Toronto After Dark Film Festival Reviewed

The¬†Toronto After Dark Film Festival, ¬†now in it’s 5th year running, is the only festival in Toronto dedicated solely to the horror camp genre of film. First off, I must admit I’m not a huge horror fan. I find this to be the one genre that recycles the same plot over and over again and exists mostly for exploitation purposes – so that viewpoint could taint my appreciation for such a festival and the films being presented, but for the most part I was impressed with what I saw and how smoothly Toronto After Dark ran.

This is definitely a very small¬†indie¬†festival but the fans really live for these films. It’s a lot like Midnight Madness at TIFF where yelling “brains” or “kill” during a brutal scene is not only acceptable but encouraged. Fun audience participation contests and strange but hilarious shorts (like the twisted one below celebrating five years running) open the night, and the filmmakers all come out to the pub across from the¬†theater¬†after the screening to talk about the movie with fans. It is a much more casual festival for Toronto, and that definitely works to its benifit. It was obvious the Bloor Cinema was filled with loyal TADFF fans.

It closed Friday night with the much talked about film¬†The Human Centipede, which I unfortunately could not stomach (sewing someone’s mouth to someones ass is just not for me) so I decided against attending. But I did get the chance to see a few crazy/strange/interesting films that would otherwise not likely play here:

The Last Lovecraft

The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu opened the festival, and I must admit I would have expected a stronger film to open with. As a relatively unknown super low budget indie, it sounded like it was a surprise to the filmmakers that it was chosen to open as well. I am not aware of the work of H.P Lovecraft and had not even heard of the man until this screening, so watching this felt like I was listening in on an inside joke that I just wasn’t part of.

That said, I did enjoy the performances of the cast, and the banter between the characters worked well. I thought while watching it that I would love to see this ensemble make a film based around reality and straight comedy, and leave the goofy fish monsters out of it. They had strong comedic timing and that saved it for me. The scenes with Paul (Barak Hardley) and his grandma were particularly hilarious, and everyone enjoyed the cameo from Freaks and Geeks/Party Down nerd Martin Starr. He attended the screening and I can only assume they dragged him on stage for the Q&A as he just kept repeating “I really shouldn’t be here.”

I can’t say I would recommend this film to everyone, as it is obviously a direct niche based around the work of a sci-fi writer, so if you are like me and not interested in that world of storytelling this might not be for you. But I am looking forward to seeing what these guys will put out next. There is definitely some talent there, and with a broader storyline they could make something on par with any of Judd Apatow’s work.

All About Evil

All About Evil is the kind of campy horror that felt like it was made for me. I love old movies, I love old movie theaters, and I love the concept of this film. Watching All About Evil in an old movie theater only made it that much better.

The title itself is a pun on the classic film¬†All About Eve and the movie title puns didn’t stop there. It tells the story of Deborah (or De-BOR-ha as she later demands to be called) Tennis, who recently lost her father – the only person who truly loved her and¬†believed¬†in her talents. She makes the decision to ensure that the cinema he owned and ran throughout her life stays alive despite her awful mothers wishes to sell it.

The meek 30 something librarian becomes filled with anger as her mother storms into the cinema demanding she sign the papers to sell it, and what happens next is caught on the cinema’s security tapes and¬†accidentally¬†broadcast to the entire audience awaiting the feature presentation. This being a horror cinema, they assume this is a new short series and they love it, and suddenly Deborah feels the high of fame she always craved. On the advice of the boy she has a crush on, she decides to take this¬†accidental¬†slasher film and keep making more, enlisting the help of the creepy old guy who runs the projection booth, a crack addict she watches mug an old lady on the street, and a set of twins who killed their parents and were recently released from juvie.

It is a hilarious portrayal of a warped mind breaking down and the fame monster that ensues. I loved this film and Natasha Lyonne was great as usual in it. She always plays interesting characters and I am so glad this new director got the chance to cast her as she was able to play it over the top in a way that makes you laugh rather than cringe. He mentioned she was on the top of his dream cast list and through some Twitter connection was able to get her to do it. The writing in this film is hilarious and the names of Deborah’s short films are all equally hilarious (The Diary of Anne¬†Frankenstein, MacDeath, The Scarlett Leper).

Joshua Grannell should be very proud of what he created, and it is no doubt obvious he is a fan of the work of John Waters, who he mentioned encouraged him to move to San Francisco. His alter ego, San Francisco drag movie series hostess Peaches Christ actually helped him secure funding, as the massive support from his¬†fan-base¬†in the community helped ease the minds of producers weary of shooting in the most expensive city in America. He is currently on tour with the film, taking it to small¬†theaters¬†around the US in his Peaches getup along with various cast members, in order to give the full experience. He said he will be looking into bringing the tour to Toronto, considering the positive reaction it¬†received¬†at TADFF. Anyone with the chance to catch the¬†tour screenings should most definitely take it. I’m excited to see what he comes up with next, with the bigger budget he will definitely get after pulling this one off so seamlessly.

I Spit on Your Grave

I Spit on Your Grave is the unrated remake of the 1978 film of the same name, which I had not seen going into this screening. I knew from the warnings on the Toronto After Dark website that this would be an extremely graphic rape film, which had me¬†hesitating¬†about weather I should watch it or not, but I’m glad I did.

The story centers around a writer who goes off to a desolate cabin in the woods to write her next novel, but on the way stops off at a gas station making the mistake of rejecting the advances of the greasy workers while asking them for directions. The rejection fuels them with a demented rage that leads them to her cabin, and from there these five men rape her in every way possible. The director had the sense not to show all of it, but still shows enough of it that as a female I could definitely not separate myself from this character and the atrocity of what was happening to her.

What made this film valuable to me was of course not the idea of showing something as disgusting as rape on film, but her incredible return to the screen after it all and the intense¬†vengeance¬†she seeks. It is impossible not to root for her and love every vengeful moment of torture she gives back to the rapists. Each kill has a reference back to the specific way they raped her, and as disgusting as it is to watch, you can not help but enjoy them getting what they gave. I couldn’t help but feel that what she does to them should be required punishment for this crime, always.

As a rule I generally dislike gory films like this, but unlike a similarly gory film I absolutely hated – ¬†Antichrist – the female dominance in this film worked because it was a very believable motive. Antichrist was the absolute opposite of I Spit on Your Grave in that it seemed incredibly¬†misogynistic¬†and all the torture was based on something as pointless as ‘she went crazy’. I need more than that. The crazy excuse is not reason enough for me to sit through two hours of insane brutality, and it’s the reason why I generally dislike horror as a genre and stay away from the majority of them. I Spit on Your Grave actually had the substance to sustain the audiences interest in the torture, because we would probably all wish to have the opportunity to do that to someone who had done that to us or someone we love. The plot is (to a degree) believable and that for me is the make or break point for a good torture film.

During the Q&A director Steven R. Munroe was asked if he was scared about Roger Ebert reviewing the film, considering how much he hated the original. He commented that Ebert hated the fact that in the original, the woman seduces the men that raped her before killing them, and how unnecessary and insulting that was to the audience. That does not occur in this film, and he made a specific choice to leave that out as he agreed with Ebert’s take on it, and so would I. It would be hard to wrap my head around a woman being able to even pretend to seduce her rapist with the intent of torture, because even the dumbest males would have to be able to see through it. I am curious to see the original because of this, and it is playing this weekend at¬†Toronto Underground Cinema, so I may have to check it out.

Have you seen any of these films? Are you a Toronto After Dark Fan? What was your favorite movie at the festival?