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Sunday
Aug312014

MIDNIGHT MADNESS SHINES LIGHT ON HORROR'S BEST AND BRIGHTEST

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.

Saturday
Jun282014

LONDON A HORROR HAVEN AS FRIGHTFEST BLOODS NEW PROGRAM

The 15th staging over the August long-weekend of London’s annual genre freak-out, Film4 FrightFest, promises that irresistible mix of cutting-edge horror/fantasy works and reverential retrospectives for which it has become world renowned.

Upgrading to the state-of-the-art Vue West End cinema for the 2014 season, one of Europe’s most respected film gatherings will screen 64 features from as far afield as New Zealand (Guy Pigden’s I Survived a Zombie Holocaust), Belgium (Fabrice du Welz’s Alleluia), Serbia (Milan Todorovic’s Nymph), Japan (Hitoshi Matsumoto’s R100) and Germany (Till Kleinert’s The Samurai). The first Venezualan horror film to play to an international audience, Alejandro Hidalgo’s The House at the End of Time, will highlight the Discovery Screen 1 sidebar. Australian directors feature prominently, with David Campbell’s Lemon Tree Passage, Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek 2 and Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook set to unspool.

Opening the event on August 21 will be the UK premiere of The Guest, a down’n’dirty homage to the 80’s action/horror heyday. Starring Dan Stevens as the returned serviceman who ingratiates himself into the family of a fallen comrade, US director Adam Wingard further subverts the ‘home invasion’ sub-genre that he mined so successfully in 2011’s You’re Next. Closing out the daunting 5-day screening schedule will be William Eubanks’ The Signal (pictured, right), a paranoid sci-fi psych-out starring Australian actor Brenton Thwaites alongside Laurence Fishburne.

Frightfest headlines a strong line-up of new works from the American horror film sector, many of which will be screening for UK audiences for the first time. These include Eli Roth’s highly-anticipated cannibal survival epic, The Green Inferno; the re-emergence of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer filmmaker John McNaughton with The Harvest, starring Michael Shannon and Samantha Morton; Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey in Nacho Vigalondo’s sinister cyber-thriller, Open Windows; and, Life After Beth, debut director Jeff Baena zombie-themed rom-com that was one of the must-see films of Sundance 2014 and is being touted as the breakout hit for stars Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan.

The organisers of Film4 Frightfest take pride in their reputation for sourcing resonant films with cult potential This year, films that are made for midnight-session thrills and giggles include Jordan Rubin’s undead rodent romp, Zombeavers; UK director Phil Hawkins’ meta-themed The Last Showing, starring Robert Englund as the old school projectionist who refuses to go quietly; the pitch-black succubi comedy All Cheerleaders Die, from directors Lucky McKee (The Woman) and Chris Sivertson (I Know Who Killed Me); Lowell Deans’ Wolfcop, about a cop who…becomes a…wolf; Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno in Nicolas McCarthy’s chilling demonic possession thriller, Home; and, Among the Living, described as ‘Stand by Me-meets-The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, from the French filmmaking team of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (Inside; Livid).

Documentaries programmed include Alexandre Phillippe’s Doc of The Dead (pictured, right), in which key creatives from the undead field (George Romero, World War Z author Max Brooks, effects guru Tom Savini and Re-animator director Stuart Gordon, to name a few) examine the genres popularity and longevity while fielding the question, ‘Would you survive a zombie apocalypse?’; Erik Sharkey’s heartfelt profile of poster-art maestro Drew Struzan, entitled Drew: The Man Behind the Poster; and, the world premiere of David Gregory’s in-depth study of a director’s career derailed by Hollywood counter-creativity, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau.

Finally, those craving a stroll down a dark memory lane will be treated to four of the most iconic genre films ever to screen at the one event. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street will be seen in remastered hi-definition; Giulio Paradisi’s 1979 star-studded psychedelic science-fiction vision, The Visitor, will perplex, bemuse and enthral; and, banned in Germany upon release and denied British certification for nearly thirty years, Jorg Buttgereit’s shocking 1988 body-horror epic, Nekromantik, will have a fully-restored screening for the edification of the truly daring horror film watcher.

The Film4 FrightFest 2014 shorts program will be announced in the weeks ahead.

Full details of all the films screening and ticket sales can be found at the Film 4 Frightfest official website.

Sunday
May112014

THE WOODSMAN: THE JEREMY GARDNER INTERVIEW

Jeremy Gardner was a young filmmaker with a vision for a film that would occur in a post-apocalyptic zombie world but which was really about two friends, road-tripping through the undead wasteland. So Gardener took on a starring role opposite fellow newcomer Adam Cronheim and, with a skeleton crew and just US$6,000, took to the backwoods of middle America to craft The Battery, a dark buddy-comedy that has become a cult hit the world over. Despite having been spruiking his film for nearly two years, Gardner (pictured, below) has a bottomless pit of enthusiasm for his directorial debut, as SCREEN-SPACE discovered when he chatted with us ahead of the film's home video release in Australia...

It has been a long journey for The Battery and it has collected a lot of awards and fans along the way. Did you ever envision the vast reach and warm response it would recieve?

It has literally been the most fulfilling and amazing part of the whole process. I have always said I wanted to make movies that travelled, so the fact that I made a movie and got to travel has been ridiculous. For awhile there we didn’t think it was going to go anywhere because there was a good six month lag between our first festival and the next one we got into. But as soon as we got into Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam (pictured, right; with co-star Adam Cronheim), it just started steamrolling. Just that one friendly hit and that was it. I never envisioned it would have such a long life but I always certainly hoped it would.

The Battery doesn't colour post-apocalyptic mankind in rosy shades. Support characters pose a great threat to Ben and Mickey's survival; even their friendship is deteriorating. Is this dark view of humanity stemming from your personal philosophy?

No, it isn’t. I have my days when I get really down, when I’m reading the news and it really depresses me. But I do believe that if you need help, then maybe 90% of the people you come into contact with will help you. Maybe I was just writing from a dark place, I think. I guess I believe that in situation like the one in the film, it is not going to be the brainless thing that is just acting on instinct that is going to be the problem, it will be those that calculate and decide what we can get out of other people that will be the dangerous thing.

There are some knowing nods to films like Tremors and Jaws in there that genre buffs have great fun with. What films have inspired you and influenced The Battery? 

Oh, God, I have a Jaws tattoo on my arm! To me, Jaws is the greatest movie of all time. When I was a kid, I loved Jaws and then when I grew up I loved Jaws for an entirely different reason. I just didn’t realise how much of a character driven movie that was as a kid. When I grew up, I realised that the dynamic and the chemistry between those three performances was just incredible. Outside of Jaws, a lot of weird, indie stuff interests me. David Gordon Green (pictured, left) had a big influence on this; I saw All The Real Girls when I was about 22 or 23 and just the way he would let moments breathe with this weird, awkward realism I thought was completely engaging. It wasn't necessarily plot-driven and that kind of aesthetic stuck with me. There’s some Alfonso Cuaron in there, too; just letting things play out in front of the camera.

The thickly-wooded setting in which much of the film takes place seemed very remote. Did this sense of being 'removed' from society, of having that 'small crew intimacy', infuse the storytelling at all? 

The whole movie was constructed around having it play on a bigscreen but such that it wouldn’t be a financial burden on myself or investors. I wrote it for wooded areas, though I didn’t know where that was going to be. Then when you get to that place and it is so remote and so creepy and you are only there with four or five people at time, it invokes a sort of ‘in the trenches’ feeling with these people. And having no money, everyone was doing everything just to get it shot. Our main actor, Adam (Cronheim) took on a producer credit because he would spend his downtime getting food for extras or keeping traffic away because we were shooting. Don’t forget, out in those woods when it got dark it was like ‘outer space’ dark (laughs), pretty terrifying. We only shot one scene at night, when my character is drunk and dancing around in the old house, and when we wrapped you’ve never seen a crew pack up so fast (laughs).

(MINOR SPOILER) The film climax involves one of the longest single takes, with a static camera no less, that I can ever recall and it yields a perfectly pitched finale that is stunning. Was the decision to go with the one-shot and not to cut away at all a deliberate one?

Thank you very much, because that has proven to be the one thing that divides people. Originally, there were a bunch of trappings we added to it that (sequence) that were in early scripts that came from more sort of ‘classic zombie’ films. The outside of the car was done up with wire and nails so it was more like a ‘death mobile’, stuff like that, but once we realised we didn’t have the money to do all that stuff we pared away all of the nonsense and just got back down to these two guys. I had a crisis of confidence the night before we shot the sequence, totally convincing myself that the ending just wasn’t going to work, so I got my good friend and DOP Christian Stella and we just drank beer in the parking lot where the car was parked. Now, I bought the car online and didn’t even know it had a sunroof until then, so we reworked the ending when we realised that. And we made a rule that once they got inside the car, the camera would never cut inside a scene; every time it cuts, you know that its later in time. So once we made that rule, there was no way we were going to cut when Mickey left the car.

Your chemistry and timing with Adam Cronheim clearly came from a long-standing friendship...

(Laughs) Actually, I didn’t meet Adam until a month before we started shooting! (pictured, right; Cronheim, in yellow, with Gardner) I’m glad that sense of friendship came across and he is certainly one of my best friends now. And that’s largely because of the stress and anxiety we went through, of knowing that you are there for one another with a shared goal despite an intense schedule. The fact he was a baseball player in college helped; when I first met him I made him bring his glove so we could play catch.

Finally, Jeremy, you make the ultimate sacrifice as an actor and offer up to your audience a full-frontal nude moment. It looked freezing under that waterfall; was it really that cold...?

(Laughs) Yes, it was so, so cold, but that’s no excuse for what you see up there on the screen.

The Battery will be available on DVD from Accent Film Entertainment from May 21.

 

Monday
Mar242014

FESTIVAL PREVIEW: HOLLYWOOD HORRORFEST 2014

America’s independent horror film community are flocking to the iconic New Beverly Cinema in midtown Los Angeles in anticipation of this week’s Hollywood Horrorfest, where new indie works are screened side by side with such classics of the genre as Return of the Living Dead (pictured, below).

“We celebrate the past and showcase the future,” says festival director Miles Flanagan (pictured, below), kindly speaking to SCREEN-SPACE early on his Sunday morning, ahead of the busiest week of his year. “To fans of horror we just say have a fun time. It's mostly free and we like giving away stuff so that shouldn't be too hard for them to do.” Flanagan has structured a unique industry gathering that combines a hectic screening schedule with philanthropic and tutorial elements. 

The two-day event kicks off the afternoon of March 28 with the LA premiere of Billy Club, followed by the first of the festival’s three shorts programmes. Drew Rosas’ and Nick Sommer’s black comedy/horror work, along with Derek Lee and Clif Prowse’s body-horror thriller Afflicted, will screen outside of the official in-competition entrants.

Vying for honours will be Shaun Paul Piccinino and Jason Sanders’ violent actioner The Lackey (starring Australian Vernon Wells, of Mad Max 2 fame, who will attend the screening); Christopher Schrack’s wilderness survival pic Backwater; Martyn Pick’s supernatural-themed Brit gangster film Evil Never Dies; and, Rico Johnson’s woodland slasher reworking, After Dark. In line with the event’s commitment to furthering the careers of the next generation of horror auteurs, eight unproduced screenplays will also be in contention for awards.

The official Opening Night event is one of the hottest tickets amongst West Coast film aficionados. Director Joe Dante will receive the inaugural Price Award, named after the late horror icon Vincent Price and to be presented by his daughter Victoria Price; also being honoured will be legendary character actor and longtime Dante collaborator Dick Miller, who will accept the Impact award for a career dedicated to his work in horror and fantasy films. “Both Joe Dante and Dick Miller were a perfect combination,” says Flanagan, “and we were just lucky they were both available for the weekend.” In conjunction with the ceremony will be a screening of Dante’s werewolf classic The Howling, attended by co-star Belinda Balaski, with a portion of the funds being donated to the Vincent Price Art Museum.

Flanagan acknowledges that there has been a surge in independent horror production. “Technically it's easier. But it's always hard making something good,” he says. Frustratingly, often these intensive ‘labour of love’ projects go unnoticed due to a fledgling producer’s lack of understanding about the distribution mechanism. The festival aims to address that issue with a two hour session called ‘A Panel To Die For’, in which a dozen of the sector’s smartest minds (including the prolific genre director Rolfe Kanefsky; pictured, right) identify hurdles and brainstorm solutions. “(Whether) you have a film in competition or not, you can learn how best to finance, produce and distribute your work,” says Flanagan. “I hope filmmakers know more about the business they're entering and how to hopefully make a living from it after the weekend. Knowledge is power and we firmly believe in sharing whatever knowledge we have to each and every filmmaker who comes to the festival.”

Hollywood Horrorfest wraps with the Awards Ceremony and a 30th Anniversary 35mm screening of the late Dan O’Bannon’s cult classic, Return of the Living Dead. Cast and crew, including Jewel Shephard, Miguel Nunez Jr and James Karen, will front the sold-out session. Miles Flanagan hopes the final night festivities reflect the celebratory mood of his horror love-in. “Network with other new filmmakers, win cool awards, get some great photo ops,” he rattles off, when asked what he hopes fans will take from Hollywood Horrorfest. “We give away tons of cool collectables, have a panel giving out free advice, and make every screening a red carpet event…so, yeah, I hope the feedback is great.”

See SCREEN-SPACE Managing Editor Simon Foster's interview with director Joe Dante from 2010 Melbourne International Film Festival here.

Saturday
Dec282013

ICEMAN: THE JEFF RENFROE INTERVIEW

Genre flicks with mid-range price-tags were a Hollywood staple for decades, only to have petered out as audiences demand for expensive spectacle grew. But director Jeff Renfroe has proven that action and thrills don’t need a mega-budget with his snowbound, post-apocalyptic work, The Colony. From his base in a suitably chilly Montreal, Renfroe spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about the Canadian production, working with mad man Bill Paxton and crafting an elegant, bloody adventure story outside the studio system.

“If this film had been made by a Hollywood studio, there would certainly be another zero on the budget,” says the director, who brought in his vision of a decimated Earth for US$16million “It was a real challenge to get some of the shots called for in the script. But thanks to dedicated, extremely talented people behind the camera and behind the computer, I think we were able to get a pretty cool, very unique looking genre world.”

The Colony imagines a planet ravaged by a new ice age; small outposts of mankind still exist, living underground in rusty industrial landscapes. When contact is lost with the nearest settlement, Sam (Kevin Zegers) and Briggs (Laurence Fishburne) set out to find an answer, only to discover that the survivors have resorted to brutal cannibalism to survive.

“When I first received the script, it was one of those virus movies, a zombie-style story where if you get bitten by one of the things you become one of the things,” recalls the director. “I suggested it might be better if we just took it down to a real base level. To me the central question is, ‘What happens when you run out of food?’ Instead of some crazy-ass science-fiction myth, the horror becomes tangible and an ethical issue. How desperate would our decline have to be for mankind to cross that line?”

Though it amounts to a catering spend on most Hollywood blockbusters, the budget is a sizable one by Canadian standards. Renfroe knew star power was needed to give his movie the necessary scope as well as assuring a US theatrical release and international sales. Fanboy favourites Fishburne (The Matrix; Event Horizon) and Bill Paxton (Aliens; Near Dark) were just the ticket (pictured, left; the stars and their director). “Bringing a couple of guys with name value into the mix was absolutely integral,” says Renfroe. “The financiers want to see names that they recognise and that they know the audience will recognise.”

What the director didn’t expect was the genre knowledge that the two actors brought to the production. “Fishburne is a huge fan of post-apocalyptic stories, be they films or comic books, so he was really excited about the picture and brought his love for the genre every day,” remembers Renfroe. “Bill was the same; he loves these movies and would not stopped entertaining us all with stories about James Cameron and yelling out randomly, ‘It’s just like Aliens, man!’ They were totally focussed on making the best film that we could.”

To ensure that the freezing conditions required by the script were convincingly realised, The Colony cast and crew were shipped to the most northern part of Ontario during the coldest weeks of the Canadian winter. “We shot in an abandoned airplane hangar in a place called North Bay, and we had to keep one huge hangar door open all the time,” says Renfroe, who recalls days when the temperature hit 30 degrees below (pictured, right; Renfroe on-set with Laurence and Zegers). “Lenses were freezing up, mechanical stuff was seizing. I equate the whole experience to shooting underwater, everything moved so slowly.” The production was also able to utilise an abandoned NORAD facility, a location that took the crew 60 stories down into the earth's surface. 

The film found a mixed critical reception upon its North American release (“I respect their opinions and try to learn from them but I don’t take too much of what is said to heart.”) Instead, Jeff Renfroe cites the response from the crowds at horror and fantasy festivals like Sitges; the world’s leading genre film event awarded The Colony the jury-voted Best Film honour this year. The award is a source of tremendous pride for the director. “You check in with the people who love these sort of movies,” Renfroe says, “and judge yourself against their sliding scale.”  

The Colony will be released on DVD/Blu-ray in Australia on January 8 through Eagle Entertainment

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