When programmer Noah Cowan launched the Midnight Madness sessions in 1988, he included two sequels (Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization Part II; The Metal Years; Tony Randel’s Hellbound: Hellraiser II), the latest from a grindhouse god (Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage) and an ‘apocalyptic rave’ short from the Antipodes (Aussie Ray Boseley’s Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em). The Toronto Film Festival’s genre sidebar can launch careers; names to emerge include Peter Jackson (Meet the Feebles in ’90; Braindead in ‘92), Trey Parker (Orgazmo in ’97), Christophe Gans (Crying Freeman in ’95; Brotherhood of the Wolf in 2001) and Pascal Laugier (Martyrs in ‘08).
Now under the masterful genre eye of Colin Geddes, this year’s line-up welcomes two films that have played to Oz festival crowds - Mark Hartley’s Cannon Films tribute, Electric Boogaloo (his second Madness slot, after 2008’s Not Quite Hollywood) and Taiki Waititi’s vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows (pictured, above). So what else can audiences in the mood for edgier fare expect from Toronto’s dark heart in 2014…?
BIG GAME (Dir: Jalmari Helander; Finland/Germany/United Kingdom)
Helander’s high-concept/high altitude lark finds Samuel L Jackson (pictured, left) back in a muthaf---in’ plane…well, for a little while, anyway. Terrorists blast Air Force One out of the sky (too soon?) and Jackson’s POTUS finds himself in the rugged Finnish countryside, guarded from further harm by a 13 year-old with a bow and arrow and wilderness savvy beyond his years.
What to expect…: Jackson in an hilariously self-deprecating turn and on-screen chemistry with Finnish acting find Onni Tommila that most Hollywood films only dream of. Helander directed the 2010 cult hit Rare Exports; industry word is his follow-up is even better.
CUB (Dir: Jonas Govaerts; Belgium)
‘Lord of the Flies-meets-Wolf Creek’ is the buzz about Jonas Govaerts’ Cub, a woodlands-set adventure-horror mash-up that pits a group of cub scouts on a camp-out against a psychopath and his band of feral minions.
What to expect…: Govaerts’ debut carries with it high expectations, not generally prescribed first-timers. He is a Grand Prize winner at the revered fantasy/horror event, Sitges, for his 2008 short Of Cats & Women. The trailer promises some hard-core kids-in-peril jolts; Belgian horror is defined by stark, confronting, original ideas and stylish execution (La Muete, 2010; Ex Drummer, 2007; Daughters of Darkness, 1971).
THE EDITOR (Dirs: Matthew Kennedy, Adam Brooks; Canada; pictured, below)
A must-see if the films of Fulci, Argento and Bava litter your DVD collection. Local lads Kennedy and Brooks pay homage to/take the piss out of recognisable tropes from 70’s Italian horror, most notably the garish, gruesome subgenre known as giallo. A film editor becomes the suspect in a series of psycho-sexualised murders when actors from the film he is editing state dying, usually horrifically and elaborately.
What to expect…: From the Astron 6 team, the decidedly off-centre collective who rattled cages with their no-budget shockers Manborg and Father’s Day. Expect grotesque imagery, sly subversion and blood…lots and lots of blood.
THE GUEST (Dir: Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett; USA)
A family’s grief at losing a son during the Afghanistan conflict allows for a sweet-talking stranger claiming to be a fellow vet to infiltrate their home. The latest from MIFF alumni Wingard and Barrett, northern faves since their 2010 mumblecore thriller A Horrible Way to Die.
What to expect…: Hard-edged paranoia; cold-hearted exploitation of the bereaved; a ballsy heroine a’la Sharni Vinson’s Erin in Wingard’s TIFF 2011 hit, You’re Next. Downton Abbey fans might be divided over the lengths their villainous heart-throb Dan Stevens will go to be bad. Co-lead Maika Monroe is the belle of the 2014 midnight ball, also starring in….
IT FOLLOWS (Dir: David Robert Mitchell; USA)
Not the first film to explore a teenager’s blossoming sexuality as the source of all evil, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is nevertheless one of the most inventively knowing variations on ‘first love as horror’ in recent memory. Maika Monroe (pictured, right) is 19 year-old Jay, whose backseat deflowering plunges her into a shadowy suburban landscape haunted by a demonic phantom that edges closer to her until ‘the curse’ is passed to another.
What to expect…: Mitchell knows teen angst, judging by his great debut feature The Myth of The American Sleepover. And he clearly knows horror, with this sophomore effort referencing The Shining, Halloween (particularly Rich Vreeland’s synth-heavy score) and Profondo Rosso, to name a few. Most likely Mitchell’s last low-profile indie before Hollywood snares his talent.
TOKYO TRIBE (Dir: Sion Sono; Japan)
Santa Inoue’s cult manga property about gang violence in Japan’s capital is afforded the ultra-stylised aesthetic of the fearless Sion Sono. Three members of the Musashino Saru are slaughtered by Mera (Ryohei Suzuki), leader of the Bukuro Wu-Ronz, when they inadvertently stray into off-limit territory. Seeking vengeance, Saru member Kai Deguchi (Young Dais) faces off with old friend Mera, and a bloody war escalates.
What to expect…: After the ‘WTF-just-happened??’ insanity of Midnight Madness 2013 audience fave Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, Sono reteams with producer Yoshinori Chiba, who guided the brilliant but erratic director through two of his best films, Cold Fish and Guilty of Romance. If the film is anything like the insane poster, which is already a collector’s must-own, expect a wild ride.
TUSK (Dir: Kevin Smith; USA)
Smith takes on the body horror genre with this macabre, blackly-funny adaptation of his own podcast piece, ‘The Carpenter and The Walrus’. Justin Long (pictured, right) heads deep into the Canadian hinterland to search for a missing friend, only to find a salty ol’ seadog (Michael Parks) with a penchant for human-to-seal home surgery.
What to expect…: Smith turned the first draft script around in 20 days. An avowed fan of the Great White North (he honed his craft at the Vancouver Film School), Smith will bring a rich Canuck sensibility. And he is working again with his Red State star, the incomparable Michael Parks. As he told The Hollywood Reporter, “One of the world's greatest actors bringing to life some of the most f---ed up dialogue I've ever written.”
[REC] 4 APOCALYPSE (Dir: Jaume Balaguero; Spain)
Having kicked off Spain’s most successful horror franchise (US$53million across the trilogy to date), Jaume Balaguero returns to wrap things up in this fourth instalment. Manuela Velasco is also back as Angela Vidal, the intrepid reporter who survived the horrors of the first film; the ‘authorities’ have quarantined her on a specially equipped ship, miles off the coast. But the virus that drives the infected into a murderous rage has found its way on board, too…
What to expect…: An overwhelming sense of claustrophobic horror. The [REC] series has excelled at tight-space terror; the steely corridors of an oil tanker guarantee lots of shock and awe moments.
Full details and ticketing options for Midnight Madness and all the Toronto Film Festival sessions can be found the event's website here.