Paul Corupe writes about movies for RUE MORGUE magazine, Fantasia Festival's official webzine SPECTACULAR OPTICAL and my own site, CANUXPLOITATION. From the CANUXPLOITATION site:
"Since 1999, Canuxploitation.com has been exploring and documenting the murky world of Canadian "exploitation" cinema. With an emphasis on the past, our dedicated review team digs into dusty VHS deletion bins, combs through dollar store DVD racks and braves the wasteland of late night TV to investigate and reclaim Canada's once forgotten B-movie tradition with style and humour. "
Paul is a cool fella with great and varied taste in films! Read on!
Caught Plastered (1931)
TCM's Canadian schedule often differs slightly from the U.S. broadcast, and last January during a special day of stateside programming they offered up about 18 Wheeler and Woolsey comedies back to back. Having already enjoyed the pair's film MUMMY'S BOYS, I watched 'em all and CAUGHT PLASTERED really stood out--I'd easily stack it against W.C. Fields' films or even some of the Marx Brothers' works. One of the unjustly forgotten comedy teams of the '30s, the naively sweet Bert Wheeler and his overbearing shyster partner Robert Woolsey wore their vaudeville roots on their sleeves, but their puns and witty wisecracks could be almost as good as Groucho and Chico in their prime. In this RKO film, they help a widow turn around a bankrupt drug store by opening a hugely successful new lunch counter, unaware that the soda syrup they've been buying is spiked and they're actually running a speakeasy. It's the strongest plot of the bunch and the drug store locale allows lots of room for loose and funny bits before the picture falls in for a typically anarchic ending. My favourite line? "These moth balls are no good at all--I haven't been able to hit one moth yet!"
Loving and Laughing (1971)
In the late 1960s, Montreal producer Cinepix specialized in French-language softcore films that mixed comedy, nudity and nationalism in equal measures, a mini-genre boom later dubbed "maple syrup porn". But when the company tried to expand these films to an English audience, they were met with indifference. That's too bad, because the films are often fun and playfully sexy. In this one, a rich kid decides to spend the summer in a French-Canadian hippie commune while his barefooted counterpart heads to Vermont to tutor some lonely young women. These films were usually breezy and forgettable, but Cinepix was firing on all cylinders here--the cast is more than game, the soundtrack is chock full of great '70s rock and there's full-frontal nudity from both sexes (including an eye-raising sex scene with local starlet Celine Lomez). Even the jokes are quite funny, such as a spot-on Morricone soundtrack parody when the hippies arrive in town to grab supplies under the mistrusting eye of the local police. A rarity on VHS, I programmed a 35mm print of this as part of a series of supplemental screenings for a cult film class at the University of Toronto. The theater wasn't exactly full, but those who did show up really enjoyed it--including me!
The Odessa File (1974)
In any other year this probably wouldn't have made my list, but here we are. Jon Voight goes undercover as a former SS officer and hunts Nazi survivors in this tense and often beautifully shot '70s thriller. It's a little on the methodical side, but buoyed by great performances by Voight (probably his last really good one) and Maximilian Schell, plus there's a tense climax that brings in a nice twist to make it all worthwhile. The realistic concentration camp sequence and scenes of old party Nazi loyalty, such as the German beer hall meeting, still arouse disgust and bring home just what Voight's investigative reporter character is trying to accomplish. Those that criticize the film's curious musical score--Perry Como's accordion-laced "Christmas Dream" is the theme--should pay closer attention to its dark lyrics.
80 Blocks from Tiffany's (1979)
This engaging documentary on New York City street gangs is almost like watching THE WARRIORS come to real life and is required viewing for all fans of early '80s hip hop films (I'm talking WILD STYLE and STYLE WARS here, not BREAKIN'). The focus is on candid interviews with gang members of the Savage Nomads and the Savage Skulls, but director Gary Weis, also a filmmaker for Saturday Night Live at the time, talks to cops, local old timers and social workers to provide a bigger picture of the desolate, almost post-apocalyptic looking South Bronx neighbourhood they share. Tales of robberies and dangerous weapons are troubling, though a recreated scene of kids using a pair of busted crutches to steal from a delivery truck is almost hilariously in its ingenuity. Some of the most memorable moments come when the gangs start asking Weis about his life and seemingly can't even fathom anything outside of their own immediate experiences, which are almost completely defined by poverty and violence.
Wise Blood (1979)
Based on Flannery O'Connor's novel, John Huston's late-career masterpiece is a cynical Southern Gothic deconstruction of organized religion, as Brad Dourif plays a Godless war vet who starts the Church of Truth without Christ, a belief system where "the blind don't see and the lame don't walk and what's dead stays that way." In a Southern Georgia crawling with con artists, mentally damaged adults and corrupt cops, the intensity of O'Connor's written word shines through, keeping WISE BLOOD an engagingly human tragedy about a man who mistakenly builds himself into a prophet almost entirely against his will. Dourif and his love interest Amy Wright are riveting and there are nice supporting turns by Harry Dean Stanton and Ned Beatty. Hard to believe that Huston went from this to the Canadian co-production PHOBIA (1980), a truly terrible psychotherapy thriller.
Kill Squad (1982)
Every well-travelled movie fan knows that there's trash movies and then there's unbelievably great trash movies. I watched far more trash than "good" films this year, including MR. NO LEGS, HOLLYWOOD COP and THE INTRUDER (and any could have been in this slot), but this was probably my favourite, in which handicapped businessman Joseph Lawrence assembles a crack force of ex-Vietnam vets to take out a rival. The distinctly low-rent atmosphere, silly title and atrocious kung fu skills are easy to laugh off when a film is this much fun, kind of a comic book fantasy take on THE DIRTY DOZEN featuring never-ending fights, funky beats and a left-field plot twist involving a mysterious sniper targetting the squad. "Joesph needs you"... to watch this movie!
The Girl Can't Help It (1956)
Yes, I know I'm required to hate musicals--they're phony, contrived and generally lacking in the serious approach required for "important" cinema. And yet you occasionally run into a garishly coloured rock 'n' roll confection like THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT, and all that's forgotten like last week's hit single. Former animator Frank Tashlin directs this sugar-coated ode to the new musical fad peaking across the nation with a cartoonish bombast that perfectly suits the material. The story's an old one--ex-gangster meets girl, hires agent to make her famous despite her lack of talent, and loses it when he discovers the two have fallen for each other. But, as the gangster's moll, star Jayne Mansfield is at her most buxotic (to borrow a phrase) and the film finds ways to organically incorporate its musical numbers, as a rash of nightclub visits lead to performances by the likes of the Platters, Abbey Lincoln, Eddie Cochran and Little Richard, among others. It's surprisingly subversive too--under all the gloss is a canny critique of the music biz, where a behind-the-scenes cast of gangsters and criminals craft pop culture image campaigns as opposed to real musical quality.
Wake in Fright (1971)
In a word, harrowing. Probably one of the scariest films you've ever seen that doesn't really qualify as horror, this Australian-shot classic is an oppressive tale of a traveling teacher who gets stuck in a dingy and depressing mining town when he drunkenly gambles away his paycheck. I caught this at the Fantasia Film Festival with Canadian director Ted Kotcheff in person and was amazed at how deeply this effort sticks with you. Gary Bond's luckless teacher is drawn into a intensely vulgar culture of binge drinking and brutal masculinity that culminates in a (purposely) unsettling kangaroo hunt, his life turned into an unending nightmare from which he cannot--and sometimes does not want to--escape. Donald Pleasance has never been better as the alcoholic doctor that either befriends Bond or won't leave him alone until he's insane. So dark and gritty you'll be picking outback sand out of your teeth for days.
The Hidden Hand (1942)
I'm a sucker for old dark house movies, the older, darker, spookier and sillier the better. That's why Warner Archives' "Horror/Mystery Double Features" MOD DVD release was one of the best DVD purchases I made last year, and though I had already seen the set's centrepiece, SH! THE OCTOPUS, I was also taken with this fast-paced programmer in which the mad matriarch of a rich family fakes her own death to watch her relatives fight over her money. I usually judge old dark house films by the number of genre stereotypes they employ, including secret passages, will readings, sliding panels and escaped mental patients, and this one gets full marks. The almost always excellent Willie Best provides the comic relief, but the film's so much fun that his inclusion almost seems like an afterthought.
The Island (1980)
Michael Ritchie is one of my favourite directors and even though this modern-day pirate adventure, based on a novel by Peter Benchley, isn't his finest hour, it's much better than it's reputation suggests. These aren't Johnny-Depp-in-a-costume-shop pirates, but a more dangerous breed of thief with a corrupted culture and language that run raids on unlucky ships in the area. Michael Caine plays a reported investigating disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle kidnapped by the clan, who then try to brainwash his son into joining their ranks. The plot, adapted by Benchley himself, is messy but the film itself endlessly ambitious, with surprisingly gory attacks, breathtaking Caribbean locations and intense performances. There's may be a lot of production values in this one--plane explosions, pirate weddings and naval fleets springing into action, but Ritchie's hard cynicism beats underneath, keeping the action well grounded.