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The Dark Side

1987, Starring Tony Galati, Cynthia Preston, Peter Read, John Tench, Charles Loriot, David Hewlett. Directed by Constantino Magnatta.

After his directorial debut The Dark Side, Constantino Magnatta worked on only two more feature films. First was the horror anthology Freakshow, and several years later he resurfaced to help script Ghost Mom, a made-for-TV horror-comedy for kids directed by SCTV alumnus Dave Thomas. While these two later horror efforts were to be watched with a dose of humour, The Dark Side is (for the most part) a serious film about a cabbie mistakenly falling into the forbidden world of snuff films.

Rookie cab driver Tony is doing his rounds one night when he sees a mysterious girl being chased by a strange British guy in a white suit. Swinging his cab around, Tony rescues her just before she is caught. They drive off into the night, but all that he manages to find out about the situation is that the girl's name is Laura. When Tony pulls to the curb to let her out of the cab, she quickly shoves a videotape under the backseat before running away into the night. From there, we meet Sully, the British attacker, and his boss, snuff film director Mr Roscoe. Roscoe is disappointed that Sully let Laura get away, and they talk feverishly of recovering the missing VCR tape while setting a dead body on fire, presumably one of the 'stars' of a film Roscoe had just finished making.

The next day, Laura is kicked out other apartment and is hit up for cash by her drug addict ex-boyfriend Chucky (played by Canuxploitation favourite David Hewlett of films like Pin and Cube). She has bigger things on her mind though, like recovering the tape. Laura calls the cab company dispatcher to have Tony pick her up. But just as Tony arrives, Laura is attacked by Sully again. And Tony drives her to safety. Again. He still doesn't get the whole story from her, but since she is now homeless, he invites her to stay with him at his apartment. When she asks if any objects that belonged to her were found in the cab the night before, Tony tells her that he didn't find anything. That night, Tony asks Ernie, the guy who cleans the cabs, the same question, but he nervously denies finding anything.

In my review of Magnatta's movie Freakshow, I mentioned an out-of-place comic scene where attacking zombies suddenly start getting drunk and driving golf carts. The equivalent to this in The Dark Side would have to be the pants-less biker chase. Apparently jealous over the fact that his girlfriend is shacking up with a cabbie with a bad haircut, Chucky tricks Tony into stumbling in on a drug dealing biker in his underoos. The biker chases him through a hotel followed by an entourage of drug addicts and a topless girl. To add to the insanity, shots of an Elvis impersonator in the bar downstairs keep getting inserted into this over-the-top chase sequence. Finally, Tony escapes the madness and runs home to Laura's side.

Chucky tips off Mr Roscoe and Sully about Tony in exchange for drugs, and our villainous duo kidnap our cab drivin' hero. At their warehouse hideout, Tony is tied up (and apparently raped!) in an attempt to get him to talk about the missing video tape. Roscoe rants about how Laura was his best star, and how she has to turn over their property. They let him go "to deliver the message to her," and when he does, Laura still lies about the snuff film. She explains that Roscoe paid her to get naked on film, and that the tape is the mysterious item she stashed in his cab. Now, the tape is missing, and Tony doesn't know how he is going to get Roscoe off his back!

Oh wait, it's not missing. That nut Ernie had the tape all along! Tony finally recovers it, but now Laura has been kidnapped. Curious about the tape's contents, Tony goes to a video rental store and watches it (I guess not everyone had a VCR in 1987 after all). The store owner offers to buy the tape off of him, but Tony is off to meet Roscoe and Sully at the warehouse to exchange the tape for Laura's life.

This raises the obvious question, why didn't Roscoe trade Tony's safety for the tape, instead of letting him go free and then kidnapping Laura? He thought she was the one who had the tape, after all. Seems as though chivalry is not dead, even for snuff film directors.

In addition to featuring many familiar and immediately recognizable Toronto locations, The Dark Side's main protagonist Tony is another version of the reluctant hero found in most Canuxploitation action films. Unfortunately, in this film, the hero comes off like a naive, blue-collar dupe. Tony invites a girl to stay at his apartment after being in her company for ten minutes? She lies to him for the entire film and he still he trusts her?

Despite several questionable plot directions, The Dark Side is worth a look. That is, if you can ever find it-- this film is so obscure, you have a better chance of finding a snuff film under the seat of a cab. By keeping the movie relatively serious Constantino Magnatta proves that this film is ultimately more enjoyable next than his next attempt, Freakshow.

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