Canadian horror — and I don’t mean when a Zamboni breaks down just before your ice time, but the kind of scary movies we make — tends to go against the grain. Movies like Ginger Snaps, Cannibal Girls and the squirmy body terror of David Cronenberg bring fresh points of view to established mythologies to breathe new life into old genres.
In 2008 director Bruce McDonald did just that with the bio-terror freakout, Pontypool. The story of a God Bug that turns people into zombies barely gives us a glimpse of the walking dead, instead replacing the gore with brain matter, making it one of the smartest undead movies in years.
He’s genre-bending again, this time in Hellions, a home invasion survival tale with a demonic twist. McDonald says Canadian filmmakers mess with traditional formulas for two reasons. The first is practical.
“The script, when I first read it, read easily like a 40-day shoot, $5-million movie,” he says. “But then you get the news that you only have 20 days and less money. There’s no choice but to subvert and say, ‘We have to now begin with this established premise and show a world we kind of know, but subtly we have to make some different kinds of choices.’
“Hellions was much more of an action picture, in a sense, but you need time to make action. A sequence will work much better in 25 shots than in three shots. That’s the practical nature of handmade Canadian cinema. We don’t have the big machine but we do have some smart people and we know how to do it. That does create a spin on things. You’re outside the gates of Hollywood and when the parents are away the kids will play.”
The second reason? “Canadians are naturally mischievous and like to f— with people,” he laughs.
McDonald’s extensive resume includes Canadian classics like Hard Core Logo and Highway 61, but it’s not heavily weighted to horror, even though he says Oct. 31 gave him his “Mr. Entertainment Gene.”
“I have loved Halloween more than any other holiday since I was young,” he says. “I think it was my first theatre. My first way into this entertainment world I love so much. I wasn’t Catholic so I didn’t get to the ceremonies of the Catholic Church and the robes and the incense and the priests and visions of hell. For a little Protestant kid from the suburbs, Halloween was the best.”