Fantastic Fest 2011

The “Crazy Religious” horror film can be one of the more interesting of the horror sub-genres, because they’re almost always inherently mysterious along with being potentially frightening. It’s either frightening because there are disillusioned people out killing non-crazy people because they think doing so will give birth to demons or the end of the world might happen, or there are enlightened people out killing non-crazy people because they will give birth to demons or the end of the world will happen. Best case scenario only a few people die horribly. Worse case scenario hell will rise and Earth will die horribly.

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What can I say about Beyond the Black Rainbow that hasn’t already been said about licking toads while watching a 70s slasher flick behind your neighborhood scientific research compound? Writer/director Panos Cosmatos‘s deranged trip down the rabbit hole feels like Cronenberg and Argento furiously impregnated a robot named TARKOVSKY. It’s homage at its highest form – work born directly from the visual and storytelling tropes of iconic artists that manages to feel brand new with the presence of a fresh personality. In the 80s-set film, and stop me if you’ve heard this one, Elena (Eva Allan) is held captive in a research facility by Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), the demented product of a cult-like program born two decades earlier that sought to merge science and religion. As he slowly deteriorates mentally, blood starts spilling, but even if Elena gets a chance to escape, she’ll have him murderously on her trail.

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This morning, you probably woke up to your normal routine (maybe slightly augmented by falling back an hour in time). You hopped in the shower, brushed your teeth, drank some orange juice with breakfast, and cursed yourself for the thousandth time for drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth. Most of all though, you felt safe. And you had no idea there was a man sleeping under your bed. Director Jaume Balagueró (REC, REC 2) uses that uneasy non-knowledge for both horror and humor in Sleep Tight (Mientras Duermes), a film that balances precariously over the Dark Comedy and Funny Home Invasion genre bins. The overall result is chilling proof that Balagueró can take us back into an apartment building while delivering a completely different scare.

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I may be a tad biased towards films that work equally on celluloid as they would as a stage performance. It could be because I don’t go to the theater often and so I can kill two art birds with one 90 minute-sized stone. I tend to like pictures that take place within a very short time span where the setting is subjected to one or two locales and most character elements are observed and learned either through exposition, or stories being told about character history during the film’s downtime. The pictures are usually very small, but very focused when they’re done well; and The Devil’s Business is one done well. A pair of hitmen have been hired to murder a man in his home late one night upon his return from an opera. The two killers are opposite ends of the paradigm with one being the experienced, cold veteran while the other a talkative, annoyingly inquisitive youngster out on his first hit job. While waiting patiently for their victim to arrive the two men trade stories, though hesitantly from the older gentleman who would much rather remain quiet, professional and enigmatic. While their at the home the two men hear a sound outside in the backyard they initially believe to be their target, only to come to find out after searching the grounds and discovering a dark tool shed that they may be in for something slightly more sinister than they signed up for.

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By all accounts, a movie dealing with assisted suicide has no business being as funny as Kill Me Please. Somehow, director Olias Barco has crafted a side-splitting exploration of people wanting to end their own life. Black and white, Belgian, and yet it defies all expectations to be instantly accessible and shockingly hilarious. At a large facility in the forest, Doctor Krueger (Aurélien Recoing) helps people at the end of their rope. His main goal is to stop them from drinking the poison he applies with dignity, but he isn’t always successful. As a new group of paying customers moves into the building, and the nearby townsfolk plan to carry torches against the place, the good doctor struggles to keep the people who want to die from being killed.

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I could probably make this review incredibly brief and make everyone happy. If you liked the first two films you’re likely to like the the third.

I wrote that review while waiting in the line for the men’s room.

Like Paranormal Activity 2, Paranormal Activity 3 is a prequel to its predecessor. It takes place in the month of September of 1988 when the two sisters of the first two films were little girls and the referenced beginning of their experiences with the invisible, kitchen furniture-hating demonic figure began. Seriously, this demon really hates kitchens. I think he hates everything but camcorders.

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If women ever wanted to see a film of why men are terrible and feel terrible afterwards then Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men would probably be your best bet. If women ever wanted to see a film about why men are terrible and laugh uncontrollably at our inadequacies, perversions, insensitivities, hormonal indulgences, and even occasional homosexual confusions (am I right men? Huh?….right?…) then Clown is it. It objectifies just about every single reason why a woman would doubt going into a relationship with a man and yet does it with some of the most pointed, extreme, and filthy sense of humor imaginable.

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Police in a small town outside of Hong Kong are called to the scene of a brutal crime. A pregnant woman has been gutted, her dead fetus left laying atop her deflated belly. It’s quickly followed by another attack and a similarly butchered victim. The detectives arrest the killer, but his capture is just a part of the tale as we jump back several months to see everything that preceded this onslaught of bloody violence. Cause and effect, love and rage, before and after…this is a brutal, surprising, and ultimately redemptive film. That also happens to feature the sexiest retarded girl since Elizabeth Shue stepped into the shoes of Molly.

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An outpost atop a fog shrouded mountain has fallen out of contact, so an outside squad is sent in to establish their whereabouts. The base is abandoned with the previous tenants leaving behind little more than half eaten plates of food, blood smeared walls and floors, and a mystery. Oh, and a woman chained up behind a false wall. The Squad is a slowburn horror film with atmosphere to spare, but it’s also as intangible as the mist that hangs across the mountain. The initial incursion into the outpost is filled with tension and an eeriness that infests every corner of the place. It’s the Marie Celeste all over again, only on land. (So, it’s Roanoke all over again?) But everything that works so well early on eventually fades away to be replaced by the mediocre and the mundane.

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For Austin residents, The Alamo Drafthouse needs no introduction, I’m sure. For the uninitiated, they’re the movie-loving theater with the strict no talking/texting policy that made waves a little while back when the Intenet got a hold of their in-house PSA that humiliated an ex-customer who was ejected for texting by playing a stupid/obnoxious voicemail that she left after getting thrown out. And they also do other stuff. Not the least of which is put on Fantastic Fest, which is the biggest genre film festival in the United States. Whatever your genre flavor, whether it be horror, sci-fi, fantasy, action, or what have you, Fantastic Fest usually has something that will pique your interest, due to the fact that they bring movies in from all around the globe. In the past they’ve premiered big art films like There Will Be Blood, they’ve brought us cool gems from other lands like Troll Hunter, they’ve made us all aware of disgusting nonsense like The Human Centipede, all while mixing tons of other obscure/weird stuff in as well. Co-creator Tim League says of the festival, “Fantastic Fest is the high-point of my year.  Every year old friends return and strangers become friends. Fantastic Fest is my extended dysfunctional family; each of us completely obsessed by the wildest and weirdest films on earth.” Now doesn’t that sound like something you’d want to be a part of? Then I’d start planning my trip to the festival now.

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