This year marked my first time at Fantastic Fest, which I THOROUGHLY enjoyed! Sitting in a dark theater with so many like-minded genre fans was an amazing experience, and though I can’t really afford to make it happen every year, I’ll definitely be back.
Here’s a quick rundown of all the feature films I saw (minus Suspiria, which has its own full I Love Splatter! review):
A period piece about a creepy religious cult with supernatural happenings starring Dan Stevens? It’s like this movie was fucking MADE FOR ME. Stevens plays Thomas, a very broken man, tasked with rescuing his sisters from a cult that is holding her hostage for money. Turns out the cult has a complicated backstory, and while life was one an idyllic paradise for them, the goddess they worship isn’t making things easy for them anymore. Apostle perfectly illustrates how destructive the patriarchy is (and has always been); how power is corruptive; how religion can so easily be twisted into ugliness; how men react with violence when they can’t control women, and more. Also, the score is fucking gorgeous. I can’t wait to watch this one again because it made a huge impression on me and I can’t stop thinking about it! (Coming to Netflix October 12)
Bad Times at the El Royale
Drew Goddard’s take on a 1990’s Tarantino action ensemble. Without giving anything away: seven strangers meet at a once-fabulous, now rundown hotel in the middle of nowhere. Each has their own agenda, and nothing goes as smoothly as it should. Despite a few annoying details, El Royale is a lot of fun and the casting is SOLID — everyone was perfect, even Jon Hamm at his Jon Hammiest (+ a blink and you’ll miss it appearance by Katharine Isabelle). There’s a lot of meandering turns in this, and several POV flips, but it all works pretty seamlessly. And really, it’s all worth it for the moment Chris Hemsworth finally shows up in all his ripped-ab glory. (Release Date: October 5)
So … this is a movie about a dude whose dead wife’s soul accidentally gets transferred into the super hot body of his new girlfriend’s daughter, and pretty much every other scene is him having sex with one of them. Said dude is Nic Cage, which you would hope would push the ridiculousness of that WAY OVER into the point of no return so it is at least so bad it’s funny, but NOPE. I don’t even know how I finished this one, as it starts out with Joe (Cage) meeting Julie (Franke Potente) in a bathroom as she’s being choked out by a stranger on purpose so she can find her daughter’s roaming spirit. This is just straight-up awful, and I have no idea how a woman wrote and directed this. I weep for Franka.
This was clearly the wrong movie to see after something as amazing as Apostle, because it was soooooooo long and it took forever to get where it was going. The basics: Jong-Su meets a former schoolmate named Hae-mi, falls for her, and agrees to watch her cat while she’s on a trip. But when she gets back, she’s hooked up with the handsome, very rich Ben (Steven Yuen) — making Jong-Su feel like the most awkward third wheel ever. As time goes on, Ben starts acting weirder and weirder, and also starts treating Hae-mi less like a human and more like a object (although you could argue that they *both* do that). Until one day when Hae-mi disappears, and Jong-Sue starts to suspect Ben did something awful. It’s a slow … burn (haha), but I guess the ending was satisfying. Maybe? (Release Date: October 26)
Hold the Dark
I’ve watched this twice now, and I still love the middle of it so much I’m willing to forgive the unevenness of the beginning and the end. Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright, who is literally amazing in everything he’s ever in) is summoned to the tiny Alaskan village of Keelut by a distraught mother (Riley Keough) in order to track down the wolves who took her son. Pretty much from the moment he arrives, something seems off — and it only gets worse from there, especially after the son’s father (Alexander Skarsgård) arrives back from Iraq. There are some really compelling and excellently filmed scenes in this, and also some I wish weren’t in there (particularly one very unnecessary rape scene). It’s by no means Saulnier’s best (that title still belongs to Green Room), but it’s still a good piece of cinema. (On Netflix now)
Life After Flash
This nostalgic documentary tells the story of Flash Gordon star Sam J. Jones, as well as taking a deep dive into the making of the film and providing a nice follow-up on what its cast has been doing since then, and what they’re doing now. I’m a Flash Gordon appreciator, but I didn’t know a LOT about the film (other than how gloriously fun it is to watch), so I found every bit of this super entertaining. Director Lisa Downs mixes footage with Jones with interviews from friends and family, including FG stars Brian Blessed, Melody Anderson, Richard O’Brien, Peter Wyngarde, Topol, and Brian May — with most of them doing eerily similar impersonations of famously charismatic producer Dino De Laurentiis. A must-see for all Flash fans.
Lords of Chaos
I have to imagine that Lords of Chaos director Jonas Åkerlund is a huge fan of To Die For, because that’s the general feeling I got while watching Lords of Chaos, which somehow manages to turn tragedy into comedy — even while showing some pretty brutal murders. LoC tells the story of Norwegian Death Metal founder Euronymous (Rory Culkin) and his frenemy Varg (Emory Cohen): two teens from rich families who embrace the dark lord as a way of seeking fame. Only, uh, Varg takes things from poser to reality in some very frightening ways. As someone already familiar with the story, there was something fascinating but also surreal about watching it play with laughter, but honestly the more I think about it the more I’m just annoyed. Give the Until the Light Takes Us documentary a watch instead; it suffers from some of the same problems, but at least you get to hear from the actual people involved (well, except for Euronymous, of course).
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club
This very pretty dark fairy tale is about a group of women led by Madam Yankelova, who bring handsome men to their literature club as their dates. The dates are then strapped into a chair, killed, and turned into sausage because “love is a lie.” Women who bring the best men 100 times get to retire and live the rest of their lives in leisure as part of the Lordesses — and our heroine, Sophie (Keren Mor, who is lovely!), is at 99. She’s determined to win the ultimate prize, but when her friend Hana abandons her for her own romantic plans, the shy Sophie has trouble closing the deal; especially with a younger, prettier member determined to beat her. When handsome Yosef shows up and shows an interest in Sophie, she has to choose between a possible broken heart and the comfort of being a Lordess. There’s a lot going on here around ageism and what society counts as a woman’s worth — and I was hoping for a much darker ending, but this was honestly so charming I can let it slide as is.
Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore
This one’s not a horror film, but it’s a beautiful nearly-lost gem from 1998 by Sarah Jacobsen and I am SO very grateful FF programmed it so I could watch it on the big screen. Mary Jane’s Not A Virgin Anymore is a lo-fi coming-of-age story about teenage Mary Jane and her friends, all of whom work at a movie theater. It’s full of mostly unknown actors and looks and feels really authentic, and it just makes me pissed off that Jacobsen died before she could finish her next film, and we never got a chance to see more of her work. (Someone told me this is being re-released on DVD soon, but in the meantime if you’re in Seattle you can find it at Scarecrow Video).
May the Devil Take You
Lesmana for FATHER OF THE YEAR. Jk! May the Devil Take You is about Alfie, who has to deal with her icy bitch of a stepmom and wicked step sister after her father falls ill — and also, of course, the soul-sucking demon her father made a deal that’s hellbent on revenge and determined to murder every single member of the family. There’s some familiar stringy-haired contortionist imagery here (is there an Asian ghost/demon story that doesn’t involve a character coughing up a dead person’s hairball?), but there are also some mind-blowing F/X. Splatteriffic goodness! I was very pleased to watch this one.
One Cut of the Dead
It’s not hard to see why this one won the Fantastic Fest Audience Favorite award. The first part of this is a straight-up hilarious zombie flick, where a shoot for a TV series goes terribly awry once real zombies show up. The second part is a heart-warming commentary on all the hard work (and heartache) that goes into filmmaking, in which you see that same zombie production come together, including the setup of all the F/X, and all the mishaps that happen and must be fixed in real time. It’s funny and charming and just an absolute joy to watch.
I really, really, really wanted to love this one – because the setup sounds so deliciously great and the trailer was really strong: American soldiers on a mission to take down a communications tower during WWII discover the nazi tower they’re invading is harboring an insidious mad-science experiment in order to create super soldiers! CUE THE MUTATED NAZI MONSTERS AND THE ROCKIN’ MUSIC! LET’S DO THIS! Unfortunately, it takes forever and a day to get to the actual mad science’ing and it just didn’t take it as far as I wanted it to. Still, Pilou Asbæk brilliantly chews up every scene he’s in; Jovan Adepo is a solid hero (even if he had to share that title with Wyatt Rusell), and I appreciated that they actually gave the woman (Mathilde Ollivier) some kick-ass things to do. It’s worth a once-through; it just won’t be one I’ll add to my library for continuous rewatches. (Release Date: November 9)
OMG The Perfection! Allison Williams plays Charlotte, a former musical prodigy who had to give up her rising career when her mother got sick. Now that her mother has passed on, Charlotte contacts her former trainer, Anton (Steven Weber), and joins him and his new star, Lizzie (Logan Browning) in China. Once there, it’s clear Charlotte is fixated on Lizzie — and on getting back what she lost, whatever the cost. It’s gloriously campy and very clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously (I mean, how can you when you cast Steven Weber?). It’s really hard to talk about anything else without giving it all away — so I’ll just say while it’s easy to see where the story is going, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to anticipate how it gets there. I fucking loved it, and I think this one is destined to become a cult classic. (Coming to Netflix sometime in 2019)
Savage (Les fauves)
More coming-of-age mystery than horror, this French film stars Lily-Rose Depp as Laura, who joins her best friend’s family on a summer camping trip. During the summer, a rumor grows about an escaped leopard roaming the edges of the campground. When tragedy strikes another teen, Laura teams up with an older fiction writer to investigate, even while she’s a suspect herself. This was, of course, packed with beautiful people, and had a low-key tension that ran throughout — but honestly my favorite part of the story was the weirdly intense Detective (Camille Cottin) trying to figure out what the hell was really going on.
This is a movie about Laurent Lafitte’s incredible body. Okay, not really. It’s actually a really creepy story about a teacher who’s called in to sub for a group of gifted students because their regular teacher suddenly jumps out of the classroom’s window. Turns out the super smarties have clique’d up and take turns filming each other doing death-defying stunts because they’re certain the world is going to end before they can grow up. This one is super, super bleak but ripe with eye candy and also has the most fantastically cool choir teacher I’ve ever seen. Teaching your choir Patti Smith?!? I MEAN.
You Might Be the Killer
Well, this was a lot of hilarious fun! The film opens with Sam (Fran Kanz) covered in blood and trapped in a cabin, calling his friend Chuck (Alyson Hannigan) to help him out by using her vast knowledge of horror films. As Chuck gathers more details, she becomes convinced that instead of being stalked by a killer, Sam might actually *be* the killer. The film rewinds as we watch Sam recovery his memories and start to solve the mystery. It’s a great tribute to 80s slashers with lots of inside jokes and some awesome bloody splatter — and honestly, watching Fran Kanz & Alyson Hannigan do ANYTHING for an hour and 1/2 is goddamn delightful. Plus, that post-credits scene was A+++. (Premiering October 6 on SYFY)