Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: The Town That Dreaded Sundown

 

 

Easily the biggest surprise and possibly my overall favourite film of this year’s Toronto After Dark film festival was Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s (director of several American Horror Story episodes) take on the 1976 early slasher The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Though that little film from 1976 has its supporters and certainly has some choice moments, it seemed like an odd pick for a revisit. The original as directed by Charles B. Pierce (director and star of the head-shakingly bad Boggy Creek II – And The Legend Continues – best known for being one of MST3K’s victims) is an awkward melange of horror/docudrama/slapstick comedy that tries to tell the actual events of a masked serial killer who terrorized Texarkana in 1946. And yet…There were some well-realized moments of genuine horror and interesting filmmaking. For his first feature, Gomez-Rejon seems to have focused on those positive aspects and has built a compelling, moody, surprising and absolutely gorgeous film.

Of particular note is the way he composes his frames. More than once during the film, I found my eyes roaming about the square footage on screen, trying to pick up all the little details and contrasting different colour combinations. I’m sure I missed some clues lurking in the background, but the simple pleasure of being pulled into this lovingly created canvas and wanting to savour each little corner, shadow and object was more than enough. If that sounds like a bit of an overstatement, it’s partly due to having very few expectations regarding not only the story but the level of filmmaking. It’s not that I thought the movie was going to be bad (the trailer is quite handsome actually), but from its opening tracking shot that pans down from a Drive-In screen playing the original film (and which continued through the parking lot filled with many of the films primary characters) it was obvious that Gomez-Rejon had very strong stylistic ideas for the film – all of which actually help move the story forward and engage the audience.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Killing Fields

Director: Roland Joffé
Screenplay: Bruce Robinson
Starring: Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich, Julian Sands
Producer: Lord David Puttnam
Country: UK
Running Time: 142 min
Year: 1984
BBFC Certificate: 15


The Killing Fields is a classic British film which I’ve avoided for a long time. I’ve had it on DVD for years, but an ‘issue’ war film which looked weighty, worthy and bleak didn’t always appeal when I’d flick through my collection for something to watch. When a shiny new 30th Anniversary blu-ray was offered to me I finally gave in though and decided to give it a whirl.

The ‘issue’ under scrutiny in The Killing Fields is the Cambodian civil war and the atrocities dished out by the Khmer Rouge during their infamous ‘year zero’ cleansing campaign as well as looking at the poor handling of the situation by the American military. However, the film’s plot doesn’t spend too much time delving into the political machinations, it’s more a tale of friendship, loyalty and survival set amongst the carnage of civil war and ethnic cleansing. Based on a true story, The Killing Fields follows the relationship between Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston), a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the New York Times, and his Cambodian aide Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor). Pran, being well educated, is a prime target for the Khmer Rouge and chooses to stay with Sydney early on in the film when he has a chance to leave the country so, later on whilst his American friend is evacuated, he is sent to one of the notorious ‘re-education camps’ where he is savagely treated by his captors.

I find that epic, award winning war films can often be overrated, especially over time as their presentation becomes more dated. However, The Killing Fields has stood the test of time rather well and remains a powerful experience 30 years on. A lot of this is due to the fact that it is unflinching in its depiction of the horrors of war, more so than a lot of other films of that genre and era. It’s a bloody, dirty, often chaotic film which throws you into the madness of what was happening and rarely lets you take a breath. A portion of the third quarter which sees Pran, Sydney and his fellow journalists held at the French Embassy is the only time the film really calms down, but wisely this time is used to develop the friendship between the lead characters as well as to deliver the most tense film developing scene I’ve come across.

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Friday One Sheet: A Most Violent Year

I am kind of in love with all the whiteness in this design. Jessica Chastain’s dress almost fading into the hill below witch she is facing a surprisingly sparse 1981 New York City skyline. At least I think it is Chastain on the poster, it is hard to tell with her back to us. She is there, also presumably with Oscar Isaac who is again likely trudging through the Big Apple in the snow.

I have no idea what the film is about, the large font tagline is vague, but intriguing, but I suspect it will be a chilly affair.

Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: The Babadook

 

 

Ba Ba-ba DOOK DOOK DOOK!!

Silly made up sounds to fit a children’s verse or shudder-inducing syllables to remind you of the darkness that exists in all our souls? In the case of first-time feature filmmaker Jennifer Kent’s critically praised creeper The Babadook, it’s not an either / or situation. The cute can definitely coexist with the terrifying.

Young Samuel typically celebrates his birthday in tandem with his cousin even though the date isn’t right. His mother Amelia likes to avoid discussing his actual date of birth since it was the rather auspicious occasion of the car crash that took his father’s life (as he drove Amelia to the hospital to give birth). As he closes in on turning 7 years old, Amelia seems to be having a harder and harder time coping with single parenthood. Samuel is a handful as his imagination gets the better of him on a regular basis – his certainty that monsters are after him, his magic tricks and his creative construction of weaponry are all putting Amelia right on the edge. One night she finds a storybook called The Babadook that she’s never seen before and they decide to read it together. It illustrates a tall, top hat-wearing, cloaked in black man-beast called The Babadook who will come a calling and knock three times. And Once you let him in…he never leaves.

The book seems to leave quite the impression on Samuel as he starts worrying about the dagger-fingered Babadook and warns his mother repeatedly about it – especially after something knocks on their door one evening. Amelia’s sleep patterns start getting messed up, Samuel appears to be harder and harder to control and she starts having issues at work. She’s a complete wreck and begins pushing away those that can and want to help her – she is caught up in a crushing concern for her son while also being way past the frustration point with him. The house starts closing in on her…

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Cinecast Episode 371 – Zach Galifianasskissisms

Normally there’s a whole rig-a-ma-roll to these things. But this week we heard Martin Scorsezeeze might be looking for his next big thing; so we’re keeping it simple and relying on our gut instincts and raw talent. Positivity is always something to keep going; so we roll with it. From main releases to Watch List. If you gauge this show based on the amount of quality within the projects discussed, then this is most likely the most perfect Cinecast ever created. Daughters, critics, dead dogs and suicidal tendencies aside, we’re seizing the moment.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 
 

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Occultober – Day 31 – The Exorcist

The Exorcist
What more can be said about the undisputed big-daddy of possession horror? The mega-hit that has endured decades, in fact it is still scary as hell; movie magic at its most fine. I won’t belabour the quality of the film, but if you haven’t seen it on the big screen with an audience, you should really get on that.

When young Regan McNeil (Linda Blair) starts behaving very, very oddly, her mother (Ellen Burstyn) enlists the help of a young priest (Jason Miller) and an old priest (Max Von Sydow) to do battle with the demon inside the child. Vomit is spewed, there is masturbation with a crucifix, rattling and levitating beds, near-subliminal devil-imagery, and anything else shocking that wunderkind filmmaker William Friedkin can throw out at the camera. For my money, the sequence where Regan gets a carotid angiography in the hospital, which is shot as realistic as possible, might be the most difficult to watch.

The legacy of The Exorcist is huge, not only the sequels, and lesser knock-offs, but also in terms of kickstarting (with help from Rosemary’s Baby) by way of the huge financial success, the entire occult subgenre in the 1970s, which more than likely planted the seeds in the cultural consciousness for the Satanic Panic hysterias of the 1980s and 1990s. Amongst other things, was an indirect cause behind the West Memphis 3 miscarriage of justice. It was the basis and the tipping point for this series which ran the entire month.

We hope you enjoyed.

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Occultober – Day 30 – The Omen

The Omen
T he ultimate film in the ‘demon seed’ subgenre, has the son of Satan being adopted by an American ambassador to Britain, played by a greying Gregory Peck. Even as a child, this baby-faced anti-christ is willing to exert supernatural influence to murder in the pursuit of grabbing power. The Omen was directed by Richard Donner, just prior to him landing the Superman gig and coming off decades churning out TV episodes in all genres. It was one of many films that made a play to ride the coattails of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Marginally less exploitive than Michael Winner’s gonzo freakshow, The Sentinel, but not afraid of graphic imagery, and disturbing juxtapositions; for instance a woman hangs herself at a children’s birthday party in one scene.

Shadowy satanist organizations, American political powers, and everyones favourite villain David Warner (here playing a shaggy haired photographer who figures out the truth), Rottweiler and Baboon attacks, the mark of the devil 666, and a creepy performance from child actor Harvey Spencer Stephens insured that The Omen was a huge success at the time. Even at the Oscars, it won prolific composer Jerry Goldsmith his only Oscar. The film spawned many sequels (bringing actor Sam Neill over from New Zealand to Hollywood in the process) and a 2006 remake, as well as a plethora of homages. including the church steeple kill in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz.

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Occultober – Day 29 – Rosemary’s Baby

Rosemary’s Baby
A film that has stood the test of time better than most, Roman Polanski’s second film focusing on a woman slowly devolving into hysteria (the first being Repulsion), the success of Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 is paramount in the rise of the modern incarnation occult film in the 1970s. This is patient, if not entirely subtle filmmaking that also mark the vibe of the decade to follow.

In the first few moments of the film, there are enough portent signs and signifiers and waiting for the eventual reveal is a painful kind of bliss with only the soothing balm of Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer’s performances, both goofy and slick (respectfully). I find it difficult to find fault with this rather unique approach, and the whole proceedings have a hell of a capstone.

But really, the first 15 minutes of the film is where it is at. That ‘seeking’ pan across the New York City skyline set to an off-kilter lullaby version of Que Sera Sera. Score rather than song is absent the lyrics and inspires dread rather than hope, but the question is nevertheless, “when I was just a little girl, I asked my mother what I would be…” The answer, is apparently the mother of Satan. If Doris Day can belt that song out in Hitchcock’s , surely it can be subverted here as an anthem for the woman who knew too little, too late.

I took a huge amount of pleasure in noir-staple character actor Elisha Cook Jr. fastidiously showing off the grand old apartment (of spook central) to the young married couple. His question – and the first actual line of dialogue in the film – is whether John Cassavetes’ character is a Doctor or an Actor. The film will feature many doctors (and more than a few midwives) who are indeed more actors than doctors. A stray scrap of paper is shown belonging to the former, quite deceased, owner of the apartment whose last act was to block a closet door on the thin shared wall of her creepy and nosy neighbors with a heavy wardrobe. It reads “I can no longer associate myself.” Perhaps a hint of Mia Farrow’s soon-to-be overwhelming paranoia and powerlessness. A magazine cover will later query, “Is God Dead?” Never has a film so front-loaded its purpose only to then draw out and tease the audience for nearly two hours as surely as Farrow’s body (and hairdo) slowly withers away. But then that kicker of a climax is as surprising as it is inevitable. This is Cinema of Masochism made with exquisite craft – and so many great Polanski films would follow.

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Flyway Pubcast #8 – Alex Johnson [Two Step]

 
Two Step is another Axe Award winner this year; this time it’s for best narrative feature. It’s a relationship and class drama that collides with a crime and home invasion angle. It’s really rather thrilling thanks in large part to the excellent cast but also due to writer/director Alex Johnson.

Matt Gamble and I discuss the nature of typical home invasion films and the amount of violence in films today. The alcohol, deep freeze temperatures and late night time begins to affect our judgement and speech but nonetheless it’s an entertaining and interesting discussion. Congrats to Alex and his film; have a listen below…


 
 

http://rowthree.com/audio/Flyway2014/flyway14_NAME.mp3 (use for below then delete this line)

 
 

 


 
Relevant Links:
Official site
IMDb
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Stockholm Film Festival
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