In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Playlists!

What's Halloween without a spooky soundtrack! So, here's a collection of ghoulish playlists for your fiendish enjoyment.

And for those looking to be driven insane, here's a ten-hour looping of the Silver Shamrock jingle!

Monster In The Room.

Happy Halloween everyone! To get into the spirit of things I am posting the bumper I made for this year's Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Enjoy!

It was based on the two-sentence horror story by Juan J Ruiz. Shortly after shooting it, I discovered that two other filmmakers had already adapted it. Oh well... Compare and contrast!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bedtime Nightmares.

The Toronto After Dark Film Festival closed out its strongest year yet with a sell-out – tickets went so fast, they actually had to add a second show at midnight – screening of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook.

A single mother (Essie Davis) battles to protect her autistic son (Noah Wiseman) after a monster from one of his storybooks begins to manifest itself in their lives.

Since its premiere at Sundance, The Babadook has been positioning itself as the horror film to see this year. And with good reason, as it's a fine film with subject matter that stretches beyond the usual confines of your typical monster-under-the-bed flick. Whereas themes that are attempted in lesser films like 2013's Mama, The Babadook found ways to follow through on them. It is also layered with such a way as to leave several things up to interpretation.

Noah Wiseman & Essie Davis in The Babadook.

The Babadook is a humanistic story, so it is no surprise that the two leads are exceptional. Essie Davis is phenomenal as Amelia, the mother at the end of her rope. I haven't seen a maternal character look so exhausted since Tilda Swinton in 2011's We Need To Talk About Kevin. Her son Samuel is a handful and young talent Noah Wiseman has no trouble expressing that, with more a few scenes where I was surprised she just didn't leave him on a doorstep somewhere.

Aside from the meat of the picture, The Babadook is a veritable feast in every other regard, as well. It employed an escalating sense of dread, rather than overt scares, which kept the piece far more sustainable. The visual style and colour palette of the film are top notch, and whoever created that Babadook storybook for the film needs to win some kind of award.

Nightmare fuel.

I also have to mention the sound design because it had a personality of its own. The strange and unsettling drone that would resonate when the Babadook was near that really put me on edge. This is a wonderfully dark film that director Jennifer Kent should be extremely proud of and I can't wait to see where she goes from here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why Not!

Last Thursday saw the Canadian premiere of the horror documentary Why Horror? at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

Life-long horror fan Tal Zimerman spans the globe to find out why the genre is so popular and why we love to be scared.

Having known Tal for several years now, it was really great to see the project he’d been working on, for what seems like forever, finally have its day in the sun. This was the second project I’d contributed to that had a premiere this year – Astron 6’s The Editor being the other – so I’m over the moon having had a small part in its existence.

There are a ton of horror heavyweights interviewed here, including John Carpenter, George A. Romero, Eli Roth and Don Coscarelli, but the doc’s real strength is its variety of subjects. Why Horror? speaks to genre actors, artists, writers and even sociologists and professors about the root of the attraction to horror.

Tal Zimerman with the great John Carpenter.

Why Horror? was more than just a “talking heads” documentary though, broken up by countless film clips, an animated two-minute history of horror films narrated by Elijah Wood, as well as several illustrations by several talented artists, including Larry Adlon & Trevor Henderson. There was even a section where Tal gets his brains picked by some doctors to see if there's anything physiological about his love of horror. This thread led to my favourite part of the doc where Tal enlists his mother as part of an experiment to see how horror and non-horror fans react to frightening stimuli.

Why Horror’s global aspect is another strong point, as Tal and his crew, directors Nicolas Kleiman & Rob Lindsay, travelled to locales such as Mexico, Japan and England to see how the subject of horror differed from culture to culture.

(left to right) Moderator Dave Alexander, star Tal Zimerman & co-directors Nicolas Kleinman & Rob Lindsay.

Why Horror? has a lot to offer, a feat in itself considering docs on the subject are not exactly sparse. However, its approach keeps it fun and makes it accessible to non-fans of the genre, which is much more rare.

The Phantom Returns!

The new pseudo-sequel of The Town That Dreaded Sundown had its Canadian premiere last week at Toronto After Dark.

Sixty-five years after the gruesome events in Texarkana, another masked killer is on the loose. With the local authorities being about as useful this time around, the survivor of the first attack, high school senior Jami (Addison Timlin), takes it upon herself to do some investigating of her own.

To echo what TAD programmer Peter Kuplowsky said in his intro, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon “really shot the shit out of this film!” I mean this movie is gorgeous and looks ten times better than it has any right to be. From the very first shot, which features a long, swooping movement through a drive-in theatre as it weaves through all the cars and various attendees, to the boldly stark kill sequences, Gomez-Rejon shows he is taking this material seriously.

The Phantom claims another victim in The Town That Dreaded Sundown.

And that is what immediately struck me about this new Town That Dreaded Sundown. The narrative was decidedly meta, wherein the murders of 1946 and the subsequent 1976 film had occurred, however it was played completely straight. The brilliantly conceived murder scenes were cold and clinical, so that, much like David Fincher’s Zodiac, we took no joy from them. This kept the project from feeling like a half-assed Scream sequel as a result.

The cast was stacked with genre veterans that included the likes of Veronica Cartwright, Gary Cole and Ed Lauter, for which this must have been one of his last roles before his passing last year. Addison Timlin was solid as the embattled heroine and was just as strong and likable here, as she was in 2013’s fantasy actioner Odd Thomas.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

While it is true that the ending was a bit of a letdown – an unfortunate side effect of studio interference I hear – it by no means soured the overall strength of the piece. There is an air of substance to Town that is rarely present in projects bearing the mark of the “re-whateverthefuck.” Gomez, cutting his teeth on many episodes of the television show American Horror Story, has now graduated to telling competent horror features. He’s a bright young talent that I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from soon.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Red Vs Dead

As is customary for Toronto After Dark, Saturday is zombie appreciation night, which this year featured Zombeavers (which you can read my thoughts on here) and the highly-anticipated follow up to Tommy Wirkola’s 2009 flick Dead Snow, Red Vs Dead.

Martin (Vegar Hoel), having survived the events of the first film, wakes up in the hospital to find that not only is he on the hook for his friend’s deaths, but has also had his severed arm replaced with that of Herzog’s (Ørjan Gamst). And the undead Nazi colonel wants it back!

Red Vs. Dead was tons of fun. I really enjoyed the first one, but this sequel is bigger and better in almost every way. As Wirkola has demonstrated on a few occasions now, he is very adept at mining fresh ideas out of tried and true minutia. There is some pretty clever stuff in here and I appreciated how much more he opened up this universe. While the first one was basically people holed up in a cabin, Red Vs Dead expands to include the entire Norwegian countryside, leading up to an impressive final battle featuring zombified German & Russian forces facing off against each other.

All hell breaks loose in Dead Snow 2: Red Vs Dead.

Seeing Martin Starr show up as the leader of a group called The Zombie Squad was a nice addition. He even kicks some ass toward the end of the film! I was also surprised to learn this summer that Zombie Squad is an actual thing, with chapters all over the world. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked, considering how bonkers popular zombies are now.

As with the first movie, the make-up was top notch, and while perhaps not quite as bloody as its predecessor, there are still no shortage of gruesome, over-the-top deaths. And fron its several festival screenings, a sing-along portion has now evolved with karaoke favourite Total Eclipse of the Heart being belted out by audiences during the final scene of the movie.

Much like Sam Raimi, Red Vs Dead is Wirkola returning to his roots, after a less-than-ideal experience with the studio system. Well, consider his passion rekindled, as this movie is a spirited sequel full of bloody comedic energy.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Second Semester.

At long last, The ABC's of Death 2 finally had a screening in The Big Smoke as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

Another round of twenty-six directors showcase their alphabetical interpretations of murder, mutilation and mayhem.

Anyway you slice it, this second helping of ABC's is far superior to its predecessor. It really is quite remarkable how much better realized this one is, as even the title sequence had improved. Even I, who enjoyed the first more than most, could see the massive jump in quality here. I wager it was a combination of this current batch of filmmakers being aware of what didn't work in the previous iteration as well as the producers laying down some guidelines to steer the project away from pedestrian potty humour. Whatever it was, they succeeded.

I won't go through every letter, but it should come as no surprise that I thought Steve Kostanski's (“W”) & Chris Nash's (“Z”) were among the best. They are the most talented filmmakers that I have the pleasure of knowing and I hope that their entries open many doors for them. They earned it.

Delphine Roussel in Chris Nash's segment “Z”.

It should also not shock anyone that I adored Robert Morgan's letter “D”, as he serves up another spectacular stop-motion nightmare. I still think my biggest disappointment about this project was missing the chance to possibly meet him when ABC's didn't play Midnight Madness. Oh well, maybe someday...

Robert Morgan's letter “D”

Apart from those, other standouts were E.L. Katz's letter “A” and Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado's letter “F”. The latter may have been a bit heavy handed, but I really appreciate dialogue-driven entries that go somewhere. I responded to that in much the way I did to Marven Kren's “R” segment and my probable favourite, the letter “S” from Juan Martínez Moreno. Even going beyond the well-executed De Palma split-screen of the piece, I fuckin' loved that ending! That's the kind of stuff that makes me go, “damn that's cold!” I was also impressed because nothing I'd seen previously from Moreno gave me any indication he could go balls-out like that.

I found it funny just how loaded this project was in the back end though, as in addition to “S”, “W” & “Z”, the letters “U”, “X” and “Y” were strong, as well.

Steve Kostanski's letter “W”

Overall, I felt there were very few duds. Even Todd Rohal's letter “P” – which seems to be getting universally slammed online – was at least amusing in its absurdity. I have to say I was expecting a little more from Bill Plympton though, if only because his “H” segment seemed like a rehash of a sequence from his 1992 effort, The Tune.

So, there you have it. Having learned from its weaknesses, ABC's of Death 2 has eclipsed its predecessor and hopefully given much needed visibility to the next wave of genre filmmakers.