Shogatsu in the Snow

As previously announced, I attended the second edition of Anime Shogatsu, held at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto, on January 19.  Despite a full on assault by old man winter, with windchill values in the -20’s and a lot of snow, the event saw an amazing turnout.  With live dance troupe performances, a cosplay masquerade, Beyblade tournament, tabletop gaming, and a marketplace there was something for everyone. Not to mention the venue, which showcases the history of Japanese Canadians in Canada, and houses an art exhibition hall.

Don’t Let the Frost ‘Bite’

FROSTBITE – Kaw Tay Whee school students (Toronto Premiere) Without a doubt the most adorable entry in the festival came from the students of Dettah a small Dene community near Yellowknife North West Territories.  “Frostbite” tells the story of a group of students, who learn the hard way what happens if they don’t wear all of their warm clothes outdoors, when they feel the frost Bite. Winner of the Most Promising Debut Award, this film will have you laughing as it pulls on your heartstrings. Looking forward to more from these talented young filmmakers.

Possibly the Worst Job in the (Under) World

NECESSARY EVIL – Christopher Donaldson (Van Helsing TV Series storyboard artist) Winner of the BiTS award for Best Web Series.  Lucifer has retired, giving up the title of Satan, a mantle he has held for millennia; and has named cubicle-bound drone Azmodeus(perfectly portrayed by series creator Randy Brososky, Burlesque Assassins), a low-level demon as his successor.  The problem is that lesser minions don’t fear him and the other demons don’t respect him, or see him as their equal.  “Necessary Evil” follows the hilarious story of Azmodeus, his receptionist Xaphan, hard case executive assistant Nyx, and the Devil’s (his) Advocate, Persephone as he tries to navigate the waters of the worst job, at the most dysfunctional corporation in the underworld, Hell LLP. Bright, witty, and uproariously entertaining, “Necessary Evil” is a total home run for Donaldson, et al.

Ring in the New Year Otaku Style

With the convention season coming to an end, and Anime North still seven months away, many of us have resigned ourselves to reading manga and binge-watching anime online, emerging from our lairs, only to secure nourishment, or partake in the mundane existence outside of con life.  However, if you need your fix sooner, rather than later, you should definitely check out Anime Shogatsu January 19 (9am-9pm) at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.

Anime Shogatsu is an event which celebrates both anime culture and the Japanese New Year.  By showcasing the various aspects of anime and Japanese culture, the hope is to spread awareness of the wonderful and often misunderstood side of this subculture.

There will be a cosplay masquerade, an artists alley, games(including a tournament hosted by the World Beyblade Organization), workshops, lectures, showcases, live performances and more.

Special guests this year include cosplayers Ali Mahou, Baeged cosplay, Yume and Kitsurie, and voice actress Deb Munro.  To purchase tickets, or for more info head to http://www.animeshogatsu.com.

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Mascots courtesy of the super-talented Courtney Lunn of http://facebook.com/designsbycorkylunn

Take a Psychedelic Ride Down the River

On November 24, director Nick Szostakiwskyj’s “Hammer of the Gods”, saw it’s Canadian Premiere, along with a short about 2 sisters trying to deal with ones addiction…to murder “The Devil You Know”.

It tells the story of a past-their-prime rock group named Sled Dog, 5 years after their only hit song ‘Backfire’. Having just finished a lacklustre world tour in Vancouver, the group decide to make a drug-fulled trip into the BC wilderness to try and recapture the magic.

Soon after, band mates Eric(Rob Raco, Riverdale), Olivia(Samantha Carly, Mimicry), and Mitchell (BiTS Best actor winner Josh Collins I, Zombie) take to their canoes. Along the way the trio meets a group at girls, and share their campsite for the night. The next morning, one of the girls, Amy (a Sled Dog groupie) decided to accompany the group after hooking up with Mitch.

Eric informs the group that the route they are taking is the same one taken by Native American youth during a rite of passage. After consuming what they think is acid(but is in fact an hallucinogen used in Native vision quests), the travellers begin to hear noises, and see hulking creatures visiting their nightly rest stops.

Soon the effects of the drugs increase and truly horrific symptoms arise, at which point their trip of discovery becomes a lesson in survival; suffering severely from a bad batch of drugs, and pursued by walking nightmares, who will endure, and make it to the highway, and safety?

In an interview with Executive Producer/actress Samantha Carly, I learned that the most difficult thing about the production, was the casting process; also, the film was named after the drug they took, and should have been referenced in the film, but the name is copyrighted, and while the filmmakers finally got permission to use it as the title, the in film reference had to be cut

Discover What Happens in The Quiet Room

QUIET ROOM BEARS – Lee Howard (Festival Premiere) This story (by the creator of the disturbing bears of the same name) examines the sinister origins of a seemingly ordinary teddy bear.  During what was supposed to be a quiet week alone doing some home renovations for Simon(Nick Smyth) quickly turns into a hellish nightmare, following his descent into madness after discovering the stuffed bear, apparently abandoned on the front porch of his family’s home. Visceral, and at times downright disturbing, in a Grand-Guignol fashion, Howard’s directorial debut is sure to be a genre fan favorite, and in time could become a cult-classic. I look forward to the next thing from this fledgling filmmaker.

Bits and Bites

Aside from the shorts which screen before each feature film, the Blood in The Snow festival also dedicates a screening slot to makers of short films; and there were so many worthy entries, that 2 slots had to be set aside.  This year also saw time set aside for the creators of web series, and attendees were not disappointed with the quality of the entries.  Below is a brief review of my favorites, in no particular order, of the Bloody Bits Shorts Showcase 1&2, and A Series of Web Bites.

FROSTBITE – Kaw Tay Whee school students (Toronto Premiere) Without a doubt the most adorable entry in the festival came from the students of Dettah a small Dene community near Yellowknife North West Territories.  “Frostbite” tells the story of a group of students, who learn the hard way what happens if they don’t wear all of their warm clothes outdoors, when they feel the frost Bite. Winner of the Most Promising Debut Award, this film will have you laughing as it pulls on your heartstrings. Looking forward to more from these talented young filmmakers.

BINGE– David J. Fernandes (World Premiere) A woman named Jen, (Rene Harding in her screen debut) receives an envelope at her door marked only with a smiley-face; which contains various items including a USB drive.  On the drive are images of a mysterious figure.  Intrigued, she sets out upon a macabre and increasingly dangerous treasure hunt.  During an interview, Fernandes stated that he wanted to do “an experiment in minimalism, the film only has one line of dialogue, ‘hello'”.  Watching the short, it is not surprising that he is a fan of the horror/suspense model which Hitchcock used so masterfully in his films.   On casting Harding he says” I picked her for her ability to keep her emotions inside, you really have to watch her to see the fear, I wanted that subtlety, as opposed to the typical scared screaming female.”  I think it came off beautifully, and this film speaks volumes within it’s silence.

GOD’S MADMEN – Michael Alexander Uccello (Canadian Premiere) Put out with the tagline ‘You know his name. You don’t know his story’, this short follows two detectives who patrol a neighborhood where a series of mysterious disappearances have occurred, in an effort to console the alarmed citizens.  Det. Morris, a young-gun eager to prove himself, confronts the owner of one of the houses.  Following his instincts, which eventually leads him to the basement, Morris makes a bloody, horrifying discovery; one which sheds light upon the heart-breaking motivations behind one of the most popular, and re-told Gothic stories in modern literature, and film.

A FIST FULL OF MOLARS – Ryan Couldrey (Canadian Premiere) Although not part of the shorts program, having screened before “THE HOARD”, this sweet and not-so-sweet short about a young girl who pulls teeth for the tooth fairy, deserves to be mentioned. It is Couldrey’s (who has a background in photography, which progressed to filmmaking) first film to be screened at BiTS.  In an interview he says “I have done things all over the spectrum, but if I was to default somewhere it would be genre(horror or horrorish) film…A person can have their face ripped off and it not be horrifying, but it still happened.”  On his entry into filmmaking Couldrey says “…if you’re the guy with a camera, and you know how to use it, people will say ‘hey film my thing’, and that evolved into me putting the camera in other peoples hands so that I could concentrate on other aspects.” He hopes to release it online around February 2019, then move onto other projects.

STANDBY – Daumoun Khakpour – (Toronto Premiere) A man pays a customs officer to help him smuggle his wife on board a plane in a piece of luggage, in the hopes of finding a better life in a new country; however when his plane arrives, the bag does not.  Fearing arrest, and deportation, the man is at a loss for what to do.  What follows is his search for the bag(and his wife), as he begins to hear things.  Is he slowly slipping into madness, or is he being haunted by his wife’s ghost.

LAY THEM STRAIGHT – On November 25, Robert DeLeskie’s “Lay Them Straight” made it’s Toronto Premiere at the 2018 Blood in The Snow film festival, as part of the Bloody Bits Shorts Showcase. Winner of the BiTS Best Short Film Award, the film tells the tale of a teenage girl, Parker and her daily battle with obsessive compulsive disorder (the story was inspired by DeLeskie’s own battle with OCD and childhood anxiety).  Every day, Parker must run the gauntlet through, what for others is just an ordinary school day, dealing with bullies and the challenges faced by someone dealing with the disorder.  Her mindset changes one day, after a traumatic event leads Parker to believe that the disorder could actually be a manifestation of some kind of supernatural powers, much to the detriment of her tormentors.  A taught, suspenseful thriller, “Lay Them Straight”, is sure to become a cult classic, and fan favorite; and is truly deserving of the Best Short Award.

QUIET ROOM BEARS – Lee Howard (Festival Premiere) This story (by the creator of the disturbing bears of the same name) examines the sinister origins of a seemingly ordinary teddy bear.  During what was supposed to be a quiet week alone doing some home renovations for Simon(Nick Smyth) quickly turns into a hellish nightmare, following his descent into madness after discovering the stuffed bear, apparently abandoned on the front porch of his family’s home. Visceral, and at times downright disturbing, in a Grand-Guignol fashion, Howard’s directorial debut is sure to be a genre fan favorite, and in time could become a cult classic. Eagerly looking forward to more from this fledgling filmmaker.

THE WHISTLER – Jennifer Nicole Stang (Toronto Premiere) It introduces viewers to Lindsey, who is forced to stay home and look after her sister Becky.  While approaching the living room window, which is mysteriously open, Becky hears the sound of someone whistling outside, but the sound then stops; she closes the window and goes to bed.  After accidentally dozing off, Lindsey awakens to find her sister is gone. Did someone take Becky, someone who could possibly be after her as well; follow Lindsey as she learns the answer in this taught thriller, inspired by the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  “The Whistler” will entertain, and unnerve audiences for a long time to come.

ALLIE AND LARA MAKE A HORROR MOVIE – Alicia Faucher, Larissa Thomas      This web series tells the story of two horror fans who decide to make a horror movie by themselves, and the comedy of errors which follows, as they learn the ins and outs of the industry.  In an interview with Co-creator Larissa Thomas, I learned that it very much reflects her and Faucher’s learning curve making the series, which was written for genre fans and filmmakers.  it Includes some(and sometimes not-so) subtle references to things like Illuminati conspiracies “Episode 9 is like a Stanley Kubrick episode, but I kind of went crazy with the Illuminati weird shit. (it’s)…a story of two horror fans who try to make a horror movie, and how their lives start to turn into a horror movie, much like ours did making this…it was like going to film school and having something to show for it at the end.” The entire series can be found on Youtube.

THE SHELTER – J. Robert Bellamy (BiTS Radio) & Jason Mac (Slaughter at Sumac Ditch)      A post- apocalyptic thriller about a group of people trapped in a room with no way out; they can’t see their captor, nor do they know why they are being held against their will.  The series pics up, as someone new is thrown into the mix, and focuses on how that affects the rest of the group.  When watching this series, keep in mind that it was filmed over a 3 day period in the basement of a comic shop.  Originally filmed as a short, the duo felt during the editing process that the pacing just felt wrong, and so they decided to put in breaks and release it as a web series; thus giving the feeling of a passage of time between episodes, and giving events a nice flow.  In an interview with Rob, I learned that the red door (featured prominently in the series), is something of an inside joke.  Back when they were scouting for a shooting location, one of his friends sent him pictures of the house he had just moved into in Windsor, ON.  In the basement was a 5′ tall red door, reinforced with steel and containing seven locks (WTF??? I’d be moving out fast, but pure gold for a genre filmmaker). Unfortunately, by the time the script had been finalized, the friend had remodeled the basement (can’t blame him, really) and so Bellamy and Mac decided to paint the door in the fake wall red. Reminiscent of Saw, “The Shelter” is set to become an internet sensation, so keep an eye on these two filmmakers.

POPPY SEED PLACE – Greg Kovacs (Backyardigans, animator)  Anna and her friends (a group of puppets) discuss the topic of the day.  A series which lets the viewer reminisce about their favorite childhood television shows, Sesame Street and Polka-dot Door for myself, with a horror twist which is definitely not suitable for younger audiences.  It is an uproarious series which should be watched by all.  I personally would watch a feature length film if Kovacs ever made one.

NECESSARY EVIL – Christopher Donaldson (Handmaids Tale, editor) Winner of the BiTS award for Best Web Series.  Lucifer has retired, giving up the title of Satan, a mantle he has held for millennia; and has named cubicle-bound drone Azmodeus, a low-level demon as his successor.  The problem is that lesser minions don’t fear him and the other demons don’t respect him, or see him as their equal.  “Necessary Evil” follows the hilarious story of Azmodeus, his receptionist Xaphan, hard case executive assistant Nyx, and the Devil’s (his) Advocate, Persephone as he tries to navigate the waters of the worst job, at the most dysfunctional corporation in the underworld, Hell LLP. Bright, witty, and uproariously entertaining, “Necessary Evil” is a total home run for Donaldson.

DAMAGED – Richard Rotter (Vegas Rat Rods 2 eps.) A fully interactive psychological thriller about a young student, Michael Craven, who suffers from a traumatic brain injury in a brutal attack by local thugs the Braithwaite Brothers.  Seeking revenge, he follows one of the brothers into a darkened warehouse where he witnesses Naomi Carter (a total stranger) being savagely beaten.  Suffering from short-term memory loss, and unable to account for his movements, Michael falls under the suspicion of Det. Laura Shane; as the two attacks occurred at the sites of two murders committed by the still-at-large- serial killer The Wolf.  In an interview with the creative team behind the series, I learned that after watching the first episode, which can bee seen on T+E’s youtube channel, you can log into http://www.thewolflives.com and enter clues to try and solve the mystery yourself, hack into Michael’s computer, etc. A refreshing approach to a relatively new genre, “Damaged” will absorb you right into it’s nightmare world. Beware The Wolf.