TADFF

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Pixie’s Walk Down Memory Lane and the 40th Anniversary of Black Christmas!

Published December 22, 2014 by vfdpixie

Black Christmas

Black Christmas (1974, 1 hr 38 mins)

My Christmas post for 2014 is about a Canadian classic.  Made in 1974 and said to be one of the first slasher films, Black Christmas has a special place in my heart.  It is not only one of my top 5 horror films, but also a favourite of my childhood friends.  As kids, we would discuss it at length and giggle at the scary parts. They have since moved out of town, but when we come across it on T.V. or pop it in the V.C.R. or D.V.D. player, we always text each other.

When I heard that Rue Morgue was putting on a 40th anniversary screening of the film at the Royal Cinema, I had to go.  Imagine seeing it on the big screen as it was intended with fellow fans as we walk down Memory Lane?  With one of the films stars in attendance?  And the option to purchase a limited edition poster?  Yes please!

The story, loosely based on real murders that happened in Montreal, is about a sorority house that is plagued with obscene calls made by a mysterious and murderous nut-job as he kills the girls off one by one.  It has become an iconic Christmas horror movie that, to the trained eye, uses some very familiar locations and is slice of Canadian history.  From the search party scene filmed in the neighbourhood that I grew up in at Grenadier Pond (the source of some historical myths), to University of Toronto where I pursued higher education, Black Christmas is a map of an old Toronto even though it is set in the fictional U.S. town of Bedford.

Starring Hollywood heavies such as John Saxon, Olivia Hussey, Andrea Martin and Margot Kidder, the organizers invited Art Hindle, who played the fur-clad Chris, to host the screening.  Hindle is a busy Canadian actor who has worked on shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and the award-winning Canadian series E.N.G.  He has a face that is easily recognizable, and it was great to see him in the flesh, wearing the actual fur coat monstrosity from the film that he kept after all these years as a souvenir.

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Art Hindle, second from the left, in his fur coat, with Rue Morgue’s Dave Alexander and Lee Howard with one of his Quiet Room Bears- The special edition Black Christmas Bear

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Art Hindle in 1974 as Chris in all his furry glory with Olivia Hussey as Jess in tow!

Before the movie started, Hindle answered some questions about his experience being in the film.  He said that he took the role of Chris to make money, plain and simple, because he had to support his family.  A chat with Margot Kidder convinced him to go to Los Angeles to find more work because Toronto at the time was not booming in the entertainment industry.  He also raved about late director Bob Clark’s “consummate craft of filmmaking”.  Hindle felt Clark was a genius and cited the classic teen sex comedy Porky’s as a technically advanced film, despite its subject matter; in fact, Hindle pointed out that the crew would often consult Clark beyond his directorial skills because he was so technically well-rounded.

As I watched the film on the big screen, I realized my favourite aspect of Black Christmas was the deliciously slow camera shots that either panned across rooms or came in for close-ups-the epitome of building tension-as well as the killer’s point of view camera work, which was apparently mounted on camera man Bert Dunk’s shoulder.  Along with the tension came the jarring score by Carl Zittrer.  Christmas carols surrounded by jangling discordant notes, eerie wind mixed with moans, and heavy breathing, all culminating when Jess’s high-strung boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea) blows a gasket and destroys a perfectly good grand piano.  Those angry sounds resonated throughout the film as things got worse.

Another key element was the well-placed comedy.  Writer Roy Moore, along with script revisions from Clark, incorporated dark humour that punctuated the action so cleverly.  Among the most memorable moments were Kidder’s dry portrayal of the perpetually drunk Barb and the fellatio phone number scene, and Sergeant Nash’s (Doug McGrath) general oblivion.  Add the foreboding old school telephone ring which was central to the film and the truly creepy, rambling phone calls, and you have all the ingredients for an entertaining and well-crafted horror movie that has become a cornerstone of the horror genre.

To mark the anniversary, a limited edition poster was created.  Toronto based artist Ghoulish Gary Pullin, who has had a multitude of clients such as Rue Morgue Magazine, Dread Central, and Anchor Bay Entertainment just to name a few, and won for best movie poster for the documentary Why Horror? at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, was invited to reinterpret the look of the Black Christmas movie poster.  I am not normally a poster type gal, but when I saw it, I needed to have one. Silk-screened and featuring metallic silver inks, it is truly a thing of beauty.  Pullin was actually on site to personally hand out prints and say hello!  He said he was humbled when he was asked to do the poster and was a genuinely nice guy and obviously extremely talented.

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The limited edition poster by Ghoulish Gary Pullin

My first experience with Black Christmas will always be remembered as a popcorn and pyjama movie with close friends, but I had a lot of fun seeing it loud and proud on its historic 40th anniversary.  It was great to sit with an audience as we laughed and shrieked at some old school horror.  Who knew a little film about a crank caller and murdered sorority girls would be such an industry trailblazer!  So glad I made it out to revisit the mystery of Billy, Agnes and the baby!

Merry Christmas, dear reader!

*I would like to dedicate this post to my childhood friends who loved this film as much as I did, and to their loved ones who recently left us.  Terry and Sharon lost their father Desmond on September 3rd, and Tessa and Suzette, Desmond’s nieces, lost their beloved friend Danny December 11th.  May they find solace in the memories and the good times with their friends and family, and here’s to a happier new year for us all.  

Predestination TADFF 2014

Published November 12, 2014 by vfdpixie

predestination

Predestination (2014, 1 hr 37 mins)

 

TADFF Sci-fi Night’s stand out film brought us a truly different take on time travel, love and self-exploration with the must-see Predestination.

A time travelling agent on his last assignment (Ethan Hawke) must cross decades in order to foil the elusive “Fizzle Bomber”, a criminal that has decimated countless buildings and killed many.  Placing himself in the ’70’s as a bartender for his investigation, he meets a mysterious writer.  After hearing this weathered stranger’s bizarre life story, the agent decides to help him get revenge on a scorned love in exchange for his service as a temporal agent, taking them down a paradoxical rabbit hole of a journey.

This unique film, based on the short story “All You Zombies” by Robert A. Heinlein, and written and directed by Daybreakers creators the Spierig Brothers, doesn’t try too hard to make you understand the plot.  Rather, it takes you on a winding road that will connect and reconnect in very surprising ways.  It will certainly keep you riveted, and that winding road of a story is well paved and free of any extenuating obstacles to muddy the plot.

Ethan Hawke is slowly winning me over.  I have never really been a fan, especially since Gattica and those saccharine romance movies, but he was impressive in this role.  I saw an openness from him that really conveyed a refreshing artistic maturity.  I also like the loyalty that is evident with the Spierig Brothers in terms of casting him in another one of their films which surprisingly, doesn’t get tired.  And Sara Snook will surely be noticed for her excellent portrayal of the mysterious stranger and all the subtle and not so subtle changes in the character.

The production was sleek, the sets meticulous and inventive, and the costuming was amazing.  Having to cross many eras and staying true to each decade was executed with great accuracy.  And hats off to the makeup department.  From the flawless period beauty makeup to Snook’s convincing transformation, they did an amazing job.

When screened at the festival, there was no North American release date, but it will now be in theatres as of January 2015, so go see it.  I applaud the Spierig Brothers for taking on such a complex story and bringing moviegoers something different.  It may take you a moment to wrap your head around it, but this futuristic film noir of sorts addresses some interesting issues about gender and power, and there is an underlying thread that actually warmed my heart of stone.

 

Wyrmwood TADFF 2014

Published November 9, 2014 by vfdpixie

wyrmwood

Wyrmwood (2014, 92 mins)

Australian films seemed to be a hit at this year’s TADFF with films like Housebound and the much-anticipated The Babadook, so when I heard about Wyrmwood, I was all in.  Described as Mad Max with zombies, I really couldn’t pass this one up, and I’m glad I didn’t.  It is definitely a different take on the post-apocalyptic zombie film, and one I think action movie fans will enjoy.

Similar to the aftermath of a falling star from the Book of Revelations, a weird stellar event creates zombies that run amok in the surrounding Australian countryside and cities.  Family man Barry (Jay Gallagher) has to scramble to save his wife and daughter, and after an urgent call, sets out on a quest to find his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey). He meets up with other survivors, including the kooky Benny (Leon Burchill), in very tense circumstances, and they band together to battle zombies that emit strange green fumes and become more active at night.  They realize these zombies can be of great use, and their larger purpose is also being discovered by a dancing mad scientist played by Berryn Schwerdt, who has captured Brooke and uses her as a guinea pig.  Little does he know that Brooke will exceed his expectations.  Both siblings have their trials to deal with before they can ever think of reuniting, and things stay consistently hairy until the bitter end.

The After Dark team let the audience know that this film took a long time-several years actually-to finish, and the end result is a pretty crazy ride.  Mixed in with some brutal action and zombie kills, there are also some decent laughs to be had along the way, the most memorable punctuated by the literal Benny.  His goofy observations are backed with a lot of heart and heroics that make him unforgettable, and it is always nice to see some much-needed diversity in horror films.  And the kick-ass Brooke is one of the most unique final girls ever.  Talk about girl power, and she sports possibly the best smokey eye for zombie killing I have ever, ever seen!

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I’m still a makeup artist at heart so here is Bianca Bradey as Brooke and her kick-ass smokey eye.

I only had one issue with the film.  I would have loved a back story about the mad scientist, billed as “The Doctor”.  He was one of the more compelling characters and I can’t resist a great bad guy.  I wondered if his home base lab came equipped with a disco ball or whether he was wearing a ruffled disco shirt under his haz-mat suit.  I call for a prequel starring The Doctor and the gorgeous Captain played by Luke McKenzie, who battles Barry in the film’s final act.

For the die-hard, jaded zombie movie fan, I think Wyrmwood will be a pleasant surprise.  It breaks convention with tons of action and an inventive storyline.  Definitely worth a watch!

*If you have a keen interest in Australian film, check out Curnblog.  There is a 5 part series listing the top 100 Australian films of all time, and it is excellent!

 

The Babadook TADFF 2014

Published October 29, 2014 by vfdpixie

babadook

The Babadook (2014, 1hr 33 mins)

I had read about The Babadook several months ago.  Drawn in by the strange name, I had to see what this indie Aussie horror, touted as one of the best horror films out this year, was about.  I was immediately intrigued by the trailer, and was ecstatic when I found out it was coming to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival as the closing gala film.  This fairytale nightmare was worthy of all the buzz and anticipation as it kept your gut in knots and will make you avoid your bookshelf for a while.

On the day of her son Samuel’s (Noah Wiseman) birth, Amelia (Essie Davis) loses her husband in a car crash.  Samuel, who is now 6, is a handful; his imagination runs wild with monsters he must battle, and he invents treacherous gizmos that creates problems at school.  His mother is a broken woman trying to keep her head above a sea of unrealized emotion, and gets no support from her sister.  One evening for a bedtime story, Samuel picks a book called The Babadook.  It has mysteriously appeared on his shelf, and it is a menacing tale that becomes too close for comfort, immediately scaring the living daylights out of Samuel and his mother.  What ensues is the unleashing of a supernatural force that stakes its claim on their home and their lives.

What draws you in to The Babadook is not the dollhouse-like sets or the moody lighting and midnight blue palette, but the performances.  Davis, with her fresh face and big eyes, played the hell out of her character who goes from distraught to a demonic transformation that will give you chills.  To be in abject terror for such a sustained amount of time deserves an award of some sort!  Wiseman sold the excitable, anxiety-laden Samuel who just wants happiness in his life really well, drawing out concern just as you were ready to write him off.

Writer and director Jennifer Kent uses the age-old fairy tale rule of a moral or warning in its most literal sense, in this case burying your fears and emotions that will eventually come back and bite, or stab you.  She has also made a visually engaging film.  From the simple household sets that conveyed a sad isolation, to the vintage silent film footage that haunts Amelia’s dream and waking life, Kent makes the indie into high art.  And the fact that our antagonist, The Babadook, is not treated like your regular demon/spirit fare elevates the monster to what I hope will be iconic status.  Also note the brilliant sound design that at times you could feel in your seat and made your skin crawl.

When this film comes out in a wider release, and I think with all its success it will, go see it.  You will get a kick out of some old-fashioned scares, harkening back to the spooky stories you remember as a child, and the unusual ending will leave you wondering what will happen to Amelia and Samuel.  Ba Ba Dook-Dook-Dook!

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