Twenty-Five Years of Madness
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Twenty-Five Years of Madness

TIFF's Midnight Madness series celebrates a quarter-century of genre craziness.

Back in 1988, the Festival of Festivals—now the Toronto International Film Festival—launched an innovative new late-night programme at the Bloor Cinema. The programme was a home for genre films of all kinds (and, in some cases, films from no recognizable genre at all), where die-hard fanatics could blow off some steam. Twenty-five years later, that late-night programme remains and continues to jolt festival filmgoers awake well into the wee hours. Welcome to Midnight Madness.

“It was a place for weird, strange genre films that didn’t get the respect that they should have gotten,” said Colin Geddes, famed Midnight Madness programmer, devotee of the deranged, and champion of the bizarre. That first year, splattery horror movies like Brain Damage and Hellbound: Hellraiser II were scheduled cheek by jowl with the documentaries Heavy Petting and The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, and the decidedly eccentric Tom Waits concert film Big Time. Strange bedfellows indeed, but the audience loved it.

Flash-forward a few years, and the gruesome horror, out-there sci-fi, and surreal comedy that are the hallmarks of Midnight Madness have become the birthplace of the next great generation of writers, directors, and actors. In 1990, Midnight Madness famously screened Peter Jackson’s second feature, a demented puppet comedy titled Meet the Feebles; in 1992, the programme included his outrageous zombie comedy Braindead (a.k.a Dead Alive), alongside one of Russell Crowe’s early films, Geoffrey Wright’s ripped-from-the-headlines skinhead drama Romper Stomper. In 1993, Richard Linklater’s feature debut Dazed and Confused—its cast including Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Cole Hauser, Adam Goldberg, Parker Posey, Renee Zellweger, and Anthony Rapp—was on the roster, along with horror veteran Dario Argento’s Trauma and Basque enfant terrible Álex de la Iglesia’s Acción Mutante.

As it marks its silver anniversary (silver bullets, anyone?), Midnight Madness—now billed as “the best in action, horror, shock and fantasy cinema”—shows no sign of slowing down. Genre films are big business and solidly part of the mainstream (witness James Wan, director of MM 2004’s surprise blockbuster Saw, and his current $220-million summer hit The Conjuring).

“The series is not as transgressive or experimental as it was in the early years,” Geddes says. “Now, for a movie to work for a Midnight Madness audience, it has to grab you by the jugular right away.” When we asked whether new technologies have democratized genre filmmaking, Geddes noted that “more people still talk about making films than actually make them.” He also noted, with some consternation, the plethora of found-footage films that have resulted from the ubiquity of semi-pro digital equipment. Many of the newer entries in this category of film lack both a justification for the found-footage device and a logical explanation for how the footage came to be assembled into what the audience is watching. His hint to those tackling the much-maligned sub-genre: “Footage needs to be lost before it can be found.”

What are some of Geddes’s fondest Midnight Madness memories from the last 25 years? He mentions hosting filmmakers stranded in Toronto during 9/11 for a barbecue at his home; bringing together the largest single audience ever for an Indonesian film with Gareth Evans’s urban thriller The Raid; and holding the last-ever screening at the Uptown Theatre in 2003 (the final film was, ironically, Undead)—a screening that included a 2 a.m. champagne toast with TIFF executives Piers Handling and Michèle Maheux in attendance. “They told me they wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”


Midnight Madness has screened films by Peter Jackson, Richard Linklater, James Wan, George Romero, John Carpenter, Barry Levinson, Eli Roth, and other other cinematic greats—but here are some classics that deserve more attention than they received, paired up for a perfectly Mad evening of your own.

Man Bites Dog (Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde; screened 1992)
Kill List (Ben Wheatley; screened 2011)
Long before The Blair Witch Project, the controversial mockumentary Man Bites Dog arguably launched the found-footage genre. In it, a gullible film crew follows a charismatic and prolific serial killer and finds itself increasingly complicit as he commits his unspeakable (and sometimes unwatchable) crimes. Moments of shocking violence also punctuate Kill List, an unnerving thriller in which a semi-retired hit man tries to reduce his debt and improve his family life by assassinating a series of unusually eager victims.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (Jonathan Levine; screened 2006)
You’re Next (Adam Wingard; screened 2011)
Unjustly subjected to years of distribution limbo (and only now surfacing in North America), All the Boys Love Mandy Lane cleverly deconstructs the slasher genre. It centres on high-school dream girl Mandy Lane and the boys who hope to get with her, but just might die trying. Best experienced without any spoilers, the blackly comic thriller You’re Next, now out in theatres, takes a variety of nasty implements to home-invasion horror, turning it inside out in the process.

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (Shûsuke Kaneko; screened 1999)
Tetsuo: Iron Man (Shinya Tsukamoto; screened 1990)
If all you know of kaiju films are Godzilla and Pacific Rim, then the enthralling Gamera 3–nominally about a giant turtle terrorizing Tokyo–is waiting for you to discover it. (Gamera, the Guardian of the Universe and Gamera 2: Assault of Legion, while also enjoyable, are not required.) If you prefer your mutant monsters to be more human-sized, the expressionistic splatter-punk extravaganza Tetsuo: The Iron Man will be a grisly, yet oddly affecting treat for your eyes and ears.

Ichi the Killer (Takeshi Miike; screened 2001)
Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist (Kirby Dick; screened 1997)
Scaldingly violent, Ichi the Killer fully lives up to its reputation as a perverse yakuza thriller as it depicts the dance of death between a wildly masochistic enforcer and a psychotic killer who can provide the pain he desperately craves. A more realistic, if still unsparing, depiction of masochism can be found in the documentary Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, which tells the story of the eponymous writer and performance artist who eroticized pain as a way of dealing with his cystic fibrosis.

The Eye (Oxide Pang, Danny Pang; screened 2002)
Heaven (Scott Reynolds; screened 1998)
Second sight, and the feelings of powerlessness that can accompany it, feature strongly in both the mournful supernatural drama The Eye, in which a young woman’s eye transplant reveals frightening phantoms and visions all around her, and Heaven, a chilling non-linear crime thriller about an architect who falls in with a transsexual stripper troubled by violent and unerringly accurate premonitions.

The Day of the Beast (Álex de la Iglesia; screened 1995)
Save the Green Planet (Joon-Hwan Jang; screened 2003)
These two are as gleefully anarchic a pair of films as you’re likely to see. The Day of the Beast turns the arrival of the Antichrist into a chaotic horror farce that starts wildly over the top and rockets into the stratosphere. Not to be outdone, the completely crazed Save the Green Planet gives us a hero who has determined that the world is on the verge of an alien invasion and that he alone is equipped to stop it—but is he correct, or has he had a full-on psychotic break?

Dellamorte Dellamore (Michele Soavi; screened 1994)
The Loved Ones (Sean Byrne; screened 2009)
Saddled in its North American release with the unpromising title Cemetery Man, Dellamorte Dellamore is a wryly satirical horror fantasy about a graveyard attendant—Rupert Everett!—who keeps the suddenly lively dead at bay, but faces a quandary when the woman he loves joins their number. A different kind of ardour fuels the witty Australian shocker The Loved Ones, a mashup of Pretty in Pink and Hostel, about a troubled teenager who makes the mistake of rejecting the absolutely worst possible girl as a date for the prom.

À l’intérieur (Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo; screened 2007)
Martyrs (Pascal Laugier; screened 2008)
French films displayed a new extremity of violence and sexuality as they entered the 21st century—much of it set against a backdrop of real-life racial and social unrest. Few of these films are more blistering in their intensity than À l’intérieur (Inside), in which the terrifying Béatrice Dalle menaces a young mother-to-be and will do anything to get her baby. Billed as an “anti-Hostel,” but excruciating nonetheless, Martyrs sees a young woman accompany her not-entirely-stable friend on a quest for vengeance against those who allegedly kidnapped and tortured her as a child—only to find the truth of the matter is much, much worse.

Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (Prachya Pinkaew; screened 2003)
Chocolate (Prachya Pinkaew; screened 2008)
Midnight Madness brought the new wave of Thai martial arts films (“No stunt doubles. No computer graphics. No strings attached”) and superstar Tony Jaa to an international audience with the audacious Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior. Was there a plot? Who remembers? It’s the fight choreography that thrills and astonishes. Just a few years later, director Prachya Pinkaew upped the stakes by introducing diminutive powerhouse JeeJa Yanin in Chocolate as an autistic girl who breaks out of her shell as a martial arts savant, pursuing and punishing the brutal gangs that owe her ailing mother money.

CORRECTION: September 3, 11:00 AM The post previously stated that Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles was his first feature film, when it was, in fact, his second feature. We have made the correction above.

CORRECTION: September 3, 11:00 AM The post also stated that Romper Stomper was Russell Crowe’s debut feature-film performance, when it was, in fact, simply one of his earliest works. We have made the correction above.

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