Fantasia Festival 2022
A Documented Journey of Film Criticism
For the majority I’ve been keeping a degree of personal separation on this platform, but for something like this I feel it would work in a more personal manner. This year I’m covering the Fantasia Film Festival out of Montreal, QC. I covered it last year but it was all in the form of discussion as I co-host on Humanoids From the Deep Dive, a monster podcast that looks into the deeper meanings of the usage of monsters and adjacent iconography. If you haven’t listened to any of that I do recommend that you check it out. We’re still seeing some films from last year’s festivals getting limited and wider releases now due to acclaim and criticism from 2021.
But for this year I’m making requests from other outlets that I usually write for, so I’m going to keep a relatively short series of blog posts about this year’s offerings, about a week or so’s worth of film watching apart. Some will get a full, separate review and some will probably show up in posts like this. Who knows.
That being said I’m pretty excited to see what this year’s films have in store. As an unofficial “curtain raiser” here are some of the films I’m most interested in checking out this year!
First, a little context. In 2012 Kier-La Janisse debuted a book entitled House of Psychotic Women that examines & explores female neurosis in horror and exploitation film. This year, for its 10th anniversary Fantasia is screening four titles curated by Janisse & restored by Severin Films, to be included in a brand-new boxed set which is as of this writing now available to preorder. Its release has been announced in tandem with a new expanded edition of the book, and while this has been on my reading list ever since its original first edition run, the following five films have shot to the top of my to-watch list for the festival, in order of my own anticipation:
Footprints (1975, dirs. Luigi Bazzoni & Mario Fanelli)
In the most criminally underseen giallo mindf*ck of the ’70s, Florinda Bolkan — the Brazilian-born actress whose seminal films include INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN, A BRIEF VACATION and FLAVIA THE HERETIC — stars as a freelance translator haunted by disturbing images from an old sci-fi movie. But when she wakes one morning missing all memory of her past three days, a series of odd clues — a torn postcard from an unfamiliar hotel, a blood-stained dress in her closet — will lead her to a place where recognition, identity, and the truth are never what they seem.
In My Skin (2002, dir. Marina de Van)
Lanky, beautifully aloof François Ozon regular Marina de Van stars in her directing debut as the upwardly mobile marketing assistant who accidentally cuts her leg open while stumbling through the backyard at a business party. She walks into a series of obstacles in the dark yard, but, feeling no sensation of pain, thinks she’s only ripped her trousers — until she notices the trail of blood staining the carpet behind her. She takes to probing the wound, digging into her stitches in dark corners at work, in the bathroom, in restaurants. After an initial period of bodily disorientation, she falls in love with her own skin — and wants to see what lies beneath.
I Like Bats (1986, dir. Grzegorz Warchol)
Polish actor/director Grzegorz Warchol (THREE COLORS: WHITE) helms this 1986 production that combines splashes of black comedy with jolts of old-school horror for a slyly contemporary take on the female bloodsucker mythos. Katarzyna Walter stars as a happily single young vampire who works in her aunt’s curio shop when not feeding on various suitors, stalkers, and sleazebags. But when she falls for a handsome psychiatrist and checks into his luxury sanitarium to cure her condition, she’ll discover that love may be the ghastliest curse of all.
Identikit (1977, dir. Giuseppe Patroni Griffi)
In what remains the most obscure, bizarre, and wildly misunderstood film of her entire career — and perhaps even ’70s Italian cinema — producer Franco Rossellini (TEOREMA, CALIGULA) hired director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi (’TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE, THE DIVINE NYMPH) and co-screenwriter Raffaele La Capria (CHRIST STOPPED AT EBOLI) to adapt the unnerving novella by Muriel Spark (The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie) as an Antonioni-esque tour-de-force for cinema icon Elizabeth Taylor. It premiered at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival to stunned silence and has rarely been screened since.
Il Demonio (1963, dir. Brunello Rondi)
The second film by frequent Fellini collaborator Brunello Rondi, IL DEMONIO is a stunning story of obsessive love, set in a rural Southern Italian village where Christianity has integrated many of the old superstitious beliefs. Daliah Lavi, best known to genre fans for her role as the tortured protagonist in Mario Bava’s THE WHIP AND THE BODY, plays the film’s central character Purif, who is distraught when her lover (Frank Wolff) is betrothed to another. When she summons the old ways to curse him, her erratic behaviour is interpreted as demonic possession, and the villagers turn against her with physical and sexual violence.
I’m still working on going through every title in last year’s killer Severin Films release of their All the Haunts Be Ours boxed set but Il Demonio is featured as a film in the collection there, so I’m curious about what alternate extras there might be for the House of Psychotic Women Rarities Collection for the film.
As for original submissions for Fantasia that I’m looking forward to, look no further than these titles whose synopses and directors names made my eyebrows leap:
Bodies Bodies Bodies, dir. Halina Reijn
I’ve been awaiting this since I first heard of this film. I can’t remember exactly when but it might have been around the time X was about to release in theaters. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that I became a big fan of Rachel Sennott since Shiva Baby. When news came out that she was cast in a slasher co-starring Lee Pace, picked up by A24 I definitely took note of it.
It’s not the end of the world as we know it, just a violent storm approaching, and at first, Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and her friends are feeling fine. They’re taking a break (though not really) from lives lived online to gather for a sex-drugs-and-rock-’n’-roll “hurricane party” at a middle-of-nowhere mansion owned by the father of the debauched David (Pete Davidson). Sophie has brought along her new girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova), whose apparent innocence makes her out of place in this nest of kidding-but-maybe-not-really toxicity. Then a game of Bodies Bodies Bodies gives way to an actual body count, and amidst the gory demises, the question becomes whether the survivors can let go of their animosity, determine who the real villain is, and make it through the night alive.
Country Gold, dir. Mickey Reece
Look, I don’t care what any of his films premises are but Mickey Reece has my attention no matter what film it is. If I can watch it, I sure as hell am going to do just that. I found myself revisiting last year’s Agnes two or three times. I know Reece is a songwriter himself, so I’m wondering if any of this new film will feature some original music at any point. I do like me some El Paso Hot Button.
It’s 1994 and two country-music legends meet in Nashville. Troyal (Mickey Reece), an up-and-comer from Oklahoma who likes his steaks well done, and the washed-up, viper-tongued George Jones (Ben Hall), who has decided that he wants to have himself cryogenically frozen. The prolific Mickey Reece is back at Fantasia with his latest, COUNTRY GOLD, a darkly comedic sojourn into country music’s dark, dirty, and strange world. Brimming with stories within stories, flashbacks, musical sequences, and even an incredible animated sequence, Reece packs COUNTRY GOLD with delirious and delicious action. As it blends wilful [sic] American naivety with the ever-present threat of violence, the film has you at the edge of your seat, offering the promise of great laughs and catastrophic confrontations.
Dark Glasses, dir. Dario Argento
This is a no-brainer for everyone’s lists this year but I’m especially curious since for a lot of people’s top Argento films of all time, I’m not necessarily in 100% agreement. Fight me on that later but I have yet to even dive into his modern work, so why not start with the freshest of the bunch?
For high-end sex worker Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli, THEY CALL ME JEEG), being blinded in a car accident is just the beginning of her trauma. The white-van-driving psychopath who caused the crash, and has already murdered another call girl, is out to finish the job, relentlessly stalking Diana through Rome and its outskirts. And because she’s been harboring Chin (Xinyu Zhang), a young boy whose parents were also victims of that accident, Diana can’t go to the cops, who suspect her of kidnapping the child. So she and Chin have only each other to depend on as they flee through the night, trying to stay one step ahead of the maniac and facing other perils along the way.
Deadstream, dirs. Vanessa & Joseph Winter
All I know about this movie is literally this image hanging above my dumb sentence about it. I’ve heard to just go in blind, and that’s just what I’m going to do. If you want to join me on that, squint your eyes and keep scrolling.
It’s been six months since Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter) pulled a stunt on his “Wrath of Shawn” livestream that got him in legal trouble and cost him his sponsors. Now he’s aiming to make a comeback by outfitting himself with all manner of camera and computer gear, and locking himself in the haunted Pratt House for a night. The place has a tragic history involving suicide and murder, and we watch through his assorted lenses as he makes his way through the spooky rooms, waiting for something ghostly to occur. But he’s not prepared for what will happen when he finds out he’s not alone in the old place, and the house’s awful past comes back to torment him.
Glorious, dir. Rebekah McKendry
I’m familiar with Dr. Rebekah McKendry as podcaster, coupled with Elric Kane on All the Colors of the Dark and earlier for Blumhouse. I’ve seen Psycho Granny and can confirm it does what it sets out to do, while McKendry is well aware of the niche that those Lifetime movies fill. Now I’m even more curious as to what a men’s bathroom-set nightmare starring Ryan Kwanten & J.K. Simmons will entail, and I think I heard something about…. a gloryhole? Whatever, I’m in.
When you gotta go, you gotta go. Exactly where you’re going is another matter. That’s definitely the case for the heartbroken Wes (Ryan Kwanten), who has pulled over at a roadside rest stop to figure out his next move in life. A night of solo drunken revelry leaves Wes with a massive hangover and a serious need to puke, so into the scuzzy restroom he goes before he hits the road. But whoever’s in the next stall (J.K. Simmons!) has a few questions for Wes. And very few answers. But what they do tell Wes is that he’s about to become someone very important, but he can’t leave this bathroom and he’s going to have to make a big, big sacrifice. Glorious? Maybe not.
House of Darkness, dir. Neil LaBute
Ok. Hear me out. Director Neil LaBute of Wicker Man remake fame approaches the ineffable gothic terror of yore with this focused-looking ensemble piece, with Justin Long and Kate Bosworth headlining an intriguing and question-raising synopsis:
Neil Labute, once considered America’s most controversial filmmaker, is back in familiar territory with his latest, HOUSE OF DARKNESS. Hap (Justin Long) can’t believe his luck after meeting a beautiful woman (Kate Bosworth) who invites him back to her place, a castle-like mansion in the middle of nowhere. As they arrive under a cloak of darkness, they realize the power is out. Their playful banter continues with more drinks, a cozy fire, and rising sexual tensions. Their superficial discussion becomes increasingly strained with the uncertainties of the space. Hap becomes paranoid that someone else is in the house, and the homeowner pushes him on his habit of “fibbing.” Transfixed by her beauty and unable to give up an opportunity for sex, Hap ignores his better instincts and finds himself drawn into a dark, twisted fairy tale.
Lynch/Oz, dir. Alexandra O. Philippe
David Lynch and Wizard of Oz is all I need to know. I knew there were more direct callbacks in Wild At Heart but this has my attention.
Alexandre O. Philippe dissects film history like no other documentarian before him. From Monument Valley’s depiction in Westerns in THE TAKING (2021), to Hitchcock’s shower scene in 78/52 (2017) and through fear and mythology of the xenomorph’s creation in MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN (2019), every detail is explored through Philippe’s lens, and expanded upon for a meditation on cinema itself.
Next Exit, dir. Mali Elfman
I like to just jump into things blind. This one is no exception, but with Karen Gillan and Rahul Kohli starring and what seems like a sci-fi approach.
One day in a future so near it may well be next Wednesday, everything about the ways that we relate to death changes. Research Scientist Dr. Stevenson (Karen Gillan, OCULUS, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) has discovered that “ghosts” are demonstrably real, in that existence continues beyond the end of physical life. Through her groundbreaking technology, deceased persons can now be identified and tracked in the afterlife. A call goes out for volunteers to further her research. Two strangers, Rose (Katie Parker, ABSENTIA, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli, THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR, MIDNIGHT MASS), each struggling with personal demons, choose to sign up into the unknown. They will exit their earthly lives to become a part of history and to maybe, possibly, find something closer to happiness in wherever their afterlives may bring them. Fate has them splitting a car rental, and they embark on a drive across America to meet their destinies.
Popran, dir. Shinichiro Ueda
Shinichiro Ueda made a giant splash with 2017’s One Cut of the Dead. His Fantasia 2022 entry gets weird, following the saga of a guy whose dick literally separates from his body and his quest to reclaim it, which is kind of an automatic “yes” from me based on the outward absurdity of the overall premise. The sense of humor from One Cut seems like it’d make a nice transition into this one as far as only having seen the prior film before this one. Which, for me, is the case. Plus, I think we need more emasculated male characters literally fighting to get their bits back in cinema.
Tokyo is in the midst of a mysterious “skyfish” invasion. But Tagami Tatsuya (Yoji Minagawa, MELANCHOLIC) pays that no mind. He has found great success as the CEO of an online manga-reading platform — built on the back of creators, mind you — and is busy basking in his accomplishments. He forgoes not being a colossal dick to everyone around him… until a fantastical twist of fate takes that away. Indeed, one morning, he discovers his genitals have spontaneously disappeared. Poof! Gone! Presented with a straw-sized hole where his junk used to be — and myriad opportunities to embarrass his arrogant self over it — he soon discovers, however, he is not alone in this peculiar condition. The “Popran Club” clues him into what happened to his member. Thus begins a six-day quest to retrieve his thing before it withers and dies for good. Gasp!
Resurrection, dir. Andrew Semans
Just like most of the above films, all I know about this is the still above and that this film stars Rebecca Hall, who absolutely wowed me with her performance in The Night House, so this was already going to get a definite watch from me.
Margaret (Rebecca Hall), a pharmaceutical executive raising her teenage daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman) alone, seems to have a well-ordered life. Then one day, the mere sight of a familiar face causes her to freak out. David (Tim Roth) doesn’t do anything overtly menacing — he simply shows up at the places she goes, throwing her sense of safety completely out of whack. Clearly, David had a damaging, destabilizing role in Margaret’s past, and as it is revealed, he worms his way into Margaret’s headspace all over again — preying particularly on her motherly instincts in truly disturbing ways. Her life is no longer her own, and her downward spiral will lead Margaret to the darkest depths a human soul can go.
Ring Wandering, dir. Masakazu Kaneko
I’ve always been infatuated with the stark combinations of the world of the fantastical and the grounded brought together. Either as a comparison of similarities or a contrasting of absolute differences, Ring Wandering’s synopsis begs for those with that same infatuation to visit the telling of the differences — or shared relationships with the other, more spiritual world.
Sosuke is an aspiring manga artist, though for the moment he’s stuck doing dreary labour on construction jobs in central Tokyo. He hopes to make his mark with a story about a wily old hunter and his nemesis, a Japanese wolf. Sosuke struggles to conclude his comic-book story, in part because it’s difficult to draw an animal that’s been extinct for a century. A partial canine skull he accidentally uncovers on a work site might hold the answer, so he sneaks back at night to forage for more bones. While there, he’s surprised by a distraught young woman seeking her lost dog. Midori sprains her ankle, so Sosuke agrees to give her a piggyback ride back home. They pass through the gates of a shrine, and a different Tokyo awaits Sosuke on the other side…
Shin Ultraman, dir. Shinji Higuchi
You knew this was going to happen. I couldn’t get enough of Toho’s Shin Godzilla, a retelling of the 1954 classic but with today’s politics and a different, more evolutionally terrifying portrait of Godzilla’s animalistic instincts to survive in a strange world. I can’t say that this is the goal for Shin Ultraman, but something tells me that something new & different will be offered with this new version of the story.
Giant, unearthly monsters are appearing in Japan, and the government has created the S-Class Species Suppression Protocol, an elite agency dedicated to confronting and defeating this invasion by extraterrestrial lifeforms. But when an invisible electrical monster attacks the countryside, a giant, silvery alien being lands on Earth. The titanic superhero, soon to be codenamed Ultraman, destroys the deadly beast quickly enough — but accidentally kills SSSP officer Shinji Kaminaga during the battle. Secretly assuming Kaminaga’s appearance, Ultraman joins the SSSP to help defend humanity, but as more menacing monsters from space arrive, the cosmic conflict can only become more confounding!
The Witch: Part 2. The Other One
So I haven’t seen the first part of this now duology: so what? I may just dig deeper and visit the first for some context and backstory for this sequel, but it seems to check all of my boxes: transgressive science, psychokinetic teenage sociopaths, a secret organization, hyper violence, this seems to have my name all over it. I hope to get this one in with its predecessor to evaluate it on the first film’s own merits.
Amid the horrifying carnage in an isolated research facility that has been the target of a violent raid, a single survivor opens her eyes. The girl, barefoot and blood-smeared, walks out of the concrete bunker, through the woods, and into the difficult life of Kyung-hee. The young woman is trying to hold onto her family farmland, despite the predations of local crook Yong-doo. The girl seems strangely naive, unfamiliar with the world, but has taken a liking to Kyung-hee and her brother Dae-gil. So when Yong-doo and his henchmen lean a little too hard on her new friends, she calmly unleashes a flash of violence far beyond normal human capabilities. The event does not go unnoticed, and soon more than one group with dark plans for the mysterious girl are closing in. These agents of unseen forces will not be so easily dissuaded from their goals.
I would be remiss if I didn’t complete the list with some final restoration titles, coming from a bunch of different labels this year:
Acción Mutante, dir. Alex de la Iglesias
In a trailer that promises non-stop hyper-violent action, Iglesias seems to have made a name for himself with this over the top title. I mean we’re all hoping for another Robocop or Total Recall, and if it doesn’t quite hit those highs it’ll still seem pretty damn high, right?
In a futuristic Spain lorded over by the rich and good-looking (often thanks to cosmetic surgery), a group calling themselves Accion Mutante (Mutant Action) begin a violent uprising. Led by Ramon (Antonio Resines), bearing assorted disabilities, and united by their disgust with the status quo, they massacre everything from an aerobics class to the wedding of heiress Patricia (Frédérique Feder). Kidnapping the young woman, the gang go on the run with the authorities pursuing and distrust rearing its ugly head among them, while Patricia falls for Ramon (“Not the Stockholm Syndrome again!”). And things only get more brutal when the crew wind up on a desolate mining planet…
Dr. Lamb, dir. Danny Lee
I had the pleasure of viewing The Untold Story for the first time not too long ago and I’m hoping that Dr. Lamb has the same cannibalistic drive the former had, complete with its manic HK category III attitude. While it may not follow a literal cannibal, Dr. Lamb seems to be the outwardly violent true crime story I’d crave from Hong Kong. I’ll eat these kind of movies up.
Summer 1982: A series of brutal murders have rocked Hong Kong. The bodies of four innocent young women have been found dismembered and police have no leads, until nude photos of one of the victims show up in a photo processing plant. The photos are claimed by cab driver Lam Gor-Yu (an unforgettable Simon Yam) who shuts down once Inspector Lee (Danny Lee, who co-directed with Billy Tang) and his team pick him up for questioning. As his family is interrogated, the picture starts to become clear. More photos of other victims are found, weird stories of Lam’s perversities surface, and eventually, very unexpected physical evidence emerges. Lam soon confesses and the true story of what really happened becomes even more disturbing, shocking and horrifying. And the most worst part of the story? It’s all true.
The Heroic Trio, dir. Johnnie To
Three masked vigilantes, Wonder Woman, Invisible Woman, & the Thief Catcher, find their paths intertwining when tracking an evil force in the form of a deadly master, played by none other than Anthony Wong (see my above mentions about Untold Story). That alone tells me that I needed to have seen this years ago, and since I haven’t yet, the best time is always now.
The Demonic Eunuch has dispatched his best fighters to snatch newborns. The motive is to prepare the next generation of invincible assassins, and find a new ruler. Panic has risen among the citizens, unsure if their precious baby will be the next victim. Enter a trio of masked female vigilantes — Wonder Woman, Invisible Woman, and the Thief Catcher — whose paths have collided in the past due to their links to the evil master. They are armed with their special arsenal of flying darts, swords, machine guns, and kung-fu chops, yet not fully certain where their loyalties lie. Meanwhile, the deadly assassin Kau (Anthony Wong!) has entered the city with his flying guillotine, and soon the Demonic Eunuch and his army of underground minions will follow.
Kid With the Golden Arm, dir. Chang Cheh
I fell in love with Chang Cheh’s storytelling while spooling through Arrow’s Shawscope Volume 1 boxed set and need absolutely no convincing to watch this one. The fact that this is a new restoration only solidifies my above point that, yes, there is no time like the present. I love Cheh’s approach to telling his stories by way of using legendary heroes, and cannot imagine this one being any different in the negative sense.
Famine has struck ancient China! 200,000 teals of gold are on their way to help a region in desperate need, under the protection of martial artists of the highest calibre. But the merciless Golden Arm, and his three kung-fu buddies Silver Spear, Invincible Iron Robe, and Brass Head, are creating havoc, resulting in a high body count for those risking their life and limb to protect the precious loot. Golden Arm is an evil young martial artist whose body of shiny muscles is impervious to all weapon attacks. However, Hai Tao, a drunken fool with incredible martial arts skills, may have a secret angle, involving booze, that will pinch his Achilles’ heel. The game’s further afoot as, unseen in the shadows, Iron Kick has been getting a kick out of the mayhem and waiting for the golden opportunity to strike, but who is he — or she?
Shriek of the Mutilated, dir. Michael Findlay
I’m a sucker for cryptids. Vinegar Syndrome absolutely had me by the balls when they release the first boxed set of their Homegrown Horrors, including the much-coveted Winterbeast (with its whopping count of original monsters), and they seem to be about ready to cast the same spell on me again with Roberta Findlay’s husband, Michael’s film about a yeti that preys on students on an expedition that seems to be more self-aware than at first glance. Count me in.
“On the prowl, hear him howl, here comes the Yeti now!” A group of four college graduate students, Keith Henshaw, Karen Hunter, Tom Nash (INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS’ Egon) and Lynn Kelly, head on an expedition led by their crackpot professor Dr. Werner, in search of the elusive yeti. However, as they move closer to their discovery (but not before a musical number), they quickly realize that their grades aren’t the only things dropping like flies in Michael Findlay’s blood-curdling and self-aware SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED.