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Toronto: A Brief History of the Festival's Midnight Madness

You're Next Blood on Wall - H 2013
Lionsgate
"You're Next"

There have been 25 years of thrills and chills at the showcase, which launched the career of Eli Roth with "Cabin Fever" and saw Sacha Baron Cohen arrive in a cart pulled by donkeys to screen "Borat."

"A haven for weird, deranged filmmakers" is how programmer Colin Geddes describes the Toronto Film Festival's Midnight Madness program in its early years. My, how times have changed.

The sidebar, which this year celebrates its 25th year, is easily one of the most popular showcases of the festival -- and one that has Hollywood sales execs staying up until the early morning hours.

"Midnight Madness was started to carve out a space for films that were never taken seriously; they were not seen as art," says Geddes, who is now prepping to unleash his 15th sidebar as programmer. "Now they are the most coveted acquisition titles."

Here are some of the highlights from the past 25 years.

PHOTOS: Toronto: 21 Hot Film Titles for Sale

1988: Piers Handling, then program director of the Toronto Film Festival, launches Midnight Madness. Among the initial lineup are Hellbound: Hellraiser II and The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years.

1993: The program shows it's not just about blood and roundhouse kicks when it screens Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused.

1995: The program outgrows its old venue, moving from the Bloor Cinema to the Uptown Theatre.

1997: Colin Geddes is named co-programmer, joining Noah Cowan. Among the titles in '97: Trey Parker and Matt Stone's first feature, Orgazmo, and Takashi Miike's Fudoh: The New Generation.

2002: Eli Roth premieres his first movie, Cabin Fever, which netted a U.K. distribution deal 10 minutes into the first press screening and a high-priced domestic deal with Lionsgate by the end of the festival. The sidebar now has Hollywood's attention.

STORY: Toronto: Eli Roth Reveals How the Fest's Midnight Madness 'Changed My Life'

2004: The Ryerson Theatre becomes the new home of the sidebar, just in time to see Saw close out the festival.

2006: Sacha Baron Cohen arrives on a cart drawn by donkeys and peasant wenches for the premiere of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

2007: Japanese cult director — and Midnight Madness favorite — Takashi Miike (Audition) presents his warped take on Sergio Leone, Sukiyaki Western Django, co-starring Quentin Tarantino, who five years later makes his own ode to the Spaghetti Western, Django Unchained.

2011: You're Next and The Raid continue to make the sidebar one Hollywood cannot afford to ignore, becoming hot acquisitions.