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, August 26, 2010

The Awards.

The Toronto After Dark awards were announced today. Being an inherently fan-run festival, it stands to reason that the awards are largely dictated by said fans. This year the winners were;




The Vision awards are voted on by festival staff to recognize outstanding achievement by independent filmmakers. This year, the honours went to;




In the Shorts category, the awards were split up into Canadian and International categories.

For homegrown accolades, Gold went to the beautiful Japanese-flavoured short Junko's Shamisen, King Chicken (which I regretfully missed) took Silver and Bronze was a tie between Astron 6's mock trailer Fireman! and Geronimo Deadly's side-splitter Game Night.

In International, I was happy to see the UK creeper Off Season take Gold. Pumzi and Deus Irae were awarded Silver & Bronze, respectively.

The unforgiving landscape of Off Season.

Some individual awards of note were acting nods for The Last Exorcism's Patrick Fabian & I Spit on Your Grave's Sarah Butler.

I'm in agreement with most of the choices, but I am a little shocked that Phobia 2 was shut out of the proceedings. For the full award listings, click here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Shorts After Dark 2010

As with previous years, Toronto After Dark features several homegrown and international shorts over its eight day schedule. Here below are the ones that most caught my eye.

1. Dues Irae - This short from Argentina about an exorcism gone wrong impressed the hell out of me. The creature and makeup effects were far beyond what I expected they would be. I would be more than willing to see this concept done as a feature. Watch the teaser clip below and you'll see what I mean.

2. Off Season - This is a UK short, that I saw a few months ago at WSFF and it was just as chilling the second time around. The cinematography is pristine. Click here to see a clip.

3. Game Night - Geronimo Deadly are a local improv troop that excel at making quality shorts in a limited time period. I've competed against them in the Toronto Film Race before, and damn are they good at what they do. The short below was originally created in 100 hours for the 2009 Film Racing Grand Prix.

4. The Thomas Beale Cypher - This animated short out of the USA really got my attention. It has a unique style that really added to the story. The filmmaker Andrew Allen was in attendance and is intending to make more in the future. I can't wait. You can check out the film's awesome website, by clicking here.

5. Re-Wire - This is an awesome sci-fi short dripping with atmosphere that stars local boy Brandon McGibbon who you may remember playing Adrian Brody's brother in Splice earlier this year. See the trailer below for a closer look.

Some honourable mentions:

Chloe & Attie - This was another hold over from WSFF. This short has such a great look to it and its creepy co-stars don't hurt the feel of the piece either. Perhaps most impressive is that it was shot in 48 hours for the 2009 Bloodshots Film Festival. Click here for the trailer.

United Monster Talent Agency - This short directed by gore guru Greg Nicotero was super fun. Set in the heyday of the classic Universal monster movies, it poses the scenario that all of its creatures really existed and had to be hired - and wrangled once their work was done. Featuring tons of cameos from familiar faces such as Frank Darabont, Robert Rodriguez and Eli Roth, this one is a real crowd pleaser.

Pumzi - Though it may run out of steam towards the end, this South African/Kenyan sci-fi co-production really impressed me in that it created a lush and detailed civilization in a very short amount of time. Check out the trailer here.

Junko's Shamisen - This Canadian short blew me away with its look. Using a unique and beautiful animation style, Solomon Friedman spins a Japanese-flavoured fable about a child's quest for vengeance. See the trailer here.

Astron 6 was well represented this year at the fest with a trio of offerings. In addition to their take on the zombie apocalypse Inferno of the Dead, they also had two of their signature trailers, the Halloween-inspired slasher Fireman and an elongated version of Father's Day, which has been all over the Internet recently.

Lastly, Toronto After Dark commissioned some alumni to make bumpers for its fifth year. Local filmmaker Chris Nash stepped up to the plate and delivered. He still maintains he half-assedly put this together in an afternoon, but it still didn't stop this fifty-second bit from being one of the most popular things screened this year. For your enjoyment below, is 5 Years Young.

And, that's it. Another successful year. The festival awards should be announced any day, so I'll update you then. In the meantime, I'm getting ready for a busy weekend as the Fan Expo rolls into town.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Fate Worse Than Death.

I remember the first time I heard about the premise to The Human Centipede. I think my first reaction was “ewwww!” Then I recall being incredibly surprised that the Japanese didn’t conceive it. No, it was, in fact, Dutch and this vomitous concept soon set the InterWebs ablaze.

After getting a flat tire while vacationing in Germany, two friends find refuge at the home of one Dr. Heiter. Unfortunately for Lindsay & Jenny, he has in mind to include them in his latest diabolical experiment – creating a Siamese triplet connected via a single digestive tract.

So, like Rubber, The Human Centipede was pretty much what I was expecting. It is a movie that was made solely to make its audience squirm. It has three things going for it. The first is, of course, the premise. When you first hear it, you either think ‘no thank you’ or ‘yes please’. However, even if you have no intention of subjecting yourself to such things, your imagination runs wild anyway and that is often even worse than anything a filmmaker could put onscreen. Either way, director Tom Six wins. The second is how surprisingly well made the movie is. With it being a gross out flick, they could have just pointed the camera at their disgusting creation, but the production value and visual style of the film are actually pretty competent. The third, and perhaps most important, is Dieter Laser, who plays the insidious surgeon Dr. Heiter. Seemingly channelling Udo Kier, he glowers his way through the entire movie. It just would have not worked at all without his presence.

That being said, this is where the positives stop. The Human Centipede has an underlying comedic tone, which tends to circumvent the horror elements of the piece. I know that adding humour makes it a more fun watch, but with a premise this wretched I wonder how it would have been received if played straight. The dialogue during the setup is extremely clunky and bone-headed character motivations abound throughout. I also would've liked to have seen more of the actual procedure. As I stated, leaving things to the imagination can be very powerful, but for a movie that purports to be 100% medically accurate, they could have shown more of the surgery. I was with a bunch of friends at the screening, one of whom is a nurse and she was irked considerably by its omission.

None of these things really stopped The Human Centipede from still disturbing me though. I think seeing the beautiful blue eyes of Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) peering over a guy’s ass for the majority of the movie caused a little bit of my soul to die that night. She gets the worst of it here and I give her full props for her endurance.

This movie exists because of its twisted concept. While eliciting funds, all I think Tom Six needed to do was draw this --

--to have investors hand their money over after saying, “I have to see how this plays out.”

The Human Centipede has its share of problems, but there is no doubt that the images within stayed with me for sometime after.

Monday, August 23, 2010

No Reason.

Having missed Rubber at Fantasia, I was glad that to see it included in Toronto After Dark’s line-up this year.

Director Quentin Dupieux immediately establishes tone when his main character, our tour guide of sorts, Deputy Xavier emerges from the trunk of his own car to tell us that the ensuing story happens for “no reason”.

And that is exactly what we get. The tale of an angry, psychic tire that kills with the power of his mind. For no reason. He just does it, and lots of exploding heads ensue. The movie also inexplicably features a chorus, made up of onlookers who watch the proceedings from afar through binoculars. I’m not sure whether their poor acting was intentional or not, but thankfully their role is minimal.

I certainly got my share of enjoyment from this little experiment, but I’m not sure it’s really able to sustain itself for the full eighty-five minute running time. Fortunately though, Rubber does end on a fairly strong note and has some great music to help it along its way. Since Dupieux comes from a musical background and is partnered here with fellow Frenchman Gaspard AugĂ© (one half of the electro-house band Justice), their collaborative beats really give the film some flourish in its more drawn out sections. There is no doubt that Dupieux has a great eye, so I’d love to see what he could do with a meaty script.

TAD Programmer Peter Kuplowsky with Robert the tire.

Rubber is an enjoyable one-time view and something I would recommend you check out because of its original premise and unique style, but I can’t see myself revisiting it anytime soon.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Remake With Teeth.

Let me take some time out from my Toronto After Dark reviews to comment on a fairly big horror release that many of us have been waiting a while for.

When an earthquake opens up a fissure that frees tons of ravenous prehistoric piranha, it spells doom for the neighbouring community of Lake Victoria, whose population has recently ballooned for its Spring Break festivities.

If you're looking for grisly mayhem mixed with gratuitous nudity, boy did you ever come to the right place! I think director Alexandre Aja delivers on pretty much everything I was expecting from this movie.

First, the gore is top notch and showcases some really inspired kills. Piranha 3D starts slow with the standard fish close-ups & red water – perhaps in an homage to its fore bearer – and then just explodes into unadulterated carnage at its climax. The boys at KNB EFX must have been working overtime on this one. Obviously, the best gore is the stuff that is done practically and there is quite a bit of it. To compound the enjoyment, Aja gives you lots of skin to stare at between the fish food set pieces, as he is a man who clearly knows what his audience wants. To add even more amusement to the festivities, are the abundant familiar faces. Richard Dreyfuss shows up looking similar to his character in Jaws, Christopher Lloyd comes in for a time playing his beloved eccentric scientist bit, and fellow filmmaker Eli Roth has a cameo as, well... I guess himself pretty much. It was also great to see Elisabeth Shue again, this time in the action chick role no less, as the town's sheriff.

I think the best thing about Piranha 3D is that it knows what it is and what it isn't. It's just a fun gore fest, where you can have a scene where busty nymphs Danni & Crystal (Kelly Brook & Riley Steele respectively) have a naked underwater romp set to Delibes' “The Flower Duet” and it not be out of place. It is truly a thing of beauty. The only thing I would have liked to have seen was the filmmakers use the feeding frenzy sound effect from the original movie. I saw Joe Dante's version over twenty years ago and that sound still stays with me. It would have been an awesome beat if they'd thrown that in there.

As for the 3D, it is almost irrelevant. Unlike with last year's My Bloody Valentine remake, where the third dimension was nine-tenths of the enjoyment, this time it added very little. I could handle the 3D fish because their design was actually pretty cool, but there were a few sight gags, like when Kelly (Jessica Szohr) throws up digitized puke into the camera, where it just looked like cheesy CG.

The bottom line is I have to give top marks to Aja here. It shows that Mirrors was a mere misstep in a hopefully long and bloody career.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Show Must Go On!

There’s always one film in the Toronto After Dark programme every year that it is a complete gamble. It seems to come from nowhere and usually required some championing - by whoever first discovered it - for its inclusion. Some of these have been pleasant curiosities (Blood Car) and some have been downright painful to sit through (Mad Cowgirl) *shudder*. This year’s festival question mark was All About Evil.

When wallflower Deborah (Natasha Lyonne) inherits her father's theatre, she goes about carrying on his legacy. When she kills her domineering mother in a fit of rage, the crime is accidentally broadcast onscreen via the theatre's security cameras. The crowd thinks it is part of the show and soon are asking for more of her “realistic” short films. Having always wanted to be in show business, Deborah goes about procuring more victims performers.

I’m happy to say that I liked this movie quite a bit. I think I was partially won over by the fantastical opening credits sequence and then not long after that, once I clocked into the fact that All About Evil was unabashed camp, I was in.

These are a few of my favourite things.

Director Joshua Grannell’s influences are immediately apparent, the most paramount being John Waters & H.G. Lewis, which make for a wonderful peanut butter & jam-like combination. Grannell references the genre often, but it’s never too on-the-nose, as can often be the case these days. Something that really appealed to me were the awesome posters sprinkled throughout All About Evil to advertise Deborah's increasingly over-the-top shorts. There were several cheesy puns that elicited a round of laughter each time a new one appeared. Here are a few choice ones below.

Not pictured, my personal fave... The Slasher In the Rye.

Man, it seems like ages since I’ve seen Natasha Lyonne. She delightfully cranks it to eleven here, channelling the golden age Hollywood divas of yore. She also has a great bunch of misfits to play off as her sadistic film crew consists of her octogenarian projectionist Mr. Twigs (Jack Donner), a set of psychopathic twins (Jade & Nikita Ramsey) and a crazed hobo (Noah Segan). Speaking of Segan, I’d just like to mention that it finally happened. I have now seen him in a movie that I actually liked. My reactions to the many films he has appeared in over the years have ranged from dislike (Brick) to bordering on hatred (Deadgirl), so it was nice to finally get on board one of his projects because he’s a really likable guy. The movie also features a very rare non-Elvira performance by Cassandra Peterson, who plays Steven's (Thomas Dekker) doting mother.

The cool thing about seeing All About Evil at The Bloor was how closely the theatre in the movie (The Victoria) resembled that of my home away from home. Grannell was in attendance for the Q&A and quickly made the comparison. He won the crowd over that night and I wouldn't be surprised if he returns in the future with his travelling roadshow “The Peaches Christ Experience in 4-D” in tow.

Director Joshua Grannell

All About Evil is full-on campy fun and is an easy recommend for anyone who digs the work of those Grannell so aptly emulated here.

Costume contest w/ Fay Slift (center) featuring Martiny and Little Dead Riding Hood. Photo courtesy Toronto After Dark.

Here below, is Rob Mitchell's interview with Grannell, and you can also click here to see Movie Moxie's footage of the evening's Q&A.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Don't Judge A Book...

On Monday, Toronto After Dark held its first red carpet premiere for The Last Exorcism. I was cautiously optimistic about this film because it sounded intriguing, but had a blanket ad campaign reminiscent of previous supernatural underperformers like last year’s The Haunting In Connecticut. The film’s producer, horror-meister Eli Roth and both stars Patrick Fabian & Ashley Bell were in attendance, which made for a crammed house at The Bloor.

When Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) takes a documentary crew with him to help a man who says his daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) is possessed, it quickly becomes apparent that she is indeed one very troubled girl.

So, the good news is that The Last Exorcism turned out to be a pretty solid effort. The bad news is the marketing isn’t doing it any favours in terms of what the film actually is. Advertising like this bit 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose in the ass – its audience bought tickets to a supernatural thriller and instead got, beyond the scares in the TV spots, a courtroom drama – so I really hope The Last Exorcism doesn’t suffer the same fate. This would be a shame, as in addition to it being well written, it impresses due to its two leads. Fabian is excellent as Reverend Marcus. He won the capacity crowd over early, so that when shit went down, you really wanted him to get the fuck out of dodge. Ashley Bell also puts in a chilling performance as Nell. The exorcism scenes are all her, with no help by digital means. In fact, I think I could only point out one visual effects shot in the entire film. It makes The Last Exorcism seem more like the 2006 German film Requiem than Emily Rose.

Alas, therein might lay the rub for some people. This film is more about the characters than the act itself. If you’re walking in expecting a fourty-minute exorcism sequence soaked in jaw-dropping special effects, you may be disappointed. There is also the found-footage format that I’m sure some people are tiring of by now, as well. Sure, the same problems that come with this type of narrative are still there, but for the most part I could overlook them. I was lukewarm on the ending in that there were some elements I liked and some that I didn’t, but hey, they can’t all be as brilliant as the final moments of The Blair Witch Project now, can they?

Eli Roth, Ashley Bell & Patrick Fabian

So, as I said, the marketing may make it seem like generic horror fare, but I think The Last Exorcism is worth a look. It concentrates on story backed by great performances to deliver something not only different from what I was expecting, but also more substantial.

As for the screening, Eli Roth was very excited to be there, as he reiterated that it was in Toronto (at 2002's Midnight Madness) that his career really began with our reception of Cabin Fever. I was at that screening eight years ago and remember just how much everyone at The Uptown (R.I.P.) loved it to pieces. Here below is video of Rob Mitchell talking with Roth, Fabian & Bell about the film.

Also, for video of the premiere, click here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

'Madness 2010

Finally, this year’s crop of Midnight Madness titles has been unleashed.

The biggest ticket is no doubt John Carpenter’s newest. After a nine-year break – save for a couple of excellent Masters Of Horror episodes – the master is back with The Ward.

I’m crossing my fingers that JC will be in the house that night.

Director Jim Mickle moves from the rat-zombies of his 2006 feature Mulberry Street to vampires in Stake Land.

As is often the case, we have MM alumni returning this year. Saw’s James Wan returns with Insidious

and Brad Anderson (of 2004’s The Machinist) brings us The Vanishing on 7th St.

I'm not crazy about it starring Hayden Christensen, but Anderson makes solid films so I'm in.

Also, in the programme is the French/Hong Kong co-production Red Nights featuring some of the people that brought you the infamous 2008 flick Martyrs.

Action is well represented this year with James Gunn’s newest SUPER.

Let’s hope it was worth leaving Scream Queens for!

The colourful revenge flick Bunraku sports the impressive cast of Josh Hartnett, Woody Harrelson and Ron Perlman.

Dante Lam’s Fire of Conscience and The Butcher, the Chef & the Swordsman, which programmer Colin Geddes described as “martial arts meets food preparation” round out the group.

Also announced outside of the Midnight Madness programme were the two high profile titles Buried and Let Me In, and the Spanish are back with Julia’s Eyes, from Guillem Morales and Guillermo del Toro.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Swiss Go To Space.

Yesterday afternoon, I took in the Toronto After Dark screening of Swiss science-fiction flick Cargo. This passion project from directors Ivan Engler & Ralph Etter took eight years to complete on a scant $2M US budget.

Medic Laura Portmann (Anna-Katharina Schwabroh) takes on a job on a space freighter; in order to pay her way back to her loved ones on the planet Rhea. During her shift, she discovers that the cargo they are hauling might not be what the crew were led to believe it was.

I want to start off by saying how impressive the effects and production design are in this film. It’s an extremely ambitious project that Engler & Etter took on here and visually Cargo is almost flawless. The scope is well established and doesn’t shy away from showing you how great everything looks – maybe even to a fault. The film itself is fairly slow and ponderous, which I don’t mind, but Cargo never really seems to hit its peak. I feel it's one of those movies where all of its components are solid, but don’t come together to form a satisfying whole. Last year’s Pandorum came to mind while I was watching the credits roll on this. It doesn’t share much in the way of subject matter, but it was another case where a movie borrowed a lot of elements from better films.

There’s also a romance angle that is thrust on us about halfway through that felt forced and awkward. The really excellent straight-up sci-fi of recent years (Moon, Sunshine) succeeded because they focused on just that and didn’t feel the need to dabble in other genres, like comedy or romance. I think some of my lukewarm feelings may also come from expecting something else. I was hoping for something more like Alien, but Cargo bears more resemblance to Solaris in tone. The film can’t be held responsible for that of course, but it is what it is.

I think the filmmakers should be proud of what they’ve accomplished here, a polished effort that looks on par with some flicks that cost fifty times as much. As a film though, it had its moments, but felt somewhat flat to me overall.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Have You Ever Been Fish Raped?"

Another year (its fifth!) of Toronto After Dark is underway, and I was there for the opening on Friday. The first screening was that of Henry Saine & Devin McGinn's The Last Lovecraft.

In a single day, office drone Jeff (Kyle Davis) finds out he is the last descendant of H.P. Lovecraft, entrusted with one-half of a relic that can unleash hell-on-earth and is set upon by the minions that seek to capture said relic. Jeff and his roommate Charlie (Devin McGinn) endeavor to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.

I have to say this was quite an entertaining yarn. As we all know, the works of Lovecraft are very hard to adapt. The ideas are extremely grandiose and a lot was often left to the imagination. The filmmakers were quick to point out after the film that to try and do Lovecraft straight on their budget would have been a mistake. They instead went the comedic route, yet still tried to keep as many elements belonging to the legendary writer as possible. I think I fully clocked into what they were going for when the villain, a red-skinned demon named Starspawn (Ethan Wilde) – who kind of reminded me of a lesser version of Nightbreed's Peloquin – first showed up wearing a T-shirt sporting a picture of a unicorn firing dual Uzi's. When dealing with Cthulhu exposition, The Last Lovecraft shifted into motion comic animation, which I thought was a clever way of handling their budget restraints.

The three 'heroes' of the story – a Cthulhu nerd named Paul (Barak Hardley) also embarks on their quest – work well together and some of the biggest laughs come from them fumbling their way along. It was also good to see Martin Starr (of Freaks & Geeks fame) show up in a cameo. The Last Lovecraft does start to lose its steam by the end, despite the hilarious references to the aforementioned fish rape by recluse Captain Olaf (Gregg Lawrence), but never overstays its welcome.

At the Q&A, writer & producer Devin McGinn did say that the movie was the first of a planned trilogy, but they have to see how this one does before continuing the endeavor. In my haste to get out the door, I sadly neglected to bring my camera, but hopefully I'll put up some of my buddy Mitchell's video footage of the affair in the near future. I do however, have this genius piece of tie-in marketing that we were all handed while walking into the theatre.

There is no doubt that The Last Lovecraft has its limitations, but seems to embrace them and I had some fun with it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Poster Collection: C-D

Moving right along, here's some more posters from my collection. Click on any of them for a closer look.

Still can't do that dare. Better safe than sorry.

My first girlfriend was named Alicia, and I took her to this movie. Oh, the foreshadowing.

Wow, just wow on that one.

The first time I laid eyes on Nicole Kidman. That was a good day.

I like that last one a lot. I just wish I had one for Hardware to go with it.

You know something that I noticed while revisiting all these old titles? Sequels really liked to riff on the mainstream when coming up with their taglines. For instance, the above posters for Children Of The Corn 2 and Child's Play 3 reference Home Alone and Look Who's Talking respectively. This could still very well be happening, but nowadays it seems that companies like Asylum go so far as to emulate entire movies!