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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

Christmas Horror Fun with the Little Terrors Short Film Festival

Published December 20, 2015 by rmpixie

 

littleterrors40

Artwork by Daryl Shaw

 

For the 2015 Christmas season, I finally got the chance to see my first Little Terrors Short Film Festival.  Programmed by Justin McConnell, an indie producer/director/writer dynamo and CEO of Unstable Ground based in Toronto, and co-presented with Rue Morgue Magazine, these are monthly screenings of the best international and domestic short horror films you can find.  I’d heard about the festival and was never able to go due to a terrible work schedule, or the fact that I was just tired of going to horror events on my own.  This time around, I had the company of  the best horror boyfriend a gal could ask for and delicious snicker doodles, made by said horror boyfriend.  During this special Santa Claws Xmas Edition, we saw a fun selection of holiday-themed horror shorts ranging from a horrific kidney stone to a Santa kidnapping gone wrong.

 

Mineral:  When a man thinks he passes a painful kidney stone, what he expels turns out to be monstrous.  Director Michael J. Marino threw in all the leg crossing footage of real births you could, or maybe would never, ask for, and a grimy, gritty production value.

http://www.michaeljmarino.com/portfolio/item/mineral/

 

Hungry:  A Christmas shopping creep checks out a thrift shop.  When he finds an expensive jacket for a too-good-to-be-true price, he realizes he’s found a thrift shop from Hell.  Unfortunately, there is no trailer available right now, but go see it if you can find it at local festivals.  Director John Montana gets you in the end with something that’s weirdly cute.

 

Then there was the Astron-6 insanity.  The production company that brought us such greats as The Editor, Father’s Day, and Manborg, also had some Christmas contributions as well.  From Breaking Santa, where, in an insanely funny ride, Santa gets seduced and kidnapped, to Kris Miss, an infomercial for your everyday mail order Christmas bride, their brand of humour, horror and weirdness just can’t be matched.

 

 

The crowning glory of the night was the 2008 award-winning masterpiece, Treevenge.  Directed by Hobo with a Shotgun‘s Jason Eisener, this short is a cautionary tale for all of those real tree purists.  Part environmental message and part horror, it’s a zany, over the top film that will definitely keep you shrieking with laughter and cheering for Christmas trees everywhere.  For all you Trailer Park Boys fans, Jonathan Torrens a.k.a J-Roc and Sarah Dunsworth get trounced by their tree in this clip.

 

Little Terrors has their own YouTube playlist, and check them out for the next night of horror shorts if you live in Toronto or the G.T.A.

http://www.littleterrorsfestival.com/

 

We had a great time, and it complimented the holiday horror movie fun that we look forward to every year.  For those of us who are having a great holiday, or those folks who have a hard time during the Christmas season, I wish you all the best, along with a little, actually, a lot of peace, love and happiness for the new year!  Thanks for reading!

Carolyn

Monsters, Mayhem and Richard Stanley

Published April 18, 2015 by rmpixie

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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