Fall is a great time to be a horror fan in Toronto. September brings us TIFF’s Midnight Madness, of which I’m a huge fan, and then immediately the hype starts up again for Toronto After Dark Film Festival. In a lot of ways, Toronto After Dark is Midnight Madness’ kid brother. While TIFF is all about red carpets, world premieres and Hollywood stars (even at midnight!), Toronto After Dark is a smaller affair, taking over one screen at Scotiabank theatre. The films are rougher, sometimes, less polished than Midnight Madness’ lineup that included Blair Witch and Free Fire. In many ways, this makes Toronto After Dark feel like a more authentic horror fest: it’s the kind of stuff you’d discover at the back of a video store one day, searching for a title you hadn’t seen before. There are some gems, some new favourites and some that you’ll probably never watch again. Toronto After Dark (I can’t bring myself to call them TAD) just announced the first slate of films on this year’s lineup, and it’s shaping up to be another exciting year of strange, creepy, and delightfully scary diamonds in the rough.
Under The Shadow (Iran/UK/Jordan)
The opening night film is Under the Shadow. The flick played Sundance earlier this year to rave reviews comparing it to The Babadook, and IndieWire called it the first good horror movie of the year. Set in 1980s Tehran, Under the Shadow follows a mother, Shideh (played by Narges Rashdi), and daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) as they live alone in their apartment after Shideh’s husband is conscripted into the army. A missile crashes into their building but doesn’t explode, and with it comes a mysterious presence that causes the pair to start seeing figures, hearing voices and falling ill. The film was picked up by Netflix and will be streaming this fall, and was recently selected to be submitted for the Oscars foreign film category.
In A Valley of Violence (USA)
Ti West is one of the most exciting directors working in horror today. His films include the 1980s inspired The House of the Devil and previous Toronto After Dark fan favourite award winner The Innkeepers. He’s stepping outside of his box (and so is the festival) with his latest, a Western starring Ethan Hawke and John Travolta. In A Valley of Violence sees a mysterious drifter (Hawke) arrives in an almost abandoned mining town, run by a violent group of misfits including the town Marshal (Travolta), his deputy son (James Ransone) and a pair of bickering sisters (Taissa Farmiga and Karen Gillan). The picture played at South by Southwest this past spring and was described as Clint Eastwood meets Quentin Tarantino. If you miss it at Toronto After Dark, fear not – it’s scheduled to hit theatres late October.
AS THE GODS WILL (Japan)
I stumbled across a trailer for this online a few years ago (the film was released in Japan in 2014) and had almost no idea what was happening since the trailer was unsubtitled, but I was definitely on board. This is probably the one I’m most excited for! Japanese director Takashi Miike is a horror icon, responsible for films like Audition, One Missed Call and Ichi the Killer. Based on a manga, As The Gods Will is in the same vein as Battle Royale and The Hunger Games with high schoolers forced to play elimination games where most of them get actually eliminated – like, from life. Instead of a cruel government program, this time, it’s a mysterious entity that brings childhood toys to life. Shades of Ghostbusters Stay Puft Marshmallow Man?
THE REZORT (UK/Spain)
While As the Gods Will is one I’ve been excited to see for a while, The Rezort is one that I know nothing about but am already dying to see thanks to Toronto After Dark’s description: Jurassic Park, but with zombies instead of dinosaurs. The only way this could have sounded more awesome is if there were zombie dinosaurs. In a post-zombie apocalypse future, the rich build a secluded island resort where they can vacation and shoot zombies in a safe and controlled environment. The containment system fails, and the tourists are trapped on a remote island with zombies on the loose.
Another Sundance breakout film, Antibirth is a body horror-comedy with an all-star cast. Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black) stars as a hard-partying slacker who gets mysteriously pregnant (despite being celibate) and starts to experience grotesque hallucinations. Chloe Sevigny plays her equally messed up best friend along for moral support, with Meg Tilly as a kind neighbour trying to help the girls through this nightmare. Bloody Disgusting calls Antibirth “gross as hell” and “an old-school body horror movie,” while Birth.Movies.Death praises its “grotesque charm.” Something tells me this one isn’t for the easily disturbed.
Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa got his start in horror with films like Cure and Pulse, before spending the past few years working on dramas and romantic films, including 2015 Cannes winner Journey to the Shore. He’s back to his horror roots with Creepy, an adaptation of an award-winning mystery novel by Yutaka Maekawa. Creepy is a tense horror-thriller about a retired cop trying to piece together series of unsolved crimes, including an entire family who disappeared without a trace, and his mysterious neighbour who isn’t quite what he seems.
KILL COMMAND (UK)
Horror may be the main attraction, but Toronto After Dark always has a decent sci-fi showing as well. This year, it’s Kill Command, where a team of Marines showdown against killer robots. An elite squad of US Marines are dropped off on a remote island for a mysterious training exercise with new weaponized machines, but the machines are quick learners and start to fight back. The film is the directorial debut of Steven Gomez, who got his start in VFX.
THE LURE (Poland)
This is another one where Toronto After Dark’s pithy description has won me over: a horror musical with killer mermaids. A pair of man-eating mermaids come ashore in Warsaw where a sleazy nightclub owner recruits them to work as backup singers and strippers at his club, where they sing, dance and have a hunger for human blood. Variety calls it a “kooky-monster escapade,” and if it’s as weird as it sounds, it’s definitely a must-see.
TRASH FIRE (USA)
Entourage’s Adrian Grenier stars in this darkly funny horror flick from director Richard Bates Jr., who was at the festival recently with Suburban Gothic. In Trash Fire, Owen (Grenier) takes his pregnant girlfriend home to meet his strange family which includes his overbearing and religious grandmother and his reclusive sister who lives in the attic. Their parents died years ago in a fire and Owen hasn’t been home since, but all their family drama and deception finally comes to a head.
THE VOID (Canada)
The festival will close out with a screening of The Void, the latest film from Manborg‘s Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski. Manborg was a big hit at Toronto After Dark, so it’s no surprise the directorial duo have been given the prestigious closing night slot. The Void is a creature feature in the vein of John Carpenter’s The Thing, where a sinister life form is on the loose in a hospital. A sinister group in white sheets (not the KKK) have created a perimeter outside the hospital so no one can escape, including town Sherrif Carter who is trapped inside. It looks spooky and atmospheric, and outstanding practical effects are promised. Try not to get excited watching this trailer!
It’s a stacked lineup, and this is only the first half of films! I can’t wait to see what else is coming to Toronto this October.
Toronto After Dark runs October 13 to 21 at the Scotiabank Theatre in downtown Toronto. I’ll see you there!