A Week Later, Reflecting on Fantastic Fest 2017 and All the Good Times


Last Thursday, Austin’s Fantastic Fest came to a close after more than a week of films, events, and soirées. It was my first year in attendance (I did my prep) and the amount of people who were telling me that I was going to have a blast numbered in the hundreds. And after all was said and done, Fantastic Fest was, for me…another film festival.

That’s not to say that it wasn’t a great time because it absolutely was. The people were magnificent, the experience was incredible, and the films screened were clearly curated with care and attention. But it didn’t feel like anything more than a film festival to me, which I’m told by many attendees is because of all the controversy that took place this year. Now, I’m not going to go into any of that because our own Brad McHargue already did. Instead, what I’ll say is that men and women alike told me to come back next year in the hopes that the attitude and spiciness that makes Fantastic Fest so, well…fantastic will return. No worries about that. Austin, expect me back in 2018!

During our time there, we reviewed a lot of films. In fact, to make life easier for you, here’s a list of each one:
Vampire Clay Fantastic Fest Review: This Is One Bonkers Japanese Body Horror Flick
Junk Head Review (Fantastic Fest): It’s a Two-Hour Long Tool Video; How Awesome Is That?!
Maus (Fantastic Fest): Survival Horror Gets Deeply Political
Let the Corpses Tan (Fantastic Fest): A Crime Story of Passion and Precision
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (Fantastic Fest): A Noble Descent Into a Vicious Hell
1922 (Fantastic Fest): Stephen King’s Novella Gets a Serviceable Adaptation
Blade of the Immortal (Fantastic Fest): A Gleeful Explosion of Bodies, Gore, and Violence
Haunters: The Art of the Scare (Fantastic Fest Review): Venturing Into the Darker Side of Humanity
Mon Mon Mon Monsters Review (Fantastic Fest): Bullies! Bullies Everywhere!
Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse Review (Fantastic Fest): A Powerful, Lingering Horror in an Ancient Wilderness
Anna and the Apocalypse (Fantastic Fest): Singing! Dancing! Zombies! Christmas!
Thelma Fantastic Fest Review: Horror Viewed Through a Lens of Poetry

Whew! That’s a lot of movies and a lot of reviewing! Considering that many of these were press screenings that began at 8am and a handful were midnight screeners, you can imagine that myself, Brad, and Drew quickly fell into a state of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. However, such is the norm for those “working” a film festival. Loads of movies, lack of sleep. Just ask any other journalist/blogger/writer/critic.

On top of all those movies (plus more that didn’t make sense to cover on Dread Central), there were the events scattered throughout. There was a luncheon where folks like myself got to mingle with industry folk, such as directors, producers, PR reps, sales agents, distributors, etc, etc, etc… For anyone looking to learn a bit more about the industry, it’s a great gathering to attend.

Then there was the debates, which were fueled by passion and excitement, the crowd roaring their approval and unflinchingly hissing their distaste at poor arguments. Hell, just watching the debate where Udo Kier argued that he portrayed the best Dracula throughout cinema history was entertaining enough but then he demanded that the DJ play some metal so he could mosh across the ring! Readers, it was awesome.

The closing night was a gigantic gathering of everyone who had a badge and took place in a film soundstage that was packed with an open bar, a buffet line, a mini-cinema that screened short films, a gigantic inflatable lounge chair, a mini-carnival swing ride, free tattoos, and a concert from Itchy-O, who are now one of my favorite concert experiences ever. If you see that they’re coming to your area, go. Don’t think about it. Just go.

There were karaoke nights, drunken late-night stumbles to the nearest P. Terry’s, discussions around the AirBNB pool, and my idiotic ass going to the gym every single day I was there. Side note: I gained zero pounds at the festival, so it must’ve worked.

But what I cherished most were all the new friends I made during the relatively few days I was there. From some of the biggest names in the film critic world to the fans who attended simply because they wanted to have a good time. From the cast and crew of films to the volunteers who kept everything running so smoothly. Every single person there was intent on using this festival as a chance to build connections, to find ways to make this year’s event something special, even in light of all that had happened. Perhaps it was especially because of the circumstances that there was such an open and welcoming environment. With so much anger and vitriol being tossed around, we had the opportunity to go beyond that and find nuance and subtlety along with realizing that the vast, vast majority of us are all in basic agreement of core issues, we just have different ways on how to best get there.

Anna and the Apocalypse Q&A | Dread Central at Fantastic Fest

Brad McHargue and Jonathan Barkan with the cast and director of Anna and the Apocalypse

Alright, enough mushy stuff. I’m guessing many of you might be wondering what the best movie of the festival was. While that’s impossible to say as it’s purely subjective, what I CAN say is that, without a doubt, the most talked about and beloved movie of the year was Anna and the Apocalypse. Every person you turned to and asked “What have you enjoyed so far?” had that as their initial response. Personally speaking, I hate musicals. Not even kidding, I really, really don’t like them. But I adored Anna and the Apocalypse. It’s charming, funny, absurd, and will no doubt become a cult classic that will have years upon years of traction, a lá The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tucker and Dale vs Evil, Shaun of the Dead, etc… When the film gets distribution and comes to your neck of the woods, gather up as many friends as you can and go see this movie!

In what I think is the best way to end this post, I’m going to include a video of the cast of Anna and the Apocalypse doing karaoke of the song “Hollywood Ending” from their film. Rather than dwell on the controversy, no matter how many incredible discussions I had and learned from, I want my foremost memories to be of joy, laughter, and happiness, which is what I saw when these four took the stage in celebration of their world premiere.

Fantastic Fest’s motto this year was “We are ALL Fantastic“. In my mind, they, and we, most certainly lived up to that credo.



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