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Sharing the Blame: The Co-Productions

When the Canadian government designated Canadian film productions as tax shelters in 1974, there were many other countries who wanted to get in on the act as well. American-Canadian co-productions began to flourish as a direct result of these incentives, just as they had during the 1930s, when England offered favourable treatment to films made in British colonies.

By the mid-to-late 1970s, Europe began showing interest in our shelters as well, and several high-profile Canadian cult films have come out of our partnership with one country in particular, France. Nicolas Gessner's The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane was probably the most widely seen of these co-productions, but Eddy Matalon's Blackout and Cathy's Curse have earned respected places as well. Hot on the heels of these successful genre films, many of the craziest and most obscure Canuxploitation films appeared as co-productions with smaller countries like Romania and the current Czech Republic.

Today, the government offers subsidies for films that are not entirely Canadian, but have filled key creative roles (writer, director, highest-paid star) with Canadians. Through their "official co-production agreements" with countries including the U.K., France and Germany, citizens of other countries can also qualify for these positions. And it seems to be working, since Telefilm reported that co-productions were responsible for $870 million in 2001.

While not every one of the films listed below is representative of a distinctive Canadian vision, this page acknowledges these quasi-Canuck efforts which are interesting nonetheless. These lists are by no means complete, and I've limited the inclusion of the the many big-budget Hollywood films being shot in Canada these days.

Capsule Reviews

Aliens in the Wild Wild West

1999, Starring Taylor Locke, Carly Pope, Barna Moricz. Directed by George Erschbamer.

Ex-Quadrant producer David Perlmutter teamed up with Castel Film Romania for a line of Romanian/Canadian family co-productions in the late 1990s including The Excalibur Kid, Teen Sorcery, Shapeshifter and Aliens in the Wild, Wild West, all of which were distributed by schlockmeister Charles Band's Full Moon video under its "Pulsepounders" imprint. This one is a half-baked sci-fi/western genre mix-up about a snotty kid (Locke) and his bitchy older sister (Pope) who are dragged to a touristy Old West ghost town by their parents. While bickering, they uncover a handheld time machine under some rotted floorboards that sends them back to the 1880s. This turn of events doesn’t even faze them, nor does the subsequent arrival of a CGI UFO that lands behind the farm of the square-jawed teen cowboy (and romantic interest) that wants to help them (Moricz). Before the budding teen sleuths can investigate, however, two bumbling rustlers nab one of the goofy Sid and Marty Kroft-reject aliens and take her back to town. The kids find a second creature onboard the ship named Jiffy who pleads with them to rescue his mother, and they head off to confront the crooked sheriff before he sells Jiffy's mom to the circus. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial is the obvious comparison for this sparsely plotted, unfunny family film that never surpasses the quality of an average syndicated TV drama. While it does offer some different locations besides the castles and blandly modern public buildings where the other Pulsepounders are set, the effects are dismal, especially the poorly articulated Jiffy, who looks like an apple doll tribute to the Muppet's Sweetums.


1978, Starring Robert Carradine, Jim Mitchum, Ray Milland, Belinda Montgomery. Directed by Eddy Matalon.

Visiting French director Eddy Matalon's Blackout is a major improvement over his previous horror film, Cathy's Curse. This Cinepix-helmed international co-production, partially shot in New York, is a nicely made highrise thriller with just the right amount of sleaze. When the Big Apple is blanketed in darkness from a power failure, a prison bus crashes and four trigger-happy convicts (Robert Carradine, Don Granberry, Terry Haig, and Victor B. Tyler) break out and take cover in a nearby apartment building. A lone cop (Jim Mitchum) called to the scene tries to stop them as they terrorize the residents for money and some means of transportation. Robert Carradine is wonderfully scummy as Christie, the literate leader of the escapees who ends up going head-to-head to Mitchum in the exciting, car-crashing finale. An aging Ray Milland also gets a brief but memorable role as a hardnosed millionaire whose refusal to cooperate with the thugs results in the torching of his priceless collection of Picassos. Scripted by Cinepix favourite John Saxton, better known for Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS and Happy Birthday to Me, it's an underrated effort that's worth tracking down. 

Black Roses

1988, Starring John Martin, Sal Viviano, Karen Planden. Directed by John Fasano.

After crafting the wildly surreal Thor vehicle Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, fledgling director John Fasano continued to mine the heavy metal horror vein with this silly, but still engaging B-flick shot jointly in Ontario and the director's home state, New York. In this one, popular rock act Black Roses is about to kick off their world tour in the sleepy town of Mill Basin, but the PTA is up in arms over their dark lyrics. And as well they should be--the band's vocalist, Damien (Sal Viviano) is actually a demon who hypnotizes his teenage fans to engage in murder and other lewd acts. A big step up from the dime store production values of Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, Black Roses still maintains the same goofy 1980's atmosphere with dozens of weird puppets, bizarre dialogue and hair metal soundtrack cuts. Don't miss the screen debut of The Soprano's Vincent Pastore, who is sucked into a stereo speaker. Silly but undeniably fun to watch—they just don't make 'em like this anymore!

Born For Hell

(AKA Naked Massacre) 1976, Starring Mathieu Carrire, Debra Berger, Andre Pelletier, Carole Laure. Directed by Denis Hroux.

A complete 180 degree turnaround from his earlier maple syrup porn films, Denis Hroux's Born For Hell is a very nasty little number indeed. Based on the Richard Speck murders, but relocating the real-life tragedy to revolution-torn Belfast, the film stars Mathieu Carrire as a marooned and penniless Vietnam vet who begs for food at a boarding house for student nurses. When one of the girls takes pity on him, he is reminded of his wife back home and snaps, returning that night with a switchblade. Once inside, the increasingly insane vet holds all eight nurses hostage in an upstairs bedroom, taking one or two downstairs at a time to humiliate, rape and murder them. This grim Canadian/West German/French/Italian co-production is technically well made, but it isn't much fun to watch. There's almost no exposition in the gratuitously bleak story at all—not only is it never revealed exactly why this Speck substitute is hellbent on killing the girls, but he's never even given a name. German star Carrire plays the killer vet with an understated evil that is undeniably creepy, while sole Canadians Andre Pelletier and Carole Laure make up part of the body count. Despite the almost unpalatable final half-hour, Born For Hell is still an interesting film, though it probably has more in common with Eurosleaze flicks than with Canadian film.


1994, Starring Edward Furlong, Frank Langella, T. Ryder Smith. Directed by John Flynn.

Because almost everything takes place in one house, there's not much that stands out as Canadian about this sci-fi/horror co-production made in Quebec. Edward Furlong stars as a spoiled-rich yet disenfranchised teenage horror fan who thinks he's seen it all when he buys a new CD-Rom horror game called Brainscan. On popping it in, he experiences something like a virtual reality slasher film where he is the heartless killer. He loves it until he realizes that a real murder took place at the same time down the street. Confused, Eddie calls the company at which time an evil gnome named the Trickester appears and forces Eddie to play the game three more times. In each, he kills again, much to his own horror. Finally he is forced to face the Trickster (his other self) in the bedroom of the curiously unattractive girl he has a crush on while the police close in on him. There's some good special effects for the budget here, but unfortunately, Eddie and the Trickster's relationship comes off kind of like an adult version of the Fred Savage/Howie Mandel classic Little Monsters. The material is somewhat original, but Brainscan takes itself way too seriously (as evidenced by the dreary musical score) and is seemingly confused in it's message about the nature of violent entertainment.

Cathy's Curse

(AKA Cauchemares) 1977, starring Randi Allen, Alan Scarfe, Sylvie Lenoir, Beverly Murray. Directed by Eddy Matalon.

As co-productions began to play an increasingly important role in the late 1970s, French director Eddy Matalon headed to Montreal for a pair of genre films: Cathy's Curse, a horror film in the vein of The Exorcist, followed the next year by the action/thriller Blackout. Cathy's Curse is an unabashed rip-off of child possession films like The Exorcist and The Omen, only in this case young Cathy (Randi Allen, in her only role) is possessed by the spirit of Laura, her father’s sister, who died in a fiery car accident when she was just a girl. Cathy begins carrying around a creepy doll that once belonged to Laura, and talking with a spooky portrait painting with glowing green eyes. Ignoring warnings from a local psychic (Mary Morter), the family is taken aback when vases start exploding, people fall out of windows and Cathy’s poor mother is sent to a mental institution as Laura turns everyone’s life into a living hell. A public domain DVD staple, Cathy's Curse is talky and palpably low budget, but it has a few charms, including a fun, FX-laden climax. Shot on the cheap in Montreal and notable for its nightmarish hallucination sequences and over-the-top dialogue, Cathy's Curse has a similar atmosphere and feel to other Canadian tax shelter productions like The Uncanny or Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia, Still, Matalon's follow-up for Cinepix, Blackout, is a marked improvement.

Class of 1984

1982, Starring Perry King, Merrie Lynn Ross, Timothy Van Patten, Roddy McDowall, Michael J Fox. Directed by Mark Lester.

Class of 1984 provides a sleazy updating of one of the best known delinquency films, Blackboard Jungle. The plot involves music teacher Mr. Norris (Perry King), who has moved to a new "inner-city" school. Although many of the students are clean cut go-getters like Arthur (Michael J Fox), there are many tough punks like Stegman and his crew, razor carrying, dope dealing vandals, who recruit prostitutes and cocaine dealers at a Teenage Head concert. When Arthur's friend buys some angel dust from Stegman, he climbs the flagpole and falls to his death. Mr Norris tries to bust the punks, but in retaliation, they drop a Molotov cocktail in his car and kidnap his wife. Then it's time for revenge-- teacher style! Strangely enough, this film was scored by Lalo Schifrin, and features the theme song "I Am The Future" by Alice Cooper. Although Class of 1984 is cheap and exploitive, it is also fun. It's the kind of film you can watch with your friends and laugh. Filmed in downtown Toronto.

Copper Mountain

1983, Starring Jim Carrey, Alan Thicke, Dick Gautier, Ziggy Lorenc, Ronnie Hawkins. Directed by David Mitchell (Rose & Ruby Productions).

Long before Damian Lee became a Canuxplotiation staple with classics like Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe, the young producer/director embarked on Copper Mountain, his first feature film adventure along with co-conspirator David Mitchell. Drawing in part on Lee's experience putting together sports footage for CTV programs in the late 1970s, this cable TV special is a sparsely plotted amalgam of music, cheap laffs and ski footage. The film, which first aired on Canada's First Choice cable channel, revolves around vacationing pals Jackson (Alan Thicke) and Bobby (Jim Carrey), who head to Club Med's Copper Mountain resort to get away from it all. While unlucky-in-love Bobby is looking to solve his women issues—he can't help but go into comedy act impressions whenever ladies are around—the overconfident Jackson hopes to place first in the Pro Am ski competition. To qualify for a spot in the race, Jackson has to face off against resort bartender Yogi (former Olympic skier Rod Hebron). After bragging about his impending win and making fun of Yogi being out of shape, Jackson is soundly beat and then humbled when the kind barman gives him his spot anyways. Meanwhile, Bobby helps a young resort employee (CityTV and MuchMusic personality Ziggy Lorenc) confess her crush on her boss (American TV mainstay Dick Gautier) and, based on this experience, predictably learns that he must "be himself" if he wants to impress women. If this 60-minute movie often feels like an infomercial for Club Med, that's because it is—partially funded by the well-known resort brand, Copper Mountain features an avalanche of suspicious dialogue about how luxurious and exciting the film's setting is, with the characters always being greeted by smiling employees and invited to fun events. Not only does the film feature cameos from pro skiers Jean-Claude Killy and Edwin Halsnes, but an extended concert sequence includes performances by Rita Coolidge and Canada's own Ronnie Hawkins. Following the film, Carrey packed up his skis and left for Hollywood, while Thicke was on the cusp of sitcom fame with Growing Pains. Here, their characters are notably obnoxious boors who eventually learn trite lessons, and the script is extremely loose to let them lean on previously developed material. Both Lee and Mitchell would continue making winter sports films, but mostly back in Canada, including Ski School, Ski School 2, Downhill Willie and Shred.

Deadly Eyes

1982, Starring Sam Groom, Sara Botsford, Scatman Crothers, Cec Linder, Lisa Langlois, Lesleh Donaldson. Directed by Robert Clouse (Golden Harvest).

Hong Kong kung-fu kingpins Golden Harvest Films invade Hogtown in Deadly Eyes, a killer rat movie directed by genre stalwart Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon). In the film, rats feeding off steroid-laced grain grow to uncomfortable sizes and attack humans, including "special guest star" Scatman Crothers. High school teacher Paul (Sam Groom) and health inspector Kelly (Sara Botsford) are the bland, middle-age love interests who fight back. Deadly Eyes is infamous for its cheap effects, which included disguising a pack of small dogs to portray the marauding rats, but it does wring some entertainment value out of its well-worn premise. The finale has the rats overrun a movie theatre (showing a Bruce Lee movie, natch) before attacking subway system patrons. In the end, Deadly Eyes is a co-production that's most notable for an interesting turn by Lisa Langolis as a cheerleader intent on seducing her teacher, and a surprising amount of footage of downtown Toronto.

Death Ship

1980, Starring George Kennedy, Richard Crenna, Nick Mancuso and Sally Ann Howes. Directed by Alvin Rakoff (Artemis Films/Astral Bellevue Path).

While it initially earned a reputation as one of the worst horror films of the 1970s, Death Ship is surprisingly decent nightmare fuel from City on Fire director Alvin Rakoff. Drifting in a lifeboat, the last few survivors of a devastating luxury cruise ship crash, including the captain (George Kennedy), discover a long vacated, rusty vessel anchored in the middle of the sea. They climb aboard, unaware that they have stumbled upon floating Nazi concentration camp haunted by the spirits of the past. Before long, each member of the party is threatened by the ship’s possessed machinery and the captain himself, who has apparently been taken over by a Nazi ghost. This British/Canadian co-production doesn’t have much of a budget, even swiping stock footage from other 1970s films, but Rakoff still manages to crank up the haunted house tension throughout, making the titular vessel a moody, sinister setting that echoes with Nazi radio calls and speeches. Kennedy is also notable as the scene-chewing star of the piece, who really goes over-the-top in the intense climax and gets a suitable comeuppance. An underrated CanCon classic!

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