Staff, friends and fans of the festival weigh in with their favourite Fantasia memories! In this issue: Larry Fessenden (Director, Habit, Wendigo), Vincenzo Natali (Director, Splice, Cube), Mark Walkow (New York Asian Film Festival), Martin Savageau (Fantasia co-founder ) and Kier-La Janisse (The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies, Blue Sunshine Psychotronic Film Centre).


Director, Habit, Wendigo, The Last Winter

Getting up to Fantasia to show a film is always an outstanding experience, even though I always get interrogated at the border. Spearheaded by Mitch Davis’s infectious enthusiasm, the festival is like a long night at an open bar. They make every filmmaker feel like an essential component of the fabulous pageant of crazy-ass films. The year I first went to show Habit, I saw Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master on the big screen with a theater full of rabid fans, I saw Gerald Kargl’s Angst projected, and that rare gem has haunted me ever since, and I first met my friend and collaborator Douglas Buck. All seminal experiences from my first visit. Long Live Fantasia!


Director, Splice, Cube

I believe the year was 1999, or perhaps 2000, in either case my first Fantasia experience had a millennial feeling to it, a transitional moment leading to something new and indeed something very strange. I was invited to screen my short film, ELEVATED. Accompanying me was the star of the film and my lifelong friend and collaborator, David Hewlett. We knew immediately that we were not in the hands of a typical film festival when we were informed us that while in Montreal we would be staying at “The Bed and Banana”.  The first question that leaped to mind as we approached a dubious-looking neighborhood was, “Which one of us gets the bed, and which one gets the banana?”. All fears were assuaged as we arrived at a quirky B & B run by high-functioning punks.  David and I slept very comfortably in bunk beds. To my knowledge the eponymous Banana never made an appearance.  As for the festival, I really had never seen anything like it. It was treasure trove of weird delights, brilliantly programmed and presented to a wildly enthusiastic audience. I don’t remember many of the specifics other than an outstanding wushu kung fu flick and a brain-scarring Japanese film called KICHIKU, which in spite of its innocent sounding title was and remains one of the most horrific and nihilistic works of cinema I have ever experienced (KICHIKU translates roughly as “Evil”). David and I were generously hosted by Mitch Davis and Karim Hussein and our little film was given an impressive showing at the beautiful Imperial Theater. Somewhere in the mix was a man in full rubber Ultraman attire.   In subsequent years I would experience the delights and oddities of the festival, but nothing really could compare to that first phantasmagoric taste. It beckoned me closer to the East and made me realize that here in Canada we could be as strange an outrageous as any other nation.  In short, it gave me hope. And continues to do so. On to the next 15.


New York Asian Film Festival

I’ve been coming to Fantasia since 1999, first as a regular audience member, then as a fellow film festival programmer and finally as a collaborator. I’ve stood on its stage nearly naked, seen it move between three or more different locations, gotten drunk with its guests and organizers, and watched it grow from a niche event run by a mad group of fanatics into an internationally-recognized genre film showcase and international film festival in its own right. Although I’d been to Montreal several times before that first trip in the summer of ’99 (some family friends live in Outremont), for me and for many people I know, Montreal is now synonymous with Fantasia.

Because of this, picking an iconic moment from the past 12 years isn’t such an easy task. Not only are there many to choose from, I’m also not sure I remember some of the best moments so clearly, for reasons which should be obvious if you’ve ever attended the festival before and engaged in its frequent late-night recreation. But I finally settled on one from my first trip there, one which reflects my own interest in and dedication to Japanese cinema, and one which still infiltrates my subconscious from time to time.

I’d missed out on the first three years of Fantasia for a variety of reasons. I’d never heard of it in 1996, but it was quickly brought to my attention by some like-minded folks who’d attended. In 1997 and 1998 I’d planned to go but work duties intervened the first summer, a cross-country move the second. So by July 1999, I was more than ready, and especially excited because the festival was screening two highly-anticipated titles for me: Hideo Nakata’s Ring and Ring 2, which I’d heard very little about other than that they would fuck me up. Bring it on, I thought.

So I found myself one weekend night ready to watch the first film with my then-girlfriend (now wife) Jennifer, a gaggle of friends from NY and elsewhere, and our regular Fantasia traveling companion at the time, a small chihuahua named Scooter (sadly now deceased, he was a regular Fantasia attendee for many years). We were in our usual spot, front row center of the balcony of the Imperial Theatre on Bleury, the long-lamented original location of Fantasia. Full house, everybody’s expectations as high as the ceiling. To say we weren’t disappointed is an understatement. As anybody can tell you who experienced the movie before its hype peaked – and before the Hollywood remake – it was a terrifying, mesmerizing experience. Those curious, degraded images on the poisonous videotape instilled a primal horror into those of us who saw it at that time, and the climactic sequences of Sadako emerging from the television had the Imperial full house audience literally climbing the walls and screaming at the top of their lungs. It is an experience I will never forget.

But the real horrors came later that night, after Jennifer and I had returned to Outrement to stay at our family friends’ creaky old, mansion-like house, empty but for the two of us in an upstairs corner bedroom…looking out into a narrow hallway…which overlooked an open staircase with balcony. Unfortunately for me, I found myself in the unenviable situation of having to walk down that hallway to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Like many others attracted to horror and fantastic cinema, I was often scared as a kid and found comfort in making the images that terrified me part of my life and embracing them as “my friends,” so to speak. I thought I’d outgrown some of these night terrors, but soon realized that Sadako had brought them to the surface again, and I was literally shaking as I left the room and walked down the shadowy hallway – dimly lit from above by a skylight letting in the Montreal moonlight – toward the dark, dark bathroom. I reached the bathroom, turned on the light (no waterlogged Japanese ghosts here…), did my business, turned off the light and prepared to head back to the bedroom, then realized to my horror that I’d have to walk the 25 feet back to the bedroom not only in near-darkness, but with the pitch-black, open bathroom door directly behind me where I couldn’t see what lurked within. At first I made my way back slowly and with confidence, telling myself that I was being silly, but nevertheless, my steps soon quickened, my breath came faster and I finally dashed through the bedroom door and into bed where two warm bodies (a woman and a chihuahua) provided security and comfort, my heart racing with terror.

Thank you, Fantasia, for messing me up that night and for countless nights to come. Thanks to you, I still have those lovely bad dreams.


Fantasia Co-Founder

Being one of those behind the scenes, I must admit that Fantasia’s first edition remains my favorite. Why? Many reasons, one of them being the “first time” syndrome. Like our first kiss or our first slow-dance; it’s the kind of moment we don’t forget.

In fact, one specific memory is engraved in my mind when I think of that first edition. It’s Friday July 12th, 1996; opening night. Three inaugurating films are slated to open. The spectacular My Father is a Hero gets the ball rolling, followed by Hong Kong-native John Woo’s Bullet in the Head before topping the evening off with the jubilant Story of Ricky.

It’s just past 11pm and people are filing out of the Woo screening. I’m in the lobby of the Imperial cinema, testing the waters and paying attention to various reactions from the departing crowd. A young man quickly moves towards a pay phone and, as soon as the other side picks up, in an excited hurry exclaims that he’s just seen “the best movie he’s ever seen in his life”.

It may sound cliché, or even cheesy, but as far as I’m concerned, for a reaction like that alone, the birth of what is now considered to be “the biggest genre film festival in North America” will have been worth it.


Blue Sunshine Psychotronic Film Centre, The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies

My first visit to Fantasia came in 1999. I’d been poring over the programme in envy the previous year, and with my own festival (CineMuerte) wrapping up a few weeks before Fantasia kicked off, I was free to enjoy being a spectator again. My favourite memory is hanging out for a week with German underground director Jörg Buttgereit, a longtime hero of mine.

While looking for a seat at the Imperial for a screening of Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera 3, I ran into none other than Jörg Buttgereit, whose films (Nekromantik 1 + 2, Der Todesking, Schramm) I had been championing in B.C. in an attempt to get them off the banned list. I think he was relieved to find out that I didn’t have three heads or a bladder problem (“a girl writing a horror magazine is very suspicious”, he told me, after admitting that when I first sent him my magazine (originally called Cannibal Culture, then CineMuerte Magazine) he thought the “written by a woman” thing was a marketing ploy.) We sat together for the film, and afterwards we met up with Mitch Davis and Karim Hussain, the two tirelessly enthusiastic film buffs who were then the festival’s international programmers (Mitch has gone on to be co-director of the festival and Karim is now a renowned DP and film director), and went to a pub to drink. I sat next to Shusuke Kaneko (the aforementioned Gamera director), whose English was not great at the time, and in an attempt to talk to him about something Japanese, I made the mistake of mentioning the Guinea Pig movies. He understood ‘Guinea Pig’ but not anything else I said, and consequently, for the rest of the night he was afraid to make eye contact with me. But that’s okay because it forced me to talk to the other people around me, who turned out to be none other than Adele Hartley of Scotland’s Dead by Dawn Festival, Anthony Timpson of New Zealand’s Incredibly Strange Film Festival and David Whitten of Greycat Films, all of whom became great friends.

The next day I discovered Jörg’s obsession with donuts. It seems that in Germany, donuts don’t have holes in them, so Jörg wanted to get his fill of these baked novelties while he was here. We took a field trip to the amusement park La Ronde (“Amusement Park? This sounds like a porno shop!” commented Jörg) where I went on my first rollercoaster ride ever and then we went on the Ferris Wheel to pretend we were in Nekromantik 2. Then we went back to the city, not knowing that we had forgotten our friend Kelly at La Ronde. He was really mad.

I spent the next day photocopying, folding and cutting so that I could flog customers at Fantasia’s screening of Nekromantik with my ‘Save Nekromantik from the censors’ flyers. The flyer outlined the basics of my legal appeal against the B.C. Film Classification Board, and I went up on stage before the film to encourage people to write letters. Someone yelled out “We love you Lisa Simpson!”, and I didn’t get the reference, having never watched the Simpsons. Luckily Jörg is a Simpsons expert, and he explained to me that the person was making fun of me for crusading.

Before Nekromantik, Jörg’s short film Mein Papi was screened, for which I was charged with the great honour of reading out a live translation. It was supposed to be a funny film about his father dying of a brain tumour, but nobody laughed. Well, I did, but that was just at the theme song.

After being inseparable for a week, Jörg finally had to go home, but I felt privileged to have met him and remain extremely grateful to Fantasia for making it happen.


Do you have a favorite Fantasia memory? A film or an event that has stayed with you over time? Relate it in the comments!


About the author:

Kier-La Janisse

Kier-La Janisse is a film writer and programmer, founder of Spectacular Optical Publications and The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies. She has been a programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, co-founded Montreal microcinema Blue Sunshine, founded the CineMuerte Horror Film Festival (1999-2005) in Vancouver, was the Festival Director of Monster Fest in Melbourne, Australia and was the subject of the documentary Celluloid Horror (2005). She is the author of A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (FAB Press, 2007) and House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (FAB Press, 2012) and contributed to Destroy All Movies!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film (Fantagraphics, 2011), Recovering 1940s Horror: Traces of a Lost Decade (Lexington, 2014) The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul (University of Toronto Press, 2015) and We Are the Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale (PS Press, 2017). She co-edited (with Paul Corupe) and published the anthology books KID POWER! (2014), Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s (2015), Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin (2017) and Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television (2017). She edited the book Warped & Faded: Weird Wednesday and the Birth of the American Genre Film Archive (forthcoming), and is currently co-authoring (with Amy Searles) the book ‘Unhealthy and Aberrant’: Depictions of Horror Fandom in Film and Television and co-curating (with Clint Enns) an anthology book on the films of Robert Downey, Sr., as well as writing a monograph about Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter. She was a producer on Mike Malloy’s Eurocrime: the Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ’70s and Sean Hogan’s We Always Find Ourselves in the Sea and her first film as director/producer, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror is due out from Severin Films in 2020.


  1. Jim VanBebber Reply

    The 1997 Fant-Aia Festival was a watershed moment for the evolution of “The Manson Family”. Karim Hussein and Mitch Davis were very kind and the sold-out crowd was incredibly receptive to my vision for the film. A one of a kind genre film festival.

    9 yearss ago


Comment guidelines, edit this message in your Wordpress admin panel