As part of my ongoing series, Horror at Film Festivals, let’s take a trip down under to Australia for the Melbourne International Film Festival. The world isn’t just about Cannes and Sundance, now is it?

The Melbourne International Film Festival is chock full of horror spanning a wide range of tastes from the gory to the eerie to the downright weird. From August 3rd to August 20th, the film industry will gather in Melbourne to toast the latest crop of inventive and important films, and horror films part of the schedule.

As a festival, the Melbourne International Film Festival aims to show the global audience all manner of “curated and unforgettable screen experiences.” The major Australian film festival, the Melbourne International Film Festival is also one of the oldest film festivals in the world, showcasing films since 1952. It has a decidedly different flavor to its film lineup, focusing on daring, a little risky, slightly off-kilter independent films.

To that end, the Melbourne International Film Festival has showcased works by horror icons Dario Argento, David Cronenberg, and David Lynch, among many. More recently, the Melbourne International Film Festival screened such horror films as Housebound, Train to Busan, and What We Do in the Shadows.

The lineup for 2017 is exciting! Melbourne International Film Festival has one of the most extensive slates of indie horror I’ve seen at a major festival. I can’t wait until I can see these in America!

Headliners

In the words of the Melbourne International Film Festival, “The biggest films in one of the most beautiful theatres – Headliners returns in a celebration of the consummate cinema experience: this is high-anticipation, big-screen, event cinema!”

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Summary: “International purveyor of the bizarre Yorgos Lanthimos brings Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman together in this darkly comic modern rendering of an ancient Greek morality play.

Steven (Farrell) is a highly regarded, charismatic cardiologist from Cincinnati, living in a prosperous suburban paradise with his beautiful wife Anna (Kidman) and two loving children. But his world is upended when his strangely intense friendship with a teenage boy (Barry Keoghan, last seen in Mammal, MIFF 2016) takes a sinister turn, and the doctor is forced to confront an unthinkable sacrifice.

“MIFF favorite Yorgos Lanthimos and regular co-writer Efthymis Filippou (The Lobster, MIFF 2015; Alps, MIFF 2012) return to the festival with a film that draws its inspiration from Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis, while intensifying the director’s idiosyncratic taste for deadpan humor and unsettling provocation.”

International – North America

At the Melbourne International Film Festival, “MIFF’s programmers travel all over the world to bring the freshest global cinema back to Melbourne. These international films – from Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, North America and Latin America – include award winners and festival favorites, beloved directors and brand new auteurs, famous faces and far-away places. Go beyond Hollywood, and take a trip through the contemporary world of cinema with MIFF.”

Most Beautiful Island (2017)

Summary: “Winner of the SXSW Grand Jury Award for Narrative Feature, Ana Asensio’s creepy debut takes viewers on a descent into a sinister New York underground where illegal immigrants are forced to play a dangerous game.

Making her writing and directing debut, Spanish-born, US-based Ana Asensio stars as Luciana, a young, undocumented immigrant scrapping for cash work to eke out a living in New York City. Enticed by a lucrative job opportunity from a model friend, Luciana soon finds herself caught in a seedy web of cruelty designed for the entertainment of rich New Yorkers.

Shot entirely on Super 16mm, Asensio’s film cultivates a claustrophobic vibe, portraying a city riddled with tension that finds uncomfortable resonance in America’s current political climate. The film’s queasy set-piece climax is one for the ages, confirming Asensio’s bona fide horror credentials (genre favorite Larry Fessenden produced and also cameos.)”

Sexy Durga (2017)

Summary: “The main competition winner at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s tense, nocturnal road movie about a young couple on the run will leave audiences alternately thrilled and terrified.

On the run in the dark of night, a young Indian couple – Durga and her lover, Kabeer – are picked up by two men in a minivan who offer to give them a ride to the train station. Things turn sinister when the drivers turn out to be less friendly than they first seemed, and the film plunges its characters into a deadly, claustrophobic nightmare on the road.

Largely improvised, Kumar Sasidharan’s third feature is interwoven with documentary footage of a grisly Hindu festival in honor of the goddess Kali, in which men dance in ecstasy and are speared and hung from wires in divine offering. Taken together, these strands form a provocative exploration of the patriarchal, often violent attitudes towards women in Indian society.” 

Thousand Cuts (2017)

Summary: “French wine country has never looked so gruesome in this high-energy thriller by genre maestro Eric Valette.

Tomer Sisley stars as an injured fugitive taking shelter in a remote farmhouse, run by a young mixed-race family who have had to contend with the inveterate xenophobia of their neighbors. But matters are complicated when it’s revealed that Sisley killed the son of a powerful South American drug baron, who has dispatched a Sino-German hitman (an unforgettably sinister Terence Yin) to avenge the death. With glacial impassivity, Yin subjects his series of victims to the ancient method of torture suggested by the film’s title.

Equal parts Sergio Leone and Johnnie To, Thousand Cuts displays the mastery of suspense and atmosphere that was already evident in Valette’s One Missed Call (2008) and The Prey (2011), and lays bare the savage underbelly lying beneath the postcard idyll of rural France.”

The Untamed (2017)

Summary: “Cannes-winning director Amat Escalante goes from arthouse to alien sex fiend with a slippery sci-fi drama. Winner of the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival and Best Director at Austin’s Fantastic Fest.

In rural Mexico, unhappily married Alejandra and Angel have their dysfunctional lives turned upside down when they meet Verónica, a strange loner who takes them to her remote cabin in the woods. There, they encounter a tentacled creature who descended in a meteor, one who’s capable of causing both immense pleasure and frightening destruction.

With echoes of Lars von Trier, Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession and Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, provocateur Amat Escalante (The Bastards, MIFF 2009) eschews the hardcore realism of his Cannes-winning Heli (2013) for something altogether weirder, imbuing his obsessive sexual drama with gooey supernatural elements sure to sear themselves into audience memory.”

Virtual Reality

The Extraction (2017)

Summary: “Melbourne. 2025. A young girl being returned to her mother by rebel soldiers finds herself in grave danger when the vehicle she’s travelling in is over-run by humanity’s final threat, in this world premiere VR experience from Khoa Do and Piers Mussared.”

Night Shift

This is Melbourne International Film Festival’s one-stop-shop for “Weird, disturbing, outrageous, OTT cinema: Night Shift is where MIFF’s midnight movies live. Immortal swordsmen, mysterious cults, shotgun-toting madmen, blood feuds, murderous office games, serial killers real and imagined and the inside story of one of the most terrifying scenes in cinematic history … grab the popcorn, you’re in for a wild ride.”

78/52 (2017)

Summary: “The shower scene in Psycho is one of the more famous moments in cinema, with its scandalously meticulous editing and unforgettable Brechtian score embedded firmly in popular culture. Director Alfred Hitchcock changed the course of cinema when he killed off his heroine at the end of the first act of his 1960 masterpiece, with the film’s 78 set-ups and 52 edits gaining a notoriety that would eclipse the film that housed them.

From its distinctive music to its accomplished shot construction to its brutal cuts, this documentary takes us deep into the most terrifying two minutes ever captured on film. Director Alexandre O Philippe (The People vs George Lucas) carefully dissects this sequence with the help of notable horror fans including Guillermo Del Toro, Elijah Wood, Jamie Lee Curtis, Eli Roth, Danny Elfman, Leigh Whannell, Bret Easton Ellis, and Janet Leigh’s stunt double in the scene, Marli Renfro.

A documentary that all true cinephiles cannot afford to miss.”

The Belko Experiment (2017)

Summary: “Way outside Bogota’s city limits, a mysterious company known only as Belko Corp announces to its staff that today’s work day is going to be a little different. Today they’ll be playing a game wherein most of them will die. If they want to survive, all they have to do is follow the instructions. The first instruction: pick and kill two of their own.

So begins horror maestro Greg McLean’s fiendishly inventive and swaggeringly gruesome The Belko Experiment. Created together with in-demand Hollywood screenwriter James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 & 2) – consider this the passion project – The Belko Experiment plays out as a Battle Royale for the office block set, a work of relentless set pieces, pitch-black humor and richly imagined violence that firmly establishes McLean (who also directed the MIFF 2017 Opening Night film, Jungle) as Australia’s modern master of take-no-prisoner thrills.”

Blade of the Immortal (2017)

Summary: “Manji (Japanese screen and music superstar Takuya Kimura) is a samurai who has been cursed with immortality. No matter what violence is meted out onto his body – being skewed by swords, limbs being lopped off – the magic of his curse will eventually reknit him back together, making him a fearsome, unstoppable opponent. Recruited by Rin, a young girl seeking revenge against a renegade band of swordsmen who tore apart her family and employ a free-for-all style of fighting, Manji must seek out and defeat an endless stream of villains.

Fans of Miike’s berserk samurai epics – or of Hiroaki Samura’s manga series the film is based on – know what that entails: visually spectacular and unapologetically gory fight sequences that simultaneously make you wince and burst out laughing at their sheer audacity. Manji’s journey to redeem himself through blood is classic Miike, hilarious and invigorating all at once.”

Bloodlands (2017)

Summary: “Australian director Steven Kastrissios returns after his bloody and bruising The Horseman (MIFF 2008) with an evocative horror as unique as anything on the local filmmaking landscape.

Set in modern-day Albania, the story follows a struggling traditional family that falls prey to a mysterious clan, igniting a Balkan blood feud that ventures into the paranormal via archaic rituals and a local witch. Ambitious and genre-bending – Kastrissios’ knack for dark drama mingles with arthouse surrealism – Bloodlands comprises a forceful next step for an emerging auteur.”

The Endless (2017)

Summary: “Ten years ago, brothers Justin and Aaron escaped from a what Justin claimed was a “UFO death cult”, right as the cult was about to commit mass suicide. But Aaron didn’t see it that way, and remembers a wholesome community with good, friendly people. When the two receive an unexpected message from their former “family”, Aaron convinces Justin that they must return to their old home. But when strange and inexplicable events predicted by the cult begin to come true, the brothers must unearth the truth before history repeats.

Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead write, direct and star in a unique film that defies easy genre conventions. The Endless is a film of creeping dread, part horror, part science fiction, skirting the supernatural and keeping the audience guessing until the very end.”

My Friend Dahmer (2017)

Summary: “Jeffrey Dahmer is a teenage outcast, obsessed with the morbidity of death and not very good at making friends. His parents are in the midst of a divorce and have little time for him, and Jeffrey spends his time performing experiments on roadkill, and dissolving bones in acid. When some of his classmates decide to befriend the loner to liven things up, they inadvertently encourage the macabre tendencies that consume him. Jeffrey’s future is ever-present, coloring these events with a terrifying promise.

Based on a graphic novel by Dahmer’s actual classmate John Backderf (who also features in the film as a key character), this true story of the murderer as a young man is unlike any other serial killer biopic, taking us deep into the origins of one of the 20th century’s most gruesome monsters. A breathtaking performance from Disney star Ross Lynch (Austin & Ally) anchors this menacing yet sometimes wryly funny film, which boasts a strong supporting cast that includes Anne Heche (Rampart, MIFF 2012), Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men) and Dallas Roberts (The Good Wife).”

Tragedy Girls (2017)

Summary: “Sadie and McKayla are the Tragedy Girls, two aspiring social media stars who will do absolutely anything to achieve fame. Their plan involves kidnapping a local serial killer, and forcing him to mentor them on how to commit murders that will gain national attention and turn them into legends. With a long list of potential victims ahead of them, Sadie and McKayla must figure out how to fit their killing spree in between cheerleading practice and the yearbook committee.

This darkly funny film follows in the tradition of Heathers and Scream, blending explicit gore with high comedy. From horror director Tyler MacIntyre and featuring a cast that includes Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse), Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool), Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine) and Kevin Durand (Fruitvale Station), Tragedy Girls is a razor-sharp film about what it really means to be internet famous.”

The Void (2017)

Summary: “It all starts when backwater cop Daniel Carter discovers a man stumbling along a remote roadway, covered in blood that isn’t his own. Carter takes him to a tiny local hospital to get checked out, but two shotgun-toting madmen are hot on his heels, determined to finish the job. At which point a group of mysterious knife-wielding cultists encircle the building. And then, well, the monsters arrive. Let’s just say it’s going to be one hell of an evening.

Schlock horror meets actual edge-of-your-seat, holy-shit-no-way-that-can’t-be-happening horror in The Void, a cackling shot across the bows of midnight cinema from writer/directors Steve Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie. A film of sometimes quiet, sometimes loud and oftentimes very bloody terrors, The Void is a pulse-racing homage to the great horror films of the 80s that will have you swearing off the countryside for the rest of your life.”

Sci-Fi Retrospective

With this newly revamped section of the festival program, Melbourne International Film Festival explores “Science fiction’s long cinematic history – a history as long as that of cinema itself – is rich with works of high art as well as low, with films both profound and populist, and with filmmakers and storytellers at the cutting edge of both the reel and the real.”

The 10th Victim (1965)

Summary: “Based on Robert Sheckley’s 1953 short story Seventh Victim, director Elio Petri’s film depicts a 21st century in which war has been eradicated but murder has been legitimated in a state-sanctioned, corporate-sponsored gladiatorial contest called The Big Hunt. Andress and Mastroianni are players, hunter and prey, competing to win big bucks. And their lives. Naturally, they fall in love!

With his tongue planted squarely in cheek, Petri (A Quiet Place in the Country, MIFF 2013) targets everything from the battle of the sexes to the society of the spectacle, providing visual and thematic fodder for myriad later works including The Running ManSeries 7: The ContendersThe Hunger Games and even Austin Powers! Exploding with color, comedy and cool, and propelled by a terrific electro-jazz score by Piero Piccioni (featuring vocals by 60s Italian pop superstar Mina), The 10th Victim offers both high-camp hilarity and spookily prescient, dark social satire.”

Dead End Drive In (1986)

Summary: “In the dark future of 1995, society has collapsed and crime is everywhere. Drive-in cinemas have been turned into high-security prisons, with juvenile delinquents fenced in and provided with all the food, drugs, booze and music they need to remain complacent. When a young man named Crabs and his girlfriend Carmen are mistakenly trapped inside the compound, they must do everything they can to escape the gangs, corrupt police, and evil cinema owner so they can escape the horror of the drive-in and return to the outside world.

This action-horror-science fiction is directed by the legendary Brian Trenchard-Smith (BMX BanditsTurkey Shoot, MIFF 2008). Filmed in 1985 and a classic of the Ozploitation movement, it was in part inspired by the plight of Vietnamese boat people in Australia and its potent engagement with racism, immigration and mandatory detention – or our society’s lack of progress on the same – continue to make it frighteningly relevant to our current world.”

Existenz (1999)

Summary: “David Cronenberg’s first original screenplay since Videodrome (MIFF 1984) found Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law in a Möbius film strip of characteristically macabre weirdness as venerated game designer Allegra Geller and her bodyguard Ted, on the run from thieves and assassins in an immersive bio-simulation game that may or may not be real life.

“Inspired by the fatwa on author Salman Rushdie, Cronenberg crafted a story about the intersection of extremism and reality, via video-gaming culture, that resonates as powerfully today as it did in 1999. For his efforts, he won the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear that year, although the film’s release less than a month after the Wachowski’s similarly themed The Matrix cast a shadow on its box-office success. Since then, however, eXistenZ has found a second life and is now a widely admired cult classic, as much for its ghoulish, darkly sexual humor as for its slyly far-sighted, if still somewhat OTT script.

“Also featuring Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm, Christopher Eccleston and Sarah Polley, eXistenZ is model midnight movie fare: a peerlessly demented nightmare vision of a future ever in danger of becoming our present.”

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Summary: “In the town of Santa Mira, Dr. Miles Bennell has encountered numerous patients each convinced that their relatives have been replaced with identical imposters. Growing suspicious, Miles begins to investigate the mystery, and discovers there’s no mass hysteria at play: this is the beginning of an alien invasion, and one that may be too far gone to stop.

“This science-fiction classic from director Don Siegel (The Line Up, MIFF 1998) is considered one of the most powerful allegorical works of the McCarthy era, featuring alien villains indistinguishable from our friends and neighbors. As a thriller, it’s one of the most effectively tense films of all time, with a terrifying ending that quickly became the stuff of legend. Listed by the American Film Institute as one of the top 10 best science-fiction films ever made, its themes are – alarmingly! – still as applicable in the Trump and Brexit era as they were half a century ago.”

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Summary: “Be warned: this ain’t another Marvel franchise. Japanese cult legend Shinya Tsukamoto has long been the kind of director to put Cronenberg to shame, and in 1989’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man his most outré, vicious and out-and-out insane inclinations were in more-than-full flight.

“From the opening shot, where a young man cuts open his leg and jams scrap metal into it, through to the insane, baffling conclusion, Tsukamoto’s film is a headlong, 67-minute battering ram of human madness and metaphorical overload that strains at the very boundaries of narrative cinema.

“Overflowing with sex, violence, metal fetishism and total hallucinatory meltdown, Tetsuo: The Iron Man is low budget cult cinema at its absolute cultiest – and most viscerally satisfying. You’ll never look at a power drill the same way again.”

The Visitor (1979)

Summary: “Jerzy is an intergalactic super-being sent on a mission to save planet Earth from a young girl, Katy Collins, who may or may not be some kind of demon but who definitely has a demonic pet hawk. Katy’s mother is the owner of a rare womb that possesses the power to create many more such children, and a cabal of mysterious bald folk want basketball team owner Raymond to impregnate her. As a police detective investigates a series of fatalities connected to the young Katy, the forces of good and evil engage in a multi-dimensional battle over the future of the world.

This incredibly strange and logic-defying science fiction horror film has developed a cult following over the years. Italian director Giulio Paradisi (Slum Boy, MIFF 1976), working under the name Michael J Paradise, took inspiration from The OmenThe Exorcist and Close Encounters of the Third Kind to create his unforgettably bonkers molestation of reality, featuring an eclectic cast that – in addition to Peckinpah and Huston – includes Glenn Ford, Mel Ferrer, Lance Henrikson, Shelley Winters, Franco Nero and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as himself.”

Shorts

“The much-loved and internationally acclaimed MIFF Shorts program highlights the art of saying more with less. Showcasing the best short films – from Cannes prize winners to local discoveries – this year’s selection includes animation, documentary, experimental and international fiction short films as well as the always popular WTF program of late-night oddities, and a special program of short films from one of Australia’s closest neighbors. And don’t forget the Accelerator program featuring exciting and diverse works by emerging filmmakers from Australia and New Zealand.”

Do No Harm (2016)

It’s 3am at a private hospital in Hongjing in the 1980s and a violent gang are determined to stop an operation from going ahead. They have no idea how far the patient’s doctor will go to fulfil her duty of care.

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