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Oh, Canada! How I Love Thee... Horror Movies!

Blog post: Jessica

Alright, originally for this month’s blog post I had planned for something completely different and a bit of a heavy topic. However, in light of everything happening right now I decided to keep this month light. Times are tough with the ambiguity in the world and social distancing, while necessary to help curb the spread, is stressful for people. It’s important to find the elements in your life that make you feel safe and bring you joy. So I decided to talk about my new fascination with Canadian horror cinema especially since this month has been all about David Cronenberg, a director who has left a considerable footprint on the genre, it felt appropriate.

Image from: Deadly Movies

I will be honest, I am not the greatest Canadian. I am not a huge hockey fan and not obsessed with Tim Hortons or poutine. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a Canadian and have gratitude for living in such a beautiful and internationally well-respected country. However, I have never been really good at exploring or supporting our media arts. I used to think our music, television series and movies were boring and they just had this feeling of not being as ‘sexy’ as the media from the US or as ‘sophisticated’ as the media from Europe. I know that other people have felt that way and it is the reason why Canadian horror cinema has not garnered the same cult following as Italy, Korea, or France. Though what I have discovered is that as I delved further into the horror genre Canadian film-making is a hidden gem as we bring to the table some really original ideas.

When I sit down and really think about the first horror film that captured my attention and started me on this journey of writing and podcasting about horror, it was The Changeling (1980). It is a psychological horror film that combines the themes of grief and loss with a traditional haunted house to give us a bone-chilling paranormal story. The Changeling is in my top ten list of favourite horror films. And guess what? It’s Canadian! This was my first taste of Canadian horror and it intrigued me. But I still wasn’t sold on it yet.

Black Christmas (1974)

Then I listened to the very first episode by the Faculty of Horror, a Canadian podcast done by horror academics Andrea Subissati and Alexandra West, and they talked about the slasher classic Black Christmas (1974) in comparison to John Carpenter’s Halloween (1979). The episode was engaging and sparked my interest in looking at the horror genre from an academic and critical lens. It was around the time I stopped being afraid of the genre and embraced how it shows the world it’s ugly truths. I enjoyed the dialogue so much around Black Christmas that I sought it out and it was one of the first horror movies I bought on blu-ray. I watched it by myself late one night and was chilled by Bob Clarke’s use of the killer’s POV and the phone rantings of Billy. The scene when Jess sees the eye of the killer after finding Barb dead in her bedroom made me jump. But what really captivated me about this film was the premise, especially being from the 1970s. We have independent women being stalked by a crazed killer in a sorority house. They drink, smoke, talk about sex and most importantly a woman’s right to choose. The added element of Jess making the decision to have an abortion despite her boyfriend Peter’s wishes for her to keep it and marry him was, and still is, huge. This was the turning point for me - I knew now how I wanted to engage with the horror community and that was through creating my own podcast and writing.

This is when I started to explore the academic analysis of the horror genre and the very first book I picked up at Chapters was The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul. This book is a collection of essays from well-known contributors in the horror community such as Andrea Subissati and Paul Corupe, that highlights a century of Canadian horror film-making. It explores the tax-shelter days of the 1970s, slasher films, Francophone Horror and how much they celebrate “Canadiana”. I loved learning about how some of our most beloved Canadian horror films were produced during a time we call the “tax shelter days.” This was a time period from 1975 - 1982 when the Canadian federal government allowed investors to deduct 100% of their investment in Canadian feature films from their taxable income. This allowed for a massive influx of films to come out from Canadian film production companies and for the industry to continue to grow and gain valuable experience.

My Blood Valentine (1981)

The films that gained the most out of these tax shelter days in the Canadian film industry was the horror genre. During this time period, we got classic horror films like Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), Prom Night (1980), The Changeling (1980), and My Bloody Valentine (1981). However, this also garnered a lot of controversy and criticism from the cultural elite in Canada who felt that taxpayers' dollars were being spent on producing disgusting and disgraceful films that were a poor reflection of the Canadian film industry. But despite this attack, many of the films produced during this time period earned either commercial or critical success upon its initial release or would go on to earn a cult following turning some of these films into classics.

When I look back at how my horror journey started, it was really impacted by some wonderful Canadian horror films. And as I have continued to explore more horror films from Canada, I am developing such a strong appreciation for how we have contributed to the horror genre and add to it our own Canadian flare. Often the themes in Canadian horror is about searching for an identity (Ginger Snaps, Pin, The Brood, Pyewacket), and how our winters hold the constant threat of cold isolation (PontyPool, Cube).

Ginger Snaps (2000)
PontyPool (2008)

As a country, Canada has a lot to offer the horror genre, not only with our stories and themes but our talents such as directors like David Cronenberg, Bob Clarke, Jen and Sylvia Soska, the Astron-6 group and Adam MacDonald. When I look at the list of Canadian produced or directed films, I can’t believe how many of them I have seen and love, like The Void and The VVitch, and I really can’t wait to continue to explore more of what we have to offer. I would encourage you to delve into more of what Canada has to offer in the horror genre and to get you started here is a list from Bloody Disgusting! Terror from the Tundra: 20 Awesome Canadian Horror Movies!

Pyewackt (2017)

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