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Expect more than the usual horrific bloodbath at the third annual feast of gore and ghoulish flicks at this year's Toronto After Dark Film Festival, which kicks off tonight.

The eight-day program - 16 independent features from seven countries (four of which are Canadian premieres) and 26 shorts - is riddled with cult and action films as well as witty black comedies.

"We don't want to serve spaghetti every night, we want to spice up the fest with not just horror," said festival director Adam Lopez. "Undead zombies are great fun, it's so gory and splatterific, but your senses get dulled. Action, cult, crime, we mix it all up in there. We want to give a blend of flavours."

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He adds: "If you want to see non-Hollywood, cool, underground, thrilling films, this is what our fest stands for."

After Dark may be against blockbuster hits, but that's not to say Hollywood doesn't have a presence among the indies. Repo! The Genetic Opera gets its Toronto premiere tomorrow night and it stars no less than the tabloid fixture Paris Hilton. The cyberpunk rock opera, shot in Toronto, looks set to follow in the footsteps of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The film looks into the hyper-polluted future where failing human organs are as common as car accidents. GeneCo, the bank of human organs, comes to the rescue, lending out replacement gallbladders, spleens and lungs. But if you miss a payment, the repo man is on your tail with a sword-sized scalpel to carve out his refund. The unlikely cast includes singer Sarah Brightman and Nivek Ogre, the gangly singer from the industrial band Skinny Puppy.

Other highlights tickle the funny bone (intentionally). NetherBeast Incorporated is a look into the world of (literal) corporate vampires. Starring Darrell Hammond from Saturday Night Live and Dave Foley from the Kids in the Hall, it follows a pack of telemarketers in the office of the Berm-Tech Industries telephone company who are at the mercy of the impossible-to-please CEO. Played by the poufy-haired Hammond, this boss is not above stabbing his subordinates with daggers if their work is not up to par.

The chuckles continue in the premiere of South of Heaven, a dark comedy which follows a rampant criminal by the name of Mad Dog, and his sheepish sidekick, Roy, on a crime spree through Texas. Each scene - one with a log cabin set against a backdrop screen of postcardy mountains - is crafted to look artificial, like the stage of a play or a shadowy page from a Dick Tracy comic book.

"Its noir, dark crime, violent but they still tell witty stories," Lopez said of South of Heaven. And that thin line between horror and humour ties into this year's programming. "Dark humour is something you get that's very bleak in one sense, but humour is in some way a reaction and release to horror. Some people laugh at scenes that are supposed to be scary. And others, after jumping in their seats in the theatre, laugh and say 'I wasn't scared.' "

But the scariest films are not necessarily the ones with the most gore.

The Toronto premiere of Who is KK Downey? follows two young hipsters, desperate for their 15 minutes of fame, as they write a bogus, unruly biography under the pen name KK Downey. After the book becomes an overnight hit, and the public hungers for the face behind the name, the boys have to go under guise in Andy Warhol-like garb - white wig, enormous sunglasses, glacial persona - to satiate the media frenzy.

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"It's about this whole hipster scene, all these people who think they're talented but aren't, and you can't tell them because they're your best friend," Lopez said. "What's sick is that they do make it."

"That's the real horror."

The Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs until Oct. 24, with all screenings at the Bloor Cinema. For more information, go to torontoafterdark.com.

*****

More frightfully good picks

TRAILER PARK OF TERROR

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After their ride breaks down on a bumpy, dirt road, a group of teens and their pastor venture into a freaky trailer park while the sultry queen bee Norma - and her army of zombies - await.

Sunday, 9:15 p.m.

RED

Based on the book by Jack Ketchum (pseudonym for American horror author Dallas Mayr), a country geezer vows for bloody revenge after a pack of young punks kills his beloved dog.

Monday, 7 p.m.

HOME MOVIE

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See a set of family memories turn awry after Jack and Emily, holy terror twins, take a stab at making their own flicks - they crucify the family cat, terrorize their classmates, then turn the lens on their parents. Shot entirely on a home-movie camcorder.

Thursday, 9:45 p.m.

I SELL THE DEAD

For the closing-night gala, see Dominic Monaghan from Lord of the Rings as a ratty grave robber in 18th-century England who is forced to spend his last night with a priest, played by Ron Perlman from Hellboy.

Friday (Oct. 24), 7 p.m.

N.S.

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