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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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More Horror for National Canadian Film Day 2016!

Published April 20, 2016 by rmpixie

 

cdnfilmday

National Canadian Film Day-April 20, 2016

 

It’s that time of year again when we celebrate Canadian Film on National Canadian Film Day!  Good old Hollywood North gets a day to say “Hey, we make great films up here!”  Of course, being the gal that I am, I’ll concentrate on horror made right here on Canadian soil.

First off is a couple of indie slow burners that really resonated with me.  Screened at Toronto After Dark Film Festival and Blood in the Snow Festival last year, these two contributions feature man vs. nature in the most hellish way.

The Interior(2015), directed by Trevor Juras, premiered at Toronto After Dark Film Festival and really needs to be seen on a big screen to experience the overwhelming beauty and psychological terror.  James (Patrick McFadden) is bored with his life and dealing with a gnawing ennui.  When he has to come to terms with his mortality, he escapes to the wilderness to deal with his issues. He soon realizes a mysterious figure is sharing the forest with him, watching and waiting to strike.  See this one for the cinematography and the unravelled performance by McFadden.

 

White Raven (2015), also premiered last year, but this time at The Blood in the Snow Festival (of which I am now a film programmer!  Yay!), also takes place in the wilds of Mother Nature.  Four friends take their annual manly camping trip so they can catch up with each other’s lives and bond.  They soon realize that one of them isn’t doing so well, and his obsession with a past wrong and a Native legend will change their lives forever.  Director Andrew Moxham pulled some really great performances out of the cast.  Definitely worth seeing.

 

Feel like something gory to whet your horror appetite?  Then you’ll want a to check out Bite (2015).  This festival favourite also screened at BITS and includes all kinds of cringe-worthy splatter.  Casey (Elma Begovic) is getting married and goes to Costa Rica for her bachelorette.  When she is bitten by a mysterious bugaboo, she returns home only to find the bug bite has gotten worse and her symptoms have become stranger.  Director Chad Archibald and the crazy kids at Black Fawn Films really went for it and created a fun gooey body horror classic.

 

Heir (2015) is a short that left me feeling really uneasy.  Gordon (Robert Nolan) suppresses an urge and an ailment that he shares with a supposed old college friend Dennis (Bill Oberst Jr.).  He brings his son to meet Dennis, but there is a more sinister reason for their visit.  With creepy undertones and some intense performances, this little film directed by Robert Powell will definitely make your skin crawl.

 

For some classic weirdness, I recommend Pin:  A Plastic Nightmare (1988).  This gem from bizarro-land directed by Sandor Stern, brings us Leon (David Hewlett), an isolated young man who becomes friends with his father’s (Terry O’Quinn) anatomically correct see-through dummy named Pin, used in his father’s medical practice as an educational tool.  This unusual attachment grows as Leon and his sister Ursula (Cynthia Preston), lose their parents in an accident.  What ensues is a weird spiral into obsession and insanity.  This one you’ll just have to see to believe!

 

Seiren (2015) is a short that should be a full-length horror, which is what director Kat Threlkeld intends to do at some point.  When a model (Sayla Vee) gets bitten on a beach photo shoot, she begins to transform into a vicious version of a well-know legend.  Loved this for the special effects and Vee’s blood-thirsty performance.

 

And They Watched (2015), directed by Vivian Lin, is a short with a strong message.  A custodian cleans the execution room of a prison, and disturbs some troubled souls.  Lin got the idea for the film after reading testimony of death row inmates.  It is chilling and the makeup effects are really, really good.

 

So there you have it!  Get out there and freak yourselves out with some great Canadian horror on National Canadian Film Day! Check out my full reviews of the festival films on Cinema Axis here, and be sure to read about other great Canadian films on Cinema Axis too!

 

Pixie’s Festival Frenzy!

Published November 27, 2015 by rmpixie

I’m sure the burning question on your minds, dear reader, has been “Where the heck has that pixie been lately?” Well, I’ve been writing away for Cinema Axis, reviewing great indie horror, and really getting out there for the horror film fest season here in Toronto.

BITS2015

Tonight is the opening night of the Blood in the Snow Film Festival, an all Canadian content horror film fest put on not only for the fans, but for filmmakers to learn about the industry.  They’ve showcased some of the most bizarre horror like the oozing Thanatamorphose, and my pick of 2014, the haunting Black Mountain Side.  BITS has a special place in my heart because it was here last year that I got to meet Canadian actor Stephen McHattie, so I will forever be a fan.  I’ve reviewed a few films for this fest, and there are some really interesting filmmakers out there.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing my horror friends, old and new, and rubbing shoulders with cast, crew and directors during this industry driven festival.

http://cinemaaxis.com/2015/11/21/bits-2015-bite/

http://cinemaaxis.com/2015/11/22/bits-2015-white-raven/

http://cinemaaxis.com/2015/11/26/bits-2015-secret-santa/

 

If you want to see any BITS films this weekend (November 27-29th), there are still some limited tickets available:

http://www.bloodinthesnow.ca/BITS2015.html

 

tadff15

I also attended the Toronto After Dark Film Festival , a film fest staple every October in this fair city for 10 years. They’ve consistently brought us great horror films like The Babadook, We Are What We Are, Tales of Halloween, Housebound, Deathgasm, and countless other fan favourites that have gone on to larger success.  This anniversary year was no exception, and I now have new favourites in Sion Sono’s fantasy cute-fest Love and Peace and the one-man psychological horror The Interior.  What I loved about this year in particular was reconnecting with more friends, and actually heading out to the pub nights after screenings.  I had a great time chatting with fellow horror fans and schmoozing with directors.  Definitely one of my favourite years.  Here are the reviews I wrote:

http://cinemaaxis.com/2015/10/25/tadff-2015-patchwork/

http://cinemaaxis.com/2015/10/14/tadff-2015-night-of-the-living-deb/

http://cinemaaxis.com/2015/10/22/tadff-2015-synchronicity/

http://cinemaaxis.com/2015/10/18/tadff-2015-the-interior/

http://cinemaaxis.com/2015/10/17/tadff-2015-the-hollow-one/

http://cinemaaxis.com/2015/10/15/tadff-2015-a-christmas-horror-story/

And check out the winners for the TADFF viewer awards.

So fair reader, there you have it.  Another festival year is coming to an end, and I hope you check out, or have seen some of the great indie horror these festivals work so hard to bring us, because independent films will forever be the backbone of horror.

 

Horror on National Canadian Film Day

Published April 29, 2015 by rmpixie

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!

 

 

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