The Best, Scariest, And Wildest Movies Of The 2018 Fantasia Film Festival

With 2018's Fantasia Film Festival officially in the books – Montreal's cologne of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy still wafting into my dreams – let us reflect on some highlights before time brings yet another genre celebration worth covering. Gangster crime-thrillers from South Korea, despicable exploitation slashers from America, magnificent pitch-black fairy tales from Mexico – Fantasia always does well to spice their program with varied flavors. What a trip, what a festival. So many sleepers you should keep highlighted for later.

As a means of acknowledging my favorite golden nuggets from Fantasia 2018, let's have some fun with superlatives. I know the festival elects its own judging committee and categories, but why do they get to have all the fun? I've assembled my own little "Best Of" list in the form of unique awards outside the normal realms of "Best Picture," "Best Acting," and so on. Where's the excitement? Where's "Best Kill Sequence" or "Best Usage Of A Severed Head?!" Who am I to deny the people what they want?

Best Undistributed Film - Tigers Are Not Afraid

I was attending Fantastic Fest in 2017 when Issa López's Tigers Are Not Afraid premiered. Critics and audiences throughout Austin raved non-stop, and since then it's been programmed 13 more times to massive acclaim (López's shelf filled with Best Director accolades). Screamfest. BiFan. FrightFest. Morbido. Yet, somehow, we live in a world where this daring Guillermo-Del-Toro-esque shapeshifter still doesn't have a distribution deal. Once you eventually behold Tigers Are Not Afraid, you'll understand why frustration is blowing smoke out my ears.

Prepare to be harmoniously gutted by López's dark Mexican fairy tale with human, devastating implications. She tells a story from the heart about children being failed every day by cartel violence, handled with the utmost wonder and compassion. As moving as it is mortifying, furious as it is fearful. My favorite of Fantasia hands-down (full review proves it) and not another millisecond should go by without positive release news. You'll all be as shocked as I am...hopefully soon.

Best Villains - Pledge Bros

In Daniel Robbins' Pledge, toxic masculinity is weaponized by a Grecian-devoted radical fraternity. Kidnapped students survive as they can, but we're here to talk about the backwoods social club's "existing members." Max (Aaron Dalla Villa), Ricky (Cameron Cowperthwaite) and Bret (Jesse Pimentel). Boys who breathe hatred. Torturers who see weakness as punishable by death. Aggressors who seeth sadism, chomp at the bit for more demoralization and will do whatever it takes to get ahead. No Van Wilders.

Their version of "Hell Week" drill sergeants chug bottled tension and liquid nightmares as performance enhancers. No boundaries exist whether partying or disciplining, and each actor so monstrously adapts to "kill or be killed" sanctions. They're motivated by old-world barbarism, devoted to teachings when gladiators were fed to lions. Still. In modern times. Robbins' white-collar bros see nothing wrong with approval by combat, making Pledge all the better. Terrifying enough to swear any college freshman off rushing come first semesters.

Best Horror Movie Everyone Is Going To Call “Elevated Horror” - The Witch In The Window

Before Andy Mitton's The Witch In The Window hits Shudder later this year, let me get ahead of the inevitable: THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW IS CHECK-UNDER-YOUR-BED HORROR. Downright mortifying, screw with your senses kind of stuff that, yes, might not be classified as your generic haunted house fare. Mitton plays around with time, space, and perception as to challenge linear stuffiness, but that doesn't make The Witch In The Window anything less than pure, unfiltered horror.

"A terrifying family drama." "A suspenseful wade into paralyzing parental fears." I can see all the different descriptions now, none of which are right without including the word "horror." Bless Mitton for daring to warp horror's malleable form-fitting definition to his will, still clearly playing inside said box. Just don't pull an It. Don't talk like you did for Hereditary. For the love of Black Phillip, please just call it a damn good horror movie.

Best Asskicker - Don Lee

Korean actor Ma Dong-seok (AKA Don Lee) has been sharing the spotlight most his life, but barrels into The Outlaws fists-clenched, ready to pummel his way into action stardom. You may remember the burly-as-a-bear steamroller from such films as Train To Busan and The Good The Bad The Weird, but The Outlaws understands his indomitable presence as few have. Mere imposition isn't enough as threaded suit seams barely withstand his hulking form. Lee goes straight-up gorilla justice on multiple occasions, unstoppable in his quest for bloody knuckles.

We're talking about a man who doesn't even need to punch. Criminals are knocked unconscious with one deafening slap, like a palm-shaped brick lands with freight-train momentum. Lee scuffles, evades knife swipes and lumbers after fleeing thugs, but there's never a question once gaps shrink. If Lee's investigator is within swiping distance, someone is gettin' manhandled. With witty quips and genuine comedic chops as an added bonus!

Most Disgusting, Repulsive, “POUR TOXIC ACID INTO MY EYES BECAUSE THEY ARE FOREVER UNCLEAN” Death - Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich

A large fraction of you will absolutely despise Fangoria's Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. It's less a Full Moon reimagining and more a highlight reel of increasingly repugnant Nazi-puppet kill sequences. Gross, offensive, lock-the-kids-in-their-room type nasties. That said, this award was created for a reason. Congratulations you sick, heathen bastards.

(The following description is particularly disgusting and upsetting, so please feel free to skim past it.)

As Toulon's evil toys rise, they go room-by-room slaughtering hotel guests. In the particular instance that caused me to squeal so, so uncomfortably, a puppet with claw hands spies a pregnant woman lying in bed. Her baby bump visible between covers. The puppet crawls up the foot of her mattress undetected, and, uh, enters the mother. That's when we see the bump begin to rumble Alien-style. Cue a bloody gut explosion as mister puppet bursts out – HOLDING A FETUS. Then, BECAUSE THERE'S MORE, the puppet makes its way out of the bloody, fleshy mess and runs away still holding the fetus. Stealing it, probably to consume or desecrate in some way offscreen because, you know, gotta show a little class.

Next-level upsetting and absolutely, downright scrub-your-brain-with-Brillo abhorrent. Good job, everyone!

Best Anthology Host - Nightmare Cinema

While Nightmare Cinema itself is a mixed horror anthology bag, Mickey Rourke's "Projectionist" wrap-around host delights me to no end. He manages a cinema of the damned, playing attendees, AKA victims, one final film starring themselves before fate catches up. He's some kind of devil or demon, walkin' around in his leather coat introducing showings with the slimiest smile plastered on. His presence adds another level to the lonesome, abandoned theater, and as Mick Garris' final camera pull-away revealed The Projectionist's massive collection of canisters (AKA souls), excitement shot over my body. I would happily watch more Nightmare Cinema sequels as long as The Projectionist was in charge, checking ticket stubs and filling seats the no-good way.

Most Unconventional - Luz

Fantasia audiences can always expect a whole lotta' weird, but Tilman Singer's Luz stands out because demonic possessions are so easy to generalize. Inhabited children, distorted voices, exorcisms – nothing that Singer cares to utilize. Instead we get floating luminescent orbs, hypnotism, mental imprisonment and mimed taxi driving. A psychiatrist who wears dresses or walks around naked. The sound technician/translator watching it all. The manipulated cop with black pools for eyes. What the bloody hell?!

Luz is one of those films you try and search for meaning in but are better suited just enjoying the (imaginary?) ride. Get lost in Singer's world (inside a single room). Reality collides with dreamscape blends with demonic intervention in this 16mm mindmelter. Religion mocked, faces bloodied, fizzy cocktails chugged. All this leading to thematic interpretations I'm not even positive Singer can answer for. But who cares when the most transfixing, deceptively vile ritual is playing out on screen? 

Scariest Moment - The Witch In The Window

Right. Back to The Witch In The Window because remember how I said it's definitely a horror movie? Andy Mitton executes one of the more effective, obvious, and forever unsettling horror movie scares in recent memory. Skip this entry until you've seen the film, in fact. Don't ruin the moment for yourself. Spoiler warning and all that jazz – unless you like knowing when to shield your eyes.

For those of you who did catch The Witch In The Window, how about that phone call scene? Simon (Alex Draper) thinks he's sitting next to his disobedient son Finn (Charlie Tacker). Wife Beverly (Arija Bareikis) on the phone line, Simon thinking he's about to explain how their son ditched his bus ride home. "What do you mean? He's with me." Simon, shaken and aware, continues the conversation as "Finn" sits Indian style next to him looking downward. The kind of moment that renders an audience dead-silent to the point where you can hear heartbeats increasing, orifices puckering. How old is too old for a nightlight?

Most Gloriously Unhinged Director - Sion Sono (Tokyo Vampire Hotel)

When Sion Sono has a film in competition, he'll typically win any accolades that involve the word "unhinged." That said, Tokyo Vampire Hotel is some next-level bloodsucker embattlement. Corvin vampires lure mortals into their fancy "hotel" with intent to feed. Dracula purebloods are trapped underground in Romania, or Japan, or wherever the "hotel" exists. A "chosen one" learns of her Corvin-hunter fate from a Dracula assassin and must crash the promised fleshsack sex party.

Oh, did I mention that Tokyo Vampire Hotel takes place almost entirely inside a Corvin princess' vagina? That's where the hotel is. In her vagina. Yes, Amazon Studios funded a Sion Sono production and here's what they got.

That's only the beginning of Sono's maverick sensationalism. Tokyo Vampire Hotel exists as a 9-episode Japanese Amazon show that was edited down to 142 minutes, causing continuity to be somewhat of a Rubix cube sans a few colored tiles. Sono sticks to car shootouts, vampire gang fights and random romantic angles that never explain themselves, because who needs massive exposition sequences? Then, for the last forty-five or so minutes, Tokyo Vampire Hotel becomes a massive extension of Kill Bill's Crazy 88 massacre except it's humans vs vampires vs other vampires. Blood everywhere, decapitated heads tossed like beach balls, killing upon killing upon even more killing. When in doubt, abandon story in favor of gushing blood geysers. Sion Sono, never change.

Best Swordplay - “K” (Tokyo Vampire Hotel)

In Tokyo Vampire Hotel, Dracula's agent of chaos "K" (Kaho) slices and dices her way through Corvin adversaries like a Sunday in the park. As a warrior, she's competent beyond surgical limb removal. When angry, shadowed in black and white, emotions render her a cruel dealer of death who doesn't even pay passing glances towards enemies during their last gasps of life. Don Lee is a bruiser, don't get me wrong, but "K" is little Miss Sick with a steel blade. Ease, grace, and malevolence douse hallway brawls that'd make Oh Dae-Su (Oldboy) give a second look. Precision, thy name only needs one letter.

Best Action Scene - The Bathroom Scene (The Outlaws)

You're not escaping without more praise being heaped onto The Outlaws. In this case, 2018 now has two "bathroom" action sequences worth raving about. First is obviously Mission Impossible – Fallout, but an unlikely second is a finale brawl between Don Lee and his adversary played by Yoon Kye-Sang. The duo tears an airport restroom apart from urinals to glass plating to floral decorations. Kye-Sang isn't accepting his prison sentence in good faith, so you better expect flinch-a-second inflictions of harm. No leaving on free will. Good thing Lee is down for the hardcore match, all starting with the "Oh shit!" moment of Kye-Sang glimpsing his pursuer cheekily rinsing his hands to kill time. Pound-for-pound a most exquisite action standoff to leave Fantasia 2018 bruised and bashed-in with the best of intentions.