Hey all! With Halloween falling on a Monday this year, it gives us all the opportunity to stretch out our festivities over the entire weekend. I hope you were all able to get your freak on last night. I know I did. Right now, I just wanted to give you some Halloween treats - visual and aural - before the big day.
As you know, I am a big fan of short films and a few fine offerings, hot off the festival circuit, just hit the Web.
Here is also another one from earlier this year that seems appropriate for the season.
Music For Madness.
For those music lovers out there, I offer up these. The first is a new heavy metal Halloween mix by Uncle TNUC entitled Night Beast II.
For those more into the electronic side of things, there is Stellar's new album Cult Classic, a score to a fictional eighties haunted house movie,
I have spokenbefore about the upcoming augmented reality game called Night Terrors. Well, after over a year of development, Novum Analytics' appears to be ready to release a demo this Halloween.
It is a crazy ambitious project, but how awesome would it be to have a horror version of Pokemon Go on the market? I pre-ordered this thing at the beginning of their IndieGogo, so as soon as it is ready to download in the App store, I'm ready to turn my place into a hellscape.
This was an easily digestible book that
gives you a pretty concise rundown of the last hundred years of
horror films. Broken down by decade, I was happy to see a fairly even
distribution with equal representation given to the silent and silver
screen eras. I was pretty impressed by how much info was packed into
the two small pages alloted for each title. And with over three dozen
contributors, there were also many different voices to be heard, as
The classics were naturally plentiful
with the good majority of the titles being no-brainers, but it did
have its share of deep cuts, including the Man Bites Dog, Viy and
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. This is a solid resource for the
casual fan, though the bigger appeal for the more discerning
horrorphile may likely be in nitpicking the choices. I must admit I
had only had issues with titles that were left off the list, like Sam
Raimi's Evil Dead (they opted for Evil Dead II instead) and whether
or not Deathdream was a better representation of Bob Clark's career
than Black Christmas. I'm also going to assume that The Thing and
Alien were carried over to Schneider's Sci-Fi edition of the series.
This book was originally released in
2009, so it was little shocking that only a pair of titles were added
to this updated edition – Let The Right One In and It Follows. At
first I was like, there have only been two must-see titles released
in since 2007?? (The Orphanage was the final title in the first
edition). The sad reality is that there have been a ton of really
good films over the last decade, but very few that transcend and define the
genre. You also have to take into account that to put those two
titles on the list, they would have had to take two titles off. I
wonder which two got bumped?
101 Horror Movies You Must See Before
You Die is a decent compendium of the best of the best. It's a to-do
list for those who want to get their feet bloody and a conversation
starter for the more hardcore fans out there.
I'm throwing the trailer for Kevin Tenney's classic eighties romp Night of the Demons up here, not only because Halloween is almost upon us, but it was also the subject of the last Drunken Cinema.
For those not in the know, Drunken Cinema is an ongoing film series curated by my pal and resident cinephile Serena Whitney. Every month she rents out the back room of The Steady and screens a movie complete with a specifically designed set of drinking rules.
Past films have been Silent Night, Deadly Night, Deep Blue Sea and Slumber Party Massacre. She doesn't always play horror films (for instance the next one is Carl Weathers' Action Jackson), but those are naturally my favourites. Especially when I win raffles prizes like this beauty!
Toronto After Dark's mandate has always included showcasing short films from Canada and around the globe, and this year was no different. Here below were some of my favourites.
After his powerhouse of a short Point Of View last year, Justin Harding has followed it up with another winner. Kookie, anchored by a comically adept young lead in Ava Jamieson and the scariest cookie jar you've ever seen, delivers both the laughs and scares. Harding is killing it right now.
I was also glad that TAD played Greg Jeffs' It's All In Your Head. We programmed this at Fright Night Theatre last month and its wonderful turnabout is the precisely the reason I love watching short films.
The action short Olga from Quebec featuring veteran stuntwoman Naomi Frenette was easy for me to get behind. She absolutely kicked ass in this and I hope to see her in more projects soon.
Naomi Frenette in Olga.
The shorts programmers Peter Kuplowsky & Shannon Hanmer also served up heavy helpings of absurdity with the likes of Boy Toys, Astron 6's newest Divorced Dad and batshit wacko Greener Grass.
For me, the most visually resonant short that played this year was Tim Egan's Curve. Immediately putting the viewer in peril, it's a short that makes you feel physically uncomfortable.
And speaking of uncomfortable, there was also Anthony Cousins' When Susurris Stirs, but for a very different reason. If this one doesn't make you cringe, then you are made of stone. Also back this year, was Brit Oliver Park with his new chiller Still. He is another filmmaker who is mining gold from the home invasion subgenre boom.
Lastly, there was Dianne Bellino's beautiful stop-motion animation short The Itching. I don't think I've ever seen the plight of social anxiety better represented than it was here.
It was not only a strong year for shorts at TAD this year, but there was also a wide range of stories, themes and tone that hit us with a little bit of everything. Well done, guys!
Toronto After Dark wrapped up on Friday
with a rousing double-bill of the wonderfully fantastic mermaid
musical The Lure, and the uber-anticipated local horror production
It seemed I'd been waiting so long to
see this movie that it was almost surreal when the opening title came
up. The Void was pretty much what I was expecting and hoping for when
I pledged money to their IndieGogo campaign over a year ago. I wanted
a waking nightmare filled with slobbery monsters and unadulterated
chaos, and that is what Steve Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie
First and foremost, the creature
effects were sublime. Kostanski is not only a wizard at practical
effects, but he also knows their limitations. He knows how to show
them to get the maximum oh-fuck-what-is-that? response on the viewer. His
designs were indescribably horrific and I give him full props for
bringing forth such originality in a genre that often just uses existing templates. It was also refreshing that no studio stepped in at the eleventh
hour and CG'd over all their hard work.
Yet the creature effects were not the
only thing that really impressed me about this movie. Even though it
shares DNA with genre classics like Assault on Precinct 13, Prince of
Darkness, The Thing, Hellraiser, Event Horizon and The Beyond, The
Void never felt like it wasn't its own entity. It's also not showy
about being a period piece either. Nobody was playing with a Rubik's
Cube or listening to Duran Duran on their Walkman, it was just that
about a half-hour in that I realized no one had pulled out a cell phone. The Void goes beyond homage.
If I had one criticism though, it was that the
creature effects were so good that they overshadowed everything else.
Though I had no real problems with the performances and story, I was
always waiting for the next set piece. Kostanksi & Gillespie knew
what they were doing though. Having confidence in their visuals to
shock and horrify, they let them take center stage and, in complete
contrast to the movie that screened the day before, rarely resorted to
cheap jump scares.
Directors Steve Kostanski (left) and Jeremy Gillespie.
It was a long journey to get The Void
made, but I think Kostanski and Gillespie should be very proud of
what they accomplished here. Not only did they make an
honest-to-goodness creature feature, but they have also successfully
broken out of the comedy-laden mold of their time with Astron 6. I have now crossed over into The Void and so should you.
Four petty criminals kidnaps a woman
for ransom, only to realize their captive may not be as helpless as
You know, every time I hear about a
“kidnappers get more than they bargained for” movie, I always
wonder if someone has finally done the languishing script I've been
picking at for twenty-some years. But no, as per usual, it started off
similar and then spiralled off in a different direction. Overall, I
thought the idea of Willow Street was sound, but the execution was a little lackluster. Once it got beyond the potential of its
premise, it fell into themes that have been mined before in better
Sharni Vinson & Carlyn Burchell in From A House on Willow Street.
But first, some positives. Due to some
impressive locations and production design, Willow Street looked great. The monster designs were solid, even if they did feel like extensions of stuff we've come to know from the Resident Evil
franchise. Apart from some CG towards the end, I had no problems at
all with the way this movie looked.
Sadly, the main takeaway for me was
just how exhausting the sound design was. I mean, I actually lost
count of how many jump scares there were. It was like the filmmakers
didn't have enough confidence in their visuals and decided to just
add a loud noise every few minutes. It was incredibly frustrating
because not only are there so many other horror movies that use this
lazy crutch, but there are far superior ways to create tension. I'm
not saying you can't use jump scares, but it's a matter of quality,
not quantity. It really does take away from the picture as a whole if
you abuse it.
At the end of the day though, Willow Street was just a couple of guys from South Africa working their
fingers to the bone to make a horror movie, so good on 'em. Despite its problems, it still managed to be a step above most of the
standard studio fare that gets churned out. I just hope director Alastair Orr and
company can incorporate a little subtlety into their next venture.
A troubled youth named John (Max
Records) becomes obsessed with a serial killer that has recently set
up shop in his small town.
Eleven years ago at TIFF, I saw O’Brien’s debut Isolation, a dour science-gone-wrong tale that
never really got the recognition it deserved in my opinion. So, I was
pretty chuffed to hear that he was back with another film that was
being received well on the festival circuit. And I’m even happier
to say that I Am Not A Serial Killer is another winner.
I loved the feel and locale of this
movie. Set largely during the Midwestern winter, the comparisons to
Fargo are justified, though I am glad that O’Brien kept the quirk
to a minimum. This was a really poignant representation of a young
sociopath being pushed to the edge by external forces.
As someone who spent a good deal of my adolescence with a dark cloud
over my head, I identified with a lot of what was going on here. Much
like my experience with Scott Schrimer’s Found, it tapped into
something really personal and went beyond with a ‘what if’
Christopher Lloyd & Max Records in I Am Not A Serial Killer.
The performances in I Am Not A Serial
Killer were solid across the board, but most of the praise obviously
goes to Records and Christopher Lloyd. Records seems to have survived
the Hollywood transition from child to adult, as he gives a
wonderfully reserved performance here. In amongst his cold and
withdrawn demeanor, there was a wry sense of humour in John that came
out whenever he was trying to hide his true feelings. It was almost
heartbreaking to see how hard the character was trying to be
“normal”, even though we all know that you eventually reach an
age where you realize that there is no such thing. No one is normal, just different degrees of fucked up.
It was also amazing to see that even in
his late seventies, just how much gravitas Lloyd still
has onscreen. His wise and reflective conversations with John were
just great to watch. Man, it looked bitterly cold during some of his
scenes, and he didn’t seem bothered at all.
Up to no good.
I Am Not A Serial Killer was a
coming-of-age tale, but it's also a mystery as well, so the less you
know the better. However, I didn’t feel like there were really any
big revelations that weren’t either already fairly evident or at
least revealed very early on. Sometimes people get hung up on that
stuff when they should just be concentrating on the more personal
aspects of the story.
I don’t think it's going to blow
anyone’s mind, but I thought I Am Not A Serial Killer was a really
solid indie. It’s well acted and paints an unsensationalized
portrait of living with mental illness.
The Rezort came first, and the easiest
way to describe it is Jurassic Park with zombies. Coming a few years
after society has regained control of a worldwide outbreak,
well-to-do types pay to vacation on an island where you can shoot up
shackled zombies. That is, until a zombie-rights hacker shuts down
the system and lets them loose on the inhabitants.
This movie was nothing to write home
about, but considering its juicy setup and lush locale (Majorca) it
would've been really hard to screw it up. The characters were fairly
stock, but the zombies looked great and they got shot up a lot. Like,
a lot. If you're cruising Netflix and looking for something to
scratch that undead itch, you could do a LOT worse, trust me.
Moving onto the real meat, the second
film was Sang-ho Yeon's Train To Busan. I actually watched this a few
months ago when it played a limited run here, but I had no qualms
about seeing it again at TAD, as it's a super fun ride. It's
basically about a zombie outbreak making its way onto a train
travelling from Seoul to Busan. If you dig zombie movies, this has
basically everything you'd want and once that train leaves the
station, it doesn't let up.
Yoo Gong in Train To Busan.
With its confined spaces, I thought the
unique setting of the commuter train added a layer of tension that
worked really well. And you're in luck if you like your zombies fast, as these fuckers are bad-ass. Going from still to feral death machines in
mere seconds, I really liked the crunching and kinetic physicality of this particular brand of ghoul. With some digital assistance there were some really
striking images of mass numbers tearing towards their prey, and fortunately never looked as cartoony as it did in World War Z.
More importantly, and frankly
impressively, Train To Busan featured an unusually high number of likable
characters to root for. The comic timing and dialogue was on point and there were some exchanges that were funny and touching in equal
measure. You can tell you've won over an audience, when there are
audible gasps and exclamations when people start falling to the
zombie horde. Utilizing a really terrific cast, most notably
Dong-seok Ma, Yu-mi Jeong and Kim (damn that kid can cry), Yeon was
really able to tug at the heartstrings.
Dong-seok Ma in Train To Busan.
Yeon (in this as well
as Seoul Station, his other project this year) also injected some
social commentary into his zombie tale, as class struggle and
paranoia were ever present. His message was more prevalent in Station (and its homeless population metaphor) but Yeon didn't shy away
from humanity's uglier attributes here either.
This is a must watch in my opinion. It
delivered on its premise and built tension not only from its
snarling antagonists, but also the constant endangerment of characters we had
grown to like. All aboard Train To Busan!
After a biking accident, Helen (Alanna
LeVierge) starts having nightmares and black-outs that leads her to believe there is someone else inside her head – and they want out!
I felt, decidedly somewhat ironically,
that this was a movie of two halves. I had a few uh-oh moments during
the first act when an unnecessarily chaotic opening was followed by
some pretty stiff exposition. However, once all of the clumsy stuff
was out of the way, Let Her Out seemed to do just that and kick into
another gear. It was then I started enjoying myself.
As one might expect, the paramount
reason this movie worked at all was due to its lead, Alanna LeVierge.
She brought an incredible physicality to the role that almost comes
out of nowhere when taking into account the severe escalation of her affliction. It
was one of those dual performances that made me question if it was
indeed the same actress at times. Obviously, make-up was a factor,
but not enough to take away from LeVierge's significant acting chops.
Alanna LeVierge as Helen in Let Her Out.
Speaking of the make-up effects, they
were rock solid here. Effects artist Shaun Hunter has so vastly
improved over what he has doing just a year or two ago that I think
his work here stacks up against anything we’ve seen recently. In
addition to the bloody climax, there was also a fantastic little set
piece on a subway platform. It was the perfect example of effects,
camerawork and performance coming together to create something
Lastly, I just wanted to mention that I
appreciated how Toronto was represented. Let Her Out was set here,
and made no bones about it, as evidenced by the ample shots of the
city’s skyline. Granted, Niagara Falls and Guelph were also
utilized, but Toronto is pretty unmistakable when you see it. We need
more filmmakers (Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy is perhaps the greatest
recent example) using this city as a backdrop for their darker tales. We have our demons too.
Cast & crew of Let Her Out.
So despite Let Her Out’s shaky start,
I think it redeemed itself by the end. While it’s true we’ve seen
these themes played out before, there was a cold, dark and yet
colourful coat of paint on this that made it it’s own beast.
This past weekend saw the third edition of Horror-Rama descend on the Big Smoke.
The organizers Chris Alexander & Luis Ceriz have prided themselves on delivering a convention that celebrates horror media in all forms. Horror-Rama is designed to be a more intimate experience, where attendees can mingle with their favourite icons and hangout with fellow cinephiles and collectors.
Familiar faces like Sam for instance.
And once again, they have delivered. Switching to the showroom across the hall within the Hyatt downtown, Horror-Rama this year was home to almost fourty vendors and several celebrity guests that included Bill Lustig (Maniac), Jeff Lieberman (Squirm), Geretta Geretta (Demons) and Dyanne Thorne (The Ilsa series).
I unfortunately didn't get to spend as much time there as I would have liked, as I had double duty with Toronto After Dark on the Saturday, and killer fucking traffic on the Sunday, but I did get some time on the floor.
There was even a dedicated booth for the classic eighties horror flick The Gate featuring not only Joe Hart's impressive collection of memorabilia, but also two actors involved with the production, Linda Goranson and Jonathan Lyr were in attendance.
Gate Fest pics courtesy of Michael Schwartz.
Though there was a conspicuous lack of poster vendors this year (Suspiria was the only one I recall), VHS was still about in full force. I picked up these beauties below fairly early on.
Now in its fifth year, I am pretty stoked about some of the titles which include the much anticipated 24 x 36 poster documentary, Black Fawn's new thriller Sublet, and Jason Armstrong's Inspiration starring Emily Alatalo. For more info on the fest, click here.
Even more awesome was the unveiling of a joint venture between Black Fawn and BITS called Bloody Bits, a collection of eight fan favourite shorts from the past four years, including - wait for it - my short film Lively!
I'm so glad I can finally talk about this. Looking at that poster is almost surreal. I believe they are hoping to have the DVD ready in time for BITS.
But, enough about me. I was super stoked that Lustig & Lieberman, basically two of the most important figures in independent American horror, were there. I usually don't get autographs, but I couldn't resist getting Lieberman's.
The guy's just such a straight shooter, yet incredibly affable. I've always maintained that he has one of the most pure and original voices in horror. This leads me to the panel where Lustig, Leiberman, David Decouteau (Puppet Master III, Creepozoids) and Chad Archibald (Bite, The Drownsman) talked about surviving the film business. Check it out below.
So, it was another great year at Horror-Rama. Hopefully next year, I'll be able to spend a little more time there. There's always an embarrassment of genre riches in October. Anyway, check back tomorrow for my continuing Toronto After Dark coverage.