Sharing the Blame: The Co-Productions
(AKA Troglodyte) 2008, Starring Corin Nemec, Miriam McDonald, Daniel Wisler, Camille Sullivan. Directed by Paul Ziller.
Well, dip me in fish guts and call me “chum”—Sea Beast is actually not a bad little creature feature. Shot on Canada’s west coast by Paul Ziller, who’s done all kinds of similar Sci-Fi Channel/straight-to-DVD movies, it’s got just enough ambition and originality. Corin Nemec, the guy who played Parker Lewis in Parker Lewis Can’t Lose (ha!), stars as a fisherman trying to save his town from an amphibious sea-monster and its babies. Following the Jaws template, even when his boat crew and other townies start dying, no one believes him until it’s too late. Meanwhile, his daughter (Degrassi: The Next Generation’s Miriam McDonald), sneaks off to an island with her boyfriend, where they creature’s offspring have followed them. The monsters are a mix of the creatures from The Host and The Burrowers, with the cloaking powers of a Predator, the mother instincts of a Ridley Scott Alien and the vision of the things in Pitch Black. They pop up on land, spit paralyzing goo on their victims and rope them into their toothy maws with their long tongues. Although they’re shown way too early and too often--especially for mainly CGI creations—there are some good gore gags. It’s hard not to like a film in which a monster bites off someone’s head and the torso spurts blood all over the place. Dialog and performances are about what you’d expect (uneven), but the coastal British Columbia setting lends a nice, seldom seen backdrop. Stay outta the water, eh? (Dave Alexander)
Oliver Stone's mostly unseen directing debut was made in Quebec and stars not only Mary Woronov, but Herve Villechaize! It sounds like pure lunacy, and it is. But not the fun kind of lunacy, more like your weird uncle who always forgets his prescription. The plot involves Jonathan Frid (of Dark Shadows fame) as a struggling writer named Edmund who keeps having the same weird dream in which a dwarf, a big mute executioner and a Vampira/Elvira clone (named "The Queen Of Evil") kill his family and a bunch of house guests. In totally unrelated news, Edmund's family is expecting a bunch of house guests. Things get weird when the three evil characters kill a few peripheral characters, then advance on the house where they hold everybody prisoner and force them to compete in games against each other. Seizure's main problem is that is flogs the "Is it real? Is it a dream?" ambiguity to death. What Stone obviously hadn't realized at the time was that a horror film audience is willing to suspend their disbelief when it comes to watching crazed ventriloquist dwarves and disfigured executioners.
1999, Starring Paul Nolan, Bill MacDonald, Catherine Blythe, Emmanuelle Vaugier.. Directed by Cristian Andrei (Full Moon Entertainment).
Another junky Romanian/Canadian co-production (see Aliens in the Wild Wild West), this is the most ambitious entry in the "Pulsepounder" series, but it's also the most confused and boring (hey, at least they don't have "Teen" in the title this time). Made for a slightly older teen audience than the others, it's a weird hybrid of the spy genre with light fantasy elements all underscored with a facile political message. Teen Alex (Nolan) discovers his parents, retiring CIA agents, have been kidnapped by the sinister General Petrov (Serban Celea) in a Bucharest dungeon. While there, he befriends a gypsy mystic (MacDonald) whose playing of the glass harmonica allows Alex to shapeshift into a badly CGI'd griffin, which helps him when it comes time to rescue his parents from Petrov, at least until he learns that his parents souls have been taken by an even more evil villain, the Cyberwitch (Blythe). That's already pretty contrived, but there's way more going on in the overly complicated script—a time travelling messenger from the future, biblical allusions, stolen plutonium and a Bjork concert. One can't help but think that the script went through major reworking or the writer was obliged to include certain elements, since little makes sense. That includes the ending, where Alex invites his Romanian love interest (Vaugier) to escape Eastern European oppression and join him back to in the United States as... part of his family as an adopted sister?
1976, Starring Cliff Robertson, Ernest Borgnine, Henry Silva, James Blendick, Larry Reynolds, Leslie Carlson, Kate Reid, Helen Shaver. Directed by Harvey Hart (Essex Enterprises/Getty Pictures Corp.).
Shoot is an often terrific tax shelter film dripping in equal parts testosterone and cold sweat. Out on a hunting trip, a group of friends (veteran character actors Cliff Robertson, Ernest Borgnine, Henry Silva, Les Carlson, Larry Reynolds and James Blendick) are shot at by a rival party for no real reason except boredom. They shoot back, killing one of the opposing men before the whole wooded valley erupts into a vicious firefight. What follows is a tense exploration of conflict and gun culture as the war vets try to avoid reporting the attack second guessing the other parties actions in the wake of their friend's death. They ultimately convince themselves to that they must recruit additional men to safeguard against a revenge-fuelled confrontation that may be only borne out of their increasing paranoia. It's a memorable' 70s thriller bookended by extremely tense scenes, though director Harvey Hart does struggle a bit in filling up the film's middle despite some fine performances from Robertson and Borgnine. Shot in Toronto (including scenes in Toronto ex-mayor Mel Lastman's Bad Boy furniture store), it doesn't achieve quite the same level of despair as the isolated Canadian wilderness setting offers Rituals, but the story here is even more devastating.
Strange Shadows in an Empty Room
1976, AKA Blazing Magnum, Una Magnum Special per Tony Saitta Starring Stuart Whitman, John Saxon, Martin Landau, Carole Laure, Tisa Farrow. Directed by Alberto De Martino (Fida Cinematografica).
This crackerjack Italian-Canadian co-production is a poliziotteschi crime thriller with a giallo-inspired whodunnit plot, and is quite unlike other Canadian films of the tax shelter period. Hardened Ottawa police captain Tony Saitti (Stuart Whitman) investigates when his sister (Tisa Farrow, Mia's sister) is poisoned at a posh party. With a personal stake in the case, Saitti grabs his trusty Magnum and takes to Montreal's underworld where he beats, shoots and generally brutalizes his way through his investigation, even as many of his prime suspects turn up murdered themselves. It's a mostly typical Italian action film, but the Canadian setting makes it especially fun for fans of the genre. De Martino's craftsman-like direction is just passable and the narrative is too convoluted to really bother with, yet the film's unwavering commitment to thrilling cop action never fails to impress—beyond the wild 10-minute car chase all over the mean streets of Montreal, Strange Shadows in an Empty Room features kung-fu drag queens, exploding helicopters, a catchy score by Armando Trovajoli and even the killer holding a knife to a newborn's throat in an attempt to escape from a hospital. It's a satisfyingly sleazy trip to the heart of la belle province by way of Rome—the world's first "poutine policer"?
Teenage Space Vampires
1999, Starring Robin Dunne, Mac Fyfe, James Kee, Lindy Booth, Jesse Nilsson, Richard Clarkin. Directed by Martin Wood (Full Moon Entertainment).
More Romanian/Canadian co-production action that indiscriminately combines alien and vampire mythologies even as it mixes (dubbed) Romanian and Canadian actors. The plot, aimed at teen viewers, involves around a pair of teens that uncover an alien conspiracy to replace the locals with Dracula clones. It all ties into a nearby diamond mind that has been the source of paranormal activity for years, as helpfully revealed by the kid's history teacher. Before long, the fate of the world hangs in the balance as the film's reluctant heroes must fight off their school's vampire-fied soccer team and save the day. Now, let's get this straight—Teenage Space Vampires isn't a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, with embarrassing alien makeup, confusing plotting and terrible acting (even Lindy Booth, who would go on to much more high profile work is pretty bad here). Still, it's often better than its pulpy title suggests, taking a lighthearted approach to the outlandish material and successfully tailoring the action for the PG crowd.
1998, Starring Kris Lemche, Caterina Scorsone, Benjamin Plener, Paul Soles. Directed by
Phil Comeau (Full Moon Entertainment).
Toss together one part Westworld with one part Dragonslayer, add a sprinkle of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and fly your cast and crew to Romania, and you'll have another tedious Romanian/Canadian co-pro timewaster. This one's about a floppy-haired teen (Lemche) who finds the lucky soda bottle cap that entitles him to a fantasy adventure weekend at a medieval theme park. Along with the other winners, he's prepared to have a great time saving damsels and pretending to fight dragons in the robot-populated castle, but things take a turn for the odd when a ominous storm somehow transports them all back to the real 14th century. They find themselves an era of dragons and magic, rendered in equally poor CGI, where they must battle an evil lord (Marc Robinson) and try to find their way back home. Featuring some of the most laughable swordfighting you've ever seen on screen, this thoroughly unoriginal adventure is plagued by the same problems as the rest of its ilk: embarrassing production values and maddeningly stupid plot twists.
1999, Starring A.J. Cook, Craig Olejnik, Lexa Doig, Aime Castle. Directed by Victoria Muspratt (Full Moon Entertainment).
Yet another poorly budgeted Romanian/Canadian collaboration, Teen Sorcery centres around a new girl in town, Dawn (A.J. Cook), who discovers that head cheerleader Mercedes (Lexa Doig) is like totally a witch. She even has half of a magic amulet that allows her to get her way with teachers and cute boys, plus be like, a complete bitch, okay? After witnessing Mercedes' incredible powers, such as shrinking clothes in a gym locker and making cafeteria food disappear, Dawn heads to the library with new socially-challenged pals Fran (Aimee Castle), Flo (Nadia Litz), and Mary (token Romanian Ioana Cristescu), where the crusty librarian helps them retrieve the other half of the amulet. They promptly lose it to Mercedes, necessitating a trip back in time to the 11th century where the teen sorceress (who is like totally mean) turns into a CGI dragon that would make Harry Potter stifle a laugh. Featuring not only the same locations as Teenage Space Vampires and Teen Knight but also a similar lack of purpose, Teen Sorcery is a confusing and thoroughly juvenile adventure for undiscriminating tweens.
Tomorrow Never Comes
1978, Starring Oliver Reed,
Susan George, Stephen McHattie, Donald Pleasence, Paul Koslo. Directed by Peter Collinson.
The Italian Job director Peter Collinson offers up an engaging Montreal-shot thriller that draws distinctively from the loser cinema trend but spins it into something else entirely. This UK/Canada joint effort stars Stephen McHattie as Frank, a well-meaning but down-on-his-luck hoser who returns to the city from a jaunt up north to scrape together enough cash to marry his girlfriend Janie (Susan George) only to discover his apartment's been rented out and Janie's missing. At a bar, he gets into a vicious, bloody brawl with the locals who inform her that she's shacked up with another guy and prostituting herself at a hotel beach-front cabana. When Frank angrily confronts Janie, he accidentally shoots a cop in the process and, in fear and confusion (possibly due to a concussion from the fight) takes the girl hostage at gunpoint, demanding police bring him her lover. But Detective Wilson's (Oliver Reed) non-violent approach to the situation clashes with his superiors' wish to end it quickly as Janie's new boyfriend is the area's most prominent and well-heeled citizen. Like many of the purely Canadian films of the time, Tomorrow Never Comes has difficulty building momentum, but still pulls off some superb moments with tense storytelling, engaging acting and even funny asides--the hotel guests watching the action are prone to bloodthirsty comments as the siege on the beach house begins. And what a cast--Jayne Eastwood, Donald Pleasance, Raymond Burr, John Ireland, all make appearances, as does Sammy Snyders, cult child actor star of The Pit!
1967, Starring Robert Hutton, Akim Tamiroff, Broderick Crawford. Directed by Lawrence Huntington.
Only the second full-length horror film to be produced in Canada (the first being the trippy 3-D flick The Mask, released in 1961), 1967's The Vulture is one of the more unusual offerings to come out of the Great White North. In the film, a small village in Cornwall, England is terrorized by a large, part-man, part-bird creature that swoops down from the skies, clutches onto people and carry them off screaming into the night. A nuclear scientist, Dr. Eric Lutens (Robert Hutton), and his wife Trudy (Diane Clare) have recently arrived from the U.S. to visit Trudy's uncle Brian (Broderick Crawford). On arriving, they decide to investigate stories of woman whose hair turned white from fright after seeing the monster. Along the way, they discover the local legend of a pirate, Francis Real, who, two centuries earlier, was accused of sorcery and sentenced to be buried alive with his pet - a vulture. But before he died, Real supposedly placed a curse on the man who entombed him, as well as his future descendants – which include Trudy and her uncle Brian. Could the appearance of this huge, murderous, man-bird be part of Real's revenge? Or, could there be another, more scientific explanation -- one that involves the rather peculiar, cloak-wearing Professor Hans Koniglich (Akim Tamiroff), who has recently experienced an accident and must now walk with two canes? A Canadian/U.K. co-production, The Vulture is a bit of an anomaly. With a mostly British cast, gothic-styled buildings and shots of the English countryside, the film more closely resembles a Hammer or Amicus melodrama than a Canuck effort. Though it features a great, spooky score (by Eric Spear) and a fantastically creepy beginning set in a cemetery, the film suffers from incredibly slow pacing (even for the era), numerous plot inconsistencies, a lack of tension in key scenes and a seeming reluctance on the part of writer/director/producer Lawrence Huntington to show much of the creature itself. An ultimately mediocre effort, that with better execution, perhaps could have resulted in a minor B-classic. (James Burrell)
We Are All Naked
(AKA Ils sont nus, Days of Desire) 1966, Starring Alain Saury, Jacques Normand, Rita Maiden, Catherine
Ribeiro. Directed by Claude Pierson.
Sex and sin weigh heavily in this aggressively bizarre Canada-France co-production that more or less lives up to its title. Walking the fine line between arthouse and grindhouse, it's an unflinchingly sleazy Eurotrash item that was picked up for distribution by Cinepix in 1970, perhaps because it fit in well with their own softcore films of the era. A poverty-stricken family lives in a rundown shack on the coast of Northern France--Dad (Jacques Normand) is a foul-mouthed drunk, Mom (Rita Maiden) likes to make it with random strangers on the beach, their son (Gérard Dessalles) is mentally handicapped and their six-year-old daughter (Isabelle Pierson) is oversexed. Scenes of sex and (full frontal) nudity can't quash the despair and degradation that saturates almost every frame of We Are All Naked, especially once the son takes his two favourite activities—killing farm animals and fooling around with his teenage cousin (Catherine Riberio)—and starts combining them. Pierson, who perhaps unsurprisingly later dallied in hardcore porn, turns out an engaging and well-shot film despite all the bleak scenery and depressing sheep slaughter.
Welcome to Blood City
1977, Starring Jack Palance, Keir Dullea, Samantha Eggar,
Barry Morse, Hollis McLaren, Chris Wiggins. Directed by Peter
This undeniably strange British/Canadian co-production ranks as one of our few modern westerns, and even then it's got a distinct sci-fi twist. Five strangers awaken in a barren countryside with no memory of who they are, other than an I.D. card in their pocket explaining that they are a convicted murderer. Sheriff Frendlander (Jack Palance) appears and corrals the new arrivals to Blood City, a strange western town/detention centre where they are forced to either become a slave, or try to take a place in society by killing an older resident—unarmed. Michael (Keir Dullea) manages to procure a shotgun and shoot a dentist, and tries to stop the auctioning off of fellow arrival Martine (Hollis McLaren) to a despicable rancher. Instead of waiting until the final reel, cut-aways throughout the film reveal that it's all a virtual reality game orchestrated by technicians Lyle (John Evans) and Katherine (Samantha Eggar), who are trying to identify potential assassins to be used in some not-to-distant future war. There are some interesting ideas tucked away in this offbeat, Westworld-inspired offering, but Welcome to Blood City suffers from a painfully low budget that stretches its already far-fetched scenario to the breaking point. The VR lab scenes are disruptive and awkward, as Katherine manipulates the game to land Michael in bed, then ultimately writes him off after he expresses a preference for Martine. Palance has played this role dozens of times before and he's the clear highlight, backed up by a capable supporting cast of Canadian character actors, including Jack Creley, Henry Ramer, Calvin Butler and Al Bernardo. Never as interesting as its high-concept plot might indicate, Welcome to Blood City is worth a look for completists only.
1989, Starring Victoria Tennant, Jean LeClerc, Chris Sarandon. Directed by Douglas Jackson
A late-period release by one-time Canadian exploitation stalwarts Cinepix, who partnered with UK's ITC for this production, Whispers is marginally better than its reputation suggests. Based on a novel by horror scribe Dean Koontz, the film was the first commercial feature by veteran NFB director Douglas Jackson, and includes many familiar tax shelter faces like Keith Knight and Jackie Burroughs in memorable cameos. In the film, journalist Hilary Thomas (Victoria Tennant) finds herself terrorized by a former interview subject, the seemingly unstoppable Bruno Clavel (Jean LeClerc). Police officer Tony Clemenza (Chris Sarandon) is on the case but may be more interested in the victim than the perpetrator; once Tony discovers Bruno's body and officially closes the file, he's all over Hilary for a date. But when Hilary starts receiving obscene phone calls and is confronted by Bruno again, she begins questioning whether her attacker is really dead and whether her own sanity is intact. Often derided by frustrated readers for the degree to which it departs from its source material, Whispers certainly has its share of problems--it's flatly shot, seems uninterested in its themes and is terribly disjointed. The first third of the film, reminiscent of Visiting Hours, works up sufficient suspense as a woman-in-peril flick, but there's a jarring shift once Hilary and Tony leave her shadowy apartment and head to interview Bruno's relatives at the family orchard, eventually jumping completely off the rails for a fun, gooey horror movie conclusion concocted by Cronenberg collaborator Joe Blasco. A twisty erotic thriller that overcomes plodding red herrings about over Satanic rites and vampirism, the film may a compromised version of Koontz's book but it's still true to its trashy roots as a horror bestseller.
White Line Fever
1975, Starring Jan-Michael Vincent, Kay Lenz, Slim Pickens, L.Q. Jones. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan.
Canadian producers John Kemeny and Gerald Schneider, fresh from collaborating on the CanLit adaptation The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974), teamed up again the following year for a very different kind of film. Jan Michael Vincent is at his very best in this tragic truckin' tale as Carrol Jo Hummer, an independent driver fighting against the corrupt industry. Refusing to haul stolen contraband, Hummer is harassed, hammered and even hospitalized by thugs working for a powerful shipping conglomerate. Shot in Arizona, there's little that's Canadian about White Line Fever, but it is fairly decent—Roger Corman veteran Jonathan Kapland ably directs recognizable faces like Slim Pickens, Dick Miller and Martin Kove, and the final scene, in which Hummer gets his revenge by smashing his rig into the shiny corporate headquarters, is almost breathtaking. But it's still not as good as its thoroughly Canadian counterpart, the similarly themed High Ballin', often shifting gears into ripe melodrama as Hummer's wife (Kay Lenz) contemplates having an abortion.
1973, Starring Vivian Vachon, Mad Dog Vachon, Killer Kowalski, André the Giant, Butcher Vachon. Directed by Patrick Vallely.
Montreal played a pivotal role in popularizing professional wrestling in the 1950s and continued to play host some of the biggest fight crowds in North America in the latter half of the 20th century. Drawing on that history, Wrestling Queen is a fascinating doc that largely focuses on upcoming female grappler Vivian Vachon as she decides to make her first foray south of the border to go a few rounds on the U.S. circuit. The youngest sister of established Quebec wrestling legends Maurice "Mad Dog" and Paul "The Butcher" Vachon, Vivian is heavily featured here, chatting about her career choice in candid, behind-the-scenes moments that is interspersed with match footage featuring '70s stars like Cowboy Bill Watt and Andre the Giant. Fellow Canadian Killer Kowalski is also on hand to talk about his career. Featuring scenes at Alt München, a German beer garden in Montreal and interviews with bloodthirsty fans who try to describe the appeal of the sport, Wrestling Queen is a fast-paced effort helped by occasional NFB-influenced direct cinema "scenes" as well as a great promotional campaign, featuring an uncommonly great illustrated poster and a similarly salacious tagline ("Menacing Giants of Wrestling Who Live To Kill Each Other!"). But surely the most exciting aspect of the film is the rough and unpolished local approach that has all but vanished in the modern industry—you can almost smell the sweat and the stale popcorn.
Yeti: The Giant of the 20th Century
(AKA Yeti - il gigante del 20. secolo) 1977, Starring Antonella Interlenghi, Mimmo Craig, John Stacy, Tony Kendall. Directed by Gianfranco Parolini.
Unlike many co-productions shot in Canada, Yeti: The Giant of the 20th Century doesn’t hide its Great White North backdrop. If, fact this Italian-Canadian co-pro was neurotically determined to leave its giant footprints all over Ontario. Shots of the Toronto skyline taken from the CN Tower, rousing helicopter footage of Niagara Falls, mentions of Port Credit, Lake Ontario and Humber Street, Toronto’s City Hall on its poster and plenty of literal flag waving (presumably shot during Canada Day): ladies and gentlemen, these are your tax credits at work. More than a little influenced by the previous year’s King Kong remake, Yeti has a scientist enlisted by a businessman to embark on a “humane expedition up at Northern Canada,” where a giant Himalayan humanoid has been discovered frozen in ice that floated to the coast of Newfoundland. Thawed out (via flamethrower!), he looks like Colin Farrell crossed with Chewbacca, and after falling for the businessman’s granddaughter, played by Antonella Interlenghi (best known for her supporting role in Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead), he’s flown around in plexi-glass box, becoming a hit with the public. Too many camera flashes in his face, though, and soon the Yeti—whose size fluctuates wildly in the movie—is running amok in Toronto, smashing fake buildings, making this the closest thing out there to Canadian Kaiju. Throw in some commentary on the Bigfoot craze of the time (“Kiss Me, Yeti” T-shirts), a ludicrous Lassie-style subplot and some gut-busting dialogue (“Professor! The oscilloscope shows a heartbeat!”) and you’ve got must-see proof that spaghetti and maple syrup make one weird combo. (Track it down at cosmichex.com.) (Dave Alexander)