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, 2008

The Best Day Of The Year

Have a safe and happy Halloween everyone!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Links

As you would expect, the Internet is currently alive with ghoulish content. Here are just a few I have come across in my travels. If you've seen anything cool recently, please feel free to pass it my way.

Over at, they have an article about creative Halloween ads. Here's a sample. has a ton of original horror content, here are two quick vids from Waverly Films.

I bet you've never seen THESE deleted scenes from John Carpenter's Halloween.

If you go over to Yahoo! Music, they have collected together a bunch of ghoulish videos, like this old classic from Aphex Twin.

Fans of Hatchet will probably dig the new short from Adam Green, called The TiVo. Click here to check it out.

The season finale of Ghostella's Haunted Tomb (called Top Friends featuring 300's Lena Headey) is not online yet, but click here for an episode from earlier this year entitled Ex.

Lastly, there is a cool bit over at about the history of Scream Queens.

Happy Devil's Night everyone!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Big H.

With Halloween almost upon us, the subject of this week's Coverbox Wednesday should be fairly obvious. Enjoy!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Trail of Stellar Work Starts Here.

Director Christopher Nolan is one of Hollywood’s brightest stars. This year, his gargantuan Dark Knight challenged for the number one spot for all-time grossing film currently held by the unsinkable Titanic. The great cast (including Christian Bale and the late Heath Ledger) and the strong iconography of the Batman brand were contributing factors to this of course, but it would have never happened without Nolan at the helm. He is not one of the more recognized filmmakers in the business, yet he should be. His filmography, now six films strong, is extremely impressive and it all started ten years ago with the release of a humble little indie called Following.

A lonely young writer (Jeremy Theobald) escapes boredom by 'shadowing' strangers at random. Living vicariously through the people he follows, he becomes obsessed with the lives they lead. As time goes by, it becomes harder for him to abide by the rules he set for himself.

Following is an excellent crime film. You can immediately see the beginnings of Nolan’s signature narrative style here. It feels almost like a run through for his subsequent film Memento – like Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock was to Snatch – which propelled him into the mainstream in 2001. Nolan is first and foremost a storyteller. The multi-million dollar budgets of The Prestige and Batman are just the bells and whistles on an already sound skill set.

At a scant seventy minutes and just three main characters, Following feels more like an intimate stage play, than a film. It is a shining example of engrossing filmmaking on a low budget. The difference between Following and The Dark Knight maybe a decade and five hundred million plus, but both were executed adeptly by a director at the top of his game.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Never Trust A Corpse

It was a crazy week at After Dark this year, but unfortunately all good things must come to an end. The closing night film was an odd curiosity called I Sell The Dead. This was only the movie’s second public screening (the first was at Sitges), so it’s not surprising I hadn’t heard of it before it was announced for After Dark.

The night before his execution, grave robber Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) tells his life story to a priest (Ron Perlman), who has come to give him his last rites.

I liked I Sell The Dead. I’ll refrain from using the word ‘cute’ to describe it, as that was the term I heard coming out of people’s mouths all that night in regards to it. In my book, cute is a term reserved for Gremlins and E.T.

The low budget underpinnings of I Sell The Dead are easily overcome through strong performances, good storytelling and solid production design. I believed I was in this world and that’s really all you can ask for. I Sell The Dead also scores points with me for having a really cool and fulfilling conclusion. The sound mix was a little difficult to decipher at points, but that could have been due to the venue, which I’m sad to say had several different playback problems this past week.

I Sell The Dead felt like an elongated Tales From The Crypt episode (by no means a knock) as Arthur Blake regaled the priest with his exploits. His world was filled with all sorts of colourful characters. I got the feeling that there were a few more movies worth of material that could be told and, to be honest, I would watch them. I wouldn’t call I Sell The Dead cute, but the words amusing and charming do come to mind.

The cast and crew of I Sell The Dead.

Writer/Director Glenn McQuaid

Larry Fessenden

Brenda Cooney

Angus Scrimm sporting some pretty funky shades.

After the film and Q&A, we filed over to the Bovine Sex Club for the closing night party, which was capped off by a wicked performance by Orco Muto (fronted by the great Maurizio Guarini of Goblin fame). I didn’t even know they were going to be there until the unmistakable themes from Suspiria, Tenebrae and Deep Red started booming from the front of the club.

It was a great night and Adam Lopez, Todd Brown and Peter Kuplowsky should be proud of themselves for what they have accomplished here. The festival is growing exponentially, as anyone can see from the four sellout shows, zombie hordes and countless press that were in evidence at Bloor & Bathurst this last week. Can’t wait for 2009!

The Shorts

Along with its line-up of features, Toronto After Dark also showcases several shorts over the course of the week. A Canadian short was screened before every film and Sunday afternoon featured an International Programme of nine shorts from around the world.

Here are my top five shorts from the week:

1. Treevenge – The new short by Jason Eisener, the genius behind last year’s Grindhouse faux trailer competition winner Hobo With A Shotgun. Gory, clever and downright hilarious, Treevenge is fifteen minutes of absolute gold. Eisener is on track for great things.

2. The Facts In The Case of Mister Hollow – Like I mentioned before, this played in front of Let The Right One In and I’m still thinking about it. The attention to detail and eerie score really work together to make this a stunning piece of art.

3. The Goblin Man Of Norway – A faux documentary meant as a companion piece to Silicon Knights recent video game release Too Human. This short was so brilliantly executed that a good chunk of the audience thought it was real, until the following Q&A. Watch it here.

4. Hydro-Levesque – A highly enjoyable experimental film – an oxymoron in itself. If David Lynch had grown up in Winnipeg, we may have gotten something like this, instead of cult darling Eraserhead.

5. Bum Rush – A really funny short about three average Joes taking on a very angry vagrant. What makes this even more impressive is that this was a 24-hour film challenge entry. I know what is involved in producing one of these and the fact that the final product was this polished is a true testament to their skills. See it here.

Some honourable mentions:

Martians Go Home – An homage to eighties horror involving a movie geek fighting alien zombies.

I Live In The Woods – This is a great stop motion animation bit about a maniacal forest dweller. He wreaks more destruction in three minutes than most could in ninety. Click here for a sneak peek.

Kingz – This German actioner just got better and crazier as it went on. Gangsters, kung fu and aliens oh my! Check out the trailer here.

Deadspiel – Someone finally had to bright idea to combine zombies and curling. Hilarity ensues!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Toronto Gore Police

Yoshihiro Nishimura's Tokyo Gore Police had its Toronto premiere last night.

Yep. Still awesome.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thailand Terrors

If there is a country that can compete with France as the current kings of horror right now, it is Thailand. They have been releasing quality product for years, with titles like The Eye, Shutter, Alone and Victim. That is why I was extremely excited when I heard the Thai anthology film 4bia was coming to Toronto After Dark.

4bia is a fabulous group of stories that fit right in with the other great stuff coming out of that part of the world. Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom, the pair behind Alone and the original Shutter (two of my faves) were the masterminds behind this and have now cemented themselves as premiere players on the horror scene. There are many reasons why 4bia works so well. It has a little bit of everything, being book ended by two great scary stories, with action and comedy tinged ones in between. There is no wrap around story, just cool little Easter eggs within each short that reveal they all take place in the same universe. If Asian horror movies have one sin, it’s that they often pad their movies with filler between set pieces. The best thing about 4bia is that because each installment is just twenty-five minutes, they always get right to the goods.

After a sweet looking title sequence, 4bia gets right into it with the first story. “Happiness” is about a young woman, housebound with a broken leg, who begins to text back and forth with a stranger on her cell phone. Though they are the most advanced region in the world, Asia seems to have this underlying fear of technology. Phones, video and computers have always played a huge part in this 21st century Asian horror renaissance. Despite its modern underpinnings though, Happiness still bears all the hallmarks of an old campfire tale. The climax of this story got the biggest rise out of the audience, so 4bia definitely starts off on a thrilling note. The second part called “Tit For Tat” was probably my least favourite. It had a Final Destination vibe that could have been cool, but one-note characters, annoying editing and terrible CGI ruined it for me. 4bia got back on track with story number three though. “In The Middle” about four dudes on a rafting trip was absolutely hilarious. Filled with self-referential humour and laugh out loud dialogue, it was a nice change of pace from the other three. The last installment “Last Flight” returns to the scares, with a simple Twilight Zone style yarn involving a flight attendant and her single “passenger”.

4bia was a blast and the crowd was really into it. I think the screams from the audience during the big moments made me jump more than the movie itself. When you can actually feel the collective anticipatory energy of the crowd around you, that is when you know you have a winner on your hands.

A Man And His Dog.

Another film that was at Fantasia that I was glad made the trip to T.O was Red.

Avery Ludlow (Brian Cox) doesn’t have much in his life. He has his house, his general store and his faithful mongrel Red. One day while out fishing, three boys accost him and angered that Ludlow has nothing to give them kill his dog in cold blood. When the police and courts fail to do anything, Ludlow has to seek justice on his own.

Red is the newest adaptation of one of Jack Ketchum’s books. I had sworn off his brand name after seeing The Lost, but I kept Red on my radar for one reason. Brian Cox. When you have an actor of that caliber onboard, you give your production instant credibility. And I’m not talking about collecting paychecks like Ben Kingsley in Bloodrayne, I mean an actor seeing something in the character or script that they want to explore and make their own.

And Brian Cox delivers. He puts in a performance that makes the movie. Red’s low budget and relative blandness is evident throughout, but it never bothered me once. Cox’s excellent and nuanced turn as Ludlow is the best I think I’ve ever seen him. The cast is also rounded out by a lot of familiar genre faces like Tom Sizemore, Robert Englund, Amanda Plummer and Ashley Laurence.

Some people I talked to at the screening didn’t think that there was much of a payoff, but I found the outcome realistic. If the system were to fail someone like it failed Ludlow, I think that might be how it could play out. I mean, Red is considered a revenge movie yes, and could have been a lot more sensational, but I kind of like that it didn’t go that route. That sounds weird of me to say I know. Maybe I’m just relieved that I didn’t have to relive The Lost again. If that’s the alternative, then tame is good.

Red is not a remarkable film, but features a remarkable performance that is worth watching. When I was at a screening of The Wrestler during TIFF last month, Darren Aronofsky introduced his film by saying something that has stuck with me ever since;

All you need to make a good film is an honest performance and a lens.

This is as true for The Wrestler, as it is for Red.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

City Of The Walking Dead

Last Sunday, Toronto was invaded by legions of the undead. The 6th Annual Zombie Walk kicked off this day’s Toronto After Dark festivities. By the time I got downtown, Bloor Street was already crawling with flesh eaters. It astonishes how big this event has gotten over just a few years, and by that I mean the Walk AND the Festival. There were multiple news crews on hand to document the occasion, which had a record setting two thousand ‘dead-tendees’ this year. The Walk set off from Trinity Bellwoods Park at three o’clock and made its way to the Bloor Cinema for a zombie movie double bill. There were undead of all shapes and sizes; zombies in baby carriages, zombies on stilts and even a group of zombie hunters running around with cap guns. Halloween comes a little early to The Big Smoke these days. I unfortunately didn’t get as many pictures as I would have liked, but I did snap this one of a couple that was sitting behind me in the theatre.

Zombie Walk co-ordinator Thea Munster.

For more pictures of the event, check out blogger Roger Cullman's coverage here.

So, first up was Kevin Tenney’s Brain Dead. When this was announced in the festival programme, I first thought they were doing a special screening of Peter Jackson’s iconic gorefest. Then I realized it was a different movie with the same name. I was skeptical at first, but the trailer won me over. Sure, it looked bargain basement, but there were enough cool gore pieces for me to surmise that it might be a good bit of fun.

And that’s what I got. Brain Dead is a low budget effects film. No more, no less. It is largely hit and miss (mostly miss) in every other regard. There were so many one-liners flying at us, it’s a wonder the characters weren’t tripping over them. Joshua Benton as Clarence was the only real bright point, but I have to wonder why he was given all the good material. They probably should have spread it out a bit, to make some of the other characters a little less painful. Brain Dead also has all these weird music cues that I guess are supposed to be funny, but kinda aren’t. Kevin Tenney is a veteran horror movie director, but for some reason Brain Dead reeks of a first film. Not that that's a big problem for me, it’s just a realization I came to. Tenney did manage to get every actress in the movie naked though, so I have to commend him on that.

In a situation like this, you just have to focus on the gore. It is well executed by Gabe Bartalos (well known for his work with Frank Henenlotter among others), working by himself at cost. I was kind of hoping for a little more originality with the deaths though. There isn’t much in it that we haven’t seen in other low budget zombie outings. I was reminded of the Australian movie Undead. Brain Dead actually made me appreciate the Spierig Brothers’ debut that much more. They had way less than Tenney to work with and they still made a far superior movie.

During the Q&A after, someone asked him what I was thinking earlier. Why did he name it Brain Dead?

Well, to be honest I just couldn’t think of anything better. When movies get sold to other countries, they often change the name of it anyway and you have no say in it. Even Peter Jackson’s Braindead got released as Dead Alive in the States. So I figured I’d just go with Brain Dead because it does fit.

Director Kevin Tenney

Kevin Tenney’s Brain Dead is pretty much what the trailer advertises. I’ve seen it done a lot worse, but also a lot better. Zombie movie fans are a pretty forgiving lot though. We just want to see things get red. Anything else is just bloody icing on the cake.

The second film of the double bill was Trailer Park Of Terror. I could have caught this at Fantasia, but decided to check out an animated indie called From Inside instead. Yeah… hindsight is twenty-twenty.

Trailer Park Of Terror is a pretty good time. I had no previous knowledge of the comic series the movie was based on, but I expect it is pretty fucked up judging from this. I’m actually kind of surprised I liked it to be honest, considering there wasn’t one likable character in the bunch. The lead Nichole Hiltz puts in a fine performance as Norma, taking on the challenge of having to play both protagonist AND antagonist throughout the movie. Director Steven Goldmann said during the Q&A that he was influenced by the old Universal features where the monsters were the bad guys, but still somewhat sympathetic. I don’t know if I’m onboard with that comparison though. It’s one thing to be Frankenstein, and another thing entirely to be an angry and sadistic zombie that likes to rip people to pieces.

Unlike Brain Dead, TPOT had no shortage of creative kills. The zombie makeup, provided by Drac Studios, was quite extensive. There were also multiple undead characters (the residents of the trailer park) that would have given any effects company a workout. Seeing all these characters in action reminded me how stoked I am for Jake West’s next picture Doghouse. The whole rockabilly vibe of the movie reminded me of 2004’s Dead & Breakfast. This redneck zombie thing is becoming a subgenre within a subgenre. Trailer Park Of Terror is not a bad effort. It has enough going on to make it stand out from the crowd".

At the end of the night, the undead masses shuffled off from whence they came, signalling the end of another successful zombie day in Toronto. I love this city.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Don't Try This At Home, Kids.

Saturday’s midnight screening was the UK horror flick Donkey Punch. It appeared on my radar after its Sundance premiere and I’ve been waiting to check it out ever since.

Three young women vacationing in Spain hook up with some guys at a bar and are soon partying on a large yacht that the men are looking after. After a sexual mishap leaves one of the girls dead, they start to turn on each other with deadly consequences.

Donkey Punch is a solid thriller. It is simple; occurring mainly in one location – the yacht that director Olly Blackburn makes great use of – and effective. I think its main strength is how plausible a situation like this could be, however it does take a while to get to the event that the title suggests. There is also a lot more sex than you usually see in a horror film (not that I’m complaining) and that's likely due to the Brits being a little more relaxed about such things. Of course stateside, Donkey Punch has quickly earned an NC-17. I’d say we Canadians might not be so far off, considering the giggles from the audience every time the phrase was used. The music in the movie is a nice addition too. Everything pre-'punch' is all contemporary tunes that the characters would listen to and when the S hits the F, it switches to a more conventional score, provided by Frenchman François Eudes. He is fast becoming one of my favourite composers, after his fantastic work on High Tension, Inside and most recently Vinyan.

The Q&A after was also good. Director Olly Blackburn seems like a pretty cool guy. He made mention of his influences like Knife In The Water and Alien, but when someone cited Dead Calm, he revealed that he actually set out to make the ‘anti-Dead Calm’.

Dead Calm is a great film, but I wanted to get away from where you have these characters and then a psycho appears and attacks them. I wanted Donkey Punch to be where there was no psycho. The characters themselves are the enemy.

Director Olly Blackburn.

I think what you should take away from this is that donkey punches, Cleveland steamers and angry pirates are fine to joke about with your buddies, but not something that should actually be put into practice.

21st Century Rock Opera.

It was Saturday night at the Opera. The Bloor Cinema I mean. It was filled, and I mean FILLED with a lively crowd awaiting the Toronto Premiere of Darren Bousman’s Repo! The Genetic Opera.

It is the future. The most powerful company in the world the genetic organ replacement empire GeneCo. They will sell you anything you need to extend your life on credit, but you better not skip out on the bill. Otherwise, they will send the Repoman to collect!

So, what to say about Repo! Well, it wasn’t the train wreck that some people had led me to believe, but I still didn’t think much of it. I have to give props to the production design and the overall look of the film though. The choice of using comic panels to convey character flashbacks was a unique one, but it did get a little tiresome after the fourth or fifth time.

The cast and their singing voices range from the excellent Sarah Brightman – the only parts I really liked were when she was onscreen – to the downright poor Bill Moseley. I know all you Paris-haters out there would like to hear that she was terrible, but the truth is she is not in the ‘cons’ column of this production. Her performance (basically playing a possible futuristic version of herself) is actually pretty solid. And Nivek Ogre (of Skinny Puppy fame) isn’t in it as much as I’d have liked either. Lastly, I’d like to make special mention of Tony Head (Giles from TV’s Buffy) for his portrayal of the Repoman. Even though some of the material he was given was not good, he gave it his all anyway, like a true pro.

Sarah Brightman as Blind Mag.

Nivek Ogre & Anthony Head.

Paris Hilton as Amber Sweet.

I would have preferred if there were actual dialogue scenes between the musical numbers, instead of the little sing-songy exchanges that happened to forward the story because they seemed awkward and sometimes even boring. During the first half of the movie, I couldn’t help feeling that Repo! was just a bunch of music videos clumsily strung together, more than a rock opera. You ever seen Phantom Of The Paradise? Now THAT’S a rock opera!

So, my verdict on Repo! is that, for the most part, it fell flat for me. Judging from the sold out crowd and the enthusiastic fans that stayed for the Q&A, the movie obviously has a audience; I’m just not it. I’ll give writer Terrance Zdunich and Bousman full credit for having the cajones to attempt it though. I know the suits probably looked at them like they had three heads when they originally presented it to them.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sweet & Sanguine

The 3rd Annual Toronto After Dark Festival kicked off yesterday with a bang. The opener was the highly anticipated Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In. I finally got to see the movie that had been tearing up the Internet with positive buzz. Before the film, festival director Adam Lopez was very proud to announce that this was After Dark’s first ever completely sold out screening. We were also treated to Rod Gudino’s new short The Facts In The Case Of Mister Hollow, a fantastic art piece that overflowed with eerie detail that I can’t wait to watch again.

Twelve-year-old loner Oskar is a quiet kid, constantly bullied by the other kids at school. Then one night he meets Eli, a girl who just moved in next door and they strike up a friendship. Eli is strange. Oskar only sees her at night; she never wears a coat and says she is twelve “more or less”. He begins to suspect the impossible. Could she be a vampire?

I gotta say that I really liked Let The Right One In a LOT. I can see why people have warmed to this film on the festival circuit because it is something really special.

I’m so glad I stayed away from the trailer and just let the story unfold in front of me. Let The Right One In somehow manages to be unconventional and original, yet incredibly simple and dare I say, sweet. Like REALLY sweet. I think that’s what caught me off guard about this piece. It isn’t really a horror film at all. It’s more of a coming of age story between a boy and a “girl”… that just happens to be a vampire. The exchanges between the two leads (Kåre Hedebrant & Lina Leandersson) are an absolute joy to watch. And on the top of all that, the film is beautifully shot. There are numerous winter exteriors, yet the film has this warmth to it. It hits a few of the same notes as the dark fantasy works of Guillermo Del Toro, but somehow manages to stay even more grounded in reality. Everything about Let The Right One In just fits together so well, including a truly satisfying conclusion.

There is very little that I can find fault with. It is a very sedate film and a little slow in places, but that is easily forgivable considering the fresh ground on which it is treading. There was this odd sequence with CGI cats that seemed out of place, but other than that I can say this film had me one hundred percent.

It’s really difficult to describe a film like Let The Right One In. It’s not shocking or in-your-face, it hits you differently with a sincerity that I can’t believe has never been attempted like this before. It comes to the party with new ideas – including seeing what happens when you don’t invite a vampire in – which is a true rarity in this day and age.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Who Goes There?

For as long as there have been movies, there have been movie fans. They come in all shapes and sizes, some loving the medium as a whole and some honing in on a particular genre (I can relate). Then, there are those that focus almost all of their affection onto one single title. London, Ontario’s Todd Cameron falls into that last category. From an early age, he has been consumed with an undying appreciation for John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece The Thing. Over the past few decades, he has amassed an impressive collection of Thing memorabilia and even started an annual event in his hometown called Thing-Fest. This year (its eighth), he brought it to Toronto, with the help of Rue Morgue Magazine – who interviewed Cameron for their Thing 25th Anniversary issue last year – for a special screening at The Bloor.

I of course, couldn’t miss out on this. I am in complete agreement with Todd’s adoration of the film. It rightly deserves its place in The Fearsome Fifteen and it could be argued that The Thing is Carpenter’s greatest achievement. It also has the distinction – one that few of its eighties peers can attest to – of holding up beautifully. Rob Bottin’s legendary creature effects still leave me as awestruck as they did my nine-year-old self. The Bloor’s upstairs lobby was transformed into a makeshift museum as Cameron brought along some of his collection. Check it out.

As you can see, he's a big fan.

MC Dave Alexander asked for a show of hands from those who had yet to see The Thing and the number surprised me. I almost envy them. I’d love to be able to watch The Thing for the first time again. Rue Morgue had also lined up a special guest for the night’s proceedings – Thing cast member Thomas Waites, who played Windows. He stuck around after the screening for one of the best Q&A’s I’ve seen in a while. He was full of stories, including how he left a successful off-Broadway play with Al Pacino to shoot the film, the great camaraderie between the ensemble cast and the disappointment when the movie failed at the box office (mainly because E.T. came out that same year and the masses weren’t interested in aliens that weren’t cute and cuddly). Waites also had nothing but praise for John Carpenter, saying “He just always knew what he wanted."

Thomas Waites (Windows)

Having also been to the Bloor’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre event back in August, I could really get used to these special screening of classic films. It’s just so bone-chillingly awesome to be able to see these seminal works shown how they were originally intended. What a fantastic night!