Fantastic Fest: Day One - Nazi Undead, Broncos, & House Demons

Fantastic Fest: Day One is now officially under the belt, as are a large amount of bizarre culinary treats, including the aformentioned root beer cookies. As promised, they are amazing. Amazing and extremely filling. Don't eat this with a horror movie, or a film about sailing at sea during rough weather, because it'll make you toss those cookies right back. I probably don't need to eat sweets for a month now.

So how did the first day fare? It was a bit of a mixed bag. Things didn't get rolling until the late afternoon, and it was a roller coaster of different movies that ended up being the good, the bad, and the in-between. Thankfully, I did work in several frames of bowling at the new Highball lounge recently opened up by the Alamo Drafthouse as a place to kick it between flicks. That gave me some time to soak in the first two movies before heading to a midnight screening, and I'm now running on sugar fumes.


The Good One: A couple who hears bumps in the night soon find out that things are a lot scarier while they sleep, when they start videotaping the goings on in their house. It's more frightening than The Blair Witch Project, but will play better on DVD in your own home when the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up. I'm always dubious about movies shot on "home video" like the Blair Witch and Cloverfield, but at least the guy in this movie also manages to purchase a tripod. There are some extremely creepy scenes without going overboard, and the two stars of the film definitely seem believable as real people - especially since they aren't people whose faces you'd recognize.

Fans of Ghost Hunters and actual paranormal phenomenon will like this one, and there are moments that will definitely have you checking closets and bolting awake at strange sounds in the night. I saw this one before I'd heard the hype (it screened at Slamdance way back in 2008 with a different ending), and I enjoyed it a lot. For chills you can enjoy right now, you might also run out and rent The Entity. That's some real terror right there, with a similar story. It'll tide you over until Paranormal Activity hits DVD later this year.



The In-between One: I'm a sucker for anime, and there are boatloads of Japanese animated movies that I've missed. However, the story here was written by Russian authors, and it was taken to Japan where it was animated by Studio 4°C, the same studio behind The Animatrix, Batman: Gotham Knight and more. It's about a team (The First Squad) of teenage superfighters for the Russian Army in WWII, one of whom is a clairvoyant named Nadya. After the death of her team, Nadya loses her memory and foresees the coming of a resurrected German killing machine: Baron von Wolff.

Like the Russians, the Nazis also have a team of occult weirdies working on turning the tide of war, and they've managed to summon his spirit to break through the afterlife with a team of resurrected soldiers and attack the Russian forces. It's dead vs. living as Nadya summons her team from the beyond to clash with von Wolff. I love Japanese animation, but the filmmakers chose to cutaway to live-action talking heads in this movie who may or may not be actual war survivors. It was extremely jarring, and would take you out of the film lickety-split. The film is at its best when they use a steampunkish machine to send Nadya to the afterlife in search of her cohorts.



The Bad One: Where does everyone fall in the Jared Hess directorial timeline? If you're anything like most of the people I spoke with last night, you loved Napoleon Dynamite, weren't too overboard for Nacho Libre, and ... really didn't like Gentlemen Broncos. That's not to say it's a completely terrible movie. There are some terrifically funny moments in it, most of them involving Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords as an extremely pretentious and self-centered science fiction writer named Dr. Ronald Chevalier. If this was a movie about his trials and tribulations on the sci-fi lecture circuit, it might have been better.

Instead, we get a plot that's 2/3 Napoleon Dynamite (Pedro is Lonnie, played by Hector Jimenez, while  Deb is Tabitha, played by Halley Feiffer), and 1/3 mess. No one turns in a bad performance here: Michael Angarano is great as leading-boy Benjamin Purvis, who has his science fiction novel stolen by Dr. Chevalier; Sam Rockwell is hilarious as always in a dual role as both a bearded and fey space adventurer; Jennifer Coolidge is squinty and great as Benjamin's housecoat-designing mom, and Mike White is deadpan hilarious as a wig-wearing David St. Hubbins clone. The problem is that the movie makes fun of bad moviemaking, which it does in spades, and in the end, it unfortunately becomes one of those bad movies.

I actually ended the day on Paranormal Activity, which was a good scare, and made it hard to go to sleep at night, despite my exhaustion factor. Today we're on to more, including German horror and two Secret Screenings, which Fantastic Fest is known for. These are screenings that aren't revealed to the audience until the show rolls, and last year they included The City of Ember, Role Models, and Rocknrolla. We've been busy speculating about possibilities for this year, and our whislist is Whip It, Kick-Ass, and The Lovely Bones. We've heard a rumor so many times this week that the first one will be Robogeisha, so I'm stoked for for blood and robots tonight.

Stay tuned for more.

(Check Screen Rant's coverage of Paranormal Activity here)

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