Horror review: Nightmare in Canada



Is there a Canadian identity when it comes to horror films? Director Jennifer Adcock ponders that idea in Nightmare in Canada: Canadian Horror on Film, a provocative one-hour documentary that collects snippets of seminal Canadian fright flicks and intersperses them with commentary from a bevy of critics, authors, and filmmakers.

Even if you don’t support the theory of a uniquely Canadian vision of horror, you will exit this Nightmare knowing that our country has spawned some pretty sick ‘n’ twisted little mind messers.

Toronto Star movie critic Geoff Pevere contends that there aren’t a lot of monsters in Canuck scare films. Horror novelist Edo van Belkom seconds that impression by pointing out that Canadian horror flicks more often pit man against nature, citing the Stephen King-endorsed terror-in-the-wilds outing Rituals of 1977. (Apparently, it’s very Canadian to get hopelessly lost in the woods.)

Pop-culture critic Richard Crouse asserts that Canuck horror is typified more by an atmosphere of dread than by blatant gore, using Bob Clark’s widely acclaimed 1974 shocker Black Christmas as a prime example. Crouse admits that we do have our share of mindless ’80s body-count flicks, though, such as Prom Night and the Maritimes-shot My Bloody Valentine, which he describes as “the dirty little secrets of Canadian film”.

No analysis of Canadian horror would be worthy without emphasis on the career of director David Cronenberg. Pevere relates how, in Cronenberg’s early flesh-obsessed work like Shivers and Rabid, the director saw horror as something that was essentially viral. Later ’80s films like Scanners and Videodrome explored what goes on in the psyche.

According to Ginger Snaps screenwriter Karen Walton, Cronenberg is “the undisputed champion of just messing up your brain for good”. A clip from Shivers shows a sluglike parasite crawling up from a bathtub drain to painfully penetrate an unsuspecting brunette (B-movie queen Barbara Steele).

Nightmare in Canada also features insights on the attraction of the horror genre in general. According to Walton, “the allure of horror is absolutely the ability to talk about what nobody wants to talk about.” Pevere recalls, when he was a child, descending an open stairway to the basement freezer. There was always the fear that hands might shoot out from between the steps and grab his ankles.

“For me,” he states, “the horror movie allows me to vicariously peek behind those stairs without actually having to go down and get the ice cream.”

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