fantastic fest 2014 movie reviewsEvery year in Austin, Texas, the Alamo Drafthouse holds Fantastic Fest, a celebration of all things wild, weird, and wonderful in worldwide genre cinema. Most of these movies feature one or more of the following: animal cruelty, full-frontal nudity, fountains of blood and some kind of weird Japanese business. (If it's missing one or more of these elements, then it was probably admitted by mistake.)

Most film festivals are divided into the screenings and the parties; what Fantastic Fest does (brilliantly) is combine these two elements into a non-stop, week-long smorgasbord of good times. (This festival also included Mondo Con, a convention dedicated to pop culture artwork.) This was our first year at the festival and as such we tried to drink it all in.

Below are all the movies we saw at the festival -- from best to worst. One of the greatest things about Fantastic Fest is that even if the movie is lousy, the crowd is absolutely exceptional. And we kind of can't wait to go back next year.

1. 'It Follows'
David Robert Mitchell's "It Follows" had a big debut at Cannes (where it was picked up by the Weinstein genre shingle Radius), but I feel incredibly #blessed to have seen it at Fantastic Fest, where the rowdy crowd went truly bananas. It's a tale of supernatural malevolence, set in a sleepy, nondescript American suburb, and with its cast of cute kids and synth-pop score, feels like what would have happened if the characters from John Hughes's "The Breakfast Club" were forced to deal with some otherworldly terror. Maika Monroe, who is coming off a terrific lead turn in "The Guest," stars as a young girl who has sex with a seemingly nice guy (Jake Weary), who passes on a kind of ghostly curse, with a ghastly figure (one that only she can see) stalking her at every turn. It's atmospheric and unforgettable and scary-as-hell, the kind of horror movies they rarely make anymore. Hopefully, whenever it comes out, it will become a big, big hit. And even if it's not, it's going to be played at slumber parties until the end of recorded history, right after some kid says, "You want to see a really scary movie?"

2. 'Haemoo'
This was one of those movies that played at Toronto but didn't make any real waves (pun very much intended), a based-on-a-true-story tale about a South Korean fishing ship that gets into the nasty business of human smuggling. At first, the movie seems like it's going to be like a South Korean take on "Captain Phillips," but as it progresses, things get decidedly more weird... and way deadlier. The movie was co-written and produced by living legend Bong Joon-ho (whose sleeper hit "Snowpiercer" was set in the similarly confined space of a runaway train), and you can feel his touch all over this one, from the weird tonal shifts to the movie's subtle political commentary, this is certainly a breathless, one-of-a-kind experience that I cannot recommend enough.

3. 'Nightcrawler'
Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the more underrated talents working today, as anyone who has watched the performer in "Zodiac" or "Enemy" or "Prisoners" can easily attest. With "Nightcrawler," Gyllenhaal's greatness is something that people won't be able to overlook anymore. Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a bottom-feeding low life who decides to become a freelance crime journalist, taking grisly footage of murder victims, car crashes, and home invasions. There's something very off about him, though, which manifests itself in his uneasy relationships with a coworker (played by the great Riz Ahmed) and his boss at a local television station (a terrific Rene Russo, who just so happens to be the wife of writer/director Dan Gilroy). The movie is deeply perverse (when it opens on Halloween, expect it to have an atrocious CinemaScore) but also satisfying; it's a character study that doesn't skimp on the thrills, and a look at a subculture that truly exists in the shadows.

4. 'John Wick'
One of the bigger surprises of the festival was the festival's biggest premiere -- the Keanu Reeves-led hit man thriller "John Wick." While the movie looks pretty boilerplate from the outside (a man who was deeply entrenched in the criminal underbelly of New York is begrudgingly dragged back into it when... get this... thugs kill his beloved puppy) is actually a rich and rococo experience, complete with its own intricate mythological world. We'll have our full review up soon, but just know that "John Wick" kicks ass.

5. 'Dead Snow 2'
This sequel to the 2009 undead Nazi chiller "Dead Snow" is bigger, better and bloodier. Whereas the first film erred on the side of straight horror (it's somewhere between "Friday the 13th" and "The Descent," with way more snow), this fully embraces the more ludicrous side of things, turning out a horror comedy that is an absolute blast from start to finish. This time around the zombie Nazis are joined by zombie Russians, there's a guy with a magical zombie arm, and Martin Starr, from "Silicon Valley," shows up as a nerdy American zombie hunter. This movie might not be for everyone, but for those who are tuned into its wacky brand of extreme violence and slapstick comedy should have the time of their lives.

6. 'The Babadook'
This gem of an Australian horror movie takes a bedtime story and spins it into the stuff of unimaginable terror. And like any good horror movie, it's rooted in an emotional realism, in this case the state of mind of a single mother whose husband died rushing her to the hospital. Her young son is now four or five and acting out in increasingly strange ways and a character from a fairy tale seems to be invading their lives in a very real way. The less you know about this movie, the better, but it's one of the few low-budget horror tales that harkens back to the humor and inventiveness of early Sam Raimi. It's cheap but it gets the job done.

7. 'Everly'
Salma Hayek does her very best Bruce Willis impression in "Everly," a movie that attempts to replicate the spirit and energy of the very first "Die Hard" and succeeds (for the most part). Hayek plays a prostitute who has been working undercover with the cops to expose the Japanese gangsters she works for. On a single night she's discovered by the Japanese mob, her detective is killed, and wave after wave of ruthless assassin is sent after her. Now she's forced to try to get her young daughter and elderly mother out of the city alive, while attempting to stay breathing herself. Director Joe Lynch directs the action really well; it's basically a symphony of exploding heads and bullet hits.

8. 'Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau'
If you've ever come across "The Island of Dr. Moreau," starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, on some cable channel on a sleepy Saturday afternoon, you know how brutally, painfully awful it is. In fact, it's a very easy movie to forget. But the making of the movie was anything but forgettable; this documentary charts the efforts of eccentric British filmmaker Richard Stanley who mounted an ambitious adaptation of the H.G. Wells story for New Line, only to have the movie summarily taken away from him and turned into... whatever the hell it ended up being. The documentary is fascinating and bizarre, and a total must-see for any fans of genre movies or documentaries about the making of very troubled productions.

9. 'Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films'
Mark Hartley, a zippy filmmaker whose ode to Australian genre films "Not Quite Hollywood" is one of the more fun documentaries in recent memory, centers his new film around Cannon Films, a wild, out-of-control studio run by a pair of Israeli madmen named Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus and popularized by a string of high concept, low-budget action movies ("Invasion USA," "Death Wish 3"). If you have a soft spot in your heart for the kind of movies Cannon used to churn out (or miss seeing their iconic logo), then this is the movie for you. Few documentaries feature this much sex, violence, and hucksterism. But they should.

10. 'Tusk'
Kevin Smith's controversial horror movie opened Fantastic Fest to a mostly rapturous response; it opened theatrically a few days later and pretty much bottomed out. No matter... "Tusk" will have its day, most likely as a midnight movie favorite. It's the tale of a podcaster (Justin Long) who is held prisoner by an insane sea captain (Michael Parks) and slowly transformed into a walrus. Yes, you read that right. And while "Tusk" is certainly not everyone's cup of tea, you have to give the director at least begrudging respect for going outside of his comfort zone, and casting Johnny Depp in a truly unrecognizable role as a French Canadian private eye. And yes, the Fleetwood Mac song is played before the credits roll.

11. 'Horns'
Based on a novel by Joe Hill (whose father is none other than Stephen King), Daniel Radcliffe stars as Ig, a young man who is being investigated in connection to his girlfriend's brutal murder and who, on this day, wakes up with devilish horns sprouting out of his head. These horns make other people tell them their deepest fears and allow him to figure out who his girlfriend's actual killer is, if Satan doesn't swallow him first. Look for our full review soon, but just know that French director Alexandre Aja doesn't skimp on the scary stuff... or the bittersweet emotionality of the piece.

12. 'The Town That Dreaded Sundown'
An ambitious, if not entirely successful, remake of the 1976 cult favorite about a series of real-life murders that occurred on the Texarkana border, this "Town" revels in meta-textual mayhem, combining elements from that film, the true crime history of the town, and it's own woolly, WTF-worthy plotting. It was overseen by "American Horror Story" mastermind Ryan Murphy (and directed that series' No. 1 talent, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon) and, as cool as it is, it feels somewhat compromised, with a number of plot threads reeking of studio interference. This could have been an all-time classic, now it's a fascinating oddity that you have to admire even if you can't love it.

13. 'Tokyo Tribe'
Imagine "West Side Story" meets "The Warriors," but set in Tokyo, and instead of singing they're all rapping, and the entire thing is captured in a series of swirling long takes. That's basically what "Tokyo Tribe" is, a mostly fun but occasionally exhausting genre-busting epic. The movie kind of wears out its welcome but if you don't have a dopey grin on your face the entire time, then you are probably a robot.

14. 'Automata'
And speaking of robots, here's "Automata," a futuristic thriller starring Antonio Banderas. If "Automata" had a better handle on its pacing issues, then it would probably be close to a classic. Now it oscillates unevenly between a wondrous sci-fi tale and absolute boredom. It should be noted, however, that the robots (clearly inspired by the "I, Robot" design, or maybe that Bjork video) are almost completely practical, with only minor computer animated embellishments. The movie thinks it's a lot more existential and intelligent than it actually is, but that's OK -- we'd probably watch Antonio Banderas read the phone book, especially if he's surrounded by sentient robots.

15. 'My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn'
This is an hour-long, behind-the-scenes documentary about director Nicolas Winding Refn, directed by his wife Liv Corfixen (it was made during the production of Refn's troubled "Drive" follow-up, "Only God Forgives"). While this movie is intimate, it isn't actually all that illuminating, and at an hour it feels both too long and way too short. Still, there are some cute moments when Ryan Gosling plays with Refn's kids, so there's that.

16. 'Free Fall'
Hungarian director Gyorgy Palfi strings together seven stories that mix the mundane with the uncanny (a bull sits undisturbed in a family's living room, a woman walks around a dinner party completely naked) in a movie that never gets beyond the level of "just OK." It's a shame, too, because it's sumptuously photographed and occasionally quite funny, with a nifty electro soundtrack. But yeah, the whole thing never really adds up.

17. 'ABCs of Death 2'
The second installment of the horror anthology has more memorable bits than the first film, taking on a more international flavor, but it's still more draining than entertaining.

18. 'Over Your Dead Body'
Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike's recent string of successes ("13 Assassins," "Hari-Kari") comes to an end with this overlong, pretentious slog. Fact and fiction intertwine when an actor in a Japanese play starts to have an affair with one of his costars (as his grip on sanity also starts to slip). What is real? What is fantasy? Who cares?