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    #76

    Celebration of Fantastic Fest 2020 Day VII:

    The Queen of Black Magic: So if you've been reading all these reviews I've been posting you're probably thinking to yourself, "Isn't this a genre festival? Where's the full-out, dialed to 11 horror?" And I would agree with you. We've had some French surreal drama, off-camera werewolf action, bloody psychological horror, some thrillers, but no completely insane horror. Well, wait no more.

    If you like the original THE EVIL DEAD, HELLRAISER, and squirmy gross body horror, then THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC is for you.

    The set-up is simple: three friends that grew up in an orphanage return with their families to say goodbye to the man who ran the orphanage before he passes away. Once there, long forgotten secrets are uncovered and lots of blood is spilled in the name vengeance. And honestly, there isn't much more to it than that plot-wise, but what the film might lack in character development, it surely makes up in tense creepy chills that erupt in brutal and sometimes downright icky bloodshed that will leave you squirming in your seat. While I'm not a big gore-hound, I did appreciate the creative set-pieces and the sheer willingness of the film to put all characters in jeopardy including kids. Unfortunately, a good chunk of the effects were CGI versus practical and they weren't good enough to bridge that "uncanny valley", taking me out of the film a bit.

    While the ending didn't quite hit the mark choosing to go from full-brutal to a little chickening out, it was a fun rollercoaster ride and recommended to those who like their horror on the icky side.

    Grade: B

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      #77
      Celebration of Fantastic Fest 2020 Day VIII:

      The last day of Celebration of Fantastic Fest brought a mixed bag. Up first was another block of shorts, this time horror-themed.

      Short Fuse: Like all anthology formats, these short blocks are a mixed bag and this one wasn't any different, though to be fair there were a lot more hits than misses.
      • "Abracitos" is a creepy story of two sisters haunted by something in their room. An eerie ghost story with a creepy stinger, this was one of the highlights.
      • "Blitzkrieg", a story of a young boy who believes that a whole in his wall is exposing him and his family to a deadly virus, didn't quite work for me.
      • "Fish Whiskers" had some of the most believable portrayals of pre-teen girls that I've seen in a long time and the slow creeping dread of the story as it unravels is captivating. Unfortunately, the story ends just when it's getting started leaving the impression of clip excised from a movie rather than a story in and of itself.
      • "Heat" was short and sweet and goopy about a sinister ice cream shop. Not my favorite but didn't out-stay its welcome.
      • "Milk Teeth" is a Del Toro-esque fairy tale of a young boy in the orphanage that finds wealth if he delivers his teeth to the creature that speaks to him through the drain in the bathroom sink. Creepy and fun with one of the best creature designs.
      • "Mime" is about, well, a mime. But this mime has reality-altering powers and a serious crush. Interesting but doesn't quite stick the tonal shifts it attempts.
      • "Stuck" is nothing but pure unadulterated wish-fulfillment that's a whole bunch of fun as a pervy man gets exactly what he deserves when he sneaks into a gymnastic studio. One of my favorites.
      • "Mourn" has multiple twists and turns as it reveals the story of a therapist trying to help a walk-in client. Doesn't quite hit the mark completely for me, but quite enjoyable.
      • "Otttie" was a rare miss. The story about a psychiatrist who has just been informed his most dangerous patient has escaped shows it's hand a little to early, ending with a punchline the viewer sees coming.
      • "The Three Men You Meet At Night" feels a little too on-the-nose in our political climate, but is executed with such assuredness that while I'm burnt out on political statements this year, I actually really liked this one.
      • The film block ends with "Great Choice" which I've heard fantastic things about as its been touring the festival circuit for a while. Carrie Coon, from The Leftovers and Fargo, plays a woman trapped in a Red Lobster commercial to increasingly comedic and horrific effect, and ends with one of the most emotional and satisfying endings I've seen in a short film in a while. So, so good.
      Grade: B+

      Bloodthirsty: The festival started with a werewolf film and is ending with a werewolf film. And unfortunately, this one was a complete miss. There is an interesting setup with a pop star whose feeling the pressure of writing her second album chooses to work with a reclusive music producer who might have killed his previous protégé and as her relationship with the producer develops her identity begins to slip and change as she begins to understand who and what she really is. Unfortunately, that setup gives way to the least interesting developments possible. The movie plays it's hand way too early tipping the viewer off in advance as to the dynamics (and the big reveal) while the script saddles the actors with awkward exposition dumps, especially during the climax with a reveal that is rather groan-inducing. I'd be curious as to what the director does next, but this one was a miss.

      Grade: D

      And with that another year of Fantastic Fest films have been wrapped up. Here's to hopping the world returns to normal in 2021 as I'd love to return to Austin next year.

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