Where Horror Gets the Red Carpet Treatment


It’s a far cry from 20 years ago, when Mr. Geddes, a voluble fellow in ever-present red pants, switched from Midnight Madness fan to employee. He set out to argue on behalf of films like “The Host,” whose genre trappings he felt had automatically consigned them to second-class status.

Mr. Geddes’s tenure here figures into any number of origin stories. There’s the time he fished out a screener of Eli Roth’s “Cabin Fever” from the festival’s rejection pile. And the time he ignored the response that “Saw” received at the industry-heavy Sundance Film Festival and put it in front of its proper audience.

“I have had good service and bad service based on what waiters thought of a Midnight Madness film,” Mr. Geddes said.

His fan base extends to filmmakers as well. Quentin Tarantino schemed (unsuccessfully) to give the first half of “Kill Bill” a hush-hush premiere there. Takashi Miike (“13 Assassins”) has called Toronto the place where he first realized he was making films for a global audience. And Ryuhei Kitamura (“Versus”) credited Mr. Geddes with giving him a career outside his native Japan.


Acacia Christensen waited in line to attend a Midnight Madness screening on Saturday.

Cole Burston for The New York Times

“It’s my favorite place both as a filmmaker and as a fan,” said Mr. Kitamura, who returned this year with the small-scale sniper chiller “Downrange,” his fourth Midnight Madness offering. “There’s always a high-voltage audience, and I like to watch movies in that atmosphere.”

But Mr. Geddes didn’t pick “Downrange.” Earlier this year, his longtime assistant, Peter Kuplowsky, took over as programmer. A floppy-haired 31-year-old, Mr. Kuplowsky once wrote a grad school paper on the hyperkinetic “Crank” movies, which he called “cultural mirror movies in a post-Verhoevian way” (as in the “Showgirls” auteur Paul Verhoeven).

“I always thought Midnight Madness was a good place to screen films that might be pegged as genre films but go in different directions,” Mr. Kuplowsky said.

Both programmers bristle at the idea that the series is solely devoted to horror. “The films just have to be crazy, unpredictable and able to keep you on the edge of your seat at a pretty late hour,” said Mr. Geddes, who has screened “Borat” as well as a documentary about the Detroit punk pioneers MC5.

And Mr. Kuplowsky, whose tenure began Thursday night with a look at battle rap and cultural appropriation called “Bodied,” has cast a similarly wide net. This definition of what constitutes a midnight movie even prompted his decision to begin “Brawl in Cell Block 99,” starring Vince Vaughn, at 10:45 p.m. instead.

“It starts as basically a crime drama,” Mr. Kuplowsky said, “but then at about one hour and seven minutes into the film, it really begins to accelerate into a full-blown midnight experience. My goal is to time it so that we hit midnight at exactly that moment.”


The Midnight Madness section now includes red-carpet interviews. Above, the actress Anne Winters from “Mom and Dad.”

Cole Burston for The New York Times

The Saturday night (well, technically the Sunday morning) screening of “Mom and Dad,” in which a virus induces parents to murder their children, fit in a similarly nebulous zone between horror and jet-black comedy.

After the red carpet interviews were finished, Mr. Kuplowsky loped onto the stage and, for the third night in a row, failed to toss his signature fedora onto a hat stand, James Bond-style. The audience liked that. The fans liked seeing the “Mom and Dad” stars Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair onstage even more. And they really liked it when the director, Brian Taylor, bellowed, “This crowd is ri-DIC-ulous!!”

These late-night spots hold a special place in the hearts of devotees like Jim McGinley of Toronto, who has been attending Midnight Madness for the last decade, often returning for all 10 nights.

“Everyone’s here to watch the film,” Mr. McGinley said. “Everyone wants it to be good. And if it’s not quite good, they want it to be crazy.”

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