Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Fantasia ’16: Fury of the Demon

It is a film so powerful, it causes disorientation, short-term psychosis, and violent rioting, but it is still more entertaining to watch than A Serbian Film. It is the oldest of old school horror films, helmed by the pioneer himself, Georges Méliès, or perhaps one of his sinister colleagues. Technically, the notorious lost film never really existed, but that does not stop the French genre cinema establishment from analyzing the heck out of it in Fabien Delage’s droll mockumentary, Fury of the Demon (trailer here), which screened during the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Every decade or so, someone stumbles upon a print of Fury of the Demon and screens it, unwittingly unleashing chaos. Eccentric American film collector Edgar A. Wallace (note middle initial) sort of knew what he had, but his private screening for French film scholars and journalists yielded similar results. Various French critics play it admirably straight for Delage as they describe the terrors of the experience. Frankly, they aren’t bad actors at all. For added genre appeal, Alexandre Aja and Christophe Gans also get in on the joke as talking head commentators.

Fury bizarrely taps into something that is hard to define. With over two hundred of Méliès’ five hundred film oeuvre missing, who is to say what we haven’t seen? After all, his Robinson Crusoe just turned up four years ago. Ironically, the universally ignored B-movie Playback, sort of used a similar Macguffin, but it that case it was Louis Le Prince (a.k.a. Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness). Although Playback’s riff on Le Prince lacked Delage’s erudite sophistication, it was still the best part of the film.

However, Fury really does it right. Delage cleverly assembles evocative Méliès clips and constructs an eerily believable alternate mythology in a mere sixty minutes. Did Méliès really have an occult-obsessed junior partner named Victor Sicarius, who secretly made early splatter-gore films on the side? It is doubtful, but if so, maybe its all real. In that case, could someone point out where Manhattan’s “historic Virginia Theater” stands?

When you watch Fury, you sort of want it to be true, even though it is basically horrifying and sometimes tragic. For genre fans with a sense of movie history, it is just a gas. Highly recommended for smart viewers, Fury of the Demon had its North American premiere at this year’s Fantasia and will screen later in August during FrightFest in London.