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L.A.'s Beyond Fest gives genre film fans what they crave, from the weird to the austere

Only one festival in Los Angeles can bring together Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dario Argento, Tommy Wiseau and Yorgos Lanthimos.

Beyond Fest has fast become a fan favorite that provides a home to classic horror and action movies and the newer works of younger filmmakers who have followed in their wake.

This year, the festival broke a single-day attendance record at its home venue, the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, and will see close to 13,000 people pass through its doors.

Italian horror master Argento made multiple appearances this week with a freshly restored version of his horror classic “Suspiria.” Tributes to action icons Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan are scheduled for tonight and tomorrow night.

The festival opened with Craig S. Zahler’s prison-crime picture “Brawl in Cell Block 99” and closes Tuesday with Lanthimos’ darkly comic and unnervingly austere “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.”

Although both titles debuted at prestigious international festivals — “Brawl” at Venice and “Sacred Deer” at Cannes — Beyond Fest is a place where they can connect with moviegoers who share a collective enthusiasm for outré cinema.

“One of the things we did going in was we wanted this to be fan-friendly,” said Grant Moninger, a Beyond Fest programmer and producer. “[Filmmaker] Mick Garris often talks about the horror community, and the fans and the directors being part of the same community. And that’s how we feel about the fans and the talent that we bring in, the programmers who put on the show and our fans. It’s a combination of everyone’s good will and passion that makes what we do special.”

In between the buzzy upcoming releases and celebrity tributes, Beyond Fest showcases a wide range of movies and guests, from the ridiculous to the sublime, that represent the appetites of an audience that is at once voracious and specific.

Lea Thompson appeared for a 70mm screening of the misbegotten “Howard the Duck,” while filmmakers Edgar Wright and Walter Hill are set for a conversation alongside screenings of their respective films “Baby Driver” and “The Driver” on Sunday.

Delving deeper into cult cinema, casting and voice director Andrea Romano appeared with the animated feature “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,” and Amy Holden Jones and Deborah Brock shared the rare perspective of female directors working in the slasher genre at a double bill of their respective films “The Slumber Party Massacre” and “The Slumber Party Massacre II.”

Beyond Fest also featured the world premiere of Justin MacGregor’s “Best F(r)iends,” which reunited on-screen Wiseau and Greg Sestero from the cult classic “The Room,” which also screened. The sell-out crowd went crazy when it was announced during the Q&A that a sequel to “Best F(r)iends” had already been shot.

The festival prides itself on the breadth of movies it shows under the banner of genre filmmaking.

“We’re a genre fest, but we also brand things as cool,” said Moninger. “Things can be cerebral and still be cool, they can still be just as cool as ‘Predator.’ It’s not just about punching. Being cool is also about a quality, a passion behind things. Just as much as it’s about a fist to a face, it’s about a great thought.”

In a rare series of appearances in Los Angeles, the 77-year-old Argento received standing ovations from three sell-out crowds. His 1977 film “Suspiria” was shown in a new 4K restoration, with a 35 mm print of a rare Italian cut of the picture also being screened. His 1987 movie “Opera” was shown as well.

In an interview under an overcast sky that seemed as if Argento had brought his own gothic gloom along as a backdrop, the filmmaker talked about the inner feelings he expressed for audiences through his pictures.

“It was like a session of psychoanalysis,” he said of his moviemaking. “With my films, I move all my feelings inside me, the bad and the good, the violence and the sweeter. I move all those things deep in my unconscious. I describe for the audience all these things.”

As for the bold stylization of his films, with their vivid colors, costumes and design, expressive camerawork and blaring, evocative music, Argento said they were meant to transport viewers.

“Someone says, ‘This doesn’t exist in life’ and I say, ‘This is not life, this is film. This is my imagination,’” Argento said. “I imagine it, I have a fantasy, a special fantasy that comes from deep within my dark side. These fantasies I do in films come from dreams, come from nightmares, from these things inside.”

Screenings this year have been preceded by a satirical bumper proclaiming, “The People’s Republic of Beyond Fest,” and a more somber one made in remembrance of three people who died in the last year, “Night of the Living Dead” filmmaker George Romero, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” filmmaker Tobe Hooper and Monty Lewis, a fixture of the Los Angeles film fan community.

During an extended Q&A before the first screening of “Suspiria,” along with actors Barbara Magnolfi and Udo Kier, Argento was asked about Romero.

The two filmmakers had been longtime friends and collaborators, and Argento called him “my best friend and my brother, brother in films.”

In a separate interview, Argento spoke about Romero’s legacy by saying, “‘Night of the Living Dead’ is a border. After this, the films were different. Every film was different. He changed the way to do horror films. This is simply new. He changed everything, the story, the rhythm, everything. It was another way to do films.”

As for his own legacy and how his movies would be remembered, Argento was unconcerned. “It’s not my problem,” he said. “It’s the problem of the audience.”

Beyond Fest has become a place where the legacy of filmmakers such as Argento and Romero will certainly not be forgotten, while at the same time forging new roads for genre fans via works like Coralie Fargeat’s French vengeance tale “Revenge” and Jimmy Henderson’s Cambodian action picture “Jailbreak.”

When “Brawl in Cell Block 99” made its West Coast premiere on Beyond Fest’s opening night, Zahler was in attendance, along with stars Vince Vaughn, Don Johnson, Jennifer Carpenter and Kier.

Having been to Beyond Fest in 2015 with his film “Bone Tomahawk,” Zahler was excited to return with “Brawl in Cell Block 99,” noting: “I was looking forward to that screening more than any other in terms of what I would get back from the audience.”

As for the audience response, he said, “They did not disappoint. I’ve been to a number of screenings thus far and I would just say that in terms of audience reaction and enthusiasm, it’s the best crowd I’ve seen both movies with.”

As for the intense connection between genre films and genre film fans, Zahler said that although a dissertation could conceivably be written on the subject, the simplest answer is that there is a connection of trust between the two that cannot be broken.

“For the most part, genre filmmaking lacks the pretense of, say, awards-bait material,” Zahler said. “A lot of these movies are comfortable being what they are.”

Times staff writer Jen Yamato contributed to this report.

Mark.Olsen@latimes.com

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