by TEC Team
Published at 2021-10-26
The air is getting colder, the nights are getting darker, and the spookiest season of the year is upon us! For many people, that means watching their favourite Halloween movies. Whether you’re more of a family-friendly Hocus Pocus gal or a gore-loving Halloween guy, there truly is something for everyone. However, if you’re looking for something fresh to watch this Halloween, why not try some classic Canadian content? Beware, though—the films that follow are definitely more of the slasher horror variety. If you’re up for a good scare, read on!
Released in 1997, Cube is a science-fiction/horror film directed by Vincenzo Natali. Cube stars Nicole de Boer (who later played Ezri Dax on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), David Hewlett, Maurice Dean Wint, Nicky Guadagni, and Andrew Miller. With very little exposition at the beginning of the movie, viewers must hit the cinematic ground running in much the same fashion as the five very different main characters: a mathematician, a self-proclaimed “office-guy,” a police officer, a doctor, and an autistic man must do their best to work together to stay alive and find a way out of a complicated maze full of high-tech death traps.
Pre-empting the early 21st-century kidnap/torture-maze movie craze that helped give films of questionable value, such as Hostel or Saw, a leg up, Cube focuses more on the concept than it does on the gore. I originally saw Cube as a teenager shortly after it came out. Watching it as an adult, though, I find that it has more in common with a play by Jean-Paul Sartre than it does with typical horror movie fare. Cartesian co-ordinates, prime numbers, and the evils caused by headless bureaucracies all feature in this disturbing and cynical film, so if you’re looking for a high-concept psychological science-fiction thriller to get you in the mood for Halloween then this genre-bending film (that inspired both a sequel and a prequel) is right up your alley.
Hunter Hunter isn’t a true slasher film, I have to say, but it does have several elements of one. I highly recommend this all-Canadian film that was released in 2020 and directed by Shawn Linden. It stars Canadian actors Camille Sullivan (who plays Anne, mom and wife), Summer H. Howell (who plays Renee, teenage daughter), and Devon Sawa (who plays Joe, dad and husband). The family live in a rustic (very rustic) cabin in the Manitoba woods just north of Winnipeg, along with canine companion, Tova. Joe’s family took over this land three generations ago to work the trap lines and it’s a way of life he prefers. Anne confesses to marrying into his choice but feels it is time for Renee to be among people. You see her point early on in the movie—the isolation, the work of setting traps, the skinning and tanning of hides of beaver and muskrat that Anne takes into the nearby town’s all-purpose corner store to exchange for food. It’s a rough life.
It’s also a dangerous one. Which comes into full view when a lone wolf makes its presence known. “Who’s afraid of a wolf?” Joe asks Renee as they begin to set traps on one of the lines deep in the woods. And so begins the hunt for the threat that they all begin to feel. It creeps up on them, that sense of being watched and stalked as they go about their daily routine of collecting water from the river, preparing meals, and cleaning and setting traps. Yes, traps play a big role in this film and several are being set as the film unfolds. What starts out as a somewhat serene movie set in the late autumn woods soon escalates into a suspenseful fight for survival between Anne and Renee and a shadowy stalker— just as Joe has disappeared.
One of the scariest movies of my childhood was Black Christmas (originally titled Silent Night, Evil Night in the United States): a 1974 Canadian slasher film by Bob Clark, who would go on to make the decidedly less horrifying holiday classic A Christmas Story in 1983. In the past, I tried to make the case that this was absolutely a Christmas movie too, just as many have done with Die Hard (1988), but it’s really not: It’s way too disturbing. I remember being terrified by the VHS box alone at the local Canadian Tire (yes, they used to rent movies). Black Christmas took advantage of the fact that the Capital Cost Allowance of that year raised the tax deduction limit for investment in Canadian-produced movies to 100 percent, creating an irresistible tax shelter for the film industry. This allowed the producers to bring American directors like Clark to work in Canada, but some of the film’s stars are still instantly recognizable from Canadian film and television, such as Margot Kidder or Andrea Martin.
Inspired both by an urban legend about a teenage babysitter who receives telephone calls from a stalker and by a series of real murders by serial killer Wayne Boden that took place in the Westmount neighbourhood of Montreal between 1969 and 1971, the film is set in a sorority house over Christmas break (in fact, it was shot on the University of Toronto campus). The young women who live there receive threatening phone calls and are almost all eventually stalked and murdered by a deranged killer.
The movie set the pattern for the better-known slasher films of the future, such as Friday the 13th (1980), Halloween (1978), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). It has been remade twice (in 2006 and 2019), but the original is better and scarier: it was recently named “the definitive Canadian horror text” by Rue Morgue, and it landed on IndieWire’s list of the greatest horror movies of all time.
This Canadian horror flick written by Karen Walton and directed by John Fawcett puts an unconventional twist on the familiar werewolf myth, making it a satirical (albeit extremely violent) coming-of-age story that uses lycanthropy as a metaphor for “becoming a woman.” The film follows the initially inseparable teenaged sisters Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins), two death-obsessed social outcasts who rebel against the monotony of middle-class suburbia and plan to one day escape it by way of their joint suicide pact. But when Ginger is attacked by some mysterious beast the same night of her first period, the sisters start to find themselves increasingly at odds—Ginger experiencing transformations, both physical and emotional, that leave a bloody trail in her wake, and young Brigitte getting left behind all together.
I would have been a few years younger than the two female protagonists when this film first came out—too young, probably, to have handled its extreme gore or to have been able to recognize all the ways it transgresses the familiar tropes of the horror genre. But watching it now, some twenty years later, I was able to appreciate those genre-breaking qualities and was especially affected by the deep sense of nostalgia the film invoked in me. As much as I still love some of the other Hollywood teenage horror “classics” of that era, it was hard for me, then and still now, to relate to the wealthy “high school kids” in Scream (1996), who are all drop dead-gorgeous and look to be at least twenty-six years old, or to the sunny, picturesque beach town setting of I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). Where Ginger Snaps really delivers for me is in its realism and authenticity to my own lived experience. Maybe not the deadly monsters or all the gruesome murder and carnage, but certainly the pimple-faced sixteen-year-old boys, the overwrought suburban angst, and the dull grey skies of October in Canada.
I’ll be honest: I’m not a huge watcher of horror movies, so I can’t say I’ve seen any Canadian horror flicks. However, I do make the occasional exception around the spookiest time of year. So, this year, on my “to watch” list is the Canadian cult classic Prom Night, a 1980 slasher tale starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen. (Oddly enough, 1980 was also the year the Nielsen’s classic deadpan comedy Airplane! was released—definitely two opposite ends of the spectrum there.) Of course, Jamie Lee Curtis had already earned her scream queen reputation in Halloween, which had been released to great success two years prior, in 1978.
Prom Night tells the tale of four teens who are targeted (on prom night) by a deadly masked killer seeking revenge for the accidental death of a young girl six years earlier—a death that all four teens witnessed. The movie was filmed in Toronto, so I look forward to keeping an eye out for familiar streets and landmarks that pop up. Another quirk of the film is that it not only gained its cult following for great horror content, but also apparently for its disco-heavy soundtrack. Gory murders and disco aren’t a pairing I believe I’ve encountered before, but I’m excited to see what kind of movie-watching experience they create!
Who knows? Maybe Prom Night will earn its way onto the curated list of horror movies I seek out every Halloween!
For more creepy Halloween content, check out this blog on the origins of this spooky holiday!