Another exclusive Motion Picture Purgatory review from Rick Trembles. This time Rick turns his attention on the mind-control mafia action thriller ILSA, TIGRESS OF SIBERIA, in which Dyanne Thorne reprises her iconic role as the dour dominatrix who arrives in Quebec to take over the brothel biz. Shot in Montreal by Cinepix mainstay Jean LaFleur, Rick takes a look at the only ILSA instalment that we can truly call 100% Canadian:
While it’s becoming more common to see retrospective screenings of classic Canadian horror and cult films, the options for seeing contemporary Canadian horror in a theatre setting are few and far between. Fright Nights film programmer and Fangoria writer Kelly Michael Stewart is trying to change that with his latest screening series, The Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival. This three-day festival, happening this weekend at the Projection Booth-East, celebrates the best of today’s Canadian horror filmmaking, and will feature many directors and cast members in attendance. More details and advance tickets are available online. To get the lowdown on this new series, we talked to Kelly about getting local recognition for our homegrown talent, the importance of seeing these films in a theatre, and why Toronto is about to explode as a horror film capital of North America.
Why did you decide to start this series?
The Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival evolved out of my monthly Fright Nights film series that I’ve been hosting and programming at the Projection Booth for the past year. Fright Nights focuses on all types of horror films, but there has been amazing amount of genre/horror filmmaking to come out of Canada in the past few years. The feedback I received from filmmakers was that they were getting plenty of attention all around the world, but that they tended to be overlooked by the Canadian film festivals. This was interesting to me, because whenever I showed a Canadian film at Fright Nights it always drew bigger crowds than my non-Canadian programming.
So Blood in the Snow really came about from seeing a large hole in the marketplace that needed to be filled. Toronto in particular is a hotbed for horror talent right now. It reminds me very much of the Seattle music scene 20 years ago where it feels like things are about to explode.
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“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 founders of Ottawa’s Lost Dominion Screening Collective, Paul Gordon (who we interviewed last year) is dedicated to bringing forgotten, rarely-shown Canadian classics back to the big screen. A former projectionist at the Mayfair Theatre, Paul has helped put together three seasons of the Canadian Cult Revue, an ongoing series dedicated to the very same films we focus on at Canuxploitation. So far, this season of the Canadian Cult Revue has featured Budge Crawley’s AMANITA PESTILENS and EDDIE THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL. Next up is the early Canadian melodrama BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY on December 11 with later screenings coming up of the classic kiddie matinee MYSTERY OF THE MILLION DOLLAR HOCKEY PUCK and BIG MEAT EATER.
AMANITA PESTILENS, 1962
Directed by René Bonnière
This unusually compelling film is about one man’s obsession with creating “the perfect lawn.” Jacques Labrecque stars as champion lawn-grower Henri Martin, a man who struggles to balance the needs of his family with his own ambitions for horticultural achievement as he wages war against the insurgent mushrooms that threaten his immaculately manicured domain. The film manages the unusual feat of being both funny and suspenseful at the same time, treading a fine line of ominous hilarity perfectly conveyed by Labrecque. It feels somewhat as though Spanish surrealist master Luis Bunuel had wandered into the Montreal of the early 1960s and managed to tap into the cultural zeitgeist of discontent and change bubbling just under the surface of polite society.
Shot on location in Montreal and close to Ottawa at Harrington Lake in 1962 by director René Bonnière, AMANITA PESTILENS was the first fictional feature film produced by legendary Ottawa filmmaker F.R. “Budge” Crawley. It was also the first Canadian feature film produced in colour, and stands as the cinematic debut of Canadian acting queen Genevieve Bujold, who, in her role as rebellious daughter Sophie Martin, displays enough raw cinematic charisma to suggest that she was born for the movie screen.
The production has the added bonus of having captured images of La Belle Province at a time of great physical and social transformation. It contains numerous visual delights, including early 1960s fashion, wonderful old Montreal streetscapes, and the sight of shockingly new-looking highway interchanges. Special mention should go to Ottawa-based composer Larry Crossley for writing an excellent score, incorporating jazz, folk, and orchestral music, helping the film take on the scope of a much larger production.
Unfortunately, AMANITA PESTILENS never received a wide release. Festival screenings and the occasional TV appearance served to spread the legend, but the film has essentially been vault-bound for 50 years. We are proud to bring it back to the big screen, before it returns to dormancy like a mushroom spore waiting to re-emerge – hopefully sooner than the year 2062! Our screening is Nov. 27th at the Bytowne cinema in Ottawa. Film elements exists at Library and Archives Canada, including Interneg and optical neg so someday maybe a proper DVD or Blu-ray will be produced, currently this film is M.I.A.
CARRY ON, SERGEANT!, 1928
Directed by Bruce Bairnsfather
CARRY ON, SERGEANT! was shot at Trenton Studios in Ontario and in the surrounding countryside by British Director Bruce Bairnsfather, with legendary Canadian filmmaker Gordon Sparling working as his assistant director. With a budget of $500,000, it was the biggest-budget film produced in Canada up to that time. Much of that budget went to recreating WWI-era France, with sprawling sets and battlefield scenes featuring hundreds of extras.
The story follows a group of workers from Hamilton who join the army to fight in WWI, and the travails and temptations that befall them during the war. The film has excellent production values and presents a drama that may feel surprisingly modern to today’s audiences. Bairnsfather’s insistence on portraying the soldiers as flawed human beings resulted in some criticism from those who expected a straightforward glorification of Canada’s war effort. The main character has an affair with a French bar maid and dies on the battlefield. The veterans of the Great War were not impressed; in fact the whole subplot of the affair was edited out of the later version of the film.
Produced as a silent film just as theatres were transitioning to sound, it had only a brief run at the box office before it was removed from circulation in January 1929. It fell into obscurity for many years before Gordon Sparling donated a print to Library and Archives Canada, resulting in a complete restoration of the film, but there has never been a DVD release for the general public. The Lost Dominion Screening Collective is currently working on a DVD release for early next year with a new musical score. Currently this film is M.I.A.
We’re back again with another exclusive Motion Picture Purgatory review by legendary Montreal cartoonist Rick Trembles. Karen Black wears a sheer nightgown in the religious thriller THE PYX (AKA THE HOOKER CULT MURDERS), a film that played off both the Satanic film boom of the 1970s and Quebec’s Catholic backlash egged on by the Quiet Revolution. Shot in Montreal by one of the tax shelter era’s most prominent figures, Harvey Hart, this one just popped up on a nice widescreen DVD from Scorpion last year. Here’s Rick’s take on this mostly forgotten Canadian classic:
By now, anyone keeping up with us on social media probably has heard of The Black Museum, a new Toronto-based lecture series that we launched this fall with Andrea Subissati at the Projection Booth – East. For our final lecture on November 22, I’m going to be delivering a modified version of a course I taught last year at the Miskatonic Institute in Montreal on how real-life medical atrocities in Canada have had a profound effect on the themes of Canadian horror films. November 22 will be the first time I will be presenting the course in Toronto.
Here’s a still-relevant trailer for last year’s event, created by Blue Sunshine:
Tickets will be available at the door for $15, but you can also grab them online now for $12.