The Fantasia Film Festival continues on for another week in Montreal, Canada. Get ready for loads of updates, interviews, and reviews coming your way!
Fantasia is so loaded with horror films that it’s overwhelming to even begin looking at the list. For every movie, fans line up all the way down the block hoping to get a prime seat for their viewing pleasure, so that when the scares come, they can comfortably (or uncomfortably) sit on the edge of their seat. The list of horror films is vast, spanning across subgenres and budgets and this is precisely what makes Fantasia so special. Giving equal attention to major productions and low budget indie films, Fantasia has something for everyone.
In an attempt to view as many horror films as possible on the big screen, I find myself running across the street to catch each flick before the mass crowd barges their way in. Although it would be ideal for me to write full reviews on ever movie I see, it would take me too many days and way too much coffee. What follows are mini-reviews on what I’ve seen so far at Fantasia 2011.
Directed by: Scott Leberecht
Starring: Tracey Walter, Arlen Escarpeta, Larry Cedar, and Juanita Jennings
With so many vampires movies around I find it hard to imagine why anyone would even consider making one in an attempt to create an original film. Somehow, Midnight Son is able to pull off an extremely novel take on bloodsuckers while still paying respects to classics by the likes of John Carpenter. Director, Scott Leberecht deviates from the current trend in vampire stories that focus on horrifyingly sexual beasts acting as a dreadful allegory for puberty and sexual peer-pressure. Instead, Midnight Son focuses on a young man who attempts to cope with the fact that he needs blood to survive, and is slowly becoming a vampire. Midnight Son is a very well done existential take on vampirism that you won’t likely forget.
The film is darkly beautiful, dramatic, and strays from the idea of vampires as the spawn of Satan. Midnight Son is not an action heavy movie, but it focuses on the dramatic and personal side of living as a vampire in modernity. Blood acts as a metaphor for several issues in the film ranging anywhere from acid trips to impotence. Midnight Son does not attempt to satirize Twilight but rather reworks vampire romanticism and heartache to reclaim lore in a modern era. Aside from some repetitiveness near the end and some awkward screen chemistry between the two actors, Midnight Son is an incredibly gloomy and elegant indie film. If you like vampires at all, whether Twilight or Let the Right One In, don’t miss this blood-sucking vamp drama.
Directed by: Robin Hardy
Starring: Christopher Lee, Graham McTavish, Clive Russell, and Honeysuckle Weeks
The long awaited something-of-a-sequel to The Wicker Man (the 1973 version, not the Nick Cage crap) has finally arrived after a 40 year gap. The film is an adaption of a novel, also written by Hardy, entitled Cowboys for Christ (which is a way better title in my opinion). It follows Beth, a recently transformed slutty pop star, now a born again Christian country singer, who goes on a journey to Scotland with her jug-headed boyfriend to “spread the Christian word”. Once they arrive, the small town is not quite so willing to accept their evangelical ideals, and rather prefers the Pagan gods of old.
This film may not be a direct sequel to the first film, but it most definitely takes place in the same eerie world that mixes tongue in cheek humor with cultic rituals. You really get the sense that Hardy has a vivid image in his mind of this mystical world and tries to put it on screen as best he can. The Wicker Tree also oddly mixes in musical elements, with characters randomly breaking into song, which actually works quite well. The songs are oddly humorous and disconcerting at the same time really adding to the “Wicker World”. However, I do have some gripes with this film. There are too few elements of horror, and the supposed epic finale is far too short lived. The build up, which takes up of the majority of the movie, never reaches anything fantastic, as you would expect. Fans of the original masterpiece may be disappointed, but it seems Hardy is not trying to live up to his past and rather focus on the present.
Directed by: Xavier Gens
Starring: Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Biehn, and Michael Eklund
Xavier Gens is most well known for his video-game-to-film adaptation of Hitman, but horror fans probably know him better for his French horror film Frontier(s). Gens returns to his roots with this crazy, intense, stunning, and disturbing post-apocalyptic film, The Divide. This is a film that strays from the large-scale doomsday scenario in order to focus on the mental effects this would have on those who are left to survive after the event. The Divide takes place in an underground loft, where several apocalypse survivors attempt to outlive one another through trickery, deceit, murder, and mind games. Although things look grim from the start, they only get worse.
The film has a typical Gens look with elegant slow-motion backtracking shots, dark lighting, and solo great character shots. As cabin fever sets in, and radiation begins to get to their heads the gang becomes increasingly more savage. The development of characters and their relationship with one another constantly builds and becomes more enriched throughout the film, really allowing you to feel their pain.
Eventually, what you come to realize is that although the disaster may have been averted, the threat is far from over and people can be all the more cruel when the world’s gone to shit. The film recalls French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous quote, “Hell is other people”, as the survivors are almost literally left in hell with nothing but each other. Some may be turned off by the gruesome violence and mistreatment of women, but if you are, you’re probably missing the point.
Directed by: Miguel Alejandro Gomez
Starring: Luis Carlos Bogantes, Kurt Dyer, María Luisa Garita, and Olger Gonzalez
El Sanatorio is the first horror film ever to come out of Costa Rica. Emerging from the mind of the young director Miguel Alejandro Gomez this film simultaneously mocks and reworks the handycam subgenre. Handheld cam style movies have fallen into a formulaic spiral until recently when young indie filmmakers started to play around with the idea of horror documentaries. El Sanatorio is not a standard horror comedy, the majority of jokes come from the characters themselves and the relationships they have on screen. One of the most intriguing parts about this film, believe it or not, is that the sanatorium actually exists and nearly everyone in Costa Rica has their own ghost story about the nun who resides there.
The beginning of the film sets up the mockumentary as two college friends, who have incredible on-screen chemistry, research an old sanatorium, infamous for the legends of the ghost nun. El Sanatorio strays quite drastically from the rules of the mock-doc subgenre by adding in quick post-production cuts, extra-diegetic sounds, and ridiculous comedy. Midway through however things get a bit boring and you just want to be inside the sanatorium already to see the spooky stuff. When the horror elements finally arrive they look quite good however there are not enough shots of the ghost nun. You barely get to see her at all and a few more looks at her face would have brought up the fear factor several levels.
Directed by: Jack Perez
Starring: Kevin Corrigan, Barry Bostwick, Karen Black, Leo Fitzpatrick, and Ariel Gade
With a title like this, you’ve got to know what you’re getting yourself into. Some Guy Who Kills People follows the sad life of the thirty-something Ken Boyd (Kevin Corrigan) who was recently released from the loony bin, lives with his mom, works at an ice-cream shop, and draws comic books alone in the dark; the perfect formula for a twisted serial killer. But it’s not all blood and bones; in fact, it leaves you feeling pretty happy.
Some Guy Who Kills People perfectly mixes splattery goodness and hilarious character interactions. In particular, the Sheriff (Barry Bostwick) steals the show with one ridiculous unexpected line after another. Although there is a fair amount of gore in the film, it’s actually a feel-good movie, like a much, much, darker Little Miss Sunshine, that will leave you with a perverse smile on your face. The climax of the movie brings up an insane twist that you won’t see coming. Perez contrasts violent gore with light-hearted family moments that makes for a very unique comedy that you aren’t likely to get anywhere else.
Directed by: Sean Branney
Starring: Stephen Blackehart, Conor Timmis, Andrew Leman, and Barry Lynch.
If you somehow took a wormhole back to 1945 and showed this film to a science fiction audience, not only would they be terrified of the Lovecraftian vision, but they would have no idea that the film was from the future. This film looks, feels, and acts as though it hails straight from 1940s horror noir, and is a wonderful contrast to the modern horror aesthetic. Branney is not trying to impress new teenage audiences; The Whisperer in Darkness is a film that older audiences will appreciate for its nostalgic reversion to traditional sci-fi.
The Whisperer in Darkness is an adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name, and boy does it do it justice. The film begins with a debate between the scientific and supernatural explanations of mysterious phenomenon and creatures that people are claiming to see in the southern United States. The Whisperer in Darkness holds true to Lovecraft’s vision, combining science, religion, cults, and portals to other dimensions where creatures roam free onto our plane.
The black and white does not seem like a desperate attempt to gain artistic merit, but truly throws back to mid 20th century films. The actors somehow captured the acting techniques of the 40s perfectly, while mixing in some sardonic lines and creepy laughs to get the audience going. If you’re not a fan of 1940s film then you will not enjoy this movie, but if you’re a real film buff that feeds off of classic cinema, then seek out this black and white sci-fi beauty.