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Fantastic Fest 2023: ‘The Toxic Avenger’ and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’

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It’s been an eventful weekend here at Fantastic Fest 2023, with lots of great films for fans of genre pieces. The festival started with a massive swing of a movie on the first night. Fans of the original Toxic Avenger are well aware of how nutso the original film is in execution. The remake is not much different and might be the most unmarketable film this reviewer has seen (in a good way).

The festival also brought Mike Flanagan’s haunting vision of one of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The event gave Fantastic Fest attendees two episodes of this highly-anticipated Netflix series, The Fall of the House of UsherBoth titles are entirely different in their own way but leave viewers gasping nonetheless. Here are our full thoughts on both titles straight from Fantastic Fest 2023.

[Warning: Early impressions and mild spoilers for both of Toxic Avenger and The Fall of the House of Usher are discussed below!]

The Toxic Avenger opens the Fantastic Fest 2023

The Toxic Avenger opened the festival on an utterly insane note, delivering a film guaranteed to make no profit. Director Macon Blair’s equally absurd, polarizing, and gory remake will undoubtedly alienate general consumers wherever Legendary Pictures decides to release the magnificent monster. However, the movie’s style is impressive in its own way. It’s like a chaotic and messy performance at a small garage concert, but the audience is enjoying themselves despite all the sweat and chaos.

In the movie, Peter Dinklage portrays Winston Gooze, a timid janitor working for a pharmaceutical company that is polluting the surrounding area. Additionally, Winston is the stepfather of Wade, played by Jacob Tremblay, who is frequently frustrated by his father’s lack of assertiveness in difficult situations. The film occasionally has a dystopian atmosphere, with the city being overrun by excessively wicked characters.

Elijah Wood in The Toxic Avenger
Elijah Wood in The Toxic Avenger (Legendary)

The film features a group of villains who have a Mad Max vibe and resemble Limp Bizkit. These henchmen, called Kill Nutz, spread terror among the locals on the orders of Bob Garbinger, portrayed by Kevin Bacon, who has connections to the mafia.

Garbinger’s son, Fritz (portrayed by Elijah Wood), leads the Limp Bizkit-like killers, who are determined to eliminate anyone who exposes the company’s role in environmental toxicity. J.J. Doherty (played by Taylour Paige), a whistleblower whom Garbinger wants to find, is one such individual on his kill list.

Winston finds himself in a difficult situation and turns to Garbinger (Winston’s boss) for help with healthcare, as he is the only family member left to Wade. However, things take a turn for the worse when Garbinger throws Winston into a pool of toxic waste, causing him to undergo a transformation that leaves him disfigured, indestructible, and sickly-green.

With his newfound powers, Winston finally decides to stick up for the people of his town. This film is ideal for those who are looking for an entertaining experience of watching Peter Dinklage dressed as a booger, running around, and taking down the villains in a violent manner.

Toxic Avenger
Image from The Toxic Avenger 2023 (Legendary)

The editing in The Toxic Avenger movie is wild and frenzied, with fast-paced cuts at times. The humor is exaggerated in a slapstick manner, similar to Renfield, but with more confidence. However, fans of Family Guy may find some parts of the movie familiar, like a doctor who struggles to communicate test results to his patients.

Macon Blair truly goes for broke with this remake. It’s very punk rock or even grunge rock in its style of playing with rebellious energy. Kurt Cobain would often play out of tune, but the sound would give the music personality. The Toxic Avenger is exactly that kind of anarchist rock song that has the energy of an artist who doesn’t care about selling out. It’s daring you not to buy its record while smashing a perfectly good guitar on stage. The song may not be for everyone, but it rocks.

Netflix’s The Fall of the House of Usher

The Fall of the House of Usher will not be what fans expect of a typical Mike Flanagan series. After a brief, terrifying opener, the series might make one feel safe, secure, and at ease as we navigate the world of a terrible family living sinfully in wealth.

Imagine a horror franchise that lures a viewer like Succession, only to pull the rug out from the audience by having every character experience a Final Destination-style fate. The Usher family is just as awful, humorous, and annoyingly infectious as the Roy family, yet somehow, we feel for their gruesome fall. 

Fantastic Fest screened the first two episodes for Fest-goers. The footage was a wonderful tease that ended like a massive Roman candle explosion. The second episode especially has one of the most shocking finishes in Flanagan’s history, and we include “The Bent-Neck Lady.” in that description.

Fall of the House of Usher
Image from The Fall of the House of Usher (Netflix)

The Fall of the House of Usher centers on Roderick Usher, a filthy rich pharmaceutical tycoon who has lost his family. When the series begins, all the children have died. And this is not a spoiler. The series recounts how it all happened as Roderick lays out a haunting story to a prosecutor (played by Carl Lumbly) trying to take him down.

The flashbacks begin with Roderick’s childhood, where we find out that his motives for making a pain pill were done earnestly, to the modern day, where his legacy slowly dies away before his eyes. These kids who gradually perish include Napoleon Usher (played by Rahul Kohli). In this property, Kohli plays a wildly different character than we have seen before, proving he is one of Flanagan’s best actors. Other Usher children include Tamerlane Usher (Samantha Sloyan), Prospero Usher (Sauriyan Sapkota), Frederick Usher (Henry Thomas), and his twin sister Camille (Kate Siegel).

The character most people will be discussing once the series premieres is Verna (Carla Gugino), a mysterious woman who kills off the Usher family. Gugino has always excelled in Flanagan’s projects, but playing an ageless force of nature is the perfect role for her to chew on. 

This adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s works takes inspiration from various stories, remixes them, and creates a fresh and unique narrative, much like the TV show Hannibal. Like Bryan Fuller’s approach with the iconic cannibal, Flanagan adds unexpected elements to the story that we didn’t even realize we needed.

The initial two-part introduction of The Fall of the House of Usher may have a few minor imperfections, including some pacing issues leading up to the first significant pop. Still, overall, the story is incredibly gripping and will undoubtedly leave viewers unsettled. If this is only the start of the series, it unquestionably holds the potential to be a terrifying and thought-provoking horror series.

The Fall of the House of Usher premieres on Netflix October 12th

Will you check out The Toxic Avenger or Fall of the House of Usher?

Will you check out either of these when they release? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or The Cosmic Circus Discord!

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John Dotson

Born and raised in Texas, John Dotson has been a film pundit for over 10 years, writing reviews and entertainment coverage at various online outlets. His favorite thing in the world is discussing movies with others who also love the art form.

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