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, October 31, 2013

A RedRum Halloween

Happy Halloween everyone! With the big day happening mid-week, all my friend's parties happened last weekend, so here are some pictures of my costume this year.

It was a big hit, mainly because my mother came through once again by fashioning the important part - the Apollo 11 sweater. It was actually nice to wear a costume that didn't involve obscuring my vision

Hope you all have a great evening, and don't gorge on too many sweets.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Shorts After Dark 2013.

Toronto After Dark again continued its tradition of showcasing both Canadian and international short films over the course of its nine-day run. Here below are some of the ones that I most fancied.

1. Invocation - As you know, I adore Robert Morgan and his newest stop-motion nightmare did not disappoint. The sound design in this short was boombastic and I love how Morgan has carved out an unmistakable aesthetic since bursting onto the scene in 1997 with The Man in the Lower-Left Corner of the Photograph. Combining both live action and animation together, this dark slice of revenge shot to the top of my list immediately.

2. The Lamp - This one was a treat. Director Trevor Juras is able to create tension with something as simple as two people sharing a cab after their first date. Anyone who has dabbled with online dating can surely relate to some of what goes on within - but hopefully not too much. The ending is nice little punctuation mark on a gleefully unsettling scenario.

3. Sequence - This is such a wonderfully conceived and executed short that never felt the need to spoon feed us anything. Director Carles Torrens keeps us in the dark as much as the main character as he tries to figure out why every single person in the world seems to have had a terrible dream involving him the night before. His day then goes from bad to worse.

4. The Last Video Store - I caught this one at Fantasia and it was just as fun the second time round. Made by a couple of crazy cats from Edmonton, this short carries on the tradition of those crusty VHS titles of yore and ends with a boss fight that needs to be seen to be believed.

You can also check out the pseudo sequel, M is For Magnetic Tape, here.

5. North Bay - This one is high concept science fiction that reminded me of the work of Shane Carruth. An eccentric scientist ostracized from the mainstream for his bizarre theories has a chance encounter that may provide the answers for which has been searching for almost twenty years. I really dug the music in this short, as well.

Some honourable mentions:

There were some wonderful absurdist shorts this year. Adam Schafer's Down Bob was kind of an abstract mix of Napoleon Dynamite and Taxi Driver, and yes it is as weird as it sounds. Adding to the great pool of talent in Winnipeg is Fabian Velasco with Under The Neon Lights. Just watching the puckered look on Milos Mitrovic's face was enough to crack me up. Jean Francois Asselin's Remember Me was another great short with the brilliant hook of a guy who starts to disappear when no one is thinking of him.

I was also delighted to see some of my filmmaker friends get their work shown this year. Mike Falcore, who shot my upcoming short Lively, debuted his dark parable Master. I loved the look of this film and though its construct may be a little leading, it's tight and self contained and leaves an impression. Also, Nate Wilson showed off his little short about failed romances called Mood Killer. This kid is just sixteen and already seems to know more about relationships than I do.

There was also a nice quotient of martial arts short films, as well. Olaf Svenson's L'Etranger saw a well-conceived bar room brawl conclude with a nice punchline, and Rope-A-Dope from Eric Jacobus plays like a kung-fu version of Groundhog Day.

It was another strong year for shorts and now that I've done a few myself I have a better understanding of just how impressive some of them really are.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Power Of Money.

On the closing night of Toronto After Dark, I checked out E.L. Katz's black comedy Cheap Thrills.

Craig (Pat Healy), a down-on-his-luck family man is drinking at a bar with an old friend named Vince (Ethan Embry) when they meet rich couple, Colin & Violet (David Koechner & Sara Paxton). Colin soon proposes a game where they complete certain tasks for cash, which Craig & Vince, both strapped for funds, happily oblige, not knowing what they are in for.

Cheap Thrills is a fun little movie. After having written director Adam Wingard's first two projects and associating with Ti West (having cast the two leads from The Innkeepers), it seems director E.L Katz comes from pretty good genre pedigree. His film flows very well and Katz found great actors to portray his characters. Healy is solid as the downtrodden every man at the end of his rope and is complimented well by Embry, who seems to pop up in a genre film once every few years. Koechner is also delightful as the grinning millionaire, Colin.

Pat Healy (left), David Koechner & Ethan Embry in Cheap Thrills.

I found there were more than a few similarities between Cheap Thrills and another movie from this year called Would You Rather. Both films feature ordinary people doing random tasks for escalating amounts of cash, although they are two different flavours of the same theme. Cheap Thrills is definitely the more humourous of the two, with Rather erring on the side of nastiness. The game master of Rather, played by Jeffrey Combs, seemed more maniacal than his counterpart. Even though Rather had more characters and overall variety, I felt the intimacy of the foursome in Cheap Thrills worked in its favour.

Cheap Thrills was at least perhaps trying to make a comment about the class struggle between the haves and have-nots, whereas, apart from Rather's darkly ironic ending, it was a pretty straightforward yarn resting mainly on shock value. Katz's tale relied more on character and this was facilitated by the one-on-one nature of the challenges. The escalation of the bets put forth seemed natural, as did the characters motivations to complete said bets. Even if the movie's conclusion did feel inevitable, I can't say that there weren't some clever accents throughout that made me think it may go, at some points, sideways.

Money talks.

Cheap Thrills was a tight little tale and a entertaining watch. Katz clearly has a knack for character, pace and his emphasis on black comedy kept things from getting too morose. A perfect way to end things, I'd say.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Captured On Tape!

On Thursday, Toronto After Dark screened a pair of new found footage flicks. The first was Bobcat Goldthwait's Willow Creek.

Kelly & Jim (Alexie Gilmore & Bryce Johnson) venture into the woods near Willow Creek, California in search of the legendary Bigfoot.

For a guy with a predominantly comedic background, I think Goldthwait took a pretty good stab at the horror genre here. He kept things very simple, using The Blair Witch Project and the films of Joe Swanberg as his two main inspirations. During the Q&A, Goldthwait mentioned that he originally wanted to do a Christopher Guest-style comedy with the Bigfoot legend, but after visiting Willow Creek and mixing with the locals, he felt that taking the piss out of them would be disingenuous.

Speaking of the town, I think the biggest surprise for me was that it was an actual place. I was aware of the Patterson-Gimlin footage, but not that the area where it was filmed had now become a tourist attraction. In terms of communities that have made an urban legend a legitimate source of income, Willow Creek ranks up there with Roswell, New Mexico. This works in the movie's favour as it makes the setup fairly fascinating to watch, especially since it is perhaps a little longer than it needed to be.

Bryce Johnson & Alexie Gilmore in Willow Creek.

So, once into the meat of the picture, there were one or two legitimately creepy scenes, the most significant being a prolonged night sequence inside a tent. Goldthwait, again using the Blair Witch template, basically put his actors in a situation and fucked with them at night. I have to say the results were pretty organic. Gilmore & Johnson had good chemistry and considering most of the movie is just them, their relationship felt pretty natural. The conclusion of Willow Creek was fairly logical, even if I did feel it lacked the exclamation point that would've pushed it from the realm of good to great.

Director Bobcat Goldthwait with a special guest.

Over the years, there have been so few genuinely good Bigfoot flicks, but this one was pretty solid. It delved into the lore, and delivered some prolonged tension. It was almost as if this subgenre needed an outsider to come in to do it properly.

The second of the pair that night was a film called The Banshee Chapter.

A journalist (Katia Winter) investigating the mysterious disappearance of an old friend discovers it may be linked to a government conspiracy involving an experimental drug and radio transmissions of unknown origin.

I knew next to nothing about this film going in, but the subject matter certainly had me intrigued. A friend of mine had turned me onto the whole number stations phenomena about a year ago, and my only knowledge of MK Ultra was that it served as the inspiration for Stephen King's novel, Firestarter. In the end, I was almost shocked by how much I enjoyed it.

There were some really effective set pieces in this movie. While it is true the core of The Banshee Chapter is basically an elaborate parade of jump scares, they are really well executed ones. It is hard to keep an audience on edge constantly, but I think the audience was caught a little off guard by how unsettling it was. There were a few areas where director Blair Erickson was able to take things to the next level. The addition of the Lovecraftian angle was a welcome decision, and it was also a very smart choice to use a mix of found footage and conventional narrative. By using the former for just the flashback sequences, it cut out the usual “why are they still filming?” distractions that are usually associated with the format.

So many Goddamn creepy stills, it was hard to choose just one.

As one would expect, sound plays a huge part in The Banshee Chapter. The “transmissions” are very creepy and perhaps most unsettling is that all of them were taken from existing number station recordings. I'd say the real highlight of the film though, is Ted Levine who plays an eccentric Hunter S. Thompson type character named Thomas Blackburn. I feel Levine is a very underutilized character actor it was nice to see him given free reign here. It was delight to watch and added some much needed comic relief to the pervasive doom and gloom of the picture.

Katia Winter & Ted Levine in The Banshee Chapter.

The market has been flooded with this type of film over the past few years, but The Banshee Chapter is probably one of the strongest I've seen. I imagine this is in no small due to the fact that a lot of it is based on fact and not manufactured.

Friday, October 25, 2013


Perhaps my most anticipated film of Toronto After Dark was Scott Schirmer’s dark thriller, Found. After seeing the trailer earlier this year, I was immediately captivated by its premise and at the same time envious that I didn’t come up with such an idea myself.

A bullied twelve-year-old horror fan named Marty (Gavin Brown) discovers that his older brother Steve (Ethan Philback) is a serial killer when he finds a severed head inside his closet.

I loved this film. There was just so much of my childhood here that I often felt like it was speaking directly to me. Now before I come off sounding like a complete psychopath – I mean, more than usual – I should clarify. I too, was an early fan of horror flicks, so the nostalgic value of seeing Marty take weekend trips to the video store to rent crusty VHS titles should be self evident. It is no wonder that throughout the first half, my buddy kept leaning over and saying “this movie is so you”. I also have an older brother and may have, on occasion, snuck into his room. Most importantly, I had to deal with constant bullying from my peers. This movie made me wonder how different my elementary school experience would have been, if my brother & I had had the same “do you wanna be the kid that gets picked on, or the kid that gets into trouble” conversation Marty and Steve did.

Gavin Brown as Marty in Found.

But enough about my darkest timeline, let me talk about the actual production. It is quite remarkable what Schirmer achieved on the minuscule budget of eight thousand dollars. He was so committed to telling this jet black fable that I was easily able to forgive the rough audio and occasional stiff exchanges between supporting characters. In truth, a lot of these common no-budget production woes were almost completely glossed over by a fantastic score that, despite being made by four different composers, came together as one cohesive piece.

In addition to his talented music men, Schirmer amassed many other gifted craftsmen for this production. The gore work by Clockwerk Creature Company was top notch and the title sequence by Lowell Isaac was the best I’ve seen this year. The fact that Found was a period piece also resonated with me. The nondescript locations kept the film fairly timeless, but that Marty’s world revolved around horror posters and video stores – and not cell phones and video games – put Found somewhere in the early nineties. This coincidentally coincides with my tenure as a video jockey.

Found was dark and disturbing subject matter, shocking even, and escalated quickly when Marty popped in a tape he pulled from his brother’s movie collection. However, even though much blood is split, Schirmer still shows restraint when it counts. With films of this nature there is a tendency to end on a few exclamation points, thus inadvertently pushing the film over the top into cartoonishness. This film pulled back at its climax, and that made it even more effective. This spoke volumes about Schirmer’s skills as a filmmaker and I think the decision elevated his film beyond simple exploitation.

Shane Beasley as the Headless Killer in Found.

The strength of the picture is, in large part, due to Gavin Brown though. This was his first gig and he performed admirably in a challenging role. I also had no trouble believing he and Ethan were siblings. I didn’t know until the Q&A that Found was adapted from a self-published novel by Todd Rigney. I will be looking that one up for sure, as it apparently delves more into the motivations of the Ethan character.

Director Scott Schirmer (left) with actors Gavin Brown & Phyllis Munro.

I am fully aware that Found is a niche film with a limited audience, but I was completely enraptured. It has been a while since I’ve seen a genre film that hit me on such a personal level. It is almost alarming how mild-mannered and innocuous Schirmer is in person, compared to the inherent ugliness in his film. I guess it just lends further evidence to the theory that it is the quiet ones you have to watch out for.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Occupational Hazards.

As I mentioned before, the Ontario-produced survivalist yarn, Solo was among my most anticipated at this year's Toronto After Dark.

As part of a camp counsellor initiation, Gillian (Annie Clark) is escorted out to an secluded island where she must stay for two nights. Soon after arriving though, she realizes she is not alone.

Solo was an absolute treat for a number of reasons, first and foremost being that it absolutely gorgeous to look at. While it is true that it would be hard to screw up photographing such a beautiful locale as Algonquin Park, the cinematography by Stephen Chung went beyond just shooting the scenery. There were some creative things done here with shadow and negative space, as well as emphasizing the isolation of the island. This is also well complimented by Todor Kobakov's score. It is amazing how much tension the two of these guys manufactured considering very little happened in the first third of the movie.

Alone in the dark.

Another thing I really appreciated about Solo was writer/director Isaac Cravit's narrative economy, as he didn't spend unnecessary time on setup. He introduced us to the main character and then stranded her almost immediately. This stripped down approach of less is more was very effective here. Everything about the film was simplistic, right down to the motivations of the antagonist, which only served to ground the story further.

Annie Clark as Gillian in Solo

Annie Clark was put out front and center here and performed admirably. It was a physically demanding role and that the filmmakers took the time to cast someone who actually looked like a real person did not go unnoticed by me. Her character made smart decisions and therefore kept the story from falling into a lot of the same slasher movie tropes. I also have to give credit to Cravit for not tipping his hand too early, as well. Gillian comes into contact with three different men, all of whom seem a little off in different ways, and I was never quite certain which one she should be most afraid of.

Solo is a well crafted piece that I will, from this day forward, unabashedly point to as top-tier Canadian genre cinema. Silent Retreat was good, but Solo was great.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Good Kind Of Odd.

I have to say this Stephen Sommers adaptation of a Dean Koontz novel called Odd Thomas crept up on me. I knew nothing of this series or film before its inclusion into this year's Toronto After Dark lineup. And I'm fine with that.

Odd (Anton Yelchin) is a mild mannered short order cook, who also just happens to possess clairvoyant abilities. When he sees a spectral harbinger of doom arrive in his small town, he sets about using his gift to prevent it.

This movie was a lot of fun, and I think Stephen Sommers was a perfect fit for the material. He always fully commits to taking you on a fantastical ride and just goes for it and I think there are two things that make him, more often than not, succeed. The first thing is that Sommers always infuses his pictures with a unique energy that keeps things going at a very fast pace. He established the movie's universe and rules very quickly, so you didn't have any time to doubt them. They just were.

The second thing is he populated the screen with actors who were just as committed to giving one hundred per cent. Anton Yelchin was great as Odd and had so much more to work with here, than he did in 2011's Fright Night remake. And before you go playing the nepotism card, Ashley Sommers was pretty wonderful as Odd's girlfriend, Stormy. I think that the old-timey way in which they talked to each other may put some people off, but I thought it was, for the most part, endearing and only added to their chemistry. Willem Dafoe also appeared as Odd's police chief father to add some veteran credibility to the proceedings.

Ashley Sommers & Anton Yelchin in Odd Thomas.

In composition, I was reminded of Peter Jackson's The Frighteners. It had a similar tone, involved a protagonist that can see spectral forces and successfully utilized a large amount of visual effects. Both films also had villains that were obsessed with the evils of the world, as well. I wouldn't say that Odd Thomas approached the sheer awesomeness of The Frighteners, but it's on the doorstep. This is a very polished effort with a lot of heart behind it.

One of the Odd Thomas' otherworldly adversaries.

I think the only real negative is that the movie spends way too much time accentuating every plot point with narration, visual flashes or useless dialogue. It is always annoying when a filmmaker doesn't trust his audience enough to not hit them over the head with every little thing. It's unfortunate that it had to be so on the nose, but considering the movie does have a PG-13 vibe to it, I may not be the demographic they were aiming for. I'd rather like to think that perhaps Sommers was lulling us into a false sense of security though, as I certainly didn't expect things to play out the way they did. The final moments of the film led me to believe that there may be more Odd – there are apparently five Koontz books featuring the character – in the future and I certainly wouldn't be adverse to going on another adventure with him.

So, if the movie's good, why had I not heard of it until now? Sommers is a bankable name in the industry, so why did this film not get a wide release? Well, official word is that a lawsuit between two production companies has kept it shelved, but I wager the movie's climax involving a masked gunman and a mass shooting spree didn't help either. That'll put the kibosh on an American release, right quick. It's a shame because I think Odd Thomas stacks up against some blockbusters that cost over five times as much. It may be odd, but it's worth looking into.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Finding Her Voice.

I was able to check out some local flavour at Toronto After Dark on Sunday, with Tricia Lee’s film Silent Retreat.

Janey (Chelsea Jenish) is sent to a rehabilitation center where no talking or communication with the other residents is allowed at any time. She soon discovers that there may be something more sinister afoot involving the retreat's overseer The Doctor (Robert Nolan) and also the surrounding woods.

I was pleasantly surprised by this film. The concept - of being isolated and surrounded by danger, but not able to talk to anyone around you - was definitely the film’s strongest attribute. The film featured several scenes without dialogue and I thought it broke up the narrative nicely. This device would have never worked however, without good performances and Silent Retreat has several of them. Jenish and Sofia Banzhaf, as Alexis, both gave heartfelt performances, showing off strength and vulnerability in equal measure. Indie horror veteran Robert Nolan also notches another devilish performance as The Doctor.

Chelsea Jenish (left) and Sofia Banzhaf in Silent Retreat.

Silent Retreat was proof that solid acting, a great locale and a good setup can go a long way, as the third act does have its share of problems. There were some character decisions that seemed a little extreme and there is an argument to be made that the film needed the creature in the woods. The nefarious deeds of the Doctor and his two sons were nefarious enough on their own, without adding this extra element. I do understand that the creature facilitated the film's thematic cycle that you'll either buy or you won't, so it was really just a choice.

I had heard negative things about the final reveal of said creature, but I was all right with it. I've been involved in a lot of low budget productions and I can appreciate their approach. Though not particularly elaborate or original, I'd certainly take what Silent Retreat offered over CGI any day of the week. The rest of the gore effects were well executed, and having worked with Shaun Hunter on a few occasions, I know from experience that he can do a lot with very little.

Director Tricia Lee (left) with cast & crew of Silent Retreat.

Silent Retreat has its flaws, but there is enough good here to warrant a watch. Lee already has several projects under her belt and is quickly emerging as another strong female voice in genre filmmaking.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Getting It Right.

The 8th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival kicked off last Thursday with a screening of Jim Mickle's remake of We Are What We Are.

After their mother suddenly dies, daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner) must carry on their family's tradition under the watchful eye of their ailing father (Bill Sage).

My initial reaction to an American remake of Jorge Michel Grau's Mexican 2010 original was naturally disdain. However, when I heard Jim Mickle was adapting it, that gave me hope. After his previous two efforts (Mulberry Street & Stake Land), Mickle showed an uncanny knack for mixing character with genre. It seemed like a perfect fit. And it was.

Mickle's We Are What We Are is almost flawless in its execution. When the original film was first released it drew comparisons to Tomas Alfredson's 2008 film Let The Right One In due its effortless fusion of genre with coming of age drama. Mickle's version shares the same vision, but takes it one step further. Whereas Let The Right One In's American counterpart (2010's Let Me In) was essentially the same story with a few tweaks, Mickle weaves a largely separate tale from the same jumping off point. By flipping the genders of the dead parent and eldest children, it created an entirely new dynamic that even, dare I say, bested its predecessor. He also delved into the origin of the family's practices, which though perhaps unnecessary, was not unwelcome.

Julia Garner (left) & Ambyr Childers in We Are What We Are.

What We Are takes it time and Mickle never loses sight of his main priority, which is family drama first, genre film second. This makes for a very slow pace – especially if you are already aware of the original and the pivotal family secret – but this is by no means a detriment to anyone who appreciates good storytelling. This film is also a treasure trove of great performances. Childers & Garner were both suberb in their roles and able to convey the inner conflict of their situation almost immediately. The dark unpredictability of Bill Sage's protrayal of the patriarchal Frank brought with a sizable presence, as well. The appearance of solid character actors Kelly McGillis & Michael Parks also lent immeasurable weight to the proceedings. There was an intense kitchen table scene between Parks & Sage toward the end of the film that had me on the edge of my seat.

Michael Parks as Doc Barrow.

In comparison with Grau's original, I feel the escalation was less pronounced, and Mickle's ending is clearly the more divisive of the two. There were several ways I expected this film to play out and I can safely say that what transpired was not one of them. It was truly a dinner scene to end all dinner scenes.

Mickle, and his longtime collaborator Nick Damici, have now established themselves as solid voices in contemporary American film and I look forward to seeing where they go from here.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

DKTM 196

Hello all. Before my Toronto After Dark coverage begins tomorrow, I wanted to throw up a few bits of news.

Dirty Business.

The ABC's of Death 2 content submission short I co-wrote with my friend Mike Schwartz has been posted to the site. It is called M is for Manure, and I would love for you to take a gander. The image below will redirect you to the video. Please vote for it by clicking on the FB Like icon above the video.

The script to release process that took less than six weeks, which is pretty remarkable considering there was no money involved to grease the wheels. Hope you like it, and feel free to share this little nightmare with your friends and/or enemies.

Into The Wild.

Toronto After Dark isn't the only festival going on in Toronto right now. This Thursday is the latest edition of the WILDsound Film Festival. Showcasing the best in short films from around the world, it plays this Thursday evening at the Carelton Theatre. Of special note, is that Richard Powell's short Familiar will be screening as part of this program. 

Featuring effects from The Butcher Shop, it stars Robert Nolan as a man who discovers his inner voice may not be his own. Tickets are a mere four dollars and can be purchased here.


As I mentioned, it was Video Store Day yesterday. I didn't have a lot of time to spare with TAD going on, but I did manage to get to Eyesore and snag this little beauty!

Yep, she's a looker!

See all tomorrow with my review of the TAD opener, Jim Mickle's We Are What We Are.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Video Store Day III

Today is International Independent Video Store Day. Get out and support your local video vendor!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Toronto After Dark 2013

The eighth edition of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival begins tonight with a screening of Jim Mickle's adaptation of the 2010 Mexican film We Are What We Are.

Screening tonight, 7pm at the Scotiabank Theatre, Toronto.

What We Are is definitely my most anticipated film of the festival, and here are four more that I am eagerly awaiting.

Screening Mon, Oct 21st at 930pm.

Screening Wed, Oct 23rd at 7pm.

Screening Thu, Oct 24th at 7pm.

Screening Fri, Oct 25th at 930pm.

Be sure to check back in a few days for reviews on this year's lineup. In the meantime though, take a gander at this sizzle reel!

For tickets to the fest, click here. Hope to see you After Dark.