TORONTO AFTER DARK FILM FESTIVAL 2015: OPENING NIGHT
I hesitate to write a cheesy retrospective on how I can't believe it's already been a year since TAD14, but I really, really, really can't believe that an entire year has already passed since I was sitting in a theatre and squealing at how much I enjoyed Late Phases: Night of the Lone Wolf and nerding out slightly because I was introduced to a bunch people that work for Rue Morgue magazine. Adorned with my green press pass that makes me feel far more officious than I actually am, I was really, really, really excited for the first night of Toronto After Dark.
Tales of Halloween (screened with the short film Portal to Hell!!!)
I am always a little bit hesitant when it comes to anthology films. Although ones in the past have become instant classics and have a stronghold on the proverbial list of what needs to be watched during October, the majority are inherently flawed, because no matter what, one or two segments will stick out as winners and wash over everything else, leaving for a predominantly mediocre cinematic experience. Unfortunately, that is all that Tales of Halloween has to offer. The film is split into ten segments, all done by some modern horror heavyweights such as Lucky McKee (May, The Woman) and Neil Marshall (The Descent), which may inadvisably raise expectations, but due to the fact that many of the mini-features rely on old tropes that aren't anything new or exciting (such as multiple instances where there is some sort of myth or legend, and then lo and behold, the big scare is that the monster in the legend is true), it becomes nothing but a cascade of everything you've already seen before, cloaked in a fun-loving atmosphere that will trick (not treat) audiences into thinking they're having a pretty good time. (Also, motion to deem using Night of the Living Dead in your movie as an unforgivable cliché, of which Tales of Halloween is very, very guilty of.)
Although Tales isn't a very special experience, there are some stand-out segments, such as Ding Dong (Lucky McKee), Bad Seed (Neil Marshall), and The Weak and the Wicked (Paul Solet), which are undoubtedly the most original of the lot. They are not only equipped with entertaining special effects that are in rhythm to the fun-loving nature of the movie, but unlike the others, they don't lean on tropes, they instead weave and twist them to fit the scope of a short film. For example, in The Weak and the Wicked, it is immediately established that there is a horror-western edge to it, which allows audiences to suspend disbelief because there is no clear motivation for why the bad-guys are so bad. They're just rough and tumble cowboys, dressed in black.
Every feature during Toronto After Dark opens with a Canadian short film, which has always been an extra treat for genre fans attending the festival. Tales of Halloween was preceded by Vivieno Caldinelli's Portal to Hell!!; a seriously impressive and enormously fun story which features Rowdy Roddy Piper in his last role. The film follows Piper as the superintendent of a building where his tenants are a relatively useless cast of characters who pull him every which way, and one day when he goes into the basement to fix something, he finds that two old men are performing a ritual to open a portal to a Lovecraftian hell. Alongside hilarious character acting, the special effects are better than tons of what current genre fare has to offer, as it leans on entertaining practical monsters over anything else, with minimal dependence on computer graphics. I had a very hard time not tearing up when the credits rolled and a respectable dedication to Rowdy Roddy came across the screen.
Portal to Hell!!!:
The Hallow (screened with the short film O Negative)
Having not known a lot about The Hallow apart from seeing a trailer, I was very much primed for an atmospheric and quiet horror film that would err towards subtlety over anything else, which is why I spent the first twenty-five minutes of this movie angrily scribbling notes about everything that was old-hat about it, but the second the action really starts, and it became very clear that this movie is far from subtle and is instead a B-movie creature feature. I retroactively realized that in that light, everything about it is a cohesive (albeit silly) bit of monster movie fun. The Hallow, written and directed by Corin Hardy (who gave a hilarious introduction where he showed the audience all items necessary to defend against faeries), follows Adam, Claire, and their infant son after they move into a house in the middle of the woods in Ireland. Locals warn (with a lot of exposition, which is at first off-putting), to not touch anything in the woods because it belongs to 'the hallow' and they should be careful not to upset them, but Adam, being a scientist and 'tree doctor', moves forward with his research. As to be expected, the creatures attack the house, and the film kicks into gear as a high stakes us-against-them movie. Although this movie is a little wounded by some poor computer graphics once the monsters are on screen, for a lot of the time it does very effectively rely on the human instinct to find shapes in the dark, which is far more frightening than anything they could render through a computer screen.
This film screened with a short film called O Negative by Steven McCarthy, which follows a man and his vampiric girlfriend. When she needs to be fed, she becomes severely weakened, and in his deep love for her, he actively seeks out people or animals for her to drink from. O Negative is gorgeously shot and stays within the appropriate scope of a short (there isn't any unnecessary backstory and it doesn't try to say more than it needs to), and with plenty of blood and goop to entertain an avid horror lover, it is a bite-sized, moody little treat.
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