Fantastic Fest 2011: Part 1
The Squad, Human Centipede II, Manborg, A Boy and His Samurai
Part 2
The 2011 Award Winners.
Part 3
Paranormal Activity 3, Melancholia, Sleep Tight, New Kids Turbo, Aardvark, Calibre 9.
Part 4
Comin’ At Ya 3D, Urban Explorer, Headhunters, Bullhead, You’re Next
Part 5
Beyond the Black Rainbow, Clown, Haunters, The Holding, Juan of the Dead
Part 6
The Devil’s Business, Extraterrestrial, Livid, A Lonely Place To Die, Take Shelter

6 days. 30 films. Too much beer. Even more meat. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.

It took me a little while to get it all down on “paper,” but we’ve finally come to the close of my Fantastic Fest 2011 coverage. I decided not to bother writing up any of the various FF parties and events, because they are the very epitome of You Had To Be There antics. I’ve already tried to tell my friends why the Elijah Wood/Dominic Monaghan “Fantastic Debate” over whether or not World of Warcraft is a waste of time was amazing (it culminated in a literal boxing match, and that was the least interesting part about it), but I’ve come to realize it really isn’t so amazing/hilarious just to hear about. Also, in case that thirty films in six days figure doesn’t infer it already, I spent the vast majority of my time in Austin sitting on my ass in a theater.

I don’t have much in the way of a recap, other than to say Fantastic Fest is awesome and though its expensive if you don’t live in Austin, it is something I’d recommend every film buff/nerd/geek/whatever make an effort to do at least once — pool together, road trip, cram a bunch of people into a single hotel room, make it happen. Anyway, none of my early opinions have lessened or strengthened with passing short-term time, except for Human Centipede II, which I keep waffling between thinking is utter trash and sort of genius; I suppose this says something positive about the film, that it fostered that kind of reaction. People keep asking me what the best movie I saw at FF was, and I can’t truly narrow it down to a single film, but here are my Top Six, in alphabetical order. I’m not including Melancholia (which I loved) because of its already high profile and impending US release — its screening at FF was more of a favor to the festival than an attempt to gain exposure for the film itself.

A Boy and His Samurai
Sleepless Night
Sleep Tight

Let’s do this.

The Skin I Live In
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Horror
Director: Pedro Almodóvar

The Gist: Robert (Antonio Banderas) is a wealthy upper-class surgeon who specializes in reconstructive surgery. He is particularly obsessed with helping burn victims, because his late wife was horribly disfigured in a fiery car wreck and later committed suicide because of her hideous burns. He works out of his palatial estate, where one of his patients, Vera (Elena Anaya), is kept under strict, and rather suspicious, lock and key. She seems both prisoner and adoring companion. The story is set in motion when the criminal son of Robert’s devoted house keeper shows up and seeks shelter at the estate, taking a special interest in Vera and believing her to be Robert’s ex-wife (whom she seems to bear an eery resemblance too). The film also has a dual flashback storyline, taking place six years prior, when Robert abducts a young man whom he believes raped his daughter (leading to her mental break down) at a fancy party.

Should You Be Excited: Sure.

Thoughts: This is a very strange movie, as far as not easily fitting into classifications. Almodovar himself said of it, “[it is] a horror story without screams or frights.” Which is very true. It is definitely a horror film in subject matter – a Gothic one at that – but it isn’t trying to scare you and there is only minimal and sporadic gore. I’d describe it as Vertigo by way of Frankenstein, with a wicked sense of humor drifting beneath the surface. In its final moments you realize the film doesn’t exactly add up to much (emotionally, thematically), but the individual pieces are fabulous to sit through and enjoy. Almodovar works the shit out of each scene and his bizarre characters. After years of blah US studio films and Dreamworks voice work, it is easy to forget (easy for me at least ) where Banderas came from. He is excellent to watch here, playing a no-fun and fastidious man; very un-Banderas. Roberto Álamo, as the id-driven criminal on the run, consumes the film whenever he’s on camera, giving one of the most enjoyable lecherous performances I’ve seen in a while. But the break out of the film (for Americans at least) is the spellbindingly gorgeous Elena Anaya, who is probably best know stateside as one of the hottie vampire brides in the worthless mess that was Van Helsing. She is the heart and soul of the film, narratively, and is impossible to take your eyes away from.

Moment to Savor: The scene in which Robert dryly introduces a character to a series of vaginal expansion dildos, all neatly laid out from biggest to smallest, as though he were explaining how to use something as mundane as a dental retainer.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

The Corridor
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi
Director: Evan Kelly

FF Summary: When Tyler’s mom Pauline OD’s, something snaps in his head. His friends arrive to find Pauline face down in the hallway and Tyler jumps out of the closet, sputtering nonsense. He cuts one friend’s face and stabs another in the hand before being restrained. Several years later, Tyler’s getting out of the institution and his four best friends are meeting him to give Pauline a final farewell and scatter her ashes. They head out to the small cabin she kept deep in the woods, but the years have changed them. They’ve grown apart. Old wounds open and none of them are sure how to treat Tyler. While the meds he’s taking seem to be working, there’s a latent fear that they can’t acknowledge or ignore. Tyler takes a walk late on the first night and discovers a strange hallway, some kind of supernatural corridor in the woods. While he wonders if his mind is playing tricks on him, he convinces his best friend to go with him the next morning and check it out. The other three follow them and they can all see and experience the corridor, allowing Tyler to breathe a sigh of relief at not being crazy. But the corridor has strange, supernatural properties and its effects will change the five friends in ways they could never expect.

Should You Be Excited: No.

Thoughts: I always feel genuinely bad slagging off a small indie genre film. And the one big positive I can laud The Corridor for is that it was definitely going for something big and different. But ultimately the film had two things holding it back. 1) It didn’t seem like the film knew what to do with itself. It’s one of those movies that simply skirts around explanations, hoping to use these voids as arty mystique. And it was very disappointing for me when I realized that despite its high concept, The Corridor was just a Group of Friends Violently Turn On Each movie. 2) The film is too amateurish. That sounds more insulting than I mean it to be; the film is fairly well put together, the FX are solid, and the acting isn’t bad. But the film positions itself to be taken very, very seriously, which unfortunately exposes how much it constantly comes up short. The above summary spans the first 45 minutes of the film. It is a very slow burn until we get to the sci-fi/horror, and all that time is spent with the characters talking and talking and talking and some pretty awful attempts at humor. None of the actors are truly up to the task they’re given here, so all this chatter and banter is rather trying to sit through. Things do pick up once the genre aspect of the film kicks in, but it isn’t ever quite enough and too much damage (boringness-wise) has already been done. All our characters are really annoying too, and one of the actors has the least convincing young-man-with-hair-pretending-to-be-bald presentations I’ve seen outside of sketch comedy. Sigh. Again, I feel bad saying all this, as creating a watchable feature film with little money/experience is always an impressive feat in and of itself. But such is life.

Moment to Savor: Everyone loves a good scalping.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

Genre: Thriller, Horror
Director: Navot Pupushado, Aharon Keshales

FF Summary: A brother and sister, Ofer and Tali, run away from home in the dead of night. As they enter the forest near their former home, Tali falls into a trap set by a homicidal maniac. As Ofer goes to get help, he comes across a group of young people whom he begs to help him. Unfortunately, the two teen girls with said group have already run afoul of a corrupt police officer who is now out for revenge. Meanwhile, a park ranger witnesses a man carrying a body through the forest, a dog is murdered, oh and large areas of the woods are littered with abandoned landmines. Basically, just a bad day to go to the park. A country that has long been silent in the genre filmmaking world, Israel gives us an astonishing horror film that examines the violence inherent in each and every human being. We do have a serial killer in the woods, but rather than opt for the conventional and assigning him the role of the solitary evil in the woods, Rabies suggests a larger, more insidious threat lurking just below the surface. There is something else in these woods, something invisible that possess just as much of a menace as one psychopath.

Should You Be Excited: Not super excited, but yeah.

Thoughts: I went into almost every film I saw at FF relatively cold. Based on the title and the above poster, I was expecting Rabies  to be REC in the woods. But there are no supernatural elements to the film, no zombism, and it does not move along a standard horror structure. In fact, the film is actually a farce. It’s like A Midsummer’s Night Dream – with groups of characters, all with different agendas, wackily separating and intermixing and affecting each others plotlines – except fucked up and not always played for laughs (though there is a lot of dark comedy here too). Towards the end, when I realized the film was not building to something that finally brought all our characters together, it lost some of its zeal, but for the first 2/3s I was 100% with Rabies. It is sharply executed and agonizing (in the right ways), full of characters you just want to smack, but who all meet such unfortunate circumstances that you still feel bad for them. Also, the film is Israeli, which obviously doesn’t really matter, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an Israeli horror movie before. So there is some novelty there.

Moment to Savor: Always love me an unexpected landmine death.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

Sleepless Night
Genre: Action, Thriller, Crime
Director: Frédéric Jardin

FF Summary: Two criminals surgically strike, quickly blockading a car to extract a black bag full of drugs from the trunk. All goes perfectly according to plan until one of the couriers makes a break for it, escaping the scene after catching a glimpse of one of the attackers. The next shot opens with our two attackers on duty at the police station. Apparently a cops wages aren’t enough to make ends meet, and Vincent and Yilmaz have devised a scheme to utilize police intelligence reports to target and then rob from Paris’s drug kingpins. Unfortunately now that kingpin knows the score. He wants his gigantic bag of coke back, or Vincent’s son will be killed. Kingpin Jose Marciano has Vincent’s son held hostage deep within the recesses of his labyrinthine nightclub. All Vincent needs to do is arrive at the club, return the drugs intact and he leaves with his son. It seems simple enough, but also trolling this nightclub are cops from the drug investigation squad who are investigating Vincent’s robbery; the owners of the drugs who are beginning to suspect Marciano is ripping them off; and Vincent’s partners in crime who aren’t wild about his plan to give back their share of the loot, regardless of his son’s eminent danger.

Should You Be Excited: Fuck. Yes.

Thoughts: In my Top Six, this movie floored me with its awesomeness. The movie kept reminding me of De Palma’s Snake Eyes. The two films don’t share any story or stylistic similarities, but the single-location setting and real-time pacing nonetheless kept my mind making the connection. But whereas Snake Eyes only worked (if it worked for you at all) on sheer De Palma/Nic Cage gonzo verve, Sleepless Night also packs legit dramatic punches. The film is just balls-out kick ass. Don’t know any other way to say it. It is tense, fun, funny, inventive, never lets up, and is totally fulfilling. It also features one of the best fight scenes in the past ten years — a seemingly endless and increasingly wince-inducing fist fight between our hero and one of the film’s many antagonists in the club’s kitchen, while the bewildered (and at this point, comically indifferent) kitchen staff try to keep out of the way. As I said about the film Headhunters, the film also represents a growing trend in foreign genre films towards Hollywood aesthetics and procedure. Subtitles aside, this film could not be more accessible for Americans unless it starred Tom Cruise. Of course, an American remake is already in the works.

Moment to Savor: The thrilling, knock-down bare-knuckle kitchen brawl.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

Zombie Ass
Genre: Horror, Comedy
Director: Noboru Iguchi

FF Summary: We are going to flush you! The most crap-tastic zombie movie ever to emerge from Japan’s cinema sewer is finally upon us, and it’s from the twisted mind of cinematic madman and legendary ass-fetishist Noboru Iguchi, creator of THE MACHINE GIRL, ROBO-GEISHA and KARATE-ROBO ZABORGAR! Given free reign by a generous, independent producer to plumb the depths of his toilet-obsessed imagination, Iguchi has created a splatter comedy guaranteed to warm the bowels of those with the stomach for it…while more sensitive viewers may want to plug their noses and flee in disgust! Wracked with guilt over the suicide of her sister Ai, who was tormented by high school bullies, pretty young karate student Megumi accompanies a group of older friends on a trip into the woods: smart girl Aya, her druggie boyfriend Tak, big-boobed model Maki, and nerdy Naoi. Things start to go badly when Maki finds a parasitical worm inside a fish they catch – and wolfs it down alive, in the hope that it’ll help keep her skinny! And then….zombies! The group is attacked by a crowd of poop-covered undead who emerge from an outhouse toilet, and seek refuge at the home of strange Dr. Tanaka and his daughter Sachi. But unbeknownst to them, Tanaka has been conducting experiments on the parasites—and the zombies!—and has another fate in mind for the five strangers from the city. What’s the connection between the parasites and the undead? And can Megumi’s karate alone help them escape, or will she have to rely on the liberating power of farts to save the day?

Should You Be Excited: Some of you.

Thoughts: What is there really to say about an ass-fetish zombie horror comedy? The fetish aspect of the film is oddly the key to its charm. Unbelievably, it is almost kinda cute at times. It just never lets up, and is so stupid, you can’t help but smile. Though, admittedly, this may be the exact kind of film that is fun when you’re sitting in an audience of people laughing and groaning, but falls flat if you’re home alone, sitting on your couch (unless you yourself have an ass/poop/fart fetish). But fetish talk aside, this is still a real movie. Calling it an ass fetish film is similar to calling a Russ Meyer film a boob fetish film. There is still a story that Noboru Iguchi is serving, which is itself as goofily stupid and fun as the constant butt shots/gags. I think the audience for this film already knows who they are. This is either the sort of well-meaning idiocy you can get behind (puns!), or you can’t.

Moment to Savor: Three words. Fart propelled flying.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars