Even years later, Guillermo Del Toro remains my favorite interview subject. A jet-fuelled quote engine with a hilarious and self-effacing sense of humour, you’ll not lack for material when putting together a piece on whatever subject Del Toro expounds upon. Since Del Toro is pretty much a full-time Toronto resident these days (his last few projects as director and producer have all shot here in town), he’s done a number of public appearances at the TIFF Lightbox on King Street to present some of the films he admires, be they obscurities like Pupi Avati’s ARCANE ENCHANTER or exalted Hitchcock classics like NOTORIOUS.
I’ve been fortunate enough to catch a few of these screenings and their accompanying lectures by Del Toro (called ‘masterclasses’ by TIFF), and can’t recommend the experience highly enough. Del Toro, who has written a textbook on the films of Hitchcock in his native Mexico, is always an engaging and affable speaker, pointing out themes and techniques in the films while relating them to his own life and career.
Last week, TIFF announced a new Del Toro masterclass happening Monday, November 24th at seven P.M. The topic is the late Ken Russell’s controversial 1971 swing at the Catholic church, entitled THE DEVILS. The provocative DEVILS is notable for the various trimmed and censored versions that eventually hit the market, leading to speculation that a truly uncut version no longer exists. I’m not a huge fan of what I’ve seen from Russell’s admittedly daring but off-putting catalog, but I am eager to hear why Del Toro thinks this particular movie deserves our attention—and truth be told, I’d probably show up to a Wayans Brothers’ movie if Del Toro were hosting.
The Scream Factory DVD label is known and praised for rescuing neglected genre classics and releasing them with flawless hi-def transfers and impeccably curated extras. Yet the label always seems subject to a level of simmering online discontent and grumbling. Why, the layperson may be asking? A section of broke horror fans out there feel like Scream’s prices are too high, and this ignoble tribe are rarely satisfied with keeping their opinions to themselves. It bears repeating that Scream must charge a premium since they don’t own their product and have to pay hefty licensing fees to studios; this in addition to their own production and manufacturing costs for the discs. Think of Scream as a horror wholesaler, the type of business who needs to net a certain margin on every sale just to stay in business.
Now that we’ve settled that irritating non-criticism, let’s talk about my haul from Scream Factory’s Shocktober sale last month (free shipping to Canada!). Yes, there is a tinge of gloating in my voice as I shuffle through my lovely new blu-rays of Joe Dante’s werewolf caper THE HOWLING, Stan Winston and one of his greatest rod-puppet creations in PUMPKINHEAD, Sam Raimi and Liam Neeson’s proto-superhero (and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA riff) DARKMAN, and forgotten aquatic ALIEN rip-off LEVIATHAN. I also nabbed the two-pack of Ted Nicolau’s nutty comedy TERRORVISON and the disappointing zombie flick THE VIDEO DEAD. I picked up THE NEST, a mutant cockroach creeper, on a whim; I’m a bit sorry I did. The big-roach puppet effects are sparse and pretty pathetic when they do appear, especially when held up to the expressive and mobile animatronic demon central to PUMPKINHEAD.
I’m quite pleased with most of my picks, their discount prices, and the free fridge magnets Scream sent along with the bundle. I should mention that I did pay full retail price for the monumental HALLOWEEN fifteen-disc box set that Scream released in conjunction with Anchor Bay. I haven’t cracked this one open yet—waiting until I’m laid up with the flu or something. Fifteen discs is a substantial time investment!
There are still sports out there, ones tagged dismissively as “extreme”, that aren’t driven by overpaid athletes or dripping in gaudy sponsorship (though Red Bull is trying it’s best to change that). Alpinism, or climbing, is one of those sports—though perhaps ‘pursuit’ is more accurate. Though healthy competition most definitely thrives between climbers striving to put up new routes or shave minutes off of established lines, climbing’s heart is really man or woman versus themselves. It’s simply your guts and your gear, with everything on the line.
One of the sport’s most noble practitioners is Canada’s own Barry Blanchard, a gentleman climber and professional guide with decades of the world’s most perilous mountain ascents behind him. He’s seen Alpinism rise from the fringes, as something considered by most reasonable folks to be the domain of either the unbearably macho or innately suicidal, to a subject of public interest and admiration. He’s also been at the summit of Everest more times than I’ve been to a Tim Horton’s.
Mr. Blanchard has stories, a good chunk of which end up in his new memoir THE CALLING. He’ll be at the Toronto Patagonia store (500 King Street West) tomorrow, November the thirteenth at six-thirty P.M. to deliver a few of those adventure tales in person, as well as sign copies of his new book. If you’ve ever wondered about what it’s like to be suspended on a remote mountainside in the middle of a raging blizzard or how it feels to be slowly dying from oxygen deprivation at altitudes only inhabited by jetliners, come and check it out. Admission is free.
Most of my professional writing is done in the service of promotions or Public Relations, so I have an interest in the field and where it’s going. P.R. ace Sami Alshorafa was kind enough to sit down with me for a chat on how he entered into the industry and where he thinks it’s headed:
It all started back in University. I was always fascinated by the marketing and advertising side of things in my studies, and I specialized in marketing. After graduating, I suffered in looking for the right opportunity in the marketing field. So the ‘ambitious’ me went for the management consultant side of things with the first opportunity that I got, and I stayed in that for a while. And obviously, in the back of my head I was thinking, ‘marketing, marketing’! (laughs) Then, I just couldn’t get into the industry, even moving to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with all the opportunities… For some reason it just didn’t come through.
Then I met a friend of a friend, in a casual setting. She worked in P.R. and started talking to me about it, how it was really up and coming in the region, and how it’s not really given much credit. (P.R.) is more credible than advertising; you don’t embellish much, it’s word-of-mouth. She explained the vision behind P.R. and I really bought into it. So she referred my resume to a colleague of hers, and he was interested and went for it. Another interview and another interview and then I didn’t get the job! (laughs) I said, ‘Okay, fine.’ While in management consulting, I had been summoned by the M.D. in the office and told that we had an event coming up, and would I like to help out? I volunteered for it, and ended up co-ordinating with our New York office, on an eight-nine hour time difference. I would stay in my office until two o’clock in the morning, securing speakers, dealing with the logistics behind the event and the venue, getting the press release drafted even though I hadn’t drafted anything since university. I had a couple of people supporting me, but not the right support.
But it turned put great and was very successful. The Minister of the Economy came and spoke; all in all it was a successful event and a moment of pride. So then I got a second interview (in the P.R. field), and I had some experience to share: I had done the press release and the advertising and the whole jazz. Still, I didn’t get the job! (laughs) I started losing hope. I started thinking seriously about going back to Cairo, Egypt—my hometown.
And then, just out of the blue, at eight o’clock in the evening, I get this call from an agency saying they were interested in hiring me. I had it all made up in my mind that if they called again for an interview, I’m not going—but then something told me to just go with it. It’s eight p.m., there has to be some sort of hope. So this manager that called me said, ‘Look, you have my word. I’ll get you to the C.E.O.s’ And she delivered; I met with all three in the same day. On the second morning, I got a call saying that I’ve got the job. In was in less than forty-eight hours, and it was such a dream come true.
It was at a moment in time where I was co-ordinating going back to my old job in Cairo, but something kept me going. It was in my second year-and-a-half living in the U.A.E., and I ended up staying there for ten years. It was an interesting turn of events. I’ve enjoyed P.R. a lot, and I’ve seen it develop—especially with social media. I have done the right thing moving to that field, because that where everything is going, the ‘social network’. It’s all about the content creation, and all about the P.R. skills that you have. It’s all about blending together the visuals and the writing and what have you.
It’s really worked well for me, with the trends going to integrated comms you don’t only have P.R., you have P.R. working with marketing, advertising, event management, social media… All of them working together to come out with something for your brand. I think that (social media) the right way to go, because it caters to everybody, it’s digested by everybody of all ages.
Huge thanks go out to Mr. Alshorafa for the interview. You can follow him on Twitter at @SamiAlshorafa.
When I was blessed to have the chance to interview director John Carpenter, I was most excited to get into some of the specifics behind his musical output. There’s a famous story of a producer behind HALLOWEEN screening an early cut, and being furious at how dull and flat the movie played. Then he saw it again with Carpenter’s music—that minimalistic, infinitely dread-inducing score—and fell in love with the movie, even though the images before him remained exactly the same.
Carpenter’s music is like punk rock in a compositional sense: never elaborate or showy, but immediately impactful and irresistibly catchy. Its strength is in its simplicity. Many artists have tried to replicate Carpenter’s synth sounds, but it’s never quite the same. I think Carpenter’s last movie, the mediocre THE WARD, suffered greatly from Carpenter handing score duties over to another (and in my opinion, far weaker) musician.
Carpenter said in our interview that he was open to scoring other filmmakers’ work; a prospect that had me drooling. Robert Rodriguez toyed with bringing Carpenter in for his PLANET TERROR segment of GRINDHOUSE, but the collaboration fell apart for whatever reason and a sound-alike score was ultimately used. It looked like my dream of hearing what Carpenter could do when unattached to his own visuals would have to wait, until now.
Sacred Bones Records announced this week that they were set to release a Carpenter solo album in February, titled LOST THEMES. The album contains nine original, atmospheric improvisational tunes, and also features his musician son Cody. I cannot wait to check this thing out, and based on the pulsing piano riff that drives lead track “Vortex”, LOST THEMES will only heighten Carpenter’s rep as a synthesizer God. Have a taste on the Soundcloud player above, and let the countdown ’til February commence!
album image courtesy of Sacred Bones Recordings
UPDATE 11/6: I just managed to lay my paws on an advance review copy of the album, and it is fantastic. Fat, thumping synth lines accompanying infectious piano melodies and syrupy rhythm guitar– even some rugged drumming added in. While there are certainly moody passages, LOST THEMES is less creepy than most of Carpenter’s work, and more sprightly and rocking– almost heroic. Think ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK over HALLOWEEN. All right, I’m plugging my headphones back in. More on the album very soon!
I have mixed feelings about conventions, having seen them grow and mutate from low-key fan gatherings into moneymaking enterprises where cash is separated from sweaty fan palms with a cold, industrial precision. The big cons are rare opportunities to meet A-list heroes that most cringing peons like myself never dreamed they’d ever encounter in the flesh. But boy, you pay for that privilege.
The unprecedented popularity of THE WALKING DEAD has fueled cons’ exponential growth, as members of the general public not typically prone to identifying themselves as fanboys-or-girls can be found waiting in line to meet Norman Reedus and other actors from the show. Hence, a bit of a backlash has erupted, as the more enthusiastic horror fans out there are clamouring for a return to the smaller, friendlier con scene with a reduction in both glitzy celebrities on hand and in the blatant venality on the part of the con organizers.
Toronto’s Horror-Rama, set to run this weekend (November first and second) at 99 Sudbury street, is one of this new breed of modest and more social conventions. No punishing ad blitz or eight-dollar hot dogs here, just excited fans and an interesting, eclectic guest lineup. I will be on hand to do a few live interviews and possibly sweep the floors afterward. Come by and check it out if you have any interest in dark cinema culture or are simply curious about conventions but don’t feel like mortgaging your house to explore further. Details at http://www.horrorramacanada.com/
It’s no secret that I’m a massive, drooling Rob Zombie fan. I was lucky enough to be given the chance to contribute to the special Fangoria tribute issue honouring the man, and the interviews inside with Zombie and company are probably my best stuff to date. As you may or may not be aware, Zombie has gone the crowdfunding route for his next movie 31, something he describes as a second slice into the gritty and brutal vein from which spurted his most popular film, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. Also, evil clowns.
Crowdfunding a passion project is a tricky sell. It’s essentially like asking your audience to pay for their ticket years in advance, before the item in question is even made. In Zombie’s case, his celebrity status and sizeable fan following have allowed him to sweeten the deal by offering knick-knacks and autographed memorabilia to prospective 31 backers.
Zombie has attracted his share of criticism over the crowdfunding move, with arguments that a “rich rockstar” such as he shouldn’t have to panhandle his fans for money, and that he should front the entire budget himself. I can’t speak to the particular circumstances behind 31, but I can say that the economics of the film industry are such that if Mr. Zombie can demonstrate sufficient public interest though this campaign, regardless of the actual funds raised, big-money investors are likely to take notice and stump up a large portion of the budget. This will allow Zombie to avoid studios and retain cut and control (unlike on his pair of HALLOWEEN movies). How is that not a win all around?
There are three days remaining for interested parties to contribute. Head over to http://www.fanbacked.com/c/31-rob-zombie-film/ for all the details.
October brings us any number of treats, but the return of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival has to be one of the sweetest. I’ve been a supporter and patron of this relaxed, fan-centered festival since it ran in August at the endearingly crusty Bloor Cinema (this was before the current Bloor West gentrification, of course). TADFF is far removed from some other local events—where the hoop-jumping rigamarole required can sour the whole festival, even for those with press credentials). The TADFF fest exists to aid people wanting to see quality genre movies from around the globe, as opposed to catering to scenesters and sales agents. Which isn’t to say that TADFF lacks for any energy or enthusiasm; anybody put off from the theatre-going experience for fear of being plunked amid texting teens or mindlessly-jabbering nimrods should find relief in the respectful excitement shown by a typical TADFF audience.
Seeing these movies with a community intensifies and actually improves the consumption of the movie in many cases; I can only imagine how grim and depressing watching THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE alone on a tiny computer screen can be, whereas seeing it at TADFF with a few hundred squirming, shrieking folks around me lifted up the veiled comedic bent in CENTIPEDE and made watching a disturbing, nihilistic film an absolute joy.
I’m pleased to be back to cover the fest this year, although I won’t be at as many screenings as I’d like, unfortunately. If time were not a consideration, here are the five movies I’d elbow my way through a lineup to see:
THE DROWNSMAN: The Black Fawn crew are fine filmmakers and great bunch of human beings. I have no doubt that this creepy throwback will continue their ascent in Canadian genre film.
WOLVES: Multi-talented David Hayter comes off a stellar performance in DEVIL’S MILE to write and direct this werewolf tale. Cannot wait!
WHY HORROR? Awesome gent Tal Zimmerman asks the question that plagues us all in his new documentary.
DEAD SNOW TWO: RED VERSUS DEAD: Because the first one was loads of fun and I’m still not tired of zombies.
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN: Remake of the Seventies’ exploitation gem. I approach remakes with trepidation, but this trailer has me sold.
The Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs October sixteenth to the twenty-fourth at the Scotiabank Theatre (John and Richmond)
My review of the ChiZine anthology FEARFUL SYMMETRIES, intended for Fangoria’s Nightmare Library column and seeing print here for the first time.
FEARFUL SYMMETRIES (ChiZine Publications) arrives into stores with the distinction (or ignominy) of being one of the publishing industry’s first crowd-funded projects. Counteracting the odor of virtual panhandling that clings to many a Kickstarter endeavor is the stewardship of veteran editor Ellen Datlow, who acknowledges in her introduction that a horror fiction anthology without an overarching theme can be a tough sell to publishers. In this case the absence of theme definitely acts as a plus, since readers will have no idea how sharp the claws may be that await them in the next tale. The mostly subdued and atmospheric stories found here run a gamut of spooky subjects; from disinterred angels to communicable mental illness to towering Kaiju attacks to young love set amid portents of death and doom.
The standard line of criticism flung toward anthologies applies here—that of quality rising or deflating from story to story. Lucky then, that FEARFUL SYMMETRIES’ outright duds (let’s leave names out here… okay, with the exception of Stephen Graham Jones’ silly ‘The Spindly Man’ and its laughable twist ending) are few and far-between. Standouts, on the other hand, are plentiful and include a reality T.V. crew running afoul of some figures from Christian mythology in Gemma Files’ ‘A Wish From A Bone’, the amusingly folksy tall tales of Jeffery Ford’s ‘Mount Chary Galore’, and Robert Shearman riffing gothic in ‘Suffer Little Children’.
The online financial backers of FEARFUL SYMMETRIES need not fret—there’s more than enough dark inspiration in this collection to deem it a sound investment for the time and dollars of prospective readers.
It is again that time of year when I (an ostensibly grown man who troops around in Cannibal Corpse and Garbage Pail Kids T-shirts) am asked by friends, relatives, and colleagues on my “picks” for horror movies they might enjoy. Beyond my usual selections for those indulging a seasonal dabble in the genre (titles that were missed by most, like Adam Wingard’s superior home-invasion thriller YOU’RE NEXT and a British sci-fi reply to THE GOONIES called ATTACK THE BLOCK), this year I’d like to make mention of something unique, retro, and wonderfully childish.
With the recent passing of Mike Vraney, founder of the odd and eclectic Something Weird video label, much has been said and written in the way of tribute. Something most of these Vraney admirers agree upon, including both Vraney’s widow and legendary columnist Tim Lucas, is that the Something Weird release MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY was the apex of that company’s DVD output.
More a garish, kid-friendly funhouse than a proper movie, the PARTY disc is centred around a shabby, charming little short film from the mid-sixties in which a passel of rubber-suited monsters do indeed crash a party—one populated with anachronistically square, staid teens. Said ‘crashing’ is conducted with such silly and shrieking glee, such quaint innocence that those of us watching from a supposedly more advanced media era of photo hacks and YouTube beheadings can’t help but smile. That film is only the beginning, as the disc is packed with spooky home movies, vintage (and breathlessly shouted) radio ads for similarly spooky fare, and an entire public domain feature TORMENTED.
The disc is also a sterling example of how amusing the disappearing DVD format can be, with an intentionally mystifying menu (posed as a haunted house and neighbouring graveyard) filled with icons like bats and wooden doors that when clicked upon, activate yet another hidden delight. PARTY won’t suit all tastes and is miles away from actually being scary, it’s the perfect accompaniment to any Halloween party, especially one with little ones present.