(with contributions by Kelly Michael Stewart, John Forbes, and Jason Tannis)
Starring Jamie Elizabeth Sampson, Nick Smyth, Colin Price, Caleigh Le Grand, Brian Scott Carleton-------------
Plenty of top-notch indie horror is on display in Late Night Double Feature, a new Canadian horror anthology premiering tomorrow at the 2015 Canadian Film Fest. Assembling three of Ontario's best up-and-coming genre directors, Late Night Double Feature is stuffed to the gills with all the things that make genre fans go "Ooooooh." But like every overstuffed delicacy -- Double Stuf Oreos, for example, or Foie Gras -- Late Night Double Feature may be simply too much for some palates.
It's late night on low budget broadcaster TV13, and that means it's time for Dr. Nasty's Cavalcade of Horror: a cheesy late night horror and exploitation movie presentation hosted by the eponymous Dr. Nasty and his sidekick Nurse Nasty. The cast and crew are gearing up for a double-feature broadcast of the cannibal horror film Dinner for Monsters and sleazy art-house thriller Slit, but what we soon come to realize is that the real horror is not on screen but instead behind the scenes.
The only thing really holding Late Night Double Feature back from being a complete smash is a complicated tonal disparity that plagues every one of its segments. Divided up into its individual parts, Late Night Double Feature boasts thoroughly enjoyable over-the-top camp, shocking and disturbing psychological and physical horror, TV and film industry satire, action, suspense, romance, and revenge by some truly outstanding young Canadian filmmakers. It's a dark yet gleeful throwback to the days of late night horror hosts and anthology horror films. Unfortunately, none of the featured segments really mesh well with the other, and as the framing device of Dr. Nasty's Cavalcade of Horror morphs into one of the segments, it effectively leaves very little to contextualize the stories. I can see this schizoid jumble playing really well in a genuine late night feature with drunk, attention-deficit friends or a drive-in where people are constantly coming and going, but for the solitary viewing experience, Late Night Double Feature never feels quite unified.
Let's take a look at what works and does not work in each segment.
"Dinner for Monsters"
directed by Zach Ramelan
screenplay by Raven Cousens, Zach Ramelan, and Kelly Michael Stewart
A failing chef (Nick Smyth) is hired to cater a party at a hunting lodge for a group of pompous, affluent cannibals (this is not a spoiler: Dr. Nasty spills the beans on the cannibal angle before the segment event starts). If he fails to prepare a mouth-watering human delicacy, he just might end up on the menu himself. Despite its lush, shadowy visuals and Tales from the Crypt-style morality, the acting in "Dinner for Monsters" is over the top of over the top. Even the Cryptkeeper himself would blanche at the hammy exposition and lack of subtlety here. It's all really far too arch and, unfortunately, undercuts the horror of the piece. A supporting role by Raven Cousens helps ground some of the insanity, but I still can't tell if "Dinner for Monsters" was supposed to be silly, scary, or both. Definitely could have benefited from a more singular focus.
directed and written by Torin Langen
Wow! The stand out portion of Late Night Double Feature has to go to Torin Langen for "Slit," the tale of a gigolo for masochists (Colin Price) whose encounter with a deranged client (Caleigh Le Grand) puts his life in danger. Although the story is a bit thin, it's supremely well-acted and tightly paced. Dark, moody, bold, and atmospheric, "Slit" cuts right through the campiness of the surrounding anthology and gets the closet to producing genuine chills. "Slit" begs for a longer-format treatment. Late Night Double Feature is worth seeing for this segment alone, although there is plenty more to enjoy as we'll see.
"Dr. Nasty's Cavalcade of Horror"
directed by Navin Ramaswaran
screenplay by Kelly Michael Stewart
Part framing device and part horror tale, "Dr, Nasty's Cavalcade of Horror" is a really fun look behind the scenes of a low-budget horror host show where feuding personalities, sexist backdoor politics, raging egos, and creative apathy combine for a night of bloody revenge! Dr. Nasty (Brian Scott Carleton) is a washed up drunk with an iron-clad contract that means he can abuse his co-star Samantha (Jamie Elizabeth Sampson) with impunity. Samantha does all the heavy lifting on the show while starring opposite Dr. Nasty as his sidekick Nurse Nasty. How long before Samantha finally snaps? Blending comedy, drama, and horror, "Dr. Nasty's Cavalcade of Horror" also boasts some great performances, especially that of Jamie Elizabeth Sampson and Jason Tannis as Orson the soft-spoken and silently pining production manager. Carleton is so on-point as Dr. Nasty that you absolutely hate his guts by the end. Again, the only downside to this segment is that it's broken up over the course of the entire film so the audience is repeatedly disconnected from what's going on. And that's a damn shame, because director Navin Ramaswaran brings a naturalism to the proceedings that balances camp and horror yet might be easy to overlook when sliced up between the dizzying number of shorts.
Late Night Double Feature also showcases three fake commercials. The first is a trailer for the film "Night Clown" by Kelly Michael Stewart in which Robert Nolan plays a horrifying spectral clown, although I have to admit that I really didn't understand what was going on. "Killer Mortgage Rates," directed by Jason Tannis, is definitely the best: a cheesy late-night commercial spot bought by a local company that tries hilariously too hard to cater to the horror fan demographic. And "Encephalopithecus" is a low-budget and dirty trailer for a convoluted, black-and-white horror film directed by John Forbes that's accompanied by a marketing voice-over so desperate to entice an audience that it's forced to exclaim, with genuine enthusiasm, that the Toronto Film Herald praised the film as "relatively in focus."
When all is said and done, I found Late Night Double Feature a rocky experience but have no reservations about recommending it as an exciting and fun showcase of Canadian indie talent. Everyone involved in this film, from the writers, directors, and producers all the way though the makeup, effects, and music people are on the verge (and deserving) of a big breakthrough. Late Night Double Feature may just be the collective effort that helps launch them onto the next great big thing.
Get your dose of late night thrills and chills at the Late Night Double Feature Canadian Premiere this Thursday (March 26) at the Canadian Film Fest in Toronto. Advance tickets are selling quickly!
LATE NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE
w/ Burn the Tapes (World Premiere)
March 26, 2015
The Canadian Film Fest
The Royal Cinema - Toronto, ON