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Eager Beavers: Canuxploitation Indie Film Spotlight



Frankenpimp

2009, Starring Tony Watt, Vivita, Martin Magee, Green Eyes and Lloyd Kaufman. Directed by Vivita and Tony Watt (TWI Studios).

The classic epics Ben-Hur, Godfather II and Lawrence of Arabia have one thing in common with Frankenpimp: they all clock in at over three hours long. However, where those Hollywood efforts used their time to tell generation-spanning stories against vast historical and cultural backdrops, Tony Watt's endless exploitation flick is episodic and overstuffed, a tribute to a wide variety of genre films that plays out like the latest Grand Theft Auto videogame collided headlong into Troma studios. Watt, who co-wrote, co-directed and co-stars with his girlfriend Vivita, plays Romeo Montague, a badass renaimated android who roams the streets of Verona City (actually Brampton, Ontario and Toronto) with his pimped-out pal Tricky (Magee). They're on the lookout for a powerful, stolen ring and trying to avoid Green Eyes, a gangster they owe money to whose face was inexplicably melted off after Tricky tossed a cupful of urine at him. Displaying a strong tongue-in-cheek tone, the movie's really about Romeo's random encounters with evil creatures including killer humanoid robots, demons, vampires, aliens, bumbling Nazi assassins (played by fellow indie filmmakers the Butler Brothers) and, perhaps scariest of all, Lloyd Kaufman in a cameo appearance. Despite spreading a handful of mostly-CGI exploitation thrills throughout its running time (decapitations, gunfights and a sliced-off tongue among them), Frankenpimp makes for punishing viewing at times due to its unwieldy length and scattershot narrative. It may have worked better as two films or, more appropriately, a series of shorts. Instead, Frankenpimp's unselfconcious, multicultural view of Toronto is its biggest asset. From the Mom & Pop roti joints and ethic barbershops to its diverse cast, Watt's film presents a wholly unique view of the city that is rarely seen in Canadian B-movies, or even in mainstream hits, for that matter. A sequel is promised.


Graveyard Alive: A Zombie Nurse in Love

2003, Starring Anne Day-Jones, Karl Gerhardt, Samantha Slan. Directed by Elza Kephart (Bad Seed Pictures).

There's no shortage of zombie comedies from the Great White North, but this stylish and playful B&W genre exercise by Montreal's Elza Kephart may be the most distinctive. Graveyard Alive's intentional manipulation of the familiar clichés is certainly far more ambitious than most independently-made Canadian horror films. Drawing from George A. Romero's Dead movies, film noir, and weepy romance novels, frumpy nurse Patsy (Anne Day-Jones) can't find a date until she gets bitten by a zombie who stumbles in the hospital to have an axe removed from his head. The infection changes Patsy in more ways than one--not only has she taken to munching on corpses in the morgue, this nurse turns naughty as she gains an all new sexual confidence. It isn't long before Patsy's shorter hemlines are turning heads at work--including the one affixed to the object of her desire, Dr. Dox (Karl Gerhardt). But Dox's angry fiancée, Goodie Tueschuze (Samantha Sian), won't take such a challenge lying down, as she tries to prove that Patsy is nothing but a man-eater (literally!). Effectively blurring the line between arthouse and genre, Graveyard Alive satisfies with a few bloody bits, but here the zombie outbreak seems more tangential to the story of Patsy's self-awakening. Minimizing any actual scares, the film and its sometimes goofy zombies instead follows in a long line of B-movie-savvy Canadian satires like Big Meat Eater and Top of the Food Chain. It's even occasionally reminiscent of the work of Guy Maddin, perhaps because of the striking black and white cinematography and obvious voice dubbing that give it an appealing otherworldliness.


Gutterballs

2008, Starring Alastair Gamble, Mihola Terzic, Nathan Witte, Wade Gibb. Directed by Ryan Nicholson (Plotdigger Films).

Pins aren't the only thing dropping at the local bowling alley in this Vancouver-lensed slasher tribute by Plotdigger Films' Ryan Nicholson. The day after a bowling team brutally gang rapes one of the girls on a competing team, the two rival groups meet again for an after-hours game. But the bowling alley isn't as abandoned as they hoped--a killer whose face is obscured under a bowling bag is intent on making the lanes run red. As with Nicholson's Raw Feed , the tone of Gutterballs is far nastier than anticipated--the gimmicky killer and sometimes campy gore-spurting deaths may initially lighter fare like Monsturd or Jack Frost , but there's not many laughs to be had in the film's sadistic sexual violence--the lengthy and depressing rape that involves a bowling pin prop, oral sex suffocation, genital mutilation, and a character sodomized by another pin carved into a stake. The characters, too, have a demonstrably mean-spirited edge--they are, without exception, aggressively unlikable individuals whose dialogue and interactions are almost entirely comprised of profanity-laced insults--"fuck" is heard more than 600 times over the course of the film, or approximately once every seven seconds. Like Nicholson's other films, it's visually above and beyond similar productions with a distinct look and neon-infused colours, but some may not be able to get past the film's determination to intentionally offend viewers at every turn, even if Nicholson is only waxing our balls with anti-authoritarian glee.   


Howls

2011, Starring Joseph Gallo Jr., Nick Smyth, Jamie Tracey. Directed by Jamie Tracey (Broken Sculpture Films).

Something sinister is going on deep in the woods--but it's not what you think! An indie feature from first-time director Jamie Tracey, Howls follows three former best friends that reluctantly get together to celebrate at a cabin. Their friendship is messy and uncomfortablethey've all changed but can't seem to let go of what they once had. When one of the pals "accidentally" loses a beloved dog, the three set out into the forest to find his pet. What follows is a walk through never-ending trees that exposes their relationships until they're raw and hurting. The setting of the film is perfecteverything's brown, grey and dead. As the group gets more and more lost, the film descends into a quiet fear that sits in the pit of your stomach. Too bad that getting lost isn't their only problem--with a title like Howls, you can expect a dash of creature-feature fun, but this really is secondary to the story of the three friends. When we finally do see what lurks in the trees, the FX are professional and well done without dwelling too long on the creaturesa plus, as they could have become cheesy. The score, masterfully executed by Andrew Hill, perfectly matches the stillness of the forest and the eventual despair of the characters, elevating this little film to a higher level. My least favourite aspects came down to the screenplay and directionthe dialogue is sometimes clumsy and there are long sequences of walking, talking, walking, and more talking that drag a bit. Still, this is Tracey's first feature, which he wrote, directed, produced, edited and acted in. Zounds! The guy is ambitious and talented, and Howls is a solid start to a movie-making career. I only wish I could have seen this film in a theatre instead of a computer monitor, as the film's creepy stillness would work better when you're enveloped in darkness and can't look away. This is a film that embraces restraint--quite different than other low-budget fares that often go the blood, guts, and girls route. Howls is well worth watching. And remember, stay out of the woods! (Lauren Oostveen)


Hunting Grounds

2008, Starring Patrice LeBlanc, Patrick Baby, Marie-ve Lemire, milie Gilbert-Gagnon, Valrie Tremblay, Luc Rivard. Directed by Eric Bilodeau (FICTIS Productions).

Indie filmmakers don't often tackle the science fiction genre—the cost and logistics of creating a believable futuristic world is often far beyond their meager budgets. That ambition is partially what makes the sci-fi/horror hybrid  Hunting Grounds so notable, as director Eric Bilodeau  takes viewers to  a self-contained city in the  not-too-distant future, where population and access to the outside world are strictly controlled. Fondly remembering his hunting trips in the real outdoors with his grandfather, city resident Paul (Patrice Leblanc) enlists a grizzled tracker (Patrick Baby) to organize a risky trip outside the heavily guarded walls to relive old glory. But unbeknownst to Paul and his friends (one of whom is the son of a high ranking government official), scientists in a nearby military installation are testing a serum that regenerates human tissue. Only it works a little too well, and now  the  reanimated dead are now roaming the same woods where the hunters are hiding out. Making heavy use of CGI--some reasonably convincing and some not--Hunting Grounds is pretty impressive for a small, independent film. Unfortunately the plot doesn't get quite the same attention it starts out promising as the hunters sneak out of the city, but the eventual zombie showdown climax has already been done (and done much better), so  it's a little disappointing when the story turns down this well-worn path. Still, Hunting Grounds is decidedly unique and very slickly shot. In particular,  Canadians will appreciate how  Bilodeau manages to incorporate  both French and English dialogue and makes very specific use of the film's  Northern Quebec setting.


The Intercessor: Another Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare

2005, Starring Jon Mikl Thor, Craig Bowlsby, Dave Collette, Brad Pope, Melissa Ellingham. Directed by Benn McGuire and Jacob Windatt.

One of two (planned) follow-ups to the essential 1987 Canuxploitation classic Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, The Intercessor was originally conceived as a series of three short films that would segue into the true sequel, but grew into an indie feature of its own. Unfortunately, it barely matches the original Nightmare for fun and craziness, offering instead a patience-testing brew of half-formed stories, laughable effects and amateurish camerawork. The patchwork plot has underworld entities Zompira (Dave Collette) and Mephisto (Craig Bowlsby) battling for the Earth by destroying the last two innocents on the planet—the girlfriend of a physically-challenged comic book artist and a little girl. The comic artist (Brad Pope)—whose drawings resemble junior high binder scribblings—tries to save his gal, and somehow channels the Intercessor (the incomparable Jon Mikl Thor) in the process, who arrives for a showdown with Mephisto and his evil army. Not at all what you might expect as a follow-up to the entertaining Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, this film is marred by incredibly subpar sound, lighting and DV cinematography, as well as CGI effects that are, hands down, the worst I've ever seen this side of a high school video. Thor doesn't get much screen time until halfway through the film, and even then he does little more than replicate his stage show antics of battling creatures with giant rubber weapons. One can only hope the next sequel will be an improvement over this embarrassing rock 'n' roll atrocity.


The Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger

2011, Starring Keith Daniel Morrison, Brad Mills and Michael G MacDonald. Directed by Brad Mills (The Paranoid Brunette).

Sydney, Nova Scotia-born Brother and sister filmmaking team Brad and Jacqueline Mills are the masterminds behind The Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger, a funny, anachronistic film that doesn't just honour cheesy teen horror films of yore--it strives to be one. Shot in Cape Breton, Ranger follows a story that has played out in countless other films: teenagers head out into the woods for a weekend of drunken debauchery. But (and there’s always a “but”) something evil is lurking in the forestthe Psychotic Forest Ranger, madly played by Michael MacDonald. The Ranger isn’t your standard villain but, somehow, as he peers from behind his mirrored aviators and brandishes his “Satanic Compass” that leads him to teenage victims, you'll find yourself a little creeped out. While the titular villain is quite scary and the masterful score creates a dark, foreboding atmosphere, Ranger is rife with silliness--the cast looks like they were transported from the set of Sweet Valley High or the original Degrassi Junior High with perms, heavy make-up, and letter jackets, and they're somewhat endearing in their innocence“Oh, darn it!” is these kid's curse of choice. Intentional plot holes and logic flaws will have you giggling the whole way through, not to mention the awkward dialogue--dated language paired with Cape Breton accents and purposefully cheesy one-liners (the weirdest being Canadian Blood Services’ slogan). Ranger will certainly have b-horror fans swooning, but it could serve to be tightened up, especially around the middle of the film. Once we get into the routine of teenagers wandering off and getting killed, things get a wee bit pedantic. I'd also love to see what this group of filmmakers could have done with a decent FX budget, as the gore seemed like an afterthought in some scenes. However, the influence of beloved terrible films like Troll 2 is definitely apparent as Ranger embraces the badness of scores of predictable horror movie conventions (the dead-end road, the abandoned cabin, the invincible villain). Horror fans will love it, but if you’re not a fan of the genre, you’ll be scratching your head after the first fifteen minutes. (Lauren Oostveen)


The Legend of Viper's Hill

2006, Starring Donna Henry, Tom Griffin, Tina Michaud, David Rusk. Directed by David A. Lloyd (The Cousin Company).

The first feature film from Newmarket, Ontario's The Cousin Company is a MiniDV psychological thriller with a healthy splash of ghosts and blood. The film recounts the doomed history of Viper's Hill, which began when a woman was raped and impregnated by a wandering transient. When the baby died during childbirth, she was thrown into a deep depression, and hung herself, cursing the town with her final breath. Ever since then, anyone who has moved into the house has gone insane, murdered themselves and their loved ones. Accompanied by her family lawyer, Larry (David Rusk), the victim's granddaughter, Meredith Baron (Donna Henry), returns to town to debunk the story and sell the house, but the ghosts have different ideas. Though its flashback-within-a-flashback structure is sometimes confusing, and the film concludes with an unnecessary twist, The Legend of Viper's Hill is a fairly solid effort, featuring a well-thought out story and tight editing. After a talky, exposition-filled first half, the film really gets down to business, with director Lloyd mustering some decent atmosphere and special effects to produce some genuinely effective moments—a difficult task, since the " cursed" suburban tract house setting is neither old, nor particularly spooky. Blood-spurting scenes of the ghosts putting the scare on Meredith and reporter Jackie (Tina Michaud), and the final shocker of an eerie TV newscast that seems to progressively dwarf the viewer stick out as the film's best moments, and do provide some genuine chills in that exciting last half hour. While not perfect, The Legend of Viper's Hill is nonetheless an impressive first feature that smartly plays to its strengths.


Live Feed

2006, Starring Ashley Schappert, Taayla Markell, Caroline Chojnacki, Lee Tichon and Rob Scattergood. Directed by Ryan Nicholson (Creepy Six Films).

Make-up and effects artist Ryan Nicholson has quietly carved out a niche as the sex and gore guardian of Canada's west coast. While working on big TV and Hollywood film fare (alongside recognizable Canadian genre efforts like Bleeders, Ripper and eXistenZ ), he's managed to find time for a handful of independent projects showcasing his skills. Nicholson's 2006 feature length debut, Live Feed is a divisive and sometimes nasty film that still nails a nihilistic tone that appropriately captures a particular time and strain of horror film. Vacationing friends Sarah (Ashley Schappert), Emily (Taayla Markell), Linda (Caroline Chojnacki), Mike (Lee Tichon) and Darren (Rob Scattergood) are in for a culture shock or two when they arrive in China looking for a little hedonistic fun and action. But things go badly right from the beginning, from an unfortunate incident at an outdoor market butcher involving a dog to running into--and accidentally insulting--hardened gangsters at a strip bar. Indulging themselves by visiting the seediest gangster-run porn theatre in town, the couples pair off only to be trapped and threatened by sadistic killers. For better or worse, Live Feed is a film that exists almost solely as a showcase for its intensely conceived scenes of sadism and torture, including (but not limited to) cannibalism, dismemberment and even a snake forced down a throat. Viewers looking for little else will probably be satiated but there's little else to chew on, from a general lack of suspense to the sparse storyline that sticks closely to the skewed morality of the classic 1980s slashers. And like those films, the film dabbles with xenophobic and mysoginistic overtones, though it's unclear whether the film's gentle nudges on the boundaries of taste are sincere or, more likely, meant only as another tool to provoke the audience. Twisting enough taboos to get a rise out of just about anybody, Live Feed nevertheless sticks out above many other Canadian indie horror films due to slick cinematography and notable direction.


Massacre Up North

2001, Starring Loren Eisen, Labe Kagan, Kieran Hart, Allison Leigha Taylor, Nicholas Fuega. Directed by Paul Stoichevski (Impact Pictures Ltd.).

Released by Rogers Video as part of their " First Rites" line of independent films, Massacre Up North stars first time writer/director Paul Stoichevski as Leslie, a childhood burn victim whose disfigurement leads him to murder as a way to deprive others of what he can't have himself. This is a lacklustre impersonation of a slasher right down to the obsession with surface appearances, as a pair of grizzled cops track Leslie down while he hacks away at lovey-dovey couples with an array of tools borrowed from his hardware store. Things start to get a little weird at the end when medieval studies graduate Leslie inexplicably dons a full suit of chainmail armour and confronts an attacking SWAT team in a forklift. The gore and make-up effects are generally pretty transparent, and a freeze frame often interrupts the onscreen carnage, but the film does feature a surprising amount of nudity and some curiously realistic sex...?! Unfortunately, while you might expect some significant CanCon in a film titled Massacre Up North, the only real reference to the film's country of origin is when "O Canada" plays repeatedly on a cell phone.


Meat Market

2000, Starring Claire Westby, Paul Pedrosa, Teresa Simon, Chelsey Arentsen, Cam Pipes, Ken Peters. Directed by Brian Clement (Frontline Films).

From the talented folks at Frontline Films comes this apocalyptic zombie epic shot in Vancouver. When the living dead take to the streets, Shahrokh and Argenta—two security guards from the medical company that accidentally created the creatures—load up their guns and attempt to send some of the zombies back to hell. As the city is finally overrun with gut-munching corpses, the guards head for safety, where they can regroup, and search for survivors. Things get a little muddled when they meet up with a bunch of B-movie refugees, including a troupe of black leather-clad lesbian vampires and a Mexican wrestler named El Diablo Azul, but together they form a formidable zombie-busting team. The plot is a little shaky and character development is all but ignored, but Meat Market is a pleasant surprise that goes far above and beyond what you might expect from a D.I.Y. production. With significant nods to all three of George A. Romero's zombie classics, Meat Market absolutely delivers on its promise with multiple exploding heads, an army of well made-up zombies, nudity and buckets of blood. Well edited and nicely shot, Meat Market easily leads its class in Canadian DV genre efforts.


Meat Market 3

2006, Starring Bronwyn Lee, Mike Hordy, Chuck Depape, Debra Easton. Directed by Brian Clement (Frontline Films).

The final film in Victoria, BC director Brian Clement's modern zombie/action trilogy is his most ambitious and well-realized. A tangential story to the undead uprising plot in the previous Meat Market films, this instalment features a married couple (Lee and Hordy) who have barricaded themselves in a deserted house while they try to figure out what's going on. Fending off periodic attacks by entrail-eating zombies, they work on a means of escape with the help of a police dispatcher on a walkie talkie who assures them the army is on its way. If this all sounds like a loving remake of Night of the Living Dead, you wouldn't be far off, although Clement does offer a third act twist that questions whether the zombie apocalypse is real, or simply the nightmarish fever dream of one of his characters. Surprisingly, this effort almost completely eschews the campier elements of the original (although El Diablo Azul and Argenta appear in a cameo nod to the original). This allows Meat Market 3 to work more as serious horror film, and Clement, who has clearly learned quite a bit over the course of the last decade, offers up a more character-driven script injected with some decent atmosphere and nicely crafted gore. It's another top-notch indie effort from one of Canada's best young independent filmmakers.


Mourning Has Broken

2012, Starring Robert Nolan, Shawn Devlin, Sara Miller. Directed by Brett Butler and Jason Butler (Substance Productions)  

It's been a few years since the Butler Brothers have tackled a full-length feature, but their latest work, Mourning Has Broken, is a surprisingly mature and nuanced film that may indicate the Butlers are entering a new phase of their directorial careers. Produced as part of a $1,000 film challenge by Toronto filmmaker Ingrid Veninger and theatre owner Stacey Donen--actually more money that the Butlers were used to working with for their micro-budget efforts--the intrepid pair concocted a tragic but comfortably funny feature about a man (Robert Nolan) in total denial over the  recent death of his wife. While her body remains in their bed, he pushes aside his feelings and chooses instead to focus on completing a "to do" list, from washing his car to picking up the dry cleaning and a prescription at the drug store. Through it all he suffers through the selfishness and inconsiderate attitudes of everyone around him, from the oblivious guy next door's early morning lawn care to the guy ahead of him at the drive-thru buying Timbits with a debit card. Finally, fed up with cell phones, crying babies and loud snacking during a movie screening, he snaps, channeling his emotions over his wife's death into a series of confrontations with those that seem intent on driving him crazy. After berating the movie audience he starts getting back at those who cause everyone annoyance in daily life, including disreputable auto mechanics, upselling salesmen and bad drivers. A nuanced performance by Nolan and a script that brings it all back to death's unavoidable embrace helps take Mourning Has Broken not only beyond just an episodic exercise in wish fulfillment, but it also elevates this film among the Butlers' best work yet, an acidic attack on the the oblivious, desperately inconsiderate behaviour of others that's both easy to relate to and, once it heads into the final act, hard to forget.


My Dead Girlfriend

2006, Starring Brett Kelly, Caitlin Delaney, Anastasia Kimmett, John Muggleton, Ella Rose. Directed by Brett Kelly (Brett Kelly Entertainment).

Ottawa actor/director Brett Kelly does it again with the horror comedy My Dead Girlfriend, a deadpan delight about what happens when your beloved turns into a flesh-crazed zombie. Kelly stars as Steve, a likeable schmuck who decides it's time to move in with his girlfriend Amy (Delaney), but just as he's thinking about making their relationship permanent, he accidentally backs over her with his car—repeatedly. Steve frantically tries to revive his lifeless lover by clumsily casting a reanimation spell from one of her books on witchcraft, and surprisingly enough, it works—Amy's soon up and running around again, only with a broken back and an insatiable appetite for meat. Hiding out a friend's cottage for a few days, Steve is forced to do some fast thinking when his buddies suddenly arrive for the weekend with their girlfriends and a case of beer in tow. Anchored by Kelly's inspired comic performance as the frazzled boyfriend who goes to extremes to explain Amy's ravenous behaviour—especially when his friends start disappearing—this micro-budgeted DV effort is not only clever, but it's frequently laugh-out-loud funny, avoiding both obvious zombie comedy clichés and Weekend at Bernie-styled slapstick. The gore effects are well-staged, but the real attraction here is watching Kelly come up with plausible excuses to explain everything from exposed vital organs to projectile vomiting. Buoyed by co-star John Muggleton's wry script and generally solid acting all around, My Dead Girlfriend is a very polished slice of Canadian indie horror cinema that manages to resurrect more than a few ghastly giggles.


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