Today is National Canadian Film Day, so as a result we put together this Daily Grindhouse posse-up where many of our writers named their favorite Canadian film.
DESTROY ALL MOVIES!!! is a terrific book, and a must-read for anyone interested in the history of punks (and punk music) on film, but one MASSIVE mistake in its pages is the near complete dismissal of the greatest punk movie ever made, and the finest movie ever to escape from CANADA: HARD CORE LOGO. Forming the final piece of a thematic punk road-trip trilogy of films with the ALSO awesome HIGHWAY 61 and ROADKILL, Bruce McDonald bled and sweat punk legitimacy in his terrifyingly effective mockumentary following the plight and fate of the reunited titular band — featuring real-life rock musician Hugh Dillon as lead singer Joe Dick, and the always amazing Callum Keith Rennie as guitarist Billy Tallent. It’s raw, beautiful, stark and filled with intense, incredible music. It’s also hilarious, and beautifully captures the exhausting nihilism that evolved out of the late 70s Vancouver punk scene. Track down the documentary THE SHOW, about the making of the film, and set aside some time to appreciate how God damn good Canadian cinema can be.
Mine is featured right up there on the cover of the book Doug mentioned. CLASS OF 1984 (from the calendar year 1982, not insignificantly). This movie plays like LEAN ON ME as directed by the man who made COMMANDO, which is probably because it was. The director of CLASS OF 1984, Mark L. Lester went on to direct COMMANDO three years later. In a decade with no shortage of inspirational-teacher movies, and even a few teacher-revenge movies, here’s one that truly distinguishes itself. And it does that by virtue of its distinctive insanity.
After a text screen claiming the film is “partially based on true events,” the credits open over the various main characters arriving at Abraham Lincoln High School, to the tone-setting tune of “I Am The Future” by Alice Cooper, the shock rocker and former terror of the adult establishment who once recorded a song with the menacing lyrics “School’s out… forever!” Kids are smoking, cutting class, robbing nearby stores, and spray-painting obscenities over school signs, resulting in obliquely profane messages such as “FUCKlty Parking Lot.”
Snappily-bearded all-American music teacher Andrew Norris (Perry King) is arriving for his first day of work, where he meets nervous science teacher Terry Corrigan, played by the very British Roddy MacDowall, known best in the States for PLANET OF THE APES and FRIGHT NIGHT, and maybe not for nothing a former child actor himself. Terry keeps a pistol in his briefcase with his test papers. He takes on the role of safari guide to Norris, making pointed reference to Norris’s predecessor (who “fell” under mysterious circumstances) and then leading him inside a school that is for all the world introduced as a prison would be in that genre, with some of the same signposts — metal detectors, armed guards, unruly locals, and so on.
Enter Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) and his gang. Even before he says a word, Stegman is framed by the camera to indicate importance, the crowds parting for him and his way paved by eager and more vocal thugs, and in fact he’s the film’s signature character. For the record, Stegman’s first line of dialogue is “Shut your hole, you little dyke!” It’s fascinating at this point to note that CLASS OF 1984 arrived the same year as FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. The latter film was an ensemble piece favoring Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character on the page if anyone, but in everyone’s collective subjective memory, the star of FAST TIMES is Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli, the surfing stoner who perpetually frustrates the uptight history teacher Mr. Hand, played by old-Hollywood veteran character actor Ray Walston. Spicoli is a comedic character and Hand is his fuming foil, Bugs-and-Elmer style, which is all the more ironic considering the fact that Sean Penn quickly went on to become one of the most hyper-serious dramatic stars of his generation.
The sadistic predator-prey relationship between Peter Stegman and Mr. Norris is the Hellish inversion of the Spicoli-Hand dynamic. The comparison is more obvious in light of the fact that Tim Van Patten in this film somewhat resembles the Sean Penn of the 1980s, minus the long blond Spicoli hairdo. Tim Van Patten has since gone on to become one of the greatest — if not the greatest — directors of the current “Golden-Age-Of-TV” era, having helmed key episodes of The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, and Game Of Thrones. Which is great, but seeing him as Stegman might make one wish he’d not transitioned out of acting — it’s a phenomenally devilish performance, simultaneously charismatic and infuriating. He’s sort of like every role Billy Zabka played during the decade, distilled into one guy — only unlike the brilliantly villainous Zabka, who played that one note beautifully, Van Patten does something truly twisted with Stegman: He gives off the faintest hint of buried vulnerability and decency, only to snatch it away cruelly from any naive adults who approach him, like Lucy taking that football away from Charlie Brown. Of course Lucy never threw a Nazi salute or called anyone a “nigger” while stomping on their guts, but that’s the perverted genius of the portrayal — Stegman does these things early on, and still Lester, writer Tom Holland, and Van Patten manage to suggest there’s going to be a redemptive moment coming.
Stegman is a born leader. The other new-wave degenerates who surround him follow his lead. Privileged, intelligent, and gifted, Mr. Norris seems to recognize and the film itself seems to argue that if only Stegman would choose a different path and take the side of the angels, the entire school’s discipline problem would be fixed. Instead, he’s an amoral sociopath, seemingly by his own choosing. Every attempt made by the painfully earnest and optimistic Mr. Norris to get through to this kid fails miserably. At one point in the story, Stegman sits down to a piano to demonstrate that he’s a prodigy, but then stops suddenly, exclusively to stick it to Norris and to dash his hopes.
As a consolation prize, Norris befriends and inspires one of the school’s few good kids, a trumpet player and affable jokester portrayed by a very young Michael J. Fox, in all his lovable glory. You wouldn’t want to see Michael J. Fox show up on the TV show Oz, would you? It’s just not a good sign. The fact that Stegman and his goons even bother to show up at school at all is an indication of their nastiness — as the film progresses Stegman is revealed as a super-criminal out of a later Charles Bronson film, a rich kid running drugs and whores out of a nightclub and waging gang wars in the streets. Why does he even bother to show up at a music class and track down the teacher at home? It’s like his true business is stamping out civility and goodness wherever a sprout begins to grow.
It’s this spirit of true anarchy that explains why CLASS OF 1984 is revered as a punk film. His fashion sense is oddly more restrained than the outright punkers who follow him around, but Peter Stegman is a pioneer to kids who look to Tyler Durden as an aspirational figure — Stegman may be meaner, but in the scene where he beats himself bloody in a bathroom in order to frame Norris for his own injuries, he’s got FIGHT CLUB beat by seventeen years. From there, his devious strategies grow even darker, and Mr. Norris’s only choice becomes a full-on transformation from music teacher to action hero. In the end, it’s very clear who CLASS OF 1984‘s villain is meant to be, but considering the way he single-handedly knocks the inspirational-teacher genre on its ass, the twisted achievement of Peter Stegman, and Tim Van Patten, and CLASS OF 1984, should not go under-acknowledged.
DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. It’s fun to watch, pure Grindhouse, and it illustrates the spirit of Canadian ingenuity in filmmaking. And there’s a great scene where a bear rips an arm off. Approved.
HEAVY METAL (1981). I own the soundtrack on vinyl (“Radar Rider” by Riggs is blasting in the background as I write this) and I throw on my DVD multiple times a year, usually right around midnight. Yes, I think it’s safe to say HEAVY METAL is my favorite Canadian film. The film’s mix of drugs, sex, and rock and roll sprinkled over various animated horror, sword and sorcery and science fiction short tales never fails to bring out that geeky teenage boy of my past whenever I fire this one up. Produced by Leonard Mogel, publisher of the same named magazine the flick is based on, and the great Ivan Reitman, the film seems merely an excuse for its animators to animate voluptuous, sexy and very naked women and lay great rock music over their eye popping visuals. Luckily, the story segments are well written enough to flesh out a film that could have easily turned into nothing more than an animated peep show. Truly a one way ticket to midnight!
The Great White North has produced a lot of movies I’ve loved, from the menstruation-turns-you-into-a-werewolf teen-horror classic GINGER SNAPS, to Guy Maddin’s magnificent DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN’S DIARY, to Atom Egoyan‘s heartbreaking THE SWEET HEREAFTER.
But I’m going to chose an incredible Canadian film from this year that really knocked the touque off my head, eh. That film is Adam MacDonald’s terrifying BACKCOUNTRY. The story — about a young couple who get lost in the woods, only to discover they’ve entered the territory of a hungry bear — is both a chilling survival tale (bears eating people!) and a look at the perils of machismo (guy refuses to admit he doesn’t know where he’s going and consequently puts his girlfriend at great risk). BACKCOUNTRY is almost traumatically scary, and I was shaken when it was over. So fry up some back bacon, have a few beers, and enjoy this beauty movie.
Also, I apologize to everyone Canadian for writing this in the voice of Bob and Doug McKenzie. They were beloved childhood comedy icons. I’ll take off now. Paging Geddy Lee!
The 1970s must have been the coolest time to be a teenage boy; they had KISS, basically a band of superhero monsters who played rock and roll music about girls, STAR WARS, and Heavy Metal magazine which combined sword and sorcery, science fiction, violence, and buxom, othe-worldly women into the comic book format. It was everything a teenage boy could dream of. I first saw the film version of HEAVY METAL at the perfect age of 14. I had taped it off of TBS Night Flicks, Ted Turner’s version of USA’s Up All Night, which specialized in horror and cult cinema. I was immediately hooked. These were still the early days of “Japanamation” (people still called it Japanimation) making its way to the states and a cartoon that was aimed at adults—or immature teenagers—still seemed like a novelty, even with HEAVY METAL being over a decade old. Having seen this kind of thing in anime for a couple of years, it was weird seeing something that seemed so American, not realizing that it was actually Canadian. There was something very subversive about watching a format that Disney had basically co-opted and made for little kids that featured bare breasts, a little bit of kink, excessive violence, and rock and roll.
One of the things that struck me when I first saw the film was the tremendous voice talent. I grew up in a household that worshiped at the altar of the SCTV/SNL crews and all of the films that came out of that clique, from CADDYSHACK to GHOSTBUSTERS. It seemed so odd to me at 14 that they did this weird, cultish movie that never got an official VHS release and was relegated to late night cable showings. I can only assume that Ivan Reitman wielded quite a bit of influence in Canada in the 70’s and 80’s and that’s how John Candy, Eugene Levy and Joe Flaherty got involved in this dirty cartoon. I once had the pleasure of seeing Harold Ramis speak, and I still regret forgetting to ask him about his experience on HEAVY METAL.
I never really liked the heavy metal genre of music, I was always more so into three-minute songs about girls. The music in the film HEAVY METAL was decidedly not that, and I really dug it. It was all just this great, crunchy, hooky 70s rock. I immediately tracked down the soundtrack on vinyl; my neighborhood was lucky enough to still have an actual record store in 1994. I listed to both those discs incessantly in my parents’ basement, and would listen to Cheap Trick’s “Reach Out” on repeat. I can probably even trace my love of the Rockford, Illinois natives back to the HEAVY METAL soundtrack.
What really makes HEAVY METAL special is the anthology style of the movie. Everyone has their favorites, and they can change with your mood or the day of the week. The stories range from the sci-fi detective noir of HARRY CANYON (THE FIFTH ELEMENT cribbed just a little bit from that one), the stoner sex-comedy of SO BEAUTIFUL AND SO DANGEROUS, and the sword and sorcery of DEN and TAARNA. Each segment has different writers and directors, so the animation and storytelling style shifts from story to story, keeping everything moving. Bored by this segment? Don’t worry, there’s another one coming right up. HEAVY METAL is something special for 14-year-old boys (and probably a few girls too), something that I can’t see ever being captured again.
Before there was film, there was music. Years before I decided to write about film as a part-time/full-time hobby/career/whatever, I was a vocal performance major in college. I almost stuck with it, too, due almost entirely to the efforts of my music history professor. He would often regale us with stories of violence and affairs in the world of classical music, with composers jumping into the crowd to fight with hecklers or secretly writing their mistress’s initials into the musical notes of their compositions.
As a result, I’ve loved EDDIE THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL from the first time I saw it. The film follows a washed up painter who moves to a small town in the middle of Canada to teach at a local art institute. After befriending a local simpleton who has a tendency to eat in his sleep — small animals, humans, you name it — the painter discovers that blood and violence really primes his pump, and he begins to produce some of his finest work in years.
EDDIE THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL is a fantastic dark comedy about the links between violence and art and the pretentious ways in which we talk about our own primal urges. The film is also not afraid to toy with the ideas of culture, as the world-famous painter is something of a hot commodity in a small town not because they like his art, but because he was once famous. With a fantastic performance from Dutch “serious actor” Thure Lindhardt and a memorable cameo from Stephen McHattie, EDDIE THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL manages to be at once high-brow, low-brow, and oh-so painfully overlooked.
One running gag to keep an eye out for? The local NPR radio host, who plays music from famous operas and breathlessly describes the scenes of horrendous violence that immediately precede the songs. Kills me every time.
ROLLING VENGEANCE (1988). This revenge opus came to the world from the wilds of Canada, bringing us the story of Joey Rosso (Don Michael Paul), the handsome truck-drivin’ son of Big Joe Rosso (Lawrence Dane), the rugged truck drivin’ father of.. .er, well, Joey Rosso. We jump right in on the road, as the filmmakers try to pass Canada off as Ohio, and as Joey manhandles the family big rig down the road, with a trailer full of beer and liquor bound for the local watering hole, Doyle’s. That establishment is run by Tiny Doyle (Ned Beatty), quite the local businessman, running a used car lot next door and maintaining a liquor license even though his place is picketed weekly by MADD members, including Joey’s girlfriend Misty (Lisa Howard). And in addition to a girlfriend with a cause, Joey also has a friendly driving competition going with his pal Steve Tyler (Barclay Hope), although I’m not sure how Tyler balanced driving a semi truck through Canada and touring with Aerosmith…
But I digress.
The Rossos are good at what they do, and Big Joe has even scrimped and saved enough for a second semi to double the Rosso Delivery Service, delighting Joey, and Mom Rosso (Hogan) and Joey’s little sisters. This means even less time for Joey to hang out with Misty and work on his mysterious secret project in the barn, but it’s all good, because family is all they’ve got. (Well, except for two semi trucks and a big barn). However, it turns out the heat is on for the Rosso family, and it’s about to reach the Doyling Point. Tiny has five sons — each from a different marriage, with the oldest named Vic, and the rest sporting wonderful monikers like Moon Man, Hair Lip, Finger, and Four Eyes (at least in the credits, as they are never name checked in the flick.).
This DIY group of village idiots like to drink, embarrass their daddy, drink, ogle the strippers at Doyle’s, drink, and cause traffic accidents, like the one that involves them and Steve Tyler and his truck that claims the lives of all three Rosso women. Kind of a case of Doyle M for Murder, but unfortunately, thanks to Tiny’s behind-the-scenes wheeling-dealing (I’m thinking the judge’s bar tab at Doyle’s disappeared and he was the sudden recipient of the “Free Lap Dances for Life” gift card), the sword of justice does not fall on the Doyle boys. They are let off with a $300 fine. Big Joe and Joey are gobsmacked, but try to pick up the pieces of their lives. However, Tiny’s youngins aren’t done with the Rossos yet, and prove to be Doyle Pains a short time later, when a shell-shocked Big Joe is taken out in an impressively mounted jackknifed truck sequence that earned the stunt team their pay that week.
Joey is gobsmacked² and starts thinking about some revenge. He heads back out to the barn, and forgoes sleep, food, and drink, but does employ some power chords, as a great 80’s cheese tune clues us in to The Montage, which then shows us Joey either finishing his original project, or changing his project into some kind of Rolling Vengeance. Soon after, in the wee hours of the morning a huge tank of a monster truck shows up at Doyles’ used car lot and squishes every junker car… er, I mean, fine automobile Tiny had on the lot. Somehow, despite the fact that this is a noisy proposition, and that the crusher is a flame-spouting skyscraper on giant wheels, nobody sees nothing and that truck disappears back to where it came from.
But even the stupid Doyle boys are not that stupid, and they take their final shot at Joey — they kidnap and assault Misty.
That sound you just heard was the two pieces of the Final Straw hitting the ground, and moments later, that big ol’ monster truck is back on the road, and much like Timothy Dalton once said: Joey’s had a “few optional extras installed,” stuff like a giant four foot long drill bit, and cutters, and just about anything you could want to go running all over hill and Doyle, seeking revenge…
This was some fine Canucksploitation, painfully earnest and awesomely silly and coming together into a nice little cinematic package, courtesy of director Steven Hilliard Stern. The cast is mostly okay, though some of the lesser lights are a little wobbly, but the top billed duo of Paul and Dane do well as the tough guy truckers. Acting honors, though, go to the one, the only Ned Beatty, who pulls out all the stops as the sleazy Doyle, from the rat tail mullet to the leather pants, from the hilarious snide remarks he throws at his sons to the sheen of sweat coating him through most of the picture. And he does a nice job playing the guy ostensibly nice at the beginning, although we’re well aware just who the bad guy is going to be from the moment he steps into view.
The stunt work is handled adroitly and the action is parceled out in regular doses, balancing the drama as people named Rosso keep dying off every few minutes. I’m not sure the final attack on Misty was necessary, as losing 80% of your family to drunken shenanigans perpetrated by five ne’er-do-well losers seems reason enough to start running over said losers with a wheeled behemoth without having to resort to a rape scene, but they went there, so the final justice Joey deals out is satisfying to watch. Of course, a movie about a big giant killer truck needs a really good giant killer truck in it. Thankfully, the truck ( is a pretty good movie star vehicle. It is so armored it lacks a bit in the “face” department, but the big stacks blowing flames make up for that a lot.
So, wrapping up, it’s everything you could want in a 1980s high concept revenge flick, with action, sleaze, a little nudity, some violence and some solid stunts topped off with some great cheesy pop music and The Montage. What more could anyone ask?
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