There's a story about Italian filmmaker Mario Bava. At one time Bava was courted by a U.S. studio to helm a colour remake of Black Sunday, his 1960 directorial debut, a gruesome gothic-vampire-witch-revenge spooker that kick-started the so-called "golden age" of Italian horror. He couldn't do it. Because when he went back to rewatch Black Sunday, he couldn't stop laughing.
The Editor, a film by Winnipeg's Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy (who serve as directors, writers, producers, cinematographers, production designers and stars) making its world premiere as part of the Toronto International Film Festival's genre-heavy Midnight Madness slate, is ostensibly a tribute to giallo cinema: the gory, hypersexual, poorly dubbed horror films of Italian directors such as Bava, Dario Argento and Sergio Martino. But it's one that builds Bava's self-recriminating laughter into it, expertly lampooning a grisly guilty pleasure genre long taken way too seriously by its dorky devotees.
"I remember we were sitting together, watching movies like Argento's Deep Red and Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper," says Brooks. "We were just talking over them and laughing. They're great group movies."
The Editor stars Brooks as Rey Ciso, a once vaunted film editor reduced to chopping up sensational genre movies following an accident that saw him hacking off half his hand. When the cast and crew of a small-time film production begin dropping like flies, the victims' hands left curiously mutilated, the editor emerges as the prime suspect. Kennedy – who, fitted with a bushy mustache and period slacks looks like 1970s Donald Sutherland's stunt double – co-stars as a possessed detective determined to take down Ciso.
The film was originally planned as a parody trailer, the stock and trade of the Winnipeg-based five-man film collective Astron-6 (the sixth member, so the joke goes, is you, the viewer). But following the group's successful forays into microbudget feature filmmaking with the 2011 revenge thriller Father's Day and the 2012 Nazi-vampire-versus-cyborg-soldier cheesefest Manborg, Brooks and Kennedy began filling in a story around footage they'd already shot, bankrolled by pocket money and a $120,000 cheque from Telefilm Canada. (Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes notes that The Editor was "made for the catering budget of most of the films at TIFF.")
"A lot of the challenge was writing all the silly dialogue," says Kennedy. "When we sent the script out to the cast, we were worried they wouldn't know what we were emulating, that they'd just think it was terrible writing. They must have got it."
This self-consciously "terrible" writing is maybe the funniest thing about The Editor, the crummy dubbing and stilted cadence of a lot of the dialogue echoing that of giallo classics. ("What is it about the dead coming back to life again, and having to be killed again, a second time?" asks a character in Fulci's Zombi 2, in what might bs cinema's most redundant line reading.) Beyond its pitch perfect aping of giallo cinema aesthetics – the Pepto-Bismol blood, the throbbing synth soundtrack, the flared pants and wide-collared polyester shirts unbuttoned to the navel – The Editor nails the genre's weird lost-in-translation quality.
"The dialogue is so funny," says Kennedy. "A lot of these movies were written by Italian writers, then translated into English, and dubbed over by English speakers trying to match the lip movements of Italian actors. It leads to this really weird phrasing. Dubbing-wise, it was just backward talk."
The Editor's crafty giallo satire feels like the sort of thing built to play directly to TIFF's genre-savvy Midnight Madness crowd. "It's an effective giallo film and it's an effective comedy," says Geddes. "And it's going to speak directly to a certain kind of fan."
Beyond being funny, the film also hits the beats of the prototypical retro Italo-exploitation thriller, piling on more sex and death and car wrecks and gory de-fingerings as the movie careens toward its baffling, left-field climax – the ponderous, head-scratching ending being another hallmark of the genre.
"We tried to honour the genre as best as we can," says Kennedy. "But we also tried to throw in set pieces that could belong to any genre. We just try to throw as much as the screen as we possibly can. Even if we ruined everything, and the movie sucks, as long as there's sex and car crashes and characters getting their heads cut off, people will get their money's worth. So we've got that going for us."
The Editor screens Sept. 11, at 11:59 at Ryerson; Sept. 12 at 9:15 a.m. and Sept. 13 at 6:15 p.m. at Scotiabank Theatre.