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Canuxploitation!

Flick

(AKA Frankenstein On Campus, Dr. Frankenstein On Campus) 1970, Starring Robin Ward, Kathleen Sawyer, Susan Harris, Austin Willis, Sean Sullivan. Directed by Gil W. Taylor.



The first hoser horror to get in on the funding rush after the Canadian Film Development Corporation was established, Flick offers a northern spin on one of the world's most famous supernatutal myths. Transplanting the legendary story of Frankenstein to the mean streets of Toronto, Flick is a flower-power send up of the gothic tradition that resembles a cross between a Cinepix soft porn and a hippie exploitation film.

A full decade before he would become a mainstay on Canadian airwaves as a weatherman and a sleazy game show host, Robin Ward got his start with a handful of roles in the Canadian genre film explosion of the early 1970s. In Flick, he stars as the decidedly mod Victor Frankenstein, a descendent of the infamous re-animator who enrolls as a student at the University of Toronto. In between conducting secretive experiments and impressing his science teacher, Professor Preston (Sean Sullivan), Victor cautiously grooves on the university's hippie subculture, meeting anti-dehumanization student activist Dave (Tony Moffat-Lynch), Tae Kwon Do expert Tony (Ty Haller), and Susan (Kathleen Sawyer), a reporter for the school newspaper.

As Victor begins to fall for Susan, he lets her in on his latest scientific breakthrougha remote-controlled "brain wave box" that can be used to control thought patterns. After inserting electrodes into the minds of a dog and a cat with an air gun, Victor then uses this device, which looks suspiciously like a transistor radio, to force the animals to fight each other to the death.

Although slightly disturbed by the demonstration, Susan ignores Victor's emerging God complex and takes him out to an acid rock show at a local art space. The perpetually uptight Victor passes up the chemical enhancements freely floating around, preferring to get into a " heavy" conversation about astrology. It's all innocent enough psychedelic fun until the next day, when the school paper runs a photo of Victor on the front page, accusing him of being part of a "drug orgy." Furious, crusty Dean Cantwell expells Victor, whereupon the young scientist decides to wreak unholy blood-soaked revenge on every person who he has made eye contact with since he arrived.

When Victor tricks Dave and Tony into coming back to the lab to partake in the "no hangover" high of drinking pure alcohol, they're all for it. After they inevitably pass out, Victor gets out his trusty electrode gun and shoots a mind-control device into Tony's black-belt brain. One by one, those that have crossed Victor turn up beaten to death, from Susan's friend who published the damning article in the student newspaper to Dean Cantwell himself. When Susan begins to suspect that Victor may have something to do with the spate of killings, she finds herself the target of Tony's involuntary bloodlust in a nearby museum. The final, unexpected twist of the film invalidates almost everything that precedes it, but it's novel and ironic enough that most viewers won't mind.

Canadian horror films often have a preoccupation with psychological horrorespecially electroshock and brainwashingand Flick is no exception. While the plot riffs on the rich lore of the Frankenstein films, the nature of Dr. Frankenstein's experiments have been altered from the act of giving life to a physical monstrosity to controlling the minds of his peers, adding a distinctly Canadian twist. Likewise, Flick differs from most modern adaptations of Mary Shelley's book in that it acknowledges the monster's place in popular culture. Victor talks about the burden of having a name that everyone associates with monster movies, and in one scene, some teasing classmates send a remote control Frankenstein's monster (actually Aurora's two-foot-tall "Big Frankie" model kit) lumbering towards the hapless scientist.

Flick's almost entirely amateur cast works against the film in many scenes, but it is unique among the 1970s Canadian films in that it pays tribute to Canada's film and television past. In the role of Dean Cantwell is the late Austin Willis, a well-known TV and radio personality who hosted several CBC shows and had roles in fledgling Canadian productions including Bush Pilot (1947), Canada's "lost" VD feature Sins of the Fathers (1948) and Sidney J. Furie's A Dangerous Age (1958). He appears here just a few years before acheiving his greatest fame as the host of CBC television's This Is the Law. On the other side of Flick's pronounced generation gap is another notable young star who left his mark on the screen much later. Lighthouse, the Toronto rock band playing at the acid rock show, features a young saxophonist named Howard Shore who would go on to become David Cronenberg's score composer of choice, and later create the Oscar-winning music for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Not only was Flick the first Canadian horror funded by the CFDC, beating Don Haldane's far more sober The Reincarnate by a full year, but it's also the first film to turn a sardonic Canuck eye on the conventions of American B-film. Ward's obvious eye-shadow and director Gil Taylor's badly dated " psychedelic" filmmaking may have since given Flick a few unintentionally humourous moments, but Taylor created a purposely schlocky movie that offers just as many laughs as it does scares. Flick was definitely a forerunner to Ivan Reitman's later Cannibal Girls, as well as many of the genre satires that began to appear a decade later.

Shot almost entirely at the University of Toronto (even name checking real locations such as Philosopher's Walk), Flick isn't a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a fascinating period piece a slick, expressionistic antidote to the lumbering dramas and syrupy slice-of-life films that were defining Canadian film in the early 1970s. Flick is essential horror viewing for the Canuxploitation fan.


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