Here's the first of two dispatches rounding up capsule reviews of the more buzzed-about films screening in the Toronto International Film Festival's Midnight Madness section.
ABCs of Death
The ABCs of Death are 26 short horror films each by a different director. The collection of underground, international filmmakers all bring a unique perspective to their shorts, and if you know what feature films they've made, you probably know what to expect. I’m not sure all the filmmakers really took the task seriously; it feels like some of them are slumming it, and Ti West’s film is basically a joke that gets him out of actually doing something with the concept of an alphabetical short. Yet the filmmakers who made Q and W took a humorous perspective and delivered the most complete, fulfilling entries.
Of course the Japanese films are the most bizarre and extreme. Even Srdjan Spasojevic’s (A Serbian Film) short can’t hold a candle to dogs fighting Nazi cats and masturbation death matches. So that’s where a majority of filmmakers took things when given $5,000 and a letter of the alphabet. If you like that sort of thing, you know who you are and this one’s for you. No judgments, it’s just a very specific niche. We'll have more on the anthology from Fantastic Fest next week.
Hellbenders is one of the lighter Midnight Madness movies, along with John Dies at the End. This dark comedy is about exorcists who spend their downtime sinning, so when they confront a demon they can get possessed, kill themselves and take the spirit back to hell with them, or so their logic goes. Hellbenders has a lot of outrageous sights of priests doing drugs, fornicating and swearing. That’s fun stuff (for a "midnight" crowd) and it’s also nice to see Clancy Brown and Clifton Collins Jr. get leading roles as heroes, or at least really funny antiheroes as it were. With the recent spate of ultra-serious exorcism movies, Hellbenders is a breath of fresh air. It’s a bit of a one-joke premise, but they don’t let up on the sinning and everyone gets a great line or two, so it’s definitely good midnight fun.
The Lords of Salem
Rob Zombie’s latest film is not for me, but for its fans it seems to work. Radio DJ Heidi LaRoc (Sheri Moon Zombie) receives a mysterious album, and playing it on air seems to reactivate age-old witch covens. Lords isn’t as aggressive as Zombie’s previous films, though it is still unpleasant. This isn’t fun horror, but it’s not intense enough to be visceral horror. The mythology doesn’t make me interested in witchcraft, though if witches feel misrepresented by Hollywood, here’s a much grittier version; the ugly truth perhaps. The crazy images that haunt Heidi are more vulgar than scary: naked covens around a fire, a hentai monster, a red dildo (yes, really). The film is coherently shot; Zombie has always been good with a camera, mainly from cutting his teeth in music videos (although one witch image was so hidden I didn’t even notice it until long after the scary noise announced its presence).