It's sure not your Uncle Walt's Fantasia. Swedish vampires, contagious Spanish cannibals, feudal female Korean crime-solvers and general Japanese insanity have never been a big part of the Disney world, but they are the meat and potatoes (mostly meat) of Montreal's Fantasia International Film Festival, the 12th edition of which was held July 3-21.

In a world where the film festival itself seems increasingly irrelevant, the horror-fantasy genre event serves and fulfills a very definite purpose - defying conventional wisdom.

"The mission is to get films that typically have a hard time being seen in this part of the world and give them a chance of being embraced by a huge, engaged audience," says Mitch Davis, Fantasia's co-director of international programming.

"What happens at Fantasia flies in the face of what so many North American distributors like to believe - that young people are not interested in seeing films from cultures they don't immediately identify with, shot in a language they may not speak. It's simply not true. Young audiences want to see films that are different. Really different."

Risks' The titles alone - Tokyo Gore Police, Trailer Park Of Terror and Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge, to name a few - could cause distributor dyspepsia. And yet the film-making is a cut above the mall-targeted slasher flick or too-generic genre picture. Johnny To's Sparrow and Oxide Pang's The Detective are hardboiled pictures that defy categorisation; likewise Cedric Anger's Le Tueur, a French thriller that is morbidly Melvillian.

(REC) by Spaniards Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza may be the best of that relatively new genre, the handheld-movie-within-a-movie, a tale of Barcelona folk quarantined in an apartment with rabid, flesh-eating zombies (while their travails are recorded by a devoted TV cameraman). Distributor response can be dictated by a lot of things, but quality does not seem to be a question at Fantasia this year. Courage, maybe.

"A few titles are acquired each year," Davis says, "by companies ranging from Miramax and DreamWorks to Media Blasters, Synapse Films and Anchor Bay. But the atmosphere is never about industry. We pride ourselves on keeping Fantasia an audience-driven event, and many of the industry players who come appreciate that as well. You'll never see the infernal glow of a Blackberry during a screening."

Founded in 1996 by Pierre Corbeil, who remains the president of the festival, Fantasia is programmed by Davis, Tony Timpone (editor of Fangoria magazine), Todd Brown (founder of Twitch Film), Mi-jeong Lee, Simon Laperriere and King-wei Chu. Last year, it had more than 81,000 admissions. The oldest fantasy film festival in North America, it is often cited as the place where the J-horror craze was launched in the West. It was the first festival in an English-speaking country to screen Hideo Nakata's ground-breaking Ring, and the first in North America to screen a film by Takashi Miike.

"If Fantasia had to be summarised in a single phrase," says Davis, "I'd say it's a celebration of the eccentric, the explosive and the unclassifiable."