Audrey Cummings

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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 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!

Berkshire County BITS 2014

Published December 3, 2014 by rmpixie

Berkshire County

Berkshire County (2014, 1 hr 23 mins)

I’m back for another helping of Canuck horror at the 3rd annual Blood In The Snow Film Festival, where a select number of Canadian-made horror is showcased over 3 days with many of the directors and actors in attendance.  It’s a smaller, more intimate festival, held at the Carlton Cinemas in Toronto, where fans and film cast and crew can literally rub shoulders at the theatre and after-parties all weekend.

The opening night film was Berkshire County.  In the tradition of classic slasher and intruder films, this flick melds the two for a large helping of suspenseful, action-packed horror.

The victim of a cruel video prank that quickly spreads through her high school, Kylie (Alysa King) is having a rough time of it.  She unable to deal with the shame and ridicule of the aftermath, and feels outcast and hopeless.  Taking on a babysitting gig in a remote country home on Halloween night, she tries to escape the memory of the mean stunt, but when 3 pig-masked intruders darken their doorstep, Kylie is in for a night of terror that will test her will to survive.

Berkshire County‘s director Audrey Cummings’ first feature-length film was an overall success.  The components for a typical horror film-teens, sex, jump scares and knife-wielding bad guys-were elevated to create tension, great plot twists and action that culminated with car-crash velocity, leaving plenty of room for a sequel with an over-the-top ending.

Alysa King’s terror-stricken performance was a great rollercoaster ride that took you from despair to determination, and Madison Ferguson as Phoebe along with Christophe Galland who played her brother Sam, did a stellar job as the scared charges under Kylie’s care.  At the Q & A after the film, King said it was a great honour to play such a strong female role, and beating out 200 other girls for the part, as well as winning a “Bloodie”award for best actress at this festival, she really gave it her all.  Also look out for Samora Smallwood, who played Roberta.  Without giving away any spoilers, she will knock your socks off, and I hope to see both her and King in more films soon!  And the bad guys?  The stuff of legend.  The pig-faced slashers were methodical, creepy and pretty bad ass!  From their pork truck of terror to their underaged minion, they will surely haunt your nightmares for years to come.  Definitely goes into my book of iconic villains.

We also learned some inside info about the shoot and what inspired the film at the Q & A.  Writer Chris Gamble pulled from true life events when he was a babysitter.  Breaking his glasses that basically left him blind one night on the job, he was terrified by some strange knocking on the door, which was later found out to be a prank.  Cummings and Gamble funded the film with their own money, but they had fantastic news of Canadian distribution with A71 Entertainment, International with Ravens Banner, and a soon to be announced U.S. distributor.  The cast and crew all felt the set of the isolated house was super creepy, and I have to agree.  It was particularly hideous, and appeared to have endless rooms similar to the Winchester Mystery House in California.  Cummings had a lot of issues with the use of the location, including foreclosure and some miscommunication with the owner which lead to a couple of script rewrites for the 22 day shoot, but it obviously worked out to bring us a great horror film.

I had to ask about the masks.  When you see them, I think you will agree that they are incredibly horrific.  They were created at The Butcher Shop, a Hamilton, Ontario based makeup effects studio.  All the cast agreed that the shop itself was something out of a horror movie due to its creepy basement location, so it set the scene for what they were about to be a part of!  Carlos Henriques, owner of the studio and special effects artist on the shoot, created the masks to Cummings’ specifications, and even went so far as to use a real severed pig’s head as inspiration for one of the masks.

Berkshire County has won the grand jury prize for Best Feature at Shriekfest in L.A., and has since won awards all over at many festivals.  Do yourself a favour and see why because it really is the whole horror package and one of my top picks for the BITS Fest!

 

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