Two years ago, the Blog came for your parents. Last year, the Blog came for your siblings. This time, it’s personal. You can run but you can’t hide from…
the Creature from the Blog Lagoon!
Ooooh… scary stuff. Okay, people. Take it easy. This is the third and final instalment in my blog series on horror movies, just in time for Hallowe’en. Previously I’ve discussed some of my favourite horrors and some of my fave creature features with The Blog from Outer Space and Attack of the Killer Blog-atoes. Now, I need to bring up an important but far-neglected horror sub-genre: CanCon horror.
“What?” you’re asking yourself. “They make horror movies in Canada? Inconceivable!”
Yes, Regina… it’s true. This grand and frosty country of ours has a longstanding tradition of some mondo B horrors and a few stellar A types. There are many that you’ve heard of yet didn’t realize their true Canuckness but there are far more that you haven’t heard of yet once I describe them to you, you will surely go running to your closest video store.
Damn. This is 2016. Video stores are largely a ghost of the past. Oh wait! Head down to Whyte Avenue and check out Videodrome, perhaps the greatest Canadian video store name ever!!! And… it’s closed. There’s still The Lobby open, otherwise we’d all be SOL at this point. If you can find a decent special order venue, will you do a fella a favour and ring me up?
Anyhoo, let’s run down some of the greatest homegrown gorefests and spooktacular screamers that will surely live in infamy.
The entire David Cronenberg oeuvre, especially the early to middle stuff: Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), and The Fly (1986)
One simply cannot walk into this topic of CanCon horror without devoting a good section of it to The Dark Master AKA the King of Venereal Horror AKA Dave Deprave AKA the Baron of Blood: Mr. David Cronenberg CC OOnt FRSC. One couldn’t even get into a discussion of any Canadian movie without DC showing up somewhere with his tall, gaunt appearance and unsettling demeanor. Those pale blue deep-set eyes, his straight-back hair like a lion’s grey mane, that half-smirking look, that voice that reminds me of a psychologist telling you the bad news that the nightmares are real…
Listen, he didn’t get award the Cannes Special Jury Prize for Audacity for nothing.
Cronenberg is the big guy when it comes to filmmakers who started up the whole ‘body horror’ thing (that toys with people’s fears of uncontrollable, alien transformation of one’s body), especially north of the border. You’ve got your Clive Barkers, Stuart Gordons, Frank Henenlotters, and Lloyd Kaufmans wherever else you go, but under the maple leaf flag, there’s only one fella, and he’s the smartest one of the bunch. David Cronenberg has turned horror into a thoughtful, academic, lifelong nightmare-inducing exercise. He made us all better, brighter people for understanding the futuristic ramifications of Videodrome and appreciating the subtle social commentary of Scanners. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch. Maybe you were just in that one to watch Louis Del Grande’s head explode. I understand. It’s a movie about people with advanced powers of telepathy, mind control and telekinesis. Somebody had to lose his head over such wonders.
If that isn’t your game, then Cronenberg will surely delight you with his precocious trifecta of Shivers, Rabid and The Brood. First, Shivers. It’s probably important that its early working title was Orgy of the Blood Parasites, which pretty much sums it up. A doctor creates an alien organism that is part aphrodisiac, part venereal disease. That kind of doctor, my friends… is a total jerk.
Rabid is the fairy tale of a woman who, after after being injured in a motorcycle accident, gets a strange graft operation in a nearby plastic surgery clinic that leads to her growing an orifice under her armpit. The orifice has a special vampiric purpose, with a somewhat suggestive stinger that functions as a tooth to feed on the blood of others. Doing so, of course, spreads the disease. Will wonders never cease.
And then The Brood with its incomparable cast of Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar, along with the great Canadian character actor Art Hindle. There’s an eccentric psychotherapist (who has a novel technique called psychoplasmics), his institutionalized wife, and a series of heinous murders committed by mutant children. God bless Canadian cinema. Are you with me on that?
If that isn’t a decent enough intro into his creepy catalogue, surely you’re more familiar with Videodrome (James Woods with a videotape he inserts in his body cavity; an entirely prescient movie about the state of entertainment – “Long live the new flesh”), The Dead Zone (Christopher Walken in a Stephen King story about an accidental psychic and the horrific visions that come with it everytime he makes physical contact with someone), or The Fly (Jeff Goldblum in a classic horror remake about a genius scientist who invents teleportation but not at all in a sterile environment – NOT AT ALL). After 1986, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, Crash, and eXistenZ still play with these familiar themes to other degrees and other effectivenesses. Cronenberg nowadays seems to be more interested in banal and emotionless looks into disturbed psychologies. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… but he didn’t earn any of his nicknames based on A Dangerous Method.
If you’re really into his earlier movies then seek out Stereo and Crimes of the Future, the master director’s earliest (and therefore, most elusive) works. If you ever find them, drop me a line and invite me for popcorn and a flick.
Side note: keep your eyes out for Brandon Cronenberg, Dave’s kid. He’s making his own stand on the screen with 2012’s Antiviral, a black satire about a company that sells celebrities’ illnesses to their crazed fans. His next title, Possessor, is due out next year. What this family must talk about around the holiday dinner table…
Cannibal Girls (1973)
HOLY CRAP… this must be the Holy Grail of CanCon horror extravaganzas. All you need to know is the title, that it was directed by Toronto transplant Ivan Reitman, and starred SCTV superstars Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin. Wait… this is still a horror, right? Who cares!
Okay, it’s a comedy/horror. Actually, it should have been called Cannibal Zombie Girls… but I’ve said too much. Watch for regular bit player David Clement (of Strange Brew, Police Academy, and Black Christmas fame) to pop by for a bit too.
Black Christmas (1974)
Director Bob Clark (he of Porky’s and A Christmas Story fame) helmed this Canadian horror classic with Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder and Andrea Martin, plus John Saxon (later of A Nightmare on Elm Street) – and hey look there’s Art Hindle again – and with Lynne Griffin this time, perhaps more familiar from her work in Strange Brew. Apart from the cast, there’s not really much to say about this entry except the plot that hangs on by a tendon. The Pi Kappa Sigma sorority is getting obscene phone calls just around the holiday season, and then the sisters start turning up missing and deceased. Somehow, this was good enough for a remake several years ago. Yup. It doesn’t take much to inspire a remake though I’d only pay attention to the progenitor if I were you.
Prom Night (1980), with Prom Night II, III and IV (1987, 1990 and 1992)
Speaking of crummy originals that spawned crummier remakes, there’s Prom Night (1980) directed by Paul Lynch who had himself an interesting career. This slasher flick focuses on a group of high school seniors set to graduate but they have to avoid the murderer in the wings, someone who seeks to avenge the death of a young girl several years’ previously. It just so turns out that the prom is held on the anniversary of the girl’s death and her older sister is the prom queen. Did I mention that scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis and ‘born in Edmonton’ deadpan master Leslie Nielsen starred? And then there was Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, Prom Night III, and the aptly-titled Prom Night IV. The second was mostly filmed in Edmonton (including the big mall), which was a big deal to a lot of people I knew back in 1987. It featured Scanners champ Michael Ironside along with Lisa Schrage who went on to Gnaw: Food of the Gods II, another classic. I’ve written about that one before. Genetically mutated giant rats. Say no more.
Happy Birthday to Me and My Bloody Valentine (both 1981)
Now that we’ve gotten the Christmas and Prom Night horrors out of the way, there’s other holiday event-based cinematic traumas to explore. Enter Valentine’s Day and your very own birthday party. The early 1980s were a rich and frothy period for these kinds of slashers. God bless low budgets and great talents, amiright?
Awesome British expat director J. Lee Thompson (he of the Cape Fear original, plus The Guns of Navarone and Taras Bulba, Kings of the Sun, Huckleberry Finn and a few of those classic Planet of the Apes movies, among many, many other mostly B films involving Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson thanks to a fine contract with Cannon Films) helmed this Quebec-filmed flick about a young woman who returns to a private school after surviving a deadly accident and recovering thanks to regenerative brain surgery. Cuz that happens. School is going well but the friends that she has invited to her birthday party keep dying off, the work of a mysterious serial killer. How come, that?
My Bloody Valentine was filmed in Nova Scotia and released just a few days before February 14, 1981, just a few months before Happy Birthday to Me. There’s an old folk tale about a killer who stalks and slays those lovebirds who get all romantic like on St. Valentine’s Day, a myth (or was it?) that started 20 years previously when an accident in the local mine was caused by – yes – a Valentine’s Day party. Director George Mihalka’s second feature is set in the fictional community of Valentine Bluffs. The film famously had several minutes of footage excised by the MPAA because of its gory violent content. How dare they! The film classifiers were brutal in how they slashed and chopped, leaving bloody chunks of Cinema Canadiana on the cutting room floor. Paramount even refused to reintegrate the scenes back into an uncut version but we did get a look at a few minutes of the otherwise verboten work in a re-release just before the remake came out.
It should be noted: screenwriter John Beaird was credited on this one yet uncredited on Happy Birthday to Me. Also, celebrated Canadian actress Cynthia Dale has a role here and if she isn’t Canuck enough for you then you should talk to her husband about it. This movie also recently spawned a remake, just like Black Christmas did. Will originality never cease? Yes, Victoria… it will.
Big Meat Eater (1982)
Yes, the early 1980s were rich and brimming, my friends. In this gem, Bob Sanderson (George Dawson) is the meek butcher in White Rock, B.C. posing as a small town somewhere. His butcher shop motto is “Pleased to meet you, meat to please you.” Yeah, that’s what my butcher shop motto would be too.
But then he hires Abdullah, played by renowned jazz trumpeter Big Miller. He is a big fella who just knocked off the town mayor, depositing the body in Bob’s freezer. And that’s when the alien spacecraft lands, with the little green men looking for fuel, what they call Bolonium. And that’s when things get really weird. A boy genius. A space-launched cyclotron. Hot, barbecued gangsters and spotted dalmatian spam. A zombie mayor. Alien robots. Incredible mutations. How this thing never won the Oscar for All-Around Awesomeness I’ll never know. And yes, big Big sings the blues while he cooks up the crooks.
Big Miller fun fact: you should watch this and then track down A Name for Evil, the music man’s other horror film entry. The house doesn’t want the people who have moved in… also filmed in B.C.
Meat Market (2000)
This is probably the right place to refer to writer/director Brian Clement’s Meat Market trilogy. Here, I refer to Wikipedia for possibly the greatest film description that my sad eyes have ever read: “Ex-bounty hunters discover that a wave of murders is the work of zombies. They team up with a trio of female vampires and a masked Mexican wrestler against the zombies. Eventually, they learn that the zombies are reanimated by nanobots, which gives the zombies a collective consciousness. In the end, the scientist who created them is killed by his own creations.”
Bravo, sir. Bravo. Maybe not the most polished works, these, but three cheers for concept and creation.
Death Ship (1980)
Toronto-born director Alvin Rakoff’s great horror with a stellar cast of such B movie standouts as Richard Crenna, George Kennedy and Nick Mancuso (see Black Christmas for God’s sake). A deserted freighter runs into a cruise ship and sinks it, so the survivors must climb aboard the vessel that turns out to be a Nazi torture boat. Dammit, I hate it when that happens. OMG… Saul Rubinek is in this too! And Kate Reid of E.N.G., Bye Bye Blues and Street Legal is there too! Squee!!!
Alone in the Dark (2005)
This entry only exists because it came from Uwe Boll, the worst director in the history of history. If horror is improved by horribleness, Alone in the Dark must be Casablanca.
Cube (1997) and Resident Evil (2002)
Vincenzo Natali’s influential think-piece Cube was set in a futuristic prison where the prisoners don’t know how they got there or why, and they have to figure out which of the interconnected cubic rooms is boobytrapped with a variety of deadly mechanisms. The movie starts with a man getting cubed like a diced onion by a contraption of razor wire, thin lines of blood grid his face as chunks of his body slowly slip and slide apart. Wholly disgusting, that, yet a marvelous piece of VFX.
The idea of the prison and its traps was the great conceit that made possible such groundbreaking special effects (at the time), offered by ill-fated Canadian company C.O.R.E.
That same basic shot was then repeated severally, starting with Resident Evil, another Canadian filmed product, though an American production. Remember the scene where the soldiers try to escape through the hallway but lasers cut them down to size… and smaller? Yeah, that was London, England’s The Computer Film Company borrowing the ‘diced people’ idea. I then saw the same basic scene in Final Destination 2 just a year afterward, where one unfortunate fella inexplicably got disarmed and decapitated by a flying barbed wire fence. Suspension of disbelief, I tell ya.
Ginger Snaps (2000), including Ginger Snaps II and III (both 2004)
Edmonton director John Fawcett brought this lycanthropic ‘period’ horror (which he co-wrote with Karen Walton) to the silver screen back in 2000. Two morbid sisters get the were-treatment courtesy of a howlin’ werewolf. Let’s just say that their moon cycles are never going to be the same again. While the first was filmed in Toronto, the sequels Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning have Edmonton scratched and scraped, clawed and gashed all over them. Gnarly.
If werewolves are your thing then there’s another Canadian film out there for your special tastes. It’s more comedy than pure horror as the concept is just campy laughable in the best way. An alcoholic small town cop gets cursed and turns into a werewolf. That doesn’t mean he quits his job, however. Hence, WolfCop. Hey look! Visual effects by Edmonton’s Akash Sherman. Nice work, dude. Another WolfCop – that’s the actual title – is still due out this year. Maybe don’t hold your breath though.
The Changeling (1980)
Disclaimer: this is not the Clint Eastwood movie with Angelina Jolie from several years ago. This thriller from the heyday of the early 80s features George C. Scott as a composer trying to put his life back together after the deaths of his wife and daughter. While renting an old Victorian mansion, he soon finds himself visited by the unhappy ghost of a boy who encourages him to bring its own sad mystery to the light of day. While there are many exterior shots that might remind you of Seattle or New York, there’s lots of interior work filmed on home turf in Victoria and in Toronto. And hey! It’s based on a real life haunting. Scary stuff. Count this one among the faves of such filmic luminaries as Alejandro Amenábar and Martin Scorsese. It won the Genie for Best Picture too, didnchaknow?
Reflecting Skin (1990)
A pre-LotR Viggo Mortensen gets into this 1950s era story about vampires. It’s surreal, it’s a black comedy and it was filmed around Calgary, plus Dick Pope (his real name) was the DP and he’s awesome in all ways.
The Mask AKA Eyes of Hell (1961)
Jim Carrey is not in this movie. There, now that we’ve got that public service announcement out of the way, perk up and check out this 3-D horror about a mysterious ancient tribal mask which cause the wearer to suffer delusions and an altered personality. Yes, I’m sure that Jim Carrey isn’t in this movie. Somehow I missed the screenings of this cult classic this last January at the Metro Cinema. Curse me! Wait… don’t!
The Brain (1985)
If you haven’t seen this then you really, really must. A TV doctor hosts a show called Independent Thinkers, a kind of self-help, pseudo-religious program that has nothing at all whatsoever to do with Scientology. The thing is, his audience doesn’t really get out of it what they think they will because of the show’s name. An alien organism called The Brain (natch) brainwashes them all to do its bidding. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-HAAAAA!!!!
Look out! It was filmed in Mississauga!
Blood and Donuts (1995)
Another comedy-horror here because who does these better than Canadians? I know many of you are shouting Shaun of the Dead but I’m not listening.
A vampire awakens out of his slumber by a stray golf ball but is a little shy to get to know people. Eventually, relationships develop and just in time too when an ex-lover from long ago threatens to ruin his new life. Watch for a cameo role by some guy named Cronenberg as the crime boss. Yeah. That’s cool.
Speaking of Shaun and his rom-zom-com, here’s the original CanCon zom-com set in an alternate universe in the 1950s where intergalactic radiation has transformed the dead into – duh-duh-DUH! – the undead. A company called Zomcon sells zombie collars to keep them subservient. The collars aren’t totally foolproof, however, and one malfunctions, leading to one zombie pet going stray and killing. Look for an astoundingly outstanding cast here with Henry Czerny, Carrie Anne Moss, Tim Blake Nelson, Dylan Baker and Billy Connolly as the zombie. How is it possible that copies of this film aren’t delivered to every household along with Betamax tapes of Sgt. Preston of the Yukon and copies of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
Canadian stalwart Wendy Crewson is just one of the cast involved in this Dungeons and Dragons-inspired story of a devil-cursed man who believes that he’s a warlock and goes on a murderous rampage. Dr. Evil is in this movie but not the Mike Myers character.
Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002)
Gotta admit that I did not find any of Guy Maddin’s vampire version at all scary but he does have a way of putting his own special little spin on things, don’t he? Nobody makes movies like Maddin the Mad One.
All-around awesome The Changeling/Prom Night screenwriter William Gray gets back into the game in a big way with this slasher-splatter flick.
Watch for the Canadian unrated version with all of the good stuff kept in. The boring rated American version… don’t bother. A mysterious hulking person kills off some helpless teenagers stranded on an island. Did you see Page Fletcher (of TV’s Hitchhiker) here? Yes, you did.
NB: this is not the 1966 William Shatner horror filmed in Esperanto, although perhaps that should be a separate entry here. Yes, yes it should.
No, this is the version with John Cassavetes which should be enough to convince any film snob. Barring that, there’s also cinematographer Conrad Hall and director John Hough to mention. Yes, he directed other horror classics such as Twins of Evil, Sudden Terror, The Legend of Hell House, and The Watcher in the Woods, along with Escape to Witch Mountain (plus Return to WM) and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, all classics in other genres. Barring that, the movie deals with supernatural entities that are not feminists. That’s all I’m going to say about the abhorrent plot.
Watch out! It was filmed in Guelph, including the Homewood Sanitarium!!!
A deadly virus infects a small Ontario town. This would have been just another boring wannabe if it weren’t for Bruce McDonald in the director’s chair filming an adaptation of one of Tony Burgess’ interesting novels.
Silent Hill (2006)
This film has a fanbase that I don’t quite understand but that’s beside the point. Having screenwriter Roger Avary on board probably helped tons. Based on a Japanese video game, the story takes a woman and her adopted daughter to the strange eponymous town with fog and falling ash. When the child goes missing, the woman must find her while fighting an incomprehensible band of monsters in some kind of alternate reality. Alrighty then. Filmed on Gretzky home turf in Brantford, ON, yo. *No actual Gretzkys were harmed during the filming of this movie.
There’s probably five people who’ve seen this year’s body horror entry by writer/director Danny Perez and starring Natasha Lyonne, Chloë Sevigny and Meg Tilly. A druggie gets pregnant after taking some strange stuff. Okay…
The Peanut Butter Solution (1985)
It’s not often that you see the phrase ‘family film’ when it comes to horrors but here it is. Two mischievous but friendly ghosts not named Casper need peanut butter for their magic potions, one of which causes hair growth. Don’t use too much peanut butter!
The Kiss (1988)
A great AIDS allegory set in the world of women haunted by an ancient curse spurred by a talisman that prompts a parasite to pass the infection onto its victims’ families. Otherwise, unspectacular.
God bless those early 80s, y’know? Can you believe that John Huston of all people directed this yarn about a shrink who uses his radical techniques to cure his patients of their fears. All goes well for that until they start getting murdered. That’s not good.
The Pit (1981)
So what if this was mostly filmed in Wisconsin, it still counts as a Canadian horror by my ken. A misunderstood preteen has a secret deep in the woods. He gets picked on lots but a pit-full of Trogs can help him settle the score. Burp.
Director Lew Lehman here had a partial writing credit on Phobia.
At the end of the day, you should probably also check out the collected works of Ryan Nicholson (who cut his effects teeth on Final Destination, then sharpened them on his own efforts like Famine which was also known as Stupid Teens Must Die!) and Jen and Sylvia Soska better known as the Soska Sisters. Start with their American Mary starring CanCon indie fave Katharine Isabelle of Ginger Snaps and many others. It might just convince you to avoid plastic surgery if that was ever a thought in your head.