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Our New Christmas Horror Book Covers Canadian Classics

Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television is the latest book from Canadian micro-publisher Spectacular Optical, a publishing company I’m involved with along with House of Psychotic Women author Kier-La Janisse. We’re currently accepting pre-orders for this unique and comprehensive anthology which covers the fascinating history of the darkside of holiday entertainment from Scrooge to killer Santas to Krampus. These are published only in limited quantities, and are available at Indiegogo.

Canada has always had their hand in bleak Christmas movies, and our forthcoming book prominently features several titles that Canadian film fans will appreciate. With approximately 20 chapters by established and upcoming writers as well as more than 200 capsule reviews, the book including pieces on Black Christmas (by Nightmare USA author Stephen Thrower–you can read an excerpt here), as well as featured writing on The Brain, Silent Night, Petit Pow! Pow! Noël, The Silent Partner, and A Christmas Horror Story.

Along with familiar contributing authors like Thrower, Kim Newman and Michael Gingold, the book also includes other writers who have helped with Canuxploitation over the years, including Motion Picture Purgatory reviewer Rick Trembles, Ralph Elawani and Caelum Vatnsdal (also of They Came From Within: A History Of Canadian Horror Cinema fame).

We’ve got lots of pre-order perks available, including copies of our previous books Kid Power! and Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema Of Jean Rollin, plus Blu-rays from Vinegar Syndrome, stuff from Mondo and Death Waltz, Xmas cards designed by Gary Pullin and Rick Trembles among others and also this unique item perfect for the Canuxploitation buff:

There’s only a week or so left to get a copy, so reserve yours to ensure a very unhappy holiday!

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Motion Picture Purgatory: LITTLE DEVILS: THE BIRTH (1993)

Move over Munchies, take a hike Critters, and get lost Ghoulies! Canada entered the mini-monster sweepstakes with its own late addition to the 1980s mini-fad with LITTLE DEVILS: THE BIRTH, a UK co-production about gooey gargoyles on a killing spree in Toronto. Rick Trembles‘ latest Motion Picture Purgatory delves into the sordid, low budget story that was shot by visiting Rawhead Rex auteur George Pavlou. (Psst! You can grab your own copy of the mostly forgotten film from Shivers Entertainment). Also, don’t forget to check out Rick’s latest animated project, Building 108! Rick sez:

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Motion Picture Purgatory: BEING DIFFERENT (1981)

Surely the closest thing to a “mondo” movie that Canada ever produced, the exploitive human oddities documentary BEING DIFFERENT, (also just released on Blu-ray!), purports to capture the “soaring human spirit,” but is more convincing as a portrait of the twilight era of sideshow attractions, as the culture moved away from disabled performers to focus on “self-made” freaks and performers, such as sword swallowers, fire eaters and extreme body modification enthusiasts. That doesn’t make the film any less fascinating though, as Rick Trembles uncovers in his latest Motion Picture Purgatory. Rick sez:

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Motion Picture Purgatory: HIGHPOINT (1982)

RITUALS director Peter Carter and screenwriter Ian Sutherland re-teamed a few years after their classic Canuck backwoods horror entry to give everyone the sluggish Hitchcockian comedy thriller they didn’t know they wanted. The wildly convoluted HIGHPOINT (1982), based almost entirely around a last-minute eye-popping stunt, was temporarily shelved and subject to reshoots. Still, as Rick Trembles covers in his latest Motion Picture Purgatory, it’s probably the only place you can see Christopher Plummer and Richard Harris face off on top of one of Canada’s biggest tourist attractions. Rick sez:

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New on Blu: CATHY’S CURSE Review

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One of the most widely seen tax shelter horror films will get a much needed upgrade when Severin Films unleashes their Blu-ray of CATHY’S CURSE on April 11. A fixture in public domain horror sets, this France/Canada co-production has only been available in faded, scratched and choppy versions–at least until this new release, which will give both fans and detractors reason to revisit the film to see what they’ve been missing out on all these years.

The first Canadian-shot film from French director Eddy Matalon, CATHY’S CURSE is an unabashed rip-off of child possession films like The Exorcist and The Omen, only in this case young Cathy (Randi Allen) is possessed by the spirit of Laura, her father’s sister, who died in a fiery car accident when she was just a girl. Cathy begins carrying around a creepy doll that once belonged to Laura, and talking with a spooky portrait painting with glowing green eyes. Ignoring warnings from a local psychic (Mary Morter), the family is taken aback when vases start exploding, people fall out of windows and Cathy’s poor mother is sent to a mental institution as Laura turns everyone’s life into a living hell.

Shot on the cheap in Montreal in the winter of 1976, the film isn’t quite as accomplished as some of the other Canadian horror films being made at this point during the tax shelter era. Laden with awkward dialogue, a confusing storyline and limited locations, CATHY’S CURSE nevertheless has a few charms which have only really become apparent on this new release. For the first time, you’ll be able to catch the fully uncut 90-minute version (an 82-minute US cut is also here, for completists) and the vibrant new 1.85:1 transfer really opens up the film–shots no longer feel cramped and confined, and the sometimes colourful scenes help perk up the action and restore the film’s much needed visual interest (especially for fans of gaudy ’70s wallpaper). In other words, it finally looks like a real movie, rather than something pirated off of late-night TV. Set largely in and around a snowy estate, with a handful of shots in chilly downtown Montreal, the film also now has a similar atmosphere and feel to other Canadian tax shelter productions like The Uncanny or  Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia.

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It’s amazing that a proper transfer can have such a profound effect on the viewing experience, and while I still won’t concede that CATHY’S CURSE is a forgotten masterpiece, this release at least tries to make a case for it. Seen with fresh eyes, the film’s minimal but occasionally bloody FX have a simple, DIY charm, and some of the nuances of the performances–especially from Allen–are now apparent. Though a few of the actors seem to have conflicting ideas about what the film’s tone is supposed to be, they still manage to work together and even generate a little sympathy for these characters, who really are a the mercy of the ghost that has taken over their little girl.

Severin’s release is topped off with a nice smattering of extra features. In a 20-minute interview shot in France, Matalon discusses some of his FX work and the challenges of shooting in Quebec during the tax shelter era. Now an adult, Randi Allen also appears in a separate featurette to talk about her experiences working on the film, along with her mother, who was the film’s costume designer. Together they share some nice memories and part of a scrapbook that includes vintage newspaper articles and advertising for the film. Finally, there’s an enthusiastic fan commentary from critic Brian Collins and filmmaker Simon Barrett, and Collins appears again giving an introduction to the film at the American Cinematheque centered on his personal viewing experience. It all rounds out a welcome and eye-opening release worthy of possession.

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