1987, Starring David Palfy, Stan Kane, Harry Freedman, Lawrence Elion, Thom Schioler. Directed by David Winning (Cannon).
Without exception, the original 1970s wave of Canadian rural revenge films were confined to locations within Ontario. Deliverance (1972)-inspired flicks like Rituals (1978), Shoot (1976), and Death Weekend (1976) all sought to exploit the untamed wilderness a few hours north of Toronto as much as they did the tax shelter laws themselves. Many of the films came under heavy criticism for their brutality, and naturally, when the tax shelter collapsed in the 1980s, everyone assumed that it was the end of this short lived-genre. By all means, they should have been right--there were only a half dozen rural revenge films to begin with, and unlike other similarly despised genres like horror and sex comedies, there was no major film like Porky's (1982) or Scanners (1982) to bridge the films made in the late 1970s with the second tax shelter period that started up in the mid-1980s.
But the rural revenge films proved as tenacious as their moonshine-swilling antagonists. They never really went away, they just moved to other provinces and resurfaced in a new venue--your local video store. Most notorious of the revival was Lorenzo Lamas' Snake Eater and its two sequels (courtesy of Nova Scotia), but credit has to go to David Winning's Storm, a much more obscure entry that really bridged the gap out of Ontario and brought the rural revenge film kicking and screaming into the 1980s.
Nowadays, Winning is much more infamous for directing Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, than he ever will be for his first Canadian feature, but that's probably the way it should be. At the tail end of the tax shelter era, Winning made Sequence (1979), a 16mm short in his native Alberta which touched on much the same subject as Peter Carter's Rituals. Surprisingly, his film was picked up by Cannon International and distributed briefly in the UK as a pre-feature short. Based on the success of Sequence, Winning decided to expand the story to a feature length film and began work on Storm in 1983.
It all starts in 1946, as three ski-masked bank robbers huddle around a campfire with a scared hostage. The scene is paced excruciatingly slowly, with no dialogue at all--just unflinching close-ups of the villainous Jimmy, Stan, and Burt. After a few dozen sidelong glances, they shoot the hostage, and in a scene just as long as the first, go off to bury their stolen money in the woods. At first I assumed this plodding, deliberate pacing was meant to create some kind of atmosphere. Wrong again.
Now it's the present, and the robbers are going back for the money after thirty long years. Not so coincidently, two college students are also planning a trip up north for some camping and hunting. Nerdy Lowell and mulleted weekend warrior Booker don't really look like the best of friends, but they bonded in their first year of school playing a game called "Sniper," in which they hunted each other down with dart guns all over campus. The night before they go, they attend a dance where Booker catches his girlfriend cheating, and Lowell meets a future dating prospect. Now, when I mentioned this film was very slow, I wasn't kidding. Both the dance and Lowell's reminiscences about Sniper take up an amazing 45 minutes of runtime. This is made all the more painful by the fact that the flashbacks of Sniper consist mostly of Lowell creeping along saying "Booker? Booker?"
Yes, the film's already half over by the time we arrive at the real story, what we can safely assume is the same plot used in Sequence. While driving to the wilderness in Booker's truck, they happen to pass a suspicious-looking camper just before Booker swerves into a ditch to unsuccessfully avoid a rabbit. Now the truck has stalled, so while his friend works on bringing it back to life, Lowell lazily shoots off an arrow from his archery set and wanders into the woods to find it.
When the truck finally roars to life, Lowell is nowhere to be found. Booker goes off to find him, but instead he happens upon the camper, out of which step our old friends Jimmy, Stan, and Burt. As they grab their shovels, Stan suddenly gets cold feet and starts telling the others he doesn't think it's the right time to get the cash. The others argue with him, and finally they all slip away from Booker's view to try to find the spot where they buried the loot.
Stan can't remember the exact spot, and Jimmy starts getting angry with him. He pushes Stan aside and begins digging away with Burt just as Lowell notices them from off in the distance. Stan starts protesting again, until finally Jimmy brains him with shovel, killing his former partner. Lowell is petrified, but when the alarm on his digital watch alarm loudly goes off, he finds himself being chased by the remaining robbers. He collides with Booker, and together they take off for the safety of the truck. They almost make it too, but Booker is shot in the stomach by Jimmy.
Lowell drags his friend inside the truck and drives out to the camper, which he ransacks for weapons. He prepares himself for a little rural revenge of his own, but Jimmy's got far greater problems he keeps hallucinating that a zombified Stan is stalking him through the backwoods setting.
Boiled down to it's essentials, Storm is actually pretty good. A slightly campy tone, pretty good acting by the guy playing Lowell, passable zombie make-up, and an EC comics twist ending might have made for an enjoyable little flick. An enjoyable little flick called Sequence. Turning the basic idea from his short into a feature film stretches the premise much too thinly, as evidenced by the merciless padding which doesn't serve to flesh out the story, but to elongate it with pointless flashbacks and unbearable pauses in action and dialogue that do nothing but detract from the main thrust of the film.
Now, "slow pacing" is a common complaint against Canadian films, and in most cases, it's a valid criticism. Lengthy conversations and character building scenes can easily derail momentum, but Storm takes such a long time to tell its story that I frequently shouted "Do something!" at the film. This is usually the part where I blame the endless scenes of characters walking down corridors and lazily ambling through the forest on the director, but this time, it's only partially his fault.
After a warm reception in Alberta, a 79-minute version of Storm was shown in Italy by Cannon. Ridiculously enough, Cannon would only to agree to distribute the film if Winning added more footage to beef up the running time. As a result, a mind-boggling 23 additional minutes were shot in 1987, extending the film to 102 minutes. Most likely, this was the increasingly pointless Sniper sequence which bumps the starting point for the main story past the film's halfway mark. Regardless, Storm became a successful video release when it was picked up by Warner Brothers.
Aside from Rituals, Winning's film also has distinct similarities to Bill Fruet's teen camping trip gone awry, Trapped (1981), but with one difference this film quite specifically takes place in Canada. Alerting the audience to this early on, shots of multi-coloured money, Canadian radio station call letters and overtly Canadian references makes this one of the few internationally distributed Canadian b-films to pay homage to its country of origin. And that would be admirable, if Storm was half-ways tolerable.
Unfortunately, it's not. Filmed primarily in the wooded area of Bragg Creek, Alberta, Storm took three years and $72,000 to bring to life, and one edict from Cannon to ruin.