Toronto announces Midnight Madness line-up including ‘Seven Psychopaths’

I was already excited for Toronto.  The Midnight Madness selection this year just pushes that excitement into a low-grade sustained mania that is going to make August seem very, very slow no matter what.

With this morning’s announcement of the Midnight Madness line-up, I now have a pretty good picture of my September firmly in place.  Even the film I’ve already seen from the line-up has gone through a serious post-production process since the Sundance premiere, and I’m excited to see how “John Dies At The End” has come together.

It’s a very diverse schedule this year, and I remain impressed with the breadth of what Colin Geddes programs each year.  He’s determined to give audiences a wild ten-day ride that they can’t predict, and looking at this year’s slate, I’m guessing it will be another amazing experience.  In today’s press release, Geddes said, “Audiences clamouring for this highly anticipated lineup can expect wild rides and crazy adventures into the most chimerical and wicked worlds imaginable.”

He went on to add, “Expect everything from outrageous horror comedies to mock-doc eco- apocalypse thrillers, featuring trans-dimensional bugs, lewd Catholic priests, meat monsters and dog-napping psychopaths that will animate the Ryerson Theatre when the clock chimes 12.”

Without further ado, here’s the line-up, with my comments under each entry.

“The ABCs of Death”
Dir. Kaare Andrews, Angela Bettis, Adrián García Bogliano, Bruno Forzani & Hélène Cattet, Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, Jason Eisener, Xavier Gens, Jorge Michel Grau, Lee Hardcastle, Noboru Iguchi, Thomas Cappelen Malling, Anders Morgenthaler, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Simon Rumley, Marcel Sarmiento, Jon Schnepp, Srdjan Spasojevic, Timo Tjahjanto, Andrew Traucki, Nacho Vigalondo, Jake West, Ti West, Ben Wheatley, Adam Wingard, and Yûdai Yamaguchi
World Premiere

Twenty-six directors… 26 ways to die! The ABCs Of Death is perhaps the most ambitious anthology film ever conceived, featuring segments directed by over two dozen of the world”s leading talents in contemporary genre film. With each director assigned a letter of the alphabet, they were then given free rein in choosing a word to create a story involving a tale of mortality. It”s an alphabetical arsenal of destruction orchestrated by some of the most exciting names in global horror including Ben Wheatley (Kill List), Ti West (House of the Devil), Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun), Adam Wingard (You’re Next), Xavier Gens (Frontieres), and Nacho Vigalondo (Time Crimes).

When I saw a short preview reel for this at SXSW this year, it was immediately apparent that the MPAA would implode if they ever saw the actual film, and that it somehow managed to feel like an entire Fantastic Fest packed into one film.  I can’t wait to see what this insane line-up pulls off together, and even if it’s wildly uneven, I’ll bet the high points are totally worth it.

Dir. Nicolás López, USA/Chile
World Premiere

In Chile, an American tourist”s vacation goes from good to great when he meets some beautiful women travellers. But when an earthquake ravages the underground nightclub they”re in, a fun night quickly turns to terror. Escaping to the surface is just the beginning as they face nightmarish chaos above ground. Starring Eli Roth and Selena Gomez.

First of all, “starring Eli Roth and Selena Gomez” may be the single strangest phrase I’ll type all week.  Insane.  I’m thrilled for Lopez, who has had some giant hits in Chile, but who has yet to really find wide acceptance internationally.  I’m guessing the real earthquake that Chile suffered that inspired this is going to give Lopez some very genuine anxieties to play with in the film, and I’m excited to see how the film starts with a real disaster and then spins that out into something dark and thrilling.

“The Bay”
Barry Levinson, USA
World Premiere

A brutal and harrowing film about a deadly parasite, The Bay chronicles the descent of a small Maryland town into absolute terror.

A Barry Levinson film is in Midnight Madness.  I’m still trying to fully process that.  A Barry Levinson film.  Is in Midnight Madness.  Doesn’t matter how I say it, that’s still just bizarre.  Levinson may not have a long resume of horror films, but I find that the people who are just playing with the genre for the first time can sometimes turn out to make the most interesting movies.  Even stranger… unless I’m remembering this wrong, “The Bay” is a found-footage movie.  From the director of “Diner.”  That is a horror film playing Midnight Madness.  No, that’s never going to get any less weird, is it?

“Come Out and Play”
Dir. Makinov, Mexico
World Premiere

Beth and Francis vacation before the birth of their child. Francis insists on venturing to a more serene island, Beth hesitantly agrees. They set out to a beautiful island, but soon discover it”s mysteriously abandoned, and the only people on the island are children. Beth and Francis are left to uncover the mystery of the disappearances, and a day in paradise quickly turns into a struggle for survival. Cast includes Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Vinessa Shaw and Daniel Gimenez Cacho.

Here’s one of those complete unknown quantities for me, where I don’t know the director or the actors (Shaw’s in a few movies I know, but I’d hardly say she’s familiar), and so all I really know here is that simple logline and the fact that Colin Geddes thinks it’s one of the ten movies that deserve to play the festival this year.  Good enough for me.

Dir. Pete Travis, USA/United Kingdom/India
World Premiere

The endlessly inventive mind of writer Alex Garland (28 Days Later) and director Pete Travis bring the iconic masked police officer Dredd to life in this futuristic neo-noir action film. Filmed in 3D with stunning slow-motion photography sequences, the film returns the celebrated comic book anti-hero to his dark, violent and visceral roots. Starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headey.

I would not have predicted that “Dredd” would end up playing in two film festivals I’m attending.  That seems like a good sign for this second attempt at turning the iconic British comic book character into a live-action star, and the early buzz from the Comic-Con screening was pretty good as well.  The first trailer was strong, so I’m going to walk into this one, fingers crossed, hoping for the best-case scenario.  If they pull it off, this could be awesome.

Dir. JT Petty, USA
World Premiere

Hellbenders, an R-rated 3D exorcism comedy, follows the Order of Hellbound Saints (Brooklyn Parish), a highly secretive and profoundly blasphemous men of God, as they battle demonic forces too terrible to be cast out by traditional Vatican-approved methods. Cast includes Clancy Brown, Clifton Collins Jr., Robyn Rikoon and Andre Royo.

J.T. Petty may not be a huge name outside the genre, but he has proven himself a consistently smart and daring filmmaker, and this looks like a rowdy, wicked next step for him.  This is the exact sort of film that could turn into a surprise break-out, and if anyone deserves it, Petty does.  That cast gives me hope that we’re looking at one of the festival’s biggest pleasures here.

“John Dies at the End”
Dir. Don Coscarelli, USA    
Canadian Premiere

In John Dies at the End, it”s all about the Soy Sauce, a drug that promises an out-of-body experience with each hit. Users drift across time and dimensions. But some who come back are no longer human. Suddenly, a silent otherworldly invasion is underway, and mankind needs a hero. What it gets instead is John (Rob Mayes) and David (Chase Williamson), a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold down jobs. Can these two stop the oncoming horror in time to save humanity? No. No, they can’t. Adapted from David Wong’s audacious trans-genre horror novel, John Dies at the End is written and directed by Don Coscarelli (Bubba Ho-Tep) and also stars Clancy Brown and Paul Giamatti.

I saw and liked this one at Sundance this year, and my understanding is that they’ve continued to tweak the film.  I’m in the middle of reading the sequel to the first book right now, and I sincerely hope this film does well enough once it’s finally in theaters to justify Coscarelli making “This Book Is Full Of Spiders” somewhere down the road.  This is a dreamy, strange, often hilarious story about the least likely heroes you’ll see in a film this year. It’s an exciting movie by Coscarelli, who rarely gets the respect due to him as a giant of the genre, and my guess is the Toronto midnight audience is going to flip out when they see how much fun this is.

“The Lords of Salem”
Dir. Rob Zombie, USA/United Kingdom/Canada    
World Premiere

Heidi, a radio station DJ, receives a wooden box containing a record. Heidi listens and the bizarre sounds within the grooves immediately trigger flashbacks of Salem’s violent past. Is Heidi going mad or are the Lords of Salem returning for revenge on modern day Salem?

I’m so happy this isn’t a remake of anything.  Although Rob Zombie is convinced I dislike him, the truth is that I just think his “Halloween” remakes are terrible.  I liked his first two features, and “The Devil’s Rejects” seemed to me to be the work of someone with a genuine knack for the horrible.  This sounds like a solid starting place for his particular brand of white-trash mayhem, and I’m excited to see what he’s come up with.

“No One Lives”
Dir. Ryuhei Kitamura, USA    
World Premiere

From the director of Versus and The Midnight Meat Train, No One Lives is a smart and original horror movie with, at its heart, a killer in the grip of a dark and twisted love affair. A ruthless criminal gang takes a young couple hostage and goes to ground in an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. When the captive girl is killed, the tables are unexpectedly turned. The gang finds itself outsmarted by an urbane and seasoned killer determined to ensure that no one lives. Featuring Luke Evans, Adelaide Clemens, Derek Magyar, Lee Tergesen and America Olivo.

Kitamura has been struggling to find his footing for the better part of a decade, and his last film barely made it to release.  Still, he’s a smart, stylish filmmaker and this sounds like a new riff on some familiar ideas.  It will all come down to how he plays it, and if he pulls it off, this could be the darkest ride of the entire fest.

“Seven Psychopaths”
Dir. Martin McDonagh, USA/United Kingdom    
World Festival Premiere

Written and Directed by Academy Award® winner Martin McDonagh, the comedy Seven Psychopaths follows a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) who inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell) kidnap a gangster”s (Woody Harrelson) beloved Shih Tzu. Co-starring Abbie Cornish, Tom Waits, Olga Kurylenko and Zeljko Ivanek.

“In Bruges” has become a cult favorite over the last few years, and McDonagh’s got such a strong voice that watching a cast like that play his material sounds like heaven to me.  “Seven Psychopaths” probably could have been programmed anywhere in that festival, but leave it to Colin to make sure he’s got more than just the expected in his section, and it sounds like the perfect sort of movie to wake us up at the end of a long day.

We’ll have coverage of this and much more when we hit the Toronto Film Festival starting this year on September 5, so keep checking back here for more on this potentially amazing festival.