Fantasia 2021 – Part 1

Christmas has come early to Or rather, October has arrived ahead of schedule, if the slate of films that I have lined up to see at the 25th Fantasia International Film Festival is any indication.

Welcoming genre films from all over the globe, the nearly three week festival is mainly made up of foreign horror, martial arts, and crime movies that might wind up through no fault of their own getting totally passed over for major distribution here in the United States. Naturally, a gathering of something this good has to originate in Canada and I’m ever so grateful to my friends in the North for extending me an invite to virtually attend the festivities. From shorts to full-length features and even a few documentaries thrown in for good measure, there’s something for every kind of fan of the genre and subgenres found in this area of the movie aisle.

Check out Fantasia’s website for all the details on how you can purchase individual screenings and a whole lot more. Here’s Part 1 of my adventure in Fantasia — and stay tuned for more!

On the Third Day

My first film out of the gate and initiation into the Fantasia International Film Festival was this Argentinian horror-fantasy that leans heavy on style and arresting visuals but can often fall a tad short on substantive value where the story is concerned.  A young mother and her son are traveling down a road one dark night, the same night a man has been contacted about transporting an important package via the same road.  An accident occurs and after the dust settles, only the man is found.  The woman, her child, a stranded motorist, and the contents of the package have all vanished…but three days later the woman returns and it’s up to her to put back the pieces of her memory to figure out what happened and where her son is.  Star Mariana Anghileri gives a heroic performance as the mother trapped by a sense that she knows deep down she won’t like the answers she seeks but has to keep pressing on anyway, even as more bodies pile up around her.  As the film progresses, it begins to get clearer where this is headed and that’s when it starts to slow its roll…but director Daniel de la Vega doesn’t let up on a persistent use of mirrors and camera tricks to both scare and wow the viewer.  Even as it goes slack, it’s never not worth putting your eyeballs on.

Alien on Stage

As a lifelong fan of Alien, you better believe that I already was quite familiar with the live stage show in the UK that created a sensation when it played for one night in a small West End theater.  Making return engagements and becoming one of the theater’s most popular events, this is the little community theater show that could and now the documentary ALIEN ON STAGE is available to show those that didn’t have the chance to see it what all the fuss was about.  Put on largely by a cast of bus drivers in Dorset as part of a charity fundraiser, the show only attracted 20 audience members on its first night but eventually came to the attention of super show fan Danielle Kummer who helped raise money through crowdfunding to bring the show (and its gobsmacked mostly middle-aged amateur cast members) to the West End.  Kummer then teamed up with Lucy Harvey to document the rehearsals up through opening night.  Getting to know the cast is a joy and is almost like a real life Waiting for Guffman, only with less barbed intent at making fun of its subjects.  Harvey and Kummer can obviously see the amateur nature of the cast but also recognize the way it brings people together.  The payoff is certainly watching clips of the opening night performance when all the hard work is finally seen and, let me tell you, I was absolutely screaming with laughter.  It’s great if you know the movie inside and out like I do but even if you don’t know the film you’re bound to enjoy this one.

Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break

This was a total blind watch for me, pressured into doing so because as soon as I signed in for my first day of the festival, I already saw this was expiring in a day.  Something with such a quick turnaround must be worth a look, yeah?  Yes, actually, it is.  This is a special kind of film that doesn’t always work the way that it should, but PAUL DOOD’S DEADLY LUNCH BREAK is a wickedly funny satire that takes its time to earn the right to go off the rails at the proper time.  Had it just dove off the deep end too early, without first letting us know these eccentric characters beyond their gangly exteriors, we may not have felt the impact of the fissure that sends #TomMeeten’s lovable loser with big dreams into a tailspin.  More than once, director Nick Gillespie coaxes the film back from the edge of being too dark by injecting his movie with a brilliant bit of casting in an over-the-top supporting role that complements Meeten’s mild-mannered one quite nicely.  There are some very funny passages in this one – you can easily imagine it becoming a word-of-mouth hit with genre fans.

Coming Home in the Dark

Dark.  Dark dark dark.  That’s definitely what this tense title from New Zealand is through and through and I wasn’t quite prepared for just how pitch black its soul was.  Well-acted and frequently a riveting ride, COMING HOME IN THE DARK is a mobile home invasion thriller which finds a family being held hostage by two dangerous men and forced to go along with them on a highway to hell.  It’s mostly a four-person show, with brooding Daniel Gillies behind the wheel as his silent partner Matthias Luafutu keeps an eye on things in the backseat.  Husband and wife Erik Thomson and Miriama McDowell go through the wringer with your expected escape attempts and frequent near-misses but that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down thinking you know what the expect next.  Director James Ashcroft isn’t above flipping the table on your when you are least expecting it (I had to rewind a few scenes because I missed key happenings, they come so fast) and that helps the movie maintain its tension for most of the drive.  The themes and some of the violence might be too much for some but those that enjoy the grit and pointy edges of prickly genre films like this will be fueled up and ready to go.

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It

Hailing from Russia, SWEETIE, YOU WON’T BELIEVE IT has a lot going on, with several oversized storylines happening at the same time before finally converging and even at a scant 84 minutes it feels like it takes a long time to get to that important crossing.  Three friends head out of town for a weekend of fishing, mostly an excuse for one of them to get away from his shrew of a pregnant wife (in his defense, she’s presented as pretty horrible) and happen upon a mob hit in a remote area.  With the bungling gangsters now in pursuit of the fleeing trio, all of them are about to feel the wrath of a one-eyed killer out for revenge.  Director Ernar Nurgaliev stages a lot of scenes of mayhem and gruesome gore that will send midnight audiences through the roof with cheers, but the goodwill wears off through repetition and it all grows tiresome before the killing has run its course.  Add in another wrinkle of crazy that I won’t reveal, and it’s just overstuffed to the brim.  I could see this getting a remake in the U.S. and I’d hope it gets pared down, removing some of that manic energy which robs the more sinister moments from their maximum impact.


If you’d never seen 1971’s The Beguiled or its inferior remake from 2017 you might find GLASSHOUSE quite the concept: A small group of mostly young women rule the roost on a patch of green oasis in the middle of a wasteland.  With the rest of the surrounding area decimated by a amnesia-inducing plague known as The Shred, the air quality within the glasshouse the women live in keep them from losing their memory…at least for a time.  Keeping trespassers out by becoming a good shot with a rifle, they use the bodies as compost and only procreate when necessary.  Into this mix comes an injured man who quickly drives a wedge between one of the women and the rest of her family, resulting in chaos, deceit, and death.  Even with its familiarity to those previous movies, director Kelsey Egan gives this South African offering a nice shine and her script with Emma Lungiswa De Wet is rife with detail about time and place that help create this world we’re supposed to be immersed in.  Several clever twists near the end could have been beefed up more for a greater impact but there’s no need to throw major stones at this this Glasshouse.    

Night of the Living Dicks

You want style?  Watch the first five or six minutes of this short film from Finland, a horror-comedy involving a woman that is fed up with getting unsolicited X-rated pictures on her phone from nasty boys and goes on a TV show to talk about it.  As she’s leaving, she grabs the wrong coat and finds a pair of glasses in the pocket that allows her to see men as, well, dicks.  Like…actual…dicks.  Up until we get our first look at a peckerhead, director Ilja Rautsi has positively showered us with black and white noir style that will astound you.  It’s gorgeous to look at and capably apes not just those ‘40s crime thrillers but the George A. Romero zombie flicks from fifty years ago.  Unfortunately, once the dicks make their appearance the film takes a gonzo turn that is more statement piece than stylistic showcase.  Visuals get ugly and the storytelling takes a muddy left turn.  A sad ending to a great beginning.

Tomb of the Blind Dead

Spanish-Portuguese horror film TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD from 1971 was a special screening at Fantasia in honor of its 50th anniversary and was presented in its uncut version that was fully restored by Synapse Films.  While director Amando De Ossorio’s film looks excellent in this new restoration, it takes positively forever to get going and then when it does it goes nowhere interesting.  The first of several films starring some undead Knights Templar who track their victims by their heartbeats, this features a lot of walking around ruins, talking about walking around ruins, and women talking with other women about men they don’t want to have sex with.  Oh, and there’s a really ugly rape scene in it…so thanks for restoring that.  Some of the visuals of the undead rising from their grave and riding on horseback may give you goosebumps but fans of these foreign horror films will be needing a bit more to get their blood flowing.

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