At the Sundance Film Festival, audiences can watch the cream of the indie-movie crop. At Telluride and Toronto, they can see a clutch of likely future Oscar contenders. At this month’s Fantastic Fest, in Austin, Texas, on the other hand, attendees will have the chance to be thrown into a room and shackled.
“We’re converting our biggest karaoke room into an escape room,” says Fantastic Fest cofounder Tim League. “It’s called the Satanic Panic escape room, which we’ve never done before. One of our festival buddies — who did all of the experiential stuff for the Stanley Film Festival for the last several years — is launching a new company with this project. It’s going to be incredible.”
Would he care to elaborate? “I can tell you that there’s a team of four, and you’re shackled inside the room,” says League.
The Satanic Room is not the only new activity folks can try at the genre festival. Fantastic Fest has partnered with the virtual reality studio Dark Corners to present a number of VR experiences, including one which the FF website describes as “an emotional, fast-paced hell-ride that catapults the viewer through the final shocking moments of a man’s life (and beyond).”
“Well, we are a genre festival, so we are curating experiences that are hopefully going to be challenging for people,” says League. “I think that that’s one of the most exciting aspects of VR, of just how immersive it can become. I think horror is one of the brave new frontiers of VR experiences, and we’ll have a chance to sample some of those.”
Among the more high-profile films being screened at Fantastic Fest are the Amy Adams-starring sci-fi thriller Arrival, the Tim Burton-directed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and the monster movie Colossal from FF favorite and regular attendee Nacho Vigalondo.
“We world-premiered his first film, Timecrimes, back in 2007, and he came for that event, and we established some sort of strange bond,” says League of the director, whose new film stars Anne Hathaway and Dan Stevens. “He’s more than just a guest of the festival; he’s become like family. He comes all the time, even if he doesn’t have at film at the festival. So, this is a pretty big week for him. He’s got A-list talent, it’s a really spectacular film, and so it had to be done! If Nacho puts out a movie then it will be a part of our festival. And, thankfully, the man only puts out great movies.”
Other eye-catching movies on the Fantastic Fest schedule include kung fu classic 36 Chambers of Shaolin — screenings of which will be accompanied by a live rescore by the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA — and first-time filmmaker Julia Ducournau’s cannibal film, Raw. When the latter recently screened at Toronto, some audience members reportedly passed out and required medical attention. Will League have medics on hand, in case that is repeated in Austin?
“We do sometimes contract out with this ambulance service,” says the festival cofounder. “But it’s a combination ambulance and karaoke vehicle called the Jambulance. … I don’t expect us to have too many fainting episodes. We breed a pretty hearty stock at Fantastic Fest. But I do think it’s going to generate a lot of buzz, because she is an unbelievable talent, and it’s a great film.”
The Fantastic Fest schedule also boasts, among other genre-centric delights, Phantasm: Ravager, The Greasy Strangler, the documentary 24X36: A Movie About Movie Posters, Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, zombie film The Girl With All the Gifts, Morgan Spurlock’s Rats, Ring/Grudge franchise crossover Sadako Vs Kayako, Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, the self-explanatory Another WolfCop, and Mike Mendez’s Don’t Kill It, which stars Dolph Lundgren as a whisky-sozzled demon-hunter named Jebediah Woodley. But the weirdest film being shown at this year’s event? That might be a tie between the previously unreleased Jungle Trap (described by the FF website as a “massively entertaining, decapitation-fueled shot-on-video horror masterpiece about a jungle hotel haunted by kill-crazy ghosts in loin cloths”) and a restoration of 1971’s bizarre-sounding Zodiac Killer.
“Since the Zodiac Killer was never captured, the filmmaker (Tom Hanson) thought that if there was a film about the Zodiac Killer, that perhaps the Zodiac Killer would come to watch this movie, and then he would capture the Zodiac Killer,” explains League. “It’s was one of those mad works of an untamed genius.”
Fantastic Fest is probably most famous for its Debates, in which film notables spar with each other verbally over some film-related topic and then put on boxing gloves to settle the matter in a more physical fashion. Previous combatants have included director Joe Swanberg and actress Michelle Rodriguez, who got in the ring with League himself in 2010.
“It’s a little bit down to the wire,” League says of this year’s lineup of “Debaters.” “We do have some surprises, some guests that are going to be entering, maybe not the fisticuffs arena, but they’ll be part of the show. But this is the one aspect of the festival that first-timers witness, and it changes their perspective of what a festival is. I remember watching Leonard Maltin’s face as he saw directors drawing blood and swinging with all their might at each other. He had this mix of terror and joy on his face. He said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that before!'”
And will League be putting on the gloves this year?
“There’s a chance.” he says. “I haven’t committed to it fully. I’ve debated and boxed every single year since the inception of the event. But I am starting to become a rather old man at this point. So, I might pass the mantle, but you never know. You never know what happens in the final hours building up to the festival. I reserve the right to enter the ring at any time!”
Fantastic Fest takes place at Austin, Texas’ Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar cinema from Sept. 22 to Sept. 29. You can learn more about all the films mentioned above, and the rest of the movies being screened, at the official Fantastic Fest website.
And you can watch the trailer for the Satanic Panic escape room (if you dare!), below.