The Toronto After Dark Film Festival has begun taking submissions for this year's festival, so any aspiring filmmakers out there should answer the call. On a related note, TAD programming manager Steven Landry (or, as you may know him around here, DirtyRobot) has just set up a festival Tumblr for your viewing pleasure. If you're interested in the inner-workings of the Big Smoke's premiere genre festival, you can be indoctrinated by clicking the image below.
There are a few sites that have been taking up a lot of my surfing time of late, so I wanted to pass them along to you. The first is a fairly new blog called Giallo Book Covers, which is just that. It's a lovely gallery of old European mystery novels - as well as some other titillating illustrations from year's past - compiled by a guy named losfeld based out of Paris, France. Here's a taste.
So, while marvelling at The Scandy Gallery, I came across VHS Wasteland! This is a beautifully laid out site with a ridiculously obscure collection of VHS covers. I mean, the measure of a good archive is whether it has titles like The Video Dead and Microwave Massacre, but this cat not only had them, but displayed variants I'd never even seen!
And he even had bizarre knock-offs of old favourites.
To enter the wasteland, click here. But, be warned. Prepare to be there a while.
I remember standing in line outside the Ryerson last September for the midnight TIFF premiere of Stake Land and seeing the faces of the people coming out of the theatre from the film that had just screened. They were a wide-eyed bunch that carried a buzz that they had just seen something special. I spotted a familiar face in the crowd filing by, hailed him over and asked what he'd just come out of. It was a Japanese revenge thriller called Confessions and he proclaimed it was the best thing he'd seen all festival. Fast forward to now and my recently acquired copy from ye olde Eyesore.
A middle-school teacher (Takako Matsu) hatches a diabolical plot to punish a pair of students in her class she believes murdered her daughter.
I now understand the looks. This movie is amazing. It is so dark and fucked up that it could be considered a companion piece to Chan-wook Park's Vengeance Trilogy. It is that twisted and just as good. Confessions has a visual flair that at first caught me off guard. I guess I was expecting a more moody and ambiguous piece, like something from Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Instead, director Tetsuya Nakashima offers a wild beast of a film rife with wonderful montages, controlled pacing, and a decidedly Western soundtrack, including Radiohead's Last Flowers in its entirety, not once, but twice.
Confessions begins with the avenging teacher calling out her daughter's murderers on the last day of the term and then it moves on from there. At first, I was disappointed that the whole film wasn't just this last day of class with it playing out like something in the vein of Stephen King's Rage – subbing in the disturbed student Charlie Decker for the teacher Moriguchi – but then it became so much more brilliantly complex from there. The narrative is split among several characters, each revealing their own point of view on the crucial events of the story. It is engaging, clever and really well done. And much like the Vengeance trilogy, Confessions wraps up with an extremely strong conclusion that just leaves you staring, mouth open, thinking, “Where the hell do they come up with this stuff? I mean Geezus!” It is the also the kind of film that further emphasizes how different the cinematic boundaries are between the East and West. You would NEVER see anything like this made here.
Confessions is a damn fine film that would've surely been high up in my top twenty of 2010 had I the foresight to catch it at TIFF last year.
Hello all. Here's a super-sized, mid-week edition of DKTM for you. I didn't want to wait until the weekend, as some of this stuff is getting a little crusty. Plus, I've got an Easter greeting lined up for Sunday anyway. So, here goes.
Shaun Gets O'Malley'd.
Here's a cool video that popped up online last week. Scott Pilgrim creator Brian Lee O'Malley made a little sixty-second recreation of Edgar Wright's zom-rom-com classic Shaun of the Dead, in his own inimitable style.
I'd love to see him riff on a few more fan favourites in the future.
Back To The Beginning.
Last month, a new Resident Evil game was announced. Operation: Raccoon City is a team-based shooter that takes place during the events of Resident Evil 2 & 3. However, instead of being in the shoes of the more familiar characters, you will be part of the squad tasked with covering things up. Here below, is a new trailer.
A Picture's Worth A Thousand Incantations.
DirtyRobot sent me a link to this awesome Evil Dead mosiac last week. It is the classic Ash poster, made out of dialogue - more specifically Professor Knowby's transcripts from the Necronomicon - from the film. Click to enlarge, but beware the demons of Kandar should you read it aloud.
Ah-mazing. I want one!
Drew “Camera Obscura” Daywalt has made several more shorts since I last looked in on his little horror factory. Here’s my favourite of the recent lot, entitled Room 19.
There's A New Show In Town
Lastly, Toronto-based horror scribe Lianne Spiderbaby just premiered her new web show Fright Bytes this week. Along with Jay 3KB (of 3KB.ca), they sound off on what’s new in the genre. Here’s the first episode below.
Schwartz & I tried, without success, to get something like this off the ground about a year or two ago, so I know how much work is involved. Props to Lianne & Jay for giving this a go and representing The Big Smoke.
Last Friday, I checked out Ghost Stories, a British live theatre show created by Andy Nyman & Jeremy Dyson that has come across the pond and is now playing Toronto.
When it comes to something like this, the less I say the better, but I did want say a few words about it. I thought Ghost Stories was really entertaining. The presentation was top notch and the set pieces were ingeniously staged. The cast was small, which I think added to the intimacy of the affair. I know this isn't unique to Ghost Stories, but a lot of the play's dialogue was tailored to a Toronto audience. It didn't feel forced though, so I thought it worked.
I would have liked to have seen it go a little further with the scares, but there are some really creepy yarns spun, especially the one about the tenth number, as it struck a cord with something from my childhood.
Obviously, the ad campaign focusing on its screaming patrons is perhaps a little exaggerated, but it's still a great night out. Ghost Stories was a wonderful change of pace and highly recommended if it should ever make its way to your town.
I'm finishing up this week's festivities by talking about the newest horror flick on the scene, Wes Craven's Scream 4.
Sidney's (Neve Campbell) return to Woodsboro is met with another series of killings based on the original murders.
So... yah, Scream 4 was okay. Better than a kick in the teeth I suppose, although I would be hard pressed to find you a reason why this movie needed to exist. The main problem is that it's just painfully mediocre. Early on in the movie, there is some dialogue about how modern horror sucks because minimal character development breeds ones we don't feel anything for. Then, Scream 4 goes ahead and commits that very same crime. It introduces a bunch of people that, save for perhaps Hayden Panettiere – who I likely just miss from my break-up with Heroes – I couldn't have cared less about. Even seeing the original trio (Campbell, Courteney Cox & David Arquette) again didn't elicit the response I was hoping for. It was exactly like when the second X-Files movie came out. Watching David Duchovny as Mulder was strange, as I'd since moved on.
There is more to this not being a winner, than just being unnecessary though. The whole thing seems off somehow. Much like Scream 3, you can tell it was being pulled in different directions at times. The fact that Wes Craven had already distanced himself from the script speaks volumes about what happened during the production. The ending feels weirdly tacked on, and to be just a little spoiler-y, how the killer gets caught is just lame. After all their elaborate staging, they get nabbed because of a throwaway line of dialogue? Ridiculous. It all felt like something Ehren Kruger came up with in his trailer between reshoots.
Not in the movie, FYI.
I think we've reached the tipping point with all this self referential, movie-within-a-movie stuff. It is no longer clever, it's just tedious. The original Scream was a groundbreaking film. It was fresh and revitalized a genre that, for anyone who was a horror fan in the mid-nineties knows, needed a shake-up. I think Scream 4 represents another crossroads where someone needs to come along and reset the game. And I mean something more than the current retro-movement of making films look and feel like those from the golden age. I don't know how this will be achieved, but it has to happen, otherwise we are in for some really stale and uninspiring fare. Now, I'm speaking more specifically of North American horror here. We know other parts of the world are still cranking out solid stuff, but the general public, with their misguided “if I wanted to read, I'd buy a book” mentality, won't ever see them unless they are repackaged – for better or more likely worse – by Hollywood.
At the end of the day, Scream 4 was semi-enjoyable because of its familiarity – which I guess is what the money men were counting on – but there is not much separating this from any of the other glossy Hollywood horror fare that hits screens on a regular basis. My advice is go see Insidious instead because at least those guys realize you need to adapt to stay relevant.
I’d been hearing good things about a recent German zombie effort called Rammbock, so I headed over to Eyesore and grabbed myself a copy.
Michael (Michael Fuith) travels to Berlin in an attempt to win back his ex-girlfriend, but instead becomes trapped in her apartment complex amid a zombie outbreak.
Rammbock wastes no time, thrusting you into the midst of the outbreak within the first five minutes. It is all about economy, giving you just the information you need before the shit hits the fan. Unlike Resonnances, the flick I talked about a few days ago, Rammbock’s low budget was not a limitation. If anything, its bare bones approach added to the reality of the situation.
I’ve said before that zombie movies are my bread and butter, so at this point, I don’t expect much from them. Give me what I want and I’ll be happy. So, I was a little taken aback by how many novel ideas were put forth here. The way the apartment’s inhabitants communicated with each other was a wonderful expansion on something that was toyed with in 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake and the usual, tried and true laws of the zombie movie were played with in cool, new ways. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every ten minutes, Rammbock hit me with something fresh and unexpected. The movie was not overly gory, but considering how rock solid everything else was, I hardly cared. That's saying something right there.
I’m really kind of surprised this movie hasn’t made a bigger splash within the horror community. I understand its sixty-minute length may make it difficult to sell, but shit, how often is it that you find a horror film where the only negative is that it’s too short?
I was expecting Rammbock – or Siege of the Dead, as it is apparently known domestically – to be decent, but I couldn’t have imagined it would be this good. It is smart, compact and a hell of a lot of fun. That’s pretty much everything you want from a zombie flick, right?
Over the last several years, I’ve been tracking down all the films referenced in Tarantino’s revenge epic Kill Bill. The latest one I was able to cross off the list was the 1968 British thriller Twisted Nerve.
A spoiled rich kid named Martin (Hywell Bennett) pretends to be mentally retarded in order to get close to a girl (Hayley Mills) he's become infatuated with.
Twisted Nerve is a well-executed, old school thriller. The characters have weight to them and it gives the film a very organic feel. It moves at a very deliberate pace, but in a way that feels very true and without deceit. There are some really great performances here, as well. Bennett, during his more somber moments, reminded me of Alex from A Clockwork Orange. His predatory stares were cold and calculating, and he barely had to speak for you to see he cared for no one, but himself. Considering the year of release though, Anthony Perkins' performance in Psycho would be a more likely influence. Mills is stunning as Susan Harper. She could be one of the most kind and wholesome characters I’ve ever seen in a film. This made the climax all the more intense because I didn’t want to see anything awful happen to her.
I thought about saying Twisted Nerve, due its focus on character and story, was a film with no bells and whistles, but that would've been false. The cinematography is fantastic, and the score provided by Bernard Herrmann – and the reason I found this film in the first place – was awesome to hear, not only in context, but also in its many variations throughout the film.
I think the thing about Twisted Nerve that struck me the most was the realization of how much things have changed over the last fourty years. Susan and her mother are thrown into peril for the simple fact that they were good and infallibly trusting souls. It was a different time, and horrible people like Martin are the reason we aren’t quick to do nice things for each other anymore. Something else that stood out was the treatment of Shashie (Salmaan Peer), an East Indian resident of the Harper boarding house. Despite being a completely upstanding citizen – in medical school, no less – he is the butt of countless jokes and off-hand remarks from a number of his peers. Even more fascinating was every single slight was met with a smile or chuckle in response. It was all just accepted behaviour, as political correctness hadn’t even been invented yet.
Twisted Nerve is admittedly pretty tame when stacked up against similar sexually charged thrillers of that era – like Peeping Tom or Straw Dogs – so that may be why it hasn’t gained such notoriety, but it too weaves a fine tale of a sort you just don’t see anymore.
Perusing the shelves of Eyesore Cinema the other day, I came across a French flick from 2006 called Resonnances. At Eyesore, when a title is liked enough by the owner, he tends to – in a practice brought over from his days at Suspect Video – sticker the coverbox with quotes of praise. That is just another of the many quirks there you’d never get from the nefarious blue and yellow. Anyway, as you can see below, he likes this one a lot.
Three friends on their way to a nightclub run afoul of an underground creature that prowls the French countryside.
I kind of wish I could share Eyesore’s enthusiasm about this odd little movie. I knew going in that it was low-budget fare, but I just couldn't help but be constantly distracted by the terrible effects. Now, I want to make a distinction here. Sometimes – like with last year's Corman vehicle Sharktopus – bad CG can be part of a movie’s charm. However, you are never at any point supposed to take that movie seriously. In Resonnances, even though the majority of its dialogue is laced with comedy, you are supposed to care for these characters. I found that very hard to do when I was being hit with a SyFy quality effect every five minutes. To be fair, the tunnelling stuff was okay, but every time the actual monster was onscreen? Hoo boy.
Yes, French Billy Zane. I know what you mean.
For me, Resonnances lost a lot of steam around the halfway mark. The trio we're introduced to in the first act, pick up a hitchhiker and just when things are about to go bad; they get worse with the monster’s appearance. Normally, this would be where the movie kicks into high gear – like in The Descent for instance – but for me, it was quite the opposite. I’d have been more than content to see where the story would’ve gone had the monster never appeared. The movie did throw out a lot of neat ideas, but they were often never elaborated on. This included a supernatural element that was explained in a very off-the-cuff way, just before a decidedly unsatisfying conclusion.
Someone get Robert Stack on the phone!
Resonnances is only just over eighty minutes long, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome, but I couldn’t help feeling that a few different creative choices would’ve improved this movie dramatically. I would, however, be interested to see what director Philippe Robert could do with a bigger budget. Perhaps then, his ambitious visions could be fully realized.
Almost four years ago now, Canadian director Jon Knautz burst onto the scene with his first feature Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. I enjoyed it very much, so I was happy to get the chance to see his sophomore effort The Shrine.
While investigating the disappearances of several backpackers from a village in Eastern Europe, three journalists quickly realize they may be the next to go missing.
I thought The Shrine was a solid flick. I really have to applaud Knautz for his shift in tone. It would have been very easy for him to follow up Jack Brooks with another horror comedy, but The Shrine was as straight-up as they come. That is a far more difficult thing to pull off and he excelled at it. I liked the story for the most part. It was simple, yet somehow seemed fresh and though it started off a little clunky, I really liked where it ended up going. Knautz does a lot of things right here, so even perplexing flourishes like a good chunk of dialogue being spoken in un-subtitled Polish made sense in context. The gore in The Shrine was pretty sparce, but when it did hit, it was substantial and the tight script also allowed for some well designed set pieces.
I’m not sure I was entirely sold on the relationship between the two leads (Cindy Sampson & Aaron Ashmore) but it wasn’t really an issue, as Sampson especially had far more to do in the last act. I wonder if the Ashmore brothers have some sort of contest going on with their duelling horror roles. When Shawn Ashmore appeared in 2008’s The Ruins, Aaron followed a year later with The Thaw. Perhaps The Shrine was Aaron’s response to his brother’s turn in Adam Green’s Frozen. Nothing like a little sibling rivalry to spice things up, right? Also of note is the barely recognizable Trevor Matthews – Jack Brooks himself – appears as one of the unfriendly locals.
Knautz should be very proud of The Shrine. I know the lack of big name stars may have caused larger distributors to overlook this film, but I think it deserves the chance to be seen by more people.
Last April Showers, I spoke about the third film of Dario Argento's “animal trilogy”, Four Flies On Grey Velvet. This time around, I'm sounding off on another Italian giallo starring Mimsy Farmer.
A scientist (Mimsy Farmer) begins having strange visions from her past involving the death of her mother.
The Perfume of the Lady in Black is a giallo made by a lesser known Italian director named Francesco Barilli, but he is no less a craftsman than the big guns. Visually, Perfume is a stunning powerhouse and one of those films where every frame is a work of art.
This painting below kept on showing up and all I could think was, WANT!
Between that, The Screaming Mimi painting from The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and all the other artworks that have shown up in my twenty-plus years of watching gialli, I think I'd need a lot of wall space if I were to try and collect them all. Perfume is also helped by a moody score to back up its visuals, as well.
Unfortunately, I didn't find the story as engaging as I usually do. It was certainly not the fault of Mimsy Farmer, as she was as striking as ever, playing her role with abandon. Much like Edwige Fenech, Farmer never shied away from anything. No, my disconnection had to do with there being a lack of mystery for most of the film. It did take a side tangent in the third act that may have been a nod to Roman Polanski's Repulsion, but it still inevitably came around to where I was expecting. That's a real bummer because one of the things I find gialli usually deliver on is an unexpected finish. Even if it is completely ridiculous, I can at least say ‘whoa, didn’t see THAT coming!’ I didn't get that here.
There was a lot of meandering, with Farmer hanging out with friends she should have kicked to the curb long before and awkward sex scenes with her jerk boyfriend that looked more like they were wrestling under the covers, than making love. That's not to say there isn't extraneous stuff in some of my favourite titles, but Argento and Bava's back alleys are just more interesting to me. I thought the parts where Farmer was alone and hallucinating were the best stuff of Perfume. There were a few flashbacks in particular that reminded me of The Shining. I wonder if Stanley Kubrick was a fan of this film.
The Perfume of the Lady in Black was beautiful to look at for many reasons, Farmer not the least of which, but I don't consider it one of the more memorable of the genre.
Welcome to the second edition of April Showers! After bonding over our mutual appreciation for the 1988 Canadian flick The Brain, I've been trading discs with a dude down in Massachusetts over the last few months. April Showers' first entry is one of said titles sent through the mail.
A group of troubled youths on a camping trip are set upon by insects mutated by a strain of steroids used in a nearby marijuana grow op.
Ticks was a movie we had at my store that I just never got around to watching. If I'd known back then that Brian Yuzna was involved, I probably would have got to it a lot sooner. His nineties track record speaks for itself and Ticks is no exception because it is a pretty fun flick. There are tons of familiar faces in this and afterwards, I was a bit puzzled about the billing. Pretty much the only thing I remembered about this movie was that Ami Dolenz was in it, but she's one of the least consequential members of a large ensemble, which I should add, was the strangest motley crew of delinquents I'd seen since Friday the 13th Part 5. While it is true Dolenz made a splash around that time as the title character in She's Out Of Control, I would have thought that Seth Green or Alfonso Ribeiro would've had more credit, considering their time onscreen. Then again, when it comes to selling a movie, who are you going to put on the coverbox, but the hottest girl in it? It worked for Witchboard II.
I wonder if Ticks was a response to Arachnophobia, as there are definite similarities, except it was less family-friendly, with an emphasis on gore. Speaking of which, the effects were quite solid and though the smaller creatures were cheesy at times, the big bad at the climax was pretty badass. I should also mention that Ticks gives you not just one Howard, but TWO, as low-budget horror mainstay Clint appears with his father, Rance.
So, all in all, Ticks was watchable fare. I don't think it's quirky enough to be as memorable as some of the like minded Full Moon stuff of that era, but it was still better than I was expecting from a direct-to-video title called Ticks.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go buy a case of Raid.
Allrighty, I'm all set up in the new place, so let's see what happened while I was gone.
Well, That Just Happened.
Here's something that popped up on Twitch this week. Can Evrenol's bizarre little short To My Mother and Father played Fantastic Fest last year, and is now online for all to see. Let's hope none of it brings back any memories of your childhood.
Evrenol also recently entered a short entitled Daddy Cross into the Hobo With A Shotgun grindhouse trailer contest. You can view it - and the other Top 5 finishers - by clicking here.
I'm Not Sure Mattel Would Approve.
My brother sent me a link to photo series that was featured on wildammo.com a few months ago. We all know Barbie as a wholesome icon of womanhood, but what if there was something rotten under her exterior. What if Barbie was a brutal serial killer, just waiting to perform sick of depravity behind the closed doors of her bright pink camper. Here's a peek of this alternate reality realized by Eric S.