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« PREVIEW: MONSTER FEST 2017 | Main | THE NEGLECTED WORKS OF TOBE HOOPER »
Friday
Sep152017

SITGES BOUND DOC HONOURS CANADA'S HORROR FILM FOREFATHERS

While Carpenter, Romero and Craven were crafting new wave horror works in the U.S., Canada was forging its own bloody and brave breed of genre storytellers. In director Xavier Mendik’s documentary Tax Shelter Terrors, set to screen at the prestigious Sitges Film Festival in October, some of the most influential names in Canadian film culture are finally being given their due; men who recognised that the rebellious counterculture influencers of the day would respond to bold, frightening film visions. Bolstered by healthy production sector tax initiatives (hence the film’s title), they would shape the ‘Canux-ploitation’ horror era that would become synonymous with a golden period in genre cinema….

André Link and John Dunning (Founders of Cinépix Inc.)

Hungarian André Link immigrated to Canada in 1954, joining the sales department for International Film Distribution (IFD). Earning a reputation for his savvy business acumen, he broke from IFD and, with John Dunning founded Cinépix Inc. The fearless pair embraced the movement known as Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, releasing a slate of risqué films in defiance of the conservative agenda forged by the Catholic Church and the Duplessis government; Cinépix titles included the works of Denis Heroux’s (Valérie, 1968; L’initiation, 1970; L’amour humain, 1970) and John Sone’s films, Love in a Four Letter Word (1970) and Loving and Laughing (1971). With a young production executive called Ivan Reitman at their side, Link and Dunning executive produced David Cronenberg’s early horror classics Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977). While Link worked the books, Dunning found the talent; their collaborations would include Reitman’s hit directorial debut, Meatballs (1979), George Mihalka’s slasher classic My Bloody Valentine (1981), veteran director J. Lee Thompson’s horror entry, Happy Birthday To Me (1981) and Lamont Johnson’s 3D sci-fi adventure Spacehunter: Adventures in The Forbidden Zone (1983). (Pictured, above; Dunning, left, and Link)

Pierre David (Producer)

Pierre David’s early productions spanned genres, from documentary (A Child Like Any Other, 1972) and kitchen sink drama (Les colombes, 1972) to broad comedy (J’ai mon voyage, 1973) and prestige pic (Je t’aime, 1974, with the late Jeanne Moreau). He recognised the young David Cronenberg as a rare talent, backing his breakout hits The Brood (1979; trailer, above), Scanners (1981) and Videodrome (1983). With the home vid sector providing a hunger for genre product, David exhibited a commitment to stylishly executed horror works, including two from director Jean-Claude Lord, the hospital horror cult classic Visiting Hours (1982) and sci-fi/horror of The Vindicator (1986); George Pan Cosmatos’ paranoid infestation thriller Of Unknown Origin (1983), with Peter Weller; Sandor Stern’s body-horror shocker Pin (1988); and, VHS hit The Dentist (1996) and its sequel (1998), from horror icon Brian Yuzna. His two diversions into feature directing were the instinctively commercial B-movie shockers, Scanner Cop (1994) and Serial Killer (1995).

William Fruet (Director)

Born in Alberta, William Fruet (pictured, right) is a writer/director whose first script, director Donald Shebib’s wilderness-set buddy film Goin’ Down the Road won Best Film at the 1970 Canadian Film Awards. He parlayed industry buzz into his directorial debut, Wedding in White (1972), a searing rape drama adapted from his own play that would win Best Picture at the 1973 Canadian Film Awards. He re-examined sexual assault in his follow-up film, the revenge-themed shocker Death Weekend (1976; aka The House by The Lake), starring Brenda Vaccaro as the rape survivor who wreaks vengeance on her attackers; the film would win Best Actress and Best Screenplay at Sitges 1976. Fruet would carve out a career of memorable Canadian genre works, including Search and Destroy (1979), the Genie-nominated Funeral Home (1980, aka Cries in The Night), the hillbilly horror of Baker County USA (1982, with Henry Silva) and the monster-snake creature feature, Spasms (1983, with Peter Fonda and Oliver Reed); one his most popular works was Killer Party (1986), one of the Canadian sector’s better entries in the ‘sorority slasher’ genre of the day.

George Mihalka (Director)

With only one feature credit to his name (the ribald 1980 teen romp, Pick-up Summer), Hungarian-born George Mihalka was 26 when he was offered a derivative ‘Friday the 13th’-style script by first-time feature writer John Beaird called My Bloody Valentine (trailer, below). Genre house Cinepix recognised a keen horror voice in Mihalka, who delivered a lean, mean slasher thriller that became one of the production company's most profitable properties; Paramount picked it up for US distribution and turned it into the sleeper hit in February ‘81. Mihalka followed …Valentine with the adult comedy Scandale (1982), returning to serial killer territory with Eternal Evil (1985) and a stream of commercial pics in both English and French (Hostile Takeover, 1988; Le chemin de Damas, 1988; The Psychic, 1991). His 1993 satire La Florida earned 8 Genie nominations, winning the Golden Reel award for the highest-grossing Canadian film of the year. His most prestigious work to date was as helmer of the 1995 adaptation of the Len Deighton thriller, Bullet to Beijing, an international co-production starring Michael Caine, Michael Gambon and Mia Sara.

Steven Hoban (Producer)

At the forefront of a new generation of Canadian genre talents, producer Steve Hoban learnt his craft on a series of well-received shorts before bursting into features with director John Fawcett’s critical and commercial hit, Ginger Snaps. Starring Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins as teenagers coping with the onset of lycanthropy, the film scored three Genie nominations, became a legitimate cult hit (it has spawned two sequels) and has been lauded as a rare and insightful genre work that deals with female-centric issues. His close ties with director Vincenzo Natali were forged on the 1996 short Elevated and led to their collaboration on Nothing (2003), Splice (2009), Haunter (2013) and the 2013 television series, Darknet (produced by Hoban's production shingle, Copperheart Entertainment). Hoban tipped his hat to the great Canadian horror films of the 70s when he produced the 2006 remake of Bob Clark’s landmark shocker, Black Christmas. In 2015, Hoban stepped into the director’s chair, helming a segment of his own horror anthology production, A Christmas Horror Story. (Pictured, above; Hoban, left, on the set of A Christmas Horror Story) 

SCREEN-SPACE acknowledges and thanks producer Deke Richards for his contributions to this article.

Xavier Mendik's TAX SHELTER TERRORS screens October 12 as a work-in-progress at the 2017 SITGES Film Festival, October 5-15. Session and ticketing details can be found at the event's official website.

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