The Fango Fantastic Fest Diaries - Days Six & Seven

Of hellbenders, Kingcasts and blasphemous nuns.

By Phil Nobile Jr. · @philnobilejr · September 30, 2021, 11:58 AM EDT
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Zelda Adams in HELLBENDERS.

The home stretch of Fantastic Fest can test the limits of one’s endurance. How many more movies can you really watch after six days? Do you really need to order those chicken flautas again? Shouldn’t you go to bed? These are questions we can only answer for ourselves, and it’s in the answers that we learn who we are.

My sixth day at Fantastic Fest was disrupted by a bit of personal business, a three-hour commitment that was six years in the offing.

Back at the fest, it was time for the second secret screening. As Tim League made an impassioned plea that we keep our minds open to the idea of faith-based cinema, he was beset upon by a cadre of angry nuns who whipped him and dragged him offstage.

Then the theater screen filled up with the face of Paul Verhoeven, who proceeded to introduce his new film Benedetta, starring Virginie Efira as a 17th-century nun in Italy who, after achieving notoriety for her religious visions and stigmatic displays, is tried for the crime of a sexual relationship with another member of the convent (Daphne Patakia).

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But is it art? Verhoeven remains a provocateur into his 80s, which sounds exhausting to me, but the crowd was here for it. Visions of Christ as a sword-wielding superhero, chopping off heads and limbs, and making out with a nun will surely piss off a certain demographic if they ever become aware of the film’s existence. Two nuns loudly bringing one another to orgasm with a modified totem of the Virgin Mary is probably gonna get some press as well, one would imagine.

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The Adams Family. (photo by Jack Plunkett)

The film after that was Hellbender, another bespoke horror creation from the Adams Family, who gave us The Deeper You Dig two years ago. I loved their previous film in part because of its absence of cinematic references; it displayed a sort of mental hygiene in which nothing external seemed to infect their vision. Hellbender still finds them preserved from the outside elements of the genre, but this story, a kind of folk horror mother-daughter tale about two “hellbenders,” described as “a mix between a witch, a demon and an apex predator,” builds on the dynamic of their previous film, and feels gently in conversation with it. Zelda Adams and her real-life mom Toby Poser once again capitalize on their actual relationship to enrich their characters - a special effect no VFX artist could replicate. Dad/collaborator John Adams has a smaller onscreen role this time, but the work behind the camera (and on the score) from the family grows exponentially, increasing in its ambition and assuredness. They deserve their success - but hopefully not too much success. It’s exciting to think of the Adams Family up on their mountain, dropping rad new visions every couple years, quietly evolving into the most unique horror filmmakers in America.

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Day seven of Fantastic Fest was mostly chill, but the Fango crew (joined by alum Meredith Borders) were excited to check into the Kingcast’s presentation of The Timekeepers of Eternity, a remix of 1995’s The Langoliers. Filmmaker Aristotelis Maragkos printed out every frame of the TV-movie onto a sheet of paper, manipulated the papers (crumples, rips, etc.) and then put the film back together into a delirious black-and-white fever dream. It was endlessly compelling, and the Q&A after with Kingcast’s Scott Wampler and Eric Vespe talking over Zoom with Maragkos and actor Bronson Pinchot was a delight.

The fun continued into the night, but I’m not a narc, so we’ll end there.

Next: The end of the fest.