Tuesday, November 25, 2008

April Fool's Day

When it comes to horror rentals, I've always been a sucker for box art. I'm the guy who took home Christmas Evil convinced I had a classic 'cause Santa had an axe and was heading down the chimney. For Ghoulies it was the demon peeking out of the toilet, Sleepaway Camp: the impaled sneaker. You get the idea...

So around '86 when I was confronted by a VHS box featuring a girl with her hair braided into a noose, I didn't stand a chance. Despite my initial disappointment that this was not in fact the story of an evil Rapunzel-type dame who goes around hanging people with her hair, I quickly snapped it up and headed home. Good thing too.

April Fool's Day is a fun little movie. It's also an easy one to spoil so I'll keep the plot details brief. A rich girl named Muffy (Valley Girl's Deborah Foreman) invites her friends up for a weekend of April Fool's trickery at her island estate. But dribble glasses and break-away chairs quickly give way to a far more sinister agenda. The jokes get personal, Muffy's friends start disappearing and their hostess seems to be sinking into insanity.

Now here's the interesting part, since the film always wants to keep you guessing about what is real and what's a gag, very little onscreen violence is actually shown. For a gorehound like me the thought of Friday the 13th-like setups without the grisly payoffs might sound tedious but it actually makes for a pretty original slasher flick. The Agatha Christie inspired script ramps up the mistrust and tension and the cast is a talented bunch of familiar 80s faces. Hey isn't that Back To the Future's Biff (Thomas F. Wilson)? Yep. Friday the 13th Part 2 survivor Amy Steel? Yes, indeedy. But Foreman steels the show. Her cute n' crazy Muffy is memorable even if she doesn't hang anyone with her hair. Yeah, that still kinda bothers me.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Gate

21 years ago, my friend Rob and I had a discussion about how advertisers manipulate the truth. It was a discussion inspired by this movie (which I had avoided seeing until just yesterday, at least partly due to this conversation.)

It was 1987, or whenever the trailers for The Gate were airing on TV and ads were appearing in the newspapers. (Back then, we kids used to have to read the newspaper or watch lots of TV to find out about movies; there was no IMDB.)

Rob remarked "Look at the ad for this movie The Gate."

It must have been the second round of ads for the movie - the ones with quotes from favourable reviews. One of the quotes read "...nifty special effects..."

He said, "I read the review where that quote came from. But what they actually said was 'There are some nifty special effects, but they're all in the trailer.'"

At which point we decided the movie must be crap and never bothered to go see it.

Now that I've finally seen the movie, I have to say that the review was pretty unfair. There are indeed nifty effects in the film, but there's no way they would have all fit into a trailer. In fact, the final third of the film is a veritable 80s effects bonanza. Additionally, the word "nifty" perhaps undersells it a bit. The effects throughout are actually quite clever, seemingly employing just about every pre-CGI trick the filmmakers could think of. The stop-motion creatures are especially unnerving, with surprisingly fluid animation.

As a movie - a horror movie - I have mixed thoughts. As a goofy old Canadian B-horror, it's well above average, and enjoyable to watch for the usual list of reasons one enjoys B-movies. As a horror, I think it's a bit more successful as a kids horror than one for adults.

There's a moment when the protagonists, all kids, have the option to either call 911, call their parents, or attempt to solve the problem of having a gateway to a hell dimension in their back yard all by themselves. They opt for the latter.

This, though perhaps honourable as an inspiration for teenagers to take responsibility and solve problems themselves, isn't the most realistic choice, per se, making you realize that maybe you're watching a movie made for 14 year olds in 1987. One thing hasn't changed since then however: suburban Toronto houses are still as bland as they ever were.

Starring an impossibly young and unrecognizable Stephan Dorff as a likeable nerd, I'd recommend this one primarily for the special effects.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

All Hail the New Flesh

Some of you (or all one of you) may have already noticed that CanHorr's latest review was posted by someone other than me, spacejack. So even though it's about a week overdue (I blame a hectic work schedule,) I'd like to introduce everyone to our new contributor, Briny Picklestem.

If I'm the figurehead, the guy who registered our Blogger account, then Briny is the brains of the operation. Briny brings real-world experience of working in film and television, as well as a much more thorough knowledge of the horror genre. This raises the bar for content here on CanHorr several notches up from the ground where it was previously. I just hope I can keep up.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My Bloody Valentine 1981

With a 3D remake due in the New Year, it's time to lift a bottle of Moosehead to the quintessential Canadian slasher flick. A movie that simply would not exist without our national love for socialism, beer and well... American movies.

My Bloody Valentine was filmed during the heyday of Canada's Capital Cost Allowance incentives. Basically the government let you write off 100% of any money you invested in a local flick. Suddenly dentists and lawyers were becoming film producers as a tax shelter and Canada became a film machine pumping out B-movies, many of which were never even expected to see the light of a projector. It was amongst this flood of crap that Prom Night, Terror Train, and other cult classics were born.

The plot of MBV is this: 20 years ago some miners were killed in the town of Valentine Bluffs when the mine supervisors left work early to head to a Valentine's Day dance and neglected to check gas levels underground. BOOM went the miners save for a trapped one named Harry who after eating the dead to survive, went crazy and killed the supervisors. He also left a friendly warning to never have another Valentine's dance or he'd kill again. So guess what, it's dance time and Harry's back in town dressed to kill in full mining gear.

MBV may not be a great flick but it's got a lot of B-movie charm: a great location (it was shot in a real Nova Scotia mining town), some imaginative deaths, a decent backstory and a killer who actually has a reason to be wearing his creepy costume. But all this pales in comparison to the sheer volume of Moosehead beer product placement. If ever there was a horror movie to down pints to, this is it. It's also, like its brethren in this blog, a friendly reminder that Canadian film doesn't have to mean pretentious art house flicks.

So grab a sixer of Moose and enjoy a nice 80s slasher in all its poorly acted and gritty glory. The remake will no doubt be more polished and while I'm all for a 3D horror revival, I'm not sure a killer miner movie should look like a shiny new rollercoaster.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Terror Train

This is an interesting slasher, from 1980, starring Jamie Lee Curtis. Set on a train, it's like Serial Killer on the Orient Express. (Or Halloween meets The Silver Streak, according to the lore on IMDB's trivia page.)

You've got above-average cinematography and production values, and the setting feels authentic, being filmed on an actual train. The tension doesn't really kick in until the final third, but it works pretty well once it revs up. There are some pretty good jumps, even for the hardened, modern-day horror viewer.

Until then, we observe a train load of semi-unlikable med students partying, and get to know their characters as they drink, fool around, argue and dance to disco music. This is handled capably, but can drag on at times. The acting is natural enough that it provides an always-interesting time machine to observe the behaviour of 20-somethings in 1980.

Hart Bochner, who played the cocaine-snorting executive in Die Hard, gets to play another asshole in this film. Actually, a number of people get to play assholes. So for the first few killings, they almost seem justifiable, in that horror movie way.

Directed by Canadian Roger Spottiswoode, who's gone on to do a wild range of movies, from Under Fire to Stop or My Mom Will Shoot to Shake Hands with the Devil!

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Dark Hours

Okay, I'm jumping from vintage 1970s horror last time to a 2005 psycho-thriller this time. One that I think works better if you don't know too much about it, so I'm not going to get into much detail.

The Dark Hours is a fairly low-budget suspenser set mostly in one location, a cabin in the woods. The acting is decent, and especially good from both Kate Greenhouse, the lead, as well as her antagonist played by Aidan Devine. There's a bit of gore but not a whole lot. Enough that I think one can classify it as horror.

It's also very much a "things are not what they seem" story, with a number of layers to reveal. One could say it's more of a character drama (it almost seems like a theatre production at times) than a straight-up horror. But it's an interesting one, and I don't think it ever succumbs to pretentiousness.

Despite the "low" half-million dollar budget, this movie has the dubious distinction of pulling in only $423 at the box office. Yeowtch! I don't think it deserved to be so ignored by the public. However, I could see how a hardcore horror fan wouldn't find it "horror" enough, and someone looking for an arty drama film might find the violence gratuitous or out of place. I happen to be a fan of horror hybrids however, so this didn't bother me.

Compared to modern Hollywood (or French) horror, this film will look very cheap. But if you don't need your hair blown back by special effects, gore and action, give a movie that relies primarily on writing and acting a chance.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Rituals is an unsettling, gritty, and very Canadian thriller. It combines elements from Deliverance, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Edge and Blair Witch Project. Oh - but it was released in 1977!

A group of middle-aged men hire a plane to go on their ritual camping trip in a remote northern location. Things start going badly when they realize they are the targets of a predator with strange... rituals.

With much better than expected performances and dialogue, this movie really surprised me. It builds tension in three classic ways - the men against the monster, nature and themselves. It handles each with a lot of attention to detail and there is excellent acting throughout. The reveals are slow and increasingly creepy. The landscapes are both bleak and beautiful.

I'll confess to only seeing this once on TV a few nights ago, so I'm writing from memory. And from the looks of things, I was lucky. From what I can find on Amazon, there is just a poor-quality DVD release available with negative reviews, all due to video quality.

Here's a trailer on YouTube. That horrible music isn't in the film, thankfully.