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Moody Toons

Moody Toons (photo)

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The French omnibus horror film “Fear(s) in the Dark” comes off a bit as a cataract of gimmicks — fully animated, using comic artists with distinctive styles, no color allowed (well, a little red to pepper up the black and white palette) and focused on phobias and anxieties. Omnibus films, with which we are suddenly surrounded (Paris this, New York that), are gimmicks themselves, not much like anthologies, because you can’t roam at will. Their viewing experiences are predicated on variety instead of consistency, and the often fizzling impact of clumped shorts, each more or less the total sum, which is too often shruggable itself.

But “Fear(s)” is a hypnotic cocktail, and its key liquor may be Frenchness — some of the materials folded in have no sensible conclusion (the fear of “Tales from the Crypt” moralism is unavoidable), and some aren’t stories at all. Some stand entire and alone, while others are spliced into suggestive chapters; there’s no mandate to be extreme, or to be obvious. Mostly, the individual artists aren’t even intent on inflicting a reaction upon the viewer, but instead on taking obsessive care about the light and shape of their particular world. The upshot is disarmingly grown-up, but also, at times, a creepy freakout.

I knew Charles Burns’ work, of course, and I remember Richard McGuire from “Raw,” but only Euro-graphic-novel readers would otherwise be familiar with Blutch, Lorenzo Mattotti, Pierre di Sciullo and Marie Caillou, whose pieces range from pseudo-digi-anime to charcoal Gothic hysteria to abstracted shape-making. It hardly matters — the restless textures and visual eloquence are seductive in a way that, I think, has something to do with basic movieness. Our capacity to be fascinated by animated movement, which is like an enveloping morph between puppet theater and painting, is bottomless, from Ladislaw Starewicz to Disney to Borowczyk to Larry Jordan to the Quays to Oshii to Pixar. It’s not just a matter of distinctive style, but also how much animated images can evoke the physics of reality (when done properly) while still maintaining an uncanny otherworldliness — there’s just nothing like it anywhere else in human culture.

10272009_FearsoftheDark2.jpgMcGuire’s climactic hunk of “Fear(s)” is a prime example — narratively, it’s just a man-in-a-haunted-house scenario, but texturally, it’s a relentlessly inventive and evocative tango between huge blocks of blackness and what little sprays of light the unnamed hero’s candle affords him. It builds anxiety, “Blair Witch”-like, by way of what we cannot see, and pivots on a spellbinding tour through a found photo album hilariously suggesting the house’s poisoned history, but the real show is in the recreation of vision and shadow, utterly convincing and yet a cartoon.

There are individual moments of glory, as you’d expect: Caillou’s Miyazaki-on-arsenic nightmare has inspired flights worthy of “Porky in Wackyland,” Blutch’s ashen dog-hunt tableaux feeds our unease while never coalescing into the convenience of a narrative, and Burns’ “Twilight Zone”-ish entomological romance definitely benefits from his sharp, grayless retro-modernist drawing style. But altogether, “Fear(s)” is a witty experiment, and it plays not like an omnibus at all, or a DVD collection of shorts, or anything really but itself — a lovely suite of dark thoughts.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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