TORONTO AFTER DARK FILM FESTIVAL at the Bloor (506 Bloor West), Friday to Tuesday (October 20 to 24). For details, see Indie & Rep Film, this page. 416-967-1528, www.torontoafterdark.com. Rating: NNNNN
The inaugural Toronto After Dark Festival of sick and twisted cinema includes five days of Swedish vampires, German zombies, mad-cow-infected kung fu psychos, flesh-eating wasps and Retribution, the latest from Japan's answer to David Cronenberg, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Each of the fest's 13 features will be preceded by Canadian horror shorts. Here are some of the highlights.
SPECIAL (Hal Haberman, Jeremy Passmore). 81 minutes. Friday (October 20), 7 pm. Rating: NNNN
Just when the tights-and-flights genre feels played out, along comes this no-budget take on superheroes that ranks alongside the criminally underrated Unbreakable.
Michael Rapaport, a good actor currently paying the bills with work on the sitcom The War At Home, gives a career-best performance as Les, a comics-obsessed parking enforcement officer who acquires special powers after volunteering for an experimental drug program.
Donning a homemade super-suit, Les sets out to save the world one purse snatcher at a time - only we're never sure if Les is special the way the Wonder Twins are special or the way kids who wear hockey helmets in gym class are special. Either way, the movie lives up to its title.
FROSTBITE (Anders Banke). 95 minutes. Saturday (October 21), 3:30 pm. Rating: NN
Think Swedish filmmaking and Ingmar Bergman comes to mind, but this ain't Scenes From A Marriage. The idea of vampires living in the endless nights of the north is not new (see the graphic novel 30 Days Of Night, for example), but Frostbite opens strongly during the Second World War before fast-forwarding to the present. Unfortunately, too often it goes for laughs (what's up with the talking dog?) when it should be going for the jugular.
SHINOBI (Ten Shimoyama). 101 minutes. Saturday (October 21), 6:30 pm. Rating: NNN
If you've ever thought the Bard would be so much more badass if he'd written about ninjas, or if you just love ninjas, then Shinobi is for you. Filled with the stealthy fuckers - creepy old ninjas, hot babe ninjas, shape-shifting ninjas, evil face-stealing ninjas, ninjas with El DeBarge hair, ninjas with swords, ninjas with tentacled sleeves - it's essentially Romeo And Juliet set during a clan war in feudal Japan.
With its strong cast (Versus's Tak Sakaguchi, Azumi's Jo Odagiri) and eye-popping visuals, it falls somewhere between the infinite coolness of Ninja Scroll and the abomination of American Ninja V.
THE BEACH PARTY AT THE THRESHOLD OF HELL (Jonny Gillette, Kevin Wheatley). 97 minutes. Saturday (October 21), midnight. Rating: NNN
While the title sounds like Frankie And Annette Meet Fulci And Argento, this is actually a post-apocalyptic poli-satire about the bikini-less direction in which America is heading.
Besuited would-be world leader Tex Kennedy (Wheatley) rises from the rubble and sets out with robot sidekicks Yul and Quincy to establish order. Toss in a surfer cult led by the spawn of Satan, a giant sea snake, the great, great, great-grandson of Fidel Castro, the three Bs of B moviedom - babes (as in über-vixen Cannibal Sue), blood and Baldwin (as in Daniel) - and a heap more ambition than money and you have a cult classic in the vein of Six String Samurai.
BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON (Scott Glosserman). 92 minutes. Tuesday (October 24), 9:30 pm. Rating: NNNN
If you want to avoid falling victim to a masked homicidal maniac, don't hang out with virgins. That's one of the lessons imparted by Leslie Vernon, an aspiring serial killer who lives in a world where Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger really exist.
This slashumentary has a film crew accompany Leslie as he trains for his first murderous rampage (lots of cardio so he can run while appearing to be walking). But unlike his idols in the slasher biz, Leslie comes across as a friendly, likeable guy who just happens to want to kill people - drunken high school jocks and their slutty cheerleader girlfriends mostly.
By the time Freddy himself, Robert Englund, shows up as a psychiatrist hunting his former patient, the film has tipped gleefully into Halloween territory, reminding us of a kinder, gentler time when a masked man with a machete killing stupid teenagers was all you needed to have a bloody good time at the movies.