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Horror on National Canadian Film Day

Published April 29, 2015 by vfdpixie

Today is National Canadian Film Day, where we celebrate Canadian film and the talented people who create them.  Known for our legendary politeness, the letter “u” in some of our words, and hockey (not true for me, although I’d rather go to a hockey game than a basketball game any day-gasp!!), we are also pretty handy with a moving picture camera.

Some of those moving pictures involve gallons of blood and gore.  Canadian horror has a strong foothold in Movieland, with a lot of them becoming classics, and I am proud to say that there are way too many to include here, so I will focus on a few of my favourites (see, there’s that pesky “u”).

 

One of my favourite directors is David Cronenberg.  He has the best recipe for weirdness and mood, and coupled with his talent and incredible style, creates horror that will make you cringe and marvel at the grotesque beauty he shows you.  It’s hard to choose, but the film that creeps me out every time is Dead Ringers.  This twisted story of twin gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle and their deception of a troubled woman makes me shiver.  The bizarre instruments twin Beverly creates are a nightmare for any woman that’s been laid out and vulnerable in a doctor’s stirrups.

 

 

 

 

Plain and simple, Martyrs will scar you forever.  This revenge film with a twist leaves you reeling as you watch Lucie and Anna struggle for the truth, and when they do, it leads to gruesome and deadly results.

 

 

 

 

Silent Retreat has been on the Canadian horror radar since it’s premiere at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival in 2013.  One of the more unique films out there, it follows Janey as she is forced to stay at a retreat for wayward girls that becomes truly sinister.

 

 

Director Tricia Lee is hard at work on her next feature, One Drop, expected to be released in late 2016.  It is another female driven horror, where a single mother wakes up to find herself pregnant, surrounded by dead bodies and “something not-quite-human” in the basement of a medical facility.  Check out the indigogo campaign to contribute to what sounds like another unique and thrilling Canadian horror story.

 

 

 

Of Unknown Origin is straight up cheesy horror, but Peter Weller does a great job trying to kick a giant rat’s ass.  Definitely a late night treasure.

 

 

 

 

Of course, I have to mention the Soska Twins.  Jen and Sylvia have become horror darlings because they create gory films like Dead Hooker in a Trunk that become fan favourites, and mine is probably American Mary.  Stylish and dark, this revenge flick follows a medical student who provides back room body modification for extra money.  After a horrible violation, she creates her own unique way of punishing those that cross her.

 

 

 

 

For pure weirdness and the special effects, check out Thanatomorphose.  It is body horror at its best (or worst, you’ll have to decide), and it is truly a must see, but don’t eat dinner while watching.

 

 

 

Check out Ejecta for a cool alien/conspiracy/found footage movie.  Written by Canadian author Tony Burgess, who also wrote and (acted in) Hellmouth, Septic Man, and Pontypool, it is dark, jarring and has some really mean aliens.

 

 

 

 

Just recently I went to a screening of Late Night Double Feature.  For a low-budget film, it is full of fun and schlock and most importantly, homegrown!

 

 

 

Lastly, a new film in production called The Void looks pretty amazing.  The creators Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie are striving for great practical effects, and the trailer is really eerie with all kinds of gory goodness!  Check out their indiegogo campaign for more info and a chance to contribute.

 

 

 

Let me know what some of your favourite Canadian horror films are!

 

 

A Scary and Stranger Slice of Life

Published April 27, 2015 by vfdpixie

A good horror or sci-fi movie can scare or fascinate us on the big screen, and most of us can leave the fantasy in the theater.  But what if the overly-friendly neighbour or that strange light in the sky happens in our real lives?  Some of that real life horror has been committed to film, documenting the stories of ordinary people, or seemingly so, who have lived these very experiences.  For them, especially those who lost loved ones, it is worse than any Hollywood nightmare, and for those who stand by their convictions it is a lesson in tenacity.  Here are a few titles that resonated with me, and although they may not be your first choice for a Saturday night flick, they give a voice to folks that either lived through some real horrors, or had some allegedly real, and really weird, experiences.

 

myamhorror

My Amityville Horror (2012, 1 hr, 28 mins)

This documentary focuses on Daniel Lutz who lived in the famed Amityville House with his family when he was a child a year after the gruesome murders. I missed this doc when it screened at Toronto After Dark Film Festival a few years back, so I finally sat down to watch a very strange and eerie account of what he went through.  His reluctance to reveal his true feelings and the damage done to him is evident in his large blue eyes, and I cannot tell you what I believe other than his life was a tortured existence for many years during and after his Amityville experience.  It is a must see if you want some understanding of the media storm surrounding this famous haunting.

 

 

 

cropsey

Cropsey (2009, 1 hr, 24 mins)

I was completely drawn into this Staten Island, N.Y. story.  The filmmakers and natives to the area, Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, explore the small town legend of Cropsey, a crazed killer of children said to roam the wooded area around the abandoned Willowbrook State School.  Their quest to find the truth behind the Cropsey boogeyman reveals stories of missing children, heartbreak, a terrible history of mismanaged and abusive hospital facilities, and the slow but sure persecution of real suspected killer Andre Rand.

 

 

 

jefdfiles

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (2012, 1 hr, 16 mins)

Short but informative, this film, with the help of reenactments, forensic and personal accounts, shows us how a seemingly friendly but introverted man charmed his neighbour and the detective in charge of questioning him despite being one of the most notorious serial killers of our time.  Don’t expect a grand exposé here, rather it gives you a snapshot of what people thought of him, how they related to him, and how he got away with murdering his victims for many years due to the shortcomings of the police.  This documentary will definitely make you paranoid when a stranger is unusually nice to you.

 

 

 

hiddenhand

The Hidden Hand:  Alien Contact and the Government Cover-up (2013, 1hr, 20 mins)

Abductees and scholars speak on the presence of aliens on Earth in this 2013 documentary.  What may sound like loopy hoo-ha ends up coming from some more than credible witnesses like military officials and the sixth American astronaut Edgar Dean Mitchell, as well as celebrated authors like Whitley Strieber, Jim Spark and David Icke.  Several accounts of alien abduction likened to being “tagged like deer” and many cover-up conspiracies fueled by greed are discussed, and details on ties to The Vatican and Area 51 will peak your interest in this hotly debated subject.  If you follow the vein of thought, this slightly dry but interesting film will lead you to think that alien visitation is more common than you think, making the Fox Mulders of the world proud.

 

 

 

billymstory

The Billy Meier Story (2009, 1 hr, 34 mins)

“Billy” Eduard Albert Meier has been in contact with aliens for most of his life, and is known for his prophetic messages that he relays from the Plejaren alien race.  With an early life that James Bond would envy,  Billy Meier has seen other worlds and world leaders; he has opened his own organization that publishes the prophecies of his alien friends and their spiritual teachings among other things, and he has allegedly seen the future.  This documentary takes you from experts who try to debunk his U.F.O footage, to mental health officials that try to certify any kind of craziness, and testimonials from his faithful followers.  It will certainly make you stroke your literal or figurative beard and scratch your head in wonder as you listen to some compelling information.  Despite the somewhat cheesy looking spacecraft footage and drawings of his alien informants that look like the European Jesus and Beyoncé (which would explain a lot), this movie really strikes a nerve as the world goes to Hell in a hand basket, and sadly, we don’t need aliens to tell us this.

 

Ex Machina and the Puppetry of the Patriarch

Published April 26, 2015 by vfdpixie

exmachina

Ex Machina (2015, 1 hr 48 mins)

 

Artificial intelligence has been debated for many years about whether it will be the downfall of humankind.  Stephen Hawking has famously warned against developing A.I., citing its dangers of a total takeover of humanity.  Writer Alex Garland, the mind behind Sunshine, and The Beach, gets his directorial debut with Ex Machina, where the controversy goes much further than A.I. and into the realm of misogyny and male superiority.

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is a coder that has won a contest to work at the secret research facility of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a reclusive computer genius and mogul who has created a Google-like company called Bluebook.  It is here that Caleb learns of his task:  to test the artificial intelligence of Ava (Alicia Vikander), a fully functioning robot who just might be too real to handle.

This film has been getting rave reviews, and objectively, I can see why.  The writing, the sets, and the acting are all top-notch, not to mention the incredible C.G.I. involved in creating Ava’s mechanics and the pulsating heartbeat-like scoring, however as a woman, and a woman of colour, I have to call foul on several points.  ****(If you don’t want spoilers, don’t read any further!)*****

First, Nathan is a genius but he has no respect for women, as we see with his treatment of Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), his beautiful and silent housekeeper, as well as Ava, his creation of the moment.  His ego and false sense of superiority also gets way ahead of him as he manipulates all who come in contact with his world, giving the character full license to behave badly.

My second point comes from the notion of sexuality and race.  In 2015, there are still many issues with race and gender, and it becomes more complex and insidious as we forge into the future.  With the character of Nathan, we get an idea of his sexually dominant leanings as Caleb gets to know him. When Caleb challenges Nathan’s choice of a female robot instead of a grey box to house the A.I., implying that results would be skewed due to Caleb’s attraction to Ava, Nathan uses the example of a preference for Black women, or “chicks”, when describing nature’s ability to hardwire humans for seemingly random attractions.  This example was obnoxious and kind of played out, and I wondered why Nathan didn’t use Asian women as an example instead because plot wise, that was obviously his preference.

Nathan’s odd choices for a genius would soon be illustrated with his perverse collection of A.I. dolls, where there is a distinct difference.  Just in case there were some of you wondering if Ava was the only choice, never fear, because Nathan also builds Asian, Nordic looking and Africa-American prototypes, used, abused and hung up in their own little closets.  What is extremely poignant to me is that the African-American robot Jasmine (Symara A. Templeman) had a beautiful body like the others, but no face, and later on, no head.  To everyone else, this may not be of any interest, but to me it speaks volumes.  I see it as a not so subtle knock to Black women and their standing in society; the faceless, objectified plaything that really has no merit or garners no understanding.  She is just to be used and discarded.  The same fate happens to the other prototypes, but they at least have faces, an identity, albeit one-dimensional.

Dear reader, if you have come this far, please stay with me for a moment longer.  As a woman who has loved horror and sci-fi since I was a child, I get that it has been a mostly white male dominated genre.  I get that women are objectified in many ways, and as a woman, I have to pick my battles, because there is a thing called context.  I cannot feel anything but disappointed with the writer’s choices in this case because I see through them.  I identify with that faceless Black robot because it is a perpetuated sexual stereotype that Black women are still seen as sexual chattel but not valued; that their opinion and intelligence is disregarded, illustrated by the robot’s missing head.  Garland takes racial stereotypes further with Nathan’s Japanese housekeeper Kyoko, who is portrayed as completely subservient.

Thirdly was the amount of nudity.  I am not a prude, and I have seen my fair share of nakedness and violence in horror and sci-fi films.  Most of it is unnecessary and cater once again to the male heterosexual viewer, and I have come to an unfortunate and begrudging acceptance when a female body part is flashed or slashed on the screen.  Nathan’s brutality with his naked creations was, however, disturbing and overdone to me, as was Ava’s transition into “flesh and blood” which seemed, without body-shaming Vikander, if that was in fact her body, creepy and a tad too pre-pubescent.

Garland’s United Nations of lady-bots was perhaps a step in the right direction, but the blatant misogyny and stereotypes, including the one of the God complex male genius whose first inclination is to make himself a robot harem, all but clobbered this viewer over the head.  In the end, Ava may have cared more about her own motivations than the plight of women, (after all she isn’t real right?), and some may think that her final actions were a battle cry for feminists, but it just seemed heavy-handed, predictable and buried any accountability for the treatment of women in the film.

This story could have been much more than a mad genius working out his sexual fantasies, and I’m going to assume that many people are going to dismiss my findings as overly sensitive or they ignore the fact that Nathan made fake women; that they weren’t real and therefore gave him license to abuse and lord over them at will.   I pose to those people this question:  Why, in this day and age, is a film that is considered smart and a potential representation of our future, still using male dominance and misogyny as a baseline?  I would hope in the realms of fantasy and science fiction we could get past that and be more progressive but obviously this is not the case, as women in technology fields still struggle to find their footing (can you say Gamergate?).  Just because it looks good doesn’t mean it is.  It’s truly a shame that Garland, who penned one of the greatest female characters in horror, Selena played by Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later, has come up with such a disappointing view of women masked as a dialogue on artificial intelligence.

Monsters, Mayhem and Richard Stanley

Published April 18, 2015 by vfdpixie

lost soul

Lost Soul:  The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014,  1 hr, 37 mins)

 

I remember when the 1996 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau came out.  Being a monster fiend, I didn’t really care about the plot, although I did know the story; I was more thrilled about the promise of freakish animal-human hybrids.  And Val Kilmer.  Yes, I was one of the many women who swooned over his chiselled good looks and brooding demeanor, so to see him in one more film was a bonus.

I think my sister and I ended up renting the movie, and it might have been on VHS, or maybe we saw it late one night on T.V., but we were in for quite a shock.  What started out as a promising adventure/horror movie disintegrated into bizarro land and pee-your-pants giggles.  We loved when Marlon Brando recited the “Judge not, lest ye be judged…” psalm, and almost died when Val Kilmer imitated him in the disastrous third act, in fact we still recite our own version of that scene from time to time, just for shits and giggles.

How could a classic story by H.G. Wells, with big name talent like Brando, Kilmer and Thewlis, go this wrong?  I’ve always wondered what the studios were thinking when this film was put out, and I got my answer with the Rue Morgue Cinemacbre presentation of Lost Soul:  The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, a 2014 documentary by David Gregory.  It is here that we meet director Richard Stanley in Montségur, France, at his secluded home.  Known for his cult classics Dust Devil and Hardware, he lobbied for and finally won the spot of directing one of his favourite stories, The Island of Dr. Moreau.  Glitch after glitch could not dampen his determination, and along with beautiful concept art by Graham Humphreys, landing Marlon Brando as Dr. Moreau, and a beautiful remote location for filming in Cairns, Australia, his is an intriguing story of how a film production filled with grand ideas and talent became a cursed burden that he would ultimately lose due to Movieland mishandling and total loss of control.

I was completely fascinated by the accounts that came from cast and crew, as well as Stanley himself who struck me as a true eccentric with his occult practices to keep good mojo during the production, his extensive knowledge of the feud between H.G. Wells and Joseph Conrad, and the general weirdness that seemed to follow him. I especially enjoyed Fairuza Balk (Aissa), Fiona Mahl (Sow Lady #2), and Marco Hofschneider’s (M’ling) anecdotal stories about life on the set and dealing with Brando, and Kilmer, who was described as a “prep-school bully”.  And speaking of those headliners, my opinion of Brando and Kilmer changed.  I now think Brando’s notorious behaviour, that could be interpreted as disrespectful and rightfully so in some instances, was not such a surprise after dealing with his daughter’s suicide and the fiasco of the Dr. Moreau production.  Gregory mentioned after the film via Skype that he thought Brando’s performance was one of the more entertaining aspects of the film, and that he reportedly behaved that way to amuse himself.  I think he just didn’t care, and seemed to take the piss instead of what was deemed as crazy antics.  Kilmer on the other hand, even though he was going through a divorce, was just a jerk who even Brando apparently couldn’t tolerate.

Gregory told the audience that he made the film because after working with Stanley on The Theatre Bizarre anthology, he asked the elusive director about the rumors associated with Dr. Moreau, and the documentary grew from there.  Stanley was sick of the questions and wanted to say his piece once and for all.  Gregory was surprised at how many cast, crew and executives agreed to participate for the documentary.  Ron Perlman and David Thewlis were among those who declined involvement; Thewlis reportedly not wanting to add to the gossip surrounding the film fiasco.  Val Kilmer was also approached, but Gregory’s inquiries were met with no response, which is no big surprise!

Lost Souls is an interesting journey of how Richard Stanley lost his dream; how the irate, old-school director John Frankenheimer took over just to get the film finished while Brando and Kilmer were constantly at odds with each other, and a stalled production that was barely salvaged.  Gregory announced that the DVD and Blue-ray of the doc will be available in June, and the film is currently making the festival circuit.  For fans of Stanley or those curious about the back story of one of the worst films ever, it’s worth seeing this entertaining and informative documentary.

As for Richard Stanley?  Aside from him directing Mother of Toads in The Theatre of Bizarre, he has a film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space in the works, and a graphic novel adaptation of his Dr. Moreau script.  Hope he comes out with something that he can be proud of!

Check out Rue Morgue’s site for more fascinating horror info, David Gregory’s company Severin Films for updates and VOD of the documentary, and The Royal’s schedule for the next cool flick!

http://www.severin-films.com/

http://www.rue-morgue.com/

http://www.theroyal.to/

 

 

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