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Altered States Gives VIFF An Edge

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Nothing quite like a good midnight movie. Savvy, cinephilic audiences meet provocative, culty film fare at a time when, as Dick Miller observes in Martin Scorsese's After Hours, "different rules apply."

The programming for VIFF's new late-night series, Altered States -- handled by longtime Vancouver journalist and VIFF staffer Curtis Woloschuk -- certainly reflects this observation, though even the rules of your typical midnight movie screening are broken at various junctures, both by the nature of some of the films selected and the fact that the films begin at 11:30 instead of 12.

It's not the first time VIFF has experimented with late-night fare, Woloschuk says. "There was the 'Walk on the Wild Side' series, that Sandy Gow programmed here. And there have been some sporadic late night screenings here and there -- Grabbers, last year, and Kill List the year before that. But the idea was to make it an official strand of the festival. It seems like the right year to do it, with so many other elements."

Of course, midnight movie classics like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Tommy Wiseau's The Room encourage a rowdy, interactive mode of spectatorship. It's unclear how that mode of viewing could be brought to bear upon films like VIFF's late-night entry Halley -- a sombre Dutch/ Mexican co-production about a painfully self-aware and lonely man who also happens to be a decaying zombie.

The film is by no means a conventional horror movie -- though one can easily imagine VIFF attendees having a raucous reaction to the scene where the protagonist picks maggots from his flesh (he saves them in a jar, which is exactly what I would do with any maggots I found growing in me).

Or then there's XL, about a debauched Icelandic politician. While definitely subversive and formally daring -- the film presents its events in an out-of-sequence jumble, suiting the intoxicated perceptions of its bloated, unpleasant main character -- it's hardly your standard monster movie.

"It's a lot of film to wrap your arms around," Woloschuk admits, chuckling. "I know that another programmer here in the festival saw it and despised it, but it fit the Altered States theme well. And it's a riveting experience [which taps into director Marteinn Thórsson's ] harsh feelings about living in a nation of drinkers, and also the political corruption that has been rife in Iceland for years."

Woloschuk's favourite late-nighter is the Israeli offering Big Bad Wolves -- a dark comedy/ thriller about a vigilante cop and a veteran of Lebanon interrogating a suspected pedophile in a basement.

"That's just a really powerful film, regardless of where you come down in terms of films that err ever so slightly into the realm of 'torture porn.' I don't think it does that, but I could see some people being a little dismissive on that count, which I hope isn't the case."

Fans of Hostel and Saw will find nothing whatsoever to object to, however, I don't think.

To see trailers of all the films in Altered States, click through the slideshow. Story continues below.

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VIFF 2013: Altered States Screens Edgy Late Night Fare
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Borgman is a Dutch variation on the Teorema/ Brimstone And Treacle/ Visitor Q formula, wherein a mysterious stranger attaches himself to a family, perhaps to liberate it, or perhaps to destroy. It was recommended to Woloschuk by fellow programmers who thought it might be a bit too much for regular VIFF audiences.

Closer to the horror genre, the Canadian film Antisocial is a zombie apocalypse Rio Bravo, that picks social media as the culprit for its societal breakdown. Meanwhile, the black and white A Field In England, directed by VIFF favourite Ben Wheatley, is a mushroom-fuelled comedy about a cowardly alchemist's assistant and two English Civil War deserters being forced to dig a big hole.

Perhaps the most buzzed film in the series is Bobcat Goldthwait's keenly awaited departure into found footage horror, Willow Creek -- unseen by this writer, as Goldthwait is insisting it be taken in on the big screen, but much admired by Woloschuk.

"It's a remarkably compassionate and sympathetic film towards its main characters, which is kind of surprising, coming from Bobcat Goldthwait," Woloschuk observes.

"You're really put in a place where you care about them, for the first forty minutes of the film, which also function very nicely as an actual documentary about the Willow Creek area," where the famed Patterson-Gimlin Sasquatch footage was shot.

"Then it takes you into the woods. The last five minutes are absolutely terrifying, and I can't imagine what it will be like for people who get to experience it in the theatre for the first time that way."

What is most striking about the Altered States films as a whole is that they have much of the sophistication usually spotlighted by VIFF -- they're just cranked up a notch.

"One of the ideas this year was that we didn't necessarily want the films to be films that wouldn't have been programmed into the festival otherwise," Woloschuk says. "They still fit the profile of the festival. We didn't want these to be films that could be easily dismissed by saying 'I don't like horror films.'"

All VIFF late-night screenings take place at 11:30 pm at the Rio Theatre, with alternate afternoon screenings at other venues.

For more from Allan MacInnis, visit his blog, Alienated In Vancouver