Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Horrors of the Great White North

by Melissa Henderson
Canada's main exports: maple syrup, hockey and horror!

As a kid, I always figured that if a movie was Canadian it was bound to have low production value, mediocre acting (as with hockey, Canadian actors have flocked down south to mainly appear in American productions), and that you could spy it a mile away before any of the characters burst into a rendition of “The Good Ole Hockey Game” or started thanking everyone in sight for being so damn nice. BAH! Apparently you can outgrow being an idiot, and I would happily go back in time and punch kid me in the face for drawing such absurd conclusions. I think the main thing with Canadian films -- and Canadian Horror -- is that people are generally unaware of their Canadian-ness. There, I have over-used the word “Canadian” and it has stopped making sense.

When Patrick suggested I write a piece on Canadian Horror films, it naturally resulted in my attempting to watch as many as possible into a four day period! I treated myself to a couple re-watches and fit in as many first viewings as I could in the days I had available for the mini-project. As I was piecing this together, I tried my best to find an overall sub-theme to tie it all up nice n' pretty like. I quickly found, though, that with my movie choices being a) the ones I was most excited to watch for the first time, b) the ones I was most interested in re-visiting to see if they were as great or as cringe-worthy as I had remembered and c) a couple suggestions from friends, the sub theme is best left at: FUN. As in THIS WAS FUN! The best part? Upon discussing this with friends and family, several were unaware of the films being Canadian. Seeeeee? Learning is FUN!

Black Christmas

Directed by: Bob Clark
Filming Location: Toronto, Ontario
Paving the way for the multitude of slasher films we fell in love with during the '80s, first up on my must-watch list of Canadian Horrors is, of course, Black Christmas. Inspired by the urban legend of “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs," (which has literally been, and pardon the pun, done to death), and loosely based on a series of actual murders that took place in Quebec around Christmas time, this ground-breaking film is one that has stood the test of time and never fails to disappoint. The creepy atmosphere in this film is perfectly set, creating for the viewer a feeling of the unnerving calm of the middle of winter, which is a perfect setting for the movie.

My first viewing of this was when I was about ten years old, and (clearly knowing more than the adults in my life, who had warned me I was too young for the material) I managed to squeeze in a VERY late night viewing. While I do not recall my first impressions (or really anything from that experience), I do know that the image of the plastic bag covering the face on the corpse in the attic window stuck with me and throughout the years. Whether it shows up onscreen or in my memory, it still is near the top of my list of creepy scenes.

My Bloody Valentine (1981) (First Viewing
Directed by: George Mihalka
Location: Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia
Featuring some gory and hilarious death scenes, this Canadian classic has been hailed as Quentin Tarantino's favourite slasher film of all time! Which is more than enough endorsement for me. Within the first minute, an unsuspecting topless beauty (does the word SPOILER even need to be included here as first of all? It's only a minute in AND its a slasher film) is stabbed through her tattooed heart on her bare chest. In a mine pit. Cue the scream. Annnnd poor poor topless girl is now a dead topless girl due to the crazy gas mask wearing psycho who has a rage on for hearts. Bam. Opening credits. I am instantly hooked. Obviously.

The movie is infamous for having had nine minutes cut by the Motion Picture Association of America due to the amount of violence and gore. You would think that 30 years later this would be in the acceptable and allowable limits and a re-issue including the original footage would have been made accessible. (Forgive me if I am wrong and it has, as I turned up dry in my search!) Dammit censorship, you ruin all good things!

My favourite scene: (SPOILER) The bartender, Happy, is going to “teach those kids” by setting up a fake Harry with a pickaxe to lunge out as the doors are opened to the mine entrance. He checks his work and laughs like a crazy man every time he opens the door and the dummy Harry lunges out. Watch this and listen to his laugh. The final time he opens the door...BAM! The real Harry Warden is there. Turns out I, too, laugh like a crazy man when I am amused. The EXACT way Happy did. Follow that incident with a couple minutes of giggling at myself and you have yourself a successful death scene.

Is it wrong that I have spent the last four days singing “My Bloody Valentine” to the tune of “My Funny Valentine” since having watched this?

CUBE (First Viewing)

Directed By: Vincenzo Natali

Filming Location: Toronto, Ontario
Before there was the SAW franchise, there was the jigsaw puzzle of seven people awaking in a CUBE (that's the name of the movie!). Beyond specific doors lie the most amazing booby traps, which lead to incredibly graphic death sequences. A winner of several Canadian and International film awards, this was another movie that within the first three minutes had me instantly hooked. If you are not squeamish, and are a fan of puzzles, math, (....yes math) and innovative, sadistic and gory ways of dispatching the living, then it is definitely worth a viewing. I won't even go into descriptions, because I will not ruin a damn thing for you. Things happen. They are great. And gross. And great again. And if you pay close attention, one of the characters has a rant and throws in the name of my city. Li'l ole Saskatoon on the big screen! Huzzah!

I couldn't even make it through the end credits (with the sound on) because the soundtrack was so fricken haunting and creepy. This movie does a lot right, (definitely not everything; I was annoyed with some of the acting), but it has stuck with me and I will be recommending it to the people I think I would be a good fit for. Mainly all you math nerds and lovers of gore.

Ginger Snaps (First Viewing)
Directed by: John Fawcett
Filming Location: Brampton, Ontario
Is hair appearing in places it never was before? Is your body experiencing unexpected changes? Feeling a little emotional and sex-crazed? Relax... It might not be puberty, but a bout of lycanthropy instead! (AKA “You're turning into a werewolf syndrome.”) As if adolescence wasn't hard enough as it is! Poor Ginger. Not quite the scary uptempo pace I had anticipated, but it certainly kept me interested and entertained from start to finish, and as with all werewolf flicks, I was hanging on until that moment the beast is finally revealed in it's true form. All too many werewolf movies are lacking the werewolf, and I think I got my fix in this one, especially the last ten minutes. Geez, talk about a scary bitch. I thought the film was good but not anything I am likely to revisit anytime soon, although I believe I should watch the sequel. My perusing of the World Wide Web revealed it listed as several people's favourite of the two films.

Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (First Viewing)
Director: Jon Knautz
Filming Location: Ottawa, Ontario
 Speaking of raving about....

FUN!! Fun, fun, fun!!! This is literally the best description for this film. And it was another that had slipped by me when it was released! Geeeez. I better up my game! This movie had me laughing and cheering it on every step of the way.

The title character is a monster slayer. Robert Englund plays a professor. Something is found buried in the woods. It somehow ends up in someone's mouth. Enter the giant muppet “Jabba The Hut”-style demon and you have yourself a winner of a film. I loved every second of this and cannot wait to re-watch it with anyone and everyone who has not yet seen it. So watch it. And love it. Because who doesn't love monsters? THIS movie needs to be included in an F This Movie! Twitter Film Fest one year, because MUPPET MONSTER.

Pontypool (First Viewing)
Directed by: Bruce McDonald
Filming Location: Toronto, Ontario
I came into this not knowing anything about it, and I suggest if you have not yet seen it that you do the same. I REALLY enjoyed the movie and while I found the last little bit tedious, repetitive, (most likely its point) and a bit boring (although maybe it will work better for you?), I still really liked this film, and of all those viewed for this article, the one remains top of mind. Set in small town Ontario, Pontypool tells the tale of an outbreak of monstrous proportions and our perspective is that of descriptions relayed through a local radio show! Neat! We are left to use our own imaginations as the scenes that unfold are never really shown, and are reliant upon descriptions received by callers into the show. (This absolutely worked for me on all levels, and I hope others have the same reaction!) Described as a strange riot, a mob scene, a herd of people, terrorist groups, dangerous seizures, and cannibalistic people, it inevitably leads to an announcement of a town-wide quarantine. Skepticism of the reports is natural; however, belief starts to settle over time as the three workers at the radio station begin to suspect that what is happening on the outside of the station walls is not just a hoax. Heed this warning: Avoid the English language, because when the word is understood, it could have deadly consequences.

Videodrome (First Viewing)

Directed By: David Cronenberg
Filming Location: Toronto, Ontario
A list of Canadian Horror films would NEVER be complete without an entry from the man himself, David Cronenberg, who not only paved the way for lovers of the genre to draw from his rich style, but I think it's safe to say that he mastered the art of body horror.

Imagine video having the ability to control and alter human life. (I'm going a little deeper than that of video games and their ability to suck the life out of you!) Being transfixed by a seductress in the form of human torture on a cable television network; its effect is that of actual hallucinations and your inability to decipher the lines of reality. Sold? Because I sure was. In fact, I am in need of a re-watch, because the more I think about it, the more I feel there is so much involved that I missed out on the first time around.

Director: Vincenzo Natali
Filming Locations: Hamilton & Toronto, Ontario
“You have already seen it? Then WHY are you watching it again???” The only reaction when I mentioned I had this on my list. Why oh why would I put yourself through this? Because I like Splice. I liked it the first time I saw it and I liked it just as much this time around. The acting is really nothing extraordinary, but the horrific aspects of the story work as they were intended and that is enough for me! I honestly don't think that I have heard anything creepier or bone chilling lately than the only two words “Dren” has to say the entire film. When I planned out my movies to watch for this piece, I had no idea that this was the same director that made Cube. I initially figured I would have had eight David Cronenburg's films on here! I enjoyed the differences between his two movies, but also the (minute) similarities. I bought it when it first came out and I will upgrade to the Blu-ray when the price is right, but I have a feeling this will forever be on my list of films I will have to watch alone. Splice just doesn't get any love.

American Mary
Directors: Jen and Sylvia Soska
Filming Location: Vancouver, BC
With a fresh new premise featuring the underground world of body modification, American Mary is a definite lesson in style overcoming plot. It was fun and I was pleased with how “pretty” everything onscreen was, from the flawlessness of the title character to the arrangement of several of the shots. It definitely had some cringe worthy moments and I quite enjoyed this film, and with it being my first taste of the Soska sisters (although their acting is definitely not up to par, they do have a brief cameo), I am quite looking forward to watching more from them.

This was a LOT OF FUN!! I would watch a film, gather my thoughts and then do some research on it. What I found was that nine times out of ten, David Cronenberg was attributed as having inspired or paved the way, or a movie was typical of his “Body Horror” style. Having only watched one of his films this time around, I feel the next time I deviate from music in movies to cover all things within the genre, it should almost be a reflection of David Cronenberg, as our industry tends to be a reflection of his works and style.

Consider this piece a mere glimpse into what the Canadian Horror scene has to offer and know that this is but the first of several articles on the topic to come. “To Be Continued...”

You made it to the bottom of my novel? It's best to congratulate yourself with a viewing of your favourite. Also a poutine. Because who doesn't love POUTINE!? Yum yum yum. I am but a fat kid trapped inside a crazy woman. Hmmm.... Body Horror?


  1. I honestly had no idea I had seen so many Canadian horror movies until I read through this list; it's kind of interesting, since Ginger Snaps came out in 1999 (or so) that Katherine Isabelle is all of a sudden, deservedly, getting much more and more prominent work in things like American Mary, Hannibal and the upcoming See No Evil 2.

    Also, anyone reading this who does want to see Pontypool, follow Melissa's advice and go in blind. It's worthy not knowing a thing about what's going to happen and why.

  2. Seconded on the Pontypool recommendation (despite its terrible name). I agree with you Melissa, hearing the audio from the callers was more terrifying than anything they could have shown. Why is hearing something so much scarier than seeing it (see Willow Creek... shudder...).

    Also you are a poet, I never put my finger on exactly why I like Black Christmas so much, but you nailed it: "a feeling of the unnerving calm of the middle of winter". I can't think of any movie that captures it better. Such a great feel to that movie.

    Can't wait for your next article!

  3. Pontypool is one the best horror films of the past 20 years. McHattie is a beast! He is so engaging in emotion, reaction and on screen presence, even with just his amazing voice that you can't help but be glued to the screen. Love that guy.

    Natali is killing it, btw. Cube, Splice, his segment in Paris Je 'taime and his latest, "Haunter" I thought was awesome. (McHattie is in that as well) I love that Natali is the definition of a genre director. All of his films aren't great, but I like all of them in various degrees.

    1. Huh, I somehow had missed that he did the vampire segment in Paris.

  4. Btw Melissa - being the music writer for the site - did you know that Bruce McDonald, director of Pontypool directed "This Movie is Broken"? - I love BSS. The movie, not so much. Although take out the story and there are some pretty cool live performances. Saw them live at the 930 club here in Wash DC during their first tour before they blew up. Yep, I feel old.

  5. Awesome to see so much love for Pontypool! I can't even remember why I "blind bought" the blu-ray from about 4 years ago but I love it. Great movie to watch on a Snow Day/Night.

    Glad you enjoyed Bloody Valentine - I had no idea it was one of QT's favourites - does my Bluenoser heart proud!

    Great article Melissa - I really wanna see Jack Brooks: Monster Hunter!

  6. Dammit. I need to see Pontypool. I ignored it because of the stupid title. My loss

    I also love My Bloody Valentine.

  7. I'll second that. Great column
    Other than the movies you mentioned I would like to throw The Changling in the mix. And who can forget Prom Night 2 Hello Mary Lou. And seeing as we mentioned it recently. Not a horror I know but proudly Canadian. Trailer park boys is also fantastic.