Fantasia 2014 grab-bag vol. 2: Frogs, werewolves and ghosts, oh my!

Housebound header

As Fantasia 2014 enters its final days, we fortunate souls tasked with covering it for various media outlets are in various stages of film festival burnout. Although as exhilarating an experience as one can hope for, three solid weeks of fine cinema can take a toll on a man. The three weeks of fast food haven’t helped either, come to think of it. And yet, I soldier on with three more looks at Fantasia’s 2014 lineup.

The Curse of Evil (1982)Curse of Evil

Shaw Bros studios are mostly known for films centering on men and occasionally women flying kicking each other in the head in a variety of colourful and interesting ways, but kung-fu wasn’t their only bag. Some of the studio’s most unique movies are outside their usual kung-fu wheelhouse, straying into genres like sci-fi, superheroes and, in the case of Curse of Evil, horror.

I’m trying to find an adjective to describe Curse of Evil and coming up blank, or at least somewhere between “Lovecraftian” and “Mignola-esque”, that last one mostly due to the presence of large numbers of killer frogs. Mostly, Curse of Evil feels like a family intrigue drama with a splash of horror and another splash of eroticism for good measure, an odd beast of a movie that can switch between intrigue, rubber suit monsters and nudity, if it isn’t somehow doing all three at once. Which is showing off, really, but I’m not complaining.

It’s almost like an episode of Scooby Doo at times, but one directed by Jess Franco and set in period China. Which makes the film sound a lot more interesting than it actually ends up being, especially after the cavalcade of madness that was The Demon of the Lute. Mostly what brings it down is the endless scenes of one family member or another plotting something dastardly while the legless demon waits patiently around the corner for its next appearance, with the audience waiting with perhaps a bit less patience. But when things finally take off for the explosive finale, it’s all about as insane as you want it to be. It’s just that getting there can be a bit of a task.

Housebound

New Zealand has a proud tradition of horror comedies, ever since bringing Braindead/Dead Alive into the world, and Housebound continues the legacy with all the manic glee and black humor you’d expect.

Our main character is Kylie, a juvenile delinquent under house arrest in a home she’s long since left behind. But when evidence mounts that her home is actually haunted, Kylie starts to unravel the mystery of the house’s former occupants in the hopes of placating the supposed spirit.

Housebound borrows as much from recent horror films like The Innkeepers and classics like Rear Window as it does from the horror comedies of Peter Jackson, a unique hybrid of styles that occasionally seems to have some trouble finding its footings. It doesn’t help that Kylie is walking a very tight line between “cool bad girl” and “obnoxious” and I found myself wavering back and forth on how much I liked her as a protagonist for most of the first two thirds. Similarly, the movie itself seemed to waver back and forth on how much it wanted to be a traditional ghost movie and how much it wanted to be more of a suspense film, with the focus shifting as Kylie and the local public security guy try to gather evidence on a decades-old murder case, with any paranormal spookery being left behind when the film gets a bit bored with it.

By the third act, though, everything seems to coalesce and it all comes together in a whirlwind of violence and comedy beats — with the odd exploding head for good measure — that reminds you just how fun a good horror comedy can be when the Wayans Brothers aren’t involved.

When Animals DreamWhen Animals Dream poster

After the rousing success that was In Order of Disappearance, films with a Norwegian pedigree shot up to the top of my list of must-sees at Fantasia this year. That’s how I found myself at When Animals Dream, a psuedo-werewolf flick that seems to be angling to be the lycanthropic equivalent of Let The Right One In.

Like Ginger Snaps before it, When Animals Dream uses werewolves as a metaphor for puberty and female sexuality, a metaphor that seems most obvious when one character tells the juvenile protagonist that she’ll soon be experience new hair growth and mood swings, to a knowing chuckle from the audience. Other times it feels almost akin to 2011’s Turn me On, God Dammit but with a protagonist who bites a few more peoples’ faces off.

The film, to say the least, is gorgeously well-shot, taking full effect of the desolate landscape in a way that Norwegian films seemingly have to do by law. The cast are all excellent, particularly the young lead played by first timer Sonia Suhl. However, when the inevitable comparison to Let the Right One In comes up, When Animals Dream will most likely come up short for most fans. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t great, but the comparison is unavoidable at times and really, what movie can compare favorably to Let the Right One In?

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