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.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

TIFF 2013!

Yesterday, The Toronto International Film Festival announced the films that will be flaying our psyches as part of their Midnight Madness & Vanguard programmes.

It is hard to believe that the Midnight Madness programme has been going twenty-five years now. Starting in 1988, with titles such titles as Hellbound and Brain Damage, they have since screened titles like Braindead, Dellamorte Dellamorre, Ichi The Killer and Martyrs. Here are some of the selections from this year’s MM crop.

Lucky McKee makes his first appearance at Midnight with a remake of his 2001 debut All Cheerleaders Die. He and longtime collaborator Chris Sivertson have been releasing dark and disturbing work for years, and I’m sure this one will be no different.

Eli Roth returns to Midnight Madness with his fourth film (if you count last year’s Aftershock which he produced and starred in), an ode to eighties cannibal flicks entitled Green Inferno.

From Austria comes The Station, which seems to be another nature fights back parable involving some weird-ass glacier juice. I sure hope this one plays out better than 2006's The Last Winter.

Every year there is usually a film that sells me on its screenshot, whether it be High Tension in 2003, or last year’s Thale. Why Don't You Play In Hell? (pictured above) definitely looks like this year's. Not that I would ever need an extra nudge to see anything from Sion Sono.

It’s always great to see some local blood infect Midnight. This year it is a nasty looking ditty called Afflicted featuring two travellers running afoul of a mysterious disease. I am a little weary of the found footage aspect eluded to by the synopsis, but I may give it a shot.

It's been a while since I've seen a good alien abduction yarn - Eduardo Sanchez's underseen flick Altered is the only one that comes to mind, and that was 2006 - so I'm definitely up for Almost Human. Plus, nothing says Midnight Madness like a guy with a chainsaw!

You really only had to tell me that Oculus was made by Mike Flanagan, the man who brought us 2011’s Absentia. Also, the whole possessed mirror thing gives me warm recollections of The Boogeyman, so good or bad, I think we’ll be in for a treat.

On the other side of things, the Vanguard program has been quickly gaining momentum over the past few years. I’d go so far as to say the 2012 programme easily trumped that of Midnight’s. Here are some of the announced titles I’m eager to check out.

Alex Aja’s triumphant return to TIFF sees him adapting Joe Hill’s novel Horns, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple.

After two solid genre efforts (House of the Devil, The Innkeepers), Ti West bursts into Vanguard with the religious horror of The Sacrament starring indie darlings AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg and Amy Siemetz.

Perhaps the most anticipated sophomore effort is that of Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s with The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears. I’m all for their style of visual sex – first experienced in 2010’s Amer– but I’m hoping for a little bit more of a narrative this time around.

Others that caught my eye were the revenge thriller Blue Ruin, the Dutch home-invasion tale Borgman and Zack Parker’s Proxy, also again starring Swanberg.

It looks like it is going to be another busy September. But, then again, isn't it always? For more info on the Midnight Madness programme, click here. For more info on the Vanguard programme, click here. For TIFF ticket info, click here.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Off The Beaten Path.

Next up from Fantasia, was Lorenzo Bianchini’s wilderness thriller Across The River.

After a wildlife biologist (Marco Marchese) becomes trapped on the wrong side of the river while collecting data, he comes across an abandoned village. Taking shelter, he begins to suspect he may be sharing the grounds with more than just boar and deer.

I found Across The River a little perplexing. It is one of those films that I wanted to like more than I did, yet still more than I should have. I’m actually surprised by how much this film held my interest, considering it is excruciatingly slow and almost without dialogue. I mean it got to a point where I started wondering if there was anything more to this film than just  Marchese wandering around the Slovenian wastelands. It is to the Bianchini’s credit that he was able to successfully use the locale and sound design to fill in for the lack of traditional narrative.

Marco Marchese in Across The River.

However, when the antagonists finally did show themselves, I was left even more confused by some of the stylistic choices. I’m sure their few appearances, which involved weird cut-ins and oddly timed reveals, would have been creepy if they weren’t so jarring. It was as if Bianchini wasn’t aware of “the rules”. Maybe that was the intent. If that’s the case, then all he did was leave me scratching my head.

In structure and tone, Across The River reminded me of the 2008 Finnish film Sauna. I believe that film was slightly superior in that there was more to chew on and led to a better payoff, but they both shared the same minimalist storytelling vibe. Lastly, I have to say that I was glad the recorded video footage was kept to a minimum, as after seeing three of four “found footage” films over the last few weeks, I’m a bit POV’d out.

Across The River took a long time to get where it was going and it's fair to say the journey was more satisfying than the conclusion.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Same Old, Same Old.

It almost feels like it wouldn't be Fantasia without seeing some sort of Asian import. This year's offering, while I was there, was the anthology Horror Stories from South Korea.

A high-school girl is kidnapped by a serial killer who can only sleep when told a scary story. She obliges his request, but can she stall long enough to think of a way out!

I was actually shocked by how little enjoyment I got out of Horror Stories. Every anthology has its weaker moments, but all of these segments seemed to be competing for how many clichés they could pile on. With each passing story – which invariably included a character waking from a nightmare after something crazy occurred and/or a “WTF” ending of some sort – I became more and more frustrated. Perhaps even more perplexing was that this has to be the first anthology I've ever seen where the wraparound was more compelling and interesting than the actual stories within. And even that felt like a big “fuck you” to the audience when that concluded.

The filmmaking and sound design in Horror Stories was component, but, at this stage of the game, that should be a given. Almost everything about this venture felt derivative, like a snake eating its own tail. I am aware that the Asian market is now rife with watered down versions of the classics, but this was almost embarrassing.

I'm willing to put some of the blame on the less than flattering subtitles – which often read like they'd been run through a Google translator – but the fact still remains that none of these stories were able to get past their “what if” bylines. This was further compounded by the fact each short goes on way longer than it needs to, especially the last short about a zombie apocalypse. Oh, and just a tip, don't promise me rat zombies and then not deliver!

Horror Stories may just be the smoking gun of evidence that the Asian horror film has played itself out. I'm hoping that there's someone out there who can challenge that statement – I plan to see Hideo Nakata's newest The Complex imminently – but if Horror Stories is any indication as to the current pedigree, I believe I'm in for a long wait.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

DKTM 188

Hello all! I'm just taking a little break from my Fantasia coverage to share some of these horror items from last week.

Choice Cuts.

Over the past few years, the Ontario-based company The Butcher Shop have become a special effects institution. Run by effects gurus Carlos Henriques & Ryan Louagie, they have lent their services to countless independent horror productions. And now, to give you an idea of their insane talents, here's an effects reel that just recently slashed its way online. Enjoy!

Collect Them All.

I recently received an email boasting these “Zombot” cards from Richard Raaphorst's Frankenstein's Army. Take a look!

Right-click to enlarge.

Never Stop Renting!

Here's a little mini-doc called Rent In Peace, which stops in at Thomas Video, the last video store left in Guelph, Ontario. Somehow, this little operation has outlasted even the big boys. Let's see how!

In & Out in One.

Here's something pretty cool. In celebration of the release of The Conjuring, Vice called upon four directors to each make a one-minute POV shot, based on something scary that happens at 3:07am. Here is director Jason Eisener's excellent entry “One Last Dive”.

Short, sweet and effective. That's pretty much everything you want out of a short film. Eisener also recently contributed to V/H/S 2, with his entry “Slumber Party Alien Invasion.”

Saturday, July 27, 2013

We're Just Here For The Bad Guys.

After creating a lot of buzz at this year’s Slamdance festival (the indie fest that runs parallel to Sundance) The Dirties had its Canadian premiere during the opening weekend of Fantasia.

Film geeks Matt & Owen (director Matthew Johnson & Owen Williams) are in the process of making a student film about exacting revenge on their school bullies, when Matt suggests they take things further.

The Dirties is not the kind of film I usually talk about around here, but I’m making an exception because I want to support it. This is not just because it’s a local production – bullying is most certainly not specific to Canada – but also an extremely effective and poignant one.

The logical knee-jerk reaction to hearing that someone has made a comedy featuring a school shooting is “how could they?”, or perhaps more aptly “how dare they?” However, after seeing it, I now realize this is the only way this tale could’ve been told successfully. The Dirties focuses on the cause of the action, not the effect, and with the culture of bullying becoming more and more prevalent in the news these days, it only serves to make this movie all that more important.

Matthew Johnson (right) & Owen Williams as Matt & Owen in The Dirties.

Considering the seriousness of the subject matter, it’s extremely impressive to me that Johnson & company were able to make this type of film without it seeming exploitative or over-dramatic. It was also very smart to not portray the two main characters as anti-social monsters, but rather two outwardly normal kids enduring daily torment at the hands of their peers. I don’t want to get on a soapbox here, and I certainly don’t condone gun violence, but what I am saying is I’m very proud of Johnson & company for tackling this subject the way that they did.

As with yesterday’s film, The Battery, there was an incredibly natural rapport between the two leads. Matt & Owen are clearly best buds, so as they near the end of their “film” and the gap between them starts to widen, the uneasiness is magnified, much like living through the high school experience can be. There is palpable tension built toward the end, as we wonder if Matt, this previously jovial and passionate student, will actually go through with the unthinkable.

Now that Kevin Smith has put his name behind The Dirties (he went so far as to champion it at Comic-Con last week) as part of his Movie Club, which tours select films around North America, it may actually enjoy some sort of release. I urge you to see it when it does.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Energizing A Genre.

In the wake of a zombie apocalypse, minor league baseball players Ben (writer/director/producer Jeremy Gardner) & Mickey (producer Adam Cronheim) wander the barren wastelands of New England.

Remember yesterday when I said that Frankenstein's Army was top-tier low budget zombie fare? Well, I misspoke; THIS is the top-tier.

Aside from the obvious achievement that a crew of five could shoot this in two weeks on a culled together budget of six grand, Gardner has actually fashioned something not only coherent, but inherently watchable. I say this because The Battery is billed as a zombie movie, yet the undead rarely appear throughout its hundred-minute running time. This would usually be a detriment, but what you get instead is actually far more impressive.

Jeremy Gardner(right) & Adam Cronheim as Ben & Mickey in The Battery.

This is more of a buddy comedy with two dudes aimlessly left to their own devices in a desolate world. The filmmaking is minimalist, yet still extremely competent, so as not to distract from the important part of the film, the strained relationship between Ben & Mickey. They are civil to each other, often even friendly, but they are clearly different people. Ben completely embraces the way things have become, while Mickey clings to the old world, often burying himself in the headphones of his old Discman – which was also a perfect way to usher in the wonderful mix of indie tunes that permeate the film. It really made the numerous montages not only enjoyable, but also seem necessary.

The meat of The Battery though, were the long sections of dialogue between the pair of survivors. These conversations were so naturally delivered, I wager they must've been largely unscripted. There was a pace to the movie that just felt right. In fact, I was having so much fun watching these guys fart around the countryside that when the conflict finally presented itself toward the end, it was almost unwelcome. When the film finally concluded, I was left hoping that someday Gardner and company might return to this universe once again.

Cinematographer Christain Stella (left) with Cronhiem & Gardner.

The Battery is an inspiring little indie that stands on the shoulders of the pre-packaged chaff that currently dominates the market. I'm all for pomp and circumstance, but The Battery reminded me that there has to be a human element, or its charge will fade almost immediately.

*Q&A photo courtesy of DirtyRobot.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sieg Frank!

I've had some good luck this year tracking down titles on my wish list. First, Bio Slime finally received a DVD release from Media Blasters and then the Spanish thriller Blind Alley popped up on Netflix a short time after. Now, to complete the trifecta, Fantasia screened Frankenstein's Army last week and you can be damn sure I had a seat.

While filming a war propaganda film, a platoon of Russian soldiers fall upon a regiment of reanimated Nazis created by a mad scientist.

As you know, the road to this release for filmmaker Richard Raaphorst was excruciatingly long. His initial project Worst Case Scenario drew much interest after his promo footage lit up the Internet in 2006, but after several years of false starts, it was ultimately abandoned. Several years later, it eventually evolved into its current incarnation called Frankenstein's Army.

So, was it worth the wait? Well, I want to lead more toward yes. My main concern was if Raaphorst and his crew were actually going to deliver on the promise teased so many years ago. I'm glad to say those expectations were not only met, but exceeded. The creature designs in Frankenstein's Army were exceptional, providing quality and quantity, as it featured at least a dozen distinct undead abominations. If these guys ever need a job doing effects - oh, like say, the Wolfenstein movie adaptation for instance - all they'd need to do is walk into the interview with some of this stuff and they'd be hired on the spot.

There was also a level of authenticity, as well. It felt like nineteen-fourties Eastern Europe, and the constant pausing for film mag changes – as was the case with the equipment of the time – was a nice touch. This was some dark and demented stuff.

However, I am afraid I cannot lie to you. Everything else about Frankenstein's Army apart from the technical is pretty rough. The found footage format didn't feel particularly necessary, the story was lacklustre and the characters were fairly one-note. Things were good enough to move the narrative forward, but nothing more. Fortunately, Raaphorst was very smart to space out his monsters fairly evenly, instead of cramming them all into the back end, so I was never bored.

Karel Roden as Viktor Frankenstein at work in Frankenstein's Army.

Frankenstein's Army was kind of exactly what I was expecting, so I wasn't disappointed. As far as low-budget zombie flicks go, this is top-tier stuff. It may be ultimately empty, but I feel Raaphorst's almost ten-year-old vision remained intact. And he now has a warehouse full of spectacular toys to show off, as well. I look forward to seeing where he and his minions go from here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


I was very happy to hear that the second edition of horror's analog anthology V/H/S 2 was playing Fantasia while I was there.

A couple of private detectives hired to find a missing person are led to a house filled with old television sets and piles of VHS tapes. Looking for possible leads, they begin to watch them and potentially unspool their doom.

I found V/H/S 2 to be a little more consistent than its predecessor and a pretty successful venture. It seemed like everybody was on the same page this time around, with four out of the five contributors presenting an apocalypse scenario. It also didn't feel as long as the first movie, which was likely not only due to the shorter running time, but also that the strongest shorts were in the middle here, instead of the book-ends of the first installment.

So, let's break this one down, shall we? The opening story entitled “Clinical Trails – Phase 1” was directed by the only returning filmmaker from V/H/S, Adam Wingard (You're Next). This one features a man – played by Wingard himself – whose recently implanted cornea comes with the terrifying side effect of being able to see ghosts. Wingard's entry was fairly well done and had some good scares, but I feel like this ground was covered more successfully in the Pang Brothers' 2002 film The Eye.

Spirits abound in Adam Wingard's "Clinical Trails - Phase 1"

The second short was Eduardo Sanchez's (Lovely Molly) “A Ride In The Park”, which shows a man's leisurely forest bike ride turn into a nightmare. I thought this was a simple, yet fresh take on the zombie genre that sort of played like an extension of Ben Wheatley's ABC's of Death short, U is for Unearthed. It was very well executed, but considering it was done by the man who basically birthed – or at least popularized – the “found footage” subgenre with The Blair Witch Project, this really shouldn't be a surprise at all.

Up next, was “Safe Haven” by the pairing of Timo Tjahjanto (Macabre) and Gareth Evans (The Raid),  about a news camera crew that travels to a religious compound to interview their enigmatic leader. This was by far the best of the bunch. The combination of Tjahjanto's effed-up sensibilities with Evans' technical prowess was truly a sight to behold. They were able to create distinct characters and promote a tangible sense of dread and escalation in an incredibly short amount of time. There was so much going on in this short, it was almost as if they were thumbing their noses at the other contributors.

Epy Kusnandar as Father in Tjahjanto & Evans' "Safe Haven"

Last, but not least, was Jason Eisener's (Hobo With A Shotgun) short “Slumber Party Alien Invasion”, which is pretty self explanatory. It was the only short that actually boasted a sense of humour and I appreciated that by the end. However, that didn't stop it from sporting some genuinely creepy images. I think the tone justifies its position as the last story, even though Safe Haven would've been a hell of a way to cap things off. However, I do have to admit that Slumber Party was the only entry that felt a little unfinished though.

Otherworldly visitors from Jason Eisener's "Slumber Party Alien Invasion".

The wraparound construct called “Tape 49”, was provided by writer Simon Barrett in his first foray into directing. I found this a much better concept overall than the previous one, which felt more like an afterthought after its setup, and liked how it played out.

Kelsy Abbott as Ayesha in Simon Barrett's "Tape 49".

V/H/S 2 was a solid anthology made by an exciting group of filmmakers. I remain a fan of this project and if Brad Miska and company choose to continue making them, I'll keep on watching them.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Demonic Dud.

After Jack (Rob Corddry) and his pregnant wife Vanessa (Leslie Bibb) move into a haunted house in New Orleans, she begins exhibiting signs that her unborn child may be the spawn of Satan.

Hell Baby was a pretty hit and miss horror comedy. For every joke that landed, there were two that either went on way too long, or were constantly repeated with diminishing returns. The main draw for me, apart from Leslie Bibb – who seems to get hotter every time I see her – was that it featured a few people involved with one of my favourite television comedies, The League. Unfortunately, Hell Baby is more like Reno 911, than anything as snappy and clever as that.

Leslie Bibb in Hell Baby

Essentially, this movie felt stretched out. Aside from all the easy jokes, there were some legitimately clever genre deconstructions and elements that I certainly appreciated, like the decent creature effects and the sizable nude scene courtesy of Riki Lindhome that popped up right when I had begun to lose interest, but not enough to truly sustain itself.

Hell Baby is made up of three pairs, the main one being the parents-to-be Corddry and Bibb. Fortunately, they were the most consistent, but could only carry the movie so far. The other two were Rob Huebel & Paul Scheer as two witless cops, and Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon (who also co-directed the flick) as Vatican priests. Though they both had some funny scenes, the majority tended to drag on and overall, neither were used to their full potential. Personally, I think the highlight of the movie was Keegan Michael Key as the freeloading neighbour F'Resnel, as he was the most consistently amusing of the bunch.

Rob Corddry (left), Keegan Michael Key & Leslie Bibb in Hell Baby

Hell Baby was, save for a few almost arbitrary gross out gags, fairly inoffensive fare that felt too ramshackle to be anything more than a quick diversion.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Conjuring Chills.

Fantasia kicked off last week with their opening screening of James Wan's newest horror flick, The Conjuring.

Paranormal investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga) take on their toughest case yet when they agree to help a mother (Lily Taylor) discover what has been tormenting her family in their Rhode Island home.

This was a highly enjoyable haunted house thrill ride. A film like this is only as strong as its scare set pieces and The Conjuring has several great ones. While it is true a few seem cribbed from other works, most notably Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell and the eighties television show Friday the 13th, there are many others that are brimming with ingenuity.

Annabelle, one of The Conjuring's many haunts.

I would say that Wan has even bettered Insidious. I was a big fan of his 2010 scare-fest and while I didn't find its eventual foray into the netherworld detrimental to the picture, it was a little over complicated. Here, Wan kept things simple and grounded throughout, which made for a more effective piece. The CG was also kept to a minimum, which, as you know, I always appreciate.

I can really see Wan's evolution as a filmmaker here. He has overcome his earlier third-act problem, and has moved on from the easy gore thrills of Saw. Technically, his craftsmanship has increased tenfold, as well. I'd seen glimpses of it in his earlier films like Death Sentence and Insidious, but here it is on full display. I marvelled at some of the camerawork in The Conjuring.

However, just as instrumental as Wan's direction is the wonderful cast. Wilson & Farmiga – likely two of the best character actors working today – are delightful together and Lily Taylor is solid as always as the troubled mother of five children. Speaking of which, I always find it impressive when horror filmmakers can get a good performance out of one child, let alone five. You would think that with a large family like that, things would start to get muddled, but each sibling has their own moment and it all works seamlessly. Collectively, this ensemble gave the film a dramatic weight that is so often absent from modern genre efforts.

Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga as The Warrens in The Conjuring.

The Conjuring is definitely the best horror film I've seen so far this year and Wan has cemented himself as one of the top tier genre filmmakers working today. I guess that's what makes this triumph bittersweet, as just when he is at the top of his game, Hollywood recruits him to helm the next Fast & the Furious flick. I know we still have Insidious 2 to look forward to, but I can't imagine there is much left in that well for it to be anywhere near as good as this.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fantasia '13 Ici!

I'm off to Montreal today for the 17th edition of the Fantasia Film Festival. My reviews should start piling in after I get the first few mammoth drinking sessions out of the way, but in the meantime, here's a preview of what I'll be catching over the next week.

This is the big premiere of the Fest. I've had good success in recent years with the opening film – with Red State and The Tall Man – so let's hope the streak continues.

The Lesson Of The Evil.

Takashi Miike tackles the taboo subject of school violence, but takes it a step further by having the teacher as the antagonist. If it is half as good as 2010's Confessions, then it will be time well spent.

The “creators of Reno 911” doesn't sell me, but the concept and Leslie Bibb & Paul Scheer do. After the dead seriousness of the first two films, I may need this to clean the palette.

I'm stoked to finally see this and weigh in on whether this series is getting better with age. That said, I know I'm going to love at least two of the stories by design alone.

Do I need to say anymore about how much I've been waiting for this? The long road ends Saturday night.

Rumour has it this just missed recently playing in Toronto, so I'm glad I'm at least getting to see this here. Most people would say the zombie genre is now far beyond its expiration date. I remain unconvinced.

Not a great poster, I'll grant you that. However, I enjoyed both Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil and A Little Bit Zombie, so this should be a similar amount of fun.

Horror Stories

South Korean anthology film. In.

I'm sure I'll check out a few others while I'm in Montreal, but these are the ones of the horror persuasion.

Oh, and as for all my brethren back in Toronto, there is a free screening of You're Next at The Lightbox tonight.

Get your ass over there and see it! NO EXCUSES!