless drones commanded by a monstrous infant. When he finally finds his target, it’s a dud, his life’s mission ruined and he’s captured. Then, the film becomes something else, a metaphor for war, destruction, creation and so much more, all animated by a true master.

While this film was created by dream logic, it also has the destruction of the Tower of Babel, Repo Man director Alex Cox as The Last Man, electrocuted brains, cosmic babies, Hell, Heaven and honestly whatever you want it to be and anything that you see in it. There hasn’t been a movie this formless or as willing to challenge you to answer what it’s all about in, well, forever. It’s a nihilistic apocalypse that somehow makes me want to celebrate being alive.

One of the sales lines for this film states: “Each piece of Mad God is handcrafted, independent and created from the heart.”

This is a film that I feel like I could write thousands of words about and you still wouldn’t know what it was truly about. You must see it and feel it for yourself. It’s begging to be explored and dissected and just plain experienced.

Mad God is playing Fantastic Fest. We’ll share streaming information when we get it. You can learn more about the movie at the official site.

FANTASTIC FEST: The Trip (2021)

Scandanavian director Tommy Wirkola is known in the United States for Dead Snow and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Now, he has created this film, which was called I onde dager (In Bad Days) in its home country.

It concerns a couple — Noomi Rapace (who played Lisabeth Salander in the original films) and Aksel Hennie — who go away to a cabin to reconnect, but they’re just going to probably murder one another.

In fact, he’s been following her with a noose when she turns around and tases him, awakening him to explain how she was going to kill him and make it look like a hunting accident. That’s when three criminals that have been hiding inside the cabin make their presence known.

This could have been a bit shorter, but with all the black comedy, the blood and the mayhem, I really have no reason to complain.

The Trip will be on Netflix on October 15.

FANTASTIC FEST: Saloum (2021)

Bangui’s Hyenas, an elite mercenary team, have already extracted a drug dealer and his treasure from the chaos of a coup and are heading straight for the payout in Dakar. Yet as much as we love it when a plan comes together, we also seem to love a movie where things fall apart. And the Hyenas have found themselves stranded in the Sine-Saloum Delta, a group of isolated islands filled with local legends and dark magic. Now, the police — and maybe much worse things — are coming down on them.

The Hyenas — Chaka (Yann Gael), Rafa (Roger Sallah) and Minuit (Mentor Ba) — have survived so many wars and missions thanks to their skill and trust in one another. But this time feels different. That’s because it seems like Chaka, their leader, is hiding something. And as they stay within a small lodging camp until they can figure out their escape, the mute Awa (Evelyne Ily Juhen) threatens to expose them to the police unless she can go on the run with them.

Yet by the end, this movie goes from Italian western to American action to a supernatural take on Predator. What a strange ride this movie takes you on and the effects totally work, feeling as real as the gunplay at the start of the film.

Saloum is playing Fantastic Fest. When it begins streaming, we’ll update this post.

FANTASTIC FEST: Devil Story (1986)

Also known as Once Upon A Time…The Devil, we have the almighty Vinegar Syndrome to thank for this movie being newly restored in 4K from its 35mm original camera negative. I’ve had a bootleg of this waiting to be watched for years because I knew someday that I would need to call upon its infernal power to save me from a week of stress, madness and ennui. This would be that week. And man, Devil Story is beyond up to the task.

Just a warning: my description of this film is going to sound stream of conscious at best but trust me, it’s even weirder than my words. A mutant killer in an SS uniform is wandering the countryside and killing anyone unfortuante enough to get in his way. A couple’s car breaks down and they have to stay in a Gothic castle. There’s talk of an Equinox and a pirate ship that crashed into the rocks. Then we meet the mutant killer’s mother, a gypsy who lives with a mummy. There’s a horse that’s either possessed by the devil or Satan himself. There’s also a cat.

This is the kind of movie that’s blessed with large quantities of gore, a woman walking hand in bandage wrapped hand through a cemetery with a mummy and that horse. That horse! Also, the film ends as only it can, with the earth itself opening to swallow a character out of nowhere.

Why are there Florida plates on that car? How much is the pirate ship a reference to The Fog? How did the mutant get kicked in the face by a devil horse, throw up blood for a way too long period of time and then just get back to business as if nothing happened? Why does the mummy have such a thick package and throw up blue goop?

There are movies that people think are weird and then there’s Devil Story, a movie whose narrative changes, synth soundtrack and willingness to be a formless mess endeared it to me. I’m so used to the Jean Rollin classy French horror world and I’m so pleased to know that somehow there can be something like this, a movie that had to escape from some sort of parallel world where it was used as a form of image-based hallucinogen.

FANTASTIC FEST: Mother Schmuckers (2021)

Issachar & Zabulon, two scumbag brothers, have lost just about everything including a place to get food, now that they’ve lost one more thing — January Jack, their mother’s beloved dog. And unless they get it back in 24 hours, they’re out of her house.

Starring — as well as written and directed by along with his brother Lenny — Harpo Guit, this movie starts with the two leads (Maxi Delmelle plays the other brother) cooking their mother human feces for breakfast and her throwing up the film’s title. If you don’t run away at that point, maybe this is the film for you.

Debuting in the U.S. as part of the Midnight section of the Sundance Film Festival, this film is a barrage of scatlogical humor that is either going to be the hardest you’ve ever laughed or seventy minutes that feels stretched out beyond infinity.

There is one scene that made me laugh out loud, as one character repeatedly licks and sucks on a loaded gun, then starts gagging because he claims that someone rubbed peanuts all over it. It hit me just right, even if most of the rest of the movie didn’t. But you just might find something that you like here.

The other positive that I can bring up is that the filmmaking is frenetic and full of energy. That said, if you’re a dog person, you might want to skip the end of the movie.

Mother Smuckers is now playing at the Fantastic Festival. When a streaming source is revealed, we’ll update this post.

FANTASTIC FEST: The Marco Effect (2021)

Based on the Department Q series by Jussi Adler-Olsen, this is the fifth in a series of movies and seeing as how I haven’t seen any of the other ones, I think I can get past Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Fares Fares not being in this movie and Ulrich Thomsen takes on the role of Detective Mørck and Zaki Youssef as Assad.

Actually — the director and screenwriters have changed too!

In this one, a child trying to enter Denmark to meet with his father turns out to be carrying the passport of a man who has disappeared, but not before he allegedly took money from the nonprofit he works for and was also being investigated for pedophilia. Even weirder, the investigation into this man vanishing from sight was closed in just two weeks.

A lot of the fun of watching films at Fantastic Fest has been not knowing what I’m getting into. Sometimes you’re watching a movie about nuns that quickly pivots, other times you’re following the story of Gwar and then, still other times, you wind up in the middle of foreign crime series that you had no idea existed.

I’m here for all of it!


FANTASTIC FEST: Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (2020)

Dastan’s wife is very high maintenance. And very pregnant. So when his friends leave on a fishing trip, he decides to go along, seeing it was one last getaway before becoming a dad. Which would be all well and good, except he and his friends see a mob hit. And then the mob sees them. And then the backwoods maniac sees them all.

Kazakh director Yernar Nurgaliyev takes the expected — think The Hangover — adds in what should be a backwoods slasher like The Hills Have Eyes or Just Before Dawn and then makes it work. In lesser hands, this would be sub-Troma material. Here, things get out of control in the best of ways.

I’ve never seen a slasher where one of the people in danger has to keep holding in their farts so that they don’t alert the killer. That’s something really wonderful. There’s a lot to laugh at and be grossed out by in Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It. Hopefully, Dastan survives and something is left of him to go back to that toxic marriage.

And yes, this movie came from the land of Borat.

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is playing Fantastic Fest. When it starts streaming, we will update this post.

FANTASTIC FEST: Samuel’s Travels (2021)

Somewhere in the backwoods of Latvia — perhaps even on the edge of a mythical forest — Sam is a long way from Belgium. He’s looking for his father and is distracted, which leads to him hitting a piglet with his car. He tries to bury it, but it’s still alive, so to make amends, he drives the piglet and its owner Kirke back to their farm.

He mistakingly trusts the girl, who is the daughter of a pig farmer. The next day, her family members attack him, throw him in chains and toss him into the pig sty. Now, he’s their property. Yet Sam will find happiness in slavery, along with that piglet who can talk and who becomes his friend. But Kirke’s jealous ex-boyfriend wants him dead so he can marry her and take the farm.

Director Aik Karapetian also made FirstbornPeople Out There and The Man in the Orange Jacket. Who knew that his next film would be a near fairy tale where searching for your missing father in a foreign country ends up putting you either into the middle of a fairy tale or, perhaps more to Sam’s struggles, into The Odyssey, as Kirke’s name is close to Circe and she’s the one that turned all of Odysseus’ crewmen into swine before giving him the opportunity to stay and love her instead of leaving for home.

You can learn more about Samuel’s Travels at the official site.