On September 24th, the 2015 edition of Fantastic Fest—the awesome Alamo Drafthouse’s annual celebration of all things outre and crazy—will once invade the steamy environs of Austin, Texas, doing its damnedest to help “keep Austin weird” as the motto goes. For the fourth year in a row, Geek League’s most intrepid, deranged and malcontent horror writer — aka me — will be heading down to overindulge himself on a gluttonous smorgasbord of movies, beer, karaoke, shenanigans and more movies.
Fantastic Fest was founded in 2005 by Tim League, the hardcore cinephile responsible for launching one of the coolest theater chains in existence: the Alamo Drafthouse. (Remember that hilarious viral video of a phone recording of an incensed gal bitching about being kicked out of the theater because she wouldn’t stop texting? Yep — that’s the place.) Originally just a small, intimate three-day thing in its early phase, it’s now metastasized into a wild carnival in which a drool-worthy amount of films compete for your attention with live band rock-’n’-roll karaoke, film geek debates morphing into boxing matches, and endless drunken shenanigans that may end up with you walking away with a free tattoo before the week is done.
In past years, I have followed a conga line through the theater to a massive alley long food fight….been dared, in front of an audience, to drink a martini made from Vienna sausage juice and stirred by the junk of the lead of Can’t Hardly Wait…been slapped in the face by a very large and muscular man during a game called “slap shots”…posed for pictures with a very sweet donkey…sang Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” to close out a woozy night of karaoke…and drunkenly challenged Elijah Wood to a race through a bounce house obstacle course….
Ok, ok, I think we have established that I may be more than a little insane and the festival is a perfect week-long home away from home for someone of my whackadoo temperament. But what really, really matters is the films playing, and this year’s typically eclectic mix of horror, fantasy, crime, scifi, martial arts, animation and WTF-ery offers a wild variety of genre fare to tickle the fancy of any and all geeks.
Opening the festival on Sept 24 is Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s (Dogtooth) Cannes-revered scifi romance The Lobster, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, with Lanthimos in attendance. Heavily plaudited at this year’s Cannes Film Festival back in may, this satirical attack on society’s obsession of marriage is set in a future world where hopeless singletons have 45 days to find a suitable mate at a bustling hotel or forever be turned into an animal of their choice. Meanwhile, none other than Kurt f’n Russell—Snake Plissken himself—will be in attendance for the closing night world premiere of the actor’s latest, the cannibal western Bone Tomahawk; co-starring alongside the legend are Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins and Lost’s Matthew Fox, who will also be joining us for the madness.
Ridley Scott’s The Martian, coming off a massively well-reviewed run at the Toronto Film Festival, will also screen — in glorious 3D — while other notable scifi films playing include the comedic Lazer Team, from the viral sensations over at Rooster Teeth, the Scanners-homaging psy-thriller The Mind’s Eye and the utterly weird In Search of the UltraSex, a French-language compilation of clips from old porn movies and cheap-ass space operas, done in the manner of comedies like Kung Pow: Enter The Fist.
Martial arts get a heavy workout this year, with another Cannes favorite, The Assassin, joining repertory screenings of genre classics 8 Diagram Pole Fighter and Come Drink With Me. Surreal fantasy from around the world comes in the form of Italian director Matteo Garrone’s star-studded adult fairy tale Tale of Tales, with Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly, the French The Brand New Testament, in which God’s fed-up daughter decides to write her own testament, and the Finnish Lovemilla and the Hungarian Liza the Fox Fairy.
Thrills and chills are also in abundant display. Among the higher profile horror flicks set to screen are the reportedly chilling Sundance sensation The Witch, Blue Ruin director Jeremy Saulnier’s punks vs neo-Nazis siege thriller Green Room – with Patrick Stewart as the lead skinhead!– the grisly German hardcore horror of German Angst, Takashi Miike’s wild take on the vampire in Yakuza Apocalypse, Osgood (son of Anthony) Perkins’ chilly February (which has been getting good buzz out of Toronto), the latest from rising Brit iconoclast Ben Wheatly, High Rise, and a rare horror film from Turkey, the Hellraiser-esque Baskin.
Baskin also helps lead into a celebration of infamous Turkish genre cinema, which includes the premiere of the documentary Remix, Remake, Ripoff and rep screenings of some of the most notorious and batshit films in Turkish genre cinema: The Deathless Devil, Tarkan and the King and, perhaps, the most infamous of them all — The Man Who Saves The World, better known to you and me as Turkish Star Wars. Also up for rep screenings are the cult Clint Howard Satanic parable Evilspeak (part of the launch of the book Satanic Panic: Pop Culture Paranoia in the 1980s), the lost psychedelic anime Belladonna of Sadness and a trio of rare exploitation titles — The X-Rated Supermarket, My Body Hungers and the controversial Farewell Uncle Tom — shown as part of another book launch, a collection of movie posters curated by Drive and Only God Forgives helmer Nicolas Winding Refn titled The Act of Seeing.
This is all in addition to the annual Fantastic Debates, in which filmmakers and journalists alike duke it out over the right to be right, musical performances from Kid Koala, Elijah Wood’s DJ duo Wooden Wisdom, the monster 32-piece musical juggernaut Itchy-O and the Nerd Rap battle. Ohhh, and I also forgot the Fantastic Arcade, bringing you the best and brightest in indie video games.
Yes, it’s just exhausting writing it — just imagine living it. But that’s also the beauty of Fantastic Fest. It’s a wild, crazy, exhilarating ride, a crucible for only the most undaunted of movie geeks to travel through and come out the other side, a better, stranger person than before. There’s never a dull moment at Fantastic Fest — even if you aren’t watching a movie or playing a game or taking in an event, there are hundreds upon hundreds of people to chat with, to make new friends with. There’s a reason I keep coming back, year after year, to absorb this madness in. And, as they say at the Fest, that’s fantastic.