Crash Reports: The Best Canadian Horror Films

On the night of November 9, 2013, I reached a cinematic milestone: I indulged in my film-videodrome100th Canadian horror film. Unfortunately, it was the very forgettable eco-terror, SEVERED (2005). Although a pathetic and insipid tale, Michael Tiegen as Luke is a standout.

Regardless, I have always admired films, horror and otherwise, from the Great White North. Granted, in the realm of the macabre, David Cronenberg is a standout, but there are amazing films to see across the grand nation. Here you’ll find my Canadian favorites. The first ten are the best of the best. The runner’s up include quality productions that one should also take the time to explore.

 

THE CHANGELING (1980)

Peter Medak has delivered one of the greatest ghost stories of all time with a few creepy scenes that still freak me out. George C. Scott leads the way as a father who has lost his family and relocates to a mansion where a presence will not rest.

 

VIDEODROME (1983)

James Woods plays a skeevy president of an adult cable access station, who ends up going deep into the surreal world of the sadomasochistic Videodrome – with no way out. This is my favorite from Cronenberg, and the movie still toys with the senses.

 

NAKED LUNCH (1991, Canada/USA/Japan)

Cronenberg brought William S. Burroughs’s remarkable “anti-book” to life with the refined acting of Peter Weller, Ian Holm, Judy Davis, Julian Sands, and the late, great Roy Schieder. The director worked with Burroughs on this epic project, and captured the essence of the infamous novel.

 

CUBE (1997)

One of Canada’s best low-budget horrors, we follow a small group trapped inside a maze of moving cubes with seemingly no escape. Vincenzo Natali delivers an intense tale that is as suspenseful as it is engaging as that small group disintegrates and succumbs to human frailty.

 

EXISTENZ (1999, Canada/UK)

Another from Cronenberg, he once again plays with our minds as we watch the wonderful Jennifer Jason Leigh and the amazing Jude Law play a game of their own. In this virtual world of ever changing mystery and science fiction, the master director will keep you guessing.

 

GINGER SNAPS (2000)

One of the greatest werewolf films ever made, we follow two sisters with a love for the grotesque until a lycanthropic presence enters their lives and works to pull them apart. Stars the fantastic Isabelle Katherine and Emily Perkins.

 

THE DARK HOURS (2005)

Based on a screenplay by Wil Zmak, Paul Fox brings us to a cabin where our minds are twisted around the dance between a psychiatrist and a sex offending criminal. With her family’s life in jeopardy, she must face her enemy, and his accusations, head on.

 

PONTYPOOL (2008)

Stephen McHattie shines as a thwarted shock jock caught in the midst of social upheaval. Bruce McDonald directs this foray into the most unique premise ever for a horror film, based on Tony Burgess’s script and novel. A riveting, dramatic horror.

 

SUCK (2009)

Sex, vampirism, and rock n roll gleams like moonstone in this comedy/horror from Rob Stefaniuk – complete with killer rock star cameos, and alternative tunes to keep your blood pumping. The film’s a great ride for those who prefer a bit of a bite to their music.

 

ANTIVIRAL (2012)

Cronenberg’s son, Brandon, delivers an amazing first feature that will definitely get under your skin. A cerebral and captivating dramatic horror, this is a fantastic extension of the nightmarish novelty world we’ve created. Caleb Landry Jones delivers an amazing performance.

 

Other great Canadian horrors:

THE BROOD (1979), HEAVY METAL (1981), DEAD RINGERS (1988), PARENTS (Canada/USA, 1989), SCREAMERS (Canada/Japan/USA, 1995), MY LITTLE EYE (UK/USA/France/Canada, 2002), WILLARD (2003), FIDO (2006), ORPHAN (2009), THE SHRINE (2010), and AMERICAN MARY (2012).

We know we’ll see more from Brandon Cronenberg, but will his acclaimed father bring us another horror? The seventy-year-old director does have a drama on the way, but there’s no talk of anything related to the macabre. Regardless, Canada has delivered many amazing terror-ridden films over the years and will continue to do so. After all, with the Twisted Twins, we know AMERICAN MARY is just a teaser for much more blood-drenched trauma from the Soska’s – and they’ve just announced they’ll take part in an all-female directed horror anthology.

Can’t wait to see what comes next…

(Photo from Live for Film.)

Crash Discussions: Get Slashed! Episode 32

PodcastimageBilly Crash and Jonny Numb take a stab at the slasher sub-genre, its origins and formula, where it’s been and where it may be going. Enjoy everything from PEEPING TOM and BLACK CHRISTMAS, to FRIDAY THE 13TH, SAW, HATCHET, and so much more.

And don’t forget to check us out on iTunes!

Crash Analysis Support Team: CARRIE (2013) Guest Post from Jonny Numb

[100 minutes. R. Director: Kimberly Peirce]

In the horror canon, Brian De Palma’s CARRIE (1976) is considered a signature work – a 12812film that, without fail, gets frequent mention on those “What to Watch this Halloween” lists. Based on Stephen King’s first published novel, it tells the tale of the titular outcast (Sissy Spacek), who is dominated by her fundamentalist wack-job of a mother (Piper Laurie), and tormented by her peers. Along the way, she discovers telekinesis may be the best method of getting even with her enemies. Perhaps more so than King’s book, De Palma’s film became an ironic foreshadow to later acts of true-life horror in the hallways of American high schools.

That being said, is CARRIE really a signature work? Insofar as establishing the style-over-substance template De Palma would utilize for the rest of his career, sure. But as far as a resonant work of horror where fully realized story and characters is concerned, it leaves a lot to be desired.

The problems with the 1976 version stem largely from its central brain trust: King notably trashed a draft of his novel before his wife retrieved it (the rest, as they say, is history), and its clunky structure and stilted prose speaks to his limitations as a writer. Throughout his career, De Palma has been criticized for glorifying technical dexterity over emotion. At its core, his CARRIE is more concerned with look than feel (as evidenced in his use of split-screen, slow motion, and even rewind), and the best efforts of actors like Spacek, Amy Irving, and William Katt are buried beneath a bunch of aesthetic razzle-dazzle. The film was also prone to campy hysterics, courtesy of Piper Laurie’s overrated performance.

In the ensuing years, Carrie’s legacy continued as a short-lived musical (1988), a belated 1999 sequel, and a made-for-TV remake in 2002 (actually a pilot for a series that never happened). The character remains resonant in pop culture, even if the approach has never transcended King’s pages.

All of this begs the question: is a full-blown CARRIE remake relevant in this day and age, especially when the “high school outcast” archetype has chiseled out its own horror-centric gallery of familiar faces? Think Angela Bettis (of the 2002 CARRIE) in MAY; Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins in the GINGER SNAPS trilogy; and Mia Wasikowska in STOKER. They all successfully recycle Carrie White’s lifeblood into uniquely three-dimensional characters without diminishing her goddess-like stature among the genre’s strong females.

CARRIE 2013 sees the telekinetic terror through a distinctly (and necessarily) female perspective, and the result – while familiar – is almost revelatory. With Kimberly Peirce (BOYS DON’T CRY) at the helm, the film transforms De Palma’s parlor trick into something chilling and heartbreaking. As unlikely a Carrie as Chloë Grace Moretz (LET ME IN) makes, she sells the character with conviction and brilliance in a single scene. Ditto, Julianne Moore, who ignores Laurie’s histrionic cues to turn Margaret White into a more nuanced human monster. Even the young supporting cast sells the complexity of high school, its social strata, and the fluctuating emotions and loyalties that accompany it.

A fundamental understanding of women and their bodies is a key thematic element, and in Peirce’s hands, blood takes on a symbolism beyond mere shock value – there’s humiliation, fear, and sadness to be gleaned from Carrie’s first period. Young bodies are examined in close-up, and females are photographed with a tenderness or cruelty that transcends knee-jerk misogyny.

Opening with a sequence that would be gratuitous if handled differently, Margaret gives birth to Carrie, and is thwarted in her attempt to kill the child by her telekinetic gift; what could have been an exploitative slasher scene instead shows the power struggle between the two characters, even at that early stage. Once a sheltered teenager, Carrie is an almost androgynous outsider – as emphasized in her frumpy clothes and gym attire (a black swim cap and matching one-piece practically erase gender). Unlike Spacek, however, Moretz’s Carrie is more aware of her status and surroundings, and starts honing her craft early on – by the time the dread-ridden prom sequence occurs, we rightly expect the worst. It’s an interesting paradox, as our hearts sink in tandem with our anticipation of catharsis – for Carrie and us.

But this CARRIE isn’t all about the horror, and Peirce’s intrepid aesthetic decisions bring us closer to the character than ever before. After her first period, the “scene of the crime” is revisited during a heart-to-heart with Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer – TV’s “Archer”), emphasizing that some wounds never heal. The film uses blood to unite and implicate all involved, from Margaret’s childbirth to Carrie’s period, and to the prank that drives the last act. It’s blood in, blood out, and Peirce takes none of it lightly – the violence has a feminine character, as distinct as the natural, biological purging of blood.

While the film bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor, it is in the skillful manipulation of the well-known that it finds success. Whereas De Palma made a showy adaptation of a pulp novel, Peirce finds a kindred-spirit empathy with characters whose motives we completely understand. In the end, the emotional toll is compelling, heartbreaking, and horrifying. CARRIE is a horror remake of rare beauty, and one of 2013’s best films.

4 out of 5 stars

Jonny Numb works in the salt mines at the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and is not allowed to wield sharp objects on Thanksgiving. He also co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK podcast. Find his movie reviews athttp://numbviews.livejournal.com, and on Twitter @JonnyNumb.

(Photo from OMG Stars.)

Crash Discussions: Interview with CRAWL BITCH CRAWL director Oklahoma Ward and star Nicole Alonso

PodcastimageOklahoma Ward, who also wrote the screenplay, discusses his feature CRAWL BITCH CRAWL (aka CRAWL OR DIE), how it was made, how it will be distributed, and how the film brings fresh blood to the horror genre. Alonso tells us what it’s like to play such a physical role while producing an independent project at the same time. CRAWL BITCH CRAWL possesses what makes a great horror work, so tune in and find out when the film will crawl into your town.

And don’t forget to check us on iTunes!

Crash Reports: MAPACA Fall Conference – Who said Academics Do Not Appreciate Horror?

MAPACA is the Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association. Unlike otherzombie_walk_2010_by_jillybean77-d31j4aj academic organizations and conferences, this Philadelphia based group welcomes critical analysis regarding everything in our culture from memorials and literature, to film, comic books, and horror. No category seems to be beyond the breadth of the organization, which always makes for an annual conference that is full of life, passion, and intrigue. This year was no different.

The 2013 conference took place in Atlantic City, New Jersey at the Tropicana. A three day event from November 7-9 with an array of panels focusing on a plethora of topics from sports to GLBTQ, gender studies and architecture, to fan fiction and music – and much more. Not only did I have the pleasure of witnessing three fantastic panels, but I was honored to take part in the “More Zombies” discussion as a contributor.

Horror is no stranger to MAPACA because the genre permeates our culture from movies to books, and from zombie walks to haunted hayrides. You couldn’t escape the element of horror if you wanted to.

Friday morning’s roundtable, “Zombies!” incorporated five panelists from CUNY: John Giunta, Alexandra Helmers, William Hendrick, James Romberger, and Marguerite Van Cook, and chaired by Sylvia Tomasch. The presentations included the role of zombiism in PROMETHEUS and the ALIEN franchise, to “zombie protesting” in the United States, and how the zombie horde in SHAUN OF THE DEAD mirrors Simon Pegg’s apathetic cult character, and much more. (For some reason, the titles of the presenters’ papers do not appear in the program or search engine, so I apologize for not listing them.)

The panel discussion I took part in, and helmed by Pace University’s fabulous Lisa Miller, featured “’Monster Inside Me’: Zombification as Parasitism” by Kristine Larsen, “Laundry and Ammo: Subversive Gender Politics in The Walking Dead” from Lehigh University’s Elizabeth L. Erwin. Both papers were fabulous and riveting and gave us much to consider on both intellectual and emotional levels. I only hoped I added to the mix with my “The Surviving Protagonist: Virtual Control for Angst Ridden Audiences.”

I tried to answer why many love zombie movies so damn much. My point was two-fold: zombie cinema serves as a vehicle for those to take virtual control in their lives while also serving as a virtual rite of passage. After all, most of us fear our futures due to devalued homes, lack of job security, and healthcare concerns, besides fears of war, disease, and terrorism. Many may find solace in a zombie based film where audience members may connect with one of the surviving protagonists so they can finally take charge of his or her life (on a virtual level). After all, choices would be simple: The basics of food, clothing, and shelter must be met. And that’s it. All the other craziness of scheduling, bill paying, and obligation that consumes are lives are no longer concerns. However, since many in Generation Y feel cheated because they were lied to about their future (study hard, earn a degree, and a great position in the business world will await you), zombie films provide an outlet where they can unleash steam – while undergoing a “virtual rite of passage.” After all, especially in the western world, such rites of passage do not exist. We have no way of proving ourselves as adult males and adult females on a community level in our modern society – but imagining that we can stand up against a zombie plague and survive accomplishes this for us. This is why we watch the same zombie film again and again: zombies rise and humans fight to survive. We’re not bored by this because we need that jolt of feeling in control. Since we have little semblance of control in our daily lives, we revisit the same premise in zombie cinema to obtain that virtual satisfaction.

“A Discussion of Children and the Horror Genre” ensued where Shawn Kildea of Rider University showed the short film, “Mary: Portrait of a Horror Fan,” followed by commentary from Holly Blackford and Cindy Clark (both of Rutgers University – Camden). The film focused on eleven-year-old Mary and her love for gory and grotesque horror, and her formation of a horror club of children her age to view and discuss such cinematic features. I enjoyed the roundtable and welcomed the end result: It is fine for Mary to engage in such films as long as she can handle them on an emotional level.

But the conference wasn’t all about horror. I also enjoyed “Surviving Insubordinate Narratives: Franzen’s Freedom, Djebars Fantasia, and Rydberg’s Labyrinth.” I was most intrigued by Tamara Andersson’s “No Longer Lost in the Labyrinth: Using Spatial Metaphors as Methodological Tools in Literary Analyses” because of her insight – and because the work of Rydberg is not available in English. I certainly hope I convinced her to translate the stories for American audiences.

The only problem with the conference was me. Due to other engagements, I could only appreciate the sessions on Friday. It would be wonderful if the conference could be held in late May/early June after the spring semester commences, but after midterms in the fall will have to do. I look forward to next year’s conference in the great city of Baltimore, where MAPACA will celebrate it’s twenty-fifth year. As for me, I hope to be on another panel where I can discuss the thematic depth of John Carpenter’s THE THING. Yes, I know I should work on a Poe piece, but Mac and company are calling to me through the perpetual winds of the Antarctic.

Regardless, many thanks to MAPACA for another riveting conference, and for Lisa Miller’s neverending encouragement and energy. It was a pleasure to see the amazing Antares Russell Leask once again, and to meet Elizabeth L. Erwin, Tamara Andersson, John Bayard, and so many more wonderful educators with a love for all those intriguing elements that give our culture flavor.

(Photo from Jillid.Deviantart.)

Crash Discussions: F*ck the MPAA

PodcastimageWe explore the nature of artist censorship, why the MPAA needs to go the way of the dinosaur, and how fucking awful life is when you let a small group of idiots destroy art. Ratings, rating descriptors, unwritten “Hollywood codes,” and the movies that have been altered by spineless decree are explored. But we don’t stop there! Billy Crash and Jonny Numb also look at how censorship has maligned literature, music, Pennsylvania’s state capitol, and even Washington. Censor censorship!

Don’t forget to check us out on iTunes — and leave a review!