The State of Canuxploitation

Now that Canuxploitation.com’s new redesign–our seventh(!)–is live and the new blog is up, I wanted to kick things off right with a look at the site’s long and not-so-sordid history. Only a handful of dedicated movie buffs were familiar with the site when it first appeared 12 long years ago and, as “canuxploitation” itself has since become a cultural notion apart from my usage, it seems like the perfect time to take stock of the evolution of the site and the idea since 1999.

Goin’ Up The Road

The word “canuxploitation” hit me out of the blue in 1999. Already a devoted fan of cult and offbeat films with a growing VHS collection, I was thinking one day about some of the Canadian B-movies I enjoyed–particularly THE MASK and CANNIBAL GIRLS–and how they were almost their own unique subgenre–like blaxploitation. And, just like that, the portmanteau formed in my mind. I thought it was kind of funny, but didn’t give it too much thought.

I had been reading lots of great cult film books back then, such as Roger Corman’s biography, the MONDO MACABRO book (which surely played a role in my thinking at the time) and RE/SEARCH’s INCREDIBLY STRANGE FILMS. I kind of assumed that libraries were stocked with similar books that discussed Canadian tax shelter films in detail and could supply me with a few more titles to check out. I was first surprised to discover that there were no such books, and then again when I found that any mention of these films by Canadian critics was extremely broad and largely derogatory.

I knew this was a niche ripe for exploration, but there was more to it–I also felt a new perspecitve could possibly change the average Canadian’s perspective on homegrown cinema. Discussion of earnest, critic-approved arthouse fare still dominates our film culture, but I was sure most Canadians would be more willing to give, say, BLACK CHRISTMAS a try rather than I’VE HEARD THE MERMAIDS SINGING. I realized that accessible genre films, no matter the subjective “quality,” could be a entryway for Canadians to authentically enjoy national cinema without feeling like they were being subjected to nasty spoonfuls of cough syrup.

HTML Nightmare

This all came at the perfect time–I had been self-publishing zines since I was a teenager but, feeling burnt out on the small press scene, was looking for a new writing project that could be posted online. So the first thing I did was to go through both PSYCHOTRONIC movie guides and copy out the titles of all the Canadian films I could find. Armed with this master list, I headed to the video store, brought home a haul of tapes, and started some simplisitic reviews.

The resulting site, which I dubbed “Canuxploitation!” after my earlier brainwave, was created soon after using my rudimentary web coding skills. It quickly grew in size, if not popularity, and jumped around servers when I changed ISPs. Shortly thereafter, I wrote an article for Broken Pencil magazine, a zine review publication had been very supportive of my self-published work in the past. (That article partially lives on today as the “Canuxploitation Primer” .)

Perhaps because of my horrendous frame-based designs, it remained obscure until I purchased the Canuxplolitation.com domain in late 2002. By then, first time visitors seemed impressed because I already had a pretty impressive collection of reviews available.

The Cult of CanCult

That was a decade and 200-odd reviews ago. Now I’m no longer a university student with lots of free time to watch and catalogue forgotten movies, but a husband and father with a full time job and a healthy stream of freelance writing jobs (most of which I owe to the site’s existence). I used to update with new reviews twice a month, now there are often several months between updates (unfortunately).

And yet, since 2004 or so, I’ve been amazed how the “canuxploitation” concept has continued to blossom. It’s consistently and increasingly referenced on other websites, in books, magazines or newspapers. I’ve even overheard it in conversations from people that don’t know I run the site. In some ways I still think of it as “my baby,” but I claim no direct ownership or the term or the idea. I learned pretty quickly that “canuxploitation” must have its own life beyond my site if it is to survive.

But has this idea helped change the film culture or shape of criticism in Canada? I hope so. In the last decade, I’ve seen more reconsideration of Canada’s tax shelter era than ever before, by both local bloggers and respected scholars. My site isn’t entirely responsible for this shift, of course, but it’s still exhilirating to see films like RITUALS and HUMONGOUS find an audience after years of being written off as undeserving trash.

“It’s the only thing I know”

Seeing the critical reception of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN this year has really brought this into focus. Jason Eisener, who was familiar with my site and a champion of Canadian cult film, has now directed what just might be the biggest, bloodiest Canadian B-film ever. Plus more books are on their way, documentary discussions keep bubbling under and I’m busier than ever, popping up on DVD extras and appearing at the Fantasia International Film Festival in July to host a Cinepix panel. It seems that more people are aware of Canadian B-movies than ever before, and even acknowledge that they have their own unique qualities.

In some ways, it feels like it’s all come full circle. Which is partially why I wanted to start this blog–to discuss the way canuxploitation has changed (and is changing) the prevailing film culture in Canada. I hope to look at the people and personalities that are embracing the tax shelter-era films and making their own contributions to help this idea grow into a broad, tolerant appreciation of the entirety of Canadian cinema–even the bits that many would like to forget.

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