Vampires, killers, zombies, oh my! My TIFF 2014 picks for the darkly inclined…

I’m sitting here with the big book of movies playing at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Even for someone who’s been attending for years, who’s even worked inside the festival (feel free to ask me about that time I danced with Cuba Gooding Jr., or what Brad Pitt looks like up close), it can be daunting to skim through hundreds of film titles and try to narrow down once’s choices to a reasonable (read: affordable) amount.  There are plenty of arts reporters offering their top picks, but those lists are usually dominated by what the masses want: A-list celebrities, the next big Oscar contenders, critical acclaim at Cannes, etc. What if you don’t care about any of that, if you prefer to spend your time at the movies with things that are dark, strange, offbeat? One way to choose is simply attend Midnight Madness — ten nights of soon-to-be cult classics programmed by my friend Colin Geddes, which is an experience in itself. But there are some neat things lurking in other programmes, so while I whittle down my Wish List I thought I’d share some of the films I’m most excited about that I think my friends and readers will dig.  See you there, in the dark….

WHAT WE DO IN SHADOWS

Vampires are hilarious. Too bad most comedies about bloodsuckers simply suck. But this one looks like the best thing to come our way since Vampire’s Kiss. Kind of likea really twisted Big Brother, this is billed as a “mockumentary” about three old world vamps sharing a flat in a New Zealand suburb. Co-directed by and starring Taika Waititi (Boy, Eagle vs Shark) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), it seems to strike just the right notes of black humour and absurdity. Watch this trailer above for tips on how you get past a club bouncer when you need to be invited in….then come watch this with me at Midnight Madness on Friday September 12. I won’t bite you. (OK, no guarantees on that.)

 

ALLELUIA

One of my weirdest (read: best) TIFF experiences in recent years was Fabrice’s Du Welz’s Calvaire. (I also dug his Vinyan quite a lot.) Alleluia is thus my most anticipated film at this year’s festival, Du Welz’s take on the true story of the 1960s  “Lonely Hearts Killers” Martha Beck (a single mom) and Ray Fernandez (a handsome con man who preys on older women). Sure to be shocking and uncompromising and, if his past work is anything to go on, with a memorable, strong female lead.

THE EDITOR

The Canadians at Astron-6 have been hitting it out of the park in the low-budget, outrageous genre game (Manborg, Father’s Day). Their love letter to giallo comes in this sexy, stylish feature about an Italian film editor in the 1970s who becomes a prime suspect in the murders of some of the actors from the film he’s been working on. Did I mention the guy has a wooden prosthetic hand? And that The Editor has appearances from Udo Kier, Tristan Risk and Paz de la Huerta? This is sure to get weird. Also, my talented illustrator friend Justin Erickson at Phantom City Creative designed the wicked poster.

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THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY

If gore isn’t your thing, this erotic melodrama by Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio) looks deliciously dark and sophisticated. It’s about a wealthy woman who digs butterflies, domination, and her new young housekeeper. TIFF calls it, “kinky, dryly comic, and compellingly surreal, and boasting gorgeous, gothic cinematography and an enveloping score by orchestral pop duo Cat’s Eyes.” Sold.

OVER YOUR DEAD BODY

Confession: I don’t worship Takashi Miike. I mean, mad respect to the man who made Ichi the Killer but I haven’t necessarily followed his work as much as my horror-loving friends. But this, Miike’s version of Yotsuya Kaidan, a kabuki play about murder and vengeance from beyond, seems like a must-see. Samurais and ghosts are usually Midnight Madness’s specialty, but this is screening in the Vanguard programme, which means it’s likely going to offer even more than you expect.

MAGGIE

It’s a zombie movie. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I can’t think of a single way this won’t be worth your $25.

PASOLINI

Oh, Willem Dafoe.  You are not only my favourite film vampire, you are one of my favourite actors. It doesn’t look like you’re coming to town for this screening but I shall be there nonetheless. For you are playing the infamous, scandalous, Italian poet, on the last day of his life, directed by Abel Ferrara. These are the kinds of films TIFF was made for.

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THE TRIBE

Every year I try to see one kind of messed-up movie at TIFF. I’m still washing my hands after Snowtown, and shaking my head over Dogtooth. This year, my oddball pick is The Tribe, about a gang of deaf-mute teenagers into robbing, assault, prostitution and more. It’s made by a Ukrarian director but the whole thing has no dialogue or subtitles, only sign language. Because WTF? is pretty universal.

A LITTLE CHAOS

Finally, because sometimes you just need to watch something pretty and swoon, here’s one for the RomantiGoths: Kate Winslet is a landscape designer commissioned to work on the garden at Versailles. Cue romantic interest in the king’s chief architect (Matthias Schoenaerts).  Costumes and courtly love and historical drama to wash the blood out. Ahhhh.

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