Across the Universe: Midnight Madness
Toronto International Film Festival offers up dark genre fare
By Don Kaye
Special to MSN Movies
The Toronto International Film Festival, a nearly two-week orgy of cinema that begins this Thursday (Sept. 6) and ends 10 days later, is primarily known as the event that kicks off “Oscar season,” the fall onslaught of releases that studios will position from now until January for awards consideration. Many of the fall’s most prestigious upcoming releases – “The Master,” “Anna Karenina,” “Hyde Park on Hudson,” etc. – will screen early at TIFF, alongside many smaller, lesser-known features looking for distribution and the all-important “buzz."
As we note every year, Toronto also plays host to Midnight Madness, a genre program dedicated to horror, sci-fi and just plain weird stuff. And as usual, we’ve got a rundown of the films being screened as part of the program this year, along with a few other genre-related items showing up at TIFF as well. Will any of these have a life beyond the festival? Stay tuned …
“The ABCs of Death”: Twenty-six directors. Twenty-six short “chapters.” Twenty-six different ways to die. That is the simple premise behind this anthology, which includes contributions from filmmakers Ti West (“The House of the Devil”), Ben Wheatley (“Kill List”), Nacho Vigalondo (“Timecrimes”) and many more. Will all 26 work? Maybe not. But will this be a harrowing and probably sickly humorous experience either way? The betting money says yes.
“Aftershock”: Director Eli Roth (“Hostel”) stars as an American tourist trapped in Chile by a powerfully destructive earthquake. A modern, gritty take on the disaster film is what we’re looking for here, with Valparaiso transformed into hell on earth.
“The Bay”: Director Barry Levinson (“Bugsy,” “Rain Man”) slums it down here with us horror fans with this “fake documentary” tale of a small coastal town in which the levels of toxic poison in the bay are enough to turn the townspeople into parasitic mutants. Will Levinson, working with a cast of unknowns, master both the found-footage format and the horror genre at the same time?
“Come Out and Play”: One of the most unsettling horror films of the '70s was “Who Can Kill a Child?” In it, a vacationing couple stumble upon a secluded island where the children have inexplicably killed all the adults. This update features the same disturbing premise and is helmed by a Russian director named Makinov, who keeps his true identity such a secret that he wears a mask on set. We don’t know which is more bizarre.
“Dredd 3D”: Karl Urban (“Star Trek”) stars as the cult comic book anti-hero, who is what’s left of the law in a grim future where all of humanity is crammed into the post-apocalyptic metropolis known as Mega City. Director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland (“28 Days Later”) set Dredd against Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a drug lord who rules her empire from the top of a giant apartment tower.
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“Hellbenders”: Director JT Petty (“Mimic 3” and the excellent “The Burrowers”) turns to horror comedy in this yarn about a raunchy group of priests who live in a constant state of depravity as a way to be ready for the darkest demonic possession cases. Petty, who never makes the same kind of movie twice, has shot this one in 3-D and gone for what sounds like the most bizarre kind of black humor imaginable.
“John Dies at the End”: The man who gave us “Phantasm,” director Don Coscarelli, returns with this adaptation of the surreal novel by David Wong, in which Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes) take a strange new drug that allows them to hop across different dimensions. Advance word calls this a cross between David Cronenberg and David Lynch, which is enough to put us in the front row even if we know that John dies at the end.
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“The Lords of Salem”: Rob Zombie’s sixth feature film is also his first true supernatural horror outing and said to be his most dread-inducing. After the twin misfires of “Halloween” and “Halloween II,” we hope that’s the case as a coven of witches from 300 years in the past return to enact revenge upon the modern-day inhabitants of the town of Salem. The few images we’ve seen so far look delightfully creepy – let’s hope the movie’s 100 minutes are the same.
“No One Lives”: With a title like that, we expect nothing less than total carnage from Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura (“The Midnight Meat Train”), whose gory tale about backwoods bandits and a missing girl is apparently not what one expects it to be. The director reportedly subverts all the horror clichés in this one, while still making the screen overflow with blood.
Not part of Midnight Madness:
“Cloud Atlas”: The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer direct this multi-level historical/sci-fi epic that takes place in the past, the present and the far future. Expectations are high for this one, which has already revealed some of the most breathtaking visuals of the year in just one trailer.
“Looper”: Director-writer Rian Johnson’s time-travel tale is also highly anticipated, and we can tell you that the advance buzz is all worth it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are both sensational as the same character, a hit man who must rub out his future self sent from 30 years down the line.
“Here Comes the Devil”: Two kids vanish into some caves on vacation and come back … changed. Their parents realize that something happened to their children in the cave that is possibly beyond their understanding. The movie is said to be a subtle yet still eerie take on the possession genre from Spanish director Adrian Garcia Bogliano.
“Berberian Sound Studio”: A sound engineer (Toby Jones) begins to lose his mind while working on a new project from an Italian horror director in this tribute to both the “giallo” genre and the art of sound editing.
“Painless”: A brilliant young neurosurgeon discovers why he was able to walk away from a car crash completely unharmed, with the trail leading back to strange experiments that took place during the Spanish Civil War. This sounds like our kind of Spanish horror/morality tale.
“Thale”: Two forensic workers tasked with cleaning up a crime scene discover a hidden room in which a young woman is kept captive. They soon discover that she’s not quite human, but rather a seductive creature out of Norwegian myth.
“Room 237”: This documentary examines the various conspiracy theories espoused by hard-core fans of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” about alleged messages and meanings embedded in the film. Sounds almost as scary as the actual movie itself.
“Byzantium”: Two female vampires (Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton) descend upon a seaside town and turn it into their own bloody playground in this dark, Gothic horror thriller from “Interview With the Vampire” director Neil Jordan.
“Antiviral”: Brandon Cronenberg, son of David, proves he’s a chip off the old block with his directorial debut, in which fans check into a bizarre clinic so that they can be infected with the same diseases their favorite celebrities are afflicted with.