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Northern frights revisited

Next week, as horror movie fans across the globe prepare to get atorrent of blood, pick axes and various viscera splattered onto theirlaps in Patrick Lussier’s 3-D remake of My Bloody Valentine, it's agood time to reflect on the fact that director George Mihalka’soriginal 1981 mad miner slasher epic was a prime piece of Canadianshock.

Next week, as horror movie fans across the globe prepare to get a torrent of blood, pick axes and various viscera splattered onto their laps in Patrick Lussier’s 3-D remake of My Bloody Valentine, it's a good time to reflect on the fact that director George Mihalka’s original 1981 mad miner slasher epic was a prime piece of Canadian shock.

The original — shot in Sydney Mines, N.S. — was one of many northern frights whose international popularity helped shape one of the most fascinating periods in our film history. Yep, Canada was once a major hub for horror.

The first kick at the creepy Can-con can came with 1961’s The Mask, a lowbrow 3-D picture that opened the gates for a glorious wave of eerie exploitation filmmaking.

Later, a couple of enterprising Montreal-based cinema-slingers, John Dunning and Andre Link, formed Cinepix, a distribution house that released Kung Fu (they were the first outfit to distribute Bruce lee films in North America), horror and sex comedies and would make the most profound impact, discovering both Ivan Reitman (who unleashed the cult Eugene Levy/Andrea Martin gore classic Cannibal Girls in 1973) and perhaps most importantly, David Cronenberg.

It was Dunning and Link — Canada’s equivalent to American International Pictures — who funded early icky Cronenberg efforts like 1975’s Shivers and the following year’s Rabid; tirelessly defending his controversial work and helping to put the young auteur on the map. Cinepix would eventually spit out scads of unsavory fare like the legendary Ilsa She Wolf of the SS (it’s rumoured that Reitman himself wrote that gruesome film under a pseudonym) and would capitalize on the stalk and slash trend sparked by both Halloween and the far bloodier Friday the 13th with J. Lee Thompson’s shish kebob abusing Happy Birthday To Me and, of course, My Bloody Valentine.

Though Dunning and Link weren’t the only ones making waves in the realms of the weird — Bob Clark’s landmark 1975 thriller Black Christmas still stands as the quintessential Canadian stomach turner — their joyously un-PC efforts were groundbreaking.

And these days, with American producers opting to shoot movies like Saw and Silent Hill in our streets (even zombie master George Romero moved to Toronto in 2004) and homegrown heroes like East Coast upstart Jason Eisener drawing attention, it’s only a matter of time before the term “hoser” becomes synonymous with horror once more.

 
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