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The Pyx

(AKA Hooker Cult Murders) 1973, Starring Karen Black, Christopher Plummer, Donald Pilon, Jean-Louis Roux. Directed by Harvey Hart.

Although The Pyx is a fairly pedestrian detective thriller with a satanic twist, it does hold an interesting place in the history of Canadian film. Produced by Julian Roffman, a Canuxploitation pioneer who directed some of the earliest Canadian feature films, The Pyx was shot in Quebec by director Harvey Hart and is one of the only bilingual horror films ever made.

The Pyx stars Canadian icon Christopher Plummer as Henderson, a Quebec cop, and cult actress Karen Black as Elizabeth Lucy, a high priced prostitute. Besides being one of the only cult actresses to have a band named after her, Karen Black has been acting in A- and B-films for over 40 years. She got her start in The Prime Time, an exploitation film by nudie film director HG Lewis, and went on to be in some fairly prominent movies, including Easy Rider and Hitchcock's Family Plot. Her Canadian credits include the tax shelter comedy Bad Manners and The Blue Man, a TV movie by George Mihalka (My Bloody Valentine). On watching The Pyx, you will learn something else about Ms Black-- she is also a decent singer who contributes a couple of folk ballads to the soundtrack. This wasn't just a one time effort, either Karen Black was a replacement member of the hated folk revival group The New Christy Minstrels.

The Pyx opens with the discovery of a murdered woman. Henderson and his partner Paquette (Donald Pilon) are first on the scene, but have some difficulty figuring out exactly what happened. Searching her body, they find a pyx and a large cross around her neck. FOr those who don't know, in Catholicism, the pyx is a container which contains the Eucharist, most commonly a cup, or a bowl. In this movie, it looks kind of like a pocket watch, which is opened to house a communion wafer. The detectives decide to check out an adjacent illegal brothel. Scaring Meg, the resident pimp, with a good cop/bad cop routine, Henderson manages to slip past the door. He interviews Elizabeth, one of the prostitutes living in the building about the dead girl. She doesn't seem to know much, but reveals that the girl wasn't Catholic, and didn't own a pyx.

From here the story follows Elizabeth. The next day we discover that Elizabeth is a heroin addict, deftly slipping needles under her cuticles to keep her arms free of tracks. She shoots up at home, which oddly enough makes her daydream of horseback riding. After coming down, she gets a call from Meg--Mr Lefram, a 'special client,' wants to meet her. She initially resists, but Meg tells her that he is rich and powerful, and that it would be in her best interest to at least meet him. She finally agrees, and is taken to a huge yacht where she is interviewed by Lefram's assistant, Mr. Keerson. In their meeting, she is asked to remove all her clothing, and then is asked about her Catholic upbringing and if she believes in God. She reluctantly admits that she does, and breaks down in tears, humiliated by this strange treatment.

Meanwhile, Henderson is hot on the murder case, and makes a significant find. Examining the cross found around the dead prostitute's neck, he realizes that the cross has been placed upside down on the chain. Following this lead he goes back to the brothel where he finds two more of the prostitutes murdered. He goes through the house and discovers pictures of Lefram and Keerson. With Paquette's help, Henderson finally locates the yacht and prepares to ambush it.

But he'd better hurry, because across town, Elizabeth is being prepared to meet Lefram. She is extremely wary, unsure of exactly what is going to happen, but Meg urges her to just cooperate. Elizabeth is drugged with some mysterious powder which puts her at the edge of consciousness, unable to fight back. She is then dressed in a sheer white robe, and led to a dark room where men are wearing strange animal masks. Keerson appears and places an upside down cross around her neck, opens a pyx, and places the wafer in her mouth. It is a Satanist Black Mass. Can Henderson, who is locked in a vicious shoot-out with Lefram, get back in time to save Elizabeth?

Set in Quebec, The Pyx is unabashedly Canadian, mixing English with a good deal of French dialogue. As a bilingual detective team, Plummer plays the tough Anglophone to Pilon's sympathetic Francophone. Unfortunately, while the main plot of The Pyx is fairly simple, it is not very focused. At two hours, the movie seems to take off in several different directions that don't have much to do with the murders. And even then, some questions about the murder are never really answered properly. This topic is handled much better in a very similar Quebec film, The Possession of Virginia.

Although it didn't live up to my expectations, The Pyx isn't necessarily a bad film. It boasts a great performance by Karen Black, but it never really rises past the level of ordinary.

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