Toronto After Dark best bets

It’s hard to believe that the Toronto After Dark Film Festival has been killing it for a decade, now. Doesn’t seem that long ago that TAD founding dynamo Adam Lopez bounded into my old office at NOW Magazine to talk about this Frankensteinian genre festival he was stitching together. A true passion project for Lopez, it was impossible not to get swept up in his enthusiasm. I remember Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon was the highlight that first year, screening as it did between movies about Swedish vampires, German zombies, mad-cow-infected kung fu psychos and flesh-eating wasps. To be honest, though, I wasn’t sure how long the festival would survive given how crowded the Toronto film scene was (and still is) and how long and dark a shadow TIFF’s Midnight Madness program casts.

But here we are, one day away from opening night of the 10th edition of Lopez’s ode to sick and twisted cinema. Toronto After Dark is alive, oh yes, it’s very much alive, kicking and screaming and stomping giant bloody footprints all over our genre-loving souls. TAD might not have the prestige of Midnight Madness—or the marketing juggernaut that is the Toronto International Film Festival behind it—but it more than makes up for it in raw, visceral thrills and big, goofy fun.

I’ve attended all but a couple TAD festivals and have been introduced to some incredible—or at the very least memorable—movies: Let the Right One In, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Trick ‘r Treat, Black Dynamite, Grace, Manborg, The Innkeepers, V/H/S, Juan of the Dead, Big Bad Wolves… Just last year I caught up with the justifiably hyped The Babadook and Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter—the only films I saw at any festival all year.

So, which of this year’s slate of 20 features (check out the full schedule) will I still be talking about weeks or months or years from now? Frankly, I have no idea. I’m as in the dark as you are. But here are the five I’m most looking forward to, based just on the festival description, the trailer and the talent involved.

Horror anthology Tales of Halloween is the first film on the opening night twinbill and that alone is enough to get me into the theatre with the fresh and hungry crowd of cinemaniacs. I’m also a sucker for any film that takes place on a holiday (see A Christmas Horror Story below) and this looks like good fun, the perfect appetizer to kick off nine nutso nights at the Scotiabank Theatre. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of anthologies. Individual segments may work—Gareth Evans’ cult insanity “Safe Haven” was not only the best part of an underwhelming V/H/S/2 but one of the most electrifying genre efforts of 2013—but for the most part they just don’t hold together. Tales from the Crypt and Creepshow certainly have their defenders, but the only horror anthology that truly works for me from beginning to end is Trick ‘r Treat, which is mandatory October viewing. But even if Tales of Halloween wasn’t batting in the leadoff spot, I’d still make an effort to check it out based on the who’s who of horror behind the camera: among the 11 directors are Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent), Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw IIIIIIV, Repo! The Genetic Opera) and Lucky McKee (May, The Woman). Perhaps more interesting is the who’s who of horror directors in front of the camera: John Landis, Joe Dante, Adam Green, Stuart Gordon and Mick Garris. That’s a lot of folks who all know a thing or two about calling the shots on a horror movie, so hopefully it will translate into something special.

 

Again I’ll be setting aside my wariness of anthologies to check out A Christmas Horror Story. Why? Because Christmas is the perfect setting for bloody mayhem (see also Black Christmas, Rare Exports, Gremlins, Die Hard). It also has William Shatner as a drunk radio DJ, zombie elves and the Krampus, and its title is a play on holiday classic A Christmas Story, which was written and directed by Bob Clark, who also made the aforementioned Black Christmas, so maybe someone will get their eye shot out with a Red Ryder BB gun. God bless us, everyone.

 

Other than the accents, The Hallow looks like your generic cabin-in-the-woods creature feature with a couple of posh young Londoners and their infant off for a getaway. “Getaway” being the operative word, because the trailer promises a slow build of angry neighbours, warnings to stay out of the woods, and talk of “faeries, banshees and baby stealers.” There’s strange noises in other rooms, a flaming scythe, a rabid-looking dog, and dear god what is that hand coming out of the floorboards? What’s that creature in the trees? What exactly are we dealing with? I don’t know if the movie lives up to the hype as the “scariest movie of the year,” but the trailer guarantees I’ll be at TAD to find out.

 

I used to love reading macho pulp novels like The Destroyer series and Mack Bolan: The Executioner, so this next title immediately caught my eye: The Demolisher. There are promises made by that title, ones I’m curious to see if the film fulfills. That title seems like it might be just a little too on-the-nose to be just about ’80s-style death and destruction, and thankfully, the trailer confirms it. The Demolisher looks (and sounds) like if Nicolas Winding Refn had made The Punisher. And there’s something unsettling about a riot gear-clad vigilante, which evokes images of police clashing with protesters.

 

Lastly, I’m going to cheat and suggest two films: Tag and Love & Peace, both by Japanese writer-director Sion Sono (Why Don’t You Play In Hell?). One is the Fantasia Film Fest Best Film winner about schoolgirls being hunted down and killed by…something; the other is about a salaryman who dreams of being a rock star and his pet turtle, which has aspirations of Gamera-sized proportions. Both look ridiculously warped. That’s all I can really say. Just watch the trailers.