Fantastic Fest

In the world of genre film, it’s usually kill or be killed. As we descend upon Austin, TX and the world famous Alamo Drafthouse for another year of coverage at the United States’ largest genre film festival, we once again choose to kill.

Follow along with Neil Miller (@rejects), Scott Beggs (@scottmbeggs) and Rob Hunter (@fakerobhunter) as they chronicle their journey into darkness and emerge covered in blood or some other, slightly less savory goo.

review sightseers

Editors’ note: Our Sightseers review originally ran during last year’s Fantastic Fest, but we’re re-posting it as the film gets a limited theatrical release starting today. The problem with making a truly fantastic film is that sooner or later you have to follow it up with a new movie. If it was your first then rumors will swirl about a sophomore slump, and if it’s your second then people will wonder if you can keep delivering the goods. Ben Wheatley‘s last film was the dark, brutal and highly acclaimed Kill List, and that in turn was a giant leap up from his debut, Down Terrace. Wheatley’s new movie is more of a jump sideways than up, but that’s actually even more impressive. Sightseers maintains the quality and effectiveness of Kill List even as it surprises with a constant stream of laugh out loud hilarity. Where his earlier movies featured darkly comic moments, this one is a flat out comedy… with gory murders. Has there ever been a love story as great as the one between Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram)? The answer is a resounding yes, but don’t tell that to these two sad-sack lovebirds. Tina is still reeling from the accidental death of her dog Poppy, but when her new beau Chris suggests the two of them take an RV trip across the English countryside she ignores her flatmate’s warnings and hits the road. It doesn’t hurt that her flatmate is her mother who constantly reminds Tina […]

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review wrong

Note: Rob Hunter’s review originally ran during Fantastic Fest 2012, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. Weirdness has its place in cinema. It can be a fun element in everything from comedies to horror films or used to add a lighter texture to serious topics, but the one thing it can’t be is the only thing. Quentin Dupieux‘s first feature, the innocuously titled Rubber, is one of the most absurd films of the past several years. Its core plot follows a tire that comes to life and begins exploding peoples’ heads via telekinesis, but it’s also an extremely smart commentary on consumer and audience expectations. The goofiness just makes it funnier. Dupieux’s follow-up is equally weird with random character dialogue and actions that make zero sense, visual gags that go unexplained and plot story threads that go nowhere in particular. A man wakes one morning to find his beloved dog is missing. His search for the pooch brings him in contact with neighbors, gardeners, policemen and more, and all of them without fail act incredibly weird. Why? No reason.

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amityvillecb

Editor’s note: This review was originally featured as part of our Fantasia Fest 2012 coverage (and later during Fantastic Fest), but now it’s out in limited release and on VOD, so we’re bringing it back for a third time. We’ve all seen The Amityville Horror, or at least we all should have by now. I highly recommend correcting any possible woeful oversights on your part in this regard. Those who have seen it are most likely aware that the film was based on a true story. The Lutz family moved into a house in Amityville, a suburb on Long Island, in 1975. The house was rather affordable largely due to its sinister history. The previous owners of the house were the DeFeo’s. A little over a year before the Lutz family moved in, Ronnie DeFeo shot and killed six members of his family in a brutal massacre that still haunts the local community. Shortly after they arrive, the Lutz family experience a series of unexplained events that seem to suggest a paranormal presence. Twenty-eight days later they flee the house, leaving all personal belongings behind. Later they would come forward and make their story public, a movie based on their experiences is produced and would go on to be a horror classic. Over time however, aspersions have been cast on the validity of the Lutz family’s story. A paranormal research team was unable to uncover anything strange in the home in the aftermath of the Lutz exodus, and none of the […]

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The ABCs of Death

Editors’ note: With The ABCs of Death arriving in theaters this week, here is a re-run of our own Luke Mullen’s review of the film from Fantastic Fest, originally published on September 30, 2012. The brainchild of Ant Timpson and Tim League, The ABCs of Death sounds like a great idea: let’s bring some of the smartest up-and-coming genre directors together to create 26 separate short films, each based on a letter from the alphabet. If it sounds ambitious, that’s an understatement. Wrangling that many short films from so many different filmmakers in so many different countries couldn’t have been easy, but things finally came together and buzz was pretty high when we finally sat down to see it at Fantastic Fest. It’s hard to describe the experience of watching 26 different shorts in the space of two hours. There’s not really a sense of tone since each short is so different, but there does at least seem to be some sense of pacing due to the grouping of stories. Things start off well with three Spanish-language shorts from Nacho Vigalondo, Adrian Garcia Bogliano, and Ernesto Diaz Espinoza. Then Marcel Sarmiento‘s “D is for Dogfight” impresses in a big way and expectations are high. From there, it’s a rollercoaster ride with shorts ranging from pretty good to forgettable, culminating in Ti West‘s awful “M is for Miscarriage.” The second half features far more good than bad, but “Z” is so incredibly awful that it almost sours the whole experience.

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Editor’s note: This review originally ran as part of our Fantastic Fest 2012 coverage, and since Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning in now playing in limited release, we reckon it’s a good time to repost it. As if slipping into a nine-year coma isn’t bad enough, John’s extended nap was preceded by the murders of his wife and daughter. He does not have the best of luck. As he begins to regain his memory, after waking from the coma he was beaten into at the end of a crowbar, John begins to hunt for his wife’s killer. All the while, mercenaries of highly advanced skills begin to stalk him, and the mysteries of his own past come spin-kicking to the surface. Spoiler: Universal Soldiers are involved. When John Hyams brought Universal Soldier: Regeneration to Fantastic Fest in 2009, expectations were hovering somewhere around the stickiest parts of the theater floor. That is no reflection upon Hyams, it’s just that the series, unlike the characters that populated the first film, seemed far too dead to revive. But what we got was an adrenaline shot to the heart of the franchise that reunited its legendary leads and gave us a reason to be fans again. Now, with the re-return of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, and burgeoning action hero Scott Adkins (Undisputed III, The Expendables 2) added into the mix, anticipation was decidedly higher for the next chapter. And perhaps that’s where the issue lie.

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Editor’s note: This review originally ran as part of our Fantastic Fest 2012 coverage, and since The Collection hits theaters this week, we felt obliged to scrape off the dried blood and post it back up. In 2009, Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton gave us The Collector, which, in addition to being a dark and bloody enjoyable horror gem, was possibly the greatest Home Alone sequel ever conceived. Now, in keeping with grand horror tradition, a franchise blooms. The Collection continues the exploits of our hoarding serial killer and centers largely on his prized acquisition from the first film. When Arkin (Josh Stewart) is finally able to escape the clutches of The Collector, it is at the expense of the maniac claiming the lovely Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) as his new treasure. A team of mercenaries, hired by Elena’s father (played by “Shooter McGavin” himself, Christopher McDonald), forces Arkin to lead them to the killer’s lair on an ill-advised rescue mission. Lots of people die. The incredible thing about The Collection is that, even though this is only part two, the franchise seems far more mature. The Collection feels like part six of a series, and we’ve somehow missed three through five. This is the zombie Jason, the dream child…the critters in space. It takes everything we enjoyed about the first film and twists the dials past eleven until the knob snaps off. Our boogeyman has, between films, earned a formidable mythos and seems well established within horror canon by his […]

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Red Dawn

Editor’s note: we first reviewed the new Red Dawn back at Fantastic Fest, so please enjoy a re-run of that review, originally published on September 27, 2012, no guns necessary. Possibly the biggest challenge in creating a Red Dawn remake is that the original was such a product of its time. By 1984, tensions from the Cold War were at their peak and Red Dawn deftly played on and exploited those fears. While it got bogged down a bit in melodrama, our national xenophobia gave it more impact than it may have had otherwise. Fast forward to 2012 and despite perhaps a mild fear of another attack from Middle Eastern extremists, we’re not particularly afraid of a full scale invasion. In fact, the plausibility is so up in the air that the invading army was changed from China to North Korea in post-production. We don’t live in a culture of fear like the one that existed during the Cold War, but the sight of planes dropping bombs on your neighbors and soldiers parachuting into your town is still a terrifying one, and the new Red Dawn handles that sequence well. While it may not play on legitimate fears like the original, the remake does a decent job of creating chaos and tension if not outright terror.

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Miami Connection

Editor’s Note: This review appeared as part of our coverage of the 11th Annual New York Asian Film Festival, and we’re bringing it back as the film opens this weekend in limited theatrical release. Anyone who lived through the decade knows the 80s were a hazardous and dangerous time to be alive… especially if you were part of a band spreading peace and a love of Tae Kwon Do through your music and kickass stage shows. Dragon Sound is just such a group, and when they’re hired as the house band at a popular club the musicians they replaced come looking for payback. The quite literal battle of the bands soon explodes into a violent conflagration involving drug running, murder and inspirational lyrics. And ninjas. Motorcycle-riding ninjas.

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Pusher Review

Editor’s note: The Pusher remake hits limited screens today, so please imbibe this quality review from our Fantastic Fest coverage, first posted on September 30, 2012. Despite what many movie fans might tell you, remakes are not inherently evil. Some movies had good ideas but couldn’t execute them properly, some could use a facelift, and some were great the first time but simply fell victim to the studio’s desire to cash in. Remakes have a bit of a tough road. First off, the they need to do what any movie needs to do: put together a good story and good performances with good cinematography. These are simply the basic building blocks of good films. But a remake has baggage, it has people’s expectations hoisted upon it. And so a remake, unlike a film based on an original idea, must also justify its own existence. Sadly, Luis Prieto‘s Pusher only manages to accomplish one of the two.

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Cloud Atlas Review

Editor’s note: Cloud Atlas finally arrives in theaters today, so please dive deep into it with this review, first published as part of our Fantastic Fest coverage on October 3, 2012. It starts with an old, scarred, and obviously hard-lived man sitting near a campfire speaking to the audience, and it ends with the same scarred old man concluding his story at that same campfire talking to a group of children about past adventures. As the credits start to roll, it evokes a nostalgia that you may have just sat through the kind of immersive and imaginative tale that you wish you could recall all the details to tell it to your children exactly as it was told to you. All that was missing was a stick and a bag of marshmallows. In between these comforting bookends is a story that transcends time, tonal cohesiveness, or convention of almost any kind. Cloud Atlas an elaborate, beautiful, and ever-growing spiderweb of human causality and inter-connectivity that’s woven together by themes that support an idea that we are never unbound from one another or a purpose. Your life is not necessarily your own as you are tied to others in your time, others who came before you, and those who will come long after. What you do is what will define you and will determine the living conditions of those who follow. What you do may seem insignificant, or irrelevant to the plan at large, but most everything matters – and if […]

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The American Scream

Editor’s Note: The gang covering Fantastic Fest really loved this one, and now it’s playing on the Chiller network on October 28th, 8pm EST before hitting theaters in November. If you can’t find an upcoming screening near you, you can request one through Tugg. Here’s another chance to read Luke’s review… The world is pretty much made up of two kinds of people, those who have seen Troll 2 and those who haven’t seen Troll 2… yet. But thanks to filmmaker and former Troll 2 star Michael Paul Stephenson, more and more people have recently become exposed to Troll 2 through his documentary about being a part of the infamously terrible film, Best Worst Movie. Best Worst Movie was such a fascinating film that fans have been anxiously awaiting Stephenson’s second project. Thankfully, he doesn’t disappoint and his second documentary, The American Scream is another captivating window into a world of passionate fans.

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  Editor’s note: With Tai Chi Zero now officially released in theaters, here is a re-run of our Fantastic Fest review, originally published on September 30, 2012. The martial arts genre has always featured period films fairly prominently, but it seems the Hong Kong and mainland China film industries have made a home there in recent years with no intention of leaving it anytime soon. Truth be told the biggest problem with the pseudo genre is that it’s swallowed Donnie Yen whole. He hasn’t made a contemporary film since 2007’s bone-crackingly brilliant Flash Point! But Yen aside, there are so many of these films that it’s getting difficult to tell them apart. Writer Kuo-fu Chen and director Stephen Fung recognized this fact and set out to tell a tale that would stand apart from the herd. The ace up their sleeve is a visual style that brings slow-mo, onscreen graphics and the inclusion of steam-punk elements to their story of a young man who travels to a remote village to learn a very specific and equally powerful form of martial arts. His quest is interrupted by Western-led intruders bent on leveling the town to make way for a railroad. On paper, and in trailer form, Tai Chi Zero seems like a success, but the end result is a mixed bag of frenetic action, humorous asides and a silliness that just won’t quit.

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Editor’s note: With Paranormal Activity 4 now officially released in theaters, here is a re-run of our Fantastic Fest review, originally published on September 27, 2012. Although the FF version was a work-in-progress, as far as we can tell the final cut is mostly the same save for a slight reordering of some scenes near the end. Another set of cameras and another hopeless family that can’t help themselves. They can’t rid themselves of a demonic presence that is purposefully in their home for a reason, nor can they keep from being compelled to record everything that happens. For a franchise that utilizes the “found footage” form of filmmaking, it still isn’t quite clear yet who has found all of this footage to show us, or why they’ve chosen to sift through two decades’ worth of recordings and cleanly edit it all together and make movies out of them. I gather I’m reading too much into this, but by this point I think I’m due an explanation. Paranormal Activity 4 takes place chronologically following the disappearance of Katie (Katie Featherston) and her nephew Hunter (Brady Allen) at the end of  Paranormal Activity 2, which actually took place before Paranormal Activity, except for the final five minutes, which take place after the events of Paranormal Activity, which started this whole train until we saw Paranormal Activity 3, which explained the origins of the hauntings and the commentary on home video paranormal voyeurism. Part 4 takes place five years after the events of […]

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Sinister

Editor’s note: This review has previously appeared as part of our SXSW 2012 and Fantastic Fest coverage, but since it’s so well-written and increasingly relevant thanks to Sinister’s opening this week, it’s back! In recent years the found footage style of horror has been done, pardon me, to death. Whole films have been cobbled together with bits of the fake stuff in service to pretend storylines, delivered to their audiences in tidy packages that often place style over substance. In Scott Derrickson‘s Sinister (this year’s SXSW “secret” screening), the found footage conceit is instead used as a source of information and scares, a clever little bit of storytelling that delivers the creeps with ease. Derrickson’s film (co-written with C. Robert Cargill) centers on Ethan Hawke as a true crime writer who has stumbled on his biggest gig yet – penning a book about the mysterious deaths of four family members, hung from a tree in their own backyard in a ritualistic manner. Not only is the perpetrator of the crime still at large, but a fifth member of the family (the youngest girl) who disappeared after the crime is still missing. Hawke’s Ellison routinely moves his family to new towns that have been struck by some sort of tragedy, tragedies that Ellison investigates and writes about to some apparent acclaim. But it’s been years since Ellison had a hit, and it’s imperative that Ellison’s next book is one, just for simple financial reasons.

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FRANKENWEENIE

Editor’s note: Halloween comes early with this week’s release of Frankenweenie. For some delicious review snacks to go with your candy corn, here is a re-run of our Fantastic Fest review of the film, published just two weeks ago, on September 20, 2012. Since 1984, Tim Burton has directed fifteen feature films. And according to my research assistant Siri, eleven of those fifteen went over well (and were made “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes) with critics. So it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that Burton could be considered a great director. Unfortunately for the man behind Edward Scissorhands and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, a number of those not-so-fresh movies have come in recent years. Alice in Wonderland was a messy 3D “experience” and Dark Shadows was laughable, and not in a good way. If you ask any movie-loving member of the internet community what they think of Tim Burton these days, the answer is more than likely to skew negative. That’s because we have the collective short term memory of Leonard from Memento when it comes to directors. Lucky for us, 2012 Tim Burton still remembers the guy he was in 1984, and has since returned to direct Frankenweenie, his black-and-white stop-motion ode to classic monster movies and the bond between a boy and his dog, based on the 1984 short of the same name.

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The Best of Fantastic Fest

It’s not hard to see that Fantastic Fest has come and gone for another year. If many a film fan could find a way to “wear black” on Twitter, they’d do so in mourning of the end of another great year of hardcore geekery. It was a diverse year for the Fantastic Fest programming team, bringing in equal numbers the intense, the gross, the violent, the real and the fun. On the whole, a truly “fantastic” experience for all involved. As we’ve done each year past, it is time for our Fantastic Fest Death Squad to round-up the festival and give you some parting thoughts. Most importantly, we’d like to leave you with a number of films that should occupy space on your horizon, films you should seek out when they finally get distributed in your region. To do this, each member of our coverage team has provided a recap of their experience and their three “Best of the Fest.” On the next page, you’ll find everyone’s nominations for the 2012 Death Squad Awards, highlighting the best films of each of Fantastic Fest’s competition categories.

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Two Rabbits

Films trying to follow multiple story lines don’t always work. Sometimes they come together too conveniently utilizing too much luck or coincidence for believability and sometimes they don’t come together at all. When they do come together well it can make for a cool ending and when they fail it can be simply grating. The Brazilian action film Two Rabbits manages to avoid most of the pitfalls even if it isn’t entirely successful.

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Cold Blooded

In a year stacked with plenty of good crime flicks, you have to do something to make your film stand above the crowd. Fast-paced editing, well framed shots, stylized camera work and witty dialogue are all ways to help create a memorable film. While Cold Blooded does get a tad more brutal that most other films of its ilk, it’s just not quite enough to really make it stand apart. Cordero isn’t such a bad guy. He steals diamonds, sure, but he’s not hurting anyone. Insurance takes care of the people he steals from and hey, he’s a nice guy. But when his latest heist goes south, he ends up in a hospital bed with a cop at his door and a murder rap around his neck. He also happens to be the only one that knows what happens to the diamonds and it’s for this reason that his partner Louis Holland is very interested to speak with him. The only things standing in Holland’s way are the cop checking people in to Cordero’s wing of the hospital and the cop guarding his door. While a quick bluff with another doctor can him past the first, getting past Officer Frances Jane could prove a little more difficult.

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Fantastic Fest: Plan C

Dutch detective Ronald Plasmeyer is not a model law enforcement agent. He has managed to amass a goodly amount of debt thanks to his propensity for losing substantial sums of money at poker. To make matters worse, the Chinese mob, to whom Ronald owes much of his debt, has begun threatening his son and ex-wife. In over his head already, he decides the best way to unburden himself of his debt is to orchestrate a robbery of the illegal casino wherein he tends to dump his cash. Enlisting the services of two local crooks, Ronald wagers that his troubles are about to end. If Plan A was winning at cards, and Plan B was the robbery, it’s safe to say Ronald is now in dire need of a Plan C.

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One of the best parts of Fantastic Fest is discovering those smaller films you’d never see otherwise. The type of gem that doesn’t get talked to death during its production, that doesn’t have its casting news splayed across the veritable plethora of movie websites, the type of film that just flies completely under the radar. Vanishing Waves is just that kind of film, that seemingly comes from nowhere to blow audiences away. Lukas is part of a research team that has developed a new technology allowing one person to access another person’s thoughts. He’s been working long hours and not spending enough time with his live-in girlfriend, Lina, but his hard work has all been worth it, and they’re finally ready to start human trials. Lukas will be the receiver, trying to document and describe his experience receiving another person’s thoughts. They’ll be using a comatose patient for the sender, the lowered brain activity making the data load more manageable for transfer to Lukas’s brain.

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+


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Fantastic Fest 2014
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