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CanFilm Five: Severin and Intervision DVD Czar Evan Husney

“CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics and programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

One of the faces behind beloved cult labels Severin Films and Intervision Picture Corporation, Evan has been helping to acquire and release many exciting cult and B-movie titles, including the recent DVD release of THINGS. An aficionado and champion of shot-on-video horror trash, outsider movies and other filmic weirdness, Evan serves up his list of five Canuxploitation rarities that you don’t want to miss. 

Evan HusneyEvan: Rather than compiling a list of my absolute favorite Canuxploitation films, which would be just an uninteresting assault of every early Cronenberg work and perhaps the mega-surreal 3-D nightmare THE MASK, I thought I’d spotlight some of Canada’s weirder offbeat curios, which really get to the heart of my recent fixation with forgotten cinema from the North.

After my first exposure to Canadian tax shelter films, I realized there was a whole world of great, virtually unseen English-language films where concept trumps commercial viability. And I hope you like the thrill of the hunt, because all the films presented in my list are unavailable on DVD.


1. SUDDEN FURY (1975)

INTENSITY! On paper, the film’s premise seems pure film noir, and one might imagine it as a steamrolling 1940s crime sleeper. Instead, SUDDEN FURY is a mean, sweaty slice of ‘70s car-claustrophobia (reminiscent of Bava’s RABID DOGS in a way), and it really rolls with the punches. Pathetic, lame, jerky Fred tries to convince Janet, his all-too-smart wife, to invest in a crooked land scheme, but he miserably fails to impress. A cozy drive through rural Ontario turns into a heated argument when the defeated, completely psychotic Fred realizes his wife has been unfaithful (and for good reason–Fred sucks!). Suddenly, Fred loses control and their car violently crashes, leaving a bloody Janet trapped in mangled metal, hanging helplessly upside-down in the overturned car. Fred manages to escape relatively unscathed and, realizing he would become Janet’s beneficiary, flees the scene hoping his wife won’t last the night. But when a passerby finds Janet hurt and desperately tries to save her, Fred realizes he cannot let this happen! This is where SUDDEN FURY kicks into high gear and becomes a brutal, helpless game of cat and mouse through the Ontario backwoods. A must, must see – but good luck finding it, it’s not on VHS or DVD!

2. NATURAL ENEMIES (1978)

NATURAL ENEMIES is a cold, pitch-black day in the life of a man preparing to do the unspeakable — a film you might not expect from REVENGE OF THE NERDS director Jeff Kanew. The opening shot sets the film’s persistently grim tone — Paul Steward (played flawlessly by Hal Holbrook) stares contemplatively out a window. Queue a stark voiceover: “Today is the day I kill…” followed by the names of his three children, wife and, finally, himself. His wife (played by the great Louise Fletcher, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST’s Nurse Ratchet), hasn’t fully recovered from a recent mental breakdown and is oblivious to the severity of the impending doom. We follow Steward through his daily routine from one despairing set piece to the next as he contemplates his dark thoughts. His friends and family detect something severe brooding beneath the surface, including a sequence with his friend, a Holocaust survivor, offering consultation moments after a mentally-freeing lunch break orgy at a nearby brothel. Watertight script, earnestly directed, and crushingly bleak, NATURAL ENEMIES is begging to be rediscovered.

3. DEADLINE (1981)

Stephen Lessey (played by Stephen Young) is a controversial but very successful mass-market horror author whose works have been adapted in to many gruesome films. But, at home, his life is  crumbling  his wife is a self-destructive cokehead and he resents his children. He is a cold man heavily burdened by the pressures of an ever-growing conservative public that protests his work, agents barking about deadlines and a family in need. Following a family tragedy caused by his own neglect, Lessey eventually hits his breaking point  and his life hurdles into a downward spiral of bizarro, violent hallucinations based on his own horrific creations: a homicidal telepathic goat, organ devouring nuns, Nazi punks destined to rule the globe, and much more. Like in NATURAL ENEMIES, we witness another unfortunate figure unraveling before our eyes, but the delivery couldn’t be more different. DEADLINE frenetically weaves passages of familial horror and surreal nightmarescapes that criticize the portrayal of violence in the media. I’m not sure if DEADLINE is technically “good,” but it’s dripping with intense imagery and is perhaps the most uncomfortable horror film of its era – not because it’s scary, because it’s just plain wrong.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQvoxtYRFzI

4. THE TOWER (1985)

THE TOWER is not a good movie by any means, but the concept at play here is one of Canuxploitation’s very best and most interesting. Shot on video and produced by the shamefully low-budget direct-to-TV outfit Emmeritus Productions, The Tower centres on a computerized building that is programmed to harvest the energy of its inhabitants and use that power to heat the building, among other things. The lo-fi HAL-like computer, complete with a monotonous voiceover and 8bit POV shots, goes haywire when it learns that it can increase effeciency by sucking peoples’ entire life energy through its electrical sockets. I assume that the director’s criticism of technology and the 1980s energy conservation movement was severely diluted by a producer who favored boobs, bikinis, bird-nest perms, and lots of talking scenes which, sadly, eat up most of the film’s duration. See it for its high concept alone and appreciate it as one of the only true sci-fi SOVs. The film’s director, Jim Makichuk (GHOSTKEEPER), told me this about his inspiration for the film: “I lived in Calgary for awhile and there was a building that actually used the heat from humans to help make power. I thought that, what if not only did it take heat from us, what if it took our feelings, anger, love and hate. And of course, like humans, the more it got, the more it wanted.”

5. SCIENCE CRAZED (1991?)

WHAT THE FUCK? No, really!? Okay, so we have an evil doctor injecting some fluids into a woman who eventually gives birth to a creature wearing an extreme weather mask, white polo shirt (with a single nipple hole cut out) and gremlin ears. Great. Now take that character, give him some post-sync simian grunting and insert him in a series of endless hallway sequences (mostly shots of his feet dragging though) and intercut that with someone, presumably at the end of the hall, who will eventually be killed off-screen in about 20 minutes. Repeat this formula six times and there you have it — the term “loopy” has a double meaning here. Although SCIENCE CRAZED  is shot on film(!), it has the sensibilities of a demented SOV and it’s the closest an SOV “horror” movie can be to a pure avant-garde audio/visual experience. The film is clearly a race to 87 minutes for the film’s producers, who bravely stretched 20 minutes of footage to feature length at the edit bay and never looked back. I can safely say this film contains the most awkward and strange “all-filler-no-killer” of any horror film I’ve ever seen. Get your friends together!!

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  1. BTSjunkie says:

    I’m going to watch all of these ASAP. Well except for THE TOWER. I’ve seen that one. 🙂 I’ll watch SCIENCE CRAZED again gladly, though!!!

  2. Shade Rupe says:

    I’ve always loved Deadline. I spoke to the filmmaker once and he disappeared back into the ether… Roberts has a copy of Sudden Fury: http://www.robertsvideos.com/product.php3?invid=66827&ref=/browse.php3

  3. Robert says:

    Love, love, love SUDDEN FURY and seeing it recognized at the top o’ the heap puts a smile on my face. Made for peanuts and still managing to get theatrical distribution in Canada by Famous Players the movie is a testament to Brian Damude’s abilities as a director for engineering such a satisfying suspense thriller. CBC gave it prominent airings at least twice in the late 1970s, and it appeared on television numerous times after that. It was released to video in Europe and Australia, but not in North America. Some smart specialty label should put it out. Co-star Gay Rowan even discusses the film on the DVD of THE GIRL IN BLUE.

  4. Robert says:

    Evan, I sent you an email via the Intervision website with the contact info I have for Brian Damude. Hopefully it helps get the ball rolling!

  5. sam says:

    I have a copy of sudden death on vhs if anyone is interested in buying it… 🙂

  6. Those obscure titles all look worth searching for(and unearthing),mainly SUDDEN FURY,considering that the lead in that film resembles Chuck Norris(as if he was playing an unstable villain).