Canadian Horror at 50 — CanCult’s Greatest Hits

Couldn’t resist sharing this fun two-minute video put together by Eyesore Cinema’s Justin Decloux for Astron-6‘s MANBORG screening at Toronto After Dark a few days ago. Set to the National Anthem, it’s a great, eye-popping overview of Canadian genre filmmaking that collects some of the most memorable moments from the last 50 years.



John Dunning (1927-2011)

I received word last night that Cinépix co-founder John Dunning passed away earlier this week. John, 84, was in a bad bicycle accident in 2006 and unfortunately never fully recovered from his injuries.

Through Cinépix, John and his partner André Link were instrumental in changing the film landscape in Canada. Distributors, initially, they moved into production in 1968 with Valerie, the prototypical French-Canadian sexploitation effort. A smash success, it launched a cottage industry of what Variety dubbed “Maple Syrup Porn.”

In the 1970s John and André moved into English production and horror, bringing on board fledgling producers Ivan Reitman and Don Carmody. They mentored countless producers and directors and even helped launch the career of David Cronenberg when they took a chance and allowed him to direct a script he had written, SHIVERS. The 1980s saw them hitch their train to the slasher boom, creating some indisputable all-time classics of the genre—HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and MY BLOODY VALENTINE.

In all, John helped produce more than 60 Canadian films in the last four decades, almost all of which were firmly in the canuxploitation arena. Even in his late 70s he kept his own office at Lionsgate in Montreal, apparently shuffling around the halls in a pair of slippers and still coming up with new ideas. Even after his accident, John may was still as active as ever, even announcing plans for a VALENTINE sequel last April.

If there’s any small comfort, it’s that John was around to see the accolades that have recently poured in for his life’s work over the years. He picked up a 1993 Genie award for Outstanding Contributions to the Canadian Film Industry and was inducted into the Canadian Film and Television Hall of Fame in 2007.  This past June he received the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Clyde Gilmour Award and a Lifetime Acheivement at Fantasia that I was honoured to be a part of.

I never met John in person, but talked to him several times on the phone for a 2005 article I wrote. He was very forthcoming and a pleasure to talk to, even if at first he seemed a little wary of the purpose of my piece—I remember reassuring him several times that I was a fan of his work and wanted to celebrate Cinépix’s contributions. You can check out the entirety of my interview with John Dunning and his partner, Andre Link, “Sin and Sovereignty: The Curious Rise of Cinépix Inc.” online; it was originally published in (the now defunct) Take One Film and Television in Canada in March 2005.

Also see John’s obits in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.


CanFilm Five: Terrortrap.com’s Jason Knowles

“CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics, programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

One of the essential websites for horror fans, The Terror Trap has been cranking out intelligent commentary on the genre since 1998. Though site co-founders Jason Knowles and Dan Hunter write about all horror and suspense films made between 1925 and 1987, their reviews and interviews on classic Canadian slasher films of the tax shelter era are particularly excellent. For this edition of CanFilm Five, we asked Jason to select his five favourite death scenes from Canadian horror films.

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Book Review: They Came From Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema

Finding a new home for older material — This book review originally appeared on Canuxploitation in 2004. Full disclosure: I have known Caelum since about 2002, his book references Canuxploitation.com and Caelum has contributed to the site.

They Came From Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema
Caelum Vatnsdal, Arbeiter Ring Press (2004)

Out of all the sleazy genres that Canadian filmmakers have tackled over the last 50 years, none has been as tenacious as Canadian horror. Always controversial and rarely receiving critical approval, Canadian horror films have managed to survive the industry booms and busts to remain our b-movie genre of choice, far outnumbering the action, science fiction and comedy films clogging dusty video racks across the Great White North.

Strange then, that never before has anyone synthesized a complete history of our national nightmares caught on celluloid. It’s a conspicuous gap in our film criticism, especially given the popularity and abundance of Canadian horror films. Thankfully, Caelum Vatnsdal’s well-researched and often humorous new book, They Came From Within, finally sets the record straight on hoser horror—a revelation for Canadian film buffs and a wealth of information for horror fans. … Continue Reading