Fantasia returns for its 20th installment this weekend, bringing its special for of madness to Montreal for the next three weeks. Fantasia’s full 2016 lineup includes over 130 features with 19 World Premieres, 18 North American Premieres, and 47 Canadian Premieres. In addition, the festival will be showcasing over 300 shorts from across the globe (full disclosure, one of these shorts is my own Roadside Assistance making its Canadian Premiere).

Hot off its premiere at Cannes, the Mel Gibson thriller BLOOD FATHER, directed by Jean-François Richet (MESRINE, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13), will make its North American premiere at Fantasia as both part of the festival’s closing night events. BLOOD FATHER’s awesome cast also features Erin Moriarty, Elisabeth Röhm, William H. Macy, Diego Luna, Dale Dickey, Thomas Mann, and Michael Parks.

As part of the festival’s 20th Anniversary festivities, Fantasia has announced the creation of The Denis Héroux Award, a prize that recognizes exceptional contribution to the development of genre cinema and independent cinema from Quebec, named after the trailblazing filmmaker  – director of such works as VALÉRIE and A FEW ACRES OF SNOW, producer of landmarks that include QUEST FOR FIRE and ATLANTIC CITY  – who passed away in December of last year. The inaugural recipient will be Jean-Claude Lord, maker of such diverse works as PARLEZ-NOUS D’AMOUR, VISITING HOURS, PANIQUE, THE VINDICATOR, and BINGO, the latter being one of the first thrillers from Quebec.

In another special event, Grady Hendrix, celebrated film critic and acclaimed author of bestsellers Horrorstör and My Best Friend’s Exorcism, brings his stunning, deeply personal one-man show about psychic teenagers to Fantasia with SUMMERLAND LOST: A GHOST STORY IN PROGRESS. Telling the all-shocking, all-true tale of Victorian teenagers who spoke to the dead, this is the real life story of how biomechanical sex cults, the ghost of Ben Franklin, and Arctic explorers all teamed up to answer the ultimate question: is there life after death?

Amongst the new works, Maverick Canadian genre heroes Black Fawn Films, whose BITE, EJECTA, ANTISOCIAL, THE DROWNSMAN, and NEVERLOST have all world premiered at Fantasia, return to Montreal with BED OF THE DEAD, the directorial debut of cinematographer Jeff Maher (BITE, HELLOUTH). Four twenty-somethings find themselves stuck on a haunted antique bed where leaving means suffering a gruesome death in this hallucinatory Grand Guignol Twilight Zone-esque shocker that gets freakier with each passing minute.

Here are 10 Can’t Miss Picks for the festival (descriptions mostly by the Fantasia Programmers):

AMERICANA — Avery Wells (David Call) finds himself isolated and alone, drowning his sorrows and haunted by his past in a cabin far from the beaten path. Drunk and dilapidated, he’s visited by his longtime producer friend (Jack Davenport of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and KINGSMEN) and his starlet sibling (Kelli Garner of HORNS and LARS AND THE REAL GIRL), who pull him back into the industry limelight to edit their newest big-budget feature. An eruption of violence mars the production and Avery finds himself once again forlorn and searching for answers at the bottom of a bottle. When a strange connection emerges between the tragedy and their producer, Wells becomes obsessed with the mystery and desperately tries to connect the pieces. His digging begins to reveal of a conspiracy that seems to have ties to the film, and to his own dark past. Zachary Shedd’s dark, beautifully brooding neo-noir drags the viewer into the depths of Avery’s addiction, and with every twist and turn becomes even more calculated and compelling. In addition, Frank Mosley (AIN’T THEM BODY SAINTS, UPSTREAM COLOR), turns in his best performance yet as the starlet’s bitter husband, steeping the film in dramatic authenticity. That, along with the film’s haunting imagery and soundtrack, make for a mystery as hard to forget as it is to unravel.

ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM: GRADUATION — A year after presenting the international premiere of ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM, a Fantasia 2015 favourite and huge Japanese box-office hit, the conclusion to Eiichiro Hasumi’s brilliant two-part adaptation of Yuusei Matsui’s manga is finally at our door. While ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM: GRADUATION retains its predecessor’s amusing weirdness and dumbfounding action sequences, it delves deeper into its characters and earns its place among school-life coming-of-age tales by infusing several dramatic twists into the film and elevating it beyond a special-effects visual feast. Welcome to class 3-E, for the second semester of the school year, which promises to be one not only essential to the students’ development, but vital to all of humanity. Since all of the students’ combined efforts weren’t enough to get the best of Koro-sensei, he’s right back in the teacher’s seat. As quick as ever and full of resources, efforts will have to be redoubled to finally eliminate him and save the Earth from certain destruction.

ATMO HORROX — It might be the story of an extraterrestrial invasion in a Quebec suburb. Or maybe the unlikely misadventures of a very, very special agent, on a mission to thwart monstrous spies from another world. Then again, it could be the unleashing of the servants of Satan, with the gates of hell thrown wide open. On the other hand, it’s perhaps a reconstruction of a nightmare Philip K. Dick described to his psychiatrist after his first night sober in 10 years. One thing alone is certain — rational thought has left the building and hasn’t left a number where it can be reached. All is well in the land of the mad in Atmo HorroX, the latest surrealist opus from Pat Tremblay, twisted titan of the Quebec underground. Dispensing entirely with the stiff, stodgy traditions of respectable cinema, the anarchic delight is a creature of uninhibited creativity. Reality, contaminated by disruptive viruses, shatters in this perplexing science fiction fever dream.

CREATURE DESIGNERS: THE FRANKENSTEIN COMPLEX — Back in the bygone era of 1980s horror and sci-fi flicks, monster creators such as Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Steve Johnson and the KNB boys were the rock stars of the genre-movie business. Advances in animatronic puppetry and latex appliances revolutionized the industry, and monsters of all shapes and sizes sprang to life like never before, meticulously crafted in giant FX warehouses manned by small armies of young technicians. They carried on a tradition forged by the legendary silent movie star Lon Chaney (PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) and Universal Pictures’ makeup maestro Jack Pierce, whose classic horror figures (Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf-Man, etc.) remain iconic images some 80-plus years later. French journalists-turned-documentarians Gilles Penso and Alexandre Poncet also interview the directorial geniuses behind several of these horror hits — loquacious fright masters John Landis, Joe Dante and Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro delivers CREATURE DESIGNERS’ most heartfelt commentary on his love affair with monsters and the art and philosophy of their birthing, sentiments he will share with us after this special screening!

LET ME MAKE YOU A MARTYR – Drew Glass is back in town and it’s about to hit the fan. Upon his return, he crosses paths with his adoptive father/local crime boss, his crack-addicted adopted sister/lover, a dope-slinging trailer park attendant, a blind priest with a secret, a missing little girl, and a reclusive hit man for hire. Each step brings new challenges as Drew is quickly tangled up in his past with the town. Starring an almost unrecognizable Marilyn Manson and SONS OF ANARCHY standouts Mark Boone Junior and Niko Nicotera, LET ME MAKE YOU A MARTYR is a crime-flick love-story-melodrama hybrid that gushes style without forgetting the substance. Shot on location in Oklahoma, the cinematography captures the sublime grotesqueness of a decrepit Midwestern town. Never satisfied with being just a backwoods thriller, the film juxtaposes its genre roots with issues and ideas ranging from child abuse to life after death. A film that dares us to walk away thinking about more than funky soul music, murderous thugs, and muscle cars (all of which, mind you, are still in the movie). LET ME MAKE YOU A MARTYR is the first feature film from Corey Asraf and John Swab, taking five years to complete.

ON THE SILVER GLOBE — In 1976, a young director embarked on an epic space opera that told the story of one man destined to lead a rebellion against an evil alien empire… But this was not George Lucas. While Lucas was toiling away in the Sahara making STAR WARS, Andrzej Zulawski, director of POSSESSION, was battling to make his own science fiction epic in the Gobi desert. It is tempting to say that if Tarkovsky’s SOLARIS was the Soviet Union’s response to Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, then Zulawski’s ON THE SILVER GLOBE was the Eastern Bloc’s answer to STAR WARS. However, Zulawski’s epic was based on a trilogy of books written by his great uncle, Jerzy Zulawski, over a century ago. Stanislaw Lem, the author of “Solaris”, deemed “On the Silver Globe” to be the book which inspired him to write in the science-fiction genre. Featuring stunning locations in the Wieliczka salt mines and Poland’s Baltic coastline, Andrzej Zulawski’s ON THE SILVER GLOBE features some of the most bizarre and startling imagery ever committed to celluloid: heretics impaled on spikes, a mass underground orgy and (years before MAD MAX) a finned Cadillac screaming through the desert… ON THE SILVER GLOBE would have almost certainly placed Zulawski firmly on the forefront of world cinema, but shortly before the end of filming, the project was shut down by the Polish Communist authorities. Almost a decade later, Zulawski was invited back to Poland to complete his broken masterpiece. Recently restored from the original camera negative, ON THE SILVER GLOBE presents a terrifying science fiction vision worlds apart from STAR WARS.

QUEST FOR FIRE — A primal, Paleolithic adventure begins when a tribe of homo sapiens are attacked by a less evolved, and far more ferocious, gang of hominids. Driven from the caves they call home, these early humans have lost their most precious possession — the tiny flame they keep protected from wind and rain, as they are as yet unable to create fire themselves. Three survivors set out in search of a new source of fire, a journey fraught with danger — and discovery. An Oscar winner for its make-up work and recipient of two Césars, a BAFTA award and five Genies, the critical success QUEST FOR FIRE is all but unique in cinema history, a prehistoric thriller crafted with remarkable talent and scientific care.

REALIVE — Present day. Successful, ambitious Marc (Tom Hughes) suffers a terrible shock when he is diagnosed with a fast-spreading fatal cancer. Unable to accept death and the agony of fruitless treatment, Marc decides to cryonize his body under the best possible conditions: committing suicide expressly for this purpose before the disease is beyond a future cure. Six decades later, in 2083, the Prodigy Health Corporation resurrects Marc, and he becomes the first human to survive the process (others haven’t been so lucky, as we witness in the film’s most chilling scene). But Marc’s reanimation does not go as smooth as expected; besides multiple medical problems, Marc’s soul has also been damaged, as he yearns to reconnect with the past, especially his lost lover. Plus, he eventually discovers the secrets of the so-called Project Lazarus… The provocative new film from acclaimed filmmaker Mateo Gil (writer of THE SEA INSIDE and OPEN YOUR EYES; director of NOBODY KNOWS ANYBODY and BLACKTHORN) presents a modern spin on Mary Shelley’s enduring “Frankenstein.”

SUPERPOWERLESS — There was a time when Bob was the reigning master of his city. Having discovered that he possessed superpowers at an early age, he followed the example of his comic-book heroes and used them to society’s benefit, a decision that has made him a champion feared by his enemies and admired by the public. A living legend, he relentlessly went after criminals with a smile on his face. Today, Bob is but a shadow of his former self. Like many others, he’s plagued by the self-reflection of midlife crisis. The difference is that this difficult period coincides with the loss of what it was that made him such an extraordinary being. His Herculean strength and incredible resistance to blows have both vanished. Having retired his uniform, he wanders the streets he once helped protect in drunken stupor, increasingly worrying his girlfriend Mimi. When an old sidekick publishes a memoir, Bob suddenly feels the urgent need to commit his exceptional life journey to paper. He’s about to go through an introspective experience that will make him revisit his past and hopefully permit him to finally take the warrior’s rest he’s looking for. Setting aside action sequences, Duane Andersen’s SUPERPOWERLESS offers a fresh perspective on the iconic superhero, a portrait of a fallen man seeking insight into his life’s meaning.

ULTRAMAN X THE MOVIE — Our story begins on one of those multiversal parallel Earths that we’ll call X. An Ultra warrior is in pursuit of an alien being. Ultraman forces it to crash into the sun, creating a solar flare, which upon contact atomizes him into digital data, which falls to the Earth. The flare also transforms the Spark Dolls into all-too-real monsters. After 15 years of living as computer data, Ultraman has finally found a suitable human being, Daichi Oozora, to use the XDevizer and regain his Ultra warrior form — thus becoming Ultraman X, ally of the monster-fighting science patrol XIO. ULTRAMAN X THE MOVIE marks more than one milestone. It brings the greatest, most iconic made-in-Japan superhero into the realm of digital technology, fusing the old-school practical effects that are the hallmark of the franchise with up-to-the minute CGI. It’s based on the 2015 series, the 41st that Tsuburaya has produced since 1966, and arrives at a very important time. The Ultraman universe celebrates its 50th anniversary this very July 17, 2016. Fantasia has been showing Ultraman movies since their first year 1996 — how could they not have an Ultraman movie to help celebrate their own 20th anniversary? ULTRAMAN X THE MOVIE features not only X and Ultraman Tiga (and a few extra Ultra Warriors), but a great appearance by the original Ultraman — the one with whom all the magic began.

Looking for more great films? Here’s a few more I’ve already seen (and written about) that I can’t stop recommending: ANOTHER EVIL, DEMON, I’M NOT A SERIAL KILLER, IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE, THE LURE, OPERATION AVALANCHE, SLASH, TEENAGE COCKTAIL, UNDER THE SHADOW, YOGA HOSERS.

Bears Fonte covers indie film for AMFM Magazine and programs and consults for film festivals nationwide.  He is the Founder and Executive Director of Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival as well as the former Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival.  His short The Secret Keeper played at 40 festivals, his feature iCrime was released in 2011 by Vicious Circle.



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