Eager Beavers: Canuxploitation Indie Film Spotlight
My Fair Zombie
2013, Starring Sacha Gabriel, Lawrence Evenchick, Barry Caiger, Jennifer Vallance and Jason Redmond. Directed by Brett Kelly (Brett Kelly Entertainment).
Beating the inevitable Pride and Prejudice and Zombies film adaptation to the gore-soaked punch, Ottawa b-film maestro Brett Kelly is back with his own blood-soaked take on a classic public domain work. This putridly playful horror musical--Kelly's first zombie film since 2006's My Dead Girlfriend--inserts brain eating ghouls into Pygmalion by way of the 1964 Hollywood classic My Fair Lady. And why not? In Romero's Dawn of the Dead, star zombie Bub isn't so much different from Eliza Doolittle, when you think about it. This time, expert linguist Henry Higgins (Lawrence Evenchick) makes a bet with Colonel Pickering (Barry Caiger) that he can't turn a low class flower merchant into a well-spoken English lady. That is, until her throat is ripped out by a zombie, and Higgins decides that a walking corpse will work just as well. Capturing the undead Eliza (Sacha Gabriel)and working carefully to teach her to enunciate words besides occasionally grunting "brains," Higgins' painstaking instruction generally works--leaving behind just a few dead bodies and projectile vomit stains, Eliza comes into her own and even falls for a clueless socialite (Jason Redmond) as the plague of the living dead claims more victims. Kelly's film is a modest presentation, with sets and staging that often feel like live theatre, but it still works considering the material at hand. After making movies for more than a decade, Kelly's a sure hand at the helm, and he never lets the story sag--occasional blasts of gore and clever comedy elements help propel everything along, and as a delightfully bloody jest this is hard to not enjoy, or at least admire. It also helps that the film features a surprisingly good cast led by Gabriel and Evenchick--experienced local theatre actors, one would assume--that manage to pump a great deal of life into this undead comedy .Even those who may be put off by the idea of mixing classic musicals and brain munching might find themselves sucked in by this infectious romp.
Nosfereratu vs. Father Pipecock & Sister Funk
2014, Starring Max Schreck, Vivita, Tony Watt. Directed by Vivita and Tony Watt (TWI Studios).
Ontario-based director Tony Watt has always filled his lengthy B-move epics with all manner of filters, foley and fun, and no other project he's attempted so far matches with his distinctive style as well as Nosferatu vs Father Pipecock and Sister Funk. Like What's New Tiger Lily and Beware! The Blob, the film alters an older film--in this case F.W. Murnau's silent horror Nosferatu (1922)--with jokey dubbed dialogue and some new footage inserts. The plot isn't too much different, at first: a man goes to visit Count Orlock (Max Schreck), who is secretly a bald bloodsucking vampire. But in this version the infamous vamp comes up against 1970s blaxploiation flick refugees priest Father Pipecock (Watt) and lascivious nun Sister Funk (Vivita), as Watt and co-director Vivita significantly sex up the German expressionist classic. The humour--heavy on farts and innuendo--won't suit everyone, but Watt's everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach seems almost more suited to this kind of project than his horror/comedy/drama projects, and he fills the classic horror film's empty spaces with all manner of digital manipulation, colour tints, grindhouse wear 'n' tear, sound effects, gags and stripper cutaways. It's a bewildering sensory assault, but it's actually more effective than some recent comedy re-dubs, like those featured on Canadian TV sleeper Steve Smith Playhouse, as it's clearly been made as a loving tribute to genre film history. That, and the fact that it clocks in under three hours (unlike some of Watt's other works) makes this an easy entry point into Tex's wild take on Canadian genre film.
The Notorious Newman Brothers
2009, Starring Brett Butler, Jason Butler, Ryan Noel. Directed by Ryan Noel (Retro Films/Substance Productions).
Classic mafia cinema like Scarface, Goodfellas and Mean Streets are affectionately lampooned in this amusing mockumentary co-written by and starring the Butler Brothers (see Bums, Confusions of an Unmarried Couple). Here they're collaborating with director/producer/co-writer Ryan Noel, who also appears in the movie as Max, a wimpy aspiring filmmaker who turns his camera on self-professed wiseguys Paulie (Jason Butler) and "Thunder Clap" (Brett Butler) Newman. But instead of finding the brothers entrenched in a forbidden world of sex and violent crime, the aspiring documentarian discovers that the Newmans are squabbling, boastful, Scorsese-obsessed siblings who are not what they seem. Reminiscent of Trailer Park Boys, The Notorious Newman Brothers possess an off-the-cuff, foul-mouthed charm. Though some of the improvs (at least they seem like improvs) outstay their welcome, there are some genuinely funny moments here, including Thunderclap's insistence on wearing an eyepatch that, according to his brother, "makes him look like a gay pirate", Max's fascination with wizard dolls and the pair's constant squabbles to one-up each other that extends to their mutual love for Chicago White Sox catcher Carleton Fisk. With Max's cameras rolling, the film builds to a "big drug deal" the boys have planned, but this conclusion isn't as dramatically satisfying as it might be. With a film like this, though, the point is the hilarious banter between the characters, and in this respect, The Notorious Newman Brothers rarely disappoints. Retro Films' new DVD of the film, The Notorious Newman Brothers: Rubbed Oregano Edition, includes deleted scenes, a filmmakers commentary, and various related short pieces more.
2002, Starring Katherine Jane Reid, Graeme Anning, Natalie Bartello, Jason Sharman, Tom Doleman and Sarah Kim Turnbull. Directed by Michael Baker and Brian McKechnie (Sick and Twisted Productions).
An ambitiously-structured whodunit, P.O.V. repeats the same storyline with the camera moving between the points of view of six different characters. In the film, housemates Samantha, Ray, Quinn, Chloe, Greg and Rachel spend a night drinking and shooting the breeze about bad horror films and their relationships, when suddenly, unsociable and uptight Rachel is found unconscious on the couch. Things take a turn for the worse when her boyfriend Ray curiously takes her upstairs and ties her up. Rather than being repetitive, P.O.V. succeeds in teasing your sense of curiosity by revealing more information in each new segment many things are kept purposely obscured until Ray's point-of-view, which is presented fourth. What doesn't work quite so well are the post-production slow motion and digital effects that have been added to let the audience into the minds of each particular character. While there's little that is Canadian about the film, P.O.V. is an ambitious project that uses elaborate staging that often seems closer to theatre than film.
Prey for the Beast
2007, Starring Brett Kelly, Jodi Pittman, Ray Besharah, Amanda Leigh, Anastasia Kimmett, Lisa Aitken, Sonia Myers. Directed by Brett Kelly (Brett Kelly Entertainment).
The latest horror effort from Ottawa's maestro of the microbudget, Brett Kelly, Prey for the Beast is an old school creature feature that proves that you can make a unpretentious, bloody B-movie without talking down to your audience. While it doesn't aspire to anything revolutionary with the tried-and-true genre, it's still another consistently fresh and funny effort from star/director Kelly and screenwriter Jeff O’Brien that, like My Dead Girlfriend, delves a bit into relationship issues between kills. This time, Bud (Kelly), a despondent hoser recovering from a recent breakup goes on a camping trip with his pals in hopes that they will cheer him up. At first it doesn't seem to work, as the conversation inevitably returns to his friends' own significant others, but once they run into a trio of girls also out in the woods, Bud begins to forget his troubles. A hint of romance is in the air, but unfortunately so is the putrid musk of a hairy, Sasquatch-like monster that begins to rip the campers apart one by one. As the frightened survivors band together and try to make it to safety, tempers flare and the film nicely builds to an unexpected finale. It's a fun throwback, but the practical effects work, especially the detailed and menacing " beast" itself, is particularly impressive. It's surely director Kelly's goriest film to date, but the real reason to check Prey for the Beast out is to see Kelly's steadily increasing confidence behind the camera, which should quickly earning him a place alongside Canada's best and brightest indie B-filmmakers.
Reunion of Blood
1998, Starring Lili Gagnon, Gilles Hannus, Mitch Wolanski, Barbara Requesens, Caroline Fournier, James Benchimol. Directed by Ian Black and Roberto Crocitti (Black Magic Productions & Amalga Films).
Vampirism makes its way North in Reunion of Blood, an entry from Quebec that boasts some impressive makeup and special effects. A small group of friends stage their annual high school reunion at a remote cottage, but this year, they are to be joined by Boris, an estranged classmate they have not seen in years. Boris is just back from a European research trip to Vlad the Impaler's castle, and his friends soon discover that he has brought back more than a few bottles of wine from Vlad's own cellar. Like all good made-in-Quebec horror films, Reunion of Blood has a strong religious component that harkens back to the Catholic elements of Quebecois horror of the early 1970s, as well as an emphasis on a link to Europe that makes it thoroughly French-Canadian. The staging of scenes can be a little wooden, and the editing tends to work against the creation of suspense, but Reunion of Blood contains effects that seem advanced for the micro-budget, including some exceptional makeup work.
2009, Starring Brett Kelly, Trevor Payer, Ray Besharah, Shawna McSheffrey. Directed by Brett Kelly (Brett Kelly Entertainment).
Just when it appeared that Ottawa director Brett Kelly found niche in monster movies, he once again defies expectations by exploring an all new genre. This time out, Kelly hooks up with co-writer Payer for a campy, Abbott and Costello-esque adventure/comedy. Payer and Kelly star as bumbling adventurers Dan and Stan, who are hired to rescue the Lewises (Ray Besharah and Sarah Louise Hayward), more successful treasure hunters that have gone in search of jewels on a lost island. On arriving in the jungle, they meet all sorts of danger, especially a clan of scantily-clad natives and the titular dino that rules over them. It's always great to see Kelly step in front of the camera as his natural feel for comedy is obvious, and this match up with co-writer Payer works quite well as they mug it up and run a few decent comedy bits--a tribe of Steves they discover may be the best of the bunch. There are laughs to be had here, but She-Rex is not overly slavish to its inspiration, which is the downfall of many a similar production. Instead, it's happy to mix classic-style gags with more modern plotting and thrills, and works fairly well as a tribute to the cinematic comedy teams of yore. At just under feature-length, She-Rex is a quick and quirky chunk of prehistoric fun that doesn't overstay its welcome.
The Teeth Beneath
2006, Starring John Swinamer, Matt Brouin Tyler Knowlton, Zachary Tovey, Jermaine Arsenault. Directed by Zachary Tovey and Jason Eisener.
Nova Scotian directors of the fake grindhouse trailer Hobo With a Shotgun, Zachary Tovey and Jason Eisener's The Teeth Beneath is a goofy horror farce obviously inspired by the Evil Dead school of independent filmmaking, but it's still a lot of fun. It all starts when a bunch of novice criminals try to rob a skateboard shop built on the burial site of a deranged killer. But the raging psychopath has risen from the shallow grave in the basement, and kills one of the thieves, forcing the store clerks to clean up the mess before they open. Starting with a cool credits sequence, The Teeth Beneath is an impressive little Canadian indie flick. Sure, the plot is derivative and the film sometimes veers too far into skateboard video territory, but it's undeniably energetic and surprisingly well put together. Reminiscent of the campy Canadian films of Lee Demarbre, it's a film that has definitely been made with the intention to entertain—and it frequently does, with kung fu, eyeball gouging, homemade weapons and rock 'n' roll numbers. Recommended.
The Tentacle's Claw
2012, Starring Tara Manuel, Mark Smallwood, Mike Payne, Jim Parsons. Directed by Michael Rigler. (Shadowy Souls).
Perhaps the first Canadian horror film ever made in Newfoundland, this short but engagingly loving spoof of 1930s and '40s poverty row productions features a setting and story entirely appropriate to its Maritime home. Husband and wife team Michael Rigler and Tara Manuel are the backbone of this tale about an ex-Nazi scientist operating a secret lab out of the basement of his diner. Dr. Demonious Horlack (Parsons) uses a mind control device to force a killer octopus to carry out his murderous plan. As the bodies begin to pile up, a plucky school teacher (Manuel) and her scientist beau (Smallwood) attempt to tame the eight-legged assassin. Shot against the seaside town of Corner Brook, Newfoundland, The Tentacle’s Claw comes off as something of a cross between The Devil Bat and Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster, but with a curiously Canadian twist, as the film flirts with the oft-seen theme of mind control ends with a psychic showdown reminiscent of Scanners. It's hurt a bit by a tiny budget--Dr. Horlack runs a thoroughly unconvincing restaurant and the octopus effects are (purposely) even cheaper than some of the film's obvious budget-strapped influences--but the actors ably capture the schlocky spirit of the era and there's a heart to the film that can't be missed.
2006, Starring Trevor Crane, James Petit, Connie Williams, Rozz Woodcock. Directed by Christine Whitlock (C.J. Productions).
Under the banner C.J. Productions, Hamilton's Christine Whitlock has been quickly building her own no-budget house of horrors, writing, producing and directing DV efforts like Sharp Teeth and its sequel, Marina Monster. Vampire Dentist, her second feature, has cash-strapped dentists Dr. Moe Lars (Trevor Crane) and Dr. Pierce Able (David Squires) renting out their office after hours to Dr. Drek Vam Dent (James Petit), a pale, black-clad dental technician who specializes in the fangs of his undead brethren. Their plan seems to work, at least until a number of local residents are turned into blood-sucking vamps, and Lars and Vam Dent both fall for Connie Duns (Connie Williams), a blind patient. While it's clear Whitlock has a knowledge of B-movies of the past, even tossing in a Little Shop of Horrors reference, Vampire Dentist is an unfocused mess. Overlong by at least 20 minutes, the film is little more than a collection of scenes of Halloween costume vampires pulling victims (40, to be exact!) into the woods, supplemented by painfully unfunny boob and fart jokes in the dentist's waiting room. Very few scenes propel the story forward at all, which doesn't even conclude properly—it just arbitrarily stops after 90 minutes, and informs the audience to be on the lookout for a sequel! But Vampire Dentist exists mostly to present absolutely leering shots of the cleavage and legs of dozens and dozens of girls, mercilessly pandering to its perceived viewership of teen males. Exactly why they would be interested in this scantily-clad parade of Hamilton-raised gals when late-night cable TV and the Internet present far more tangible options, however, is unclear. It's the lack of believable locations that is most damaging, though—instead of filming in a real dentist's office (don't they rent out space at night like in the film?), the patients get their check-ups in a couple of lawn chairs set up in a warehouse. While it's great to see women challenging the male-dominated Canadian B-film world, Whitlock needs to concentrate less on titillation and more on storytelling if she plans on truly making her mark.
Vixen Highway 2006: It Came from Uranus!
2010, Starring Tony Watt, Vivita, Amabelle Singson, James Taggart. Directed by Tony Watt and Vivita (TWI Studios).
Another mind-numbingly lengthy grindhouse homage from the mind of Tony Watt, who is rapidly becoming Canada's answer to Chicago's no-budget horror king David "The Rock" Nelson. Vixen Highway 2006 is apparently a sorta-sequel to Vixen Highway, a 2001 film by a different filmmaker. The plot threads in this 150-minute long epic are numerous and convoluted—most of the action revolves around ailing rock star Bobby Barzell (James Taggart) who is being tracked by an alien (Tony Watt) while a New York cop (Amabelle Singson) investigates. As with Frankpimp, the film is as sprawling as it is self-indulgent, but unlike Watt's previous effort it tends to skimp on straight up exploitation elements. There's the expected nudity and lingering shots of female posteriors, but the violence amd gore effects are spread thinly—it's an often talky movie that aims largely for broad comedy and crude genre satire. Watt plays multiple roles, as does co-director Vivita (all three members of the titular but rarely seen Vixen gang, in fact). The emphasis on Halloween costume teeth, fright wigs and a streak of scatological humour give the film a goofy Troma-esque homemade feel that is taken to otherworldly levels with the addition of constant, overwrought Adobe filter effects. A good editor could probably condense this down into a interesting 70-minute feature by excising the barrage of throwaway jokes, driving scenes and more questionable storylines, but that wouldn't make it a very identifiable Tony Watt film, now would it?
Walking Among the Dead
2010, Starring Mickey Cardoni, Anastasios Tasos Triantafillou, Kevin Schandelmeier , Allanah Simpson , Ionas von Zezschwitz, Shane Heath, Dolapo Onayemi. Directed by Mickey Cardoni and Ionas von Zezschwitz (She Died Productions).
Esteemed zombie auteur George Romero may only recently have become a Canadian citizen, but his influence has been felt in Canadian indie B-film for decades, especially in the Meat Market trilogy (see above). Notably influenced by Romero's Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Walking Among the Dead is a Barrie, Ontario-shot apocalyptic miniDV zombie tale, in which survivors Hayden (Cardoni) and Richard (Heath) take refuge from a world overrun by zombies in the storm sewer system, only emerging to scavenge for food and gasoline to power their generator. They band together with more stragglers, including Tom (Triantafillou) and former religious cult member Gwen (Onayemi), but the film's plot is mostly confided to its premise. Directing/writing team Cardoni and von Zezschwitz give their effort some Romero-esque weigh as their characters philosophize at length about why the zombie uprising happened, though a detailed flashback on Gwen's past largely serves to condemn religion and the idea of divine retribution. But of course it's all mostly setup for the final reel, in which buckets of guts are appropriately munched by shuffling, gorily made-up extras, and these scenes are fairly impressive for a micro-budget production. Atmospheric music successfully keeps the camp at bay, and while some of the acting and effects may be a little dodgy, the filmmakers clearly understand what makes Romero's films succeed and work hard to bring his undead aesthetic north of Toronto.
1999, Starring Shawn Milstead, K. Ramona Orr, Tim Trylinski, Darren Andrichuk and Irene Miscisco. Directed by Marcus Rogers (Cinestir).
Another Rogers First Rites title, The Widower is the debut feature from Vancouverite music video director Marcus Rogers. It's also penned by a rookie screenwriter (Ed Kedzierski), shot on 16mm for about the cost of a pair of hockey tickets, and quirky as hell—the hallmarks of a movie trying hard for cult status. Shawn Milstead, caked in dime-store makeup, plays Milton, an old man who can't accept his wife's death and continues to make her dinner, hold one-sided conversations and take her out on dates, despite the fact her corpse is stinking up his grimy apartment. His nosy neighbour (the annoyingly Mary Walsh-like Irene Miscisco) is onto him, however, and most of the movie has her encouraging a pair of gay, hopelessly inept, doughnut-chugging cops to drive around Vancouver's industrial side-streets to arrest the delusional title character. Hell-bent for " hip," like so many talky post-Pulp Fiction flicks, The Widower strains its creative muscles under 88 minutes of tedious plot, forced performances and mediocre dialogue. Cameos by the likes of Joey " Shithead" Keithly, Jello Biafra and Nardwuar the Human Serviette (as a doughnut slinger) do little to help this cinematic marriage of glaring eccentricity and mind-numbing monotony. (Dave Alexander)