Midnight movies draw crowds to hoot and holler

TORONTO (Reuters) - Blood and gore, rock and roll, naked men wrestling, killer sheep, “general freakdom”, and an audience that hoots and hollers its way through a movie are par for the course at midnight screenings here.

Cary Elwes in a scene from "Saw" in an image courtesy of Lions Gate Films. The Midnight Madness program of the Toronto International Film Festival, now in its 20th year, has proved that only one thing is certain: anything goes at the witching hour shows. The Madness crowd discovered "Saw", Eli Roth's "Cabin Fever" and "Hostel". REUTERS/Handout

The Midnight Madness program of the Toronto International Film Festival, now in its 20th year, has proved that only one thing is certain: anything goes at the witching hour shows.

Originally conceived as a way to win a younger audience, the program is now the last stop for many festival goers after a full day of more “conventional” cinema. It’s also a first stop for aficionados of off-beat, politically incorrect, or out-and-out gross movies.

“This is where you become a cool kid because you can see a film that in two months to a year everyone is going to be talking about,” said series programmer Colin Geddes, who must narrow down choices from around the world to just 10 films.

One film is shown each night at the annual festival, often with lineups that snake around a city block.

“This program has also become an acquisition hotbed. Buyers know that these are the films that people want to see,” Geddes added, noting that 87 percent of movies screened at Midnight Madness in the past 10 years have been released, at least on DVD.

This year Weinstein Co. reportedly paid $2 million to $2.5 million for the North American and Mexican rights to “George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead”.

Audience members can expect to be squeamish and squirmish, but also -- at times -- to laugh hysterically.

Last year, the screening of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”, had the audience howling in laughter before the projector cut out 20 minutes into the film, prompting Cohen come up on stage to entertain the raucous crowd.

The Madness crowd discovered “Saw”, which spawned a franchise of bloody sequels, Eli Roth’s “Cabin Fever” and “Hostel,” radical Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike has contributed seven films to the festival, including this year’s “Sukiyaki Western Django”.


Dario Argento, a cult figure in the horror genre, has previously brought “Opera”, “Two Evil Eyes” and “La Sindrome di Stendhal” to the midnight series.

The Italian director said he returns because Noah Cowan, current festival co-director and former Midnight Madness programmer, invites him.

“I don’t like (that) my films are marginalized in midnight in some section. But for the friendship of Cowan’s I come back,” he said in an interview the day after the world premiere of his movie “Mother of Tears.”

“Midnight Madness films are united more by a shared sensibility than subject matter or genre. A cyberpunk anime film seems to sit very comfortably next to a zombie/slasher flick,” said Clement Yip, a longtime fan of the program.

Question and answer sessions follow most screenings and it’s not unusual to chat with the director or pose in a photograph with actors outside the theater.

The final midnight screening this year will be French film “A l’interieur” on Saturday, about a pregnant woman who faces off with another woman determined to take her baby.

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