RUE MORGUE magazine, Fantasia Festival's official webzine SPECTACULAR OPTICAL and his own site, CANUXPLOITATION (their 'Summer of VHS' series is HIGHLY recommended!).
Follow him on Twitter @Paulcorupe.
Follow him on Twitter @Paulcorupe.
A fictional story extrapolated from a real police labour strike on Canada's east coast, this fascinating and surprisingly progressive thriller has a band of citizens trying to hold off a force of vigilante cops who have forced them to defend themselves inside an apartment complex. Pinned down by snipers, the group—which includes a pair of blind teens, a soldier of fortune and a gay man targeted by the police—start to craft their own homemade weapons and prepare for war. A tense, top-notch suspense film that makes the best of a modest budget, Siege is one of the best crafted Canadian genre films of the 1980s, a movie that builds to a crescendo of violence but also speaks out against police brutality and homophobia. Siege received a handful of home video releases over the years, including Media's VHS tape packaged under the film's alternate title, Self Defense, but still has not suited up for the digital age.
Maybe not a “gem” in the strictest sense but undeniably the crown jewel of my modest VHS collection, this interesting little horror spoof stars exotic beauty Nai Bonet, a belly dancer turned actress who appeared in handful of exploitation films in the 1970s. Bonet also produced and wrote the film that posits her as the granddaughter of Dracula, a Club 54-era neckbiter who emigrates fromTransylvania to Manhattan
vamp it up with a well-stocked supporting cast including John
Carradine, Yvonne De Carlo, Brother Theodore and Sy Richardson as a
badass vampire pimp. One of a handful of similar Dracula take-offs
released at the time, along with Vampire Hookers and Old Dracula,
it's a mostly amusing romp that features endless disco dancing scenes
and an extended nude bath sequence—reportedly the reason that Bonet has
declined to have the film re-released in the last 30 years since its
debut as a Media Home Entertainment VHS tape.
Some people are surprised to learn that my personal favourite Canadian film isn’t an exploitation movie, but rather this post-modern spin on mid-century B-cinema that captivated me as a kid and continues to impress me to this day. Writer/director John Paizs also plays Steven Penny, a frustrated screenwriter of “colour crime movies” who can only think of the beginning and ending of scripts until he receives the help of his landlord’s daughter. Mining 1950s iconography, the film boasts an intentionally flat, Technicolor look and a strong graphic design sensibility as it interweaves fragments from Steven’s absurd unmade films, which feature a tragic Elvis impersonator, murderous Amway salespeople and masochistic self-help gurus, all in the staccato style of 1940s movie trailers. But it’s more than just a goof on the optimism of post-war prosperity and the frustration of writer’s block—there’s also a sweet emotional core to the film. Originally released on VHS by Norstar Home Video, this landmark Canadian film—I consider it the finest comedy ever made in the Great White North—hasn’t made the jump to DVD, neglected by a clueless rights holder.
As I already established in my earlier list of best “bad” movies I love, there’s few things I enjoy more than a film that makes good on its simplistically moronic concept. I was sold on Dick Maas’ Dutch horror oddity about a killer elevator the moment I saw the Media VHS box art—a crudely drawn man with his head stuck between an elevator’s doors with the tagline, “Take the Stairs, Take the Stairs…For God’s Sake Take the Stairs!!!” Anyone picking up this release probably didn’t expect much more than the usual sleazy schlock, butMaas actually manages some tangible atmosphere and decent death scenes as a repairman and a female journalist uncover a nefarious corporate plot that is killing people. Of course it helps that he doesn’t take things too seriously either. Maas remade the film in English in 2001 as The Shaft, but this is the real deal, VHS only-style. Going up!
Director Larry Yust followed up one of my favourite unknown blaxploitation films, 1972’sTrick Baby, with this unique horror film about pensioners who are about to be evicted out of their apartments by an unscrupulous landlord. Banding together, they start sabotaging a nearby development, killing the construction workers and developers that have targeted their building next. Featuring gritty 1970s location work and a cast of aged character actors, it’s a visceral horror film with a social conscious that turns on its wickedly dark sense of humour—a film that’s comparable to minor cult items like Private Parts and The Wrong Box but has yet to reach the same notoriety. Released on VHS by Embassy in 1984, it’s easy to see why the film is still not well known—the plain looking box art only features a portrait of actress Frances Fuller and the tagline, “A Murder a Day Keeps the Landlord Away!”, which probably didn’t draw in any of the horror fans that would have appreciated it most.