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Pixie’s Xmas Picks!

Published December 24, 2013 by vfdpixie

Wow!  I though I’d never be able to publish this post!  Talk about an ice storm!  Didn’t have power for almost 2 days, so things were touch and go.  And I don’t have to tell you that living on the 23rd floor of a highrise is no freaking fun in a power outage.

Anyhoo, I thought I’d post my top 5 go-to films for Christmas.  In my pixie brain, Christmas is a time of eating, giving and freaking out over holiday themed horror.  After all, isn’t Christmas also the time of creepy folklore, sci-fi and slashers too?

Number 5 for me is Troll Hunter (2010).  Not exactly a Christmas movie, but it’s set in winter, and these trolls eat Christians, so close enough.  Students attempt to make a documentary about bear poachers and unwittingly follow a secret service type troll hunter, who opens their eyes to real live trolls.  This Norwegian mockumentary was really well done, with tongue-in-cheek references to 3 Billy Goats Gruff, and dry delivery of troll facts by the troll hunter himself (Norwegian comedian Otto Jespersen).  There are also great CGI effects and the trolls themselves are quite a treat to see.  My favourite scene involves the students getting trapped in a troll cave with stinky, sleeping trolls.  Fun times!

Number 4 is the Dr. Who Christmas special The Snowmen (2012).  I’ve been a fan of the Doctor since I was a kid watching black and white episodes on T.V Ontario every Sunday night.  There’s been a lot of hoopla about the doctor of late with the changing of the guard so to speak, as the newest incarnation of the character will be revealed on Christmas Day.  Die hard fans everywhere have wholeheartedly supported the new seasons, and even though some of those plots were multi-layered and a bit frustrating, I loved The Snowmen special.  I think they had me when I saw snowmen with razor-sharp teeth.  How can anyone make something so benign as a snowman terrifying?  Well it worked!  After the Doctor loses Rory and Amy, he is thrown into a crazy plot that involves snarling snowmen, a “Great Intelligence”, a new companion by the way of governess Clara, Madame Vastra, Jenny, Strax  and a mad scientist.  Definitely worth a watch, and I can’t wait for this year’s Christmas special!

Number 3 has to be Gremlins (1984).  How deceiving is this movie?  What seems like an innocent Christmas caper film with a budding romance and cute fuzzy creatures becomes a war against sinister imps.  Mogwai’s, 80’s sweetheart Phoebe Cates as Kate, wholesomely handsome Zach Galligan as our hero Billy, a baby Corey Feldman, and one of the most iconic creatures of the era (besides E.T. whose creator, Steven Spielberg, had a hand in bringing Gremlins to life) combine to bring us one of the most cheesy, scary, gory and memorable Christmas movies out there.  I loved Billy’s dog, Barney, who had this “I told you so” look throughout the movie as they fought off the disgusting gremlins.  No one can replace the family dog with some freaky creature.  Just ask Barney!

Number 2 goes to Black Christmas (1974).  I don’t really need to say much about this Canadian classic, other than it’s Canadian.  It’s classic.  The cast is pretty cool:  Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, Art Hindle, John Saxon, and Kier Dullea. It’s described as one of the first slasher films.  It’s actually creepy and it reinforces the attic as a place of nightmares.  And also why my mom never let me live on campus. ‘Nuff said.

The top spot goes to my favourite Christmas movie of all time:  Rare Exports:  A Christmas Tale (2010).  I have already reviewed this holiday gem, so you can read about it here: https://rosemaryspixie.com/2012/12/24/mommy-santa-smells-funny/.  There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned Finnish Christmas Krampus story to make kids shiver in their boots.  Stealin’ kids and eatin’ ’em.  Doesn’t that spell holiday cheer to you?  It sure does for me.  Especially when Krampus gets all the bratty ones and makes them cry.  Ah, Christmas!

So there you have it.  My top 5 films for the horror-days.  Enjoy, and please, let me know what your faves are!  Have a Merry, scary Christmas and the best New Year from Rosemary’s Pixie!

Carolyn

Silent Retreat TADFF 13/Clean Break BITS 13

Published December 10, 2013 by vfdpixie

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Silent Retreat (2013, 1hr 35 mins)

I saw the Silent Retreat world premiere during the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.  The premise of the film came from an idea director Tricia Lee came up with after being at a meditation retreat where there was no talking.  She wondered what happened to a fellow attendee when she left without notice.  Her experience gave birth to this gothic tale of wayward girls forced to stay at a unique retreat in the woods.  They are forbidden to speak and are under a regimented schedule of meditation designed to rehab them into submission, leaving their personalities, emotions and rights in the past.  The retreat is run by a severe and sinister doctor (Robert Nolan) and his two creepy sons Paul (Mark Buck) and Albert (Matthew Romantini).  An unlikely champion comes in the form of Janey (Chelsea Jenish), a new recruit and a headstrong young woman, who is suspicious of the goals and methods at the retreat.  She aims to get to the bottom of some weird secrets, and an even weirder fear of the surrounding woods.  Throw in a creature, an underlying girl power message, some great performances from Jenish and Nolan, and you have an interesting and suspenseful film that elevates the teen horror flick to an exercise in gender equality.

At the Q & A after, Lee and the film’s writer Corey Brown explained that they wanted to illustrate how women are silenced and how we need to use our voices to stand up for ourselves.  The creature itself was female, representing nature and female rage.  I might be getting too bookish here, but from my female perspective, I thought was an interesting concept because the Doctor character controlled the girls but was actually afraid of the creature, who to me was an embodiment of the girls’ rage.  He appeased her by leaving offerings to keep himself and his sons safe.   Some felt the creature was problematic, but it reminded me of how some men who are still in the dark ages dominate women in order to hide their fear of them. Suppress us enough, and Hell hath no fury…I must mention that Silent Retreat won a Specialty Award for best Canadian Feature Film at the festival.

Clean Break (2012, 1hr 25 mins)

The next film Lee premiered was at BITS Fest called Clean Break.  Still utilizing gender issues as a forum, this sassy and cleverly written film really made me a fan of this director and writer team.

Cam (Samy Osman) is a player.  Successful and handsome, he has a new lady in his bed almost nightly.  He shares a house with his two roommates, Scott (Sean Kaufmann) and Dan (Serge Plourde), and things work well between the three of them.  Scott is a bit lost, with very little confidence and life not working out as he wanted it to.  At Cam’s office event, Scott meets Tracy (Tianna Nori), a pretty, prim and proper woman who sees Scott’s vulnerability and latches on real quick.  You see, Tracy’s last boyfriend didn’t work out because he didn’t adhere to her plan, and Tracy has to be obeyed. Or else she will cut you.  Deep.  Like, deadly deep. With renewed hope that her life will get back on track, Tracy works on Scott’s life with intense purpose.  Like a black widow, she weaves her conniving web.  She re-invents him and takes charge of many things in his life, including the relationship with his best buds.   This in turn, alienates the guys from Scott, especially Cam, who develops a hatred and mistrust of Tracy.  So begins a war that becomes increasingly nasty and dangerous, with deadly results.

I can’t say enough about Clean Break.  This pixie loves a fresh and clever movie, and I thought it was slick, sinister and fun.  The setting was distinctly Toronto, which I loved because this city never gets the acknowledgement it deserves.  I loved the style of the film-it was sharp and minimalistic, and the performances were spot-on. Osman really captured the typical Torontonian player:  Handsome, smooth, and wily.  I felt like I’ve met guys like Cam in my heyday.  Nori played the hell out of Tracy.  She was intense and driven with a large helping of seething crazy.  And you’d better watch out if she puts her hair up in a ponytail!

The chemistry between enemies Cam and Tracy was really great.  Their growing hatred created tension and suspense and added to the dark comedy element.  They represented extreme versions of the male and female perspectives.  There was a real war of the sexes between macho bravado and the desperate gal who just wants true love; stereotypes brought to life and pitted against each other for a new take on a slasher flick.  What balanced the stereotypical portrayal of male and female roles was Cam’s love interest Cassandra, played by Leora Morris.  She was on to Cam’s player ways and took her chances.  A woman of the times, she struggled with being her own person, gaining respect and wanting love just like Tracy, just not in a crazy, psycho killer sort of way.

Lee and Brown answered some questions from the audience after the film.  When asked about the concept for the film, Brown told us that he went with the idea that you can choose your roommates but not who they date, and the story evolved from there.  The movie was made before Silent Retreat on a super-low budget (the main set being Lee’s parents’ house).  It took 12 days to shoot, but around 2 years to edit.  Nori really wanted the role of Tracy and it was her first lead in a feature film.  I asked about Tracy’s look, because it was distinctly retro and polished.  I wanted to know if they had that look in mind when they were developing the character.  Brown revealed that the character was supposed to be a brunette but when they saw Nori, they knew right away she was right for the role.  Lee explained that they wanted a Stepford Wives type of look, controlled and clean.  It really played a great opposition to her maniacal personality.

Silent Retreat and Clean Break are two fun and creepy (but not frivolous) contributions from Lee and Brown.  They make smart horror films that give you a decent scare and food for thought.  I can’t wait for what’s next!

Thanatomorphose: BITS 2013

Published December 9, 2013 by vfdpixie

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Thanatomorphose (2012, 1hr 40 mins)

The second screening on the first night of BITS Fest was probably, from what I gathered, the most talked about.  Why, you may ask?  Well, because it had to be the most stomach-churning, grotesque, cringe inducing body horror I have seen in a long, long time.  Everyone that I spoke to would ask “Did you see Than..na..mo.., you know which one I’m talking about?”  It left a lot of people grossed out, not impressed or loving it.

 Thanatomorphose  (the French word for “the visible signs of decomposition of an organism caused by death”) is about a woman who is slowly decaying, mentally and physically.  Sounds pretty straightforward, but the progression of events in the film made it a grueling study of her deteriorating life, relationships, and body at an excruciating slow pace so we could see every minute detail.

There were 3 acts:  Despair, Another and Oneself, where we see the main character, Laura (Kayden Rose), attempt to create a relationship with her prick of a boyfriend (David Tousignant), have a half-hearted affair, and create a half-finished sculpture.  Nothing seems to come to fruition as she suffers from some sort of decaying disease and a grand ennui, if you will.  She refuses to get help, and is preoccupied with sex.  Basically naked for most of the film, Laura’s hands are constantly groping herself, seemingly for pleasure, and then for necessity as she tries to keep her bits from falling off.  Duct tape, jars for fingers and ears, and photos are all enlisted to keep some semblance of her former self, until her actions are done in vain as Laura soon becomes a puddle of gore, maggots and a memory.

As the credits started to roll, I was set on dismissing it as a “WTF?” type of film, which on first impulse, it is.  But the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I was because I could relate to Laura’s general discontent and stagnation.  I think it’s a commentary on life and society these days.  Some of us are so desensitized and dead inside that we lose our self-awareness, alienating ourselves and those around us.  Her apartment served as a type of tomb as she isolated herself from “normal life”.  She also maintained her solitude by disposing of anyone who wanted her to get help or found her repulsive.  You only need one person to do some crazy navel gazing, or watch as it rots…

The vagina-shaped crack in the wall above her bed morphed as she did, changing from a mere crevice to a dark sickly looking wound.  Did it symbolize a way out, a rebirth, that was just beyond her reach, the progression of her physical and mental demise, or the perversion of her sexual preoccupation?  And what about the sex and desire aspect of the film?  Laura gave in to her boyfriend’s constant need for her sexually.  She also gave in to her auto-erotic urges with mechanical regularity. It was as if she was trying to feel something, to connect through sex with herself or any willing takers despite her repulsive appearance. When the decay started to change her, she still offered herself up out of habit, even attempting to apply makeup to her rotting face, only to be rejected by all her suitors.  A punishing illustration of how she tried to maintain her former self even though she was already lost.

The sound design for this film was really interesting.  Creaking floorboards, buzzing flies, and Laura’s labored breathing were front and centre, punctuated with a gut wrenching violin score that made the film feel like we were watching through a peephole.

Director Éric Falardeau gave us some insight after the screening.  He said the film was an homage to Cronenberg (The Fly), Polanski (Repulsion) and Buttgereit (Necromantik 2).  This was Kayden Rose’s first lead role, and to help with the character development, the movie was filmed in chronological order, which also helped with the extensive special makeup effects.  David Scherer and Quebec’s own Rémy Couture did the makeup for this film, and they really outdid themselves.  Graphic and grotesque, they took decomposition to another level.  Falardeau also described the use of maggots during the filming and how Rose learned to deal with the ickiness of it all.  The film also walked away with Bloodies Awards for best special effects and best actress.

I’m still not sure of my own feelings about Thanatamorphose.  It was definitely though provoking and unique; an art house film buff’s playground, but the pacing killed me.  If you are going to watch it, prepare yourself for some drawn out scenes, and do not eat while viewing.  Trust me on this.  Not a good choice. What I do know is that I find French horror to be one of the most extreme out there.  From High Tension, to Inside and Martyrs, Thanatomorphose will be added to this list as a stomach-turning study of the fragile human condition

Evangeline: BITS 2013

Published December 8, 2013 by vfdpixie

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Evangeline (2013, 1 hr 25 mins)

The first film of the BITS Fest was Evangeline.  I had heard about this film some time ago, and I was glad to be able to see its North American Premiere at the festival.

Evangeline (Kat De Lieva) is a college freshman who leaves a haunted past to start anew at school.  She is quickly taken under the wing of her sharp and sassy roommate Shannon (Mayumi Yoshida) and new friend Molly (Natalie Grace).  The girls hit the frat party scene where Evangeline catches the eye of Michael Konner (Richard Harmon), big man on campus.  One long weekend, their flirtation becomes a thing of nightmares as Konner and his cronies Ali (Dejan Loyala) and Mitch (Madison Smith), make a game of murder and toy with Evangeline’s life.  After the frat boys leave her for dead, she is found by two kind homeless men (Kelvin Redvers and John Shaw), and nursed back to some semblance of humanity.  She is changed young woman, possessed by an angry forest spirit, and bent on revenge.  There is also a serial killer afoot called Mr. K (David Lewis), who sports a creepy tattoo of his murder victims’ hands.  Unfortunately he looks like a clean-cut normal guy, and moves around town with ease.  With these threats lurking, Evangeline has her work cut out for her as she hunts those who did her wrong and those who intend to.

I found this story to be complex.  Evangeline’s character on the surface seems to lack experience in the real world, but there is an underlying anguish and weariness within that is illustrated with flashbacks to her family life.  It makes her transformation that much more poignant as we see that anguish rear its ugly head with her re-animation and her hunger for revenge.  The embodiment of misogyny is clear with frat boys Konner, Ali and Mitch, and Mr. K as they try to dominate the supposed weaker sex .  There is a symbolic vindication as Evangeline hunts them down for all their heinous wrong-doings, fueled by the angry forest spirit.  Although the story focuses on Evangeline’s plight and transformation, my only wish for the film would be to expand on Evangeline’s family life, and more background on Mr. K and the forest spirit.

The word “atmospheric” has been mentioned when describing Evangeline, and I have to agree.  The film had a dream like and was artfully shot.  I especially liked the scenes with Evangeline and the spirit that awakened the rage in her.  They were stark but powerful images of all the emotions Evangeline experienced as she battled with her inner processes and struggles.

Kat De Lieva and Richard Harmon gave us some stand out performances.  Kat’s huge eyes really conveyed emotion, and Harmon’s heartless portrayal of Konner made me want to reach out and punch him. And David Lewis always delivers.  I love seeing him in almost every Canadian production out there.  He is a solid actor and he really played the psychotic serial killer well, reprising his role from the short film Doll Parts mentioned below.

During the Q & A after the screening the audience got a chance chat with director Karen Lam and stars Kat De Lieva, Richard Harmon, and Madison Smith.  Lam told us that Evangeline was loosely based on her 2011 short film Doll Parts.  She wanted to expand on the hitchhiker myth, and create a story about the victim fighting back.  She also gave props to director of photography Michael Balfry, who she gave free rein to on the 18 day shoot where he did such a beautiful job.  De Leiva also did all her own stunts as she had military training, and Harmon was a familiar face from the AMC series The Killing, which spurred Lam to pursue him until she had him cast in the film.

I must give honorable mention to Lam’s other entry in the festival, a short call The Meeting.  Her fascination with serial killers continues with an A. A. type meeting for murderers on the mend.  Really funny, morbid and well acted, with a great punch line.  Definitely worth checking out.

It’s pretty clear that Lam is a triple force talent that writes, directs, and produces unique horror films, and this is evident with her Bloodies win (The BITS Fest awards) for Evangeline as best director and Michael Balfry for best cinematography.  I am really excited to see what she has in store for us in the future.  I hope she’s writing away this very minute for her next twisted tale!

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