The Staff Picks Shelf — Summer of VHS

As every movie buff knows, the best way to enjoy a season of beautiful weather is to hide in the basement with the drapes shut, popping VHS tape after VHS tape into an ancient top-loading VCR. In celebration of this special, especially sweaty time of the year, we asked some of our resident contributors here at Canuxploitation.com to tell us what their favourite tape is to curl up with on an uncomfortably humid summer evening.

What better Canuxploitation flick to celebrate 2012’s sweltering summer than THE HEATWAVE LASTED FOUR DAYS? Riding a wave of rear-guard feature film investment by the National Film Board in the pivotal tax shelter year of 1974, Doug Jackson’s film achieves a fascinating balance of old-school social realist values and film noir cynicism. Heading an archetypal Canadian cast, Gordon Pinsent’s rowdy cameraman is a perfect noir shmoe — cynical, greedy, philandering, and in way over his head as he tangles with ulcerous escaped con Lawrence Dane, down-to-earth femme fatale Alexandra Stewart, nice guy boss Al Waxman, and the great Jon Granik as the elusive Mr. Big.

Set in the thick of another seasonal scorcher, Jackson’s script is terse and compact, and his direction teases some impressive details out of an entertainingly cheesy, macramé-owl 1970s milieu. And yet, the film’s flat documentary-style cinematography, plus the laid-back performance habits of the cast, turn this into a viewing experience more DRYLANDERS than DETOUR — human-scale not mythic, trading in existential despair for a stealth moralism. And speaking of cheese, how about Ben Low’s folkie-strummy Greek chorus of a soundtrack, too Canadian by half. Out of such cultural conundrums, in this case, arises a very fun night of summer cinema, perfect backyard fare for the slumming cultural nationalist.

During summers in the Mott household, I did everything I could to avoid going outside and begged and borrowed (but never stole—that would be bad) to get the cash I needed to rent tapes from the local Video Station. At a certain point (which—purely coincidentally—occurred at the same time the family’s old VCR found its way into my bedroom) my selection criteria had less and less to do with finding quality entertainment, as it did find anything that might prominently feature naked ladies in it.

In those pre-Internet days, this was often a crapshoot, so certain tapes that delivered in this area were rented more than once. Of these, none was rented more than SCREWBALLS—the Roger Corman produced PORKY’S rip-off that I vastly preferred over the original. Even at that age, I recognized it as being highly dubious in actual entertainment value, but in terms of naked ladies, it delivered in ways that made my heart soar (among other physical reactions). Though I probably only actually watched it all the way through once during all that time, I found that I remembered it virtually scene-for-scene when I picked up the DVD a couple years back.

Now, that’s my idea of a perfect Canadian summer VHS title.

As a Texan there are few things I dread more than the brutal Summer heat. When this time rolls around, I usually cool off with a cold brew and my favorite Canadian slice of incomprehensibility, SCIENCE CRAZED. There are few experiences more refreshing than sitting in an air-conditioned room and watching legs move through a hallway for 45 minutes. Many VHS-era titles specialized in the “all filler, no killer” approach to filmmaking, but SCIENCE CRAZED elevates it to an art in a way that will redefine all your accepted notions of what is/isn’t a movie. In place of character development or complex plotting we are given a mix of slasher conventions, indelicately recycled footage, and otherworldly post-dubbed dialogue. The result is the most singular and fascinating motion picture I’ve ever had the opportunity to lay eyes on. Other recommended seasons for viewing SCIENCE CRAZED: Spring, Autumn, Winter.

Having myself just returned from a mini mid-summer departure where I spent plenty time being the ball and put up the Donkey Kong high score at a Regina Saskatchewan arcade, PINBALL SUMMER hits the nostalgic bull’s-eye and wins my Summer of VHS trophy. The only thing that could (and still can) tear me away from those ol’ horror or raunchy comedy video store value racks in the middle of the sweltering prairie sun would be a trip to the corner store for a little Double Dragon action.

When pretty cheerleaders, delicious, unhealthy grub, campfire light and an authentic combo of all my favourite hobbies isn’t even enough; Germain Gauthier’s iconic synthesized rock masterpiece theme song brings the film full circle with the catchiest tune ever to roll during the opening credits of a teen comedy. While modern home video hasn’t been kind to this upbeat summer pinball tournament adventure, I always welcome my worn tape-quality copy to “just come as you are” and remind me exactly what the true spirit of summer is all about!

For me, summer isn’t complete without a viewing of the 1980 slasher, PROM NIGHT. Starring a pre-NAKED GUN Leslie Nielsen and scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, the film is a great summer fright flick in that it takes one of the pivotal summer experiences for North American teenagers, the high school prom, and turns it into a night of terror.

The first time I saw PROM NIGHT was in February 1981, when it made its network television debut. The broadcast premieres of HALLOWEEN and THE FOG were still several months away, so it was PROM NIGHT that put me on the road to becoming a big Jamie Lee Curtis fan. The film would be a television staple during the ’80s, and I’d find myself watching it whenever stations like WUTV Buffalo 29 would show it. Later, I’d go on to buy it on VHS, then DVD, where I’d play it once a year on a warm, summer night. I still find myself doing that.

Over the years, PROM NIGHT has been referred to a HALLOWEEN rip-off and criticized for its polyester fashions and disco music (some of which I quite happen to like, by the way). It may not be the best movie ever made, but I love it to death. And the fact that it’s still one of the better-known Canuck horrors is a testament to how entertaining it is.


Cinepix’s Unseen Poster Collection Going On Display

Dave Alexander’s “If They Came From Within” art show isn’t the only movie poster exhibit happening right now at Fantasia–when you finish checking out fictional Canadian horror films at Cinematheque Quebecoise, head over to BBAM! Gallery for a glimpse at the real deal, on display now through August 20. BBAM! curator Ralph Alfonso, in partnership with Greg Dunning, Cinepix founder John Dunning’s son, have put together a unique look at some of the movie memorabilia treasures in Dunning’s vast archives. Featuring rare posters including B-movie gems from around the globe, Cinepix’s own cult classics and even commissioned artwork  for films that Dunning never managed to make, it’s a wonderful chance to take a look at some of our genre film roots and support a great cause. 

In anticipation of the exhibition’s opening party at 4pm on July 27 at BBAM!, We talked to Ralph Alfonso and Greg Dunning about what to expect.

How did this exhibit come together?

RA: The exhibit came about because we have the late John Dunning’s vinyl LP collection for sale on consignment on behalf of his estate. Greg and I were going over those details and started talking, and I asked about posters and memorabilia. Greg said that although a lot of material had gone to the Cinematheque Quebecoise and other archives, there was still a lot of personal stuff from his dad’s collection. John kept copies of everything so it’s astounding just how much material there is and how extensive Cinepix was in its distribution.

We agreed having a cool exhibition would be a great fit for us since we’re a rock ‘n’ roll pop culture gallery. When I contacted Kier-la Janisse to talk about getting her involved, I mentioned that there were also some posters available for movies that Cinepix never made. She then turned me on to the Fantasia Festival and “If They Came From Within.” After some back and forth and meeting Dave Alexander in Toronto at NXNE  it all came together. It’s amazing how it all worked out. I owe it all to Kier-la for connecting us — it was really fortuitous timing!


Do you have any insight as to why John Dunning kept this wealth of movie memorabilia over the years?

GD: My dad was a packrat, but there’s another, more interesting reason. John’s father (Samuel John, but known as “Micky” in the biz) was owner/operator of the Park, 5th Avenue, and Century theatres in Verdun. S.J. died unexpectedly in 1944 and my dad, at 17, had to take over the running of the three theatres–this was his “official” baptism by fire in the business, starting in exhibition. In the early ’50s when TV came, grosses at the theatres dropped cataclysmically, and ultimately my dad repurposed the buildings or sold them.

S.J. kept all the original posters that came from MGM (directly from Louis B. Mayer himself, since he had Norma Shearer on contract and the actress lived across the street from S.J. on Roslyn, in Westmount) and the other studios that would provide him with product. These were not cheap reproductions since the technology didn’t at the time for mass printing. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of silent film posters (Chaplin, DW Griffiths, Fritz Lang, etc.), posters from the first talkies, and more. Well, when the theatres were being closed and the basements had to be cleaned out, John’s mother just threw everything out and had everything burned. Today, what was in that basement would be worth millions today. My dad never forgot that incident and he still could barely talk about even last year without getting emotional. So from that day on, he kept everything–and I mean everything. My new job is inventorying, cataloging, and finding a new home for his archive.

What’s the your favourite poster for a Canadian film that you’ll be displaying?

RA: Absolutely EAST END HUSTLE — it’s the quintessential 1970s exploitation poster. It’s pretty much perfect in every way: tag line, fonts, design, photo (yay! Montreal streets and skyline). It was in a special container that John Dunning had marked as “historical”.

What did you give to the “If They Came From Within” show?

RA: Again, this was hooked up and facilitated via Kier-la. We contributed seven posters to the show, the centrepiece of which is an amazing original painting by the same artist who did all the ILSA posters (Alain Thomas, although at the time I submitted the poster, I thought it was either Basil Gogos or John Duilio). The painting was originally commissioned for a movie called THE JECKYLL LIGHT (never made) and showed a ship run aground and a bikini clad woman and ship’s crew being attacked by baboon men! The painting was then revised to change the baboons into zombies for a new project called FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (also never made). That painting was framed and hung in John Dunning’s office alongside all the ILSA paintings.

The other posters for unmade Cinepix films we found in a promo book that was sent to studios and investors in hopes of raising money and partnerships to finance a series of horror/SF features: VORTEX, ALIEN ASSAULT, ERUPTION, and my personal favourite… VAMPIRE BIKERS.

These were mini glossy posters with a plot outline and “film stills” on the other side. The original files can’t be found so we scanned these professionally and blew them up to mini-poster size. Final scripts exist for all of these porjects and I believe Greg is still pursuing trying to get these made or maybe create graphic novels. We will have mini-posters for sale at BBAM! Gallery of all of these unmade films.

I understand the posters on display are going to be available for sale, correct?

RA: Every single poster is for sale and in many instances we have multiple copies. There are some really amazing things: Russ Meyer’s MOTORPSYCHO, DEEP THROAT II, WRESTLING QUEEN, CANNIBAL GIRLS, EUGENIE DE SADE. A lot are European (German, Italian, French) and gigantic (63″ x 47″). This show is obviously geared for the Fantasia crowd but the archives are vast and there is lots we aren’t showing including a trove of press books (both domestic and foreign), and a ton of  humorous  ’70s  porno posters. Maybe in the spring or later in the fall we can do another show.

I understand that the money raised in the show will be used to establish a trust for filmmakers. Can you tell me a little more about that?

GD: When you talk to anyone that worked with my father they will tell you that he was nice, honest, generous, and inspirational. He was twice that as a father. He believed that if you are not forgotten then your life was not wasted. I met recently with Fantasia president Pierre Corbeil and mentioned this objective. We both agreed that the best way to create a legacy for John would be to sponsor a meaningful annual cash award at Fantasia. I think that if Fantasia had existed during the Cinepix production years that it would have been the natural venue for Cinepix premieres. Secondly, Cinepix was a Montreal institution, like Fantasia has become, so it is the right place for his legacy to reside.




Q&A — If They Came From Within Poster Artist Eric Robillard

As we noted last week, a very special art show is set to premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival this year. Rue Morgue Magazine editor-in-chief and occasional Canuxploitation contributor (and personal friend) Dave Alexander has developed “If They Came From Within: An Alternative History of Canadian Horror Movies,” a unique travelling exhibit that pairs well-known Canadian directors with artists to create concepts and artwork for Canadian horror films that weren’t made but should have been. As one of the sponsors of the program, we here at Canuxplotiation were immediately taken with the sheer creativity of the posters that will mark the show’s opening at Montreal’s Cinémathèque Québécoise on July 20, 2012 at 5:00PM, and its thrilling to see the filmmakers and directors further mythologizing the Canadian horror genre by imagining the kinds of films that Canadians could of made if they were allowed to. It’s a great conversation starter and a tribute to the way homegrown horror is continuing to break out on the international stage.

Amongst the talented individuals participating in the project is Eric Robillard, a movie buff and graphic designer who has been involved directly in the movie industry for the past 15 years, creating close to 100 movie posters, DVD sleeves and newspaper ads for films. Eric started in the business in 1996 and worked at Alliance and Remstar before starting Kinos in 2003,  the only independent design studio specializing in the film industry in Quebec. In addition to working with clients like eOne, Seville Pictures, Anchor Bay, Remstar Films and TVA Film, Eric notes that Kinos has begun to work with some American studios on DVD art and hopes to eventually work on posters for the U.S. market. Eric created three posters for the project–THE MUMMY SPEAKS, LA MORT DU CANADA, and RED, WHITE & BLUE SUNSHINE (which has yet to be revealed).

Why did you get involved in this project?

I agreed to participate in Dave’s IF IT CAME FROM WITHIN poster art project because it’s a great way to showcase the talents of Canadian designers. As you know, movie poster design is mostly an anonymous art–some people  have a movie poster on the wall of their house, home theatre or office, but even then they may never know who actually created it. For me, working on IF IT CAME FROM WITHIN was a great opportunity to get out of the shadows a little bit.

What is the difference between creating a poster for an actual film and an “imaginary” film?

Doing a poster for an imaginary films is SO much easier because there’s no clients (laughs)!  I had complete control when I was putting together the three posters I did, it was purely my vision of the film–not the producer or the marketing team. It was a bit tricky to find all the images I needed to compose the posters, but these days with image banks you can find almost anything you need to get the job done. If I could, I would only work on creating art for imaginary films–too bad there’s not much money to be made without real clients!

You did three posters for the project, all of very different styles and from different eras. How difficult was it to design for very different time periods?

It was a challenge. LA MORT DU CANADA, which is actually supposed to be from the future, was the easiest because it’s closer to what I usually do, but the THE MUMMY SPEAKS, which was from the 1940s, and RED, WHITE & BLUE SUNSHINE, which was done in a 1980s style, were more difficult. Good thing the internet is full of reference material! The technology we have now gives us the power to create a perfect image, but in the ’40s and ’80s it was all done by hand, so the challenge was not to create a perfect poster, but to match the style of those eras. To do that I had to purposely cut some corners to make the images less “computer perfect”– I was not used to working that way.

Part of this project is re-imagining Canada’s film history. Did you try to put in any specifically Canadian elements into your posters?

No, I really approached creating the posters for these imaginary Canadian horror films in the same way as I do all my posters: I just made the best image I could. I did not try to make it more or less Canadian, but rather I tried to create a poster that was as real as possible that also did justice to the great ideas the directors I worked with had put in their outlines.

Did you have a favourite poster to work on?

I actually like all of the posters I did, but for different reasons. For THE MUMMY SPEAKS,  the challenge of making a 1940s poster was really cool for me, and the end result is a poster that’s very funny. I would definitely watch that film if it was real, it looks so silly and fun. I also love the image for RED, WHITE & BLUE SUNSHINE. This poster reminds me of the films I used to watch as a teenager, like ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK or THE TERMINATOR. I think this poster would make for great VHS cover art too. For LA MORT DU CANADA, I really like the decay and the rubble, plus the flag is a very strong political statement. And a good post-apocalyptic film is always cool, too!

For all the latest on “If They Came From Within,” including previews of more of the posters for imaginary Canadian horror classics, like the project’s Facebook page.


Canuxploitation Presents: Summer of VHS

For many, beautiful weather and long lazy days meant only one thing–the chance to swing by the local video rental store and walk out with as many 99 cent week-long VHS rentals as you could carry. Those days may be gone, but their spirit certainly lives on, which is why we here at Canuxploitation will be attempting to relive our misspent youths by offering up some VHS-centric reviews and blog features all summer long. We’ve got a great review line-up of obscure, VHS-era movies headed your way over the next two months, starting with today’s post of PSYCHO PIKE, a Canadian film thought completely lost for 20 years. So keep checking back for a variety of new 1980s and early ’90s rarities, with the added bonus that you don’t need to adjust your tracking or kindly rewind when you’re finished reading.


Cathode Ray Mission: LINGO (1987-88)

CanTV expert Cameron Archer navigates the often inhospitable landscape of Canadian television for the CATHODE RAY MISSION, our regular blog column that highlights some of Canadian television’s most offbeat offerings.

LINGO(Global/syndicated, 1987-88) is, at first glance, a footnote in the history of Canadian game shows that featured a format later became successful elsewhere. While not as fondly remembered as BUMPER STUMPERS (Global/USA Network, 1987-90), or THE NEW CHAIN REACTION (Global/USA Network, 1986-91), however, the show’s initial run serves as a warning to both American production companies and Canadian game shows.

One might think LINGO is just five letters and bingo. If it was, I wouldn’t make a Canuxploitation article out of it. 

The Basic (B-A-S-I-C) Formula

I refer to Wikipedia and Chuck Donegan’s Illustrious Game Show Page for full LINGO details. In essence, LINGO is bingo, with five-letter words forming the crux of the game. It’s a show best explained by actually watching an episode.

Michael Reagan, the adopted son of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, hosted for the majority of LINGO‘s run. Reagan lasted from September 28, 1987 to February 21, 1988. Officially, Reagan left to promote his book, ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN. In reality, Reagan had a contract dispute with Ralph Andrews Productions, prompting Ralph Andrews to take over hosting duties for LINGO‘s final five weeks.

On-camera announcer Dusty Martell left with Reagan. Margaux MacKenzie became the new announcer, until LINGO dropped out of first run.

The Backgrounder

LINGO was one of many 1980s game shows filmed in Canada, but meant for an American audience. This list includes BUMPER STUMPERS, THE NEW CHAIN REACTION, JACKPOT, the 1980-81 LET’S MAKE A DEAL, PITFALL (syndicated, 1981-82), THE NEW LIAR’S CLUB (Global/syndicated, 1988-89), LOVE ME, LOVE ME NOT (Global/USA Network, 1986-87), THE LAST WORD (Global/syndicated, 1989-90), SUPER PAY CARDS! (CTV/syndicated, 1981-82; CTV, 1973-75 as PAY CARDS!), and SPLIT SECOND (syndicated, 1986-87).

For a game based on five-letter words and bingo, LINGO works well on television, and has many revivals and international versions to its credit. America is most familiar with GSN’s 2002-07 and 2011- versions. LINGO is big in The Netherlands — its version began in 1989, and continues to this day. Quebec’s version, hosted by Paul Houde, aired on Radio-Canada from 1998-2001.

The 1987-88 LINGO promised decent prize money for a Canadian game show — up to $112,000 — and the set looked nice and big, in the manner of 1980s game shows. Compared to efforts like BUMPER STUMPERS, JACKPOT (Global/USA Network, 1985-88), and THE NEW CHAIN REACTION, LINGO was a rarity — a Canadian game show with a solid concept, and decent prize money.

Co-hosts/announcers Dutch Martell and Margaux MacKenzie were eye candy, meant to satisfy Canadian content regulations. This was a quirk of Canadian game shows — if the host wasn’t Canadian, a co-host was tacked on, and given camera time. Martell and MacKenzie weren’t terrible at their jobs, but it’s not like they had much to do beyond sponsor plugs.

Let’s Watch (W-A-T-C-H)

A clip from the first episode. It’s the first trip to the bonus round, or “No Lingo Round.” Since this is the first episode, the rules are explained in detail. Reagan isn’t a bad host, while Martell’s delivery is stilted. The board and the words are generated by a Commodore Amiga.

The second clip, near the beginning of the 65th episode. A team tries for $16,000 in the No Lingo Round. The 65th episode is where many North American affiliates jumped off the LINGO train.

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