[FANTASTIC FEST ’17] Mike Vanderbilt’s 23 Film Recap

MY FRIEND DAHMER was the film that stuck with me the most from the festival. It’s a challenging film that dares the audience to empathize with a teenager who would become one of the most notorious serial killers in America. In a world where outrage trumps critical thinking and compassion, it’s a very timely film—particularly when you look at the various obituaries for Hugh Hefner—that points out that human beings are complicated people who are very rarely all good or all evil. Life is complicated and so are people.
Documentaries shined this year, particularly KING COHEN, a look back at the career of exploitation maverick Larry Cohen’s career. GILBERT looked at the career of rather private comedian Gilbert Gottfriend and 78/52 provided a laser focused film studies class for cinephiles and fans of Alfred Hitchcock. GILBERT is especially interesting as audiences can generally tell what kind of person a comedian is from their bits as there’s so much of their personality infused into their act. Gilbert Gottfried’s work on stage has for the most part of his career just been jokes and absurdity. It’s a funny and touching look into the comedian’s life and times. TOP KNOT DETECTIVE may be a mockumentary, but the film nails the aesthetics of the documentary style as well as the weird Japanese television on which it is based so deftly, that audiences may forget that what they’re watching is completely made up half way through the film.
Action and it’s various sub genres appeared to be the genre du jour this year with LET THE CORPSES TAN and FIVE FINGERS FOR MARSEILLES providing impressive takes on the western and DARKLAND and REVENGE tackling the revenge thriller. BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 takes its time, but this nasty character study—which recalls the PENITENTIARY films at times—certainly pays off in the cringe inducing action department. Meanwhile, GERALD’S GAME proved to be the favored King adaptation—even if it is about ten minutes too long—and VAMPIRE CLAY provided some gooey and gory Yuznasploitation.
It was the wonderfully weird revival cinema that really took me this year. ANYAB, the Egyptian take on ROCKY HORROR was a perfect midnight screening and BAT PUSSY and TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE (a thought to be lost Ed Wood film) were fun and sleazy ways to spend an afternoon. It was also a pleasure to see a cable favorite of mine, MANIAC COP 2, on the big screen with Larry Cohen.
 Interested? Here’s my list of the films I watched—in the order that I watched them—and their trailers for your viewing pleasure!

#1 VAMPIRE CLAY-A weird & whimsical blend of ’80s slasher & Raimisploitation. Gooey & gory; terrific midnight movie. Read my full review here!


#2 THOROUGHBREDS-Stylish but indulgent rich kid fantasy. Yelchin shines, laughs, but thinks it’s more profound than it is. Read Nathan Smith’s take here!


#3 RIFT-?Cheap scares hamper a rather compelling—and beautifully shot—supernatural-ish relationship drama.

#4 LET THE CORPSES TAN-A gangbusters soundtrack & healthy leather fetish propel this greasy, grimy neo-spaghetti western.

#5 KING COHEN– Funny, charming, & inspiring look at the career of a Daily Grindhouse favorite. Will make you want to make movies. Watch Matt Wedge’s interview with Cohen and the film’s director, Steve Mitchell here!

#6 BAT PUSSY-Always a pleasure to enjoy that sleazy Something Weird aesthetic. Nasty & funny regional XXX parody.

#7 MANIAC COP 2-A serious dose of nostalgia for my late night cable obsessed adolescence. Terrific fun on the big screen.

#8 APPLECART-Weird, clever enough tale of witchery; best when over the top. Barbara Crampton hams it up to amusing effect. Watch my interview with the cast and crew here!

#9 BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99– Walter Hill simplicity & gangbusters ultra violence are terrific; takes so damn long to get somewhere meaningful.

#10 BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL-A wry sense of humor & colorful costumes help propel this beautiful & ultraviolet samurai tale.

#11 TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE-A delightfully sleazy & silly lost Ed Wood film. Lots of scantily clad, beautiful women. Swingin’! Check out my piece on the Something Weird aesthetic!

#12 GERALD’S GAME-A gallows sense of humor helps this gruesome, compelling, & clever adaptation from getting too bleak. Matt Wedge reviews the film here.

#13 GILBERT-A funny look at the life & career of Gilbert Gottfried, who informed my love of genre film with USA Up All Night.

#14 ANYAB-The “Egyptian ROCKY HORROR” blends Batman ’66, Bowie & a foxy cast with terrific tunes into wonderful weirdness. Read my full review here!

#15 TOP KNOT DETECTIVE-Superbly executed and very funny mockumentary riff on weirdo Japanese TV & true crime documentary. Read my full review here.

#16 MY FRIEND DAHMER-Compelling performances & period detail sell this challenging, sad & even funny character study. Read Nathan Smith’s take here!

#17 3FT BALL & SOULS-A very clever and whimsical mediation on suicide, empathy, & anxiety. Funny & engaging.

#18 REVENGE-Stylish & bloody rape revenge thriller, but ultimately empty.

#19 V.I.P.-Stylishly shot, compelling tough-guy procedural thriller with a cool score & healthy nihilism.

#20 DARKLAND-Strong character beats lend gravitas to this good looking revenge drama.

#21 FIVE FINGERS FOR MARSELLIES-Ultra-cool costuming, art design, & photography elevate this South African neo-Western.

#22 78/52-Great interview subjects elevate this doc about a famous film sequence Cool, laser focused film history class. Read my review here!

#23 DOWNSIZING-A charming cast sells this sweet & silly, high concept meditation on finding ones purpose in life.



Until next year…


Mike Vanderbilt
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