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.”
Canadian horror, and I don’t mean Tim Horton’s running out of Timbits just before your coffee break, but the kind of scary movies we make, tends to turn convention on its head.
How many hack comics have joked about the beastly effects of PMS? “Ginger Snaps” takes those jokes one step further in a wickedly humorous feminist werewolf allegory. Other examples of distinctive CanCon horror include “Black Christmas,” a movie shot in Toronto that set the template for most of the slasher films of the 1980s and ’90s, “Cannibal Girls,” an early horror comedy, and don’t even get me started on the squirmy body terror of David Cronenberg.
“Hellions,” a new film that smashes up “The Brood” and “Are You Afraid of the Dark,” is a fresh look at the Devil Child genre.
Chloe Rose is Dora, a pregnant high schooler left home alone on Halloween. She’s waiting for her boyfriend (Luke Bilyk) to come over but before he gets there kids in creepy costumes come to the door. At first it seems harmless, but when the same kids reappear, this time with Dora’s boyfriend’s head in their candy sack, things take a terrifying turn for the macabre.
Director Bruce McDonald, working from a script by “The Colony” screenwriter Pascal Trottier, has made a film hat is short on actual hardcore scares, but long on unease. McDonald uses visual tricks—nightmarish red and pink colour palettes, slow motion and inky darkness—dreamy sequences and a spooky children’s chant to underline Dora’s mounting fear.
“Hellions” isn’t the kind of slice-and-dice movie we’ve come to expect from home invasion movies like “You’re Next.” Instead it’s a loosely plotted, hallucinogenic horror that is more weird than scary.
The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) premieres some of the most anticipated blockbuster films and attracts some of the biggest A-listers in Hollywood. This year is certainly no exception with expected appearances from Julianne Moore, Matt Damon, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Johnny Depp, Rachel McAdams and many more.
Each year we get the inside scoop on the hottest TIFF premieres from renowned Canadian critic Richard Crouse. As the the regular film critic for CTV’s Canada AM, the 24-hour news source CTV’s News Channel, and CP24, Crouse is an expert in what films to see…and what films to skip.
From biopics to fantasy films, he’s rounded up his Top 10 Must-See Films of TIFF 2015 exclusively for NKPR.