THE TOXIC AVENGER World Premiere (Photo Credit: Jack Plunkett)

My Fantastic Fest was cut slightly short, but I had a marvelous time while it lasted! Six days jam-packed with cinematic excellence, friends, fellow movie lovers, and the folks who made them. We kicked it off on the red carpet with Macon Blair and Lloyd Kaufman for Macon’s reimagining of The Toxic Avenger. Fans of the original have irreverent humor, clever kills, and copious amounts of gore to look forward to. If you imagine The Toxic Avenger with a bigger budget, Macon essentially nails it, staying true to the tone and humor with an impressive cast clearly up to the task, and a killer finale.

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Macon Blair and Lloyd Kaufman on The Toxic Avenger Red Carpet (Photo Credit: Jack Plunkett)

Fantastic Fest Toxic Avenger

The Toxic Avenger opening night party with Whirl Girl Dorina Arellano.

The Kingcast held a live recording with special guests Doug Benson of Doug Loves Movies, filmmaker Clark Wolfe, and V/H/S/85 director Gigi Saul Guerrero. The audience was sweating balls and I’m not sure if that’s because the panel was hot for Sleepwalkers incest or because the AC was broken. I’m gonna go with a combo. Naturally, host Scott Wampler and Eric Vespe made the whole experience a blast and the panel was equally irreverent. Couldn’t help but notice Wampler made Vespe ask all the horny questions, but the panel was into it. And so was the audience.

Fantastic Fest The Kingcast

The talk of the festival was definitely Demián Rugna’s When Evil Lurks. Artfully ominous, the Terrified director takes dread to a new level, and the audience was in the palm of his hand for the duration. Rugna finds something ominous and unsettling in children and ensures we see it, too. More on that in our Fantastic Fest interview with Rugna, so stay tuned for that! Demián also stopped by the FANGORIA table at the Fantastic Fest book fair and snapped a shot with the Satanic Hispanics spread in FANGORIA #20 for which he directed a segment. Felicidades, Demián.

Fantastic Fest Book Fair Demián Rugna

Fans of the long-running found footage V/H/S franchise are largely calling V/H/S/85 the best of the bunch. Directors Gigi Saul Guerrero, Scott Derrickson, David Bruckner, Mike P. Nelson, and Natasha Kermani take us into a new decade for an assortment of horrors that run the gamut. Each standalone segment is unique yet manages to fit in as an integral piece of the whole. Bruckner’s wraparound will conjure up core memories for children of the ’80s who grew up watching “infotainment” news magazine shows. We caught up with the filmmakers on the red carpet before the premiere and again after the screening to dive deeper into their creations.

Fantastic Fest is known for secret screenings. Typically, fest-goers get a duo of secrets to Sherlock their way through. This year, we had FOUR. The first of which was Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn. Horny movies are back, and they’re not fuckin’ around. Err.. I guess they actually are, that is. This one isn’t a horror movie, but I will say for as much fucked up shit as I’ve seen on screen, there was one scene in particular here that I have never encountered. At least not of this magnitude. Give all the awards to Emerald Fennell. Next up, another horny movie — Eileen. This one was not a secret, but I didn’t know much about it going in. Pro tip, maybe don’t go with your boss to watch this one. Hitchcock nods and femme fatales, it was a good time, and easily my favorite Anne Hathaway role.

The Kingcast lads introduced the premiere of Lindsey Anderson Beer’s Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, which was momentarily interrupted by a parade of masked strangers in a creepy procession playing something akin to a funeral dirge. Beer’s take on the story acts as a prequel to King’s original tale, taking us back to the origins (hence, Bloodlines). A lifelong King fan, Beer aimed to capture the spirit of King’s original story and expand upon the mythology and lore, going deeper with it.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines cookie

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines Kingcast

Fantastic Debates are always a highlight of the festival. For the uninitiated, it goes something like this. Two folks take the ring and have an oral debate about a pre-assigned topic. Debate topics range from “Are superhero movies ruining cinema?” to “Is live theater superior to cinema?” (A tough subject to debate in a gym full of literal filmmakers and cinematic fans dedicated enough to come to a festival devoted to celebrating the medium and watch a debate about it after midnight in an Austin gym!) While this portion of the debate is fun and can get the crowd riled up, it doesn’t actually really matter all that much. Because come the end of the oral debates, the opponents momentarily retire to their respective corners to be fitted with protective headgear and boxing gloves. And then they proceed to beat the shit out of each other. A bit of gladiator-style bloodsport for the lusty crowd!

Fantastic Fest Debates Gigi Saul Guerrero

Director Gigi Saul Guerrero challenged us to a match, but two-on-one was the only way for a fair fight.

Food is always a major factor in our trip, and putting down as much BBQ and burgers as we can muster is always a top priority. This time around it was la Barbecue, and it did not disappoint.

la Barbecue Austin

A wonderfully weird little surprise came in the form of Stopmotion. Robert Morgan took home Best Director honors for his tale of a struggling artist learning to find her own voice and step out of her mother’s (massive) shadow. Combining live-action and stop-motion animation, it’s truly a work of art. We go in-depth with Morgan in an interview that will be making its way to the site soon, so keep your eyes peeled for that! Playing ahead of Stopmotion was Clark Wolfe’s darkly comedic A Shining Example, centering on a wife and a mother struggling with the creative process. A wonderful surprise double feature.

Joe Lynch’s Suitable Flesh (as seen on FANGORIA subscriber cover #21) played for a packed midnight audience as Lynch worked the crowd and recorded a special message for Flesh star Barbara Crampton, as the whole theater yelled into Joe’s phone: “Hi Barbara! We’re horny!” An erotic thriller in the vein of ’90s cable shockers, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and Stuart Gordon, the body swap horror gets freaky in a multitude of ways, if you know what we mean. Cue the sexy sax and watch for our interview with Lynch coming soon for more on that ooey gooeyness. Interview with Lynch coming soon!

Joe Lynch Suitable Flesh

Secret screening number two was the Nicolas Cage-led A24 fever fantasy, Dream Scenario. Essentially, the premise is — What if you took What We Do In The Shadows’ Colin Robinson and swapped him for Freddy in A Nightmare On Elm Street? Of course, exploring our relationships with social media, the strange phenomenon of parasocial relationships, and the woes of our modern world gets darker and more existential than that, but that’s a pretty stellar jumping-off point, and it only gets better from there.

Roar: Doug Benson Movie Interruption. Roar is the stuff of legend. The 1981 adventure film produced by Neil Marshall and Tippi Hedren, starring Hedren and real-life daughter Melanie Griffith, featured real, untrained animals. What could go wrong!? Lots. Maulings, scalpings, and injuries were in abundance, and I can’t imagine watching this without Benson and Co. guiding the way with their commentary. Unintentionally horrifying, it’s often hard to know whether to scream or laugh. Flabbergasted.

The other special event held every fest is the Fantastic Feud. A Family Feud-style movie trivia face-off pitting filmmakers, journalists, and Predators against one another in a high-stakes battle for glory. With guaranteed audience heckling, as a defending Fantastic Feud champion, I can attest it is equally fun on either side. This was Dane DiLiegro‘s (Prey) first Fantastic Fest, and he had no idea what he was getting into with the Feud. At least they broke him in nice and easy.

Fantastic Fest Feud

Something that has become a sort of unofficial tradition for the Fango fam at Fantastic Fest is an epic field trip. Over the last two festivals, we visited The Texas Chain Saw Massacre gas station and a restaurant that sits inside the original Sawyer house, which has since been renamed Hooper’s. This year, an unexpected surprise came in the form of Troublemaker Studios’ Nixon. Nixon treated us to a tour of Robert Rodriguez’s airport-turned-movie studio, as we collectively geeked out for a few hours over costumes, cars, and sets from everything from Sin City to Spy Kids, Alita: Battle Angel, and my personal favorites: Death Proof and Planet Terror. Big thanks to our buddy Nixon for the incredible afternoon.

Troublemaker Studios

Death Proof Dodge Challenger and very excited Fango Fam.

Gareth Edwards’ Sci-Fi epic The Creator featured a menagerie of robots occupying the Alamo Drafthouse halls, auditoriums, (and reportedly, even the bathrooms!). A heart-wrenching tale about our relationship with AI, Madeleine Yuna Voyles’ performance as AI “Alphie” is worth the watch in itself.

The Creator Fantastic Fest

Jason meets The Creator AI.

Secret Screening number three… DogMan. If you took Joker, added dogs and drag queens, that would overly simplify this. Caleb Landry Jones’ performance sells this in a way that quick mashup description cannot, but it does give you the slightest hint of an idea of what you’re in for.

As my extended stay in Austin came to an end, I lamented missing out on Saw X and the closing night party where Team Fango was invited to have their blood drawn, at which point it would be mixed into a specially made sausage to then be consumed (only) by the blood donor. A bit of autocannibalism for a festival finale nightcap. But our Creative Director Jason Kauzlarich held down the fort and, from what he’s told us- ate his entire Kauzlarich blood sausage. The verdict: Not bad! Well done, Jason. Big thanks to everyone who made this fest a wonderful experience. Until next year, Austin.

Fantastic Fest Jason Blood Sausage Stunt

And a big shoutout to the best delivery duo and caretakers through a pane of glass in all of Austin!

Fantastic Fest Quarantine

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