Few genre festivals feel like instant kingmakers. Yet a great showing at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, can be a launchpad for smaller films. The impressive list of alumni continues to grow year after year. With another excellent lineup on the horizon and a handful of secret screenings to contend with, 2023 could be a banner year for the festival. Let’s dive into our 2023 Fantastic Fest preview with a bonus nod from the TV side.
Bonus: The Fall of the House of Usher – Directed by Mike Flanagan
Not technically a movie, the first two episodes of Mike Flanagan’s massive adaptation are set to screen at Fantastic Fest 2023. His style of horror-laden drama continues to gain fans, especially off the success of The Haunting Of and Midnight series. The Fall of the House of Usher combines dozens of Edgar Allen Poe stories to craft a narrative about the compromises we make in life. Flanagan returns with many of his favorite collaborators, and they are primed to deliver on the ambitious concept.
The Toxic Avenger – Director Macon Blair
The iconic Troma film has finally been remade. Complete with an all-star cast led by Peter Dinklage, Blair showcases his unique blend of violence and horror. Blair’s return to the director’s chair seems promising, with early images showcasing incredible makeup effects and transformations. We are very excited for The Toxic Avenger, and frankly, it’s quality does not matter. The more deranged and upsetting Blair gets, the more likely it becomes an instant classic in horror circles.
So Unreal – Directed by Amanda Kramer
A deep dive into the visual language of the digital realm on film is long overdue. With enough classics, including The Matrix, Tron, and Strange Days, fears and worry about the virtual realm colliding with reality have long concerned filmmakers. As Artificial Intelligence and predictive chatbots have become regular talking points in American culture, this survey of the subgenre on film is long overdue. Amanda Kramer‘s Give Me Pity was quite good last year, so we’re curious to see how she approaches documentary filmmaking.
The Last Stop in Yuma County – Directed by Francis Galluppi
Described as a B-movie heist-thriller and Western, The Last Stop in Yuma County seems like a perfect blend of our favorite genres. While most of Fantastic Fest is set to cover horror, Francis Galluppi reminds us that genre festivals need diversity. There seem to be few films like The Last Stop in Yuma County being made anymore, and if good, it stands a chance to be extremely popular in genre fanbases. This one seems ideal to be an early festival breakout. There’s too much too much talent involved to ignore. Jim Cummings, Jocelin Donahue, and Richard Brake assemble a solid foundation for a series of unhappy misfortunes.
The People’s Joker – Directed by Vera Drew
Initially set for last year’s Fantastic Fest, Vera Drew’s recutting of the Todd Phillips movie has popped up periodically in small festivals since its TIFF 2022 premiere. It now returns to Fantastic Fest and lands with incredible anticipation. With more than a year of waiting, it will be fascinating to finally catch the reimagining.
Spooktacular! – Directed by Quinn Monahan
A personal pick, the documentary exploration of the iconic Spookyworld theme park is incredibly up my alley. As a massive fan of Halloween Horror Nights, it is impossible to ignore a DIY experience that helped popularize haunts in the Northeast. The event brought in scaractors, horror celebrities, and unique frights to national attention. Tom Savini executive produces the documentary and with his sign-off, a cavalcade of talent lines up to give testimony. Combining showman antics and horror history makes Spooktacular! an exciting proposition.
The Sacrifice Game – Directed by Jenn Wexler
What’s worse than a cult hunting down your family? A cult hunting down your family on Christmas. Set in the 1970s, the slasher and blood cult feature has an intriguing premise and cast. With a Christmas setting, it stands a chance to be a yearly revisit if it lives up to the hype. Plus, it will be exciting to see Mena Massoud and Olivia Scott Welch take on a more villainous tone.
Jackdaw – Directed by Jamie Childs
The directorial debut of TV veteran Jaime Childs has the DNA to join a legacy of British crime dramas. A former motocross champ and armed services vet is forced to work a job in the North Sea. However, as he attempts to pull off the job, his night spirals out of control. Oliver Jackson-Cohen leads the film, but with Jenna Coleman, Vivienne Acheampong, Thomas Turgoose, and Rory McCann, this has a low-key stacked cast. An action thriller in the vein of The Driver or Charles Bronson flicks would be welcomed with open arms.
The Last Video Store – Directed by Cody Kennedy & Tim Rutherford
Borrowing iconography from classic horror slashers, The Last Video Store immediately popped on our radar. Yet what made it a staple of our most anticipated list is the premise. When a video store clerk and a woman come into possession of a cursed videotape, all the characters of the video store come to life. Fantastic Fest dropped the phrase “the video Necronomicon” in their description, so yes, we are very excited about this one.
Stopmotion – Directed by Robert Morgan
A meta-take on stop-motion animation as an art form seemed interesting on its own. Yet Robert Morgan has spent a better part of the last decade showcasing his talent as a stop-motion animator. They tell creators to draw from their lives, which is certainly the case here. Morgan’s slavish devotion to detail on his short films should bode well for the festival’s lone animated feature.
There’s Something in the Barn – Directed by Magnus Martens
There’s a time-honored tradition in the creature feature subgenre that always seems to work. Step 1 – set a comedian in the lead role. Step 2 – force them to engage with a monster. Finally, step 3 – let their disbelief take over. With previous hits like Krampus, Werewolves Within, and The Mummy, it’s no wonder why audiences continue to love the fish-out-of-water storytelling. With Martin Starr in the lead role, we’re hopeful that There’s Something in the Barn lives up to its one-still potential.