Toronto's horror and sci-fi festival invites you on a date with the devil. And other fun things.
You can’t really have a horror story without a cold dark night. So you can’t really have a horror festival until the days get shorter and the nights gets cooler. Well, it’s time to check your almanac, film fans, because a Toronto autumn tradition is back: the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. The festival of schlock, horror, and sci-fi will be finding a new home at the Toronto Underground theatre this year, taking it over with eight days of blood-curdling and cringe-inducing cinema.
TADFF has quickly carved out a loyal following of film fans who wait year round to pee themselves in fear. Considering this, the seats at the Bloor must be sodden after six years of fright fests, so the new locale might be a welcome change. But at a festival where you are more likely to see “redrum” than a red carpet, attendees shouldn’t be concerned about the new digs changing the festival’s overall feel. Though After Dark without the Bloor does seem like Freddy without Jason, festival director Adam Lopez notes: “It’s very laid back at the Underground. Run by genuine fanboys, it feels very cozy.” A relief, given that we all know cozy and horror go hand-in-hand.
One of the highlights of the festival is the choice to pair the features with shorts, often showcasing local filmmakers. Matthew Nayman, born and raised in Toronto and a graduate of York’s BFA in film production, is about as local as it gets. His short Blind Spot will run before The Divide on October 25. It’s an apocalyptic comedy, and Nayman jokes: “I don’t know why it’s playing at Toronto After Dark, it’s not a horror film and it’s not a sci-film and it’s not really gory.” But encouraged by a friend to submit the work, it made the final cut. And the short speaks for itself: composed of a single shot, the film took a day to shoot at Pie in the Sky but post-production special effects took eight months to complete, between Nayman and his longtime collaborator, Mike Boers. Nayman hoped to keep the film ambiguous, as it grapples with a man so engrossed with everyday minutiae he doesn’t notice an apocalypse occurring outside his car window. “I’m hoping,” he says, “that some people read it as sci-fi and some people read it as darkly funny.” Sharp and aptly observed, audiences will read it as good filmmaking either way.
At the other end of the subtlety spectrum—which is to say, not at all—is TADFF’s opening night film. After putting such films as Repo! The Genetic Opera, Dead Snow, and Let The Right One In on the map, TADFF now has the clout to attract the likes of director Ti West (The Innkeepers), and this year secured the world premiere of the latest Troma feature, Father’s Day. For those unfamiliar with Troma Entertainment, it is the company responsible for contemporary B-movie cult classics such as Tromeo and Juliet, Poultrygeist: Night the Chicken Dead, and The Toxic Avenger, headed by the movie-making machine Lloyd Kaufman. One of the four world premieres at this year’s festival, Kaufman was delighted to have Father’s Day grace TADFF’s screens. In his characteristically passionate and sometimes incoherent way, Kaufman raved to us via email about the festival that “understood Troma first, which is why we prefer it to TIFF, who never got us,” going on to add that “Toronto and Troma have had a 40 year love affair and that is not just because our names begin with the same letter of the alphabet!” Hey, we’ll take it! As the film is not directed by Kaufman it lacks some of the real Troma charm, but it is a delight for SFX and gore fans (and a Canadian delight, to boot). Inverting the gender dynamic of the rape-revenge film (and adding in some Satanism too), Father’s Day follows two men as they seek justice for the rape and murder of their fathers. Like we said, not exactly subtle.
But this is precisely the fun of After Dark, as it straddles the line between B-movies and horror auteurs, giving screen time to films that otherwise might get ignored. And sometimes it’s just that these films deserve to be taken out of the dark.