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2017 in Review: Pixie’s Horror Picks

Published January 8, 2018 by rmpixie

 

 

It seems like a blur, but another year has passed. Quite a few horror films made their mark in 2017; some were out of the gate hits while others were divisive. All of them created a buzz and garnered a bit more respect for our beloved horror genre. Here are my top picks from the past year.

Being a programmer for Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival, I have a soft spot for indie film. There were a few that I saw at Toronto After Dark and BITS that I must mention for their unique subject matter and execution despite low budgets.

Toronto After Dark Film Festival

Lowlife drew me into the multiple narratives leading up to an insane climax. The charm of this film is its heart and filmmaker Ryan Prows made sure there was plenty to go around. The well written left-field characters amidst the constantly botched criminal antics will make you root for them ten times over. It’s definitely a sleeper hit in my eyes. Read my review on Cinema Axis here.

A total left-fielder at TADFF for me was Beyond Skyline.  This sequel came out of the shadow of its lukewarm and not well received predecessor Skyline to blast it out of the water.  Where the first film followed people in a condo as the world falls under an alien attack, Beyond Skyline picks up from Skyline’s cliffhanger ending. The unlikely redemption lies with Frank Grillo’s action star swagger, a genuinely funny script, great aliens combined with practical and CGI effects, and some kick ass action from The Raid’s Iko Uwais.

Two more After Dark films that still resonate for me are Rabbit and The Endless. Following a twin’s quest to find her missing and thought dead sister leads her into a world of madness, science and an undeniable connection to her sibling. With breathtaking cinematography and scoring that will chill you to the bone, director Luke Shanahan’s Rabbit is visceral and confounding. I reviewed it here.

The Endless also takes you on a journey, one that brings two brothers back to a cult they escaped years ago. Each one recalls a different experience of the commune they once called home, and things become more intoxicating and confusing as realities and perceptions blur. Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson come back after their indie hits Resolution and Spring with a strong effort that left fans wanting more from this mind-bending film.

Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival

My programming rights give me access to incredible indie gems, the filmmakers and cast, and I’m privileged help put on a film festival that gives genre film fans a chance to see some great Canadian talent. This year was one of Blood in the Snow’s best, taking place at the gorgeous Royal Cinema, and all the titles left audiences talking well after the festival was over. You can find the 2017 lineup at bloodinthesnow.ca and check out the feature film award winners for BITS 6th year:

Darken, a dystopian fantasy with strong female leads was our closing night film and won for Best Poster, Best Cinematography, Best Music Score and the lovely Audrey Cummings took home the Best Director prize.

The winner for Best Feature film and Best Screenplay was Buckout Road directed by Matthew Currie Holmes. Based on a notoriously haunted road in New York state, this film was a fun blend of urban legends with great star power including Canadian acting vets Colm Feore, Henry Czerny and Hollywood mainstay Danny Glover.

Fake Blood, a documentary style feature follows two filmmakers who want to explore the effects of violence in film on audiences, eventually coming face to face with some real danger when they flirt with the criminal element. Rob Grant and Mike Kovacs took home the award for Best Editing. It’s a truly disturbing film that kept the audience wondering what was real long after the screening.

Best Actor went to Jeff Sinasac, a long-time actor in the GTA who revealed more of his talents by not only starring in but also directing his film Red Spring, a tense post-apocalyptic vampire survivalist film; while the acclaimed Suzanne Clément took home the Best Actress for The Child Remains, a chilling tale directed by Michael Melski based on the horrific true story of the Butterbox Babies.

Best Special FX went to Kill Order (Meza) and followed a young man who must deal with his superhuman powers, a sinister plot and plenty of danger. A martial arts spectacle filmed right here in Toronto, director James Mark created a real crowd pleaser with tons of stunts and action.

Best Acting Ensemble went to Ryan M. Andrews’ The Art of Obsession. This film, starring our Vanguard winner Ry Barrett, went deep into the mind of a writer and his process; haunted by his muse and his work. It’s a departure from the usual psychological horror and one that will resonate with those who are passionate about what they create.

Pleasant Surprises, The Grotesque, and a Timely Game Changer

There were two films that surprised me by how much I liked them. The first was Rue Morgue’s presentation of The Evil Within. Directed by the late Andrew Getty, a member of one of the richest families in America, the film took a long time to finish due to his untimely death. Frederick Koehler stars as Dennis, a mentally challenged young man who is gifted a mirror he’s seen in his nightmares. It holds a powerful evil and manifests itself as sinister and smarter reflection of himself, taunting Dennis and putting those around him in danger. Koehler outdoes himself playing the two roles, and the mixture of nightmare scenes and long-time horror actor Michael Berryman as the mirror’s evil demon makes this film a one of a kind gem. Thanks to the determination of those involved with the production despite the loss of the director, the film finally got it’s release last year. Rue Morgue issue #177 delves into the trials and tribulations of the film’s journey and is well worth the read.

The second film that surprised me was Darren Aronofsky’s’ mother! It screened at TIFF 2017 and I was prepared to find something to dislike about it since it was so polarizing and a lot of my film critic cronies hated it. While I respect their opinions, I ended up loving it and sat through it another time at home, only to love it even more (and not because Mr. Stephen McHattie is in it…well ok, there’s that, but it’s now one of my favorite films to date). Once again, my full review can be found here.

My only other TIFF 2017 selection that made the list was The Crescent. Hailing from the east coast, this hypnotic psychological thriller about a young mother coming to terms with her grief and the safety of her son in a strange town, in my eyes, didn’t get enough love. The use of art and the scoring by the film’s director Seth A. Smith created a brilliantly eerie atmosphere highlighting isolation and tension. Read my review here.

Shudder Canada has continually impressed me with the unique content they offer horror fans who want to escape the mainstream. One of their films that had a limited screening in Toronto was Kuso. After an earthquake befuddles L.A., several characters and their stories intersect as they try to navigate through their afflicted city. There are a ton of vile moments, along with scathing social commentary and bleak humor. It’s a trying yet exhilarating film filled with music, art and the grotesque by first time director Flying Lotus aka Steven Ellison, better know for his musical and D.J. talents. Be forewarned that it’s not the usual gore and not for the squeamish, and it is most likely not for everyone, but a must-see anyway. Read my full review here.

My favourite film of 2017 is Get Out for so many reasons. I’m going off on a tangent for a moment. In my research for pieces that will be included in an upcoming book on racism in American film, I learned African-Americans were underestimated for their love of westerns. When producers and movie house owners learned that African-Americans did indeed enjoy stories of life on the open range (in fact there is a long history of African-Americans working as cowboys), saving a damsel in distress and immortalizing cowboy action in song, they capitalized on that desire and made Black westerns. While short-lived (spanning from the 1920s-40s), it showed that demand ruled and the creators of media listened. Fast forward to modern-day, where actor and comedian Jordan Peele wrote and directed his first horror film starring a Black actor about the Black experience. It was clever, scathing, and always on point. And the masses, both Black and white (for the most part) loved it. Once again, African-Americans proved that they loved and wanted content in genre films. Instead of leaving it up to the powers that be, Peele took it into his own hands and created that content, opening doors for more people of colour to join in the wave of genre filmmakers. We owe so much to Peele and Get Out, and while there is still so much room for improvement and inclusivity within the film industry, I honestly hope the momentum continues. Read my thoughts on this game changing film here.

For 2018, I hope horror continues to create conversations and include fans of all genders and colours. All the best to you in this shiny new year!

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Pixie’s Year 5!

Published October 17, 2017 by rmpixie

See what I did there? Five skulls for five years? Eh?… Eh? No?….

 

It’s year 5 for Rosemary’s Pixie! This year has been really different with fewer posts since I’ve been re-assessing my career choices, one of which involves seriously considering making outfits for my cats and taking them on the road in a crazy cat lady revue.

Programmer-wise, I had a great first year with BITS, and gotten to know my fellow BITS crew really well. We promoted the festival at Shock Stock  and Niagara Falls Comic Con, and had a great time hanging out with vendors, guests like Felissa Rose from Sleepaway Camp who is a gem of a person, The Monsters of Schlock who are seriously the coolest guys, and Goblin’s Maurizio Guarini who is very sweet and apparently needs no sleep.

The Toronto horror community suffered a big blow when Suspect Video closed down early this year. This rental store was not only a place where you could find current films but the rarest of the rare cult movies and superb conversation with the knowledgeable staff.  Founder Luis Ceriz and his staff were always ready to suggest or help with titles, books and other obscure info needed for general fun facts or important research. I owe a lot my blog content to them and the amazing films they had available. We were all heartbroken, and made our pilgrimage on the final day the shop was open. I’m happy to say that Luis is still operating Suspect as an online shop and if you’re in the Toronto or GTA area, follow the shop on Facebook as there are weekly posts of new films for purchase. He is also at the helm of Horror-Rama, Toronto’s only horror convention with his co-founder director/writer/musician Chris Alexander. Tickets are on sale now for the November 4-5th event and I can’t wait.

Some of you have noticed that I stopped doing recaps for Face Off this year. I was quite frankly bored of the show. I loved judges Neville Page, Ve Neill and Glenn Hetrick and host McKenzie Westmore, but I felt the show was mining people who have already been contestants and there is a serious lack of diversity. There have only been a handful of POC on the show, one POC winner, and after 11 seasons it seems like they’re perhaps running out of ideas. I’ll try tuning in at a later point, but I know there are a large number of POC’s out there creating wonderful makeups that would definitely hold up on the show.

The Rue Morgue library recently added a new volume to the collection, Women with Guts, a fantastic set of essays about famed women in horror written by women horror and genre writers. I attended the book launch and met the book’s author Alison Lang, as well as contributors Liisa Ladouceur, Monika S. Kuebler, executive editor to Rue Morgue Andrea Subissati, and Alexandra West. I was so thrilled that my friend and founder of Graveyard Shift Sisters Ashlee Blackwell was also a contributor. These women are stellar writers and wonderful people. You can get your own copy here. I also celebrated a personal milestone by contributing to Rue Morgue Magazine’s 20th anniversary edition. I was honoured to write a synopsis of Shock Values: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood and Invented Modern Horror  for the 25 Non-Fiction Genre Film Books That Every Horror Fan Should Own feature. Andrea Subissati really pulled out all the stops for this gorgeous issue and the articles are fantastic. Pick up a copy here.

More fantastic people I met this year were:  Monika Estrella Negra, founder of Audre’s Revenge Film Collective where her tireless efforts to create content and promote QTIPOC filmmakers should be noted and shared; Jamie Broadnax, founder of Black Girl Nerds and Lauren Warren, one of the hosts of Nerds of Prey and tweeter extraordinaire at the Black Girl Nerd TIFF brunch. It was wonderful to meet so many fellow writers and content creators just as passionate about film as I am.

I’ve recently ventured into the podcast world and was a guest on The Matinee a couple of times. Ryan McNeil, a blogger, reviewer and podcast host had me on to discuss a couple of films with him. You can check them out (episodes 172and 176) here. I had a great time, and I’ll be popping up on podcasts here and there, so stay tuned.

I’m also gearing up for festival season on the horror calendar. Toronto After Dark Film Festival is up with some great films and then Blood in the Snow from November 23-26th (of course). And I’ll be at those with the best horror boyfriend in the world (and my biggest cheerleader) on my arm.

As always, I want to give a shout out to my friends Laina Dawes, Ashlee Blackwell, and Courtney Small (www.cinemaaxis.com) who support my writing, and all of you readers who visit my blog. Thank you from the bottom of my horror heart!

 

Carolyn

Pixie’s 2017 Halloween Watch List

Published October 8, 2017 by rmpixie

 

Halloween is a couple weeks away, and of course horror aficionados are slavering for the one day where the rest of the world acknowledges our love for the genre. Although there are some of us who choose to make Halloween an everyday occurence, I can always find an excuse to curate a Halloween watch list for the countdown to what I think is a better holiday than Christmas (just sayin…)

 

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989):  I watch this much hated chapter of Jason’s illustrious career for the fight scene. Jason’s head severing punch is worth sitting through the film for me.

 

 

 

Mad Monster Party (1967):  One of my top 5 horror films. Dr. Baron von Frankenstein is retiring and throws a big party to find his replacement. There’s also a secret that everyone wants to get their hands on, and of course mayhem ensues. This Rankin/Bass production was a departure from their usual cute and fuzzy fare, but there is so much charm! Starring Boris Karloff as the Baron and Phyllis Diller as “The Monster’s Mate”, you can’t beat it for a good time. It’s clever and there are a few musical numbers that the kid in everyone will enjoy. I even have my own Yetch and Baron Boris von Frankenstein sitting on my shelf and I LOVE THEM.

 

 

Hellraiser (1987): Ah, the real king of pain coming from the mind of horror master Clive Barker. Doug Bradley as Pinhead is iconic, relentless and badass. Who else can rock a grid of pins in his skull, a midriff baring leather coat and a legion of nasty looking cronies? And if you’re dumb enough to mess with the puzzle box, well I can’t help you.

 

 

A Nightmare on Elm St. (1984):  A classic Halloween flick. Even though I own the box set, I still love finding any of the Elm St. sequels on TV. Wes Craven’s nasty child murderer immortalized by Robert Englund has haunted many a dream and is possibly the best horror villain ever created.

 

 

The Evil Dead (1981):   Directed by the beloved Sam Raimi and starring the one and only Bruce Campbell, this low-budget creeper of a doomed spring break getaway is perfect for Halloween after the streets have emptied itself of costumed kiddies, and the possessed Cheryl popping out of the cellar freaks me out every time.

 

 

Dr. Giggles (1992):  The great Larry Drake passed away last year, and strangely enough, horror boyfriend and I had just watched Dr. Giggles, directed by acclaimed TV veteran Manny Coto, a few days before his death. This classic teen horror about a crazed madman obsessed with ripping out hearts is elevated by his insane performance. That giggle is really something, and the inventive deaths will get your Halloween howls going.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981):  Another film, this time made for TV, that featured this Emmy award-winning actor. It tells the story of a mentally challenged man named Bubba mistakenly accused of killing a young girl who befriends him. He is hunted down by three townsmen and killed. When there is a report that the little girl is fine and Bubba actually saved her life, the guilty men are cleared of any charges in Bubba’s murder, leaving them as perfect candidates for a vengeful spirit. Drake’s performance is brief but brilliant, and the comeuppance for the guilty parties is satisfying.

 

 

Tales of Halloween (2015):  A great new addition to the horror anthology genre. Screening at Toronto After Dark last year, this collection brings you directors like Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers and The Descent) and Lucky McKee (The Woman and May) who give us some inventive horror connected by the festivities of our special night. You’re sure to find at least one story here to get you in the Halloween mood.

 

 

For some Canadiana, I recommend Berkshire County, Bite, and Bed of the Dead.

Berkshire County or Tormented (2014):   Audrey Cummings, a well-known director here in Toronto, brought us this tense Halloween romp where a disgraced teen is forced to protect the kids she is babysitting from some brutal home invaders. It premiered at the 2014 Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival and was a definite crowd-pleaser.  Take note of the fantastic masks made by the fine folk at The Butcher Shop FX studio.

 

 

Bite (2015):  Another Blood in the Snow favourite that screened in 2015, known for its true gross out gore.  You’ll think twice about taking a dip in a secluded lagoon and perhaps wonder what exactly that smell is coming from your reclusive neighbour’s apartment.

 

 

Bed of the Dead (2016):  Watch it if you want a cozy Halloween night in. Snuggle down into the covers and watch this Toronto After Dark 2016 selection where a haunted bed becomes judge and jury for those who have the bad luck of taking a nap, or whatever, on it.  It’s blood-drenched with a deeper message, and just one of the standout horrors (along with Bite) that the Black Fawn crew are so well-known for.

 

 

And there you have it. A collection of fun horror films that will whet the appetite of all you hungry horror fans out there!

Best wishes for a safe and ghoulish Halloween!

Mother! and the Art of Sacrifice

Published September 28, 2017 by rmpixie

mother! (2017, 2 hrs, 1 min.)

 

Yet another festival film has divided the masses in the way of Darren Aronofsky’s latest film Mother!  Making its rounds in Europe and playing TIFF 2017 in Toronto; and much like previous TIFF premiere The Witch from over a year ago, critics and viewers either love or hate this allegorical masterpiece that confounds the horror genre and elevates the artistic experience.

A married couple live in a secluded house in the countryside. This rambling manor is a restoration project for the young wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and a place for solitude and concentration for her writer husband (Javier Bardem). While she is his muse, he is still looking for inspiration and having difficulty putting pen to paper, but when a stream of strangers come to their door looking for a place to stay, things start to change. These guests are unwanted by the writer’s wife, disturbing her solitude and her vision for the home; yet they fuel and invigorate her husband, creating a fervour that will soon divide them in their lifelong pursuits.

Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem).
Photo credit: IMDb

When my boyfriend and I showed our tickets to one of the theatre staff, she immediately let us know that we could get a refund within the first half hour of the film. The staff member felt she had to warn us about the disturbing nature of the film, as many movie-goers thought it was a family drama because of the title. With that red flag waved before we even sat down in the theatre, I wasn’t sure what we were about to witness, but I was scared I might find something to take issue with. This apprehension also came from some earlier discussion during TIFF about the age difference between Jennifer Lawrence’s character only know as Mother, and her husband Him, played by Javier Bardem. The May/December coupling was something to think about as it mirrored the real-life relationship of Aronofsky and Lawrence, but I couldn’t condemn the film simply because of that one detail without having seen it. I tend to avoid any reviews until I’ve seen the film and written my own thoughts about it, and I made an extra effort to avoid as many articles as I could with Mother! I did see a few snippets of review headlines screaming the film’s shortcomings or brilliance in a few choice words, making me even more curious. My final verdict, although I tried in vain to find something to dislike about Mother!, is one of complete adoration for such a brilliant film.

There is so much to say about Mother! and so many layers to explore that I imagine theology, psychology, film and sociology PhD students will have at it for decades. Aronofsky himself has said in several interviews that this film is about Mother Earth and her destruction but you can see other themes based on the artist and religion.  Whether you believe the film to be about the perishing earth, art, or the Bible, there is a common thread that shows the struggle of creating and the sacrifice that the creator and those around them must endure.

*Some may find the next part of this review/analysis spoiler-filled, so reader be warned.*

As a creative person and someone who values solitude, I felt Mother’s horror as intruders destroyed her sanctuary.  Her experiences are very close to a recurring nightmare I used to have about constant, unwanted visitors, and I felt her husband’s frustration with not being able to create, desperately looking for an outlet or inspiration. When the intruders start to fuel his creativity, allowing the floodgates to open and his masterpiece to unfold, it’s a wave that many an artist or writer wants to capture and ride forever, constantly feeding the ego with praise and celebrity.

Mother and her husband are fairly archetypical in nature. The rosy-cheeked, blonde, blue-eyed representation of Mother Earth/Mary/the female side of creativity is young, vibrant and innocent, just the type of personification that is needed to feed the creativity of her older, more worldly husband. Aronofsky has said that Rosemary’s Baby was among the influences for the film, and like Rosemary Woodhouse, Mother is used for her spouse’s gain without her being in on the larger scheme of things, but here there is a cyclical feel to her life and death. She will not be forced to choose to look after her child like Rosemary, in fact, Mother is in constant opposition to what is happening around her even though she is a major part of the cycle. She is there to tend to the home while her husband creates, but her efforts will be overshadowed and thwarted by intruders. Her role is so utterly mired in the feminine and her partner so male, that the yin and yang of their relationship and power dynamics, while stereotypical, are poignant. Her desire to have children and bear fruit like Mother Earth is stunted by her husband’s own overbearing God-like desire to create and be adored, and when she does have a child, it is taken from her for his own egotistical reasons, to placate his worshipers who have supported Him in his work and who treat his writings like scriptures, confirming his role as an all-seeing, all-knowing deity.

Mother’s experience is very relatable as she struggles with her intuition. Her need to restore the house, listening to and nurturing its spirit is acknowledged but not heeded and she is placated by thin excuses or shunned for not going along with the crowd. At times her physical voice is drowned out by the chaos as her hard work is destroyed. The insecurity that comes with the terror of being completely alone in your pursuits needs a strong person to stand up for what they believe in. She does this over and over again, as she sacrifices herself not as a victim but as a martyr and saviour, only to be resurrected in this weird and crazy cycle of life.

Technically speaking, I really enjoyed the camerawork that was reminiscent of the long takes in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman and the claustrophobic close-ups and tracking shots of Mother like in Rosemary’s Baby. It gives us Mother’s perspective and we witness the action along with her. We were also in the dark with her, getting no clues as the audience, save for some biblical references like Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel (played by Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brian and Domhnall Gleeson respectively); as well as the birth and devouring of Mother’s son seemingly symbolizing the sacrifice of Christ as one interpretation.

I must mention a wonderful surprise (at least for me!). Stephen McHattie appears as the zealot; a rabid follower of the writer’s work, stirring up the masses to worship the word of the writer. Those who know me, know I love Mr. McHattie, so to see him in such a spectacular pageant of a film made me love and respect him even more. And speaking of pageants, I had the sense that Mother! could somehow work as a stage play with the exaggerated chaotic action, and I would love to see that in the future.

I really can’t tell you how to react to Mother! only what I’ve seen and experienced as I immersed myself in this film. Yes, you can see obvious influences of the Bible, Rosemary’s Baby, Birdman (in my opinion for the cinematic style), and all the other films mentioned by Aronofsky himself, but these influences melded to create something that is unique, new and quite simply brilliant. Whether you see it as a creationist story, an 11th hour commentary on the state of the earth and environment as the director intended, a modern-day scripture about the artist ego, sacrifice and their art, there are allegories and symbolism for days in this film. It’s not to be missed.

 

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