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.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Trailer Tuesdays: Night of the Demons

I'm throwing the trailer for Kevin Tenney's classic eighties romp Night of the Demons up here, not only because Halloween is almost upon us, but it was also the subject of the last Drunken Cinema.

For those not in the know, Drunken Cinema is an ongoing film series curated by my pal and resident cinephile Serena Whitney. Every month she rents out the back room of The Steady and screens a movie complete with a specifically designed set of drinking rules.

Past films have been Silent Night, Deadly Night, Deep Blue Sea and Slumber Party Massacre. She doesn't always play horror films (for instance the next one is Carl Weathers' Action Jackson), but those are naturally my favourites. Especially when I win raffles prizes like this beauty!

For more info on Drunken Cinema, click here.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Shorts After Dark 2016

Toronto After Dark's mandate has always included showcasing short films from Canada and around the globe, and this year was no different. Here below were some of my favourites.

After his powerhouse of a short Point Of View last year, Justin Harding has followed it up with another winner. Kookie, anchored by a comically adept young lead in Ava Jamieson and the scariest cookie jar you've ever seen, delivers both the laughs and scares. Harding is killing it right now.

I was also glad that TAD played Greg Jeffs' It's All In Your Head. We programmed this at Fright Night Theatre last month and its wonderful turnabout is the precisely the reason I love watching short films.

The action short Olga from Quebec featuring veteran stuntwoman Naomi Frenette was easy for me to get behind. She absolutely kicked ass in this and I hope to see her in more projects soon.

Naomi Frenette in Olga.

The shorts programmers Peter Kuplowsky & Shannon Hanmer also served up heavy helpings of absurdity with the likes of Boy Toys, Astron 6's newest Divorced Dad and batshit wacko Greener Grass.

For me, the most visually resonant short that played this year was Tim Egan's Curve. Immediately putting the viewer in peril, it's a short that makes you feel physically uncomfortable.

And speaking of uncomfortable, there was also Anthony Cousins' When Susurris Stirs, but for a very different reason. If this one doesn't make you cringe, then you are made of stone. Also back this year, was Brit Oliver Park with his new chiller Still. He is another filmmaker who is mining gold from the home invasion subgenre boom.

Lastly, there was Dianne Bellino's beautiful stop-motion animation short The Itching. I don't think I've ever seen the plight of social anxiety better represented than it was here.

The Itching.

It was not only a strong year for shorts at TAD this year, but there was also a wide range of stories, themes and tone that hit us with a little bit of everything. Well done, guys!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Enter The Void.

Toronto After Dark wrapped up on Friday with a rousing double-bill of the wonderfully fantastic mermaid musical The Lure, and the uber-anticipated local horror production The Void.

It seemed I'd been waiting so long to see this movie that it was almost surreal when the opening title came up. The Void was pretty much what I was expecting and hoping for when I pledged money to their IndieGogo campaign over a year ago. I wanted a waking nightmare filled with slobbery monsters and unadulterated chaos, and that is what Steve Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie delivered.

First and foremost, the creature effects were sublime. Kostanski is not only a wizard at practical effects, but he also knows their limitations. He knows how to show them to get the maximum oh-fuck-what-is-that? response on the viewer. His designs were indescribably horrific and I give him full props for bringing forth such originality in a genre that often just uses existing templates. It was also refreshing that no studio stepped in at the eleventh hour and CG'd over all their hard work.

Yet the creature effects were not the only thing that really impressed me about this movie. Even though it shares DNA with genre classics like Assault on Precinct 13, Prince of Darkness, The Thing, Hellraiser, Event Horizon and The Beyond, The Void never felt like it wasn't its own entity. It's also not showy about being a period piece either. Nobody was playing with a Rubik's Cube or listening to Duran Duran on their Walkman, it was just that about a half-hour in that I realized no one had pulled out a cell phone. The Void goes beyond homage.

If I had one criticism though, it was that the creature effects were so good that they overshadowed everything else. Though I had no real problems with the performances and story, I was always waiting for the next set piece. Kostanksi & Gillespie knew what they were doing though. Having confidence in their visuals to shock and horrify, they let them take center stage and, in complete contrast to the movie that screened the day before, rarely resorted to cheap jump scares.

Directors Steve Kostanski (left) and Jeremy Gillespie.

It was a long journey to get The Void made, but I think Kostanski and Gillespie should be very proud of what they accomplished here. Not only did they make an honest-to-goodness creature feature, but they have also successfully broken out of the comedy-laden mold of their time with Astron 6. I have now crossed over into The Void and so should you.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The House On Jump Scare Avenue

On  the second last night of Toronto After Dark, I checked out the indie From a House on Willow Street from South Africa.

Four petty criminals kidnaps a woman for ransom, only to realize their captive may not be as helpless as they thought.

You know, every time I hear about a “kidnappers get more than they bargained for” movie, I always wonder if someone has finally done the languishing script I've been picking at for twenty-some years. But no, as per usual, it started off similar and then spiralled off in a different direction. Overall, I thought the idea of Willow Street was sound, but the execution was a little lackluster. Once it got beyond the potential of its premise, it fell into themes that have been mined before in better movies.

Sharni Vinson & Carlyn Burchell in From A House on Willow Street.

But first, some positives. Due to some impressive locations and production design, Willow Street looked great. The monster designs were solid, even if they did feel like extensions of stuff we've come to know from the Resident Evil franchise. Apart from some CG towards the end, I had no problems at all with the way this movie looked.

Sadly, the main takeaway for me was just how exhausting the sound design was. I mean, I actually lost count of how many jump scares there were. It was like the filmmakers didn't have enough confidence in their visuals and decided to just add a loud noise every few minutes. It was incredibly frustrating because not only are there so many other horror movies that use this lazy crutch, but there are far superior ways to create tension. I'm not saying you can't use jump scares, but it's a matter of quality, not quantity. It really does take away from the picture as a whole if you abuse it.

Actor/producer Zino Ventura (left) director Alastair Orr & actress Carlyn Burchell.

At the end of the day though, Willow Street was just a couple of guys from South Africa working their fingers to the bone to make a horror movie, so good on 'em. Despite its problems, it still managed to be a step above most of the standard studio fare that gets churned out. I just hope director Alastair Orr and company can incorporate a little subtlety into their next venture.

*Q&A photo courtesy of Toronto After Dark

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Small Town Monsters.

Shifting to monsters of a different sort, Toronto After Dark screened Billy O’Brien’s I Am Not A Serial Killer on Monday night.

A troubled youth named John (Max Records) becomes obsessed with a serial killer that has recently set up shop in his small town.

Eleven years ago at TIFF, I saw O’Brien’s debut Isolation, a dour science-gone-wrong tale that never really got the recognition it deserved in my opinion. So, I was pretty chuffed to hear that he was back with another film that was being received well on the festival circuit. And I’m even happier to say that I Am Not A Serial Killer is another winner.

I loved the feel and locale of this movie. Set largely during the Midwestern winter, the comparisons to Fargo are justified, though I am glad that O’Brien kept the quirk to a minimum. This was a really poignant representation of a young sociopath being pushed to the edge by external forces. As someone who spent a good deal of my adolescence with a dark cloud over my head, I identified with a lot of what was going on here. Much like my experience with Scott Schrimer’s Found, it tapped into something really personal and went beyond with a ‘what if’ scenario.

Christopher Lloyd & Max Records in I Am Not A Serial Killer.

The performances in I Am Not A Serial Killer were solid across the board, but most of the praise obviously goes to Records and Christopher Lloyd. Records seems to have survived the Hollywood transition from child to adult, as he gives a wonderfully reserved performance here. In amongst his cold and withdrawn demeanor, there was a wry sense of humour in John that came out whenever he was trying to hide his true feelings. It was almost heartbreaking to see how hard the character was trying to be “normal”, even though we all know that you eventually reach an age where you realize that there is no such thing. No one is normal, just different degrees of fucked up.

It was also amazing to see that even in his late seventies, just how much gravitas Lloyd still has onscreen. His wise and reflective conversations with John were just great to watch. Man, it looked bitterly cold during some of his scenes, and he didn’t seem bothered at all.

Up to no good.

I Am Not A Serial Killer was a coming-of-age tale, but it's also a mystery as well, so the less you know the better. However, I didn’t feel like there were really any big revelations that weren’t either already fairly evident or at least revealed very early on. Sometimes people get hung up on that stuff when they should just be concentrating on the more personal aspects of the story.

I don’t think it's going to blow anyone’s mind, but I thought I Am Not A Serial Killer was a really solid indie. It’s well acted and paints an unsensationalized portrait of living with mental illness.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Zombie Night 2016

As  has always been the tradition at Toronto After Dark, Saturday night belongs to the undead. 2016's edition brought us flesh eaters from the UK and South Korea in The Rezort and Train To Busan, respectively.

The Rezort came first, and the easiest way to describe it is Jurassic Park with zombies. Coming a few years after society has regained control of a worldwide outbreak, well-to-do types pay to vacation on an island where you can shoot up shackled zombies. That is, until a zombie-rights hacker shuts down the system and lets them loose on the inhabitants.

This movie was nothing to write home about, but considering its juicy setup and lush locale (Majorca) it would've been really hard to screw it up. The characters were fairly stock, but the zombies looked great and they got shot up a lot. Like, a lot. If you're cruising Netflix and looking for something to scratch that undead itch, you could do a LOT worse, trust me.

Moving onto the real meat, the second film was Sang-ho Yeon's Train To Busan. I actually watched this a few months ago when it played a limited run here, but I had no qualms about seeing it again at TAD, as it's a super fun ride. It's basically about a zombie outbreak making its way onto a train travelling from Seoul to Busan. If you dig zombie movies, this has basically everything you'd want and once that train leaves the station, it doesn't let up.

Yoo Gong in Train To Busan.

With its confined spaces, I thought the unique setting of the commuter train added a layer of tension that worked really well. And you're in luck if you like your zombies fast, as these fuckers are bad-ass. Going from still to feral death machines in mere seconds, I really liked the crunching and kinetic physicality of this particular brand of ghoul. With some digital assistance there were some really striking images of mass numbers tearing towards their prey, and fortunately never looked as cartoony as it did in World War Z.

More importantly, and frankly impressively, Train To Busan featured an unusually high number of likable characters to root for. The comic timing and dialogue was on point and there were some exchanges that were funny and touching in equal measure. You can tell you've won over an audience, when there are audible gasps and exclamations when people start falling to the zombie horde. Utilizing a really terrific cast, most notably Dong-seok Ma, Yu-mi Jeong and Kim (damn that kid can cry), Yeon was really able to tug at the heartstrings.

Dong-seok Ma in Train To Busan.

Yeon (in this as well as Seoul Station, his other project this year) also injected some social commentary into his zombie tale, as class struggle and paranoia were ever present. His message was more prevalent in Station (and its homeless population metaphor) but Yeon didn't shy away from humanity's uglier attributes here either.

This is a must watch in my opinion. It delivered on its premise and built tension not only from its snarling antagonists, but also the constant endangerment of characters we had grown to like. All aboard Train To Busan!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sibling Rivalry

My Toronto After Dark experience began this year with Black Fawn’s newest venture, Let Her Out.

After a biking accident, Helen (Alanna LeVierge) starts having nightmares and black-outs that leads her to believe there is someone else inside her head – and they want out!

I felt, decidedly somewhat ironically, that this was a movie of two halves. I had a few uh-oh moments during the first act when an unnecessarily chaotic opening was followed by some pretty stiff exposition. However, once all of the clumsy stuff was out of the way, Let Her Out seemed to do just that and kick into another gear. It was then I started enjoying myself.

As one might expect, the paramount reason this movie worked at all was due to its lead, Alanna LeVierge. She brought an incredible physicality to the role that almost comes out of nowhere when taking into account the severe escalation of her affliction. It was one of those dual performances that made me question if it was indeed the same actress at times. Obviously, make-up was a factor, but not enough to take away from LeVierge's significant acting chops.

Alanna LeVierge as Helen in Let Her Out.

Speaking of the make-up effects, they were rock solid here. Effects artist Shaun Hunter has so vastly improved over what he has doing just a year or two ago that I think his work here stacks up against anything we’ve seen recently. In addition to the bloody climax, there was also a fantastic little set piece on a subway platform. It was the perfect example of effects, camerawork and performance coming together to create something really bad-ass.

Lastly, I just wanted to mention that I appreciated how Toronto was represented. Let Her Out was set here, and made no bones about it, as evidenced by the ample shots of the city’s skyline. Granted, Niagara Falls and Guelph were also utilized, but Toronto is pretty unmistakable when you see it. We need more filmmakers (Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy is perhaps the greatest recent example) using this city as a backdrop for their darker tales. We have our demons too.

Cast & crew of Let Her Out.

So despite Let Her Out’s shaky start, I think it redeemed itself by the end. While it’s true we’ve seen these themes played out before, there was a cold, dark and yet colourful coat of paint on this that made it it’s own beast.