SGM first took a look at FANTACIDE back in 2008. At that time it was a micro-budget indie gore flick from up-and-coming filmmaker Shane Mather, looking for distribution. We were bowled over by its energy, creativity, humour and go-for-broke bloodletting. It had all the makings of becoming an instant cult classic.
The film has garnered a modest cult following over the last decade. However, too few people have seen it, due to a chequered history of failed distribution deals, cast members erroneously accusing Mather of hording any profits the film made (it's made none), copyright issues pertaining to the 50s pop songs used on the original version's soundtrack and so on. It's a crying shame because all this film needs to succeed is an audience.
The chances of that happening will hopefully improve with the release of this blu-ray collector's edition, which offers what must surely be the ultimate version of the film.
So, for the uninitiated, what's it all about? Well, there follows a brief synopsis (a more detailed one can be found in my review of the original independently released UK DVD, on this site's Reviews page). This precis may sound dubious as Hell in text, but bear with me ...
Essentially, this follows the exploits of Loin (director Mather) and Nazi war criminal Oppenheimer (Peter Rands) as they both go about their individual quests to locate the fabled spear of destiny, in the belief that possessing it will make all their fantasies come true. Naturally, the pair are on a collision course ...
En route we meet a plethora of highly questionable characters, arguably none more so than Oppenheimer's right-hand-man Dale (the director's brother Dean Mather). He's a psychotic animal rights activist who's prone to raping cats, eating bloody tampons upon extracting them from victims' vaginas, feeding vomit to people before ramming a power drill through their kneecaps and the like. Corrupt cops, drugged-up perverts, shady publicans etc ... there's a large cast of misfits to be savoured here. Imagine a gathering of the most racist, homophobic, violent, detestable characters ever ...
The original cut of the film, as ambitious and enjoyable as it was, suffered a little from this cluttering of characters. Upon first viewing, the plot became a little confusing. But this new director's cut runs much more fluidly, and satisfies much more as a consequence.
Well-edited, well-shot, making great use of local landmarks and countryside on an aesthetic level ... all of these attributes help FANTACIDE impress on a technical level. Highly spirited performances keep the highly profane and politically incorrect script from ever offending, judging the movie's fevered pitch perfectly. The cheery, 50-style pop score helps a lot too.
The potentially offensive nature of the script deserves addressing. This is a pitch-black comedy clearly focusing its attentions on the over-zealous PC brigade. Or, more so, the British media and government's shovelling of such qualities onto an oblivious state. There is a lot of hate speech in this film, all of which is delivered in a deadpan fashion but should be taken with a lashing of irony: Mather is no bigot, he's just aware that art should not pander to the sensibilities of the artless. As he says, "it's just play-acting". And, do you know what? The script is often very funny. Especially when the priceless Rands is on screen. It's great that the cast are generally older anyway, as that lends gravitas to proceedings, but he - looking like a pensioner at the time of filming - is phenomenal as the despicable Nazi veteran not averse to plucking out the eyeballs of dying victims.
Which brings us to the gore. Dean Mather's gore FX are fucking amazing (and all of them are practical). The blood runs thick and red, and in gallons, throughout FANTACIDE - so much so, that it makes something like CAT IN THE BRAIN look like MARY POPPINS. THE WILD BUNCH is an acknowledged influence for the shootout scenes, of which there are many, but Dean ups the ante in terms of blood squibs by 1000. Really! Throat-slashings, dismemberment, garrotting by barbed wire, knifes shoved up cunts and arses, a show-stopping moment of tit-removal which lingers on the aftermath in true Lucio Fulci-style ... Prepare yourself for a seriously blood-soaked time. It's all so over-the-top that you never once look away in disgust (well, there are two paradoxically mean-spirited moments of sexual violence which are bound to test some sensibilities): the Mather brothers went all-in for excess.
FANTACIDE makes its blu-ray debut on a region-free disc which presents an all-new director's cut of the film. At 104 minutes in length, it's a few minutes shorter than the two previous cuts I've viewed. But it's all the better for it: new opening titles are extremely stylish and stacked with an atmosphere of foreboding, while the tighter pacing benefits the somewhat busy screenplay to no end. Remarkably, Mather has also managed to cram even more gore into proceedings, making this the most outrageous version of FANTACIDE you'll ever see. Fear not, nothing of contention has been cut in the making of this new director's cut - it's easily the best way to view the film.
As for the transfer itself, this new HD scan was conducted by Mather himself. He describes the process as being a painstaking one, cleaning the Digital Video picture up, colour-correcting here and there, and ironing out numerous digital glitches while being careful to retain the essence of what made the film so endearing in the first place. The film is now framed at 1.66:1, which was always Mather's intention. The 16x9 picture is presented in full 1080p HD and does a good job of bringing the most out of the standard definition source material. This isn't one to exercise the capabilities of home cinema unit, obviously, but the sex and violence has never looked so up close and ugly.
English audio comes in a pleasingly consistent, clear 2.0 mix. Optional English subtitles are an unexpected bonus: these are easy to read at all times, and largely free from spelling errors.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. There is no scene selection option.
This release is positively loaded to the gills with bonus material.
First off, there's an audio commentary track from Mather. It's an all-new track, recorded for this blu-ray. As Mather reiterates, this shorter director's cut simply chops out "stuff that slowed the film down". Mather sounds at ease while talking placidly about the shoot, laughing occasionally but proffering a lot of incidental detail along the way. Locations, cast members, production headaches, FX problems, guerrilla filmmaking techniques, scoring the film ... they're all covered here, plus lots more. Inevitably, Mather discusses censorship and political correctness an awful lot, addressing such matters in a reasoned and erudite manner.
Next we're treated to a new 28-minute interview with Mather, entitled "Making Movies the No Budget Way". He reflects on his humble beginnings of shooting short films on various lo-fi mediums before expanding on FANTACIDE's troubled post-production history. It's a shame to find the otherwise healthy-looking auteur explain how these disappointing events have put him making any further films since 2010's extremely proficient TERROR NATION, but happily I can reveal that Shane is currently toying with the idea of returning to the game at some point in 2019 (he also touches upon this in the commentary track: "if I make another film, I want to shoot in a studio, away from prying eyes"). Fingers crossed. Anyway, I digress. Needless to say, this is a laidback and fascinating insight into the joys and pitfalls of truly underground filmmaking.
An archive 3-minute Behind The Scenes featurette demonstrates how much love went into making the film, while also revealing the shoot to be an extremely jovial one. There are plenty of interesting cast and crew interview snippets laced throughout this.
A 4-minute deleted scene also makes an appearance here. More bloody squibs and arterial spraying ensue. Fear not though, this is simply an earlier version of a scene that was reshot for the final cut.
Mather's 2002 feature EXCREAMER follows, remastered in HD for the first time. This 65-minute prospect looks surprisingly good, quite cinematic, despite a naturally soft sheen. It's been cleaned up a lot and plays smoothly. The film itself is a light-hearted romp which merges irreverent comedy, cheap sci-fi FX and hardcore gore to rousing effect. Mather is great fun in the lead role as a professor hoping to halt an epidemic which people spread by passing shit between each other orally. Yes, you read that correctly.
Presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio, EXCREAMER remains great fun. Well, as much as you can have with toilet monsters, rape, savage woman-beating, cannibalism and so forth ...
The final three extra features are all sourced directly from VHS. These are Mather's feature debut BURY THE DEAD, his excellent DEAD MAN'S SHOES-esque short ANGELS WEPT and a fellow early short entitled THE INFLATED MAN. Naturally, these have a very rudimentary look to them. However, despite some inert softness, they're actually quite well-preserved - both visually and aurally.
FANTACIDE holds up well as one of the most entertaining, and downright blood-soaked films of the new century. The gore FX are even better than I recalled, the sexual violence retains the power to shock, and the irreverent humour hasn't aged. It's a cheap proposition so if you have a problem with that SOV aesthetic you may struggle with FANTACIDE's look, but that would be a shame.
This is one of the most unexpected releases of the year, but also one of the most enjoyable and comprehensive ones. If you're already a fan, or simply curious, seek out this definitive release NOW.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Directed by Shane Mather|