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Fantastic Fest: Annette Kellerman Reports On Extracurriculars Around The Fest!

If you are a regular reader of AICN, you probably know by now that the annual Fantastic Film Festival is currently in full swing right here in Austin, TX. While the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar location is jam-packed with cinephiles watching 4 to 5 (sometimes 6!) films per day, there are also other activities to be had around the fest. A Geeks Who Drink event, the Nerd Rap contest, podcast tapings with Doug Benson and Leonard Maltin, the notorious karaoke night, and even BBQ field trips round out a week of fun as well as film. Since the fest seems to be ever-growing, I thought I would let you in on a few of the extracurricular events that I was lucky enough to attend.

Dark Corner has had a VR installation in the lobby of the theater since day one of the the fest, and I knew I didn't want to miss my chance to check out some horror in the burgeoning medium. The set up includes three different stations: CATATONIC, BURLAP, and MULE. Even though the action takes place entirely on the VR screen/mask, Dark Corner built little sets around each theme that were quite effective as far as getting the audience in the vibe of the short film. CATATONIC has the participant wheelchair bound for a trek through an insane asylum, complete with D-Box bumps and jolts along the way. BURLAP featured a blood-stained stool in front of a tool-laden work bench which paired nicely with the short film's Gein-ish vibe.
And the piece de resistance belongs to MULE which has the viewer seated in a coffin where they are given a choice between "buried or cremated." Certainly the most narrative of the trio, MULE's seedy storyline follows the main character (you!) from a binge in a seedy motel all the way to the bitter end and beyond.
This was my first experience with VR, and I was super impressed with the whole set up. While I realize that this is just the tip of the iceberg with this kind of technology in entertainment, I was really excited about the way Dark Corner presented the entire experience as well as the level of storytelling in the short projects.
Another event at the fest- that I actually had zero plans to attend but ended up having fun with- happened yesterday afternoon at the Highball, the restaurant/lounge attached to the theater. Just as Diva Del Mar and I were finishing up some writing, the Star Wars drink contest was announced. Various staff from the different Alamo locations compete with a Star Wars-inspired cocktail of their choice. There were 6 different stations handing out sample sizes of the various libations, and our votes were cast just before we had to head off to our next film.

Saturday night saw the return of one of the craziest rhythmic experiences of my life as Colorado's ITCHY-O once again took the stage at the Highball. Last year, I was already hanging out at the bar with friends when the show began, and I inadvertently had a front row seat to the entirely singular musical event. I was determined to see the show again, and I guess the word must've gotten out from last year because the venue was packed. Masked musicians adorned in marching band-like costumes wielding an assortment of instruments including drums, keyboards, electronic music apparatuses, and even gigantic bull horns back packs entered the room in a grand processional complete with burka-wearing dancers and a Chinese dragon. It is an intense sound and visual experience that is not to be missed if they come to a city near you.
One of the other note-worthy activites that I sadly have not have the chance to try yet is THE SATANIC PANIC ROOM. Perhaps you've heard of the recent phenomenon of "escape" or "puzzle" rooms where a team of people have to find clues and solve problems in order to escape the room before certain doom. Well, it wouldn't be Fantastic Fest without a little lovin' of the Dark Lord, so the fest added a Satanic themed escape room as a part of this year's extracurricular activites. Reports from friends who succeeded by winning the favor of the Devil report that players were either shackled, blindfolded, or even locked in a cage at the onset and from these confines began the challenge. The installation will be at the Highball until the end of October, so hopefully we'll all have a chance to impress the Prince of Darkness and conquer the Satanic Panic Room.

Festival traditions like the MST3K inspired THE DOUG BENSON INTERRUPTION happened last night with Andre Gower in attendance to simultaneously adore and mock his classic 80's gem THE MONSTER SQUAD. Monday night had festival fave FANTASTIC FEUD, hosted by writer/critic Scott Weinberg and featuring film aficionados competing in a Family Feud-style game show. While focusing mainly on horror and genre, the trivia questions veer from fairly challenging to questions requiring only ballpark guesses such as, "How many times is the name Carol Anne uttered in the POLTERGEIST trilogy?" The answer is 219, by the way, and was backed up by a hilarious montage of every one of the "Carol Annes" that were called out, whispered, or screamed in the course of the three films.

Yet another event I attended that wasn't even an official Fantastic Fest event (but was heavily promoted by the fest including discount tickets with a FF badge) was Mondo's presentation of Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND with composer Fabio Frizzi in attendance performing the original score from the film. As if that wasn't already cool enough, the venue for the event was the Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Austin. To see those images projected above the pulpit under the towering arches of the large chapel paired perfectly with the aurally captivating and terrifying tone of the live accompaniment.

So, even though there are a staggering number of film options at the fest, it's also encouraged to branch out and participate in the various events the fest has to offer. For years I was obsessed with seeing as many films per day as possible, but I have learned to let go, enjoy some of the crazy events, and actually socialize and commiserate with my fellow fest goers about the happenings of the day. I think I've really learned to optimize my Fantastic Fest experience with such a well-rounded schedule, so if you ever get the chance to attend the fest, I recommend checking out as much as possible!

Rebecca Elliott

aka Annette Kellerman

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