There are those who view Fantastic Fest as strictly a horror film festival, when the last few weeks of reviews should prove to you that we're obviously anything but. We love our horror, no doubt about it, but we're not horror exclusive. Still, what kind of a genre film festival would we be without horror films, and as the largest genre festival in the U.S. we certainly had the pick of the crop this year (and yet they still wouldn't let us screen REC). Either way, it's been a good year for the genre, with one absolute masterpiece (LET THE RIGHT ONE IN) and some solid stuff scattered about the disastrous remakes that are killing the genre at the box office. I haven't seen all of the horror films screened at the festival yet (got a stack of screeners to plow through), but of what I did see I have to say that they've all been interesting at the least and damn good at best. Since we're in the Halloween home stretch, there's no time better than the present to dwell on the horrors that is... Fantastic Fest!!!
Of all the horror films I saw at Fantastic Fest this year, Darren Lynn Bousman's REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA is perhaps the least successful at what it's trying to accomplish, but it's trying to accomplish so damn much that I have to respect it. Combine two of my favorite genres - horror and musicals - and usually you get something great out of it, like PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW or the more recent SWEENEY TODD, but for all its ambitions, REPO! still doesn't muster much beyond decent. It's a rock opera with an emphasis on the opera part, not just in that everyone sings their dialogue but in that the story is one of human tragedy, hidden desires, family secrets, and melodrama sandwiches. Which is all fine - as it should be, pretty much - but what there isn't is much drama or suspense to it all; in the end, REPO is a little too respectful to the opera genre, and as such it's also too predictable. I saw where it was going from the start and couldn't muster up enough enthusiasm to really get behind it. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't have its moments or its better qualities. There are about four really good set pieces with good songs to go with them, and during those sequences I felt what I thought REPO! should be, something with more energy and electricity than it already has. It's also a great piece of eye candy, perhaps a little too Hot Topic mixed with BLADE RUNNER for some people's taste and not 100% original, but there is always something worth looking at and it certainly keep your eyes glued to it. It's also a very well cast film, without a single bad performance, and that means, yes, I'm also talking about Paris Hilton here. It has to be said that she's actually pretty good and she certainly commits herself full blast to it, so no matter what you think of her, you've got to give her credit for the work. Same is true for Sarah Brightman, the queen of the suburban concert halls, who likewise knows damn well she's in a horror film and doesn't care what the housewives of Westchester think, and to Anthony Heald, who is actually the best performer in the film who really needs to commit himself to more musical projects. The fine work of the cast and the obvious devotion of the crew makes me wish that I liked REPO a lot more than I did, but in the end I don't exactly wish I owned the soundtrack so much as I think I'll download a few of the tunes. Still doesn't mean I can't admire the hell out of it for trying so damn hard to be something out of the ordinary, and its place on the Fantastic Fest schedule was certainly deserved.
A much more successful genre melding can be found in J.T. Petty's THE BURROWERS, an outstanding piece of work and second only to LET THE RIGHT ONE IN as the best horror film of the year. THE BURROWERS is not only an excellent horror film, one that understands that feeling of dread and hopelessness that the truly greats have, but also an excellent western, one that works hard to deconstruct the myths of the west while still showing great love and respect to the genre. These are my two favorite genres, so I may seem a little predisposed to liking this one, but I don't really fucking care, because I like what I like and I damn well like THE BURRORWERS a hell of a lot. And that really is what makes it so effective is that it's a superb melding of the two genres; it's scary because it's set in the old west, at a time when the land was still a vast unknown and there was a tremendous amount of ignorance and superstition running things, but because it's a western it's also not going to meld into a typical horror creature feature that gets dumber as it goes. Writer/director J.T. Petty (a real smart, super nice guy who is getting better and better with each feature) is obviously a guy who not only understands both genres, but he's not a slave to either; he's telling this story not because he wanted to make a horror western, he's doing it because he wants to tell this story and tell it in this manner, and he's very much on target throughout. One thing I particularly loved about the film is the locations he used (it was shot in New Mexico), because it certainly looks like few western locations, very fresh and beautiful, but at the same time it's unsettling for that same reason. It feels like virgin territory that you're traveling through, so you feel it's quite possible that some monsters might make their way up from the depths of the earth to attack you, and that's a good thing for the film. Petty is going for a Terrence Malick meets early Pekinpah look (Phil Parmet was the cinematographer) making it one of the more unique-looking horror films of recent years, but once again, I have to stress that he does this not at the expense of the horror, but rather to enhance it. So add to all this an excellent cast with a wonderful performance from the great Clancy Brown and THE BURRROWERS is one of the best of Fantastic Fest 2008 and one of the genre greats of the past few years. Of course, it's not going to get much of a theatrical release (the distributor is dumping it), but it deserves to be seen under any circumstance. THE BURROWERS is a much-see for fanatics of both genres.