I had the pleasure of attending one day of Cinemafantastique at the UBC’s Norm Theatre - a treat as the theatre is slated to undergo renovations for the next couple years and the fest will be changing venues for the foreseeable future. Hanging out there was like stepping back in time, which seemed to suit the theme of the festival which brought us a plethora of 70s inspired magic. I was instantly welcomed to a cozy space filled with niche horror fans, quality vendors, such as Cranium of Curiosities, Videomatica, and a very chill vibe. Sadly I was only able to attend one day of the festival, but without further ado here are the films I saw:

The Cruel Tale of the Medicine Man
2015, James Habacker
1hr 30 min (NR)

If I had a word cloud about this movie (re: if it was 2013) the most prominent word would definitely be ‘GLITTER’. This is a burlesque-themed film, and it is obvious the moment it begins. In fact, the location of The House of Choad is actually James Habacker’s own Slipper Room, a burlesque theatre-lounge in New York. Picture a dark, smoky bar filled with society’s fringe: knife throwing, exotic burlesque’s beautiful, cheesy, fantastical, and fun.

Right away we meet Linda, a young woman (brilliantly played by Jillian McManemin) who has left a mental hospital and almost magically arrives at the House of Choad. It’s obvious she’s desperate for work and is quickly hired to dance. Habacker himself plays Mr. Choad, a man so obsessed with an artistic awakening he’s willing to sell his soul (and the souls of others) to achieve it.

Taking notes from the Grand Guignol, a French theatre specializing in “amoral horror entertainment”, The Cruel Tale delivers frightfully grotesque short-form theatre with impressive performances from all involved. Even in the films entirety you can see the Guignol influence with it’s bloody macabre climax. It only makes sense then that I often felt I was watching a stage play. All I could think while watching was how much I would love to see those shows live (minus the uh, special performances). Matt Fraser of American Horror Story was among the cast, an extra bonus since seeing him perform at the International Burlesque Festival here in Vancouver in May.

Some may question the genre of The Cruel Tale of the Medicine Man, and that questioning is more than fair. After all, it describes itself as “a genre - defying mixture of comedy, horror, sex, fantasy, freak show, dream and cartoon.” Hardcore horror fans, beware! But if you’re a big fan of burlesque like I am, it’s a must-see.

The Red Man
2016, Jimmie Gonzalez
1hr 28min (NR)

When I picked up my flyer for Cinemafantastique at the earlier Northwest Horror Show, The Red Man was the one I looked forward to seeing the most. Having been in the festival circuit since October, I was pleased to be able to attend. Director Jimmie Gonzalez was also in attendance, known in the past for his music videos and underground EDM DJ skills. He described his disappointment in the mainstream corporate and commercial leanings of the EDM scene. He decided to quit and turned his frustration into art via metaphor.

Clearly inspired by Argento, and meant for repeat viewings, Red Man was a bit of an adventure. The symmetry and color of the film were noticeable in the first shot. Evan is a famous DJ, troubled with nightmares about a violent incident that occurred several years prior. It’s clear he’s struggling with drug addiction, paranoia, and PTSD.

I love paranoia. It features in every one of my top 10 horror movies, and The Red Man has it in droves. It also has great production quality and performances, and gets fairly twisted. With all its twists and turns, it is an impressive feat and I appreciate what it tried to achieve. More than anything, I was impressed by Daniel David Diamond’s performance as Evan. This is one of those movies it’s difficult to talk about without giving too much away, so if you like this sort of psychological horror I’d encourage you to check it out.

Afterwards there was a Q&A with Gonzalez where he shared more about his life and creative process. He considers it an intensely personal film and found it freeing to “get it out” - even with his great success as a DJ he wasn’t happy. Having a friend invest in him gave him the opportunity to create the movie at the quality it is. I felt lucky to be able to see such a personal piece of art and meet the director.

Hell Town
2015, Steve Balderson, Elizabeth Spear
1hr 29min (NR)

If dramatic horror comedy is your thing, then Hell Town is for you.

Shown as a mini-series of 3 episodes shown in “binge-watching style”, Hell Town is best described as a mash-up of soap opera and horror. It’s extremely melodramatic, playing on daytime TV tropes with absolute frenetic glee. Toss some blood in with the caricatures of small-town teens and you’ve got yourself a real murder mystery.

And what a mystery it is! Who is killing all these annoying kids? Why do they all hate each other so much? What is this family war really about? You will either love or hate the grandiose performances by all the actors involved. One of the actors informed the audience that they were “told to go balls to the wall with performances, it gave us a chance to have fun!” you can definitely tell everyone had fun making it, but frankly I didn’t have a lot of fun watching it. I will say this: some of the kills were unique and stylish - but overall it fell flat for me. If you’re dying to get your hands on it, it comes to VOD on the 23rd of August.

She Kills
2015, Ron Bonk
1hr 41mn (NR)

Yo, you guys like grindhouse? If you can’t get enough of that campy, grimy 70's bush then this is the flick for you. I mean, just look at that poster!

Through an unfortunate attack on her wedding night by a local gang called The Touchers, Sadie learns she is cursed (blessed?) with “fire crotch”, a condition that causes the perfume of her vagina to drive men crazy. Crazy enough to violently kill and eat people while acting like apes, I guess.

Gold star for the writers, I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much vulva slang in my entire life. Look, I love a good revenge horror as much as the next gal, but this was a grueling 101 minutes that could easily have been cut down to a more palatable 80. What started with a pumped-up desire to see her torturers destroyed, turned to malaise and indifference after a while.

This is a total lovefest homage to 70's grindhouse, replete with boom mic drop-ins, continuity errors and a big fat wink right at the audience. With the right crowd, it’s a hell of a ride. Bring your closest friends to this and have a few drinks - you’re going to be laughing a lot.

While Cinemafantastique lasted a solid 3 days, I wasn’t able to attend the whole weekend. I’m especially sad I missed Harvest Lake and Last Girl Standing, as they’ve been on my list for quite some time. I really appreciate fests like this one for bringing in niche horror and connecting like-minded individuals to the horror community. I look forward to seeing what’s in store for next year!

~ @bexbz