Lina Leandersson gets fest off to a bloody good start with Let The Right One In.
For a while there, the Toronto Film Festival's Midnight Madness program was a fright freak's only fix. Now, Toronto After Dark, the three-year-old that once lurched and lumbered like a Romero zombie, is giving the big show a run for its bloody lucre, sprinting and spewing for eight rage-infected nights.
The marrow of this year's lineup is a pair of diametrically, diabolically opposite movies: Tokyo Gore Police and Let The Right One In.
Directed by Machine Girl effects master Yoshihiro Nichimura, TGC (Rating: NNNN) is drowning in so much viscera, it squishes.
The film is set in a future Tokyo where privatized police hunt down mutants whose gaping, gushing wounds regenerate into chainsaws and guns. Toss an S/M gimp with swords for limbs, a hooker with a toothy crocodile crotch, exploding heads and Eihi Shiina (Audition) as a self-mutilating, sword-wielding saviour into the grinder and the result is so apeshit insane it defies hyperbole.
While the narrative might not always make sense, there's actually something pretty smart seeping in around the edges. Think Cronenberg's early obsession with body horror brundleflied with Verhoevian social commentary.
Then there's Let The Right One In (Rating: NNNNN), a strange, stunning and surprisingly sweet Swedish film about childhood friendship and first love. Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a lonely 12-year-old who's bullied at school. His new best friend is Eli (Lina Leandersson), the mysterious girl who moves in next door.
Of course, things go helter-skelter when Oskar discovers his puppy-love interest Eli is a vampire, but the story never goes quite where you expect.
While the premise vaguely resembles a certain teen-lit phenomenon, Let The Right One In (also based on a novel) avoids the Twilight zone and injects a little life into a previously anemic sub-genre.
Puns aside, this is a film that should cross over to mainstream audiences who ordinarily avoid bloodletting. It's beautifully, chillingly shot and has amazing performances by Hedebrant and Leandersson. No surprise that Hollywood is planning a remake, so see it here before they fuck it up.
Easily the most unusual movie on the roster is the rocky horror Repo! The Genetic Opera (Rating: NNN), a full-on goth opera set in a Blade Runnerish city where organ transplants are commonplace, missed medical payments result in instant repossession and tabloid magazines detail every intestine-removing moment.
It stars Buffy's Anthony Stewart Head as an overprotective father who leads a double life as the masked organ repo man, Alexa Vega as his rebellious daughter and Paul Sorvino as the head of the transplant company. It might not have a singalong soundtrack, but damn if this isn't fun. Sarah Brightman as a bio-enhanced opera singer and Paris Hilton as a plastic surgery-obsessed wannabe singer almost steal the show.
Definitely for fans of Buffy's musical episode, Phantom Of The Opera and the Saw movies. (Director Darren Lynn Bousman directed three films in that series, and it shows.)
Also high on the must-see list is Chilean import Mirageman (Rating: NNNN), quite simply the best superhero movie you've never heard of.
Spider-Man's got awesome powers and Batman has cool gadgets, but Mirageman - both the onscreen hero and the movie itself - has way more heart.
Marko Zaror stars as a nightclub bouncer by night and would-be vanquisher of evil by day. Dressed in a lame homemade costume and armed only with some sick kung fu skillz, Mirageman becomes a media celebrity after ridding the streets of purse snatchers and sundry petty criminals. The low-fi 80s action movie quality and funky score convey the filmmakers' genuine affection for comic book heroes.
Two of the biggest stars in the fest are Dominic Monaghan (Lost, The Lord Of The Rings) and Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman. The two team with genre vets Larry Fessenden and Angus Scrimm for I Sell The Dead (Rating: NNN), about 18th-century grave robbers and a mad doctor. While the setting and atmosphere are first-rate, the results are more comic than chilling.