What I hadn't quite caught onto was that Midnight Madness, the TIFF showcase for the weird and the wonderful, had been going on for a decade by that point. Originally programmed by Noah Cowan (who would eventually become co-director of the Fest and is now the Artistic Director for TIFF's Bell Lightbox Theatre), this internationally renowned subsection of TIFF's film selection has grown under the steady hand of Colin Geddes, who started that same year I first discovered the programme's magic.
On this, the 25th anniversary of the fest's genre film showcase, Moviefone spoke with Geddes about the last quarter-century of midnight films showcased at TIFF.
What does Midnight Madness mean for you?
For me, it's really personal. [I was] born in Toronto, grew up in the countryside, came back to Toronto for college and for my first week of living in the city, I stood in line for the first year of Midnight Madness at the Bloor [Cinema]. I was so excited because I was always a fan of horror films and wild and crazy films, so excited to see these films on the big screen. It was such a fabulous experience with an audience that was so passionate, rowdy, engaged and intelligent and smart and film savvy.
I think about the friendships I've made in the lineups back when I was an audience member and I've gone to the weddings of a number of people I've met in the lineup, we've become friends. It was also my introduction to the Toronto Film Festival. It was my gateway drug. I saw films at Midnight Madness and then I began to see films in Contemporary World Cinema and Asian Horizons. It was really my film school, being able to see films from around the world and understand the language and nature of cinema.
Twenty-five years later, do you think that Midnight films still have the same capacity of wonder or do you think some of that is shifting as genre films become more mainstream? Do you feel that some of the things that seemed so shocking at the time and now more commonly found in mainstream cinema?
We have seen this acceptance of genre, of horror films and the more transgressive genres. Let's put it this way: I never call any of these "B-films." The Midnight Madness program was brought around to inject these films into the discussion of what were considered art films. I think that a film like "You're Next" has just as much skill and craftsmanship to it as, say, [Cannes Palme d'Or winner] "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives."
A Midnight Madness film is more about the Midnight Madness experience. It's about seeing these films with a loving, fun, eager-to-explore audience. If you see one of these films on your own, or on your laptop, on your phone, that's not the same. It's being in the middle of 1,200 people cheering and screaming and having a heck of a good time.
Can you think of a film where the audience reaction far exceeded your already elevated expectations?
I would easily say [2003's] "Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior." I loved "Ong Bak," and maybe it was just because I love martial arts films so much and it played so well, so over the top. If [the film's action star] Tony Jaa had been able to be there in person, that audience would have put him on their shoulders and carried him out on to the street in a celebration, a jubilee of elbows and kneecaps to the head.
[The] difference from the midnight selections at some other film festivals is that I'm the only programmer for Midnight Madness. This is a singular programming curatorial endeavour. I actually prefer films that divide the audience because those are the films which make them talk, make the audience engage and talk about them. Examples would be "Martyrs," which was a film that divided audiences. [2008's] "Eden Log" was a film that divided audiences. "Acolytes" [from the same year] is another film which divided audiences. But those were films that were talked about and I felt those experiences made them more memorable.
I try and avoid films that you might describe as slow-burn films because I'm well aware that you guys, especially the hardcore nutcases like yourself ... I have to wake you up because you're coming for your [last] film. That's my goal! I have to somehow get into your brain and keep you awake for the next 90 minutes to 2 hours.
Can you talk about some of the films that got away, something that you wanted to get but couldn't get into the fold? Is there something you've seen that you would have loved to have shown to this particular audience?
I'm not at liberty to discuss that, because who wants to know that they didn't get asked to the prom? The hardest part right now is watching so many films and seeing so many good films that people have put their time and their creative efforts into. At the end of the day I can only pick 10 films.
There are those that get away and sometimes it's things that are out of our control. Sometimes they're not able to deliver on time because of their post-production, there are just so many different reasons. Sometimes, it's just that this film is stronger than that film. I also have to select the program based on tone. This year, we have eight horror films. But that's just because of how it rolls -- last year we had a predominant number of American and English-language films. I wasn't really happy with that because I like having a really strong, wide, international voice in the program, but at the end of the day, those were the best films that were out there. It's hard for me to talk about what got away. There are lots, and that's one of the hard parts of the job.
Looking back over the 25 years of the Festival, are there certain films that you hold dear that might not have the reputation you think they deserve?
You want to see what Midnight Madness is all about? Watch "Ong Bak," watch [2003's] "Haute Tension"or "Undead," watch [2002's] "Bubba Ho-Tep." Yes, there are a couple of films which get away and not necessarily because they weren't well received, but because of the pitfalls of distribution, and the pitfalls of the film business.
[Take 2006's] "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" -- that film looks amazing, it holds up so well, but it was caught in a quagmire of acquisition hell. One of my personal favourite films that I've programmed, the one that I'm the most proud of, is a  film from New Zealand called "Heaven" [directed] by Scott Reynolds, starring Martin Donovan, Richard Schiff, and Karl Urban in one of his first roles. I love that film, I think it's so smart, so sharp. When I saw it with [Festival Director] Piers Handling, I wasn't sure if it was going to work at Midnight, and Piers turned to me and said, "No, that's black tie Midnight!"
Is there a specific film this year that you think for somebody who's never been to a TIFF Midnight Madness screening that would be an ideal foray into this world of madness?
"Why Don't You Play in Hell" [directed by Sion Sono]. We're going to have to have a special clean-up crew just to sweep jaws off the floor! There are going to be some points in that film where it's going to hit the "WTF" synapses in their brains and it's just going to flare. I mean, the title alone, you want to see that, right?
I can proudly say I have the best titled films of the festival!
The 25th year of the TIFF Midnight Madness programme begins on Thursday, September 5th with the evocatively titled "All Cheerleaders Die." For a full schedule, visit the official TIFF website.