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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Sean Kelly

TIFF13: Ranking Midnight Madness

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At this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the ever-popular Midnight Madness programme will be celebrating its 25th anniversary.  The programme, which focuses on horror, sci-fi, action, and other genre films, was launched in 1988 and initially programmed by, current artistic director of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Noah Cowan.  Current programmer Collin Geddes became involved with the programme in 1997 and has been in charge of Midnight Madness ever since.

When I started going to TIFF a decade ago, I was initially somewhat reluctant to check out films from this programme and even said as much in one of my early TIFF preview posts from 2005.  However, I finally took the plunge by seeing a daytime repeat screening in 2006 and I’ve seen at least one Midnight Madness film at every festival since. 

In celebration of Midnight Madness’ 25th anniversary, I thought that I would rank all 17 Midnight Madness films I’ve seen over the course of the last seven years.  As a special bonus, I dug out my old ticket stubs and I will include them, wherever possible, as I discuss the films.  Also, I will limit this list to films I’ve actually seen at the festival, since it would be too confusing to include films I missed at Midnight Madness, but have since seen.

Let’s Begin

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17. John Carpenter’s The Ward – TIFF 2010

Even though it ended up at the bottom of my list, The Ward still has the honour of being the first Midnight Madness film I actually saw at midnight.  I remember having to sit in the front row at that screening, since I had just come out of a screening of Let Me In that ran long.  I was also somewhat disappointed that John Carpenter was unable to make the screening and only made a video intro.  While The Ward is currently my least favourite Midnight Madness film, it still was a memorable screening.

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16. Jennifer’s Body – TIFF 2009

One of the more mainstream Midnight Madness selections, I caught the film at the repeat screening at the Varsity late in the 2009 festival.  One thing that remains on my mind about Jennifer’s Body is how similar the plot is to the, much better, Canadian film Ginger Snaps. While, I later concluded that the similarities were more coincidental than anything, it was still something to think about.

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15. Hellbenders – TIFF 2012

Hellbenders was one of the many Midnight Madness films I saw last year and was probably the one that stuck out the least.  There is nothing particularly all that bad about Hellbenders, it was just a dumb comedy that didn’t really leave much of a lasting impression.  That said, I probably wouldn’t be against watching this again at some point.

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14. Lovely Molly – TIFF 2011

Lovely Molly, by Blair Witch Project co-director Eduardo Sánchez wasn’t the most memorable film, but I did remember it being quite chilling at times.

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13. John Dies at the End – TIFF 2012

John Dies at the End was the victim of bad scheduling, since even though it was my most anticipated Midnight Madness film of last year, I ended up dozing off during the screening, since I was up for 18 hours by the time of the midnight screening.  I’ve since rewatched the film when it played as part of Cineplex’s Sinister Cinema series and all is good.

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12. Eden Log – TIFF 2008

Out of all films I saw in the Midnight Madness programme, Eden Log is the one I’m most glad to have seen at a daytime repeat screening. Even though I found the film to be somewhat decent, it was a bit slow and might actually be a better fit in today’s Vanguard programme.

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11. Aftershock – TIFF 2012

Aftershock is a bit of a polarizing film and I probably ended up liking the film better for it’s dark and violent second half, rather than its light and comedic first half.  Still I found it somewhat decent.

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10. Smuggler – TIFF 2011

The midnight screening of Smuggler is now infamous for being delayed, which resulted in the audience being treated to an impromptu stand-up set by Bobcat Goldthwait. Alas, I was at a repeat screening so I did not see that, but I enjoyed this Japanese film nonetheless.

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9. The Day – TIFF 2011

Despite a slow start, I found the post-apocalyptic film The Day to be a quite entertaining film. This also marked the first time I saw more than one midnight screening in a single festival, with me talking about the other film a little later.

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8. Severance – TIFF 2006

After skipping out on Midnight Madness for my first three years going to the festival, I finally saw my first film of the programme on the final day of the festival in 2006.  I’m happy that I chose the British horror-comedy Severance as my first Midnight Madness film, since it gave me a good idea what the whole programme was about and I would continue seeing Midnight Madness films in the years to come.

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7. Survival of the Dead – TIFF 2009

While probably not the same quality of his classic zombie films, it was still a joy seeing a George A. Romero film at the festival.  Shame he wasn’t at the repeat screening I saw, though I did check out his “In Conversation with…” at the Bell Lightbox last Halloween.

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6. Dredd 3D – TIFF 2012

Despite the screening being more than an hour delayed, I still quite enjoyed seeing last year’s opening Midnight Madness film. The film played off great with the midnight audience and I’m happy I saw the film with that crowd.

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5. The ABCs of Death – TIFF 2012

Despite being somewhat hit and miss in nature, I overall enjoyed this horror anthology and I wish I saw this at the midnight screening (though it was also good as the film I used to finish off last year’s festival).

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4. Stuck – TIFF 2007

This film by Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) became my second ever Midnight Madness film in 2007.  Despite having a mostly isolated setting, I thought the film was quite effective and even had a few grisly moments.

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3. Insidious – TIFF 2010

I had earmarked Insidious as being my first Midnight Madness screening at midnight, but I decided to pick The Ward instead.  Since I ended up liking James Wan’s haunted house film a lot more, I wish I saw this film at midnight instead.

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2. The Bay – TIFF 2012

Barry Levinson’s parasitic found footage film was a complete surprise for me and it ended up being my favourite Midnight Madness film from last year, despite the fact that I didn’t see it at midnight. If I could remedy that fact, I would.

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1.  You’re Next – TIFF 2011

What other film could it be? It was described in the film’s introduction that You’re Next was produced by Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett specifically for the Midnight Madness crowd and I am very happy that I caught the midnight screening in 2011.  It’s two years later and I’m still raving about the film!  I would have definitely gone and saw You’re Next again during its regular theatrical release, if I was able to find time to fit it in.  However, I am still very much a fan of this film and I expect You’re Next to find a place in my blu-ray collection in a few months.

Oh yeah, I also can’t forget about the promotional graffiti at the screening:
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Well, that concludes my ranking of every Midnight Madness film I’ve seen.  I’m going to be very active at Midnight Madness at this year’s festival, with me seeing six films in the programme – ALL of them at midnight.  The last seven years have been leading to this point and it is sure going to be one hell of a time!

Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).