This year the Toronto After Dark Film Festival celebrates its 10th year of bringing chills and thrills to Toronto audiences. The festival has change many times over the years, growing from 4 days to 9, moving to August for a couple of years before moving back to it’s traditional October slot. The festival has moved from Bloor Cinema to the sorely missed Toronto Underground Cinema, back shortly to the Bloor before arriving at its now home of 3 years, the Scotiabank Theater. Over the years Toronto After Dark has played some memorable films, this is the list of the 10 ten films I have seen since I started attending the festival in its second year.
With so many films to pick from their is almost assuredly a much longer list that could be made, but this is the 10th anniversary so 10 seems to be the right number. Among the films that easily could have made his list but fell just short is Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead’s (the amazing Spring) Resolution, Japanese splatterfest Tokyo Gore Police, Astron 6’s Father’s Day and Manborg, Cheap Thrills, Don Thacker’s Motivational Growth, Midnight Son, ABC’s of Death 2, The Children, American Mary and first year entrant Behind the Mask. Now on to the top 10….well 11.
#10 TIE- EEGA (2013) AND THE INNKEEPERS (2011)
Okay so this is a little cheat, but it’s the only one I promise. When compiling this it was hard to decide if one of these should be dropped, and in the end the list felt incomplete without them both.
EEGA is a visual wonder with a wicked sense of humor. A completely original and brilliant piece of fiction that without a festival like TAD would never been seen by at least half of the people in that theater that night. The story of a murdered man reincarnated as a fly that exacts his revenge on the man that wronged him may sound utterly preposterous, but everyone involved comes together to give it a wonderfully human feel.
THE INNKEEPERS is a absolute blast of a classical ghost story written and directed by Ti West. It first introduced to now TAD mainstay actor Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills and this year’s opening film Tales of Halloween). And it made us fall in love with the adorable Sara Paxton, who at the time was mainly known for a string of Disney Channel TV series and movies and her turn in the Last House on the Left remake, and believe that she could deliver us much more in the future. A traditional ghost story, shot in a supposedly real haunted hotel, Innkeepers has some genuine scare and genuine laughs.
#9 4BIA (2008)
For a while it looked like Thailand was going to take over the mantle of the hotbed of new horror, starting with 2004’s TIFF Midnight Madness film Rahtree: Flower of the Night, and just when it looked ready to explode 4 young directors got together to make an anthology film called 4BIA. Directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom had already made a name for themselves with TAD audiences with the prior year’s ALONE and they combine with 2 other directors to assemble a funny, scary and strong anthology that remains the best multi-director anthology film in TAD’s history. It was followed by a sequel that while good could not quite follow up on the first’s success and the Thailand film producers moved back to the action films they were having so much success with for the majority of their projects.
#8 THE BABADOOK (2014)
2014 was a record breaking year for TAD and THE BABADOOK was one of the biggest reasons why. It became the fastest selling film in Toronto After Dark history and the first film ever to garner a repeat screening….which then sold out as well. Jennifer Kent’s creepfest has stood the test of time as well with a massively successful festival run parlaying into great home video sales. Bolstered by 2 phenomenal performances from Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, Babadook is creepy and daring. Its a beautifully shot scarefest that literally had people jumping from their seats. Babadook…..dook……dook.
#7 DEAD SNOW 2 (2014)
Rarely is a sequel as good as its predecessor, even rarer is the sequel that is better. Dead Snow 2 is better that 2009’s DEAD SNOW (another TAD alum) in almost every single conceivable way. Where Dead Snow focused mainly on horror aspects and tropes, its sequel turns the tale into a supernatural action buddy comedy with the horror aspect played on the fringes and it works brilliantly. The casting is stronger and the comedy is vastly improved, the effects still look great and the body count is much higher than the first, but so is the laughter. The film is a sure fire crowd pleaser, best seen in a packed theater ready for some gore.
#6 SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE (2011)
Most regular TAD attendees will tell you that some of the biggest surprises and unexpected great films will come from their Sunday lineup. Over the years some of the Sunday surprises have included Late Phases, Midnight Son and this year’s Canadian gem The Demolisher. But on a early Sunday afternoon in 2011 we were given this gem called SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE. A killer script with some brilliant dialogue and sharp wit is combined with brilliant acting turns from Rocky Horror alum Barry Bostwick and Kevin Corrigan to fill the film with so much heart you cannot help but root for it. It may have flown under the radar then, but horror and cult film fans have embraced it heartily since then.
#5 TRICK R’ TREAT (2009)
How Warner Brothers bungled the release on this one remains a mystery to horror fans. The film was so successful on home video that the studio has commissioned a sequel based on fan demand! Pretty good for a film they practically gave up on. Torontonians were lucky to have one of the few theatrical premieres of the film after it had languished on the shelf for 2 years and the audience ate it up. A single director anthology tale, all connected by the mysterious sack headed Sam, is now a Halloween staple for many with its strong writing and amazing visual style. Writer/Director Michael Dougherty convinced some of the cast from X-Men 2, a film he wrote, and that film’s director Bryan Singer to come aboard as cast and producer and their work is great. Brian Cox is a particular standout as a grumpy old codger with a sinister reason for hating Halloween as much as he does.
#4 BLACK DYNAMITE (2009)
Black Dynamite makes number 4 on this list for one main reason- it may be the most quoted film ever played at TAD. Its longevity has proven to be insane, there is still not a year that goes by that by mid week you won’t have heard someone in the passholders line talk about ‘kung fu treachery’ or their ‘main man Black Dynamite’. The film even spawned a short lived television series in 2011 that is still running on the Cartoon network in the US. Its infectious score and hilarious script, combined with a brilliant lead turn from co-creator Michael Jai White, make it imminently re-watchable and has remained timeless over a half decade later.
#3 THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (2014)
The third film from the ground breaking 2014 lineup (there’s a reason they sold out over half the shows, it was a hell of a lineup) is the follow up/remake of a cult classic that features an amazing talent behind the camera in Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. With a beautifully staged crane shot opening the film, Gomez-Rejon lets you know right away that he’s gonna stage everything exactly the way he wants it. One standout sequence involving porchlights gets paid off in the best way possible, a excellent sequence that helps elevate the film. The film also casts the beautiful Addison Timlin as the final girl, a departure from the tall, leggy, slightly air headed heroine we mainly get as she is smart, brainy and able to fend for herself while only inhabiting a 5’1 frame. Its a strong performance that is enhanced by a great supporting cast. Gomez-Rejo would go on to bring us one of the best films of 2015 as well, and a vast departure in tone, with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
#2 THE BATTERY (2012)
Getting close to the top of this list and all the cream of the crop that can both be called ‘genre definers’. THE BATTERY in many ways is the little film that could. Shot on a minuscule budget in upstate New York the film is basically just 2 men, Writer/Director and Actor Jeremy Gardner along with his Producing and co-star Adam Cronhiem, as they travel across the rural roads together trying to stay alive during the zombie apocalypse. The film is written brilliantly and acted superbly by these 2 and their tale becomes mesmerizing the further you get into the story. The Battery is a film that like our number one choice has baffled some people as to why it was not scooped up by the big guys at TIFF. It’s not one of the best zombie films in years……its one of the best zombie films ever.
#1 LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)
Back before 2008 Toronto After Dark was thriving as a alternative to TIFF’s Midnight program, playing films that were a little more indie and less polished than the typical TIFF fare yet still equally worth the value of watching. No one at the time thought TIFF was in any danger of losing product to TAD, until Sweden’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN came along. It’s buzz and hype seemed to destine it for TIFF but instead TAD was the benefactor. It was the first sellout of the fest’s history- in fact the theater was oversold and caused such a log jam of people trying to get into the film in the old front lobby of the Bloor Cinema that it has become a story of legend. The festival has thankfully never run into the same ticketing issue since, but you can be sure that the quality of submissions grew based on Let The Right One In’s impact. The film itself is a brilliant piece of horror cinema that redefined the vampire story for a new generation. The script was so strong it was able to produce a solid, if yet unnecessary, Hollywood remake years later ‘Let Me In’, where even the usually excellent Chloe Grace-Moretz was vastly overshadowed by her Swedish counterpart Lina Leandersson. In fact the 2 children in Let The Right One In are so astounding you’d have though they had acted sine they were in the womb, yet for both of them it was their first role. Its a hauntingly beautiful film that has now achieved classic status.
Toronto After Dark’s 10th year kicks off tonight, October 15th, with the fun TALES OF HALLOWEEN.
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