HORROR-RAMA TORONTO: The Post-Mortem

The past week or so has been a busy one, to say the least. On top of starting a new job (hooray for gainful employment), there’s also been a number of screenings at Toronto After Dark ( and yes, I will be sharing my thoughts on said films very soon. Honest ) . But first, let’s talk about the other genre gathering that just happened this weekend.

Let’s talk about Horror-Rama Toronto.

This was year two for the upstart horror convention, spearheaded by Shock Till You Drop’s new editor-in-chief, Chris Alexander, and Suspect Video‘s head honcho, Luis Ceriz, and it can be summed up succinctly: growth.

More space ( in downtown Toronto’s The Hyatt Regency ), more guests, more panels, more vendors… just more all around. A sizable leap from last year’s inaugural show, but keeping the cozy ambience. And it’s a nice change of pace. I’ve done my share of the larger conventions across Canada – on both sides of the curtains, as well – so to go to a con where socializing with fellow congoers with room to spare and no need for yelling… it’s actually very welcome.

There’s definitely more than enough room for the American-style “hotel con” here in Toronto, especially one that caters to a group that… let’s be honest… tends to get the sharp end of the bloody stick at the larger conventions.

I hope this year was a success. I hope it continues to grow with each year. And I know I’ll be back again next year.

For now, enjoy some photographic highlights from this year’s show. And thanks to Chris Alexander and Luis Ceriz for letting me play in the sandbox for the weekend.

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Three familiar faces, welcoming guests to the show. I swear I saw one of them move…

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Where wolf? There! There wolf!

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It was a rough weekend. Rougher for some more than others.

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So many vendors. SO many movies. Seriously, between VHS, DVD, rare import, there was literally something for every taste.

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MonsterMatt Patterson, artist and full-grown “monster kid”, selling his works at his table.

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Convention organizer and weekend MC, Chris Alexander holds court.

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George Mihalka, director of the Canadian slasher cult classic, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, and all around awesome guy.

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Con guest, and horror icon, Michael Berryman meets a fan.

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Steve Niles, comic writer extraordinaire, with the book (fittingly so ) that put him on the map and revitalized the horror comics industry. That’s not hype, folks. That’s just science.

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Tristan Risk (AMERICAN MARY, THE EDITOR) with Holy Scar, up to no good at the booth…naturally.

Next time: Highlights and recommendations from the tenth annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Honest.

IN CONVERSATION WITH: TRISTAN RISK

Photo Credit: Ninedoors Photography

The conversation started with a simple question: “Where should we begin?

Considering everything that’s happened for Tristan Risk since her scene-stealing performance in The Soska SistersAMERICAN MARY, it’s a legitimate question. After turning heads and gaining cred as the body-modded Betty Boop doppleganger, Beatress, Risk has been making a name for herself, including appearances in THE ABCs OF DEATH 2 ( in the Soskas’ T IS FOR TORTURE PORN segment) and Astron-6‘s THE EDITOR. And she hasn’t taken a break since, racking up a number of recent back-to-back projects.

INNSMOUTH_4x6For starters, Risk has been making the rounds (cinematically, at least ) on the festival circuit, with Izzy Lee’s INNSMOUTH as the first one out of the gate. “Without giving too much away, this is my second film with Izzy, and this is based on the Lovecraft story, The Shadow over Innsmouth.” What makes INNSMOUTH interesting is its gender-flipped (and decidely un-Lovecraftian) approach. “This is a very female-centric cast, as well as most of the crew, and I am interested in how people will react to the… ‘special thing’ in this particular film, and with such a female-specific bent, how people will look at it. So far, all of the response has been very, very positive. I play Alice Marsh, the town’s matriarch, and she’s guarding her town’s secrets very jealously. That was a really fun project to be a part of. I’m sure this is going to get me either loved or hated, one of the two. It’s probably going to be the most “GIFed” thing in my career.”

Following completion of INNSMOUTH, Risk moved onto her next short film, Luchagore Productions‘ blood-soaked (and just a pinch blasphemous) MADRE DE DIOS. “I’ve been trying to work with (Luchagore) for two years, and it’s taken this long because we’ve both been so stupid-busy doing all of our projects. It’s just like shooting laser beams across the universe at each other. Finally, the stars and the planets aligned, thankfully, and we were able to get together. Gigi (Saul Guerrero) came to me and said would you be into reading this and what do you think.” Both Risk, and Luchagore, are expecting a little bit of religion-backed “outrage” with this one, as it blends sacred and the profane in equal doses. MADRENow, I should stress here that I am not Catholic. So, certain things are going to upset some people more than most. I, myself, didn’t think that this was a particularly offensive script, although I was assured by other people that they might be excommunicated for it. I think it’s a beautifully shot film. The art department took it to the next level. And just watching this team work together was really, really cool and gratifying. So I hope to be able to work with them again in the future, but I have enjoyed all of their projects up until this point, so it was really nice to be part of one of them now.” The film also marked a continuing ‘familial’ thread for Risk, too. ” The fun part of that for me was that there’s a snake that appears in it, and it’s actually my boyfriend’s snake, Indigo, so that’s kind of like “oh, look it’s our snake-baby in there, too! She’s getting work!” There was another time that I had a pet in a film was AMERICAN MARY – her bird, that was in the cage – that was actually my parrot. I have this trend in films where I sneak my pets into them, somehow.

Up next on the release schedule? FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS, James Bickert‘s follow-up to his oh-so-un-PC bikers vs. Bigfoot sleaze-terpiece, DEAR GOD NO!. “As of today, (BIKERS) has officially wrapped all of their filming now, they are going into editing now, so this was the last day – Boom! It is done. So considering it started filming in June, and being that they are filming on 35mm film, not digital, that’s incredible. I am so proud of them for doing that, so good on them for sorting that out. I’m excited to see it, I’m excited for everyone who was involved with it. It was definitely a labour of love.

Unlike many of her previous roles, Risk got to have some straight-up Russ Meyer-vixen fun with firearms and explosives in this outing. “I play Val, who leads a rival biker gang, and other special interest groups against the lead bikers. I have a penchant for blowing things up with ever-present grenades. I love it. I didn’t think I would love it, but I did.

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With more film work under her belt, Tristan’s next project returns her to roots in stage magic and burlesque. Starting this month, British Columbia will get their first look at The Carnival of Creeps. Hearkening back to the heyday of the travelling sideshow, but with a very modern sensibilities, The Carnival is a collaboration of many hands, spearheaded by Risk and Burns The Dragon, a Vancouver-based sideshow performer/juggler and snake handler. “This happened because Burns came to each of us in the troupe and said ‘ we all have these different skill-sets and we have these really cool acts. We don’t do anything together in town and it’s a bit hard, because it’s a bit of a saturated market in Vancouver right now, so do we want to take this one the road?’ And we all agreed – it would be cool. So we have a great variety of performers -burlesque dancers, magicians, acrobats, contortionists, jugglers, fire performers, sideshow freaks. All people who have been doing their own thing for a quite a long time, coming together and collaborating. It’s very exciting for me to be doing this with fresh faces. We are all excited to do this tour. And it’s all in the week before Halloween, so we are able to bring all of our more dark and creepy circus stuff, because it’s just the perfect time of year for it.

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While the initial run is limited to BC, the long-term goals are much more intercontinental. “The ultimate plan is to have a full touring circus. When we get to that level, we would be interested in touring Canada, The USA, Europe. Potentially Mexico and, if possible, New Zealand and Australia. Just kind of doing what Hellzapoppin’ (Circus Sideshow Revue ) does, where they have the circus show that they travel with, and then have local talent join them up on stage to round it out. As a collective, we’re able to swap out members if not everyone can tour at the same time. Some tours will be larger, some smaller. So we’re really excited to get our brand and our name out there.

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Something Wicked This Way Comes: A taste of The Carnival of Creeps’ sideshow magic.

It’s exciting. Burns went and bought a bus that sleeps seven and it says ‘The Friendship Express’ on the front, and ‘Seven Dudes, One Bus’ on the back. This is going to be a blessed voyage.

After the dust settles for 2015, Risk is already eyeing the next item on her to-do checklist. Only this time, it will be from behind the camera. With tentative plans set for 2016, Risk is preparing to shoot her first short film: an adaptation of her short story, CAT LOVER (originally published in Malevolent Magazine). “It’s a thing. It’s going to happen.”

In the meantime, Tristan Risk will be joining the list of guests for this weekend’s HORROR-RAMA Toronto and while there’s no concrete plans for her to perform, that doesn’t mean she’s not game for trying. “We all know – let’s be real, here – that if there’s a party, there may be an unscheduled performance. It all depends on how many libations I have prior to that. I know myself well enough that I will pack a costume, because you never know.

HORROR-RAMA takes place on October 17th and 18th at The Hyatt Regency, Toronto.

INNSMOUTH and MADRE DE DIOS are both currently playing on the festival circuit.

FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS‘ release date is TBD.

THE CIRCUS OF CREEPS hits the road October 21st, with stops in Merritt, Kamloops, Kelowna and Penticton. 

For more of the wit, wisdom (and occasional bouts of literary scribbling) of Little Miss Risk, make a point of checking out her blog, HIGH BARBED WIRE WALKING, while you’re at it.

Horror-Rama Toronto : Back For Another Round

 

To hear Chris Alexander tell it, he’s the last person to expect behind the scenes at Toronto’s newest convention. “Well, I was never fond of conventions. To this day, I’m still not. I’ve always found it a disingenuous way to meet your idols. I would rather sit down and have a beer with somebody that I dig and talk about what they do, instead of dropping down a chunk of money and see them for a fleeting moment. I just found – even back in the early days of Rue Morgue’s Festival of Fear – I just felt that I would rather be on Mars than be here.” With that in mind, Alexander (with a little help from his friends) organized the little con that could: Horror-Rama Toronto, an intimate and cozy convention that stands at the opposite polar end of the spectrum of bigger shows like Fan Expo Canada.

Chris Alexander and Luis Ceris

Chris Alexander and Luis Ceriz

Horror-Rama is spearheaded by Alexander and Fangoria‘s marketing director Cheryl Singleton and Luis and Donna Ceriz, proprietors of the Toronto video store/cultural institution Suspect Video, with a singular focus in mind: horror, and nothing but. It all started with Fangoria’s involvement in the London, Ontario based horror/exploitation gathering, Shock Stock“When I took over on Fangoria, the boys who run ShockStock asked if I would come onboard – give them an ad, take a table –  so I thought “why not?” . It was here that Alexander made first contact with Luis Ceriz , and the wheels started moving. “Even though I knew Luis from Suspect Video in passing, I didn’t really “know” him. It was the first or second year we just started connecting and talking. He’s one of the sweetest guys, the most honest and open people I’ve ever met in the business. I trusted him instantly. He’s also very relaxed, when you’re around him, you feel very relaxed.  With Luis, it was a very practical, very calm suggestion that we band together for this convention. I brought in some other people I was working with to let them handle it while I was doing other things. Those people left, so it was just Luis and I left standing and I said “well, fuck, let’s just jump in and do it.’  Let’s make the kind of convention that we would want to go to as fans of weird stuff.  So we put it together, with friends who love this stuff, working in various ends of the industry, and did it because we love to do it, not because we want to make tons of money. We started this thing with zero capital, and just jumped in. It was the most pleasant, relaxed thing going into this. The guests that we had brought onboard – we populated it with people that we liked. I don’t even think of it as a convention, I like to call it a two-day party.”

The golden rule for Alexander and Ceriz for keeping the show on track? Simplicity. “Suspect has been around for a long time. It’s real “mom and pop” – just (Luis) and his wife that own it – so Luis was key in keeping it very simple, keeping it friendly and fun, no bullshit. Deliver on what you can promise: that was the philosophy for the show. Just promise everyone a good time and I think honestly, that was the secret to our success. To keep it simple. The first year was successful, as far as the vibe. Financially, I would say it was successful too, because we didn’t lose any money. I would say that for a first-year show, that’s pretty successful.”

As part of this year’s upgrade, the show has moved to a bigger venue (downtown Toronto’s Hyatt Regency), emulating the smaller convention model much more prevalent in the US. “The last venue we had was cool and bohemian, but it was also difficult. We weren’t allowed in on the Friday night before the show – we didn’t get in there until 6 o’clock in the morning, and the show opened up at 10 or 11. We were trying to build this thing with very few people. So we wanted something closer to central Toronto… a great room in a great hotel. It’s close to everything, and they gave us the run of the joint.”

As well as space-wise, the show’s guest list for Year Two has also expanded, with such names as Mick Garris, perennial icon Micheal Berryman, horror comics superstar Steve Niles and a quartet of scream queens, including Linnea Quigley, Sybil Danning, Debbie Rochon and Tristan Risk, among many others. “We have a variety of guests this time, but it’s still all our friends. People that we know and love.”

With Horror-Rama’s inevitable evolution underway, Alexander remains pragmatic about everything, keeping the initial spirit and tone first-and-foremeost. “It’s the same show, the same heart, just a little more refined. It’ll still be two days of hanging out with people who like weird shit.”

Horror-Rama takes place October 17th and 18th at The Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Toronto.
Advanced tickets are on sale here. 

Keep watching for more updates and interviews, as we get closer to showtime.

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REVIEW: Izzy Lee’s INNSMOUTH

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Originally written for rue-morgue.com .

“You can bet that prying strangers ain’t welcome around Innsmouth. I’ve heard personally of more’n one business or government man that’s disappeared there…”

H.P. Lovecraft, The Shadow Over Innsmouth

When one thinks of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, “erotica” and “full-frontal” aren’t the first words that spring immediately to mind. Despite Lovecraft’s fabled aversion (and apparent squeamishness) to humanity’s most basic of instincts, sex and nudity have long been front-and-center in cinematic adaptations of his stories, especially in Stuart Gordon’s now classic triad of RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND and DAGON.

You can now add Izzy Lee’s INNSMOUTH to the list of films that put the “Love” in “Lovecraft”.

Lee has been making waves on the festival circuit with her brand of transgressive and politically-charged short films for some time now. Tackling such issues as the religious right (PICKET) and the battle over female reproductive rights (LEGITIMATE), Lee’s horror is filtered through a definitive (and unabashedly so) feminist perspective, something that makes INNSMOUTH’s take on Lovecraft’s mythos that much more subversive.

The plot is pulp-simplicity: Homicide Detective Olmstead (Diana Porter) is investigating a mysterious and gruesome homicide in Arkham, a case that will take her to the nearby coastal town of Innsmouth. It isn’t long before Olmstead finds herself on the receiving end of the town’s fabled “hospitality” for outsiders, and the attention of town matriarch, Alice Marsh (Tristan Risk).

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At ten minutes long, there’s not much more that can be said without spoiling its surprises – and rest assured, they’re there. What can be said is that it’s a rebellious and erotic take on Lovecraft’s fabled coastal town. Faithful to its history, yet unconventional in every other way. The female protagonist, lesbian erotica and hints of Marsh’s ambisexual proclivities are as far removed from Lovercraft’s sexless and somewhat misogynist prose as can be, but the mood keeps it tethered to its literary roots.

And in what will come as no surprise to anyone, Tristan Risk owns this. While her screen time is minimal, she makes every second that she’s onscreen hers for the taking. She has seductive evil down pat – vampy, but not campy. More importantly, though, the girl is fearless. In keeping with the “no spoilers” vibe, Risk cements her reputation as one of horror’s bravest, giving us a 100% NSFW moment that serves as the film’s climax and confirmation that she’s well ahead of her onscreen contemporaries in destroying boundaries.

INNSMOUTH does exactly what the best of short films should do: teases at a much bigger picture waiting in the wings and leaves you wanting more.

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INNSMOUTH will be screened at the HP Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland on the weekend of Oct 2 – 4, with other screenings lined up for festivals and conventions going into 2016. Check out Nihil Noctem’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed for updates as they become available.