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.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Squad on Blu-ray

Before I get to some of the great titles I saw at this banner year at Toronto After Dark, I have another guest post from Canuxploitation's Paul Corupe. This time, he has the rundown on the new Scream Factory Blu-ray release of the South American horror flick The Squad. Take it away, Paul.

Fall in maggots! Time to enlist in The Squad, a respectable 2011 Colombian horror-thriller that seems to have received most of its marching orders from John Carpenter's The Thing. Though The Squad fails to reach those lofty heights, the film is well-shot and occasionally atmospheric as it weaves some similar paranoia-based siege thrills. Though Scream! Factory usually opts for vintage horror, The Squad still feels akin to many of their other releases—a low-budget paranormal outing set in the middle of a civil war that manages some impressively tense scenes despite difficulty in getting them to pay off properly.


In the film, a crack military squad led by Sanchez (Mauricio Navas) reclaims a base only to find it eerily deserted, with only blood-stained walls, vague warnings written in chalk and a logbook with increasingly curious entries. Hearing muffled noises, one of the soldiers knocks down a thin cement wall and, behind it, discovers a woman tied up, seemingly left for dead. The rest of the unit debates about whether to free her—is she a spy, innocent civilian or something else entirely? One notes that she must have been tied up for a reason, and his insight proves to be prophetic. When they do free her things start to get even stranger, as madness and suspicion threaten to rip the squad apart, sometimes literally.

An interesting, but uneven effort that made the Festival rounds in 2011, The Squad is intended as an allegory to its war-torn country of origin, currently host to the longest-running civil war in history that began all the way back in 1964. The film plays off local fears and paranoia about sudden violence, missing family members and citizens caught in the middle of warring factions in this seemingly unending conflict. The Squad taps into this nerve-wracking situation where a long forgotten land mine can change anyone's life in a split second, and highlights the utter weariness of the shell-shocked soldiers, damaged from their long tour of duty, as they have trouble distinguishing reality from fearful fantasy.

Not surprisingly, the film focuses on the soldiers themselves, these war-ravaged young men who are unsure of the nature of the curse that seems to have befallen them. The film trades in stereotypes--gung ho heroes and reluctant fighters—but there are some decent dramatic moments that develop as the squad tries to figure out what happened to the previous unit and whether recent history is repeating itself.


Director Jamie Osorio Marquez makes excellent use of his claustrophobic bunker setting, with pleasantly washed-out colour palettes that give the film a notable visual richness. Though the film manages some genuine frissons as the squad explores the fog-plagued bunker, fearful of enemy ambush, it noticeably has more trouble when Marquez had to sneak in actual scares. He seems unsure of how to lead the audience's eye and where exactly a frightful image should pop up onscreen. A scene of a leg amputation, while somewhat gory, doesn't have as much impact as it should, due to camera placement choices and unsuccessfully trying to get the point across by squishy sound effects instead.

The ambiguity of the terror plaguing the squad is also not handled terribly well--if anything, it's a little too on-the-nose while setting up its red herrings. The film's invented haziness about who the woman is and what she's doing comes off as too calculated and obvious, with many warnings about witches and eerie forces that tip the film’s hand pretty early on.

A film that looks this nice should have an eye-popping transfer, and the film’s new Blu-ray shows off the occasionally gorgeous cinematography of hazy mountain backgrounds. The creepy, active soundtrack also gets a nice boost from a lively DTS track. The presentation is top-notch, as we've come to expect from Scream! Factory. However, the only real extra is a 20-minute "making of" doc that has some interesting behind-the-scenes footage, but was seemingly created as a series of promotional pieces.

While far from a classic, fans of siege horror will surely have a good time with The Squad–especially those partial to more recent horror festival favourites. So move out and pickup this one up, soldier!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Monitor Premiere.


Well, THAT happened. It was such a great night! My short film seemed to go over well, being that there were many kind words afterwards, so that’s always reassuring.

Me, with lead actress Tonya Dodds (right) & TAD programmer Shelagh Rowan-Legg. 


It’s been a crazy whirlwind this week – two flicks aday for nine nights will do that to you – but once I get a chance to catch my breath I will get things back on track here.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Surreality.

Here's the listing for The Monitor in honest-to-God print.


I keep thinking in the back of my mind, I'm going to get an email or text saying,“whoops, there's been a terrible mistake.”



Just over twenty-four hours to showtime now. By this time tomorrow I bet my stomach and heart are going to feel like they have switched places.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Darkness Is Nigh!

The ninth edition of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival starts its nine-day run of insane programming tonight.


Apart from the 31st, this festival is the highlight of my October every year. I'm excited to see several of the films in the line-up this year, including tonight's Opening Gala screening of New Zealand's newest horror offering Housebound.


But, as I announced earlier, this year has extra significance because my newest short film is playing TAD this year.


The Monitor will be screening in front of the Elijah Wood thriller Open Windows at 7pm on Mon, October 20th at The Scotiabank Theatre. If you make it, please come over and say hi, either at the theatre or afterwards at Pub After Dark.

With all the madness of the next week or so, posts will be light, but I promise to whip up some, after the dust settles, covering the films I most enjoyed at this year's TAD, as well as my experiences next Monday evening. Until then, have a great weekend!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Well, Hellooo Dolly!

Last Wednesday, The Black Museum (its fourth semester now winding down) held another of their lectures at The Royal, this one an exploration of dolls, and other creepy life-like machinations in horror cinema. 


I was looking forward to this not only because of the subject matter, but also because the guest speaker Andrea Butler's previous lecture on horror movie poster art still remains one of my favourites.

Butler began by relating a personal connection to that evening's lecture, in that she grew up in contact with a substantial doll collection by way of her mother. Strangely, as a child, nothing was amiss. It was only when she grew into her teens, that this collection, looming on hallway shelves that were built for just that purpose, started to become ominous. Why had this only become an issue when she had reached a certain age? Dolls provide children with joy the world over, yet for some adults, they give the absolute opposite response. I mean, look no further than this confounding ad from the sixties...



This irrational unease was what Butler sought to explore that evening. Rather than simply do a historical chronology of cinematic dolls, puppets and mannequins, she thought it much more interesting to analyze how these fears have been represented on film.


She began with a possible origin, which dealt with man's fear of becoming an automaton brought on by The Industrial Revolution and the increase of menial & repetitive labour. I can certainly see how one could fear the loss of individuality and sense of one's self during this time. Butler offered up a clip of Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times to illustrate this point.

Hoping to identify what exactly makes dolls and the like so unsettling, Butler brought up Masahiro Mori's theory of  “The Unncanny Valley”.

Right click to enlarge.

Based on an earlier essay by Sigmund Freud, Mori was a robotics professor that surmised that one's reaction to a robot was in direct relation to how closely it resembled our likeness. As Butler explained;

“The more human a robot acts or looks, the more endearing it is to us, but when the likeness is too strong, it somehow illicits a negative reaction... and if the robots moves or speaks, that only increases the feeling of the uncanny.”

With that out of the way, Butler broke down how these subjects are represented in cinema into three categories.

The first category involved inanimate objects as props for the antagonist, being used either to symbolize some past trauma of the killer, or as lures or traps for their victims. Butler cited such examples as these iconic sequences from Dario Argento's Deep Red and James Wan's Saw



as well as lesser known fare, such as 1983's Curtains and the underseen 2012 flick Cassadaga.


The second representation in film is related to mental illness, where a character will interact or speak through - or sometimes become - an inanimate object in order to enact a fantasy or repress reality. Some of the examples brought up in this category were “The Ventriloquist's Dummy” segment of the 1945 anthology film Dead of Night, Richard Attenborough's brilliant thriller Magic, as well as the weirdly sexual Pin from 1988, and Lucky McKee's May.



The third, and most pervasive category belongs to the supernatural, where dolls have been possessed or cursed by some mischievous or evil entity. There were obviously no shortage of titles to crib from here, but Butler chose a nice mix of the mainstream and obscure, which included Umberto Lenzi's Ghosthouse, Stuart Gordon's Dolls and the Zuni Fetish sequence from the 1975 Karen Black vehicle Trilogy of Terror.



There could also be no discussion without the inclusion of the denizens of the Puppet Master films and good ol' Chucky from Child's Play.



Bringing things up to date was Annabelle, the ultimate creepy doll introduced in James Wan's 2013 scare flick The Conjuring, and now, most recently, in her self-titled prequel.



Butler brought the talk to a close by saying that the common thread of these categories preys on our fear of becoming a doll, losing control of our body, or being manipulated by some outside force.

So, my conclusions?

Yep, dolls are creepy as fuck.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

DKTM 237


Hello all. Well, we're knee deep in every horrorphile's favourite month and everything seems to be moving along nicely. I can see from my various social media feeds that several October horror movie marathons are in full swing and it warms my heart.

I myself am in the calm before the storm (i.e Toronto After Dark) here, so I'm enjoying this little Thanksgiving breather before things get crazy for here on in. So, for now, here are some terror tidbits to chew on.

Sexy Witchcraft.

Here is a cool little effects-heavy short I found on Vimeo called Goat Witch. It is from the guys who brought you last year's The Demon's Rook, that made some noise on the festival circuit last year. This short features a lot of things I hold dear, such as gore, dark rituals... oh, and blood-soaked, full frontal nudity. Enjoy!



Arrow A Go-Go.

Most cinephiles have heard of Arrow Video by now. Based out of the UK, they have killing it with their horror Blu-ray releases over the past few years. Unfortunately, due to being across the pond, their wonderful wares are region locked (as well as all that pesky overseas shipping) which continues to pose a problem to a large percentage of North American consumers. Well, Arrow now has their sights on expanding, but they need your help.



One-hundred-thousand smackers is a lofty goal to be sure, but it looks like they are already a third of the way there, so the demand is obviously there. Plus, fifteen bones is a pretty good price for an Arrow tee, wouldn't you say? For more info on the campaign, click here.

Well? Are You???

Though it was a bit before my time (I was weened on Twilight Zone reruns, Tales both from the Crypt and Darkside, and also the lesser known series, Darkroom) the show Are You Afraid Of The Dark? was pretty substantial nightmare fuel for kiddies of the nineties. Recently, Reddit user R2Teep2 was kind enough to not only discover that every episode is available on YouTube, but also cull all the links together in a handy episode guide. Click on the image below to dive in.


Whether reliving childhood memories or discovering them anew, these should keep you busy throughout the Halloween season.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Trailer Tuesdays: Pin

Since tomorrow's Black Museum lecture is all about creepy dolls, marionettes and automatons in film, I figured I'd offer up one of Canada's best examples of such, the 1988 thriller Pin, starring David Hewlett & Terry O'Quinn.



I recently re-watched this and the subject matter is still pretty unsettling, as not only is Hewlett's character all kinds of askew, but his father (played by O'Quinn) corners the market on questionable parenting decisions. A dangerous mix, indeed.