Eager Beavers: Canuxploitation Indie Film Spotlight
Young, independent filmmakers have always been the guiding force of Canadian genre film, from the entrepreneurial spirit of Sidney J. Furie in the 1950s to the hipper, ironic films of Chris Windsor and John Paizs in the 1980s. As the means of producing a film has become cheaper in recent years, a new generation of Canadians have pulled out their digital video cameras to offer their own twisted take on Canadian genre film.
Most often made by rabid movie fans, these do-it-yourself films compensate for a lack of budget or precise technical skill with raw enthusiasm. More importantly, though, indie genre efforts can be the purest expression of regional filmmaking. Without the pretension of catering to an international market, DV features shot by budding young Cronenbergs have to use use whatever is freely available to them—from unused cottages to dense forest settings. They are rarely self-conscious about being set in Canada, or of containing distinctly Canadian themes.
This page is dedicated to do-it-yourself productions that don't necessarily fit in with Canuxploitation's main focus on theatrical and straight-to-video B-films, but remain an essential part of the Canadian genre film landscape. These self-distributed Super-8 or DV Canadian films deserve not only your attention, but also your support.
Acid Head: The Buzzard Nuts County Slaughter
2011, Starring Vivita, Tony Watt, Lewis Mercer. Directed by Tony Watt (TWI Studios).
There's never such thing as "too much" for Tony Watt, Southern Ontario's own maestro of exorbitant DIY movie madness. For his third exploitation feature, Watt changes gears slightly from the purely satirical approach of his earlier works and channels an ADHD-rattled Russ Meyer for a tale of boobs, blood and, well, more boobs. As distinctively scattershot and self-indulgent as his past works, the awkwardly titled 2 1/2 hour film stars Watt's wife Vivita as Pheromone Labonza, a gothic Lolita who is accidentally scarred with acid and, years later, goes on a murder spree across the titular county. But that simple plot outline doesn't tell half of what goes on in Acid Head which, in Watt's own idiosyncratic style, is laden with ponderous subplots involving gangsters, hot-to-trot hitchhikers, FBI investigations, TV news interviews with local sex-crazed hicks and Dracula himself. The story's buried somewhere in here, though in typical fashion Watt lets it bubble under the surface while he piles as much digital processing as possible into each frame until it threatens to burst--a sensory onslaught of gratuitous nudity, CGI blood sprays, film grain filters, video game sound effects, stock footage cutaways and even a 10-minute plot-free intermission(!) that builds into a kind of symphony of unrestrained outsider filmmaking conducted by actors in fright wigs and joke store teeth. A notably more daring film than his past work, Watt even manages to work in references to Canada throughout despite setting his films across the border, which keeps it firmly within the realm of Canuxploitation.
2006, Starring Adam Smoluk,
Jenny Pudavick, Clayton Champagne, Jason Malloy, Orlando Carreira.
Directed by Kevin Doherty (Magic
Straight outta Manitoba, Kevin Doherty's head-banging feature-length debut Black Bridge is an authentically depicted coming-of-age story that follows the downward spiral of six friends—heavy metal fanatics Adrian (Adam Smoluk), Clive (Jason Malloy), Eddie (Mike Silver), Sammy (Orlando Carreira), Tracey (Jenny Pudavick) and Gomer (Clayton Champagne). As Adrian copes with the unwanted affections of preppy Kathy (Raimey Gallant), a violent feud between two local high schools erupts, and the others begin to worry about the constantly drugged out Sammy, who is getting dangerously into the occult. Things get serious when a field party held by Vinny Gay (Spencer Maybee), the leader of local gang The Hellrats, is crashed by the rival school, and his 12-year-old brother Mikey goes missing. Was it the Hellrats' rivals, Sammy looking for a body for a metal-inspired sacrificial ritual, or someone else entirely? What starts out like another take on FUBAR quickly unfolds into something entirely original, an engaging tragedy rooted in the media fascination with heavy metal as a doorway to drugs, suicide, Satanism and murder. Though a few false acting notes are hit, Black Bridge still manages to weave several naturally unfolding stories into a decisively emotional narrative, even working in some very funny flashes of dark humour. What's most impressive about this DV film is the incredible attention to detail, though. ColecoVisions, mullet wigs, grungy band shirts and wood-paneled rec rooms easily convince the viewer that it's 1984 all over again, complimented by a solid soundtrack of vintage Canadian metal gods like Helix, Kick Axe, and Thor, who even contributes " We Live to Rock" from the Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare! A worthy effort deserving of a goat-horn salute or two.
2006, Starring Roxanne
Bielskis, Brett Butler, Jason Butler, Tammy
Gerus, Jeremiah McCann, Peter Rakaric, Tessa Sproule, Karen
Suzuki. Directed by Brett
and Jason Butler (Substance
Here's a surprisingly witty Toronto indie comedy from sibling acting/directing/ producing/writing team Brett and Jason Butler. Drenched in a Kevin Smith-inspired slacker vibe of failed relationships, filthy anecdotes, and heavy intoxicants, the film finds Dave (Jason Butler) about to call it quits with his promiscuous girlfriend Jill (Tessa Sproule). The break-up doesn't go as smoothly as planned, however, and their angry confrontation only serves as a launching pad for the unhappy couple's equally romantically-challenged friends to offer their own ruminations on love, sex, and the inherent problems with "boner logic"as they prepare for a night of cruising the bars. The engaging, beer pitcher philosophy is occasionally derivative of Clerks, but Bums does have some genuine, hilarious insights draped in knowing pop culture references and off-handed sexual remarks. The acting isn't always sure-footed, and the film often indulges in unnecessary video effects, but the writing is surprisingly sharp and the characters are well-realized, making Bums a smart, cheeky addition to the Canuck comedy canon.
Canucula! Midnight over Kingston
2007, Starring Anthony D.P. Mann, Pamela Tomsett, Michael Pontbriand, Terry Snider. Directed by Anthony D.P. Mann).
Here's a unique, distinctively Canadian curiousity—Canucula! is an entertaining Tod Browning-inspired hour-long film about Dracula waking up in modern day Eastern Ontario. Directed and starring Anthony D.P. Mann, a screen/stage/radio actor from Kingston, this pleasant horror comedy involves the newly resurrected vampire's (Mann) attempts to put the bite on a TV news reporter (Tomsett) who is a distant relative of Mina Harker. Protected by a mall security guard (Pontbriand) and
a Van Helsing-like
monster hunter (Snider), she must escape old Drac's clutches. Shot through a scratchy black and white filter to replicate the look of the 1930s horror films that inspired it, and frequently lapsing into silent film mode, this is quite obviously a labour of love for those involved. As a tribute to classic horror, it's heartfelt and well-conceived, but doesn't take things too seriously, making several joking references to its location--at one point, Dracula's bride (Szczepanski) offers to get
master a double double. Some of the special effects are cheesy Final Cut CGI, but thanks to the "aged film" filter, they actually fit in nicely with Canucula!'s overall aesthetic. A fun little picture.
Confusions of an Unmarried Couple
2006, Starring Brett Butler
and Naomi Johnson. Directed by Brett and
Jason Butle (Substance
The Butler Brothers' colour follow-up to Bums, Confusions of an Unmarried Couple is another poignant relationship comedy that sees the young filmmakers further developing their own unique voice. This time, self-deprecating slob Dan (Brett Butler) leaves his girlfriend Lisa (Naomi Johnson) after he catches her in bed with another woman—just days after she accepts his marriage proposal. His clumsy attempts at reconciliation—interspersed with the couple's revealing video diaries—are more subtle than the sometimes sophomoric Kevin Smith-styled antics of their earlier film, making Confusions a more emotionally sophisticated film. But Confusions still manages to maintain a raw edge through the Brothers' use of clever, sexually frank dialogue. Technically, it's an improvement over Bums as well, with tighter editing, considered cinematography, and more believable acting. Equal parts Woody Allen and the Hanson Brothers, Dan's private thoughts and self-delusions provide most of the film's spot-on humour, and though the results aren't usually as laugh-out-loud funny as Bums, Confusions is still an impressive follow-up that deserves to be seen by a wide audience.
2007, Starring Brian Clement, Michael Ian Farrell, Bronwyn Lee, Chuck Depape, Robin Thompson. Directed
by Brian Clement (Frontline
Prolific B.C. director Brian Clement's latest effort is this twisty,, H.P. Lovecraft-inspired film that involves a secret evil cult operating in Victoria. This time, Clement makes the move to the other side of the camera to star as Barry, a troubled writer who takes the advice of his sleazy agent and heads out to an isolated island retreat to finish his latest book. But when he arrives, things start to get strange--he finds an book of ancient evil, has visions of murdered burlesque dancers and notices that the news reports keep mentioning a violent uprising taking place back on the mainland. But that's not all--the characters in Barry's book, two hardboiled 1940s detectives (Lee and Depape) inhabit a reality that has somehow crossed over with Barry's, bringing all of their existences into question. Picking up on the film noir element Clement explored in his anthology film, Exhumed, Dark Paradox is a an ambitious horror indie film that is quite well written and structured, two aspects that are often downplayed or ignored in similar outings. Giving the film a zombie apocalypse backdrop, Clement is able to ratchet up the tension and make the most out of some fin gore and several cool Lovecraftian monsters, including the squid-faced creature seen prominently on the poster. It's also Clement's first major role as an actor, but he does fine as the beleaguered writer, basically acting as an audience surrogate as he uncovers the clues that lead him to an evil, Satanic conspiracy. Though Dark Paradox lacks some of the easy visceral thrills of his earlier zombie films, it still has its rewards, and the way Clement continuously challenges himself is a true testament of his love for independent filmmaking. Recommended.
2006, Starring David Cormican, Rachel Sehl, Mary Kitchen, Neil Whitely, Greg White. Directed
by Anesty and Spiros Carasoulos (Drop Box Productions).
There's just no avoiding comparisons to Kevin Smith in this amusing, laid back indie comedy about a spoiled celebrity pop singer, Mindy (Sehl), who accidentally returns a homemade sex tape to a video store instead of the movie she actually rented. As she begs for the tape back, Tom (Cormican), the self-satisfied clerk, decides to put her in her place over the course of the afternoon. Shot entirely within the confines of a Toronto-area " Mom 'n' Pop" rental outlet, Drop Box is a snappily-scripted 75 minute back and forth between Sehl and Cormican, who manage to wring some chuckles out of this admittedly interesting premise. As with its clear inspiration, Clerks, the pair's discussions are quick-witted and sexually frank, and they're often interrupted by the store's clientele, whose clueless requests are systematically ridiculed by Tom. While humorous, these scenes, as well as Tom's purposeful humbling of Mindy, seem more like a minimum wage slave's wishful thinking than reality, and it's questionable whether an in-demand celebrity would spend a good portion of her day bickering without going for help from her handlers to begin with. But no matter--first time directors Anesty and Spiros Carasoulos make the best of their limited resources, capturing Drop Box in a warm, unobtrusive style that makes for fun, lighthearted viewing.
2003, Starring Masahiro Oyake, Hiroaki Itaya, Claire Westby, Moira Thomas, Chelsey Arentsen. Directed by Brian Clement (Frontline Films).
A total surprise on every account, this solidly directed three-part horror anthology from Victoria, B.C.-based filmmaker Brian Clement is a surefire homage to cinema past. The first story has a Japanese samurai and a monk doing battle with zombies in the appropriately named Forest of Death, the second takes place in the 1940s, as a female detective attempts to solve a rash of grave-robbings, while the third has a mad scientist experimenting on gangs of vampire mods and rockabilly werewolves in a post-apocalyptic future. My favourite episode is the second, a black and white segment that captures the film noir style perfectly. This movie should be mandatory viewing for any filmmaker who wants to experiment with digital video, as it shows that budgets are not a barometre for quality—it's the vision that counts, and Clement has it in spades. I can't wait to see his next masterpiece. (Reviewed by David DeCoteau)
The Feral Man
2002, Starring Brett Kelly, Mary MacPherson, Mark Courneyea, Steve Patterson, Eric Schmidt and Corey Stevenson. Directed by Brett Kelly (Brett Kelly Entertainment).
I have never seen a DV movie I have ever liked—until this week. It figures that it would be Canadians who would get it right. Made on a micro budget without the contribution of Canuck tax subsidies, The Feral Man is young Ottawa filmmaker Brett Kelly's horror opus. Kelly directs, writes and stars as the film's hero, Danny, a poor schlub with a lousy job stuck in a go-nowhere relationship. When Danny's father dies, he visits the graveyard to pay his respects and things get a whole lot worse when he's mauled by some sort of creature. He survives the attack, but feels somehow... different. Kelly, best known for his Canadian slasher films The Bonesetter and The Bonesetter Returns directs this little creepfest with a sure hand, although The Feral Man is a little too talky for its own good. Regardless, Brett Kelly is a Canuck to look out for. (Reviewed by David DeCoteau)