Colin Geddes, the cult-film wizard who has curated the beloved Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International Film Festival for the past two decades, remembers his first 12 a.m. TIFF experience fondly. It was 1988, his first week in the city for college, and he caught the gore-soaked Brain Damage and Hellbound: Hellraiser II.
I remember my first Midnight Madness experience, too, but also a few traumatic moments that go along with it. I was at the late-night screening of Ichi the Killer in 2001, when vomit bags where handed out to prepare everyone for the Takashi Miike-directed insanity to come. I recall bifurcated bodies, rivers of blood, and title cards that arose out of a certain CGI-rendered bodily fluid, but these are more nightmares than cherished remembrances. It was an experience both awe-inspiring and horrifying, which seems like the mission statement of Midnight Madness, TIFF's hyperactive black sheep of a program. While a good portion of the festival is devoted to shiny Hollywood offerings, it is Geddes's program where the genuinely boundary-pushing cinema can be found.
Earlier this year, Geddes announced he was leaving TIFF to focus on his production company Ultra 8 alongside wife Katarina Gligorijevic – but not before he hosted his own farewell at this year's festival. And so on Thursday night, when most of the attention was on the wan opening-night film Borg/McEnroe, Geddes delivered a true jolt of festival electricity with a screening of the rare Japanese horror-action hybrid Wolf Guy, the one film he never got a chance to program during his years at TIFF.
"Initially, the thought was to let me pick one of my favourite films that I've programmed over the past 20 years, but the more I started to think about it, the idea I like best about programming is having audiences go in blind and discover films, and just seeing jaws drop," Geddes said in an interview a few days before the event. "I'd heard about Wolf Guy for a while, and it finally got released for the first time outside of Japan. All you need to know is that Sonny Chiba plays a detective slash lone surviving member of a werewolf tribe. Oh, and there's a yakuza-government conspiracy, cabaret dance routines, kinky perversions, and telekenetic self-surgery. And werewolves."
That log-line lived up to expectations, and then some. By the time Chiba's character magically healed seemingly fatal wounds and broke out of a high-tech prison using only his fists, the audience was perfectly grooving with Wolf Guy's bizarre wavelength, and Geddes's acute curatorial tastes. Unlike so many of TIFF's gala screenings, where everyone in attendance is there for different reasons – only a few of them related to film appreciation – a Midnight Madness audience is there to give a great, giant bear-hug to the medium.
"Colin has built around him a community of people that will never die," a tuxedoed Cameron Bailey, TIFF's artistic director, told the audience before introducing Geddes.
As testament to just how much Geddes has altered the genre film landscape, TIFF unveiled a surprise short film before Wolf Guy, featuring various appreciations from filmmakers who saw their careers skyrocket after playing the program. Simon Barrett (The Guest, Blair Witch), Sion Sono (Tokyo Tribe), and Miike, the man whose work haunted my own soul for years, all paid heartfelt homage to the master of the dark cinematic arts.
Geddes, for his part, only wanted to emphasize that the program, which was started by Noah Cowan in 1988, was always about providing a home for filmmakers working on the edges – and who knew exactly what kind of cinematic fire they were playing with.
"We're all laughing with the film and not at the film," he told the audience. "Midnight Madness is not Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Every director here knows exactly what they are making."
As for the future of his deranged baby, Geddes – who recently became a real-deal father himself – feels Midnight Madness is in the safe hands of new curator Peter Kuplowsky, who previously served as Geddes's associate programmer.
"I've given him some tips and guidance, but kept hands-off," Geddes told The Globe. "He has to prove himself to that audience, he has to share his tastes, and there has to be a back-and-forth relationship. He's starting the dialogue already."
There was the curious matter of time, though. Geddes's final Midnight Madness event wasn't held at the witching hour, but at 6 p.m., before the skies were even dark.
"A lot of the audience has grown up, and maybe midnight isn't in the cards for them any more, myself included," said Geddes. "I also now realize it's way harder to get a babysitter if you need them to stay after midnight."