Fantasy Filmfest
July 21 - August 18

Boom-sha-la-la-la, it's the magickal horror/fantasy tour.

Starting out in Munich, and cutting a creepy swathe through Stuttgart, Cologne and Frankfurt, to a final weeklong blow-out in Berlin, the Fantasy Filmfest dishes everything from haute horreur to gore-n-splatter.

The festival kicks off with black comedy/fantasy "Kontroll". The film centers on a group of ticket inspectors and a killer having a field day on the Budapest metro.

Also in the 'recurring horror theme/cautionary tale' category, "Perfect Strangers", in which the protagonist learns that her dark prince charming is, in effect, not. He's played by Sam Neill, who has this penchant for playing quiet, bug-eyed lunatics.

Then there's first-time director Greg Page's ghost-horror film "The Locals," which tells the story of friends Grant and Paul, who hit the road for a weekend of surfing and booze, etcetera. Instead, they meet...The Locals. Mouha-ha-ha.

Urban legend springs to life in "Koma," a psychological thriller that kicks off with that 'wakes up missing a kidney' scenario.

Directed by Lo Chi-Leung, "Koma" unites Hong Kong horror queens Lee Sinje ("The Eye") and Karena Lam ("Inner Sense"), in a game where the victim and the victimizer can no longer keep their identities separate.

For folks who get a kick out of luxuriating in paranoia, there's "Freeze Frame", "The Machinist" and "Hanging Offense". They're all various takes on the theory that if you believe they're out to get you, one day you just might be right.

In the blood-as-impressionist-art category, try "Dead and Breakfast", featuring six friends who get stranded in Lovelock, featuring David Carradine as a Buddhist innkeeper, and, of course, The Locals.

A creepier gore option: "The Ordeal". Which, like the title "Funny Games," kinda tells the story right there.

Full-on action in several wire-fu/thriller/fantasy hybrids: "Dead End Run", "The Twins Effect/Chin Gei Bin", or "Sword in the Moon".

Swordplay epic "Azumi", features kick-ass swordswoman Azumi, trained since birth as a master assassin.

Another option: "Arahan," which starts off with the premise that the guardians of galactic peace are actually rumpled, ordinary folks:

"Arahan": 2004 A.D. -- In the midst of Seoul, where high-res camera phones, MP3s and iPods capture the attention of the young...window-cleaners calmly carry on their job, dangling thousands of feet above the ground. Wrinkled grannies on the street handle heavy satchels as if they were air-filled balloons. What if these are the masters of the secret disciplines of the East, preserving the peace of our world without our knowledge?

Next off, the satanic-possession-film-batch, headed up by the world premiere of "Strandvaskeren/The Drowning Ghost"; middling storyline about weird doings at an all-girl school, but some creepy visuals. In "Evil Words", a horror novelist seems to be the catalyst for a horrific killing spree.

Moving on to the more esoteric, there's "Nothing," a surrealistic comedy by the same director who popped up with sci-fi/thriller oddity "Cube" in 1997.

This time around, the protags know each other - but that doesn't help them any. Best friends Dave and Andrew wish they could escape from their dead-end jobs and boring lives.

They get what they wished for - sort of. They open the door to the outside world to find that nothing exists beyond a white void of non-being.

What they've got: Themselves. Their house. And nothing. Are they dead? Is life just on 'pause'? Can they write anything on their blank slate?

Questioning their existence, Andrew and Dave ultimately reject these hypotheses: after all, they still have cable...

[Shown: "Immortel (Ad Vitam)"]

Next up, anime meets live action in "Immortel (Ad Vitam)".

Visually mind-blowing, but skimpy on plot, "Immortel" is the dark sci-fi/cyberpunk brainchild of comics-artist-turned-director, Enki Bilal.

It's New York City, 2095 A.D. or thereabouts; eugenics is getting a bad rep, mysterious messages appear around the city, signed by the 'spirit of Nikopol', the ancient Egyptian gods gang up on Horus in their pyramid, which is busy floating in mid-air over the post-apocalyptic gloom of New York City. As this is (still) New York City, no one notices.

Horus is looking for a one night stand with a girl who is, inexplicably, blue. Mystery man Nikopol finally puts in an appearance and loses a leg, Horus ropes him into tracking down the girl with the blue tears, further incomprehensibility ensues.

A doctor and a serial killer show up, and, incidentally, there's an election going on.

Keep your eye on the blue girl. The movie's about her.

The meandering storyline is drawn from two of Bilal's graphic novels: "La Foire aux Immortels/Carnival of Immortals" and "La Femme Piège/The Woman Trap" in his Nikopol Trilogy (the last volume is "Froid Équateur").

Lastly, for everyone who saw "The Ring" and got the jeebies about TV screens - here comes a brand-new way to scare yourself.

It's "Ringu" all over again, only this time it's all about the creepyhaha dial tone, in "One Missed Call".

What goes down: Yumi Nakamura is out drinking with her friend Yoko, when Yoko receives a call on her cell phone.

The ring tone is completely new to her - the display reads 'One Missed Call'. When she checks the message, it seems to have originated from her own phone.

Even weirder, there are screams that sound like her own on the message, but the timestamp on the message is dated three days into the future. Hmmm.

Three days later, at the exact time of the call and with the same piercing scream, Yoko plunges to her death from a railway bridge.

Kenji, another friend of Yumi's, receives the same sort of call. Poof. Gone.

One more victim. Same ol' creepy ring. Everybody is still hanging around with Yumi, but why, we don't know, because it's not like she's bringing them any good news, if you catch our drift.

This time, Yumi's best friend, Natsumi receives the call of doom, but the message is a little different. Video footage on the phone's display shows someone sneaking up behind her own terror-stricken self.

Natsumi knows she is doomed and starts to lose it. Ignoring Yumi's pleas, she agrees to go on TV live and undergo an exorcism at the hour she is predicted to die.

Meanhile, Yumi, who's understandably freaked at her new role as incidental slingshot-of-doom, teams up with oddball funeral director, Hiroshi Yamashita (Shinichi Tsutsumi), whose sister was killed by the same horrifying curse.

The two of them follow the trail of deaths, trying to make sense of it all. As do we all.

Natsumi's moment of truth approaches. At the forecasted moment, live on national TV, she dies a horrifying death, which makes for some killer ratings.

As bad-luck-babe Yumi and funereal cutie Yamashita gaze down on Natsumi's twisted corpse...Yumi's phone begins to ring.

(Is anybody else wondering what would've happened if they'd just...picked up? Death gets caught out on the other end making a crank call, and has to cover: "Er, sorry, wrong number"?)

Director Takashi Miike had a blast shooting the film, saying he even scared himself. 'Course, we can wait for the new "One Missed Call" ringtone to start surfacing any day, now. Brrr-ing.

NB: Yes, there really is a street called Nymphenburger. Quit bugging us to say it sounds rather rude. Genau. Blame it on those mad Bavarians.

Find it:
MUNICH July 21-28
Cinema, Nymphenburgerstrasse, 31
Get info: 089-55-52-55
City, Sonnenstrasse, 12
Get info: 089-59-1983

BERLIN August 11-18
Cinemaxx, Potsdamerstrasse,5
Get info: 01805-246-36-299

Tour schedule:
Munich, July 21-28
Stuttgart, July 28 - August 4th
Frankfurt, August 4th-11th
Cologne, August 4th-11th
Hamburg, August 11th-18th
Berlin, August 11th-18th

Get pre-fest previews for other offbeat film festivals, in the July 2004 issue of "Arte Six".