Fantastic FAQ 2022: Letterboxd’s loose guide to America’s biggest genre festival 

Oink, A Wounded Fawn, Piggy: all at Fantastic Fest 2022. 
Oink, A Wounded Fawn, Piggy: all at Fantastic Fest 2022. 

What can you expect from the most unexpected film festival event of the year? As our crew prepares to party with Park Chan-wook, we attempt to predict some highlights of Austin’s annual Fantastic Fest. 

Genre fans will soon be making their way to the triangle of happiness that is the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, The Highball bar next door, and Austin’s famous Zilker park just down the road—the best place to soak up some much-needed Vitamin D after the screenings and parties of Fantastic Fest 2022

Whether you’re in Austin for the week of 22 to 29 September or you’re feasting deliciously at home, it will be a ride like any other Fantastic Fest week: gory, stupid, hilarious, inclusive, provocative, irresistible, can’t-look-away and very, very weird. And hugely international, with a particularly strong showing from Spain this year (Piggy, Amazing Elisa, Everyone will Burn, The Elderly, García!, La Pietà, Manticore among them). 

Beyond the movies, the festival hosts events such as “the barely coherent game show institution known as the Fantastic Feud” (in which two trivia teams answer super obscure genre questions) and, this year, a live reading of Back to the Future and a lifetime achievement award for Park Chan-wook, whose Cannes award-winning Decision to Leave will be showing. 

In the spirit of ensuring the very best festival experience, our Fantastic Fest correspondents—Annie Lyons, Katie Rife and Gemma Gracewood—attempt the impossible: a loose guide to what you can expect from the most unexpected festival event of the year. Take notes! 

Could The People’s Joker be one of this year’s Mystery Movies? Alas, it’s very unlikely. #FreethePeoplesJoker.
Could The People’s Joker be one of this year’s Mystery Movies? Alas, it’s very unlikely. #FreethePeoplesJoker.

Mystery Movies 

Secret screenings have long made up an essential part of the Fantastic Fest DNA, promising everything from world premieres to work-in-progress screenings to tickets to the fall fest circuit’s hottest contenders. With that in mind, we donned our favorite pair of suspenders and did our best Benoit Blanc impression to theorize the identities of this year’s pair. 

One’s been teased as a horror (at least, according to Director of Programming Annick Mahnert’s furry sidekick), and the timing’s perfect for everyone’s favorite leather-clad baddie, Pinhead, to offer fest goers pain and pleasure ahead of the Hellraiser reboot’s October release. Otherwise, perhaps we’ll get an early look at next year’s Evil Dead Rise or M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin? Or is it Halloween Ends

As for the other slot, we suspect either Weird: The Al Yankovic Story or the gentleman sleuth himself. Director Rian Johnson is a vocal FF fan with a few fest sojourns under his belt, most recently for Knives Out. It feels only fitting that sequel Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery might make an appearance too—and that a mystery-shrouded screening turns out to be, well, a mystery.

But though it might be a tad too soon to expect the previously scheduled The People’s Joker to make its return after losing screenings at the just-wrapped TIFF due to (sigh) “rights issues”, we can’t help but cross our fingers for Vera Drew’s joyously chaotic trans coming-of-age story to be the fest’s biggest surprise. We can only imagine how the first post-#FreeThePeoplesJoker screening would triumphantly bring down the house and send uproarious viewers out into the night, ready to party with the Congress Bridge bats. AL

Scenes from episodes of Stairway to Stardom. — Credit… Daily Dot
Scenes from episodes of Stairway to Stardom. Credit… Daily Dot

Stairway to Stardom

One of Fantastic Fest’s most unique functions is as a showcase for the American Genre Film Archive, an Austin-based rescue for abandoned and forgotten genre movies that has strong ties to the Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest. Many film festivals feature retrospective titles, but AGFA’s approach is to introduce the oddball cult classics of tomorrow, rather than preserve films that are already part of the canon. And the open-minded audiences at Fantastic Fest are an ideal test audience for the latest AGFA (re)discoveries. 

The highlight of this year’s programming is the “definitive presentation” of Stairway to Stardom, a musical variety show filmed in a basement in Staten Island and broadcast to public access stations across the New York City metro area from 1979 until the early ‘90s. A DIY compilation of the best of Stairway to Stardom circulated throughout the tape-trading underground in the ‘90s and ‘00s, profoundly influencing the sensibilities and aesthetics of VHS revivalists like Tim & Eric, Everything Is Terrible!, and TV Carnage. Now, it’s being screened in full for perhaps the first and only time in a movie theater, breaking the brains of a whole new generation. KR

The Crown Prince of Clamping, Michael Organ.
The Crown Prince of Clamping, Michael Organ.

Narcissism Nightmares  

You may never use a parking lot again after seeing Mister Organ, a car-clamping investigation from David Farrier that takes as many twisty turns as his previous documentary, Tickled. Farrier, a New Zealand journalist known for the Netflix series Dark Tourist and his podcast work with Dax Sheppard and Monica Padman, pursues stories long beyond the point where most of us would have given up. He’s currently in a battle with mega-churches who refuse to properly investigate their own histories of abuse, and his Webworm newsletter has been an oasis of logic during a pandemic of illogical misinformation. 

The world premiere of Mister Organ is a good get for Fantastic Fest as it has the classic FF ingredients: a delusional, narcissistic subject, a rabbit hole of what-the-fuckness, family members who refuse to talk, Farrier nattering to himself in cars and motel rooms, an abandoned psychiatric institution (now the location of haunted attraction Spookers, which has its own documentary), and a cast of sad, sweet characters who got caught up in the mess. Which is still ongoing, by the way: much like Tickled, there is the possibility that—if he can make a previous conviction go away—the titular Mr. Organ might get through immigration and turn up at the Drafthouse (we wouldn’t put it past him). In any case, we predict there’ll be a follow-up and that David will need hugs and cute cat videos once the shit hits the fan. GG

Hard Candy (2005) might make the cut in this year’s ‘100 Best Kills’. 
Hard Candy (2005) might make the cut in this year’s ‘100 Best Kills’. 

The return of ‘100 Best Kills’

Fantastic Fest’s deep ties to found-footage creators don’t stop with AGFA. Many festival screenings feature found footage compilations that play as viewers take their seats, each of them specially made for the film by Alamo programmers. But the festival’s video-art ambitions reach their ultimate expressions with 100 Best Kills, a one-time-only Monday night tradition that does what it says on the tin: cut together 100 jaw-dropping moments of onscreen carnage into a themed clip show that celebrates genre cinema at its most outrageous and transgressive. 

Alamo legend Zack Carlson returns for the 2022 edition, collaborating with Canadian horror multi-hyphenate Louise Weard for 100 Best Kills: Texas Birth Control, Dick Destruction—again, what it says on the tin. Deep in the heart of Texas in the living nightmare of a post-Roe V. Wade America, it promises to be a cathartic experience. KR

Will The Year of the Shark’s lifeguards ring the dinner bell? 
Will The Year of the Shark’s lifeguards ring the dinner bell? 

It’s the Year of the Shark… literally

Prepare to sink your teeth into Shark Attack, Fantastic Fest’s international retrospective spotlighting the toothy marine critter, programmed in honor of the new outing from fest veterans Ludovic Boukherma and Zoran Boukherma. The Year of the Shark (‘L’Année du requin’) pays tribute to Jaws, a common theme connecting many of the program’s sharksploitation titles: Tintorera, a sexy and bloody ‘70s romp in a Mexican resort village; Aatank, the answer to anyone who’s ever wished they could get more Bollywood musical numbers with their man-eating beasts; and 12 Days of Terror, a period piece based on the real shark attacks that partially inspired Peter Benchley’s source novel. 

But while Steven Spielberg’s classic kick-started a long trend of movies misaligning the deep blue sea predators, shark sympathetics should find something to appreciate with Mako: The Jaws of Death, a revenge thriller with conservation on its mind. Plus, no cinematic Shark Week is complete without a grand kaiju showdown between Japan’s iconic nuclear turtle and a talking mutant space shark (AKA, Gamera vs. Zigra). AL

Itchy-O will be in Austin to give Fantastic Fest a good beating. 
Itchy-O will be in Austin to give Fantastic Fest a good beating. 

Old Friends

A great example of how Fantastic Fest tweaks the structure of a film festival to its own unique ethos can be seen in the festival’s opening night party. This is not some invite-only cocktail hour where the glitterati schmooze with industry insiders while the little people watch from beyond a velvet rope. Oh no. Fantastic Fest’s opening night parties spill out from unofficial festival HQ The Highball onto the sidewalk of the Alamo Drafthouse, bringing invited guests and badge holders together into one big celebration. (Another rule of Fantastic Fest: No autograph-seekers are allowed on the premises.) 

Over the years, these events have come to develop their own traditions. Chief among them is the ritual appearance of Itchy-O, a 57-member Satanic marching band based out of Denver whose act combines a New Orleans-style second line parade with immersive theater and performance art. After a two-year hiatus, they’ll be back for this year’s opening night party, accompanied by cocktail-mixing robots and an Italo-Disco DJ. KR 

It’s a debate smackdown between Jill Gevargizian and Gigi Saúl Guerrero.
It’s a debate smackdown between Jill Gevargizian and Gigi Saúl Guerrero.

Fantastic Debates

Not to be confused with the boozy late-night trivia competition Fantastic Feud, the Fantastic Debates move the festival action to a South Austin boxing gym, where critics, programmers, and filmmakers literally fight out their differences in the ring. The structure goes like this: two film fans enter the ring for a three-round verbal debate about a predetermined cinema topic. And once things (hopefully) start to get a little heated, the debaters are outfitted with gloves and padded helmets to finish the argument with their fists. 

For the most part, this is a friendly competition, with a strong sense of kayfabe and sweaty camaraderie. But, as with pro wrestling, sometimes the line between fun and real animosity gets blurry—and that’s when things really start to get interesting. This year’s bouts pit The Stylist director Jill Gevargizian against Bingo Hell’s Gigi Saúl Guerrero, as well as a brawl between Found Footage Festival co-founders Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher. KR

No Fantastic Fest is complete without a blaxploitation classic—this year it’s Solomon King (1974). 
No Fantastic Fest is complete without a blaxploitation classic—this year it’s Solomon King (1974). 

Out of the Vault 

In addition to the other past titles presented by AFGA, Fantastic Fest will reintroduce 1974’s Solomon King, a piece of Black cinema history previously thought lost. After all, nothing beats a soundtrack of ’70s funk and soul, as proven by the rare record store find that first inspired the Deaf Crocodile restoration team to unearth this stylish thriller. Directed, written and produced by Sal Watts, who also stars, Solomon King follows a CIA-trained detective on his quest for revenge for his girlfriend’s murder. The film captures both a slice of Black culture in ’70s Oakland and the decade’s independent filmmaking mentality, complete with groovy attire from Watts’ own fashion stores and a cast of mostly non-professional actors. 

At the time of writing, only eighteen Letterboxd members have logged the grindhouse find. One such member Justin LaLiberty declares the film a “major discovery; has more in common with the films of the LA Rebellion or something decidedly idiosyncratic like Top of the Heap rather than mainstream blaxploitation offerings like, for instance, the same year’s Truck Turner but manages to feel like a vital part of the genre and culture that has just evaded audiences for nearly five decades.” AL

Non-stop potty humor in Dutch stop-motion feature Oink.
Non-stop potty humor in Dutch stop-motion feature Oink.

For the Kids 

When some folks hear the words “genre festival” their brains automatically see “slasher tit-fest”. And, sure. That reputation is well-earned. But there’s another, sweeter, funnier, weirder, more home-made and slapstick side to Fantastic Fest that’s worth investigating if you have youngsters in your households (as many of the programmers and venue owners do). I mean, they kids have gotta start somewhere and My Neighbor Totoro is superlative but so is The Monster Squad.

This year, for the children, Fantastic Fest has Oink, a Dutch stop-motion feature about “a pig that can’t stop farting and shitting,” according to Sister Faith. And in the “kids on bikes” genre (may that never go out of fashion), Jason Eisener’s Kids vs. Aliens sees warring siblings banding together when aliens interrupt a house party. On the anime front, they might enjoy Shin Ultraman and several episodes of the original series, but it may be best avoid the glove puppetry of Demigod: The Legend and the Bambi-meets-Apocalypse Now horror of Unicorn Wars, featuring “teddy bear dick and nutsack shit”, a fair warning from Joel Duscher. GG

Jonni Phillips is back with Barber Westchester.
Jonni Phillips is back with Barber Westchester.

Burnt Ends

Beaver mascot costumes, psychotropic worms and multiverse cowboys, oh my! For the home attendee, Fantastic Fest has bolstered their FF@Home offerings with Burnt Ends, an almost exclusively virtual showcase of films well off the beaten path. Named for those blackened barbecue bits that don’t appeal to everyone’s palate, this section of truly independent movies features genre films made on shoestring budgets, experimental outliers and the just plain idiosyncratic. 

The Burnt Ends ethos is best exemplified by its six-film Motern Media collection that highlights the work of Charles Roxburgh and Matt Farley, recipients of this year’s inaugural Golden Spatula award. For more than two decades, the self-funded filmmaker duo have put their own spin on ’70s/’80s regional microbudget horror with New England-flavored features like Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! and Freaky Farley

A few other picks we’re adding to our plate include two throwback, back-to-back slashers from director Jay Burleson and Quantum Cowboys, a Lily Gladstone-starring animated sci-fi Western. Plus, Barber Westchester, the latest from surrealist animator Jonni Phillips, who currently tops Letterboxd’s list of the Top 50 Animated Feature Films Directed by Women. Snuggle up on the couch, serve yourself some brisket and tuck in! AL


Fantastic Fest runs from 22 to 29 September in Austin, Texas and online.

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