Fantasia Fest set to open

15th annual gathering to begin on Thursday

Brandishing its ever-outré sensibility and wielding an edgy/outrageous program of international horror, fantasy and gore, the 15th annual Fantasia Fest is poised to open Thursday with 130 features from around the world, its mission being not only discovery but rediscovery. Kevin Smith’s “Red State” opens the fest; closing things out on Aug. 7 is helmer Troy Nixey’s “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” — written and produced by Guillermo Del Toro, and starring Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce. But amid all the higher profile premieres and star vehicles is a festival program dedicated to total genre appreciation.

“I’m slowly, year by year, getting to introduce my heroes to the kids,” jokes Mitch Davis, longtime FF co-director and director of international programming.

To that end, the 2011 edition of Fantasia film fest will offer the world premiere of “The Wicker Tree,” the new film from Robin Hardy, director of the original 1973 “Wicker Man,” (“one of my favorite films of all time, along with ‘The Devils,'” said Davis, referring to the Ken Russell film that was such a fest hit last year). Hardy will also appear in a special live event “Robin Hardy in Conversation with Richard Stanley” — the cult director of 1990’s “Hardware.” The South African-born Stanley will also be in attendance for what promises to be one of FF’s more anticipated menu items, the world premiere of “The Theatre Bizarre,” a horror anthology by seven of the more provocative innovators in the genre, including Douglas Buck (“Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America,” “Sisters”); Karim Hussain (“Subconscious Cruelty”), Buddy Giovinazzo (“Life Is Hot in Cracktown”) and, of course, Stanley. It’s sort of a homegrown project, Davis said: Almost everyone involved first met at Fantasia.

Also on the program are some film’s that have been picking up plaudits along the festival circuit: Mike Cahill’s Sundance awardee “Another Earth,” Jed Stahm’s home invasion screamer “Knifepoint,” Evan Glodell’s soon-to-be-released “Bellflower,” and Jim Mickle’s post-apocalyptic “Stake Land.” And a special tribute will honor producers John Dunning and Andre Link “the funding father’s of Quebec’s genre cinema heritage,” which will give FF the chance to revisit such Dunning-Link classics as “Frankenstein 2000,” “Shivers” (directed by David Cronenberg), and the exploitation classic, “Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS.”

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