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Book Review: They Came From Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema

Finding a new home for older material — This book review originally appeared on Canuxploitation in 2004. Full disclosure: I have known Caelum since about 2002, his book references Canuxploitation.com and Caelum has contributed to the site.

They Came From Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema
Caelum Vatnsdal, Arbeiter Ring Press (2004)

Out of all the sleazy genres that Canadian filmmakers have tackled over the last 50 years, none has been as tenacious as Canadian horror. Always controversial and rarely receiving critical approval, Canadian horror films have managed to survive the industry booms and busts to remain our b-movie genre of choice, far outnumbering the action, science fiction and comedy films clogging dusty video racks across the Great White North.

Strange then, that never before has anyone synthesized a complete history of our national nightmares caught on celluloid. It’s a conspicuous gap in our film criticism, especially given the popularity and abundance of Canadian horror films. Thankfully, Caelum Vatnsdal’s well-researched and often humorous new book, They Came From Within, finally sets the record straight on hoser horror—a revelation for Canadian film buffs and a wealth of information for horror fans.

Vatnsdal takes a chronological carnival ride tour of CanHorror, with a compelling portrait of Julian Roffman (The Mask, The Bloody Brood), Canada’s first reluctant schlock king, directly into the early CFDC years, highlighting obscurities like The Reincarnate and The Corpse Eaters. Slicing away at the tax shelter films and the undeniable influence of David Cronenberg, the book starts to incorporate interviews with notable film figures like William Fruet and Don Carmody before delving into the slasher flicks and the copious straight-to-video dreck of the early 1990s. No stone is left unturned: if it was made, you’ll find it mentioned—even if it has been lost forever. Care is always taken to connect our films to the larger horror picture, including a less useful but still interesting survey of Canadians who have found their way into creepy Hollywood cinema.

There’s a healthy respect for the material here, and even though Vatnsdal admits many of these films aren’t really any good by most critical standards, he does rightfully insist that they are at least “interesting.” Still, films like Black Christmas, The Changeling, and Videodrome aren’t celebrated as classics by horror fans around the world because they’re Canadian’they have retained their cults by proving to be well-made films, and that’s what the book really comes down to in the end.

Much of this information has never surfaced before, making this book a delight to paw through, even for a jaded Canadian b-film buff like myself—who knew there were so many custom vans in Canadian horror films? Also included are hundreds of black and white film stills and 14 full-colour pages, which highlight some of the better poster art of the genre. For fans of this site and Canadian film in general, this is an essential read!

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