Fant-asiatic Voyage

When nostalgic cult movie fans gather, talk sometimes turns to the golden age of British horror festivals: Shock Around the Clock, Splatterfest, Black Sunday. “Ah, those were the days”. However, anyone feeling overly nostalgic should head to Montreal, where Fant-Asia proves that the genre is not as dead as it might first seem. But you probably know this already, going by the orgy of coverage the 1997 festival got, which continues to this day in places like ‘The Dark Side’. So this piece will not be the last you’ll read about it. But it might be the FIRST, as the festival is still in full swing, having just completed the opening week.

Though I could only spend a few days there, I had a real blast, thanks largely to co-organiser Mitch Davis, whose knowledge of cult films is exceeded only by his enthusiasm for them. This is the man who, along with Karim Hussain, entered genre legend during the 1997 event, by acting out, to rapturous applause, an entire reel of Argento’s “Deep Red”, after it failed to turn up at the cinema. The man is a dude.

As the name suggests, the festival started off concentrating on Hong Kong and other Eastern delights, but the programming has now spread to cover every corner of the globe, and classics both past and future. This gives the lie to the much touted myth that there just isn’t the material out there to support such events any more: the organisers clearly aren’t making these films up as they go along. The main reaction on looking at the program is “Why can’t we have something like this?”

One thing that does help in Fant-Asia’s favour is having a venue like the Imperial cinema. Entering it is like a flashback to the glory days of the Scala: it has the same musty air, uncomfortable seats and sticky carpets, all that’s missing is the cat wandering round. Its location is rather better than London’s King Cross, being fifty yards off St. Catherine’s, which is the main street running through downtown Montreal, within easy reach of pretty much everything you could want.

And the audience is similar too, a mostly young, enthusiastic crowd who are more than willing to show their pleasure (or otherwise) at the product on offer: cheers, laughter and applause are the order of the day, regardless of whether its “appropriate” [at least one director has been freaked as his harrowing scene is greeted with whoops of delight]. But this is also an audience with respect, and the film-makers who turned up to say a word or two before the film were always heard in grateful silence.

The sheer eclecticism of the programming is a joy to behold. Japanese splatter rubs shoulders with sword-and-sandal epics, the only unifying theme seeming to be that one or other of the people involved in the festival cared enough about the film to get it to Montreal. The guest list is equally as impressive: Tsui Hark, Jim Van Bebber, William Lustig, Richard Stanley and Brian Yuzna.

Having to come back after the first few days, and miss out on so much cool stuff, was a deeply aggravating experience, and I’m vowing that next year, I’ll be back for longer. It’s going to be very interesting, in the light of my experiences in Montreal to attend the Fantasm festival at London’s National Film Theatre next weekend. Fant-asia proves that a genre event CAN work, and be a massive success, even in a comparatively small market like Montreal. Will Fantasm be as good? We shall see…

The following film reviews were based on just the first four days of Fantasia:

Check out the Fantasia site!