Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell star in Seven Psychopaths. (Chuck Zlotnick/CBS Films handout)
The Toronto International Film Festival's yearly Midnight Madness program consistently features some of the most interesting -- or at least harrowing -- fare of the fest. This year's edition of the squirm-heavy program is a corker, with a lineup that runs the gamut from a gritty sci-fi comic book adaptation to a mock-doc on the world's most horrifying skin rash.
Each film debuts on a given midnight at the Ryerson Theatre, then screens at least once more later on -- check tiff.net for the full schedule. While all 10 films will surely find devoted fans, here are the five we're most excited about.
Forget 1995's awful Judge Dredd and Sylvester Stallone's mush-mouthed "I AM THE LAW!" This is a grittier, gorier adaptation of the popular British comic book, starring Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy from the Star Trek reboot) as the sci-fi supercop. Along with his rookie partner (Olivia Thirlby), Dredd must fight his way through a 200-storey slum to confront the drug queen (Game of Thrones' Lena Headey) who rules it.
They had us at "by the director of In Bruges," but even if this flick wasn't the new feature film by Irish playwright-turned-filmmaker Martin McDonough, the cast and concept alone would be enough: a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) gets more inspiration than he bargained for when his unemployed actor buddy (Sam Rockwell) and the dude's partner in crime (Christopher Walken) dog-nap the prized pooch of a homicidal gangster (Woody Harrelson.) Seems like an unfair amount of awesomeness.
John Dies at the End
Insane, hallucinogenic, funny, creepy and by the director of both Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep -- if that doesn't sell you on this adaptation of Cracked.com editor David Wong's book of dimension-spanning creatures plotting an invasion that will enslave humanity, what will?
The ABCs of Death
This anthology of shorts by 26 different filmmakers was made by randomly assigning each director a letter of the alphabet meant to inspire a manner of dying. From Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun) to Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police), there's no shortage of twisted imagination here. We're going to predict whoever drew the letter X devises a tale about some poor sap getting fatally irradiated by x-rays. Or maybe beaten to death with an xylophone.
Hollywood heavyweight Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man) takes a sharp turn with this faux documentary about eco-horror striking a seaside town in Maryland. An oddball mix of environmental cautionary tale and gross-out horror, it looks sort of like Jaws meets Slither by way of Cloverfield. Forget never going swimming again, you might never take another shower.
The rest of the Midnight Madness program includes Aftershock (Eli Roth as a tourist in a Chilean town torn apart by an earthquake), The Lords of Salem (Rob Zombie shows us more naked old witches than we ever wanted to see), No One Lives (backwood bandits get more than they bargained for in a highway robbery), Come Out and Play (tourists discover an idyllic Mexican island inhabited solely by creepy children), and Hellbenders (a gang of debaucherous priests are called on to take down a demon). If you can't find something here that amps you up or freaks you out, please check for a pulse.
Kicking off TIFF's Midnight Madness program, we've got a gritty, violent, much buzzed-about movie about a by-the-books cop dispatched to a towering slum that houses a drug lab. When the slum's de facto ruler locks down the building and orders the residents to kill the police in their midst, the cops must fight their way through the apartment block, floor by floor, to take out the crime lord residing at the top.
Wait a second, what year is this?
Midnight Madness mavens might feel a sense of deja vu when they see this year's opening film, Dredd 3D. Starring Karl Urban as comic book supercop Judge Dredd (we will not speak of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone travesty), it has almost the exact same premise as 2011's Midnight Madness opener, the Indonesian action flick The Raid: Redemption.
While Dredd 3D lacks the brutal, bone-crunching martial arts fights of The Raid: Redemption, it does have three things working in its favour: 1) super slo-mo 3D gun battles, 2) one-liners that don't get lost in translation, and 3) a welcome dose of estrogen in the form Dredd's psychic sidekick (Olivia Thirlby) and the lethal drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). Coming soon to YouTube: The Dredd: Redemption mash-up.