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Toronto After Dark Offers Chills, Thrills, and Lovelorn Houseflies
The Horror, Sci-Fi and Cult Film Fest turns eight this year

A scene from Evil Feed, screening Wednesday October 23 at Toronto After Dark Film Fest

This week, the Toronto After Dark Film Festival will turn eight. For the better part of a decade, the fledgling festival has been scaring and thrilling Torontonians with a mix of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and whatever else can be included under the umbrella term of “genre cinema.” Adam Lopez founded the festival in 2006 after realizing there was a lack of exhibition for genre films in the city. It continues today as one of the most recognizable and popular festivals in the city.

“[Adam] was interested in catering to a certain kind of genre movie that was not necessarily being taken care of by Toronto festivals.” Senior Programmer Peter Kuplowsky told me over the phone today, “Midnight Madness [the late night genre lineup of the Toronto International Film Festival] would have been the closest to what we’re doing, but there really wasn’t another venue for genre cinema in Toronto.

Toronto After Dark 2013 commenced last night at Scotiabank Theatre with a double bill of We Are What We Are (a horror flick about a small town family of cannibals), and Bounty Killer (a post-apocalyptic bounty hunter action flick).

“It’s not a large festival. It’s a small festival. It runs over the course of a week, but it’s only two films a day, three on the weekend,” says Kuplowsky, speaking on the festival’s appeal to filmmakers.  “We’re intimate in our parties as well. Our films always conclude with social gatherings at a local pub. It’s a chance for filmmakers to meet directly with the audience and other filmmakers at the festival”

With a few exceptions, these aren’t the type of filmmakers you would expect to see schmoozing at exclusive King Street party venues, and that’s part of the appeal. A lot of these movies are scrappy low budget affairs, but they’re made by enthusiastic genre fans with a lot of heart. In other words, these movies are made by people who are an awful lot like the audience members of Toronto After Dark.

“They’re not normal parties where the talent are roped off to their own section and nobody’s mingling and hanging out and talking about what we just saw,” says Kuplowsky, “I think those are small things that actually make the experience rather rich in a different way than the larger festivals in Toronto.”

In total, there are 19 feature films playing over nine days at the festival, each one preceded by a Canadian short film (a sidebar of international shorts also plays on Saturday afternoon). But those trying to make the most of the festival should pay attention to the themed nights that Adam Lopez has curated. 

“Adam really strategically lays them out so you have a night of monster pictures, you have a night of science fiction pictures, you have a night of gross out pictures” says Peter.

This year, Lopez and his team have programmed “Bug Night,” “Gross Out Night,” “Sci-fi Night,” “Gory Night,” and most importantly “Zombie Appreciation Night,” for which audience members will receive a discount on their tickets if they arrive in zombie costume.

All of the film’s can be found at the festival’s official website, where you can also buy tickets and check out trailers. With that said, here’s five of the most promising pics to play at this year’s festival.

 

Eega

The second half of the festival’s “Bug Night,” Eega is an absurd proposition. As Peter Kuplowsky describes it: “It’s a boy meets girl, gets in to a love triangle movie, except the protagonist becomes a fly and has to win the heart of the woman he loves as a housefly.”

For all we know, it could be another remake of The Fly, interpreted through the Bollywood’s audience-pleasing aesthetic of music, action, and romance, and comedy. Regardless, the trailer certainly looks promising.

Screening on Friday, October 19 at 9:30pm.

 

Willow Creek

As far as extravagantly gory scenarios go, Evil Feed offers the most gruesome of the festival. A Chinese restaurant forces martial artists to battle each other in a UFC like ring before feeding the loser to its guests.

The trailer comes replete with fake grain and scratches added in post-production, the kind you might have already seen in Machete Kills this week. In contrast to Robert Rodriguez’ disaster, Evil Feed actually looks like it was made on the cheap. It’s the sort of scrappy, low-budget affair that, if its any good, could really break out at festival like After Dark. 

Screening on Wednesday, October 23 at 9:30pm.

 

Septic Man

One of the best Canadian genre films in memory is Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool, an “art horror” film about a zombie-like virus that spreads through language. That film was based on a book by Tony Burgess, who also wrote the screenplay for Septic Man (which also features a role for Pontypool star Stephen McHattie).

Given that it’s about a sewage worker who transforms into a monster after getting stuck in a septic tank, Septic Man won’t have much room to be a self-consciously intellectual as Burgess’ previous film, but that’s OK. It still looks like a creepy, gross good time.

Screening on Sunday, October 20 at 7:00pm

 

Big Bad Wolves

This Israeli film, which is the closing film of this year’s Toronto After Dark festival, was recently lauded by Quentin Tarantino as his favourite film of the year. While Tarantino’s taste in film often attracts skepticism (Kick Ass 2?), it’s still a big deal for any film to earn the approval of Hollywood’s most famous cinephile.

The Big Bad Wolves of the title consist of a suspected child murderer and the angry father who tortures him. The trailer is atmospheric and haunting, but early reviews suggest that it’s missing the film’s unique sense of humour.

Screening on Friday, October 25 at 9:30pm

____

Alan Jones writes about film for Toronto Standard. You can follow him on Twitter at @alanjonesxxxv.

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