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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Renter's Remorse

The closing film at Blood In The Snow this year was Black Fawn's newest offering, The Sublet from John Ainslie.

Left alone with her baby in their rented sublet, Joanna (Tianna Nori) begins to suspect all is not right with their apartment.

I really liked this little thriller. I feel like a broken record at this point, but it seems like each release of Black Fawn's eight picture deal with Breakthrough Entertainment gets subsequently stronger. It may be the fact that The Sublet deals with more visceral and psychological terrors than some of their previous releases, but I felt that this was a top-to-bottom solid production. The construct, which shared thematic DNA with Roman Polanski's Apartment Trilogy (most notably 1976 film The Tenant) was some oft-travelled material, but it was the bits & pieces that Ainslie employed here that really made this work.

The first of these was the casting of Tianna Nori. She was terrific in this, as she not only sold the escalation of her insanity, but also the desperation as she slowly succumbed to it. I thought the scenes where she was pleading in vain to her husband (the also great Mark Matechuk) about wanting to leave were legitimately heartbreaking. Nori ended up taking home the Best Actress Award at BITS this year, and it was well deserved. The first movie I ever saw her in (Tricia Lee's Clean Break) played at this fest in 2013, so it's like things have come full circle.

Tianna Nori as Joanna in The Sublet.

I must admit that with some of these previous Black Fawn pictures, the dialogue was sub-par, but here I think there were some really powerful exchanges between the two main characters. Writers Ainslie & Alyson Richards were able to really mine common relationship issues and bring them up in those pivotal scenes.

I can't talk about The Sublet without mentioning the apartment itself, as it oozed with character. The rooms and hallways had substantial texture, with snags and grainy wood floors that seemed as much of a threat as anything else that was going on in there. What's more impressive was that it was built from scratch inside a warehouse. Never in a million years would I have guessed that it was not a real location. I can't fully describe how much it added to the proceedings.

Much like my comments regarding Let Her Out, I was really impressed with Shaun Hunter's special effects. His blood work was on point in this, with an especially cringe-worthy scene involving a razor blade.

The Sublet was a solid thriller. You may see where it's going, but how it gets there was really well put together. It also puts Tianna Nori one step closer to stardom because if she keeps putting in work like this, the sky's the limit.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Bloody Short Cuts 2016

Blood In The Snow featured a record number of shorts this year, screening twenty-four bite-sized tales over the course of the weekend. I've always found the loving attention that BITS gives its short films really admirable, and with some of the stuff that's coming out of here lately, it must be getting harder to choose. Here are the shorts I dug the most from the line-up.

Evan Hamza's My Brother Charlie was a well told little short that really conveyed a sense of dread throughout and offered up one of the most memorable (and diabolical) moments of the fest.

Perhaps my favourite short that played was Ingrid & The Black Hole by Leah Johnston. I loved its unique take on memory as a version of time travel and its flowing camerawork really reminded me of Mike Flanagan's Oculus. I really appreciated that BITS programmed this, as it is not outwardly genre, but still absolutely wonderful.

Also, I was really glad to see Larica Perera's Tik Tik finally get its Toronto premiere. Taking place in a single shot, its a super effective telling of an old Filipino folktale. I very much look forward to Perera's next project.

There were also a lot of returning filmmakers this year. Greg Kovacs' continued his streak (having had a short play every year since BITS' inception) with his fun romp Mrs. Rafferty's Red Red Roses and festival fave Renaud Gauthier gave us his animated take on the heist genre with Storm of the Century. I was most impressed with Charlie Hanilton & Zach Ramelan's newest What Do You See? though. Anchored by one of my favourite up-and-coming actresses Raven Cousens, there's a lot to like in this hybrid of Western and Eastern paranormal narratives.

Lastly, I really liked Cauchemar Capitonné from Jean-Claude Leblanc. It had an awesome visual style, terrific gore effects and is likely one of the best cursed object shorts I've seen in a long time. I was not surprised when it was awarded Best Short at this year's Bloodies.

In addition to the shorts on display this year, the Bloody Bits DVD also went on sale. 

Featuring some of the best shorts from BITS' previous years (including one of mine!) it's a great little package. But, don't take my word for it, click here for more info.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Love Hurts.

Saturday’s midnight screening at Blood In The Snow was Vincent Pun & Jared Bratt’s dark romance Streamer.

A lonely filmmaker named Jared (played by Bratt himself) discovers that his favourite Webcam girl actually lives in his apartment complex.

In previous years, BITS's midnight screenings have often been the territory of off-the-wall comedies (Teddy Bomb) and irreverent slashers (Secret Santa). This was not the case this year however, as Streamer presented an all-too-real representation of one man’s despair.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen crushing loneliness this honestly portrayed onscreen. Bratt not only shows this in his performance, but also in the way he shoots the city of Toronto. Aside from the occasional shot of popular spots like Sneaky Dees, I’ve never witnessed The Big Smoke look so empty. Streamer felt very personal and introspective, which made where it ultimately leads all that more unsettling.

To really get into this though, I’ll have to do something that I don’t think I’ve done in the almost nine-year history of this blog. I can’t fully discuss this movie without talking about it as a whole, so spoilers be yonder.

To say I disliked this ending would be an understatement. I could have appreciated if Bratt & Pun wanted to end on a dour note, but I can’t help but feel it was completely disingenuous to their protagonist, as nothing I saw in his behaviour up to that point supported his actions in that final scene.

By his own admission, in a lengthy opening monologue spoken to the camera, Jared knows that his failure to connect with the opposite sex is his fault. He may be bewildered by the fact that he is an “invisible man”, but he still recognizes that it’s his problem. These are the words of a deeply depressed person and extreme cases tend to commit suicide, not homicide. Angry people, like Elliot Rodgers (as evidenced in his pre-killing spree YouTube video) commit homicide. I’m saying that there is a large margin between these two.

In fact, the only time I saw any animosity from Jared was right after he was confronted by the boyfriend. Even then, I’d wager that he was more mad at himself for not fighting back. Now, I’m willing to admit that my reaction to the ending has a lot to do with my familiarity with some of what led up to it. At times, Streamer played out like a Greatest Misses album, but you know what, I refused to live in a dark bubble of self-pity. As for Jared, he wasn’t a sociopath, he just needed some support. I don’t want to downplay the severity of clinical depression, but it just doesn’t jive with the ending of this movie.

I was even troubled by the end credits. Lead actress Tanya Lee (who put in an incredibly natural performance) was simply credited as “The Girl” inferring that she wasn’t a person, but rather a concept or lifeline to lift Jared out of his squalor. If that was the intention, that seems like an incredibly one-sided view.

Streamer could have been a sad and sobering look at loneliness in today’s modern world, but that ending just soured it for me. Kudos to Bratt & Pun for getting this spirited a reaction from me, but I wish it was for less frustrating reasons.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Picture Perfect.

Kicking off the Blood In The Snow festivities last night was Kevin Burke's poster art documentary, Twenty-Four by Thirty-Six.

Having been a contributor to the project's Kickstarter campaign, I had been awaiting this for some time. I'd seen little snips here-and-there at various conventions and gallery events over the last year, so it was great to finally get my eyeballs on this thing. Like my experience with Creature Designers, it was so wonderful to see a loving exploration of something I hold dear.

I think there were three things that made this a decent documentary, the first being presentation. Now obviously I was wowed by all the posters that were constantly flashing onscreen, but they were also accompanied by animations that really made them pop. Second, Burke went out of his way to find a lot of subjects for his documentary. Not only did he have scores of artists like Roger Kastel, William Stout, Gary Pullin and Jason Edmiston weighing in on their craft, but also collectors and people whom their work has touched over the years. Lastly, there are a wide range of topics discussed that really open you up to the business and cultural side of things.

I mentioned Creature Designers earlier because both vocations share evolutionary similarities, as they struggled to get individual recognition in their early days. In 24 x 36, we learn that iconic artist John Alvin had to cleverly hide his signature to prevent the studios from removing it.

Click to enlarge.

In addition, while effects artists had to deal with the advent of CGI in the nineties, poster illustrators butted heads with Photoshop and the “floating heads” era.

Fortunately, the latter issue was rectified by the coming of MondoTees. Over the last ten years, illustrated movie posters have been making a comeback. Indie films have often adopted these posters to stand out in the crowd and the studios are slowly coming around, as well.

Three of my faves, Kevin Tong (left), Lauren O'Neill & Gary Pullin.

Deep into the documentary, it discusses the second market that has emerged from the MondoTees phenomena. It is common practice now that, just like live event tickets, posters will be sold out in seconds and then subsequently appear online for one-hundred times their selling price. I can't tell you how many posters I saw in this doc where I was like 'oh yeah, I tried to get that one. And that one. Yep, that one too'. I really liked that artist Tim Doyle has tried to buck that trend, even after received some flack for devaluing his pieces.

“I would rather sell a thousand copies of something to a bunch of people who just want something cool than sell a hundred copies of something to people just wanting to flip it.”

24 x 36 was well worth the wait. For cinephiles, this doc is a no-brainer, but I also think anyone would be able to appreciate the artistry and inner-workings of this business, both initially and nowadays.  

Friday, November 25, 2016

Big Bear On Campus

So  I was gathering clips for an upcoming video and I happened to watch Girls Nite Out, Robert Deubel's 1982 slasher.

I was aware of it of course, but had never actually watched it before. Holy moley, is there a lot going on in this movie! I kept on muttering to myself, geez this movie is elaborate. So much setup. I always thought The Initiation took its time (with it basically being an Animal House-style comedy until they all get locked up in the mall), but Girls Nite Out takes the cake. 

There are so many characters introduced in the first act, for no real reason other than to confuse the audience. There's not one, but two beleaguered ex-boyfriends and one guy with two girlfriends. It was really hard keeping track of all the ladies at times. There's main guy's two girlfriends, the girl with big glasses, the girl with big glasses' best friend and the girl from Friday the 13th Part 2. Meanwhile, overseeing all this happen, is Hal Holbrook because he's in this for some reason.

Hal Holbrook calls his agent.

But, the story is overly complicated, as well. It somewhat revolves around a campus-wide scavenger hunt, but the only people playing it are conveniently the people that the killer wants to off. And why is this movie called Girls Nite Out? It's not a bachelorette party, or a sorority hazing. And if its their night out, why is their no Final Girl??? Not even the alternate title of The Scaremaker makes any sense. I'm so confused.

All that aside, I am absolutely shocked that horror fans don't talk about this movie more, just for the fact that the killer wears a FUCKING BEAR MASCOT COSTUME WITH KITCHEN KNIVES FOR CLAWS.

That's worth the price of admission right there, folks. So, yeah if you like unnecessarily labyrinthine narratives in your slashers, have at it. But keep in mind FUCKING BEAR MASCOT COSTUME WITH KITCHEN KNIVES FOR CLAWS!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

BITS 2016

The fifth edition of the Blood In The Snow Canadian Film Festival kicks off tonight. Be sure to check back over the weekend for some reviews of what went down. Or better yet, if you live in the GTA, why not come out to a screening or two. Find out about tickets here.

I'm pretty stoked this year, as we're rolling out the Bloody Bits DVD (featuring my 2013 short Lively) at the opening party tonight.

Have a safe one kiddies.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trailer Tuesdays: Blood Hook

With Blood In The Show just around the corner, I thought I'd scare up another “bloody” title, the 1986 tackle box slasher Blood Hook.

You get the feeling this was right around the time they were scraping the bottom of the barrel of marketable slasher motifs? Crazy fisherman huh? Why not? I was not surprised to see that Troma was on the distribution end of this.

Anyhoo, have a good week and I'll see you on Friday.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

DKTM 318

Good afternoon everyone. I'm posting to you now from under a pile of blankets, as it appears that the sickness I've been dodging for over a month has now finally caught up with me. Rats.

The Void Awaits.

I was super happy to hear this week that Steve Kostanski & Jeremy Gillespie's dark vision The Void has just secured US distribution. 

Screen Media has procured the title and intend to release it in early next year. As I said in my review last month, The Void is perfect for not only fans of practical effects and cosmic horror, but those who enjoy straight up tales of the macabre. Be sure to answer the call of The Void when it beckons in 2017.


Bloody Disgusting just brought my attention to the gooey exploits of an artist named Jonathan Payne. He is responsible of all manners of weird sculptrures, but the ones that caught my eye were the Fleshettes.

A weird marriage of Cronenberg, Carpenter and Morgan, these things just ooze an unsettling aura.

As if I didn't get enough teeth from Candle Cove :o

Short Cuts.

When I can, I like to showcase short films that have made an impression on me. The first one is Steve Desmond's Monsters. Anchored by a strong performance from young lead Caitlin Carmichael, this short that has torn up the festival circuit has just arrived online. 

Second, here is a short that was brought to my attention just recently. Commissioned for Dutch television and directed by Maarten Groen, I think this short, entitled Arrêt Pipi, should have more eyes on it.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ithaca Short Cuts

I'm closing out my Ithaca Fantastik coverage with a nod to their dynamic and well-rounded short film programming. Over the course of its five-day run, the festival screened about twenty shorts, within their own blocks and also ahead of features.

While there were some current festival favourites on display here, like Curve, The Home and Do You See What I See? (Toronto represent!) I also caught a few others of note.

Alex Kavutskiy & Ariel Gardner's Judy tread a predictable line, yet somehow managed to be a little bit quirky, a little bit gross and a little bit disturbing all at once. The contrast between its comedic tone and ugly truths conjured by its conclusion is likely the reason I've come back to thinking about it the past few days. And hey whaddaya know, it's online.

Very deservedly, André Øvredal's The Tunnel won best short film at Ithaca Fantastik. This is just the kind of wonderful world building that is at the root of the best science fiction. It transports us to another time and place, yet keeps us grounded with a very human story. A tremendous piece of work.

I also like that Ithaca gave some love to the long form short film format. It is very difficult for short filmmakers with visions over fifteen minutes long to get their work seen, as their length makes them difficult to program. Not so, here though however!

I was glad to see A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky had a showing at IFFF. I'm sure it gripped as many people here, as it did when I saw it in Montreal. Also on tap was Brendan Lescure's delightful yarn The Backpage that was best described to me as Evil Dead meets When Harry Met Sally.

Again, I can't say how much I was impressed with Ithaca Fantastik. With its sublime programming and presentation, I think it is fair to say this will not be the last time I find myself just south of the Cayuga.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

It's Alive!

One of the many awesome documentaries I got to see while at Ithaca Fantastik last week was Gilles Penso & Alex Poncet's Creature Designers - The Frankenstein Complex.

A pseudo-sequel to Penso's 2011 piece on the legendary stop-motion artist Ray Harryhausen, this doc focuses on the next wave of creature effects artists that grew up admiring his work, including Rick Baker, Steve Johnson, Greg Nicotero and Phil Tippett. It should be no surprise that I loved this doc and had a huge smile on my face through most of its running time.

Creature Designers gives you a wonderful peek behind the curtain of some of cinema's greatest monsters. Starting with the work of Lon Chaney and Jack Pierce, it transitions into the first recognized master of the modern era, Dick Smith. Much credit is given to Star Wars for opening things up, but the doors were really blown off in 1981 with the coming of three pictures - Joe Dante's The Howling, John Landis' An American Werewolf In London and John Carpenter's The Thing.

The Norris spider from The Thing.

The range of artists featured in this doc was astounding (Rob Bottin and Kevin Yagher being notable omissions) as well as the collective body of work of these silicone heroes. You can tell they all love what they do. 

Steve Chiodo with one of my faves of all time - The Crite.

Post-Jurassic Park however, things took a distressing turn. Most directors will agree that the best possible results come from a mix of practical and digital, but these days it seems that studios tend to rely on the latter a little too much. I said I had a smile on my face through MOST of the doc, but it was replaced with a frown when I heard Rick Baker and the guys at Amalgamated Dynamics relate their horror stories about having their hard work replaced or removed from the final product.

I have a feeling we may be headed for a swing back the other way. Film is cyclical and I'm confident that slashers and home invasion thrillers may soon be overrun by the creature fantastic. Considering what we got coming the next four years, I think we've had our fill of real world horrors. And like the Baker's and Bottin's grew up with Harryhausen's stop-motion wonders, my generation grew up with Baker and Bottin's tangible and textured monstrosities. Let's all do them proud, ladies and gents.

Phil Tippett with Robocop's nemesis ED-209

Anyway, if this doc happens to hit your Netflix, give it a shot, as it is a delightful look at one of the main reasons I became a horror fan.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Trailer Tuesdays: Ithaca Retrospectives

Along with their premieres, Ithaca had several retrospectives this year that included 1981: The Year of the Wolf featuring Wolfen and An American Werewolf In London.

I, of course, adore the latter, so seeing it on the big screen was a huge treat. On the other hand, it had been so long since I'd seen Wolfen that it was almost like watching it for the first time. The two things that stuck out to me were how much of a time capsule it was of early eighties NYC, as well as how characters such as Albert Finney's Dewey Wilson are virtually extinct these days. If this movie was made now, Dewey would be thirty (at the most), erasing all of the character and grizzled experience that came with Finney's portrayal.

Moving on though was a programme called The Known Unknowns, which included the likes of Deliverance, The Long Weekend and most excitingly, Ken Russell's 1980 mind fuck Altered States.

This was another one that I only had a vague recollection from my childhood viewing. Man, that movie is a trip, and yet another example of something that would never be made today as is. It's wacko science fiction that is really more experienced than watched. I miss Ken Russell.

Most importantly for me was the 30th anniversary screening of James Cameron's Aliens. I was unfortunately elsewhere when it played, but I did pick up one of these beauties exclusive to the fest.

Art by Steve Ellis.

Tremendous programming from the Ithaca Team!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Back From The Empire State!

Hey all! My little trip to New York for the Ithaca Fantastik Film Festival was a total blast. Ithaca is a beautiful little town, teeming with culture and little curiosities. Hugues Barbier and the rest of the team at the fest made my compatriots and I feel so welcome. 

This may be a smaller fest than some, but boy do they have their presentation down pat with a gorgeous programme, and even some exclusive posters for their retro screenings. The amount of work that went into just their pre-show entertainment puts some other fests to shame.

The Cinemapolis in downtown Ithaca was a great little space. Run as a non-profit, it's a wonderfully cozy cinema that reminded me a little of Toronto's Carlton Cinema.

IFFF's programming was also on point. With festival faves like The Handmaiden and Train To Busan (opener and closer respectively), more challenging offerings in Alipato and I, Olga Hepnarova and a robust retrospective programme, there really was no genre stone left unturned. Even documentaries (24 x 36, S is for Stanley and Creature Designers - which I'll get to in another post) and animation (Nova Seed, Seoul Station) had their place here.

The film I'll start with today though, is Anna Biller's The Love Witch.

A witch named Elaine (Samantha Robinson) leaves a trail of dead bodies in her wake as she searches for true love. 

I had a lot of fun with this film. Right out of the gate, it was impossible to ignore how gorgeous this movie was. Shot on film, the colours really pop off the screen, much like the old sixties and seventies giallos for which The Love Witch has been compared. However, the beauty of the film was not all in the scenery as the lead actress Robinson was positively luminescent. I have no trouble comparing her to some of the greats like Edwige Fenech and Barbara Bouchet in the way they lit up the screen. Robinson was able to play both femme fatale and naive vixen with equal conviction.

Samantha Robinson is The Love Witch.

The film is by design a comedy that includes both intentional and (perhaps) unintentional laughs in that Biller seems selective in the things she chooses to play straight. I liked how the subject matter toyed with the expectations and preconceived notions of love. It's really quite absurd when you shine a light on the L word as a concept, don't you think?

Gian Keys & Robinson in The Love Witch.

I think the only real negative was that it's a lot longer than it needed to be. It sounds crazy to say, but at two hours, a full quarter of its running time could have been trimmed. At ninety minutes, The Love Witch would have been a much more tight and tidy affair. With so much to look at though, I can't really complain much.

I took in much more while in Ithaca, so come back tomorrow for more highlights.