TADFF 15 Review: Deathgasm

Deathgasm is hardcore. There is no other way of putting it. Even from its very beginnings, according to the Toronto After Dark’s Q and A with its director Jason Lei Howden and producer Sarah Howden, the film proved just how powerful it could be through a one sentence prompt and treatment that would ultimately allow it to win the Make My Horror Movie contest in 2013 and win the production money that it needed to scream into existence.

It is so loud and clear with what it is that you don’t even have to be a metal expert to enjoy what you see. After a beautiful animated sequence, Deathgasm shows itself to be a story about a group of teenage friends in a conservative town that essentially unlock a demonic power through acquiring and playing sheets of music. These sheets are being hunted by a cult and then by the demonically-possessed citizens of the teenagers’ home town.

Deathgasm Demon

You get what you can expect when you look at how the horror genre has influenced the growth of metal: tons of gore, angst, screaming, demonic zombie destruction, and lots of penises. Certainly the prosthetics and special effects are impressively twisted: especially when you consider that they are all mostly borrowed props. For instance, the audience in the Q and A were told that the penises were taken from Spartacus of all places.

Deathgasm Zakk and Brodie

But this is just the blood and gore that stains the raging metalhead bad ass. In a movie that plays with the age-old theme of anarchy and vulgar defiance against conformity and hypocrisy, you also get some interesting characters for your time. Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) and Zakk (James Blake) play well off and against each other. Zakk himself is a bit of an asshole but somehow manages to also be a friend and even something of an anti-hero: though as you become more aware of the plot, you will begin to see where he is going with all this. And Brodie comes into his own from being in Zakk’s shadow: claiming the song that he used to unleash hell in a fit of angst.

Deathgasm Brodie and Medina

Even the female lead in the film Medina (Kimberly Crossman) has her own excellent character development. She starts off as something of a popular girl at school but already demonstrates that she is kind, real, and open-minded. You actually get invested with seeing her and Brodie’s relationship and how it’s completely reciprocal. It even gets to the point where she rescues the rest of their band with an ax-pun of which Buffy the Vampire Slayer would be proud.

Deathgasm Medina the Slayer

The villains have excellent moments and conflicting agendas and these, along with Brodie, Medina, and Zakk make up for some of the more stereotypical characters that populate the movie. There is just this emotional complexity amid the gore that makes it all the more alive: its dark humour and irreverence for even the hellish powers animating the story far more than any demon ever could. Also, given that this is a metal movie the soundtrack, much of it made by Skullfist, is excellent. In fact, Howden made people aware that they will be releasing Deathgasm‘s music in a double vinyl record.

In the end, Deathgasm is a glorious, musical, blood-splattered journey into hell and the pointlessness of life and the bad-assness of what you can achieve when you stop caring about the things that don’t matter and begin loving the things that ultimately do. Also, you get to watch really bad people get their moral comeuppance in some graphic and disgusting ways. Karma has never been so metal.

TADFF 15 Review: Patchwork

Imagine you are a lonely businesswoman. Or perhaps you’re a college student that wants to belong. Or maybe you are a shy, quiet woman looking to better yourself.  And then, one night, you go out to seek the things that you want … and then you wake up the next day as three minds trapped in one, awkward, cobbled together body. What do you do?

This is the premise behind Tyler MacIntyre’s horror comedy movie Patchwork. It is an obvious hearkening back to Frankenstein on a classical Universal Studios level, but films such as Re-Animator and Dark Man have also been stated as influences. However both MacIntyre and his co-writer Chris Lee Hill succeed in challenging our expectations of what this story is going to be.

For instance, we get some back story into the lives of the three women that are stitched together. We see Jennifer (Tory Stolper), Ellie (Tracey Fairaway), and Madeleine (Maria Blasucci) as three very different personalities with often divergent goals. Even the scenes that explore their lives, and the moments before their deaths, seem to be stitched together in odd and interesting places.

Tory Stolper herself, who plays the amalgamation of the three girls known as “Stitch” in both the script and the original two-minute short from which Patchwork originated, manages to create a convincing lurching gait and the physical signs of her adaptation into activities such as eating, drinking, grooming, murder, and even sex. But where, in the words of an audience member at the Toronto After Dark, Patchwork might have become a “progressive take on Frankenhooker,” it verges into something else entirely towards the end. The key is examining just who was responsible for the creation of Stitch: and who her, or their, enemy might actually be. That dark twist in a series of shallow interactions with disgusting, chauvinist men, female empowerment that is almost subverted by said realization — and segments reminiscent of Memento and the resolution of Fight Club — was well-played.

In the fact, the only quibble here is that the audience becomes aware of the twist before the characters do: though it can be argued that this only serves to potentially make viewers more eager to see how they will deal with that revelation … and it doesn’t disappoint.

And somehow, through all the quirky humour, human caricatures, chicken fillets, righteous and recreational murder sprees, and gore porn Patchwork does have something of a happy ending. It is, in the words of MacIntyre, like looking at the beginnings of a female superhero’s origin story. After all, sometimes monsters are just people who haven’t found themselves yet outside of society and all they need to become comfortable with themselves, what they want, and who they want in their lives.

TADFF 15 Review: Tales of Halloween

Imagine The Ray Bradbury Theater mixed with Tales From the Crypt and what you’ll get — at least in spirit — is Tales of Halloween. Yet while Axelle Carolyn is the creator of this collection of vignettes, she is only one of eleven popular horror directors — such as Lucky McKee and Darren Lynn Bousman, among others — to have included a short film in the overall structure of the piece.

It’s difficult to actually review a collection of supposedly interlocking films, so perhaps the best way is to look at the overall structure of Tales of Halloween. While Corin Hardy mentions Ray Harryhausen as one of his influences in creating the monsters in The Hallow, you can really see the shadows of Harryhausen’s animation in the miniature land panoramic view introduction to Tales and in Mike Mendez’s “Friday the 31st” and Neil Marshall’s “Bad Seed” vignettes with the cute alien and mutant pumpkin respectively.

But aside from some attempts to unite all the narratives, mainly in “Bad Seed,” most of the stories seem pretty well independent. In that, perhaps the collection as an overall and cohesive story structure fails. However, each vignette can be seen to stand as confections and diabolical plots in their own right. Certainly Dave Parker’s “Sweet Tooth” and Axelle Carolyn’s “Grim Grinning Ghost” create some nice standalone urban myths, along with demonic children facing and doling out justice in both Adam Giegrasch’s “Trick” and Paul Solet’s “The Weak and the Wicked” stand out as particularly strong and memorable stories.

Tone can usually be a casualty of creative collaboration. Whereas The Hallow seemed to be deciding what genre and tropes it was made of out, Tales of Halloween — depending on what tale you were viewing — veers wildly between the mundane, the silly, and the outright murderous and horrifying. Even the fact that each tale is supposed to take place in the same American town doesn’t always show through until “Bad Seed.”

Even so, there is something nostalgic in these vignettes that hearken back to candies, and games, and movies. Certainly, Adrienne Barbeau’s dark and delightfully full and villainous voice as a DJ on the radio narrating each vignette also adds to this spirit. Mainly, Tales of Halloween is a lot like the ghastly Sweet Tooth’s grab bag: sometimes you find delicious morsels, and other times you just find guts … until you realize that both are valid snack choices.

What Does It Want to Be? A TADFF 15 Review of The Hallow

There are many different interpretations of faeries. Corin Hardy, director of The Hallow, seems aware of this fact: particularly with regards to how the Fae relates to Nature, being the Other in relation to humanity, and always bordering on the formless. Anyone who has read the original fairytales, the oral cautionary folklore of the past, understands just how dark and alien faeries can be.

The premise of the film is fascinating: in that Adam Hitchens, a British conservationist, his wife Claire, and their infant son move to an old forest in Ireland. They move there so that Adam can survey and eventually allow for construction in the area. The problem, of course, is simple: faeries or, as they called in the mythology of the film, the Hallow dwell in the forest … and they do not take kindly to having their territory intruded upon.

Or at least that is what it seems. Hardy creates an interesting take on faerie mythology that feeds well the film’s narrative: at least upon first glance. Through Adam’s own stubbornly scientific observations, viewers see the Hallow as a form of fungus that takes over its hosts: a life form that is highly photosensitive and possesses a great aversion to cold iron. They also create changelings: substitutions of stolen babies when they want to infiltrate a human settlement. It is also very clever how, as what seems to be a hive-mind fungus, the Hallow already has a presence in their wooden house: a ubiquitous threat making the audience aware of that tenuous line between Nature and human society.

However, how the Hallow interacts with the protagonists is where it all begins to fall flat. Even though, at the beginning, someone with a knowledge of faerie lore might wince at Claire taking off the iron bars around the windows of their new home, the nature of the Hallow itself — or themselves — just doesn’t possess any continuity. One moment it seems as though it wants to consume the family; at another it toys with them; and then it wants to spread beyond the forest even though it could have done so many times over for years.

The Hallow as a creature defines its own film structure. It seems stuck in a place between body horror, creature featuring, haunted housing, psychological, and zombie survival horror. Its as though, like its Fae monstrosities, it doesn’t know what it is, or whether or what kind of individuality it possesses. Even Adam and his dog, both of whom are infected by the Hallow fungi, seem to struggle with its mutations slightly but still ultimately fight against it. It just takes away from the actual horror element despite the excellently malformed Hallow creatures, the engrossing scenic view of the forest environment that could easily have been lost to time, and the very real terror a mother feels when her child is danger.

There were a lot of themes that could have been explored in more detail such as a loss or questioning of identity, or even specifics about the incredibly elaborate book of fairytales that the farmer Colm Donnell left the family to warn them out of the forest. The ending just bludgeons for a sequel that lacks even the mystique of its forest environment seemingly last to humanity and time, and the following jump scare just feels a little cheap. But the environment was played with well and there was some kind of closure and humanity for the characters involved.

Before the Toronto After Dark’s showing of the film, the audience was treated to a video made by Corin Hardy: telling them that they should have brought with them cold iron, a flashlight, and goggles. And it is by using these tools that the audience might see that while some trails in the forest of The Hallow might be predictable, Hardy does manage to build on and create a mythos: just as long as he protects that vision and keeps that light right in front of him.