By Brian Fee

New York might have its official celluloid clusterfuck and its punk-rock stepsister Film Comment Selects delivering highbrow cinema and cocktail-party fare (not to mention NYAFF and its ilk, screening beauties that only occasionally reappear stateside), but no film fest marries cultured screenings with good ol' gore and broken bones like Austin's Fantastic Fest.

My math skills are a bit...nonexistent, but check it: 70+ features play over eight days, plus countless parties, secret screenings, and booze a'flowin'. The Alamo Drafthouse — pairing grub and grog with movies since '97 — hosts this bonkers event. Hell, screening room #3 becomes the “Shiner Bock Theatre” during the festival, meaning free pint of namesake lager with each film. 

"The nerds have completely conquered the universe. This is our world!"

—Tim League (Fantastic Fest founder, Alamo Drafthouse owner)


As I write this, I've seen “just” seven films. By the time you read it, I will have conquered 16. Somewhere in there, I caught the sound test for Dragon Sound's 25th anniversary reunion concert, karaoke'd in a Hulu-themed booth with a dozen Japanese guests. Time blurs in manifold waves during Fantastic Fest. Like, I think the autumn equinox just commenced. And I believe today, as I type this, is Saturday, but don't quote me on that.

“You are what you watch (and listen to); at Fantastic Fest, we are Motörhead.”

—Marc Savlov (Austin Chronicle

Kicking off the fest, Tim Burton unleashed some stop-animation enchantment with the world premiere of Frankenweenie 3D. This included a special "Dog Theatre," where tux-clad pooches and their natty human "guests" took in the film. Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby got my heart racing at the ensuing red-carpet for Dredd 3D. (NB. Back-to-back 3D screenings is an intense experience...but it helps when they contrast so nicely as poignant black-and-white Frankenweenie and ultraviolent, slo-mo stylizedDredd.)

“Fuck Christmas, Fuck Easter...Fantastic Fest is the greatest time of the year!”

—Luke Mullen (Fantastic Fest programmer, scribe for Film School Rejects)


Despite the fest's propensity for outlandish B-movie bijoux, there's a helluva lot of quality here. Last year, Michaël R. Roskam's debut Bullhead was shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Academy Awards, after its Fantastic Fest premiere. Cannes mind-boggler Holy Motors plays this fest ahead of its NYFF premiere. And Adrián García Bogliano's scintillating Here Comes the Devil scored high-profile U.S. distribution via Magnet Releasing during right here in Austin fest. Bogliano and Fantastic Fest founder Tim League sabered a bottle of bubbly to celebrate.


More wildness awaits, including The ABC's of Death (one director and one creative kill for each letter of the alphabet!), an “extreme sushi” competition (before Dead Sushi's U.S. premiere), and this delightful gem from Chile called Bring Me the Head of Machine Gun Woman. Tune in next week for my huge-ass Fantastic Fest wrap-up!

Images: main image and Here Comes the Devil champagne sabering photo by the author; film stills via Fantastic FestDredd 3D red carpet via Austin Chronicle