Toronto After Dark 2015 – A Preview


The 10th edition of the Toronto After Dark film festival kicks off later today and runs for a solid 9 days (Oct. 15-23). The fest seems to have settled into its niche – it doesn’t look to expand beyond its ~20 screenings per year and likely won’t compete for big World premieres, but year after year it puts together an interesting and eclectic lineup of solid genre fare. Granted, there are typically some odd choices and a rather insistent need to pick thematic pairings (I have to assume many people are getting slightly tired of the zombie double-bills every year – or is that just me?), but there’s little doubt that genre fans who don’t make the trip to Fantasia and Fantastic Fest are rabidly happy that TAD rolls in the numerous big genre titles of the year to the big screen here in Toronto. And many of us are also rabidly happy about the late night pub gatherings.

With the shift to the downtown Scotiabank location in recent years, the more anticipated screenings typically sell-out (several have already done that) so the fest has instituted some late night second screenings for the more popular titles. Consult the full lineup on the festival’s schedule page) which should include trailers for the films as well. Here’s a short run down of this year’s titles (with the proviso that I’ve not watched any trailers or read much about any of these films):


Thursday October 15th


Tales Of Halloween – Though my love for horror anthologies was challenged a few years ago when Trick R’ Treat was screened at After Dark (I seem to be in the minority in not liking that film though), I have higher hopes for this particular effort. The stories are shorter, the directors are more varied & interesting and there has already been some solid reviews of it. All the tales apparently take place on the same spooky evening, so we’ll see if they manage to do any crossover/merging of the stories or if they are all standalone. I’d love it if they could bring some of the feeling of the old Amicus anthologies from the 70s, but I think we’ll be in for a pretty rousing fest opener regardless.

The Hallow – To be honest, all I needed to see was that the film was from Ireland…Of late, there have been numerous really solid atmospheric horror films coming from that isle (or at least funded via their film fund) like Dorothy Mills, Citadel and the recent The Canal. Though there isn’t necessarily anything specifically in common between those films, there is an appreciation of atmosphere and a willingness not to rush to jump scares. Even though The Hallow is getting stuck with the “scariest film at the fest” moniker (which always sets expectations too high), I’m hopeful that it will tackle horror in my favourite way – the one that slowly envelops and squeezes the breath from you.


Friday October 16th

Synchronicity – Sci-fi can be a tricky bet at smaller festivals like this (especially when you hear them being compared to much larger budget and classic films like Blade Runner), but TAD has chosen a few good ones the last couple of years and with director Jacob Gentry’s track record of The Signal behind him, there’s at least some solid talent involved. Given the title and the knowledge that there are likely some time travel paradoxes involved, the film promises to be a head-scratcher in a good way. Also, Michael Ironside plays a baddie, so there’s always that.

Lazer Team – I’ll be honest…I have much less confidence that Lazer Team lives up to any of its billing. Goofy comedic sci-fi can be even more difficult to hit right especially when your protagonists are (apparently from the blurb) idiots. I’m not familiar with the filmmaking team’s web series (Rooster Teeth), so this one is a crap shoot.

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Occultober – Day 7 – The Devil’s Rain

The Devil’s Rain
There is no end to the crazy in Robert Fuest’s occult-ritual fantasy, The Devil’s Rain. It is perhaps the only film in the large run of Satanist films in the 1970s to feature ‘technical advice’ from the actual Church of Satan’s Anton LaVey. Nothing makes much sense, scenes go on, plot happens withe little connection or rhyme or reason. Even the tagline, “Heaven Help Us When The Devil’s Rain” verges on the edge, but never achieves any sense. So it goes.

Ida Lupino, the classic silver screen actress (and occasional director) plays a woman trying to hide a book of names from a Satanic priest. Her son, played by William Shatner, with all the requisite over-acting pauses and perhaps the worst cowboy hat ever put on film, instead goes hunting. It turns out to be Ernest Borgnine. They have a pow-wow about whose faith is stronger, before Borgnine carves ritual symbols on Shatner’s chest, hangs him on an upside-down cross, and then proceeds transforms into a goat-man, or were-ram if you prefer. Somehow Lupino and Shatner are now soulless, possessed, and eyeless. The weird make-up effects of Shatner-no-eyes was the basis of the Mike Myer’s mask for John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Meanwhile, Shatner’s brother, played by a young Tom Skeritt, brings his psychic girlfriend to the site where Shatner’s soul was stolen, looking for answers, and gets in a big scrum with all the local Satan worshippers (including John Travolta and Keenan Wynn) but manages to find the big bottle of souls Borgnine hides under the altar and smash it to pieces with the help of Green Acres’ Eddie Albert. What follows is a 20 minute long sequence where all the Satanists melt like hot wax, perhaps the basis for the climaxes of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Gremlins, both of which managed to pull off the effect in under one-twentieth of the time. At 86 minutes, The Devil’s rain feels like twice that, and is hilariously exhausting, despite being billed as “Absolutely the most incredible, unforgettable, ending of any motion picture ever.”

In spite of me giving the plot, when you watch the film, nothing flows organically, except the quite lengthy, utterly creepy opening credits which features a great score on top of slow pans over Hieronymus Bosch prints.

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A Month of Horror 2013 – Chapter 5


Not sure if she’s winking, squinting or wincing? Neither am I…Anyway, these were all watched in October (so it still counts towards my month): Visiting Hours, We Are What We Are, Omen IV: The Awakening and Basket Case.


Visiting Hours (Jean-Claude Lord – 1982)
You can only suspend belief for so long, you know? I can forgive much of the silliness in the plot of this killer-stalks-hospital slasher – especially when it handles several early scenes with pretty decent tension – but the last 30-40 minutes so obviously contrives a final showdown that you can’t help but throw your hands up (several times). It’s sheer laziness really – I get why they wanted to have Lee Grant run through long empty hospital corridors with the relentless Michael Ironside chasing her, but couldn’t they be even slightly creative in figuring out how to clear out other people? With all the commotion that had been going on in the busy hospital and with it crawling with cops, the film (without any explanations or reasons) has the killer chase his intended victim across 3 separate floors without running into a single person. Well, except for the nurse he recently wounded who was lying on a cart completely unattended (even though she was moments earlier hurriedly wheeled in due to him stabbing her). Even William Shatner couldn’t make me forget that.


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