Day 3 of FantasticFest (Texas, 2009)

After only a few hours sleep (I'm getting used to this Texan Film Festival lifestyle by now), it's another big day ahead with five films planned. We started the day off with Fish Story. I'm not sure if it was the early start combined with a lack of sleep or the generous introduction to the film, by Fantastic Fest programmer Blake Etheridge, comparing it to the defining 'Tiny Dancer' moment in Almost Famous, but my expectations were built up too high for what I saw. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vC5E4-LRrTk]

The introduction to the movie stated that Fish Story is about a song that changes people's lives and ends up saving the world. Directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura, the film's story spans over 40 years, starting in 1975 when new Japanese Punk band Gekirin, finally get their break at releasing a single, entitled “Fish Story”.

Skip forward to the year 2012 and scientists' prediction that a comet will hit the earth imminently, wiping out all mankind. You may be thinking, what do these two facts have in common? Well after an hour and forty minutes of watching the film, you're still not sure to be honest. If you can imagine The Butterfly Effect, but with such tenuously linked causes and effects that no-one really knows what is going on, and without showing any of the effects of alternative choices, then you have Fish Story.

If the filmmakers' aim was to confuse the audience with the many plot threads that, no matter how long they spent developing, two minutes at the end of the film to tie them up just wasn't achieved well enough, then they have succeeded, unfortunately it just wasn't enigmatic or interesting enough for me to forget about it once I'd left the theatre.

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Perhaps I was looking forward so much to the next film, that nothing else could satisfy me, which is understandable considering next in line was Toy Story 3D. Showing as part of a double-feature as a special sneak preview, a month before anywhere else, I knew I had to catch at least the first one.

14 years after the original's first release, Toy Story (and Toy Story 2) were finally getting the 3D treatment, dragging them by their pull-strings into the 21st Century. As soon as the Real-D polarized glasses went on, that was it – I regressed into the childhood comfort of seeing Buzz and Woody flying around the neighbourhood getting up to mischief. The quality was fantastic, you could tell it had been restored and thankfully the transition into 3D was subtle yet effective. It successfully acts to heighten the quality of realness to the characters, both in terms of emotion, expression and physical texture. I was concerned that this would be another victim to the 3D gimmick massacre but, unlike many other films that have been exposed in three dimensions recently (My Bloody ValentineThe Final Destination), the movie makes the technology work, not the other way round.

If you haven't had chance to see this yet, you should – there is so much more to be gained from viewing it in 3D, Toy Story fans will be given even more reasons to love this movie.

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After some food and a quick break, we headed back in to catch Black Sheep Director Jonathan King's new adventure movie, Under the Mountain. Set in New Zealand, the film tells the story of a set of twins who are sent to live with their Aunt and Uncle after their mother's death. The beginning of the movie displays all of the common obstacles that lost, orphaned souls deal with, but it is only with the introduction of Mr. Jones (played by Sam Neill) and the creepy-looking house across the lake that we realise this isn't your average coming-of-age story.

Brother and Sister, Rachel and Theo, have always had a psychic link (or “twinness”), but it is only when Theo meets Jones on a hilltop that the film really takes off. The twins, who are advanced in intellect beyond their years, discover what is going on and join forces with Jones, in order to defeat the evil Wilberforce family that live under the mountain, and save the world.

Like with any good adventure tale, there is something for everyone, young or old, although due to the scary nature and content of some of the film, I'd say it is more suitable for teens than real youngsters. For instance, the leader of the Wilberforce clan is perhaps one of the creepiest cinematic characters I have ever seen, reminiscent of some of the darker creatures inBuffy the Vampire Slayer – making me question just how much of a kid's film this is.

A complete 180 degree turn in terms of subject matter for Director Jonathan King, who has done a grand job (considering his last film had one character devouring a rabbit's head). Overall this is a great movie and was one of the few films of the festival which provided some real magic as well as some truly terrifying moments.

Although we had queued up for tickets, we ended up skipping Cirque Du Freak – The Vampire's Assistant in the end, as a quick power nap was much more favourable at the time. It was then on to the Paramount theatre at the other end of town to see George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead.

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We were lucky enough to be attending the US Premiere of horror legend George A. Romero's latest chapter in his 'Dead' franchise, I say franchise because the previous two efforts (Land and Diary) had gone off at a bit of an unwanted tangent. The good man himself was in attendance and insisted on presenting his Q&A before the film rather than afterwards – the reason for which all became abundantly clear about 15 minutes into the film.

Plum Island is home to two families of survivors of the zombie plague (continued from the previous film), but once it finds its way onto the island the difference between the ways the two camps deal with the problem, divides them and starts a war. The one and only film I walked out of during FantasticFest, I gave it a good forty minutes to prove me wrong, but after the inexcusably poor Irish accents, shoddy special effects and stereotypical, vacuous characters with no hope of proving likeable, I gave up.

After finding out the movie was shot on a RED ONE camera, I was even more disappointed, as you really couldn't tell – the crisp, clear picture of the RED was lost in dark, colourless scenery and gory special effects that were amateurish, at best.

If you're a die-hard Romero fan who isn't prone to holding a grudge, then you'll no doubt enjoy this movie, however if like me you choose to uphold the same zombie rules and laws that were invented by Romero some forty years ago, you too will end up flinching at the ridiculous notion of a zombie riding a horse, as appears in the film.

Finally, it was time to return to The Highball for the much anticipated Fantastic Feud, and my companion for the trip Rawshark (aka Mike Hewitt) was selected to be on the International team. Here is a quote taken from the FantasticFest website, to describe what it's all about:

"The Fantastic Feud, brainchild of Cinematical managing director Scott Weinberg, pits the greatest American horror scholars against the feeble competition from foreign lands. Much drinking and feats of mental agility ensue".

I couldn't have said it better myself. Frightfest Organiser, Paul McEvoy, was also on the team and injected plenty of humour into the event, even if he did antagonise the other team (and the audience) somewhat. After a fun-filled night – oh we lost by the way – we were ready to head back to the hotel, and prepare for another day of films, including a much anticipated Brit-Indie Horror.

Clive Barker's Dread and The Human Centipede were also showing that night, both of which I had already seen at FrightFest back in August. Having seen Book of Blood last year and being bitterly disappointed, I really wasn't expecting much at all from the follow up, Dread. Written and directed by Anthony DiBlasi, the film has a brilliant premise that would easily sell in any 10-word-or-less pitch: Grad students make thesis film about people's deepest fears.

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Clive Barker tells Bloody-Disgusting.com: "This started as a spec script by Anthony DiBlasi who came in as an intern to Seraphim (Barker's horror film production label) six years ago... Here's a guy who, in six years on from joining the company, has written and directed his first movie. And he's done a fucking brilliant job".

Starring Jackson Rathbone (Twilight) and an all British cast, the film boasts unique and well developed characters, with the relationship between each being a main focus of the film. Unfortunately, the gritty nasty consequences of the film project shown are too few and far between to leave a lasting impression.

On to what I consider possibly the sickest films of the year (an accolade which delighted Director Tom Six, when I caught up with him at The Highball), The Human Centipede. Just from reading the review in the programme and seeing that it had a staggering 16 icons underneath (each attaining to a particular theme or character type present in the film), in the case of this film, FantasticFest had to create a new icon – ass to face – as it was, unsurprisingly, not a common theme in previous submissions to the fest.

In a nut-shell: German surgeon Dr Heiter, who specialises in separating Siamese twins, has been working on a new project to find a way to create a human centipede by surgically attaching three people from mouth to anus, and to devise a way for them to survive this way. When we are introduced to the middle and the end section of the centipede (in the form of two rather ditzy American girls), you have absolutely no sympathy for them.

But as the horrible tale unravels and the procedure so graphically illustated by the twisted surgeon on his whiteboard becomes reality, you start to really empathise for them and actively will them to survive and make it out alive and detached from the others.

You can't help but love a film that really pushes the envelope, and boy does this one. Don't go having a blow-out meal before you go and see this one though, as you may be reacquainted with it sooner than you'd like.

More Information For further information on FANTASTIC FEST 2009 visit the festival website:www.fantasticfest.com.