The last week of September is a busy one for horror fans in Austin, Texas because of Fantastic Fest, a film festival that focuses on screening horror, science fiction, fantasy, action, Asian and cult films. The 8-day festival takes place at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar and sees over 100 feature films screened for attendees. Each day has five time slots, with five or six films playing during each time slot. It’s an exhausting but incredibly fun week.
I managed to see 25 films during Fantastic Fest, but there were significantly less horror films than usual this year. It made it significantly easier to cover than last year’s festival (which saw the likes of The Invitation, The Witch and
February The Blackcoat’s Daughter screen), but I couldn’t help but wish there were more notable horror films present this year. Still, there were a handful of amazing films, a lot of really good ones and just two or three total duds.
The 10 horror films listed below were among the strongest present at Fantastic Fest this year and should absolutely be on your radar. You won’t want to miss these when they eventually get released
It’s no secret that Chris Peckover’s Safe Neighborhood was one of my favorite films of the festival. It provides a bonkers twist on the home invasion sub-genre that had me squealing with glee from start to finish. It has earned its place with Gremlins, Krampus and Batman Returns as part of my annual holiday viewing tradition. Just don’t let anyone spoil the twist for you. It’s a doozy.
Nacho Vigalondo’s (Timecrimes, Open Windows) Colossal (review) is a pleasant surprise. Billed as the “Anne Hathaway kaiju movie,” it actually has a lot more on its mind than monster mayhem. While it’s hardly a horror film (it’s more of a comedy with dramatic elements), I couldn’t resist including it on this list. The first half of the film is near perfect as Hathaway (who is outstanding) learns that a giant monster attacking Seoul is directly linked to her. The film earns plenty of laughs before some abrupt shifts in tone during its second half. These tonal shifts don’t always work, but the ending is so perfect that it’s almost enough to excuse the film’s flaws. COLOSSAL may be too quirky to get a wide release, but this could easily turn into the feel-good movie of the year. If it ends up in a theater near you make it a point to seek it out.
If you’ve ever wanted a more faithful adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, give Agnieszka Smoczynska’s The Lure a watch. A Polish mermaid cabaret horror musical (the horror aspect comes from the fact that the mermaids like to eat human hearts), The Lure follows two mermaids who decide to work at a cabaret before swimming to America. It’s bizarre in the best way. It has an amazing soundtrack, striking visuals and gore to boot. It won’t be for everyone, but I can guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it.
The original WolfCop (review) got bogged down with an origin story that took up too much of the film. It also tried a little too hard to be a cult film, Another WolfCop (read my review)succeeds at having no goal other than to entertain. It’s a total blast of a film that is a significant step up from the original and should be seen with a large group of friends and a lot of drinks. The jokes come fast and furious, with almost all of them landing (except one gag involving an anthropomorphic penis that gets stale after two minutes). This isn’t high art here, it’s Another WolfCop!
The Autopsy of Jane Doe has such a spectacular premise and truly great first two acts that it’s a shame the third act fails to live up to the quality of what came before (though our own Joe Lipsett gave it a perfect score). It’s still a fun little roller coaster ride of a horror movie that is bolstered by two strong performances from Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch. There is an over-reliance on jump scares but director André Øvredal keeps the tension going throughout (barring one major misstep in a scene that bridges the second and third acts…you’ll know it when you see it). The autopsy itself is a gruesome extended sequence that is reason enough to see the film. Fun fact: The Autopsy of Jane Doe won the award for best horror film at Fantastic Fest.
A coming-of-age via cannibalism tale, Raw is a unique little body horror film, though it is surprisingly tame considering its subject matter (or maybe I’m just a jaded horror fan who has seen one too many gore-fests). Still, the acting is top notch and the story will always have you wondering where it’s going to go next. While I didn’t love the film as much as others seemed to, I still enjoyed it quite a bit. The final moments of Raw are simply delightful so it’s no wonder that audiences voted Raw the 3rd best film of the festival.
A disturbing little film that follows a young girl into adulthood after the murder of her mother, The Eyes of My Mother runs a brief 77 minutes so it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The camerawork is masterful and Nicolas Pesce’s direction is fantastic. It’s definitely one of the prettiest films I’ve seen recently. Come for the gore; stay for Kika Magalhaes’s haunting performance. You’ll want to keep an eye on her career after seeing her in this film.
Don’t Kill It (read my review) is incredibly fun B-movie trash that is a hoot from start to finish. Lundgren is really in his element here and gets to show off his skills as a comedian (the guy is hilarious). Director Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider!, The Gravedancers) gets a lot of mileage out of a gimmicky villain. The film does peak about halfway through with a town hall meeting and never fully recaptures the batshit insanity of that scene, choosing to play the ending a little too seriously. Still, it’s a fun popcorn movie that deserves to be seen with a crowd.
A melancholy and atmospheric film with two great performances from its lead actresses, A.D. Calvo’s Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl tells the story of a friendship that blooms between two young girls when one of them moves in with her agoraphobic aunt. The film is deliberately paced but never boring, telling a clever story with some very creepy moments.
I swear I was going to give this film a half a star when I walked out of it (I ended up giving it two), but the more I think about it the more I realize just how deeply it affected me. Emiliano Rocha Minter’s WE ARE THE FLESH is a graphically violent and sexually explicit (it’s basically pornography) film that will no doubt leave audiences divided. Is it profound or pretentious? What does it all mean? Why is there a 15-second static shot of a vagina? Why is there a 15-second static shot of a penis? I’m sure I don’t know, but I do know that it will stick with you long after you leave the theater and for that alone it deserves some recognition. I don’t want to say it’s “good”, but it sure is powerful.