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Canuxploitation!

Diary of a Sinner

1974, Starring Iain Ewing, Tom Celli, Amanda Slone, Bree Cole, Donna Schuman. Directed by Ed Hunt (Danton Films).





The establishment of a new film ratings system in Quebec allowed Cinepix founders John Dunning and Andre Link to produce a string of suggestive comedies in the late 1960s, but until the 1970s, little of their "maple syrup porn" sensibility trickled into the rest of Canada. One of the intrepid few who would test the strict Ontario Censorship Board at the time was American director Ed Hunt, who, like many of his peers, originally came north of the border in search of lucrative tax shelters to help launch his film career.

Though Hunt's later UFO obsession led him to concentrate on sci-fi genre pictures including Starship Invasions and The Plague, his first cinematic efforts were a pair of sleazy softcore flicks fit only for a few dank fleapits scattered across the province. After quickly cranking out his debut nudie flick Pleasure Palace, Hunt met Iain Ewing, who with Bob Fothergill, Ivan Reitman and David Cronenberg, had formed the Toronto Film Co-Op a few years earlier. With Ewing producing, writing and acting, they began to collaborate on one of the country's strangest Anglophone sex films, Diary of a Sinner.

Ewing stars in the film as Dave, a broke, out-of-work actor who moonlights as a pimp. Despondent over breaking up with his  girlfriend, Dave befriends effeminate loner Tom (Pleasure Palace's Tom Celli), an ex-priest who lives in the room next to his in a run-down boarding house. Since his neighbour seems just as lonely and suicidal as he is, Dave proposes a suicide pactin one week, they will flip a coin, and the winner will kill himself. Morbidly interested, Tom agrees, and spends the next week with his new friend on a whirlwind tour of sex and violence in what promises to be one of the pair's final daysbouncing from erotic massages to bank robberies, showers with hitchhikers to a black mass and even finding time to squeeze in the occasional rape. Despite his new penchant for debauchery, Tom still manages to fall in love with Simone (Amanda Sloan) a prostitute under the control of Eric (John Kennedy), a drug smuggler who previously turned Dave's ex-girl on to heroin. After stalking her for a few days, Tom breaks down and professes his undying love for Simone, and promises to murder Eric so they can be together foreverbut has he forgotten the terms of his deal with Dave?

Unflinching and unrelenting in its sleaze, Diary of a Sinner is one hell of a nihilistic sex film. The constant parade of full frontal female nudity certainly makes it one of the most daring English-Canadian films of its time, a significant change over  mildly raunchy earlier films like Have Figure Will Travel and Naked Flame, but it comes at a steep price. Everyoneeven the film's minor charactersare on the edge of suicide, racked by drugs, hounded by personal perversions, and interested only in themselves. Diary of a Sinner may deliver on its cocaine-snorting, flesh-baring exploitation promise, but any visceral thrills are often cloaked in depression, subtlyeven perhaps unconsciouslyacknowledging the ultimate emptiness of Dave and Tom's hedonistic adventure. Still, despite Dave's frothy tirades against the dehumanizing aspects of love and a firm belief  that " rape is the most natural form of sex," in the end, it's the female characters who provide the film's most disheartening moments. In one scene, Simone and a friend discuss how they feel like  hollow shells, and how the mistreatment at the hands of the men in their lives have pushed them towards suicide. It's almost enough to make the viewer ashamed of the lewd material they're watching!

An odd counterpoint to the film's rampant misanthropy is that Diary of a Sinner is ostensibly a comedy, working in several gags throughout the story. At one point, a pre-school kid comes up to Tom with a cigarette and asks for a light, and later on, a cop chasing the pair after they rob a bank shoots an innocent clerk in the leg. Likewise, the unusual harmonica-punctuated psuedo-funk score contributed by Bo Diddley (Ewing had directed a short documentary about the bluesman for the CFDC the previous year) is blithely upbeat and keeps the film chugging along with an undeniable energy even as it reaches into the depths of human despair.

Interestingly enough, it's this same underlying cynicism towards suburban values and notions of romance that keeps Diary of a Sinner firmly in the tradition English-Canada's angry young films of the 1960s and Canuck loser epics of the 1970seven if it does take the idea to its most exploitive extreme. There is even what seems to be a sly nod to Quebec's maple porn films in the character of Tom, who reveals that he previously worked at a Catholic school. Like many of the Cinepix heroines, he has become disenchanted with the restrictions of the Church, culminating in a spur-of-the-moment black mass ceremony that is far more blasphemous than anything Dunning or Link ever dared to film.

But aside from the sexual misadventures of the two loser heroes, by far the most interesting part of the film is its use of Ontario locations. Earlier Canadian films like Goin' Down the Road often presented audiences with a romanticized Toronto landscape, but Diary of a Sinner wallows in a sleazy side of the city rarely captured on film at the time. Dave's first night with Tom sees them hitting up little remembered Yonge Street haunts such as Jingle's Photo Palace (also the apparent subject of Pleasure Palace), Le Strip, and Caesar's Spa, as well as infamous live music club Friars Tavern. Hunt and his crew even stopped off in Hamilton on their way to shoot a few scenes at Niagara Falls to capture some exterior shots of a short-lived strip club known as Starvin' Marvin's Burlesque Palace.

A unique Canadian film by any standard, Ed Hunt's exceedingly rare Diary of a Sinner is definitely one of our most sordid cinematic displays. Though never as titillating as it is kind of depressing, this almost lost early effort by Ed Hunt nonetheless gives viewers a vintage peek into the depravity of English-Canada's seedy filmic past.


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