Aloha, mutants! Another holiday in the planner notated with a question mark is upon us: Canada Day! As I sit here in my Vancouver, BC Days Inn motel room (truth, I’m really in Canada!), I thought I’d help celebrate Canada Day by taking a moment to honor some of the maple-flavored maniacs from up north!
Now this is not a list detailing the great and wonderful subgenre of “canuxploitation”, though you can find just about all the info you’d need to ever find on the subject at the awesomely extensive website, Canuxploitation! Nor is this a list detailing movies simply filmed in Canada. Y’see, some time in the 1970s, directors (American and otherwise) realized they could get some major tax breaks by filming in Canada, so there are lots of Canadian-filmed horror films that aren’t from Canadian directors. For a list of those movies, just check out the Wikipedia page for it.
This list is simply intended to shine a a light on a few Canuck-born crazies who’ve contributed great things to the genre of horror. So let’s take a look at a few of ’em, eh?
David Cronenberg is the Canadian Godfather of body horror. He started in 1966 at the age 23 and hasn’t stopped since! He’s directed, produced, and even pops up in his own movies from time to time. He’s adapted famous works (Naked Lunch), remade famous films (The Fly), and even done pieces based on true stories (Dead Ringers and the historic drama A Dangerous Method). He even published his first novel, Consumed, in 2014. There’s nothing the man isn’t capable of. He’s one of my faves.
Big, bearded, and perpetually clad in flannel, Jason Eisener is almost cliched in his Canadian-ness. Appearance aside, the dude is a wunderkind who oozes talent and style, and has influenced a wave of indie filmmakers since making his big splash with Hobo with a Shotgun. He actually got his big break by winning Robert Rodriguez’s fake trailer contest at the 2006 SXSW. His trailer – Hobo with a Shotgun – would go on to inspire the bigger budgeted full length movie of the same name. That’s a pretty sweet leap: make a fake trailer, win a contest, get a movie deal out of it where you direct your own work. Many new filmmakers have tried to recreate his style, but check out one of his early short-short pieces, Report Card, and you’ll realize: there’s only one Jason Eisener.
The name Ted Kotcheff might not ring any bells, but I guarantee you’ve seen his films. In fact, I’d go as far as to say he directed two pivotal 80s films: First Blood and Weekend at Bernie’s. (He also directed the universally-panned Folks! in 1992, but I don’t care what you goddamn fools say, that’s a great movie.) But it was one of his earliest films, the 1971 thriller Wake in Fright, that I think deserves the most attention. Part sociology experiment, part exploitation film, it’s a brutal and unrelenting look at an educated man’s regression to a more primal and primitive state one drunken and sweltering Australian summer. I love this film so much that I’ve reviewed it and included in my list, “Great Horror Movie Drunks!” But I’m not the only one who is a fan of the flick; so is Martin Scorsese. He’s such a huge fan, in fact, that he was instrumental in bringing Wake in Fright (which was a ‘lost film’) back into the public eye, putting it through a complete restoration, and getting it shown at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
John Fawcett did the impossible and actually put a creative spin on the weary werewolf genre with his Ginger Snaps trilogy. Besides its surprisingly layered title (The lead character “Ginger” turns into a werewolf and ‘snaps’…but also, wolves bite, or “snap”…but also, y’know, like the cookies, “ginger snaps”), it also works as a metaphor for the transformations a young teenaged girl goes through as she becomes a young adult. Plus, it’s really well written and incredibly well shot. And for all you gore-purists, Fawcett has your best interest in mind: he skipped the CGI and opted for practical effects — and boy, they do not disappoint.
Roger Spottiswoode has had quite the career. He started off editing films for Sam Peckinpah (the classic Straw Dogs); He wrote one of the greatest buddy cop films of all time (48 Hrs.); and he directed some of the biggest stinkers of the 90s — Turner & Hooch, Air America, and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.
But his first attempt at directing actually saw him turn out a fairly awesome take on the slasher genre, 1980’s Terror Train. Set entirely on a moving train during a college graduation party (which happens to be on New Year’s Eve), the movie sees a killer moving among the partiers, slipping into each successive victims costume, thereby making them impossible to pinpoint. But that’s not the only fun part of the movie — in fact, there’s an even bigger surprise, but I won’t give it away here. I count Terror Train to be among the highest of the second-rate slashers that saturated the genre in the early to mid 80s, a must see for anyone who considers them a horror fan.
And this is where I leave you, mutants. Grab a Molson Canadian (or Labatt Blue if you’re some kinda weirdo), make sure your passport is up to date, and pop on one of these creepy Canadian flicks this week. I promise it’ll be a good, friendly, tolerant, open-minded, and terrifying time!