It rained in Austin yesterday afternoon, a rare enough occurrence, according to my Uber driver, to completely mess up the already-terrible Austin traffic. (Everywhere you go, everyone says that their beer is the best, and their traffic the worst.) I said that I must have brought it with me from Chicago, and the driver laughed; but it actually heralded the arrival of Guillermo del Toro, who must have been sitting in the same terrible traffic waiting to introduce a surprise screening of Crimson Peak. A grey and rainy afternoon isn’t quite a dark and stormy night, but it’s close enough for Texas.
First was a stopover at the Mondo gallery for the opening reception of Nicolas Winding Refn: The Act Of Seeing, an exhibit of exploitation posters from Refn’s extensive collection. The gallery show, consisting of bold, lurid poster advertising bait-and-switch cheapies with titles like Ruined and Torture Me, Kiss Me, is in support of an art book by the same name, which is gorgeous, expensive, and very heavy. Being the lovable prick he is, Refn says that he hasn’t even seen a lot of these movies, but he wanted to make the most expensive poster-art book ever because he could. Everyone laughs, clutching their $100 books, pretending they’re in on the joke and not its punchline. I buy a souvenir poster, because I collect exploitation move posters myself, although my collection leans more ’60s biker movie than sexploitation. I tell Refn this. He seems mildly interested. There’s an awkward moment as someone goes to fetch a fresh Sharpie, and he signs my poster. I leave, feeling as satisfied as one could in this scenario.
Friday night was the first of Fantastic Fest’s famed secret screenings, which fall into two categories: Marquee studio genre films, and under-the-radar festival titles. Alamo CEO Tim League stands in front of the packed theater and tells everyone that this will be one of the latter, and to please welcome a young emerging Latin American filmmaker. Del Toro walks out, and everyone loses their shit. Del Toro says that, contrary to what we might have heard, Crimson Peak is a Gothic romance, and not a horror movie. He adds that when he showed the movie to Alfonso Cuarón, Cuarón told him that he was really channeling his “inner 14-year-old bookish girl.” League makes a point of emphasizing that full reviews are embargoed and we absolutely cannot under any circumstances reveal any plot details of the film, so I can’t say much else except that both those statements are accurate, and that while del Toro said the film cost $50 million in the Q&A, it looks like it cost more.
The lush Gothic stylings of Crimson Peak serve as a nice companion to one of the repertory titles at Fantastic Fest, 1973’s Belladonna Of Sadness (B), which has never been released in the U.S. (The restoration playing the festival includes eight additional minutes of footage). Produced by Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka and directed by his longtime collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto, Belladonna Of Sadness is a surrealist, explicitly erotic fairy tale with a visual style that recalls Ralph Bakshi and Gustav Klimt. The unconventional (and rather slow) animation style consists mostly of the camera panning over luminous still watercolor paintings accompanied by a psych-rock orchestra, which is another way of saying it’s one of the most ’70s things I’ve ever seen. The story is also very ’70s in that there’s a lot of sexual assault—the sensitive may find the brutality overwhelms the beauty at times—although our long-suffering heroine’s transformation into a untamable sex witch is intriguing.
Contrast this with one of last night’s late-night picks, In Search Of The Ultra Sex (C-), a collage of scenes from ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s pornos (and, uh, Samurai Cop) combined to produce a very, very loose narrative about a team of galactic crusaders sent to find something called “the ultra sex” and cure the plague of horniness that has gripped mankind. The overarching narrative is accomplished through proudly stupid Mad Movies-esque dubbing by two French guys; comedy is sometimes hard to translate, but considering the sophistication level of this film, I don’t think that’s the case. Some of the clips are outrageous enough to elicit chuckles on their own—one features a deeply tanned man with a phallic Pinocchio face getting what can only be called a nose job—but layering two guys calling each other “R2Dick2” and “Captain Cock” in silly voices over that doesn’t add anything. In Search Of The Ultra Sex seems to be for 13-year-old boys who don’t mind subtitles with their potty humor—which is to say, it’s for practically no one.