Saturday 25 October 2008

Toronto After Dark 2008 - "Kevin Tenney's Brain Dead"

"Brains! Brains!" The first of two zombie films following last Sunday's annual Zombie Walk hadn't even started when the crowd started chanting the well-worn refrain. Not that they needed any real reason to do so, but there was a short delay because of a minor technical problem so the crowd simply decided to amuse itself (as there was some fiddling with the aspect ratio settings, some savvy zombie in the crowd yelled out - in best zombie-like fashion - "Wider!").

That's the kind of environment that makes the Toronto After Dark festival so much fun. These genre films (especially the zombie ones) already have a built-in sense of goofiness about them and the After Dark staff, Bloor Cinema staff, volunteers and fest director Adam Lopez all chip in to keep that same atmosphere in the theatre, in line outside and at the many gatherings during the fest. So that allows the crowd to keep smiling through small glitches and, more importantly, through less than perfect moments in the films themselves. Though that's not meant to be a preface for a complete tear-down of the film in question, there certainly was more than one moment during the early going of "Kevin Tenney's Brain Dead" that I was relying on that early built up good will.

Director Tenney himself touched on the main issue in the introduction to the film: "Horror Comedy is hard to do". And though the film did eventually settle into a better rhythm, aside from an early big zombie kill the movie initially laboured through some rough dialogue, uneven timing and not so funny smart-ass quips. Perhaps it was the admitted small budget of the film that led to some additional padding out of the script since there were some longish stretches of not very funny things happening. The plot was set up fairly straightforwardly - a meteorite from out of space crashes to Earth, the ooze it carries infects its first victim by turning him into a zombie who either kills or infects others, three separate small groups of people end up meeting in a cabin in the woods. Cue zombie attacks.

And that's when the film started to work much better. As a matter of fact the longer it went, the more I began to like it. Two main reasons: 1) the old school makeup and special effects were a great deal of fun and 2) once the attacks began to happen, the film began to play with the conventions of the genre a bit. There were still some clunky lines, but funny ones began to pop up here and there and you could settle in for the ride. The cast of characters include a pair of handcuffed escaped criminals (one unjustly sent to jail while the other is vicious), a pair of female hikers and a minister and his young buxom secretary. Though I guess in a film like this, saying 'buxom' when it comes to the female characters is rather redundant. Four separate women shed their tops for no better reason than to shed their tops. It's juvenile for sure, but the movie knows that, shrugs and keeps going. And it even managed to have the smart-ass quipping main character grow on me a bit...

So maybe it's that After Dark atmosphere that is still lingering with me, but in the end I found that the film had grown on me a bit and had even succeeded in entertaining me.

The opening Short "Deadspiel" got the crowd psyched. It's the easiest and shortest elevator pitch ever: "Zombie curling". And the comedy plays out pretty much perfectly with bloody good timing. Whether it was the zombies struggling to handle sweeping the stones or the zombie fans up in the bar watching their squad, the film brought out some solid laughs from the crowd. And with all that nice gleaming pristine white ice around, you know it's going to be sullied at some point...

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