For nearly two decades, Fantastic Fest has been delivering all of the best of the weird, the terrifying, and the hilarious of the film world to fans and filmmakers alike. Since its 2005 founding in Austin, Texas, the festival has been a celebration of all things genre and all things fringe - the kind of movies that for the most part are just a little too far out there for regular audiences. After being put on hold like most of the rest of the world in 2020 due to the pandemic, the festival finally returned last year to its longtime location of the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. Even with a limited structure, the fest still pulled in some of the biggest titles of 2021 horror like The Black Phone, Titane, Last Night in Soho, V/H/S/94 and others.
This year, Fantastic Fest offered both an in-person and virtual event for more attendees to experience the festival than ever before. In Texas, surprise screenings were held for the upcoming Hellraiser remake by David Bruckner and the new Marvel special Werewolf by Night by Michael Giacchino. The latest horror sensation, Parker Finn’s creepy and fun debut Smile, also made its world premiere at the festival ahead of its theatrical release along with plenty of other big and small feature films and shorts from some of the most exciting filmmakers on the scene.
Resident film critic Nicolás Delgadillo attended FF@Home, the virtual side of the festival, and explored some of the more unconventional and original films that the online fest had to offer. These included a UFO film from South Korea that’s not really about UFOs at all, a story of misfits getting violently high off an unusual substance, a terrifying and emotional horror tale from Italy, an animated oddity and more. Check out the list of a few of those memorable movies below, one of which included a surprising and blatant reference to our very own Slipknot.
‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’ Written and directed by Alex Phillips
There are a lot of films about bad drugs and worse trips, and in the realm of horror, those trips often manifest onscreen in a variety of nightmarish ways and styles. This latest strange, gross, provocative, and disorienting ride comes from filmmaker Alex Phillips, who envisions a disturbingly offbeat modern day where you can get exceptionally high off of…worms. Yes, worms as in the slimy and wiggly little things that dig around in the dirt. You can eat ‘em, you can snort ‘em, whatever your method of choice. The free-flowing story involves a pair of men, Roscoe (Phillip Andre Botello) and Benny (Trevor Dawkins), both damaged in their own upsetting ways, who discover the effects of the worms and embark on an insane, small-scale odyssey that veers into horrific directions. Most definitely, one hundred percent not for everyone; in fact, this one probably won’t go over well with the majority of people. But much of its imagery is guaranteed to stick with you.
‘Hundreds of Beavers’ Written and directed by Mike Cheslik
There are so many clear references, homages and inspirations from the past to be found in Mike Cheslik’s bona fide masterpiece Hundreds of Beavers - most of which harken back to film and entertainment that came out a century ago and even longer. The works of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Looney Tunes, and so much more are channeled into this project, yet it still manages to be wholly original in both its ideas and its executions. The film is a black-and-white, mostly dialogue-less adventure surrounding a wannabe fur trapper named Jean (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, who also co-wrote the film) attempting to survive a harsh winter landscape against nature and lots of mischievous beavers. The beavers in question, along with the rest of the wildlife in the film, are a prominent part of the story and are all played by actors in obvious cheap animal costumes. The micro-budget and the inherent silliness is part of the appeal, and it’s taken full advantage of by Cheslik, adding to the film’s charm and meticulous aesthetic. You’ll never see anything else that’s even close to being like this. A slapstick epic full of hilarity, action, romance, and fluffy gore.
‘Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!’ Written and directed by Charles Roxburgh
Another example of where a shoestring budget is turned into a benefit rather than a detriment, Charles Roxburgh’s monster movie throwback Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! often feels like a late night Adult Swim sketch stretched to feature film length in the best way. There’s camp, and then there’s whatever wavelength this movie is operating on. The story follows a disgraced tutor named Neil (co-writer Matt Farley) who returns to his hometown to start anew. Neil became the laughingstock of his community years ago due to his incessant belief in a legendary and dangerous monster lurking in the nearby river. This film is almost impossible to really define; it has a very purposeful and offbeat style of humor that embraces the awkwardness of bad, low budget movies to become a weirdly great low budget movie. You’re either gonna get it or ya won’t. Originally released straight to video back in 2012, Fantastic Fest brought this and several other of Roxburgh’s films to the party along with his latest, Magic Spot.
‘Flowing’ Written and directed by Paolo Strippoli
Probably the most straightforward horror flick on this list, Flowing comes from Italian filmmaker Paolo Strippoli and is one hell of a scary take on family trauma. A tragic accident and the death of a wife and mother leave a family broken and shaken in the city of Rome. The father, Thomas (Fabrizio Rongione), holds a deep resentment towards his teenage son Enrico (Francesco Gheghi) and views him as the cause of the accident. Enrico blames himself as well, going from a straight edged kid to a drugged up and troublemaking hoodlum. Neither has been able to cope well at all, so when a mysterious gas rises from the sewers and infects the populace with terrifying hallucinations of their repressed feelings and memories, the estranged father and son are forced to confront each other as society collapses around them. Flowing has familiar elements of similar horror stories, but that Scarecrow-like fear gas concept and an expert command for tense and scary scenes make it stand out from the crowd.
‘Unidentified’ Written and directed by Jude Chun
This original sci-fi tale from South Korea takes place in a world where UFOs arrived on Earth in 1993. The massive ships positioned themselves throughout the planet, hovering right above various major cities and casting a shadow over them all. Skip ahead to 2022 and…not much has actually happened. The objects simply float there, their presence having become just another part of daily life for everyone. Of course, some things have still changed in smaller ways, like how people are beginning to believe that aliens now walk among them simply disguised as humans. More like a series of loosely connected vignettes rather than a singular cohesive narrative, Jude Chun’s debut film shows us the lives of several Koreans in this slightly altered reality. The stories are joyful, contemplative, and sometimes bizarrely mesmerizing, particularly the couple of musical segments. The ending is one of the more life-affirming things I’ve seen in recent memory.
‘Barber Westchester’ Written and directed by Jonni Phillips
There’s no mistaking that the fantastically swirling shapes and colors onscreen throughout Barber Westchester are the work of animator Jonni Phillips. As one of the most unique and deceptively layered artists working in the field today, Phillips imbues her work with a colorful dose of both wonder and sadness, mixing the surreal and the experimental with strangely cute creations. Barber Westchester is her first feature-length film, hyped up with an online prequel miniseries called Secrets and Lies in a Town of Sinners. The film follows a kid named Barber (Chris Kim) who harbors a passion for telescopes and the wonders of outer space. Barber lives in a repressive home, and their coming-of-age journey takes them through various trials and disappointments. Growing up is often waking up to the cruel reality of the world we live in, and how even dreams that you’ve hoped for your entire life can still manage to let you down. There are harsh lessons to be learned in this animated story, but the truth that it finds by its end is genuinely beautiful in its own uniquely melancholy way. The entire film is also available on Phillips' Patreon.
‘Razzennest’ Written and directed by Johannes Grenzfurthner
This arthouse horror comedy from Austrian filmmaker Johannes Grenzfurthner is a fun and original take on movies that focus more on the auditory experience than the visual one. Inspired by the likes of radio plays and audiobooks, Razzennest is about the latest film from pompous auteur director Manus Oosthuizen (Michael Smulik); a documentary chronicling the Thirty Years’ War that’s presented as a series of silent images and shots taken from the areas that the conflict occurred. Manus, along his some of his crew and Rotten Tomatoes-approved indie film critic Babette Cruickshank (Sophie Kathleen Kozeluh), hop into a sound studio to record the audio commentary for the film. While initially a hilarious and satirical jab at the film industry and its self-imposed artistry, Razzennest steadily transforms into an impressive and visceral slice of supernatural horror. You never actually see any of the characters of Grenzfurthner’s film, you only hear them as events unfold in that sound booth. It’s the things you don’t see that are usually always the scariest, something that this movie plays with in literal, fun and funny ways.
Razzennest also has the distinction of name dropping everyone’s favorite Iowa metal band. “There are no words in this film,” Babette states for the commentary. “Just the dark electronic soundscape by Alec Empire.” “We couldn’t get Slipknot.” the producer jokes. A Slipknot soundtrack to an artsy documentary about a horrific and destructive war? If only!