This year's Toronto After Dark Film Festival kicks off its fifth year on August 13th and, as I've mentioned time and time again, it's one of the highlights of my year. The entire festival plays at a single theatre - the city's legendary Bloor Cinema remaining the headquarters for the fest - so it becomes a mini-community for a week and the late night pub conversations typically get rowdier (and slightly stranger) as the closing gala approaches. Every year I meet more people at the festival, so the lineups outside the theatre can be just as fun as the films sometimes.
Speaking of the films, the full schedule was just released a few days ago. There's some definite "I can't wait!" films on the list along with the usual set that typically don't look phenomenal from the trailers, but at least inspire some confidence that they'll be worth the trip. One difference this year is that there's one film I'm going to purposely avoid. See if you can spot it in the round-up of films below. The full list is here and all trailers should be considered extraordinarily NSFW.
The Last Lovecraft
Henry Saine, USA
The festival's opening night film asks the question "What do you do when you are the only surviving relative of H.P. Lovecraft and need to save the world from invading sea monsters?" You find your old comic book loving friends and put your heads together of course! With a mixture of animation and "old school" monster effects, this sounds like it could be an extremely fun way to begin the proceedings.
Jake West, UK
Zombie Day at After Dark begins. In the first part of the double feature, we travel to the British town of Moodley which seems to be part of a government experiment and has an abundance of women. So it's obviously the perfect place for a group of lads to get away for the weekend (particularly since one of them has just been dumped by his wife). A major flaw in the plan: all the women have become man-eating zombies. My hope is that it doesn't devolve into juvenile humour and stays with a Shaun Of The Dead vibe.
Evil In The Time Of Heroes
Yorgos Noussias, Greece
If you're thinking that this must be the only Greek zombie film ever made, you'd be wrong. It's actually a sequel (of sorts) to the director's own earlier zombie film entitled Evil. At the very least, though, it's likely the only Greek zombie film with Billy Zane in it.
Ivan Engler, Switzerland
To Switzerland next and what appears to be the sci-fi entry for the year. A very Alien-esque look and feel to the story gives one pause - derivative and dull or suspenseful homage? Needless to say I'm hoping for the latter.
Noburu Iguchi, Japan
I actually predicted this film would be in the lineup this year, but with the same special effects crew gracing films from the last 2 fests (Tokyo Gore Police in 2008 and Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl last year), I suppose it wasn't a stretch...Though TGP had moments of amazing creativity and very warped imagination, it actually became rather dull in its last half. VGvsFG was also a mixed bag, but fared better due a stronger sense of humour and a shorter running time. The trailer for Robogeisha is, to say the least, odd...CGI (and rather old CGI at that) seems to be creeping in even more. I haven't quite figured out if the style is intended or not, but I'm hopeful that the sense of humour here is high.
John Stalberg, USA
A stoner comedy that might (I said might...) actually work for people who aren't stoned. Adrien Brody looks to be way over the top in his role as Psycho Ed, but that could be a good thing for him. The rest is a crap shoot, but I'm going to stick with my optimistic outlook and assume that with an audience wanting to enjoy it, the film may provide a good rollicking time. An observation: there sure is a rather large chunk of comedy in the festival this year...
The Last Exorcism
Daniel Stamm, USA
Just when I note the rather long list of comedies, we get to what appears to be a straight up supernatural horror film. Now that he's giving up the game, an exorcist wants to document his final case to show what a sham he's been all these years. In yet another entry into the "point of view" horror genre, things don't quite go the way he thinks they will...
Alien vs Ninja
Seiji Chiba, Japan
This could be complete and utter silly fun. It reminds me a great deal of Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus - a film I quite liked, but which picked up numerous detractors - but much more self-aware. Chiba's film seems to approach things with less of a serious mind to it and that may be the difference. I can see a cultish audience developing over this (yes, I know that's a bit of a leap from just a trailer).
Poolvoralaks, Pisanthanakun, Purikitpanya, Sugmakanan & Wongpoom, Thailand
One of my most looked forward to films of the week. Its predecessor, 2008's 4bia, also used 4 different short stories by different directors and completely won over the audience with its humour, jump scares and creative "kills". It's possible that they are returning to the well too soon, but since 3 of the 5 directors listed were involved previously, I'm going in pretty confident they will pull out another crowd-pleaser.
All About Evil
Joshua Grannell, USA
Though listed as campy fun, the trailer warns of possible forced comedy. The premise sounds reasonable: young woman inherits movie theatre, accidentally kills evil step-mother on security camera, footage is mistaken for a gory film and a career as a horror director is born. I've always thought Natasha Lyonne had good comedic skill and timing, so it's nice to see her making films again and this could have potential as a decent black comedy. It could also be a train wreck.
Neal Marshall, UK
I wasn't much of a fan of Doomsday, but Neal Marshall deserves a few second chances. I'm not much of a "swords and sandals" genre fan either, but again Marshall could make it of interest. Unfortunately, the action scenes look to be shot in the quick-edit, low frame rate style of Gladiator. The movie will be all over the multiplexes pretty soon anyway, but a festival crowd could add some additional incentive to see this early.
Philip Ridley, UK
Philip Ridley's first film in 14 years tells the story of a young disfigured man who stumbles across a group of thugs that may be something other than human. Because of his outsider status, he enters into a pact with them and becomes part of the group. I expect it's downhill from there...This looks really solid.
Christopher Smith, UK
The UK is certainly holding down the fort this year...Christopher Smith is another name that automatically raises at least curiosity from me (not particularly because of Creep, but moreso due to Severance). His latest is set in Medieval England and finds a young monk tasked with finding out why a particular village remains untouched by the disease spreading throughout the country. Plague-porn? Maybe, but with accusations of witchcraft levied at the town and a call to bring them back to God, the film could end up being more than just that.
I Spit On Your Grave
Steven R. Munroe, USA
A remake of the 70s rape-revenge exploitation film that pushes the boundaries further and is actively marketing its extreme and graphic violence? Nope. Not for me. I'm curious to hear director Munroe's rationalizations about the film, but I have no interest in actually experiencing it myself. I'll get an earlier start at the bar that night...
Quentin Dupieux, France
One of the most talked about films coming out of Fantasia. A tire gains consciousness and the ability to blow things up with its "mind". The tire also has a name (Robert) and is really, really peeved at the human race. How could that possibly be bad?
The Human Centipede
Tom Six, Holland
I figured this would enter my viewing sphere at some point...I can't say I've been looking forward to it, but there have been several schools of thought on the movie so I'm curious to see where it falls. I think I'll skip dinner beforehand though.
And don't forget the short films! Each screening is prefaced by a Canadian short (on average the quality of these in previous years has been quite outstanding) and there's an entire set of After Dark Shorts on Saturday afternoon.