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Sharing the Blame: The Co-Productions

Kinky Coaches and the Pom Pom Pussycats

(AKA Crunch, Heartbreak High) 1979, Starring John Vernon, Robert Forster, Norman Fell, Thom Haverstock, Christine Cattell. Directed by Mark Warren (Sandy Frank Productions/Astral).

A ribald title is the most risque and humourous element of this limp, Montreal-shot tax shelter comedy. A co-production between U.S. shlock kingpin Sandy Frank and Astral, Kinky Coaches and the Pom Pom Pussycats is a limp ensemble piece about high school football rivals trying to out-prank each other in the days leading up to the big game. Canada's own John Vernon, hot off of playing Dean Wormer in the classic frat house comedy Animal House, stars as City High coach Bulldog Malone, who faces off against the rival Johnson High Eagles, under coach Alan Arnoldi (Robert Forster). Mild hijinks including an embarrassing strip poker game (which offers the film's only glimpse of female nudity), the theft of Coach Malone's lucky longjohns and the City quarterback's attempts to steal away Johnson quarterback's feminist girlfriend set the stakes for the game, which takes up the final third of the film and predictably comes down to a disputed final play. What's strange about the film is that it refuses to take sides--rather than the standard slobs vs. snobs underdog story, both teams are equally likable. This turns into a major problem, because the viewers don't have much invested in the outcome of the lengthy football sequence. Even worse are the lame jokes, including a marching band that gets lost on the way to the game, a snorting linebacker named "Pigger", and Norman Fell in a cameo role as a two-bit sportscaster who can't seem to get an interview with his coaches. The humour just never works.

The Last Chase

1981, Starring Lee Majors, Burgess Meredith, Chris Makepeace. Directed by Martyn Burke.

Released the same year as the the similarly plotted Firebird 2015 AD, the 1981 U.S./Canada-funded The Last Chase may have better production values, but there's far less exploitation excitement. As with David M. Robertson's film Alberta-shot film, this tax shelter entry that builds off of '70s oil crisis fears takes place in a future where vehicles and gasoline have been outlawed due to environmental concerns. That doesn't bother patriot Frank Hart (Lee Majors), a former race-car driver forced to become a public transit advocate, since he hides a Porsche under his garage. Fed up with the hypocrisy of his new job, Hart finally gives into his inner gearhead and takes off to join a pro-car commune in California along with a teen computer genius (Chris Makepeace) he befriends. Trying to avert a PR disaster, the government sends out aging army pilot Captain Williams (Burgess Meredith) in a fighter jet (also now outlawed) to blow him off the road—but, when his assignment ends, will Williams easily give up this taste of freedom? In his previous efforts Power Play and The Clown Murders, director Martyn Burke showed that he was more interested in character drama than the genre trappings it is based on. Here, the result  is frustrating for the viewer, since it never pays off with the car vs. jet battle it promises. Instead, the film is tedious and punishingly moralizing about the dangers of totalitarian government rule that it depicts as four people surrounded by electronics in a control room. It's not much fun. Released by Crown International.

Les liens du sang

(AKA Blood Relatives) 1979, Starring Donald Sutherland, Aude Landry, Lisa Langlois, Laurent Malet, Donald Pleasence. Directed by Claude Chabrol.

Incest, murder and child-molesting. What do these words have in common besides assuring this page more hits? Why, they're the plot of Les Liens du Sang (Blood Relatives), a Canada-France co-production made by seasoned French genre film director Claude Chabrol. Detective Steve Carella (Donald Sutherland, minus the giant mustache he sported in Bob Clark's Murder by Decree) is investigating the murder of 16-year old Muriel Stark (Lisa Langolis). Muriel's cousin Patricia explains that they were both attacked on the way home from a party, only she got away. Carella rounds up all of Montreal's pedophiles for no other reason than to feature a cameo by Donald Pleasence in perhaps his greatest role, Sweaty Sex Offender #4. After a few more red herrings, Patricia reveals that it was her brother Andrew. The last half of the film is told in flashback as Carella recovers and reads Muriel's diary. Turns out that she and Andrew were kissin' cousins until just a few days before her murder when a pregnancy scare ended their fun. Having Muriel fall in love with her much-older boss at work sets up at least one additional suspect, but there's not enough characters with motives to provide a real surprise ending. Despite a few problems, including horrendous English language dubbing, Les Liens du Sang is not a bad little crime film which clips along nicely despite a lack of anything really substantial or interesting going on in the plot. As a special bonus, the film's flashback of Muriel's murder is perhaps the most uninspired killing in the history of cinema.

Little Devils: The Birth

1993, Starring Marc Price, Russ Tamblyn, Wayne McNamara. Directed by George Pavlou (String of Pearls).

After his popular hit Rawhead Rex (1986), British director George Pavlou helmed this strange mini-monster film in the vein of Gremlins and Ghoulies on the wild streets of Toronto. The script, which features gargoyle creatures made out of graveyard ooze on the loose in an apartment building, caught the interest of Noel Cronin of Dandelion Productions, a UK business associate of Canaian schlock producer Lionel Shenken. Cronin had distributed Shenken's Emmeritus titles overseas and the pair had just begun working together on UK-Canada co-productions like 1990's Home for Christmas, and 1993's bizarro kiddie flick To Catch a Yeti. Produced under Cronin and Shenken's String of Pearls banner, Little Devils: The Birth reportedly had its budget slashed several times, and while the results are palpably cheap, it still feels like a small step up from Shenken's SOV productions of the 1980s, thanks to an better-than-average cast and decent creature effects. In the film, down-on-his-luck adult magazine writer Ed (Family Ties' Marc Price) believes a rash of murders in the area has something to with his reclusive upstairs neighbor, Dr. Lionel (Psycho Pike's Wayne McNamara). Soon, he discovers that the lonely scientist has inadvertently created a tiny army of gargoyle monsters that are wreaking havoc on the neighbourhood, killing off locals with tiny acid-spurting guns and flame throwers. Teaming with girlfriend (Nancy Valen) and mentor Doc (Russ Tamblyn), Ed confronts Dr. Lionel, who explains that he desperately needs help controlling the experimental creatures. Aside from Price, who helps carry the film with his enthusiastic acting, the film is most notable for its commendable creature effects by Paul Jones. Jones, perhaps best known for his work on Ginger Snaps and the Silent Hill franchise, manages to give life to a team of gooey gargoyles that may not have distinct personalities, but are nastier than many of the other goofy monsters of their ilk, with light-up eyes and ruthless dispositions. Considering its tiny budget, Little Devils: The Birth is far better than it has any right to be.

The Little Girl who Lived Down the Lane

1976, Starring Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, Mort Shuman, Scott Jacoby. Directed by Nicolas Gessner.

This understated, genuinely creepy psycho-thriller is one of the finest Canadian co-productions of its time. Hungarian director Nicolas Gessner's first film in English stars Jodie Foster as Rynn, a wise-beyond-her-years teen whose parents seem to be conspicuously absent from her life. Well-to-do landlady Mrs. Hallet (Alexis Smith) is determined to find out the whereabouts of her phantom poet father, while her admitted pedophile son Frank (Martin Sheen) puts the moves on the young girl. Rynn manages to foil them at every turn with the help of a local cop (Mort Shuman) and his crippled nephew (Scott Jacoby), whom Rynn falls for. Primarily a character piece, there's little blood or violence in the film, but the cast is excellent and the cinematography of the rich Quebec countryside proves surprisingly evocative. Released to theatres the same year as Freaky Friday, The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane has some striking similarities to Foster's Disney blockbuster, albeit with much darker results. A must-see classic.

Loch Ness Terror

(AKA Beyond Loch Ness) 2007, Starring Niall Matter, Brian Krause and Amber Borycki. Directed by Paul Ziller.

The latest CGI-saturated creature feature from those discerning cineastes at the Sci-Fi channel, Loch Ness Terror carries on in the proud but dumb tradition of the network’s ongoing TV movie line-up. Vancouver-based director Paul Ziller delivers yet another a familiar collection of genre clichs and plot twists that go down easy but without a lot of flavour. The blood of innocent extras freely flows when an evolution-spurning plesiosaurus pops up in Lake Superior (actually, somewhere in Vancouver). Oblivious local teen Joel (Niall Matter) postpones his awkward flirtations with Zoe (Amber Borycki) when James, a gruff cryptozoologist (Brian Krause) arrives on the scene, packing enough artillery to blast a hole in the Rockies. Bloodied limbs and torsos frequently fall out of Nessie’s computer generated mouth like brushed-away crumbs, but what’s most interesting about this otherwise formulaic creature feature is the tough-as-a-glacier James, who comes off as a kind of Canadian Crocodile Dundee (Beaverskin Mackenzie?). There’s a knowing silliness about the film, which helps bump it a shade north of the average Sci-Fi channel production. Unlike the real Loch Ness monster, however, Loch Ness Terror isn’t something you want to much effort towards catching.


1989, Starring Kris Kristofferson, Cheryl Ladd, Daniel J Traranti, Robert Joy, Al Waxman, Maury Chaykin. Directed by Michael Anderson.

The wonderfully bearded Kris Kristofferson hits on washed up ex-Angel Cheryl Ladd in this loving tale of plane crashes. Super airline sleuth Bill Smith (Kristofferson) investigates some crash sites where the people were all dead before the plane exploded. It's a tough case, but not so tough that he can't help but smile as flight attendant Louise Baltimore (Ladd) runs away from him on visual contact. Luckily, Bill wins her heart, but that's before he realizes that she is a time traveler from the future. In the 30th century, people cannot reproduce, so Louise and her friends steal doomed airplanes from the past, and unload all the passengers in the future before sending the empty jet back to be destroyed. When Bill follows Louise into the future, the production values start to become embarrassing. Directed by Michael Anderson of Orca: The Killer Whale fame, this confusing movie repeats almost 20 minutes of footage.

Murder By Phone

(AKA Bells) 1982, Starring Richard Chamberlain, John Houseman, Sara Botsford. Directed by Michael Anderson (Coco Films I).

This is a fun but awfully silly horror that it features some of the most distinctive Toronto location work of the early 1980s. Logan's Run director Michael Anderson is slums in this tax shelter sci-fi effort in which a university professor and ecologist (a heavily bearded Richard Chamberlain) discovers that someone is sending out deadly high-pitch frequencies over the phone lines. On answering the killer call, the intended victim starts bleeding from their eyes and mouth before a final bolt of lightning knocks them clear through a wall—overdone and unintentionally humorous death scenes that overshadow the lethargically paced "whodunnit" storyline. Despite the Cronenberg-like effects and premise—complete with a cover-up by evil big business—this is a light and pulpy revenge story that's not to be taken seriously. Canuxploitation fans will enjoy picking out the impressive Canadian supporting cast, including Lenora Zann, Gary Reineke, Luba Goy, Neil Affleck, Mag Ruffman, and the film is shot in very recognizable locations, including the Toronto subway system, Yonge Street pinball parlours and Bay Street offices.

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