Tagged Canadian

The Creeper a.k.a Rituals: Early Canadian Horror

The Creeper a.k.a Rituals. 1977. Directed by Peter Carter. Screenplay by Ian Sutherland.
Starring Hal Holbrook, Lawrence Dane, Robin Gammell, Ken James, Gary Reineke, Murray Westgate, Jack Creley, and Michael Zenon. American Pop Classics. Rated R. 100 minutes.
Adventure/Horror/Thriller

★★★★

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis 1977 horror-thriller, The Creeper a.k.a Rituals, is one I’ve heard about for about for well over a decade now, almost two. Horror fanatic since the age of twelve, when I first discovered Hal Holbrook outside of those interests I soon came to discover he’d been in an early slasher type film. So sticking that in the back of my head, at the time with no real way to see the movie since it wasn’t at my local video store, I hoped someday I’d be able to finally see it. Somehow. Some way.
Well recently I tracked down a digitally remastered copy from American Pop Classics, which was reasonably priced and pretty decent looking for such a rare cult horror flick. This one came out on the verge of slasher horror becoming super popular, due to John Carpenter. It wasn’t the first, with classics such as Black Christmas coming out in 1974, Psycho having been released seventeen years prior. But still, I think The Creeper did some interesting things. This movie might not have hit it big, it didn’t at all from what I gather, don’t let that sway you. There’s a good bit of backwoods horror here and most certainly anyone who has seen it will find themselves influenced by its creepy qualities.
Rituals2-1600x900-c-defaultA group of doctors get together in the Canadian wilderness. They’re dropped off by plane out to some remote part of the forest. The men head to a place called “The Cauldron of the Moon” by Aboriginal peoples. Hiking through all sorts of terrain, the doctor friends camp for a while. However, once they’re shoes go missing, except for one man, things start to get scary.
The one with his shoes left decides to walk out for help. It’s after he leaves when the others discover something disturbing is happening in those woods. A deer head appears outside their camp, then the terror truly begins.
1200There’s a bleak atmosphere from the beginning of The Creeper. Everything is isolated, so far up into the backwoods. Even further, director Peter Carter captures the desolate feeling with a ton of great wide shots; the forest and the mountains together swallow up each of the characters. There are so many beautiful scenes. Even when one of the doctors ends up with his decapitated head on a pike, and another of them throws it down the mountain in anger, there’s this sweeping shot that goes over Hal Holbrook’s head as the head/stick goes flying; strange for it to be a beautiful shot, but it certainly is that.
Another thing I think helped overall is that this screenplay wasn’t the typical slasher horror writing either. Perhaps because it was one of the earliest slashers, a prototype, it didn’t fall for all the exact similar things later slashers made into the genre tropes. Better than that, the characters themselves were decently developed. There were a few points where I thought the development was subtle, things didn’t get spelled out obviously right in front of us; for instance, a conversation around the fire has two of the doctors revealing bits and pieces of their lives before the events of the film, sort of filling in gaps to who they are as people. A lot of modern slashers try to jam pack loads of exposition into their screenplays. Here, there’s enough to hook us, but also leaves some things to our imagination. Part of The Creeper‘s charm is, evidently, the way it sort of creeps on you. Between the isolation, the wide and desolate shots, as well as the characterization, everything in the film will grow and fester in you until the events start to get real terrifying.
hed-ritualsThe moments of slasher horror, so to speak, are pretty damn effective. From the beginning, when the deer head shows up, things are nasty enough. Solely because of the malicious intent. But things only get worse and worse. The decapitation, as I mentioned. Afterwards, one of the doctors ends up tied to a a stake and lit on fire. There are several truly gruesome aspects to the film.
I think it’s the very finale I found most jarring. There a two instances where the sound design uses an echo, which was interesting. It worked and had a strange effect. It’s unsettling, yet I can’t say exactly why. Sort of amplified the emotions happening at the time, almost as if the echoes were in the characters’ own heads.
Ultimately, what makes so much of The Creeper work in terms of its outright horror is the solid acting from Holbrook. He really has great skills. Even when the rest of the acting isn’t all perfect, Holbrook keeps us grounded and his intensity, the anxiety he gives us through his character, all the tension in him, it helps the horror and terror of the plot become more plausible, it feels more real. In particular, there’s a scene where Harry (Holbrook) discovers a deep cut around his femoral artery, and he stops for a moment, regrouping, as his friend is tied to the stake; the way Harry is calm compared to the other man, the demeanour he displays, this gives us such an excellent impression of this man’s character. I imagine Harry as a good doctor, someone who doesn’t allow the pressure to bear down on him. These few moments were great in this respect. Not only that, the entire sequence following after is horrific and Holbrook makes it come off spot on.
The final shot of Harry sitting on the highway was amazing – panning back behind him, the open road ahead, such a fitting way to end things after all the chaos. Everything becomes sunny, open, beautiful, as opposed to the darkness and horror in the forest. Love this finish.
rituals rough halWhile there are some aspects which could’ve been improved upon, The Creeper deserves a 4 out of 5 star rating. I truly feel this is a good slasher, especially considering this came a year before John Carpenter’s Halloween. With a good lead actor to hold things in place, some nice writing and very effectively creepy effects at key moments, this is a solid cult classic. It’s tough to find and the quality of the DVD I found isn’t even immaculate, nowhere near. But you’ll be surprised. This is a very subtle and low budget film, though, its merits are evident once you get through the film. For a rare movie, I’m pleased to have even gotten a copy. Check this out if you’re ever so lucky. You’ll find a nice dose of slasher horror in an unusual package.

Turbo Kid: Blood, Nostalgia, Video Games, & a Whole Lot of Fun

Turbo Kid. 2015. Directed/Written by François Simard, Anouk Whissell, & Yoann-Karl Whissell.
Starring Munro Chambers, Laurence Leboeuf, Michael Ironside, Edwin Wright, Aaron Jeffery, and Romano Orzari. Epic Pictures Group/Timpson Films.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Action/Sci-Fi


★★★★★
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Always interesting to see the different 1980s (& further) throwbacks coming out now over the past 8 years or so since Grindhouse brought the whole concept back. Ever since Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive especially, there’s been a want for the retro 80s style soundtracks, or the entire aesthetic. Even before that with stuff like Ti West’s The House of the Devil, film fans have gotten a taste for the homage films being made by directors and writers who grew up watching movies in the 1980s and that’s where they cut their teeth in terms of influence. What’s even cooler is a lot of these retro homages are coming from indie filmmakers, bonafide genre filmmakers, and so it’s exceptionally cool that these are being made outside of the Hollywood system mostly. Furthermore, even with the heavy dose of homage in films like these, the concepts and premises are often innovative and fresh compared to so much of the recycled, rehashed, rebooted, remade material we’re being fed in theatres nowadays.
While some of these movies opting to go for a throwback retro aesthetic don’t actually do a period piece, or particularly set things in the 1970s or 1980s, Turbo Kid is straight out of both the ’80s and ’90s. At the same time, it’s futuristic. Set in 1997, it’s as if things stopped in the 1980s and everyone’s stuck.
Probably what excites me most about Turbo Kid is the fact this is a film spun off from the short segment “T is for Turbo” that was meant to be in The ABCs of Death. Though the segment did not make it into the film, I’m super happy it ended up being made into a film. Now out on iTunes and other VOD platforms, this is a new indie film that deserves much attention. Not simply because of its origins from the horror anthology in which it was hoped to be included, Turbo Kid is also an example of how neat, interesting movies can get made with the support of film fans. Paying a few dollars to see an awesomely original, independent film ought to be a privilege, and this is one of the latest new films that will hopefully remind people how indie filmmakers are still thinking outside of the box, not following all the latest trends to the letter and still thinking for themselves. Because like I said, while this is pure retro homage filmmaking, there’s a highly original quality to Turbo Kid which evokes equal parts hope and nostalgia.
IMG_1849Turbo Kid takes place in the year 1997, in a post-apocalyptic vision of the world. The Kid (Munro Chambers) wanders around in the wasteland, fending for himself, reading salvaged comic books of Turbo Rider. Along the way he meets the chipper, upbeat Apple (Laurence Leboeuf). She attaches herself to him immediately and tags along for the ride. The Kid is reluctant at first, however, he warms to her quickly.
Meanwhile in other parts, an arm wrestler named Frederic (Aaron Jeffery) is also fending for himself across the barren lands plagued by drought and acid rains. He’s trying to find his brother, fighting against a one-eyed man named Zeus (Michael Ironside), Skeletron (Edwin Wright) and a band of other insane henchman. Zeus kills people, feeding them to a contraption built for extracting water from human remains.
After The Kid saves Frederic and Apple from Zeus, captured in his savage fighting arena, the fight and the chase are on. Across the wasteland Apple and The Kid venture, Zeus on the warpath, and there’s no telling what might happen in the unstable post-apocalyptic world amongst the dirt, the blood, and the acid rains.
IMG_1859Naturally one of the greatest parts about Turbo Kid is the incredibly authentic retro ’80s score. With original music from Jean-Philippe Bernier, Jean-Nicolas Leupi, and Le Matos, there’s an incredible part of the aesthetic in this film that’s built up through the music. Particularly during some of the small intense sequences, like when The Kid (Chambers) is pedalling fast as he can away from a villain on his bike, there’s this amazing synth chase piece that blew me away. I expected lots of this, however, to hear it composed so well and fit so perfectly with the scenes and sequences is a damn treat!
The score’s individual pieces are so fitting when it comes to the ’80s homage because we get a bunch of great little montages, typical of that era of filmmaking. So not only is the score awesome, it plays into the film in so many ways I think work directly towards cultivating that super cool throwback feeling. You’d swear this was done back in the ’80s, all around.
My favourite part of the score is during a massive fight involving Frederic and The Kid versus Skeletron and the rest of Zeus’ henchman crew. It’s just PUMPING the whole time and it makes you want to kick some ass. Coupled with the incredible practical effects, all the blood and gore we’re treated to, the music makes this section full of adrenaline and a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
IMG_1851The apocalyptic angle of the film comes off really well. Particularly I love their use of locations and the sets; not sure how much of this is on location and how much, if any, was done on a set/soundstage. Either way, the post-apocalyptic feeling comes across excellently simply through virtue of how they use their locations. We get the post-apocalyptic settings and sense from everything together, as well as the very palpable sense on top of all that of when the apocalypse happened through the ’80s costuming.
Not only is there a science fiction-ish aspect to Turbo Kid with the apocalypse’s destruction of civilization, this movie has BUCKETS OF BLOOD and PLENTY OF GORE. I thought there’d definitely be a fair share, but man was I pleasantly surprised! Not only that, the practical special makeup effects were out of this world. Just absolutely something to behold. The gory moments get even better once The Kid discovers the Turbo Rider’s gear in a crashed plane; he picks up the glove and begins to blast away at the villains threatening him and his friend Apple.
IMG_1854 IMG_1856Inarguably, one of the best gory scenes is when a friend of The Kid, Bagu (Romano Orzari), is captured by Skeletron and Zeus. They tie a hook into his guts, which are ripped slightly out of his abdomen, attached to a bicycle then Skeletron proceeds to pedal hard and haul a big string of intestine out. It’s an awesome practical effect that’s pretty savage and awesomely gnarly. Hard to say the ULTIMATE BEST, because there are just so many unreal gory, bloodletting moments.
We get a bunch of real awesome bloody shots when The Kid blasts people with the Turbo Rider glove. It’s so video game-like that I can’t help love it. Even the glove itself sort of reminds me of the Nintendo Power Glove, as well as how Apple’s little heart monitor is pretty much (wonderfully) torn out of The Legend of Zelda. But the head shots and the torso blow-ups from the glove look perfectly like something you’d see in a video game, it adds tons of flavour to the retro ’80s feeling. Brings me right back to childhood.
IMG_1850 IMG_1853 IMG_1857Almost all the performances in this movie are spot on. Incredible talent, especially in the younger actors.
Munro Chambers plays The Kid and I found him both charming and funny. He’s got a likeable quality to him instantly, but seeing him rock out to a Walkman and painting his helmet, just hopping about the post-apocalyptic wasteland, it’s a lot of fun. The charm he brings to the role of The Kid helps because there are moments in the script which are purposely cheesy, and he sells these scenes and little brief bits. The performance he gives is awesome. The best thing, though? He actually seems to be having a ton of fun, while still playing his character.
I’ve loved Laurence Leboeuf ever since her turn on the wickedly dark Canadian show, alongside Hugh Dillon playing her father, Durham County. Here she is quite different than that character, which is fun to see. She has a lot of range. Here, Leboeuf plays a beyond quirky, hyper young lady named Apple who turns out to be a synthetic human being, or a robot; whatever you prefer. I cannot count how many times she made me laugh out loud, over and over. There’s energy in her performance unparalleled in this film, maybe unparalleled in most of the roles out of 2015. Honestly, she’s a joy to watch here, as a character who is slightly familiar but plenty innovative. Well cast in this role, there’s no doubt about it, and Lebouef – like Chambers – seems to revel in a chance to do something different, fun, and a bit wild.
Along the edges there’s Aaron Jeffery, whose character Frederic is the typical badass yet with his own square jawed charm and intensity, on top of a rough machismo so familiar from the films of the 1980s. Plus, legendary actor Michael Ironside shows up here as the villainous Zeus, controlling the water sources amongst the desert-like lands of the post-apocalyptic landscape; as usual, Ironside gives a solid performance with the right material and this is one sci-fi/horror I hope he’ll be known for in these later portions of his career. Even the eternally silent Edwin Wright as Skeletron does a fantastic job with a fun, video game/cartoon-ish character who is also a solidly creepy villain alongside Ironside’s Zeus.
IMG_1852 IMG_1858This is a 5 star film. I know some may roll their eyes, but whatever. Fuck those eye rollers. This is an incredibly retro 1980s throwback, which is not simply full of homage and an attempt at capturing a nostalgic feel but a very fun, innovative movie in its own right. Part of what works in its favour is absolutely nostalgia. However, this is not all that works for it. The performances are worth a good deal of enjoyment, the blood and gore are ABSOLUTELY PERFECT with the practical effects to make everything worthwhile, and the original music for the score is something I can’t truly describe that’s how much I love it to the core.
So PAY for this because it is one amazing example of how the dreams of filmmakers can come alive when a bunch of people work towards a collective and unique vision; there’s so much effort behind every bit of this film, I was impressed. Watch it and support indie film. Maybe you won’t love it as much as I did, but I guarantee you’ll walk away with at least some degree of respect for how well all its retro elements work together to make an outstanding homage to a simpler time in filmmaking, as well as it makes for a super enjoyable to spend 90 odd minutes. Kudos to the filmmakers for giving it their best effort and pulling out ALL the stops.
Check it out – available on iTunes (not sure if it’s out on VOD anywhere else yet) – and tell me what YOU think! I dig it so hard that it’s not even sensible. You may or may not. Either way, I’d love to hear your opinion, too.

Kevin Smith’s Whacky Creature Feature: Tusk

Tusk. 2014. Directed & Written by Kevin Smith.
Starring Michael Parks, Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment, and Johnny Depp. Sony Pictures Releasing Canada.
Rated 14A. 102 minutes.
Comedy/Horror

★★★★

First of all, a lot of people seem to misunderstand Tusk as a film overall. It’s meant, above all else, as a comedy and a drama. Yes, there is horror, and it is a horror film, but the comedy and drama trump everything. Just a little over halfway through the movie, things get divisive because a lot of people think it gets ridiculous, or silly, or whatever.
Me – well, I think differently.tusk-poster

Second, I just love the premise of this movie. Kevin Smith is not particularly one of my favourites, though, I really love Clerks (the first one – I don’t dig the second so much), MallratsDogma, and Red State a lot. His move into a bit of horror while still holding onto the comedy roots he works so well with really is spectacular. Red State was a lot of fun, and I’ve re-watched it a bunch of times since the first; for me, it holds up time after time.

The story of Tusk follows Wallace Bryton (Long), a rising podcast star, who interviews weird and wild people everywhere; he travels to different locations, interviews different characters, and then retells his experiences for Teddy Craft (Osment) who never travels. There emerges a side story involving Wallace’s girlfriend Ally; the two share a bit of a rocky relationship, as we see both Wallace’s infidelity, as well as Ally’s eventual, secret at first, indiscretions, too. Wallace goes up to Canada to interview the Kill Bill Kid – a young man who chopped off his own leg with a sword accidentally – but once he arrives in Winnipeg, he discovers the kid has taken his own life, and the story is quite literally now dead.
Unfairly pissed, Wallace heads to a bar before moving on home. In the bathroom he discovers a wanted ad: an old man, once an adventurer at sea, has a room for rent, and stories to tell. Out in the woods of Manitoba, Wallace finds Howard Howe in a beautiful, sprawling estate type home. Howe seems just a little eccentric at first telling stories of being at sea, meeting Ernest Hemingway (even claiming one of old Ernie’s most famous quotes about drinking was first quoted to him personally), however, soon enough it’s really damn clear the old man doesn’t just want company. He misses an old friend, and Howe is determined to bring him back by any means necessary.
TUSKOnce Wallace goes missing, Ally and Teddy wake up to a frantic voicemail he left them both; he claims Howe has kidnapped him, and wants to turn him into a walrus. Worried, they seek out the police, who are of course sceptical (I spell it that way ’cause I’m Canadian, eh). They then meet a man named Guy Lapointe (played hilariously by Johnny Depp). He has been hunting a serial killer across Canada, and it turns out this is most likely Howe. They join together hoping to track down and save Wallace.

A lot of people have trouble with the way Tusk shifts gears between horror to drama to comedy, and back, and forth. I don’t necessarily see the problem. If either of these genres were being inappropriately served up, then I would understand, but to my mind it’s all carried out pretty well. The horror works. Some may say the “transformation” is silly. I understand. I mean, the comedy of Long’s “transformation” is not lost on Smith – he knows it looks a bit funny. Aside from the initial laugh it might get, the “transformation” (I say that because I don’t want to outright describe anything and give it away) is pretty fucking disturbing. Especially when you couple Long’s appearance with the shrieking and moaning he does after being transformed. After awhile it really gets grating on the nerves. Not in an annoying sense. It grates on them hard and makes me uncomfortable. Watching Parks’ character rant at Long, transformed into a hideous thing, feeding him, making him eat; it’s awful. But awful in the best sort of way.

The bits of drama worked into the storyline served things well. Once you get to the end and look back at the drama Smith infused into the screenplay, they really add to one another. The ending (I won’t give it away) sort of makes you look at how both Ally and Teddy feel about Wallace, deep down, regardless of everything which came before. Some might see the ending as foolish, or whatever – I don’t see it that way. There’s a real sentimental angle at work that serves the dramatic storyline well. It isn’t just an attempt for a goofy/happy ending to a horror-comedy. It’s how Smith closes out the emotional angle he’d been playing at with the Wallace/Ally/Teddy story. I thought it was probably the best way for Tusk to end. In a way, it’s sentimental, yet still a bit horrifying.
Kevin_Smith_s_Tusk_could_be_the_scariest_horror_of_2014__Or_the_funniest__Or_bothThe comedy really works. I’m Canadian, and I thought a lot of the Canada jokes were hilarious. The ‘aboot’ thing is a bit overworked in film/television generally, but other than that it’s really funny. I thought the ‘double double’ joke was pretty funny because I’ve heard lots of people actually say things like that. Some might misinterpret the joke as Smith not understanding what a ‘double double’ actually is, but it’s the opposite – he knows, and he’s making fun of Tim Hortons lovers. At least that’s how I see it.

Also, near the opening Long’s character goes through the airport, and one of the Canadian guys working there is just so ridiculously funny it makes me tear up – plus, his beard is gnarly as all hell.

The performances in Tusk are what really make things chug along wonderfully. Of course people will talk about Parks because he did a great job, as he did in the previous outing with Smith on Red State. And he was fascinating. Really creepy, especially in the early dinner table scenes opposite Long. Some very ominous stuff.
Even Just Long, who I’m admittedly not huge on really, does a good job with the material. He is a perfect fit for Wallace, and was pretty funny at times, especially in his banter with Parks, as well as with the two young girls at the Canadian convenience store (played by the daughter duo of Depp and Smith’s girls). There are a few really creepy points where Long does a fantastic job after his “transformation”; his vocalizations are really god damn scary at times, to me, and I watch a lot of horror. He could have simply wailed, but you could really feel some of Wallace’s fear by the way Long screamed and pleaded for help.
227Mainly, though, I really want to talk about Mr. Depp. A lot of people like to say he isn’t actually a great actor, he only takes a role depending on the hat he gets to wear, he sold out, blah, blah, blah. I think that is a load of bullshit. Depp is not only an extremely talented actor, he absolutely blows the screen to bits in Tusk. First off, his portrayal of a French Canadian Quebec accent (for those who don’t know, yes, there are other French people in Canada aside from the people of Quebec..) is so awesome. Even just his speech patterns, let alone the accent, are perfect. Loved it. A lot of times we see Depp in roles where he’s got a sexy sort of edge to him; even his dirty, fiendish Jack Sparrow was meant to have a kind of sex appeal to him. Here, Lapointe is just a really awesome dirtbag. He’s lovable, but good lord is he strange and sort of gross.

One of my favourite parts of the whole movie is when Lapointe mashes down a slider, nearly flat against a table, reminiscing on the only downfall of the great people of Quebec, and then eats it up (special note: wait until after the credits before you leave the theatre or turn off the film – there is a fun little post-credit scene with Lapointe recalling his love of the slider). Plus, there are plenty of other little bits where Depp absolutely sucks the marrow out of every bit of the Lapointe character. Anyone who says he “ruined the movie” or some such nonsense is a hater. Depp is hilarious here. For a second, I almost didn’t recognize him. Once he speaks, of course you’ll know. Before that, though, the prosthetics and the facial hair and the accent almost conceal him. I loved every second of his performance.
tusk-clip
I really have to give Tusk a 4 out of 5 stars. It isn’t a perfect film. There are points where things sort of drag a little. I don’t know if the switch between genres had anything to do with pacing – I really liked the genre mashup here – but it’s possible that maybe a little less of a stark contrast between the genres in Tusk might appease more fans. Regardless, this film really hits the right notes. As I said, Smith finds a way to loop all those dramatic elements back together into something tangible while still hanging onto all the comedy and horror of Tusk. Not to mention Smith shot the film gorgeously. His eye for shot composition has only gotten better with time, film after film.
People will say it’s too funny to be all out horror. I say bullshit. People say the “transformation” is too silly to take seriously – I say, you’re watching a movie about a man wanting to turn another man into a fucking walrus, stop acting like it’s an Ingmar Bergman film. Sit back, enjoy Tusk for what it is – a horror comedy with dramatic elements and a few really awesome, creepy, and fun performances to boot. I really can’t wait for this to finally get out on Blu ray because I will most certainly be picking it up. Smith continues to impress me with his horror efforts on this second outing after his initial dip into the genre with Red State. I like the way he approaches horror. Looking forward to some more.