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.
Last week, I was fortunate to attend the launch of director David Cronenberg’s debut novel CONSUMED, sponsored by Indigo books and hosted by the Globe and Mail’s resident critic and Cronenberg expert Geoff Pevere.
At the University of Toronto’s (Cronenberg is an alumnus) Isabel Bader theatre, Cronenberg underwent an on-stage interview with Mr. Pevere, and followed up with an audience Q + A before heading to the lobby for a signing of his new book. My transcript of the event’s highlights can be found here (http://bit.ly/1s84jbn) on Fangoria.com. I’ve written at length on Cronenberg’s unnerving oevre before, (http://bit.ly/1nYRBwa) and this occasion was my second time meeting Cronenberg in person, however briefly. I was once again struck by how dryly and confidently funny he is as an interviewee and public speaker. I’ve heard mixed opinions on his latest film, MAPS TO THE STARS, and I outright despised his last film COSMOPOLIS, but I remain a huge fan of Cronenberg the person and personality.
This month marks a feast for fans of Cronenberg’s non-directorial activities, with the release of the abovementioned novel (I have not yet cracked CONSUMED’s spine and will reserve judgement on it for later) as well as the blu-ray of the long-awaited NIGHTBREED Director’s Cut, co-starring Cronenberg. I’ve seen the new cut and find it, much like the original film, massively overrated, but Cronenberg’s turn as the icy, cerebral Dr. Decker is the film’s best strength (that, and the fantastic score by Danny Elfman). It’s fitting that October should be the month to bring us such a Cronenberg Cornucopia, no?
This is a review of James Michael Rice’s novel FOR THOSE WHO WORSHIP THE SUN, written last year for Fangoria’s Nightmare Library section and appearing here for the first time. Mr. Rice’s book is now available from Amazon as a physical item or in e-book Kindle format.
Decades after documentary-style atrocities like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST sensationalized dangers lurking in the untamed region, the Amazon is back in vogue as a horror locale. Along with director Eli Roth’s upcoming cannibal throwback THE GREEN INFERNO, James Michael Rice’s new book FOR THOSE WHO WORSHIP THE SUN is a modern offering that capitalizes on the Amazon’s maze of humid jungle, ornery inhabitants, and deadly waterways to stifling, alien effect.
WORSHIP’s plot follows a trio of Bostonian bros on an adventure tour of Peru. After settling in and succumbing to the allure of the landscape and relaxed culture, the three friends depart on an expedition deep into the jungle’s heart. Accompanied by guides and a pair of cute female tourists, the group is soon beset upon by a squad of lively, hungry corpses and they’re forced to flee further into an unknown wilderness. As their supplies dwindle, the exhausted group must make a final push for the safety of civilization while fending off fever, dehydration, and broken friendships—along with the inexorable pursuit of the dead.
Author Rice writes WORSHIP from a vantage of experience, having undertaken a similar Amazon excursion himself (according to the author’s bio blurb on the back cover). This is a huge boost to the book’s authenticity and evocative power, but it can sometimes be too much of a good thing— WORSHIP feels a bit like a travelogue in the early going and by the umpteenth description of some native rodent or other, the pace is hampered. Aside from that, the lead characters of Ben, Cooper, and Auggie are likeable and certainly believable, and their interplay and interactions are amusing enough to propel the book forward on their own. When the inevitable romantic subplot does eventually rear its head, it’s skillfully parlayed into a series of natural and charming passages.
WORSHIP slips subtle environmental and conservationist undertones into the rare Amazonian horror story that doesn’t trade on xenophobic depictions of indigenous tribes. Though readers looking for a straight-up zombie romp here should be notified—the zombie action is, while tense and effective, served up sparingly. Despite a foreshadowing prologue and the occasional aside teasing the horrors to come, not until well past the halfway point does the focus switch to something darker than pythons and jaguars roaming the brush. It’s similar to FROM DUSK ‘TIL DAWN or HOSTEL in this respect: spinning a detailed set-up and then upending the lunch table by inserting its characters into the middle of some frenetic monster cavalcade. Like DUSK, WORSHIP’s lengthy preamble is compelling even when stood apart from later genre elements, and it’s a testament to Rice’s talent as a writer that no doubt some readers (this reviewer included) will regret that the zombies even show up at all.
So, just in time for Halloween, this humble blog will dust off its dormancy and stagger back to some semblance of vitality. My plan here will continue to be plugging whatever activities I’ve got either going on or coming up, and also to provide a home to various essays and reviews I’ve done that haven’t yet managed to see print for whatever reason.
First order of business will be to grinningly promote the current Fangoria issue, #335, featuring a cover and extensive write-ups dedicated to Brian De Palma’s rock-opera riff PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. My contribution to the issue comes as an interview with local filmmaker Joe O’Brien on his new film DEVIL’S MILE. I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. O’Brien on the MILE set a few years ago, and now again on the brink of his film’s wide release. I think the new piece provides an interesting picture on the various travails facing indie filmmaking in terms of multidisciplinary talents like Mr. O’Brien (who wrote, directed, and supervised the effects work on his film) becoming the norm, as well as the all-important marketing challenges for small projects lucky enough to find professional distribution. Beyond that, it feels good just to spread the word out about MILE, a tense and creepy crime/horror hybrid that definitely deserves all attentions and admirations.
Also in the issue, and keeping in tune with the De Palma theme, is my look at the CARRIE DVD box set. The set was on store shelves last year to coincide with the theatrical release of Kimberley Peirce’s universally-loathed CARRIE remake: it contains De Palma’s excellent 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s debut novel, forgotten sequel CARRIE 2: THE RAGE, and an earlier, shabbier 2002 CARRIE remake for television. That’s a whole lotta CARRIE (at heart a very simple tale of teenage power dynamics) and the conclusion of the piece is that De Palma’s screen take has yet to be bettered, despite a number of ham-handed attempts.
All this goodness and more in Fangoria #335, snap it up before it’s gone and help me make my yacht payments!
After a long absence, my little site has been revived with a fresh look and updated interface. The big news from the interim break is the launch of Charles Band’s DELIRIUM magazine. Tucked inside a massive RE-ANIMATOR retrospective is my chat with actress Barbara Crampton, and the whole enchilada is now available for purchase at fullmoonstreaming.com.
Fangoria’s limited collector’s line of special issues returns with a tribute to the inimitable John Carpenter. Inside, I put up my dukes and defend two of Carpenter’s most dismissed films, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and THE WARD. I’ll wait for the snickers to die down before I state that the defense comes from my sincere belief that Carpenter has never made a worthless movie. What other of the Masters of Horror can make that claim? All this and more when you pick up a copy for yourself here: