Toronto Underground Cinema – Rep Cinema’s Latest Fallen Warrior (Kirk Haviland)

I must start with the fact that I have been very torn about writing this article. With the news now out that the Toronto Underground Cinema will be closing its doors for good on Sunday Sept 16th, my prediction from when the Cumberland went away in May has unfortunately come true: another member of Toronto’s immensely populated Repertory Cinema scene has fallen, and this time it’s personal. The main reason as to why I have struggled with what to say is that the Underground is not merely a cool little place in the heart of the city with tons of history and an awesome vibe – it’s also populated and run by friends.

Opened in 1977 under the tent pole of the Golden Harvest film production company, the Golden Classics cinema as it was then known, highlighted the best in classic Golden Harvest Kung Fu films in a very crowded marketplace on Spadina in the heart of Toronto’s Chinatown. Thriving from the late 70’s through to the early 90’s, the Golden Harvest eventually ran into financial woes and had to close its doors. After another failed attempt that lasted less than a year, the theater languished for 15 years before another attempt to change the house into an experimental film/live performance hall proved unfruitful. Then three young cinema enthusiasts banded together and approached the owner with the idea and concept behind the Toronto Underground Cinema.

From left to right: Charlie Lawton, Nigel Agnew, and Alex Woodside

Under the new management of Charlie Lawton, and Bloor Cinema alumni Alex Woodside and Nigel Agnew the theater re-opened as the newly christened Toronto Underground Cinema. Utilizing fellow former Bloor Cinema employee Peter Kuplowsky to help program and book the films for the theatre, the cinema got off to an auspicious start, documented in The Rep web-series, but quickly grew to prominence due to themed events featuring the likes of directors Kevin Smith and Edgar Wright. When the Bloor was shut down for almost a year for renovations it was the Underground that stepped forward to host event nights like the ‘Dream Date with Freddy Krueger’ in conjunction with Toronto’s Fan Expo. The Underground also became the new home for Rue Morgue Magazine’s Cinemacabre nights, and, in what may have been their most profitable partnership, they hosted the 2011 version of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

But sadly the theatre itself had started to show its age; some major issues, which had been skirted for years, needed to be resolved. The guys had known all along that there was work that needed to be done, but convincing the people that matter, the ones with the money, turned out to be a goal that never came to fruition. So after closing in July in hopes of starting the renovations that never happened, the guys have since decided to close the doors and move on. I will truly miss the great times and friends of the Underground, some of the after parties are now legends. I wish the boys all the best in whatever they do next.

That said, the guys have decided to go out on a high and have stacked the last two weeks of the Underground’s existence with some excellent counter-TIFF programming. Starting Sept 6TH the theater will host it’s last Film Festival, with the 2012 version of the Toronto Indie Film Festival, the highlight of which is another chance to watch the excellent My Father and the Man in Black on Sept 13th at 9:15. On Sept 8th at 11:50 pm (yes that’s ten to midnight) the boys will host one last cinematic grindhouse blowout from the crew at Vagrancy Films. If you have never been to a Vagrancy show they are a not to be missed events and this time promises to be no different with the screening of Emanuelle Around the World in 35MM! Then comes the final night blowout on Sept 16th with two 35MM film presentations: 1984’s cult classic, Night of the Comet, and the fitting finisher of The Band’s concert film, The Last Waltz.

So if you have been an avid supporter of the cinema or have never been, there are plenty of reasons to get out there and check out the cinema before it’s too late. Goodnight dear Underground, hopefully your slumber is short lived.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Rue Morgue Cinemacabre (Toronto Underground Cinema) – The Loved Ones Review (Kirk Haviland)

Rue Morgue Cinemacabre at the Toronto Underground Cinema

The Loved Ones (2009)

Starring Xavier Samuel, Robin Mcleavy, Victoria Thane, Richard Wilson, Jessica MacNamee and John Brumpton

Written and Directed by Sean Byrne


Yes, it’s that time of the month once again, as the guys from Rue Morgue take over the confines of the Toronto Underground Cinema. As usual, all the familiar faces are there to greet me as we all prepare for the cinematic treat that is The Loved Ones. Unlike last month’s Rue Morgue presentation, I had seen The Loved Ones years before at the Midnight Madness showing as part of TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival for those who aren’t familiar). I’ve been singing its praises for years and a chance to see it once again projected on 35MM was a chance I could not pass up. After catching up with the Underground guys and Rue Morgue crew it was time for the film.

The Loved Ones opens with the unfortunate accident that will drive a wedge between Brent (Samuel) and his suffering mother. We fast-forward six months and meet Brent’s best mate, Jamie (Wilson in a very funny performance). Jamie is obsessed with Mia (MacNamee) and is elated when she says yes to going to the big dance with him. Meanwhile Lola (Mcleavy) has an obsession of her own, Brent. She finds out when she asks him to the dance that Brent has been dating Holly (Thaine) and that they are already going together. But we soon find out that Lola does not take rejection lightly, and she enlists her father (Brumpton) in kidnapping Brent and staging a school dance of her own in their home. Concurrently we see Jamie and Mia’s date, and Holly and Brent’s mom looking furiously around for Brent. Through the movie we come to see many things differently as characters come clearer into view. This all leads to a grisly end as things go completely awry with Lola’s plans and the others start to close in.

The Loved Ones is without a doubt one the best genre films of the last decade. A bold statement indeed, but also a true one. Samuel manages to convey a myriad of emotion in a role that has him silent for more than 50% of the film. His Brent is a sympathetic victim/hero, and in the process becomes the heart of the entire film. McLeavy is a revelation. Her Lola starts off as a shy, awkward teen that you really feel for, but then she flips the switch and becomes a menacing and vindictive sociopath. By the end of the film you are desperate for her comeuppance, and boy does it ever come! In fact the growth of most of the characters throughout the film is what truly sets the film apart. Even a supporting character like Mia has a reason for herself self-destructiveness that is revealed in the final moments of her story. Byrne’s script is tight and the direction is on point. He’s a real talent and someone to keep an eye on in the future.

The Loved Ones is loved very much by this writer. It finally looks to be getting a release this year, albeit a very limited one, so do yourself a favor and track it down. It is very gory in parts and ratchets up the suspense very tight, but if you are a genre fan this film is a must. The Loved Ones is a strong recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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A Little Bit Zombie Review (Kirk Haviland)

A Little Bit Zombie (2012)

Starring Kristopher Turner, Crystal Lowe, Shawn Roberts, Kristen Hager, Emilie Ullerup and Stephen McHattie.

Directed by Casey Walker

Direct off its win at the Canadian Film Fest last month, devoted to Canadian indie film, A Little Bit Zombie has taken a different tact to releasing the film to the masses. By self-distributing, the creators of the film have decided to roll the film out across the country with special screenings and the hope that they will inspire longer runs in the following weeks. I got to attend one of these screenings at the Toronto Underground Cinema and am here to tell you that this film deserves your support.

A Little Bit Zombie starts off with Max (McHattie) and Penelope (Ullerup), a pair of zombie hunters that use a mystical orb to help track their targets, in the middle of a zombie swarm. After the carnage we follow, through first person camera, a mosquito full of zombie blood fly around in search of a target. We meet Steve (Turner), Tina (Lowe) his fiancé, Craig (Roberts) his best friend and upcoming Best Man, and Sarah (Hager) Steve’s sister who is also Tina’s unwitting Matron of Honor and Craig’s wife. The foursome is on their way to Steve and Sarah’s family cottage for a weekend of bonding and relaxation before the wedding. Our mosquito friend attacks Steve, repeatedly, which sets off the events of the film, with Steve slowly turning into a zombie and developing a lust for brains. In fact, Steve develops a certain hilariously grotesque response to even the word ‘brains’. The “family” must decide what to do and how to handle what is happening to Steve, all while Max and Penelope start tracking the strange readings that will lead them straight to him. Tina proves she is willing to go to extreme lengths to protect her man and her upcoming nuptials, dragging Sarah along with her, while Craig has the hardest time dealing with the situation. Everything leads to crazy confrontation with a deadly outcome.

ALBZ shares a lot of similar themes with last year’s Zom-Com Deadheads (review here), with the biggest difference being that ALBZ is not a road movie like Deadheads is. The Cast is mostly up and coming Canadian talent, with McHattie the grizzled veteran chewing massive amounts of scenery. And while McHattie does steal the film, the foursome all put in fine performances, in particular Turner and Lowe as the engaged couple. The film is very light in tone and played for laughs throughout, and while in places it runs hit and miss, when it works it’s a lot of fun. Fans of the aforementioned Deadheads should check this one out as well.

Overall I feel that ALBZ works a lot more than it doesn’t. The exuberance and earnestness of the cast shines through, and the film benefits from this greatly. I can safely recommend A Little Bit Zombie for a fun night out at the theater, and I am NOT a zombie collaborator.

Screenings may be mostly finished by the time you get to read this, but do not shy away from asking your local rep theater if they can get a screening in your area. It’s a great chance to support some Canadian filmmakers out there trying to prove they can do it themselves.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Nightmare Revew – Rue Morgue Cinemacabre at the Toronto Underground Cinema (Kirk Haviland)

Nightmare – aka Nightmare in a Damaged Brain (1981)

Starring Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith and C.J. Cooke

Written and Directed by Romano Scavolini

Toronto Underground Cinema

Rue Morgue Magazine

UPDATE: Rue Morgue has announced that May’s Cinemacabre will be the amazing The Loved Ones on May 17th at the Underground. If you have not seen this movie, you owe it to yourself to go. I will be there, wearing a drill proof hat for protection!

Hello All,

I’ve been meaning to write about the great series of films presented each month by Rue Morgue Magazine at the theatrical gem of Chinatown that is the Underground for quite sometime now. Nightmare from 1981 finally gives me the perfect opportunity.

As I walk in the theatre, I find Alex and Nigel, two of the owners of the Underground, at the box office warmly greeting me to the evening’s festivities as they usually do. I proceed down the stairs, yes the Underground is actually UNDERGROUND, to be greeted by Rue Morgue editor Dave Alexander and ticket taker, and friend, Harvey Lalonde. As usual the Rue Morgue table is buzzin with people checking out the wares available for purchase. I proceed to the concession stand where owner number three, Charlie, is behind the counter with Brendan, part-time popcorn schiller for the Underground. Hanging out with the boys is Rudy, actor and another former Blockbuster refugee, and as usual a more casual vibe exudes from the theater as conversation fills the air before the show. I take my treats to my seat and prepare for the film. Dave hops on the mic and provides his intro for the film and preps the crowds with some trivia and prizes. Unfortunately, the usual classic trailers reel was missing in action this time around, so we went directly to the feature.

Nightmare is a classic of the slasher genre that gained its reputation as one of the most notorious of the “video nasties” in the UK, a list of films that were banned for decades due to their graphic context. In fact the producer of Nightmare was sentenced to 18 months in prison for refusing to make cuts to the film.  The film is the story of the George Tatum (Baird), a man who is constantly hounded with the nightmare of a child wielding an ax against a woman involved with sexual intercourse with his father. This bloody visage has tormented George for years to where he is institutionalized and constantly medicated to keep him docile. Under constant psychiatric supervision, George appears, over time ,to have become more adjusted and possibly able to rejoin society. After a evening stroll through the seedy streets of New York in the 80’s and a particularly funny sequence in a peep show, George decides to hop in a car and drive. Along the way the deranged George carves a bloody path from New York to his ultimate destination in Florida. We are introduced along the way to the Temper family, Susan (Smith) and boyfriend Bob who spend many an afternoon tryst on Bob’s boat. C.J. (Cooke) the precocious pre-teen who, ever the prankster, is the proverbial “Boy who cried wolf”, and his two sisters, Tammy and Kim, who usually bear the brunt of his pranks. Susan is having issues with the macabre nature of C.J.’s pranks and feels constantly overrun by his antics. Bob tries to intervene and help as he can, but when a incident occurs with a friend, C.J.’s doubt prevails. And that is just the start of the problems for the Tempers.

Unfortunately Nightmare doesn’t hold up as well as I would have hoped it to. Baird’s performance is over 60% random screaming, which actually starts to become grating. Smith’s performance as the mother is very bland and downright wooden at times. Cooke as C.J. is what manages to keep the film together, he puts in some solid work here, even if his character lacked originality. Then again back in 1982 perhaps C. J.’s character was more of an original concept. The effects work is decent enough for the time, Tom Savini famously denies working on the film, and I can clearly tell he did not. His level of make-up mastery could have elevated some of the rougher spots.

After the screening the discussions continued , until it eventually moved to the pub for the remainder of the evening; another successful Rue Morgue night in the books. Rue Morgue has yet to announce their next Cinemacabre showing, but keep an eye on to see when the announcement is made. Dave promises it to be ghoulish fun.

Overall I highly recommend checking out a Cinemacabre, if not at least paying the boys at the Underground a visit. I guarantee you be in good hands.

Til Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

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Toronto After Dark Film Festival Wrap-Up – Mini reviews of Love, The Theatre Bizarre, Midnight Son, Absentia, The Corridor and VS

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It’s over! My first time at Toronto After Dark has come to an end, my body is grateful, but the film fan in me isn’t taking it so well. 19 screening in 8 days and complete coverage of the festival was an ambitious goal that I fell somewhat short of. I missed out on two screenings and failed to get a review up for everything, but I’ll be better prepared for next time, perhaps with a guest blogger or two up my sleeve.


Love -A thoughtful and awe-inspiring space adventure that forces the audience to question what exactly it means to be human. Great lead performance by Gunner Wright, and beautiful direction by William Eubank. The film is a bit of a softy in terms of the Sci-fi content, but would be an excellent film to introduce someone to the genre.

The Theatre Bizarre -The horror anthology makes a return with this collection of seven short horror films presented in an abandoned theatre by horror icon Udo Kier. The quality and subject matter of these shorts covers a very wide range, I’m sure everyone will find one to like. For me the best was the Lovecraftian mystery from Richard Stanley, while the food fetish story from David Gregory actually had me looking away from the screen. I actually enjoy eating food and couldn’t risk having some of this imagery stuck in my brain.

Midnight Son -I missed it. I couldn’t watch four movies from 1:30pm – 12:00am on Sunday and I picked the 9:45pm screening of Midnight Son as the one to miss. I screwed up. Multiple fans that I spoke to called this film one of the best of the fest. From what I hear, it is a gritty, realistic, and different take on a vampire film. I also found out that I had been talking to the director, Scott Leberecht, who is a chill, down-to-earth guy. Next time I won’t be taking off any features.

Absentia -A very cool and surprisingly scary low-budget horror film from director Mike Flanagan. Very creative scares and decent acting make this one a pleasure to watch, although the budget does not allow for some of the money-shots that some members of the audience might have been waiting for.

The Corridor -A Sci-fi and horror mash-up that has a lot going for it. Decent writing, acting, and special effects across the board. For some reason the secluded-cabin-in-the-winter theme never seems to get old for me. The intricate relationships between the friends on this winter cabin trip is one of the highlights of The Corridor. The tone of the end of the film may not work well for some, but the film as a whole is certainly worth a watch.

VS -The third and final world premiere at Toronto After Dark. I really wanted to give VS a full review, but simply ran out of energy and time. An amalgamation of superhero and Saw movies, VS really feels like something unique. The film was written and shot quite quickly, but doesn’t come across this way in the visual department. Dark warehouses and junk yards are the environments of VS. Unfortunately the writing comes across as rushed. However, the great performance by James Remar (Dexter) adds some energy to the script. If you feel like a devilishly dark take on the superhero genre, check out VS.

Toronto After Dark Films Earning the Entertainment Maven Seal of Approval (The best of the best)

At TIFF this year I saw roughly 20 films and was ecstatic to find 6 additions for the Seal of Approval page. Toronto After Dark continued the trend as I saw plenty of entertaining films, including 5 remarkable ones. Click on the film titles for my reviews.


Some Guy Who Kills People

A Lonely Place to Die

The Divide

The Innkeepers

Final Thoughts

I WILL MISS the amazing sense of community at TAD. I found myself alone during a few of the social events, at night after the screenings, that is until I approached a long-time pass holder at TAD named Kirk. Before I knew what was going on, I was being introduced to the whole community, including staff, press, and filmmakers. If you find yourself in my position, make the first move and find a great fan like Kirk.

I WON’T MISS the volume level that some directors think is ideal for their film screening. Turn it down guys.

I WILL MISS the incredibly kind and accommodating people at The Toronto Underground Cinema. Everyone, including Nigel, Charlie and Harvey, did a great job.

I WON’T MISS glass bottles rolling down the length of the floor like clockwork.

Finally, I WILL MISS the films. Genre films don’t often get the respect they deserve, but my god, is there a better type of film on the planet? The variety of themes, characters, environments, writing styles, unlikely heroes, menacing villains, soundtracks, action sequences, etc. that can be found in genre films is absolutely astounding. Toronto is one of the best cities in the world for genre fans, and Toronto After Dark is one of the most dedicated and incredible festivals out there for genre films, and only in their 6th year!

I’ll look forward to seeing everyone next year, and until then, maintain your love of the weird, wicked and wonderful, I’m sure it will be effortless to do.

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