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.

Would you like to know more…?

Sign of the Times: Pontypool.

zombiebadge[A big special thank-you to recurring Cinecast guest host Matt Gamble (and author of Where the Long Tail Ends) for allowing us to re-print his essay on Bruce McDonald’s semiotic horror picture Pontypool, apropos of its Canadian DVD release yesterday. Matt tackles the meaning and the metaphor of the word Zombie, where the genre has been, and were it is going:]

Pontypool: Or How I Learned to Start Worrying and Fear the New Zombie

Being born in 1976 I have missed most, if not all, of what I would consider the major tide changes in horror film making here in the United States. The two closest to my heart, and in my opinion the two most important films, being Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Some might say that I was able to witness a similar precedent with The Blair Witch Project, which is a fair point to make. But I think that over the course of time since The Blair Witch Project was released has proven the film to be far more influential in the marketing of films, and specifically the rise of viral marketing, then it has influenced the horror genre.

But while The Blair Witch Project certainly was influential, Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were revolutionary by comparison. Both were low budget shock fests that relied far more on mood and atmosphere to set the table for the scares they were about to serve the audience then most of the other low budget fare of their time. Night of the Living Dead was serious whereas other horror films of the day were campy. And The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, despite its reputation, isn’t bathing in gore as many of its contemporaries were, but rather is a subtle and subdued fright fest. Neither are particularly scary by today’s standards and styles, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre relying on an general level of creepiness rarely matched in any other film, and Night of the Living Dead almost suffocating the viewer with tension. And while these two might not be the best horror films ever made, particularly in the case of Night of the Living Dead where most people, myself included, view its sequel Dawn of the Dead to be the superior film, but these two films introduced audiences to new concepts and styles in horror, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre masterfully manipulating audiences with its “based on actual events” premise. As much as I would like to discuss The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the lack of zombies in the film make it a bit difficult to directly correlate to the film that made me want to write this piece in the first place. But Night of the Living Dead on the other hand, brought about a whole new and terrifying meaning to the word zombie, which is quite relevant to what I wish to discuss.

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