Saturday, August 25, 2007

TIFF 2007: Midnight Madness Offers A Home For The Rest Of Us

The first TIFF I ever attended--back when it was still called The Festival Of Festivals--offered a retrospective of David Cronenberg's early works and features that was coupled with a min-fest of science fiction, horror, and horror titles personally selected by Cronenberg and representative of his eclectic tastes and unique definition of what constituted "genre" (his concept of "horror" included Taxi Driver, and he saw Fellini's Satyricon as a "science fiction film projected into the past"). It seemed to have been designed solely to welcome me to Toronto and reassure me: you've got a home here.

Of course, I went every day--already willing to skip classes during my first week of film school--but outside of that small theatre (the Uptown Backstage, specifically), the event was a decidedly "prestigious" affair, celebrating middlebrow dramas and "art" films ranging the likes of The Big Chill, Moon In The Gutter, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and Can She Bake A Cherry Pie?--stuff that was, y'know, good for you. As a devoted disciple of genre cinema, it was a too-familiar message: "those kinds" of movies don't belong here.

That changed in 1988 when Noah Cowan spearheaded the Midnight Madness programme, which launched with a 12 AM screening of Tony Randel's Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 at The Bloor Cinema. I've attended devoutly ever since, where I've had a chance to meet Peter Jackson at Meet The Feebles, watch Richard Stanley's Hardware with Liam Neeson beside me, and nab Dario Argento at the premiere of Opera just long enough to get him to complete the signatures I needed on my vintage Starlog Press Dawn Of The Dead posterbook.

This year's series, once again programmed by Colin Geddes (who took over for Cowan in 1998), is one of the strongest in recent memory (although it'll be hard to top last year's Borat screening), with several masters of outre cinema in attendance in addition to the usual new faces from the margins around the globe. Here's the complete rundown (all times Midnight ET, of course):

Thursday, September 6

The Mother Of Tears/ La Terza madre (Italy)

Dario Argento returns to the TIFF for his first time since 1996's The Stendahl Syndrome with much-anticipated conclusion of his Three Mothers trilogy, which began with 1977's Suspiria and was left hanging after 1980's Inferno (you’ve still got time to catch up with them thank to Blue Underground's terrific DVD special editions). Dario's daughter Asia (who’s been here for her directorial efforts The Scarlet Diva and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things) stars as an archaeology student who releases a powerful witch upon the world, causing a wave of suicide and crime across Rome. Genre vets Udo Kier and Daria Nicolodi (Dario’s ex and Asia’s mother) round out the cast.

Friday, Sept. 7

Frontieres (France)

As Paris' projects burn in protest of the newly elected right-wing government, a gang of youths flee with stolen money to Luxembourg, only to encounter a mob of neo-Nazi thugs in their hotel. France has been steadily giving us ambitious genre efforts with Haute Tension, Banlieu 13, and Renaissance, so this could be promising.

Saturday, Sept. 8

George A. Romero’s Diary Of The Dead (USA)

After battling the studio system with Land Of The Dead, Romero returns to homegrown filmmaking with the fifth installment in his iconic zombie saga. A group of film students discover that the dead are rising, and create a first-person diary of their fight to survive as social order collapses. Romero lives in Toronto now, so expect him to attend.

Sunday, Sept. 9

Vexille (Japan)

An animated futuristic adventure set in 2077, where Japan has isolated itself from the rest of the world in resistance to a United Nations treaty against bioresearch. Vexille, a female U.S. Special Forces agent, infiltrates Japan to enforce the treaty, and must survive in a social and environmental hell ruled by mega-corporation and “monstrous, android worms”. I saw Legend Of The Overfiend at the first Midnight Madness programme, so all this talk of worms leaves me a bit nervous…

Monday, Sept. 10

Stuck (Canada/USA)

Stuart Gordon, the demented genius behind Re-Animator and From Beyond, makes his TIFF debut with a blackly humorous thriller based on a real-life incident. Driving home drunk after a night of partying, Brandi (American Beautys Mena Suvari) hits Tom (Neil Jordan regular Stephen Rea) with her car on her way home, and with her victim lodged in her windshield, promises to take him to a hospital. But instead, Tom finds himself left to die in her garage, and must find a way to escape.

Tuesday, Sept. 11

Sukiyaki Western Django (Japan)

Ichi The Killer mastermind Takashi Miike has subverted the horror film, the superhero genre, and the kiddie fantasy, and this year, turns his deranged eye on the western! A mysterious stranger breezes into town ala Yojimbo/A Fistful Of Dollars where two clans feud over stolen gold. The press notes promise: “Buddhist temples sit alongside saloons, samurai swords hang from gun belts and sake flows with blood”. With Quentin Tarantino among the cast!

Wednesday, Sept. 12

The Devil’s Chair (United Kingdom)

Adam Mason, a veteran of music videos and several horror films, ventures into Session 9 territory with this intense whodunit in which unstable Nick, convicted of murdering his girlfriend, is released to the care of his psychologist, who returns him and a team of students to the alleged scene of the crime—a derelict mental hospital-- to uncover what really happened.

Thursday, Sept. 13

Flash Point (Hong Kong/China)

SPLs director Wilson Yip and fight choreographer Donnie Yen unleash another adrenaline-surged ride as a rebel cop takes on a fraternity of drug dealers. When his colleague within the gang has his cover blown, both of their lives are on the line, erupting into a chain reaction of operatic violence, which, if you’ve seen Yen’s work in Iron Monkey and Hero, promise to ramp up the current state of the art.

Friday, Sept. 14

Dainipponjin/The Great Japanese (Japan)

Hitoshi Matsumoto, one of Japan's famous comedians, is bland, middle-aged Daisato, who goes through his banal life for a documentary crew who are surprised to learn of his alter-ego: a giant, tattooed superhero in purple tights and an Eraserhead ‘do who battles outrageous villains and monsters to the lament of the Japanese public, who blame him for the destruction of public property and society’s social ills. Could be the funniest superhero spoof since Miike’s Zebraman.

Saturday, Sept. 15

A L’interieur (France)

The event concludes with a psychological thriller, from the country that gave us one of the first and best: Diabolique. Pregnant widow Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is still grieving over the month’s old death of her husband when she receives an unexpected visitor on Christmas Eve, who asks to use the phone. Sarah is immediately suspicious of the caller (Betty Blues Beatrice Dalle) and calls the police. But when they arrive, there’s no trace of the stranger. Sarah locks her doors anyway, unwittingly trapping herself in the house in a battle for the life of her baby.

For more details, check out the TIFF's official page or Colin Geddes' Midnight Madness blog.