This is the week when I get to see a bunch of newer horror films and shorts, courtesy of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. I intend to write full reviews for a couple of these, but for now, here are my brief thoughts. I’m going to get some classic horror films in for the last week of Horror Nights. I might also add that the post for that week will not go up until the day after Halloween, so ideally there will be more movies on there than normal.
Portal to Hell!!! (2015)
This short showed at Toronto After Dark before my screening of Tales of Halloween. What made this short compelling at first glance though, was its inclusion of the late Roddy Piper. Playing a superintendent of a pretty standard apartment dwelling, the short introduces a couple of the tenants of the building, but then utilizes them in comedic ways when a portal to Hell opens in the basement of their building because of a couple elderly satanists. The comedy is generally fine, but very tongue-in-cheek. There’s some extraneous gore and overall the short manages to mix the two fairly well. It’s comfort food, but is ultimately anchored by Roddy Piper’s comedic performance.
Tales of Halloween (2015)
I have problems with anthology films overall, but my biggest problem is that they tend to lack consistency between shorts. Tales of Halloween manages to dodge that issue while being a fairly forgetful endeavor. Each short is centered around some element of Halloween and they all take place in the same town on October 31st. The complaint that I have is that while most of the shorts have some twist that is cool and genuinely entertaining, they often feel formulaic in their execution. Some shorts are simply abysmal, while others are just mediocre. The best short was probably the first one involving a demon that kills people for candy, but even that still relies pretty heavily on its influences. It’s a fine watch that I got to enjoy at Toronto After Dark but is more suitable for a night at home on VOD, which it is now available on as well.
O Negative (2015)
I’ve seen several vampire films so far this year, but this Canadian short which showed at Toronto After Dark was by far one of the more muted interpretations. Following a man who loves a vampire, the short film follows him as he spends the day looking for ways to feed his lover and then tries to communicate their relationship through their brief interactions and his own actions. It was interesting at first, but the short feels too low-key to offer anything substantial in its brief runtime. While it is evident that their relationship means a lot to him, I never felt that the vampire felt the same way, and it seems like something that would turn off any relationship. That lack of mutual respect makes it hard to feel satisfied by the actions of the husband.
The Hallow (2015)
Irish folklore is front and center for this horror film that I got the pleasure of seeing at Toronto After Dark, as well. This was my last film of the night and it was a hell of a trip. While I had some reservations about the way certain information was doled out to characters, it ultimately becomes a very tense story that grounds something utterly fantastical. There is enough given to the Hallow that makes their mere presence haunting. Add to that some great performances from Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, and Michael McElhatton and you have yourself a horror film that cements Corin Hardy as a director to watch out for in the future.
Crimson Peak (2015)
It isn’t a ghost story, it’s a story with ghosts in it. But that doesn’t mean that Guillermo del Toro’s latest offering isn’t filled with some really tense horror. I would regard this as one of his best films, primarily for its captivating performances by Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain, and its tightly wound story. Every shot, reference, or moment tends to mean something, which is why Crimson Peak feels so satisfying by the time it reaches its conclusion. It is a violent film about loss, regret, and the things we can’t live without. Which makes it so easy to get wrapped up in its gothic romance aesthetic and atmospheric horror. If you’re not already intrigued by the characters, there is plenty to love about the cinematography and production. This will be a film I visit regularly.
The Conjuring (2013)
I hadn’t seen The Conjuring since it was released in theaters a couple years ago, mainly because I remember thinking it was a really well done film with a terrible ending. Flash forward to the present and it turns out I love the film even more than before but it still struggles severely by its climax. As far as haunted house films go, The Conjuring is up there as one of the most finely crafted and tense films. Its use of kids games in the house is one of the most terrifying components of the film, carried by a camera that feels alive because of constant tracking shots. The camera explores the house just as the viewer does, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find moments where the film is hurt by its living camera. The climax is still a massive letdown though, made exponentially worse by its quick conclusion. The Conjuring remains James Wan’s best film, though.
The Thing (1982)
I decided last year that this will be a film I rewatch on a regular basis. Obviously a classic horror film, what works best is its reliance on the unknown. The opening scene is a perfect summation of how humanity would behave under similar circumstances, yet because it is the opening of the film, it works as a foreshadowing device to the effect the “thing” will have on research team. The creature effects still hold up as messed up and creative, but it really is the paranoia that the crew has which sets The Thing apart from other creature features. It is definitely a film where I keep finding something minute within the filmmaking to appreciate even more.