Horrific shorts

It seems to me that it is easier to do something innovative and challenging in a short feature than it is to try it in a full-length feature. Certainly the most satisfying horror films I saw at After Dark were the ones in the Cutting Edge Horror shorts programme.

For me the festival started out with a gut-punch: Wok, written and directed by Australian Mark Alston, can be watched online, here (click the film’s link under Play Videos). It was the first thing I saw at the festival and, fuck me, but did it ever raise my expectations for everything that hadda follow it! As far as I am concerned, this is how to combine comedy and horror. If you have a fear of foreign food or a fear of less-than-pristine public washrooms (both somewhat common and reasonable fears, I reckon) or a fear that something is gonna come up the pipes while you’re sitting, vulnerable, on the throne (mebbe a titch less reasonable, but still… not altogether uncommon), then I suggest you watch this because it’ll freak you out. And that’s the point of all this, isn’t it?   Continue reading

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Sunday of the dead

What was being referred to as “Z-day” felt like the fulcrum of this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival. It was Sunday, and there was just too much going on to be able to take part in everything. There was a fantasy shorts programme being screened in the early afternoon. There was a late afternoon screening of Audience of One. Overlapping both was the Toronto Zombie Walk. The walk concluded at the Bloor Cinema, where there would soon follow a screening of the zombie double-feature Automaton Transfusion and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead.

I didn’t go see the latter film. Had The New Pornographers concert to go to that evening. I did take a pitcha of the director, though. Lloyd Kaufman is a Troma diety…

Lloyd Kaufman

I also skipped the fantasy shorts programme earlier in the afternoon. I’d’ve liked to’ve seen the Zombie Walk but it turned out that it conflicted with the Audience of One screening. (Next year, mebbe the organizers of the film fest and the zombie walk can make schedule allowances for each other.) But when I came out of the Bloor after that one, I found myself surrounded by the walking dead. Some in the passholders line…

And here’s my pal Rob, studiously avoiding making eye contact with the zombie who’d sidled up next to him in the ticket-buyers’ line…

The film we were waiting to see was the Canadian premiere of Steven C. Miller’s Automaton Transfusion.

To be honest, I’d seen the trailer for it and didn’t have high hopes for anything particularly interesting. I mean, the genre has been wrung pretty dry over the years. But I was pleasantly surprised.   Continue reading

Star Wars meets The Ten Commandments

Throughout history, humankind has done some pretty weird and fucked up things in the name of God… and San Francisco-based Pentacostal Pastor Richard Gazowsky joins that long parade of weird-and-fucked-upedness when he decides that God has told him that He wants the pastor to make a big budget science fiction film about the story of Joseph, called Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph. So, despite having seen only his first film at the advanced age of 40 (it was Disney’s The Lion King) and having absolutely no background in either the art or the business of film, Gazowsky writes a script, forms a film production company, solicits funding (and gets it from his congregation as well as a promise of it from some mysterious German investors who are allegedly high on the idea of Christian film), hires a crew, casts the roles (all non-professionals and all embarrassingly bad), and piles everybody into a plane and heads to Italy for location shooting.

All on faith.

Or something.   Continue reading

Fill ‘er up

I can’t decide what was the transgressive nadir of Archie Andrews’ fall from vegan grace… unwittingly torturing the neighbour’s tethered dog with a pellet gun as he tries to kill it in his first attempt to get fuel for his car (with both the dog and Archie crying throughout)(and the audience screaming with laughter) or unceremoniously tipping the elderly neighbour-lady’s body over the railing of the second floor balcony where she has unfortunately expired.

Or, umm, it coulda been all the murders he committed.

No more than a quarter of a tank

I gotta go with the dog, though. I just can’t remember the last time I laughed that hard. And no, you don’t see the pellets hitting the cute wittle doggie. That’s offscreen. We do get to see Archie’s sobbing between cocking the gun and firing, however, and that is enough. *yelp* *sob* Cocking and firing. *bark* *weep* Cocking and firing. *yipe* *blub*

Pellets sting

The Toronto After Dark screening of Alex Orr‘s Blood Car packed the Bloor Cinema at 11:30 Saturday night, and it was clear that the audience was ready for what the film was there to deliver: more laughs than screams, more blood than brains, and more nonsense than sense.

Set in the future–two weeks in the future, to be exact–when gas prices have gone through the roof (you thought that 98.9 ¢/liter you paid to fill up the car yesterday was bad? try $32.21/gallon) and folks have, perforce, stopped driving their cars. Sweet-natured vegan kindergarten teacher Archie Andrews (who reads The Little Engine That Could to his class and wears a t-shirt that says Meat is Murder in the Worst Degree” and sleeps with a stuffed toy baby seal) has a plan to come up with a car that runs on alternative fuel. Archie, a Little Engine if ever there was one, is determined to succeed. He thinks he can. He thinks he can. He has been working on a recipe of wheatgrass fuel and has gone through liters of the green goo but it isn’t until he accidentally cuts his hand and bleeds into the mixture that he finds success. Oh yes, it’s all very scientific, I assure you.

Looking into the story behind this film, I was astounded to find that its budget was a mere $25,000. It looks ‘waaaaaay better than that. Shit, it looked like they spent that much on fake blood, alone. And the effects around the car were very well done and linger in my memory–including a gruesome shot of somebody basically getting eaten by it.

Y’know, that said, it occurs to me that the film’s kind of a cross between Christine and The Little Shop of Horrors. And if we hadn’t had that one shot of the car trunk’s mysterious interior, I’d add Kiss Me Deadly (or, for you young’uns, Tarantino’s tip of the hat to Aldrich’s film). I mean, once Archie gets the car in motion, its needs take over his life and he is a slave to it (oh, hrm, could this be a message film?!), finding fuel wherever necessary. Doggies, little old ladies, kidlets, squirrels, you name it! He becomes the most unlikely serial killer.

The comedy is very broad, but if you don’t mind that it’s bloody good fun. Especially that thing with the dog.

→ originally published 2007-10-23

Double your pleasure, double your fun

Alone
C’mon, who doesn’t get all tingly and geeked out at the thought of a horror film featuring conjoined twins? Oh, just admit it. And one of the reviews I read made reference to David Cronenberg and Alfred Hitchcock when describing this film, so put this one on my After Dark list.

As a matter of fact, it has intrigued me enough to put co-directors Banjong Pisanthanakun’s and Parkpoom Wongpoom’s feature debut from 2004, Shutter, onto my ZipList.

Simon Says
At a place called “The Heathers”, “Some ‘tarded boy beat his brother into a vegetable and killed their parents.” Well, there’s yer backstory. Now, doesn’t it sound like a fun place to go camping! And it’s another horror film featuring twins! Showcasing what one reviewer calls ‘one of the most unhinged performances of (Crispin) Glover’s career’! Horror upon horror!!

Man, makes me feel like I’ve fallen into a wormhole that has taken me back to the late ’70searly ’80s.

→ originally published 2007-10-06

Audience of None

I believe God has given us a vision and it’s very clear and now we’re seeing that vision fulfilled before our very eyes… If you ask me, this was the message of Christ — it was to dream big…

I wanna do something like the Titanic. Either it sinks, and it’s the biggest flop you’ve ever seen in your life, or it sails and it just blows everybody’s mind.

– Pastor Richard Gazowsky

I sit and ponder… is this a joke? Is this serious? This can’t be real. I mean, could somebody (hell, so many somebodies!) be this delusional and not be under a doctor’s care?

Did you see Lost in La Mancha? (If not, you should.) This looks like a smaller scale disaster of the same sort. I doubt I will feel as much empathy for the travails of the director of the film within this film as I did for Terry Gilliam in Lost in La Mancha because Gilliam is, at least, an artist. This subject of this documentary, on the other hand, is obviously a loooooooooooooooooooon. If you know me, you gotta know that this film will be at the top of my list of films I hope to see at After Dark!

From a SXSW ’07 interview that Eric Snider did with the documentary’s director, Michael Jacobs:

Snider: How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post….
Jacobs: I read an article in a local publication about a Pastor who had a church production company, and was going to make a biblical science fiction movie that would redefine the Hollywood epic. So I went to church like a good Jew and found myself sucked right into this bizarre yet addictive world of Pentecostal filmmaking. I was granted access to record their world and I never looked back. Until I had to edit 130 hours of material. 18 months, 4 test screenings, 6 arguments with my editor, and 100 really bad nights of sleep later and I had an 88 minute documentary that reflected the vision I had for the doc on my first day at church.

Apparently Pastor Richard Gazowsky received a message from God (not this one). And God told Rich to make a biblical science fiction film. Huh. Go figger. I must confess that it never even occurred to me that God might be a movie buff. I wonder what God’s favourite movie is. Use the comments section if you have any ideas…

→ originally published 2007-09-26

And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street

I was looking through the Toronto After Dark Film Festival site and found the trailers for half the features (the other half will be announced next week, apparently). I saw a few that intrigued me. Mulberry Street is one of ’em.

I have tried to skip the meat of the early reviews because I don’t want to inadvertently run across any plot-spoilers. As I have said previously, I prefer to go into horror films as “blind” as possible. (My friends already know my other “rules” when it comes to this genre: best to watch a horror film alone, after dark. I am serious about wanting to be scared by these things.) So I can’t tellya much about this. Looks like it’s an allegorical story about some kinda fearsome infection spread by rats in New York City that turns humans into something, er, less than

Sounds promising to me. I’ve seen a lifetime of these films–enough of them to know that it is a rare horror film that actually delivers on its promise. But when you’re a fan, you’re willing to take the chance ’cause when a film delivers, it totally obliterates the bad taste left in your mouth by the last dozen that didn’t. There are very few things in this life that I am optimistic about, but this is certainly one of ’em.

It is the opening night gala screening at the festival. I hope to be there for it!

prolly wouldn't go into this expecting Dr. Seuss...

→ originally published 2007-09-22