1997 was a watershed year for Fantasia, with the festival expanding its boundaries in enormous leaps and bounds to become a full‐on reflection of the international fantastic filmmaking world. Mitch Davis, Karim Hussain and Julien Fonfrede were brought on board as official key programmers, joining the founding programming team of Pierre Corbeil, Martin Sauvageau and André Dubois.
Davis has been a core programmer at the festival ever since, and is now the festival’s Co‐Director.
Fantasia ’97, as it was billed, took Montreal by storm from July 11‐August 10 – a straight month of filmic mania! Attendance numbers were enormous, with nearly two thirds of the screenings packing out the 940‐seat Imperial cinema. The lineup featured numerous cutting edge discoveries and revelations, along with highlights from the last several years of international genre filmmaking that had yet to be screened in Quebec:
The world premiere of Satoshi Kon’s landmark feature debut Perfect Blue.
The International premiere of Takashi Miike’s Fudoh, which marked the first time a film from the now‐iconic arthouse enfant terrible had ever been shown to an audience in this part of the world.
A special screening of a workprint of Jim Van Bebber’s years‐in‐the‐making Charlie’s Family (the screening won an audience award and rekindled worldwide interest in the film, leading to a new wave of media attention and opening the door to new investors, which saw the film being completed under the title The Manson Family).
The North American premiere of Todd Morris and Deborah Twiss’ incendiary A Gun For Jennifer (hosted by Twiss & Morris who, in a memorable stunt, stalked the lineup an hour before the screening pushing a gun in peoples’ faces!
Richard Stanley flew in with the sole‐existing 35mm print of his director’s cut of the extraordinary Dust Devil (North American premiere – Stanley also played around and offering to anoint people with a bloody handprint on their clothing or foreheads).
On the Hong Kong side, audiences were floored by such films as the Jackie Chan actioneer Drunken Master 2, Wong Kar Wai’s Ashes of Time, Ronny Yu’s Bride with White Hair, Wai Kai‐ Fai’s Too Many Ways to be Number One (North American premiere), Corey Yuen’s Bodyguard From Beijing, Yuen Woo‐Ping & Wong Jing’s Last Hero in China, Wong Jing & Corey Yuen’s New Legend of Shaolin, Xinyan Zhang’s Shaolin Temple, Sammo Hung’s Once Upon a Time in China and America (North American premiere), Lee Lik‐Chee’s Flirting Scholar, Daniel Lee’s Black Mask, Stephen Chow & Lee Lik‐Chee’s God of Cookery, Ah Lun’s Satan Returns, Wong Jing’s God of Gamblers 3, and Billy Tang’s outrageous Red to Kill (which Fantasia later released on VHS via the festival’s short‐lived video label).
Japanese highlights included Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tokyo Fist (hosted by producer Hiromi Aihara), Mamoru Oshi’s Ghost in the Shell, Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera 2 (North American premiere), Atsushi Muroga’s Score, Takashi Nakamura’s Catnapped, Hosoyama Tomoaki’s A Weather Woman and Shinya Nakajima’s Ultraman Z – Earth.
Other highlights included the North American premiere of Alberto Sciamma’s Killer Tongue and Canadian premieres of Alex Mark A.Z. Dippé’s Spawn, Jess Franco’s comeback film Tender Flesh (hosted by Kevin Collins and Hugh Gallagher), Frank Grow’s The Love God, Lloyd Kaufman’s Tromeo and Juliet (hosted by Kaufman and screenwriter James Gunn), Electra (hosted by Julian Grant), and Chuck Parello’s Henry 2.
This was also the year that Fantasia brought Alex De la Iglesia’s incredible Day of the Beast to Montreal audiences, two years after it screened to powerhouse raves at the Toronto International Film Festival (incredibly, every Montreal film festival ignored it in the meantime). A special tribute to Italian horror cinema was mounted, featuring screenings of Dark Waters (North American premiere, hosted by Mariano Baino), Wax Mask (International premiere, hosted by Sergio Stivaletti), Stendhal Syndrome (hosted by Sergio Stivaletti), Al Festa’s bottomlessly bizarre Fatal Frames (hosted by Loris Curci) and retro screenings of Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright, Dario Argento’s Deep Red, Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground, a new 35mmm print of Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (hosted by Grindhouse Releasing’s Sage Stallone and Bob Murawski, the latter now an Oscar‐winning editor, with titles like Hurt Locker, Spiderman and Drag Me to Hell on his resume), and a pair of Lucio Fulci classics, Zombie and a new 35mm print of The Beyond.
Other retro titles screened were Santo vs. The Monsters (one of the craziest midnight screenings in Fantasia’s quite crazy history!), a rare print of Ishirô Honda’s The Mysterians and a gorgeous new 35mm print of Terence Fisher’s Revenge of Frankenstein. On the short film front, the hands‐down standouts were the North American premiere of Nacho Cerda’s now‐legendary, then‐unknown Aftermath and the Canadian premiere of Douglas Buck’s scorching Cutting Moments. Both won audience awards. Cerda later co‐scripted his feature film The Abandoned (official selection: Tiff, Sitges etc) with Karim Hussain and Richard Stanley. Buck became a regular attendee at the festival over the years, ultimately moving to Montreal in 2009. He too has collaborated with Hussain on numerous projects, the most recent being the anthology horror project Theatre Bizarre. Other short film highlights included David Alcalde’s Dr. Curry, Jim Van Bebber’s My Sweet Satan, Hideki Kimura’s L&D, Michael Gingold’s Hands Off, Sylvain Ruest’s L’Homme Vrai, Andrew Bancroft’s Planet Man, Mark Wilkinson’s The Next Big Thing and Dante Tomaselli’s original short film version of Desecration.
1997 also marked the first year that Fantasia became an international festival with media from all around the world attending. While many esteemed journalists have joined us over the years, in 1997 we were visited by many of the most important genre writers of that era, including Harvey Fenton (FAB Press/Flesh & Blood Magazine), Fangoria editor Tony Timpone (who, following his inaugural visit, became a programmer with the festival onwards from 1998), Deep Red’s Chas Balun (who memorably declared the festival to be “the Woodstock of horror”), Shivers’ Marcele Perks, Jason J. Slater (The Darkside), Martin Coxhead (Shivers), Michael Gingold (Fangoria), Glenn Wilcox (Graveside Entertainment), Hugh Gallagher (Draculina), Jim McLennan (Trash City) and Loris Curci.