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CanFilm Five: BEAUTY DAY Director Jay Cheel

“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.

In addition to being the editor and founder of The Documentary Blog and is the co-host of the Film Junk Podcast, Jay Cheel is  is documentary filmmaker whose debut feature, BEAUTY DAY, was an official selection at the Hot Docs international film festival and was nominated for Best Documentary for the 2012 Genie Awards. Previously, Jay worked for video game developer Silicon Knights, where he directed the short film THE GOBLIN MAN OF NORWAY, a viral marketing film for the XBox 360 game TOO HUMAN. Jay is currently working on his next feature length documentary, HOW TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE about alleged time traveller John Titor, who claimed he was from the future in a series of internet posts in 2000, and you can help him raise funding!

In putting together this CanFilm Five, Jay realized many of his favourite Canadian films feature an unusual method in which evil or a specific threat is brought upon its characters. As a result, he picked his favourite “death delivery systems” that appear in Canadian films. 

PONTYPOOL (2008): Death via words.
Bruce MacDonald’s PONTYPOOL is probably one of my favourite horror films of the aughts. It’s a brilliant one-room thriller that’s like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD meets WAR OF THE WORLDS (Welles’ radio version) meets TALK RADIO. Stephen MacHattie is brilliant as rogue radio personality Grant Mazzy and the overall concept — a language virus — is really clever. It fits perfectly into this list as death via words.

THE GATE (1987): Death via heavy metal
The inclusion of The Gate on this list may be a bit of a cheat as the heavy metal album — Sacrifyx’s “The Dark Book” — isn’t singularly responsible for the release of evil upon the characters in the film, but it definitely plays a direct role in conjuring the critters from within the mysterious hole Glen (Stephen Dorff) finds in his backyard. I remember seeing THE GATE at the drive-in and being absolutely blown away by the — at the time — groundbreaking special effects and the odd mix of horror and comedy with a playful, kids adventure film. Not to mention, Louis Tripp (who plays heavy metal fan Terry) was from my home town, which had me mesmerized as a kid.

VIDEODROME (1983): Death via video
This is probably the most obvious choice on this list, but arguably the most appropriate. David Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME is strange, sexy, gross, and oddly prescient. The hallucinatory nature of the film adds up to some pretty crazy imagery that has gone on to define Cronenberg as a filmmaker (at least up until recently), and will likely remain imprinted in the viewers mind for years to come (like bad tube TV burn-in). I love Cronenberg’s take on Moses Znaimer and City TV, and the cable access/VHS culture strikes a particularly personal note for me (as seen in BEAUTY DAY!).

STRANGE BREW (1983): Death via beer
Alright, maybe “Death via beer” is stretching it a little, but Brewmeister Smith’s (Max Von Sydow) evil plot to take over the world is dependent upon brainwashing citizens via his tainted Elsinore beer. Yes, STRANGE BREW is a classic. I grew up watching this film over and over and absolutely LOVED it. It was always great seeing the CN Tower in the background of the shot when the MacKenzie brother’s van dives into Lake Ontario. And of course, most kids — including myself — who grew up with this film couldn’t help but be reminded of STAR WARS as soon as those black and white hockey players hit the ice (they also reminded me of The Beast’s foot soldiers in KRULL).

eXistenZ (1999): Death via video games
eXistenZ offers up more classic Cronenberg body-horror, working as a great companion piece with VIDEODROME. This time around, he focuses on video games, blurring reality and virtual reality in a film that’s probably more relevant now than it was at the time of its release (and possibly an influence on Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION). Maybe it’s a cheat to include two Cronenberg films on this list (especially two that are so similar), but they’re just too great to dismiss simply for being obvious choices. Also, with such a specific topic, I was quickly running out of options!

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  1. Benny Mommamellow says:

    We need your top 5 strange death delivery methods that were filmed in Canada by a director who was born on a Saturday that stared actors who all had the last name Beardsly, who owned stock in Furbys and Furby subsidiaries . AAAAAAND GO.

  2. Great idea for a list and great choices. I still love The Gate and Strange Brew and watch them every chance I get.

    I can’t fault you for having two Cronenberg entries, given the very narrow niche category.

  3. Canuxploitation! says:

    Just wanted to note that we allow the contributor to select their own topic–our only stipulation is that it be a little more specific than “my top 5 favourites” because otherwise all the lists might end up looking the same!