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, September 19, 2017

TIFF Vids 2017

Longtime TIFF videographer Robert Mitchell again made his way up from Indiana to cover this year's Midnight Madness proceedings. Here below are some of the interviews he conducted while on the Ryerson's red carpet.

For more of Mitchell's interviews from the last week, check out his YouTube channel here.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Schoolgirls Shouldn't Play With Dead Things.

I wrapped up my TIFF experience last weekend with Paco Plaza's newest horror, Verónica.

After messing with a Ouija board to contact her dead father, Verónica (Sandra Escacena) senses that she may have brought forth something else much more sinister.

This was another entertaining yarn from Plaza. Carrying over the sensibilities employed on his solo installment of the [REC] series, he was again able to deftly mix horror with light comedy. And while it's true the plot seemed very familiar, it was very well executed. Opening with a setup that echoed that of [REC], Plaza utilized visual flourish and calculated technique to give this piece some real depth.

Verónica had some decent set pieces that thankfully didn't overly rely on sound design, as Plaza knew how to let his visuals guide our response. However, I've found over the years that the Spaniards tend to over explain their climaxes and unfortunately Verónica was no different. I found it only a mild annoyance in this case, though.

I thought the performances were another large reason this piece was a success. Escacena was very good as the title character, but it was the entire supporting cast that really anchored the project. Her younger siblings were quite charming and the bickering between them made up the bulk of the comic relief. And I have to say that Consuelo Trujillo really made the most of her clichéd role as the blind and wizened nun Sister Death.

Sandra Escacena (left) and Consuelo Trujillo in Verónica.

Plaza is a journeyman of his craft and continually shows that through sheer creativity and personality he can make even the most oft-travelled material interesting. Verónica doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it sure makes you have fun riding on it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

R.I.P. Harry Dean Stanton 1926-2017

I was very saddened to hear of the passing of actor Harry Dean Stanton on Friday. He was 91. Stanton had a career that spanned seven decades and collaborations with some of film's greatest directors including Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, John Carpenter, John Hughes and David Lynch.

Harry Dean Stanton 1926-2017 

My introduction to Stanton (like most people my age) came from his role as Brett in 1979's Alien. He was already a veteran by that time, but from there he continued an almost fourty-year string of his memorable brand of acerbic, yet wise characters.

Stanton in Repo Man (1984)

My favourite of these has always been his portrayal of the crusty, but lovable trailer park manager Carl Rodd of David Lynch's Twin Peaks universe. Seeing him return for the latest season was a wonderful treat. His character has prompted years of my friend & I quoting the sagely line of “that's just more shit I gotta do now!” back and forth to each other.

Stanton in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

I find it wonderful that Stanton was able to work again with Lynch in the recently released Lucky, a perhaps unintentional elegy to his life long attitude of no nonsense. Rest in peace, Mr. Stanton. Heaven just got a lot cooler.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The House By The Sea.

After ample helpings of the brutal and abstract, Midnight Madness was ready to lull attendees into a trance with Seth A. Smith's The Crescent.

A mother (Danika Vandersteen) moves to her family seaside home with her toddler (Woodrow Graves) after the death of her husband.

This was a title I knew almost nothing about other than it was Canadian, but Peter was pretty high on it so I was eager to give it a shot. I am glad I did. Smith's sophomore effort was indeed a sedate, almost meditative affair, yet I was fully engaged throughout. This will no doubt not appeal to everyone, but I think those who clock into this are really going to dig it.

Dannika Vandersteen & Woodrow Graves in The Crescent

Mixing the washed out hues of a dreary seaside with the visually stunning practice of paint marbling, The Crescent's aesthetic was really something to behold. When you add the music and sound design (like the persistence of the crashing sea) you end up with something akin to a fever dream. Smith's employment of different aspect ratios also gave the piece a pseudo-documentary style to it at times. Lastly, the house in the film was incredibly unique and apparently, up until recently anyway, an Airbnb home.

I have to say that Smith must have been certifiable to make his two-year-old the star of his movie. Graves was in almost every frame and required to do a lot of acting, but somehow pulled it off. I can't even imagine how much patience and perseverance must have been required to get the footage that ended up onscreen. The chemistry between Vandersteen & Graves was so natural that I actually thought she must have been his mother in real life. And with the amount of stuff the kid gets into, I can imagine this would likely be a pretty stressful watch for any mother.

Director Seth A. Smith (right) with MM programmer Peter Kuplowsky

There was something inherently intimate about The Crescent, yet I'm really glad I saw it on the big screen. I don't think it would have had the same effect if I watched it at home. In a world of big and boombastic horrors, Smith's little film shows there is still plenty room for whispering nightmares, as well.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Excuse Me While I Gush.

On Tuesday, I saw my most anticipated TIFF title, Guillermo del Toro's newest The Shape of Water.

While working as a cleaner at a government facility, lonely mute Eliza (Sally Hawkins) begins interacting with a humanoid creature being held captive there.

The Shape of Water was absolutely magical. During Cameron Bailey's intro he said that this was the film that del Toro had been building towards his entire career and the standing ovation that the film received afterwards would seem to suggest we all fully agreed. Del Toro had been working on this project for five years, all the while trying to make fifteen million dollars seem like fifty. He succeeded.

The Shape of Water was everything of which del Toro truly excels. It was a fantasy, romance, thriller and period drama separately and all at once. It could be the most arresting and sincere adaptation of Beauty and the Beast to ever exist, as well as his most effective and well-rounded exhibition of world building. This is what fantasy is all about.

Sally Hawkins as Eliza in The Shape of Water.

I knew I was likely going to like this movie, but even I was taken aback by how whimsical and funny this film was. Del Toro has made a career of being able to juggle the sweet with the horrific, but here he concentrated on the former. He was much more interested in the good in humanity this time around, and he used every tool at his disposal, even down to the colour palette, to foster this idea.

It was especially wonderful that all the TIFF screenings of The Shape of Water took place in The Elgin Theatre because this very theatre was used in the film. I loved the way it was utilized and the audience applauded when it came onscreen.

I haven't even gotten to the terrific cast of this movie. I had, up to this point, never seen Sally Jenkins in a film before and she was a vision here. Her emotional range and conviction of character was truly remarkable and I was reminded of Audrey Tautou In 2001's Amelie. Michael Shannon fit right in alongside some of del Toro's greatest villains and I also must sing the praises of supporting players Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg.

Doug Jones had already cemented himself as the best man-in-a-suit actor in the business, but he really outdid himself this time. This was his crowning achievement in my opinion. Wearing a suit that took five years to design and manufacture, his performance was almost entirely practical and done with no motion capture. You could see that. He was a majestic and tangible being and the relationship had weight because of it. There was an incredibly organic presence to this piece that del Toro's previous picture Crimson Peak (though I enjoyed it) did not possess.

Director Guillermo del Toro

As you can tell, I am completely smitten with this film. If I see a better one at this year's TIFF I will be surprised. Del Toro could be accused of being overly sentimental I'm sure, but Goddamn it if that's not what we need right now. As he said during his lengthy Q&A, “Sometimes Jesus got it wrong, sometimes The Beatles got it wrong, but they both agreed on one thing – and that is love.”

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Vengeance Is Hers!

This year's Midnight Madness experience continued with Coralie Fargeat's French thriller Revenge.

While tagging along on a guys hunting getaway Jen (Matilda Lutz) is raped and left for dead. She soon returns with only one thing on her mind.

I have to admit it took me a considerable amount of time to clock into Revenge, but once I turned the corner I ended up really digging it. Dark comedy is not something (at least as outlandishly as it is portrayed here) I am used to seeing in rape revenge movies, but I was able to embrace it once I realized that the far-fetched and increasingly cartoonish nature of the piece was all part of the plan.

I was equally intrigued and confounded by Fargeat wanting to tackle this subject matter – in her debut in the chair no less – but I can see now that she indeed brought a unique perspective, even just in the way that the inciting incident was presented. It was not lingered on or made to be inherently titillating. In addition to that though, she soaked the movie in a very kinetic style even before the peyote made an appearance.

Matilda Lutz as Jen in Revenge

Fargeat also took the opportunity to lace the picture with some interesting symbolism and metaphor. As she pointed out in the Q&A, her goal was to “take someone who appeared weak and transform them into something powerful” and the lead actress Matilda Lutz performed this action extremely well. Sauntering out of the helicopter at the film's opening like a veritable Lolita, she was beaten down to nothing and then rose from the ashes like a Phoenix (literally) ending up a thousand degrees from where she was.

This all ramped up to an intense last act that contained two wonderfully shot chase sequences using a multitude of techniques. Revenge was lensed in the Moroccan desert (but really could be set anywhere considering the both French and English characters) and she utilized that location to the fullest.

Lutz (left) and Director Coralie Fargeat.

Up until now, the ugly and visceral space of the rape revenge genre has been one dominated by men – this could also be said of the entire Midnight Madness programme though following Roxanne Benjamin and Julia Ducournau's contributions the previous two years perhaps change is afoot – but Fargeat has cleverly subverted this by offering up something that at first may seem puzzling and unwanted, but I wager you'll feel differently once the credits roll.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

When Will They Ever Learn?

Okay! With all that weekend business out of the way, it's time to get into what I've been catching at TIFF. My inaugural film this year was David Bruckner's debut feature, The Ritual.

Based on the novel by Adam Nevill, The Ritual tells of four friends who while hiking across Sweden get lost in the forest and find themselves being hunted by a malevolent entity.

Over the last decade, Bruckner has done some solid work in the anthology format (his contributions to The Signal, V/H/S & Southbound were both among the best) so I was stoked to see what he could do with a full feature. I think he transitioned well.

The Ritual succeeded for a few reasons, not the least of which was the characters – or more specifically the characterization. This was a great ensemble that consisted of Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali & Sam Troughton. Admittedly, Spall carried most of the weight, but this foursome really worked well together. I believed they were friends, even if it was evident from the get-go they were growing apart. I could even buy they would decide to take that inadvisable shortcut. I was actually reminded of an indie I saw a few years ago called White Raven. That ensemble had a similar camaraderie with dialogue that also rang true in a deeply sincere way.

Rafe Spall & friends in The Ritual.

This film also featured some stunning cinematography by Andrew Shulkind. The Ritual was set in Sweden, but actually shot in Romania and they have some really scary trees over there. I'm used to seeing North American foliage in movies and these trees had a denser, more serrated textures that was way more off-putting. I also really liked the visual representations of the nightmares experienced by Spall's character. The way they were mixed in with the forest environment was really interesting stylistically.

As I said before, this was based on a book, which I have read (surprise!). There were some changes made, but honestly most of them worked in the movie's favour. Most of the opening act was not in the book, but it didn't feel superfluous and really informed the characters motivations and what invariably led to the boiling point. The story itself was fairly simple and yet I was never bored, even though it was largely just four dudes lost in the forest. Again, I attribute that to the performances and Bruckner's balanced narrative.

Look closer...

I think the only change from the book that was questionable was the nature of the antagonists. Bruckner opted to go with something a little more generic, likely in the interest that it was either easier to explain and/or portray onscreen. I think the source material was a bit more unique and energetic in this case. However, the real highlight of the film was the big bad who finally comes out from behind the trees during the climax. I loved the design of this thing and though they may have shown it a bit too much, there was no denying there were some terrific shots that really stuck with me.

So while The Ritual may be a bit too oft-travelled material to be considered a home-run, it was a quality genre flick with performances that rung true and visuals that resonate. A worthy trek if you ask me.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Below The Line 2

Last weekend during Hamilton's Supercrawl, Gary Pullin & Sara Deck put on the sophomore edition of their poster show, Below The Line

Mills Hardware again hosted the event and it was pretty grand. The event showcased new work from over ten premiere artists including the aforementioned Pullin & Deck, as well as Matt Ryan Tobin, Paige Reynolds, Jason Edmiston, Kevin Tong & Justin Erickson.

Mills Hardware in Hamilton, Ontario.

As soon as I walked through the door, I made a bee-line for Gary and picked up his new print of Night of the Living Dead. He had several there so my late arrival due to traffic was not an issue. Thankfully, after the last show he also instituted a two per person limit. This is very good because some of these collectors are like rabid dogs.

The top one glows in the dark!

I was very good that night. I got what I wanted and then restrained myself from buying anymore. Tobin's American Werewolf in London and Tong's Ghost in the Shell were callllling calllling callling my name all night.

Here are some others from the show. I apologize for the glare, couldn't really avoid it. Though the reflected lights strung up along the bar actually kind of work for the Stranger Things print.

Star Wars print by Kevin Tong.

The Thing by Jason Edmiston and It by Sara Deck

Stranger Things by Vance Kelly.

I really love these shows and getting to catch up with old friends, some of whom I usually only see at these kind of events. For more info on Below the Line, click here.

Monday, September 11, 2017

You'll Float Too!

Before I get into my TIFF coverage, there is something else I must talk about. This weekend I saw the much anticipated release of Andy Muschetti's new version of Stephen King's It.

I came around to the idea of this adaptation after I saw the first trailer. I realized that there were a lot of things that could be improved upon from the 1990 mini-series so I gave it a chance. I'm very glad I did. Director Muschietti did an exemplary job. After his previous film Mama, we already knew he had a knack for set pieces and getting solid performances from young actors, but he took it to another level with It.

However, from day one, it was evident that this film would live or die on the portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown and Bill Skarsgård really nailed it. He didn't try to ape Tim Curry's version, but rather used his own energy. I absolutely loved the physicality he brought to this role. He looked like he was literally drinking the fear coming off his victims.

Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise the clown in It.

Apart from Pennywise though, it was super impressive to me that Muschietti was able to assemble such a wonderful cast of eight young kids that could not only act, but also gel together as well as they did here. They were all great, especially Sophie Lillis & Jack Dylan Fraser who played Beverly & Eddie. Lillis gave a wonderfully layered performance and Fraser had this unique vibe that really made him stand out.

It's widely accepted that the downfall of Mama came from its over-reliance on CGI and Muschietti has mostly learned his lesson from that. While It did employ substantial visual effects, a lot of them were used in really creative ways. I feel like they utilized many different techniques, some of them so abstract my brain had trouble latching onto them - the lady in the painting and the headless figure in the library in particular were two real standouts for me.

The Loser's Club 2017

Looking back on It, I can recall so many solid set pieces. In the first half of the movie, the sheer volume of them was almost exhausting. Muschietti employed a modern jump scare formula, but he seems to have a better handle on it than most of his contemporaries. He knows when to pull back, before you fall over the precipice of desensitization. He also had the right amount of restraint on his eighties fan service. It was set then, but didn't overly ram the decade down our throats as much as Stranger Things tends to.

Another layer that I found really enticing – and this could very well be cribbed from the book – was the characterization of the town of Derry itself. I felt there was this underlying thread that the townspeople were complacent that this evil shit was just going to happen every quarter century and they just hoped it wasn't their kid that got snatched. It would explain why Eddie's mother tried to keep him sheltered from the outside world.

It was a top tier King adaptation with a measure of darkness very few have had. It always seemed to me that his vision has often obscured while on its way to the screen, either by the team at the helm or, in the case of almost all of his small screen ventures, restrained from its full potential. It felt much more like the adaptation glory years from 1976 to 1984.

I think It will take a lot of people by surprise. The previous teleplay had a very playful predilection to it that this one does not. Sure, there's the jovial shit-talking among The Loser's Club, but once It appeared well... It's like I exclaimed after the opening SS Georgie scene – “These guys aren't fucking around.”

Thursday, September 7, 2017

It's TIFF Time Again!

The craziness that is September in Toronto begins again this evening and I will be ingesting my usual ten or so films over the next ten days. Here are just five for which I am looking forward.

I dug the book and David Bruckner is a solid director, so excited to see how this translates.

Two of my most treasured TIFF experiences were the premieres of The Devil's Backbone & Pan's Labyrinth, so I expect more of the same from Guillermo del Toro. Plus, I've been told that the very theater in which I will be watching the film actually appears in it. How surreal!

Surely a selection for the Vanguard program if it still existed, this is a complete question mark to me. However, I trust programmer Peter Kuplowsky's tastes and it's nice to have some Canadian content representing midnight once again.

Combine the pedigree behind one of my all-time favourite TIFF films, The Orphanage with Anya Taylor-Joy and you have my attention.

The new film from Paco Plaza, one half of the team that brought us the [REC] series. That's really all I need to know. Plus, I love the brilliant simplicity of the poster.

Things will be silent here for a few days, but there is a ton of stuff going on in the next week-and-a-half so you'll be hearing about it soon enough.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Art of the Dreamer.

The eighteen-episode opus of David Lynch & Mark Frost's Twin Peaks: The Return concluded last weekend. The final moments were divisive to say the least, but I guess we should have expected as much. When has anything that Lynch has touched ever been straightforward, right?

My initial reaction was one of confusion and a hope that this latest thread would be continued in an as-yet unannounced fourth season. Truth be told, the eighteenth stanza of The Return felt more like the premiere of said season, as the previous episode had had more finality to it. However, upon reflection and the further away I get from the finale, the less I feel I need another season. I would love one, but I don't need it. Now being okay with the ending, I think my only disappointment lay with the hanging thread of the Shelly/Red storyline. Although saying that, all roads likely led to pain and sorrow so I'm probably better off. Plus, no confirmation of who ate that bug thing in Episode eight. I'll go with Sarah Palmer, sure that's the ticket...

Despite the bewildering effect of the show's final moments, it all makes some kind of sense considering the magicians behind the curtain. The end felt like a nightmare, very much the kind of thing you would see right before you wake in a cold sweat. As with Fire Walk With Me, Lynch & Frost have left us with fragments, again very much like waking from a dream. We have what we need and there are already several interpretations from viewers that fall in line with Lynch's Dreamer Trilogy (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive & Inland Empire). That's Lynch's M.O. (“Modus Operandi!”)

But the Return was not about its ending, it was about the journey viewers had been on for the last three-and-a-half months. This latest string of episodes have produced so many memorable moments, both joyous and vile, and its residue will not leave me for quite some time. Twin Peaks continues to possess an ethereal quality that, like the properties of the Lodge, seem to be able to dissolve time. Some episodes felt so short that I found myself saying “already?” when the end credits appeared and others were the exact opposite. I actually initially thought that the show ended at the end of episode seventeen because my brain thought they must have played the last two together without a break.

The Twin Peaks experience also included the act of consuming it. My good friend Serena hosted weekly watch parties with donuts, cherry pie and themed cocktails. It was a ritual that brought back the practice of pre-Netflix television. Truth be told, I feel my brain needed those weekly breaks between episodes to digest and theorize just what the hell was going on. It definitely added to it. I wager that binge watching The Return will be a very different experience.

My favourite concoction, The Charcoal Woodsman.

Twin Peaks: The Return was beautiful avant-garde television, the likes of which the medium has never seen and perhaps never will again. Thank you to Lynch & Frost for bringing us along on their vision quest. Thank you to Showtime for their faith in non-conventional storytelling. And thank you to every other cog in this wonderfully confounding wheel.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Trailer Tuesdays: Cassandra

I had intended to do a VHS Friday for Colin Eggleston's 1987 Aussie horror Cassandra, but it wasn't that hot so I'll just throw up the trailer for you. No harm, no foul.

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Tale of Three Siblings.

The Canadian indie thriller Blood Honey hit theatres last week. You may have heard about the accompanying world record attempt in downtown Toronto. Anyway I gave it a whirl.

After returning home to a remote Ontario village to see her ailing father, Jenibel (Shenae Grimes-Beech) begins to feel threatened after she received the largest stake holder of his land and on-site apiary business. 

Despite its title, there is nothing particularly sweet about this movie. I have to admit, for a Canadian indie, it was one of the best looking I've seen though, as the location (the Northern Ontario town of Britt) was pristine and the perfect locale for a movie like this. I was with it for a while, but when the story ultimately presented where it was going, I was left underwhelmed despite some veteran Canadian players like Don McKellar and Natalie Brown.

Blood Honey felt like a family drama with genre elements shoehorned into it. I have to wonder if someone just didn't take someone's straightforward script and then bring in a third party to make it more Blumhouse-y. The whole bee element was completely superficial and if removed wouldn't have really affected the movie at all, other than they wouldn't have been able to justify all the honey in that bizarrely placed sex scene.

Shanae Grimes-Beech as Jenibel in Blood Honey

That said, I don't know if the publicity stunt with the bees really helped the movie at all. I guess it got the word out sure - and admittedly a character does die in a similar fashion in the movie – but the whole thing makes the movie seem a whole lot more sensationalist than it actually is. And from my experience, when an audience goes in expecting something and they don't get it, things often don't go well.

The core of Blood Honey is family, but when it showed its DNA, I realized I'd already seen this done much better. Hell, it had even been remade once and nobody asked for it then either. I'm a little saddened by this movie because in some ways it was a step forward in terms of Canadian indie filmmaking, but its disingenuous marketing and construct represent more of a step backward in terms of legitimizing the medium.