Jeremy Kay talks to the head of TIFF’s Midnight Madness strand ahead of its 25th anniversary.

The Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness celebrates its 25th anniversary next month.

Nobody embodies its spirit of maniacal passion as perfectly as programmer Colin Geddes, the flame-haired master of ceremonies who has presided over many a raucous night at the Ryerson Theatre.

Geddes, who also programmes for TIFF Docs and Vanguard, talks to Jeremy Kay about thrills and chills, keeping audiences on their toes… and the code of Madness.

What is the essence of Midnight Madness?

There’s a misconception that the programme is all horror and gore and blood but I have to remind people that we had the world premiere of Borat. It’s a very eclectic selection of stuff that’s magical and pops and works at Midnight.

It’s a programme that’s oft imitated but never duplicated. We have had unique, singular curatorial visions. It isn’t programmed by a committee. Before me it was Noah Cowan. I was an audience member at TIFF from 1988-97 so I have been in the audiences and I have seen what the audience likes.

What is your goal?

For many people this is their second, third, fourth or even fifth film of the day, so it’s my job to wake them up. The film has to deliver some new twist, something that’s going to excite them in the first 15 minutes and carry them on until 1.30 or 2 in the morning. If it’s a slow-burner, that’s not going to work.

My audience needs are a little bloodthirsty and we need to we need to burst out of the gates looking for fresh convention. I never want to waste the audience’s time. Plus I live in Toronto: someone can give me bad service in a restaurant or knock me off my bicycle if we don’t deliver good films.

What is the code of Madness?

Audiences over the years have told me they like surprises. I don’t like giving them sure things all the time. I like giving them a curveball. There are a couple in there [this year]. The thing about the line-up this year I like is it’s predominantly unknown commodities.

You’re Next [the Midnight Madness 2011 entry that just opened in the US through Lionsgate] was specifically written to adhere to the code of Madness. After A Horrible Way To Die [Midnight Madness 2010], the director Adam Wingard and his team sat down and started writing a film they thought would suit the audience’s desires.

When does the selection process resume?

It’s ongoing. It’s happening now. There are films I’m finding out about what are not going to be ready for this year but will be ready for next year. As soon as the last night of the festival is done, the next morning it starts again.

I have really good relationships with the agents, sales agents, producers, distributors and national film bodies, so all year long I have this massive tracking list. I visit Berlin, Cannes, Sundance, watch rough edits and that kind of thing.

Let’s look at 2013. In the words of Pacino, whaddya got?

Most of these films I was tracking beforehand. Very rarely do blind submissions work out; but then again Cabin Fever came out of nowhere [in Midnight Madness 2002 – the film that launched Eli Roth’s career]. Eli’s The Green Inferno is a gorgeously shot cannibal story in the jungle. It’s like his National Geographic film. It’s his Fitzcarraldo or Burden Of Dreams.

Oculus – I didn’t know about the film and it came out of nowhere. [Producer] Trevor Macy came up to me in Cannes [this year] and screened it for me. [Sales agent] Fortissimo told me about Rigor Mortis.

Almost Human was a blind submission and submitted last year in a very rough version and didn’t work out but I tracked it and [first-time director] Joe Begos revisited it and it worked out for this year. Joe was inspired to make his movie when he heard Eli Roth talking about Midnight Madness on the commentary track of the Cabin Fever DVD.

You embrace international movies.

We have got the first film from Austria [The Station (Blutgletscher)]. When we programmed The Raid [Midnight Madness 2011] we packed out the house with an Indonesian film. We brought Thailand its first international star because before we screened Ong-bak [Midnight Madness 2003] nobody outside of Thailand had heard of Tony Jaa.

R100 is another interesting one. The director [Hitoshi Matsumoto] is an unknown commodity outside Japan but in Japan he’s massive because he’s an incredibly popular TV comedian. We showed his first film [Big Man Japan, Midnight Madness 2007] and packed the Ryerson on Thursday night and we then showed his second film Symbol [Midnight Madness 2009].

R100 is just as strange and baffling as those films and is about a salaryman who joins an S&M club. The S&M processes take place outside the club in ordinary settings. But you cannot cancel membership so when he tries to do this he gets this lethal group of dominatrices going after him.

Will there be a 25th birthday celebration?

This year maybe there might be some bigger balloons and beach balls. There might be some gimmicks, but I don’t want to give too much away. The celebrations will be in the Ryerson seeing the audience that turns out every night. It’s going to be a beautiful little birthday party.