FANTASTIC FEST JOURNAL

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Greetings, Geek Leaguers. This is Johnny reporting from Austin to give you a brief glimpse into my hectic, crazy and awesome working vacation that is known as Fantastic Fest 2012. This is my first time to a festival of this size, and it’s a wild collision of screenings, parties, events and networking that prevents me from doing a regular daily diary. But I thought I’d share my personal experiences, from departing my hometown to mangling Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” at karaoke tonight (that would be Friday) in front of Samuel Zimmerman, one of the key writers for legendary horror mag Fangoria Magazine. Enjoy.

My adventure began on Monday when I embarked with Alex Krakower, an acquaintance turned good travelling buddy, for Austin from Springfield, Massachusetts…via train. Yes, train. A longer and more expensive train vs. the quicker and surprisingly cheaper route of plane travel. Why? We wanted the adventure. We wanted to indulge in the romantic notion of seeing the countryside. And that we did. We spent most of our time cooped up on that silver bullet, rocking and rattling back and forth over dusty, bumpy train tracks, trying (and often failing, at least in my case) to get a decent nights sleep curled up on the somewhat reclining seats of the train, and bouncing off the walls, literally, in their bathrooms as we try to change our clothes each morn.

The travel did give us the opportunity to see at least some of the countryside as we made our trek. There was a lot of flat farm land cut with rusty, crumbling, industrial buildings. Travelling at night pretty much turned upstate New York, Pennsylvania and a good portion of Ohio (and then Arkansas) into little more than inky blackness, at least what I saw when I wasn’t asleep, though I did wake up at a stop in Cleveland right next to their football stadium — one of three I passed as the days wore on. (the others? In St. Louis and Dallas.)

Our two-day jaunt only broken by a five-hour stop in the absolutely gorgeous metropolis of Chicago, we made it into Austin on the 19th, securing our badges and gearing up for the main event — the long-running Fantastic Fest, one of the most important genre-oriented festivals in the state (and the country). Now, we weren’t able to secure super awesome super-duper passes to get us nearly unlimited access to the whole thing — we got day passes that cover the morning/early afternoons of the fest until 5, and then a “second half” badge which earns us unlimited access to, well, the second half (starting Monday.)Until then, any night shows — you know, the big ones — we gotta hail Mary, waiting in standby lines and hoping beyond hope to get the chance to buy tickets to individual screenings.

Our first day, we lucked out as I got into all my first choice shows — Frankenweenie, Antiviral and American Mary. (Reviews of the latter coming soon.) In fact, for Frankenweenie, we got plunked in the front row of the theater (it was playing simultaneously in four) that Tim Burton and cast members Winona Ryder, Martin Landau and Charlie Tahan were doing a Q&A in. Literally, at one point, Burton was just a few inches in front of me– close enough to touch…and subsequently get ejected from the festival, so I wisely refrained. Still…cool. Poor Mr. Landau fell backwards getting up on the stage, but after a brief scare turned out okay. There’s a reason the man is a legend. Also Ryder is far more petite in person than you’d expect, and her voice is higher too.

Johnny with ‘The Collector’ director, Marcus Dunstan

After the American Mary screening, I got to hang and chat with, for a bit, with Jen and Sylvia Soska, the twin sister directors of that film and the earlier grindhouse-esque Dead Hooker In A Trunk. The two talented women — who took an astronomical leap in quality between their two films — ooze Goth-y sex appeal, but also a deep-rooted love for the horror genre, and a warmth and friendliness and enthusiasm towards their fans. Getting to talk with them, however briefly, its clear that they are the very definition of cool chicks. And via them I got to meet writer/director Marcus Dunstan and his partner Patrick Melton, premiering his slasher feature The Collection at the fest, a day before it actually showed. The duo is best know for features like Feast and Saws 4-7, but Dunstan turned out to be a big, warm teddy bear of a man — living proof of the idea that horror directors tend to be some of the nicest in the biz. (Funny how that works out, no?)

I, alas, couldn’t get into the first screening of The Collection OR the Sinister screening, both occurring on my second night. So I ended up seeing the Filippino thriller Graceland (not quite GLA material, but decent enough on its own) and the Japanese splatter comedy Dead Sushi (review pending), before heading off to a wild and wooly karaoke after party. I was surprised by how many of the attendees could sing, at least decently enough — including BadAss Digest’s Devin Faraci and horror filmmaker Ti West (House of the Devil, The Innkeepers.) I was also surprised that one could do a “punk” karaoke cover of Enya’s “Orinoco Flow.” Kinda glad the karaoke part started dying down before I got up on stage…

I’ve met a lot of cool people during my stay here, including numerous actors and filmmakers (among them respective Antiviral director and star Brandon Cronenberg and Caleb Landry Jones [best known to geeks as Banshee in X-Men: First Class], Re-Animator’s Barbara Crampton and Marcel Sarimiento, who co-helmed the controversial indie Deadgirl) as well as industry writers (for Fangoria, Fearnet and others) and just plain old fans from all around the world — including the nice Irish chap who was chatting with me at my hostel as I began this very article. It’s been an amazing first few days here at Fantastic Fest, and I hope to share all my further adventures with my fellow Geek Leaguers soon.

Until then…be jealous ;),
Johnny.

Johnny with Barbara Crampton, star of ‘Re-Animator’

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About Author

Johnny Donaldson

Johnny Donaldson is an actor, writer, foodie, and raconteur who’s been immersed in the geek world since childhood, especially when The X-Files changed his life. (Fox Mulder is his Han Solo.) A published film critic (his college-era movie reviews can be found in the archives of rottentomatoes.com) and a film producer with two films under his belt, Johnny likes kitty cats, coffee, the color purple (not the movie, the literal color purple), dark microbrews and good horror/scifi/fantasy and superhero movies. And occasionally long walks on the beach, when it’s not too hot.