The Scotiabank Theatre Cineplex. CC Flickr by Steve Harris.

Horror, cult, action, and science fiction: the Toronto After Dark film festival (TAD) has been celebrating the grotesque and supernatural aspects of cinema since 2006 showcasing a wide range of thrilling feature length and short films from around the world. T his year, Toronto After Dark will be celebrating its tenth anniversary by screening roughly twenty films from October 15-23. To add to its intentionally gloomy vibe, the first round of films start at around 7:00 pm and are followed by a second round at 9:30 pm. Notable for its supernatural, horrific, and often-violent content, the festival’s screenings are restricted to spectators over the age of 18. Although some of the content might be too explicit for the squeamish, the festival also offers a wide selection of carefully programmed psychological thrillers that make it the perfect festival to prelude Halloween festivities. 

A brief history

Having debuted in October of 2006, Toronto After Dark’s original venue was at the Bloor Cinema, where the festival showed thirteen films over the course of four days. The festival was a critical and popular success, which lead to an extension of fourteen features and nearly thirty shorts the following year. Half of these were produced by Canadian directors. Like most festivals, Toronto After Dark showcases five to ten minute shorts from debutant directors prior to the actual features themselves, thoughtfully introducing the artists to emerging directors. The festival continued to attract adrenaline-seeking spectators, and eventually became the starting ground for cult-classics such as Tom Six’s The Human Centipede and Steven R. Monroe’s remake of I Spit on your Grave.

What to wear

In 2013, Toronto After Dark changed venues, moving from the Bloor Cinema to theScotiabank Theatre, located in the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district. Audience members were encouraged to indulge in pre-Halloween cosplay outfits, and were instructed to dress up as their favourite horror film characters. A year later, the scope of dress-up became even narrower, as attendees were encouraged to arrive dressed for themes relating directly to the movies being shown. People dressed as zombies prior to the screening of Zombeavers, and dressed in fur for the screening of the werewolf flick Wolves. This year, prepare to dress up as a poltergeist for the screening of The Diabolical, or a ghoulish forest creature for The Hallow.

A festival for everyone (over 18)

One may argue that Toronto After Dark is only suitable for a limited audience, or will only be enjoyed by those who find mindless torture scenes entertaining. The festival does show some graphic, even blatantly disturbing content. That said, it also showcases a handful of psychologically complex and intelligent features that the average viewer would enjoy. A great example of this is the mind-blowing sci-fi film Predestination (2014). Rather than focus on gruesome death and destruction, this film offers a creative representation of alternative universes and explores fundamental questions about gender and age dynamics.

What to see this year

For those willing to brave TAD’s haunting line-up, this year’s festival holds a number of worthy movies for the horror aficionado to seek out. The impeccably named The Hexecutioners is of a specific sub-genre called ‘rural horror,’ in which two young nurses must treat their terminally ill patients at an isolated mansion in the countryside. Shut In, an American feature, is a suspenseful home-invasion thriller in which three criminals -— including Martin Starr (Bill from Freaks & Geeks) — find themselves in a rickety old house with another occupant trying to evade them. Needless to say, things get ugly.

For those looking for something a little less intense, Night Of The Living Deb is a zombie-spoof film that is more comedy and less horror. One of countless ‘zomcoms’ out there, the film probably won’t be of Academy Award calibre, but it will likely be entertaining for its one hour twenty-five minute duration.

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