The Pyx (1973) Karen Black stars (and also sings three songs in the film’s soundtrack) as Elizabeth Lucy, a heroin-addicted prostitute in Montreal. Christopher Plummer plays police detective Jim Henderson, tasked with investigating her untimely death (Did she jump from a high-rise apartment, or was she pushed?). The film alternates between Henderson gathering clues and Elizabeth’s story (told in flashback). As Henderson approaches the truth, The Pyx departs from a straight police procedural, descending into horror territory. This slow-building, criminally underseen thriller captivates, thanks to Black’s committed, sympathetic performance. What’s a Pyx? Watch and find out.
Rating: ***½. Available on DVD
Blood and Donuts (1995) Director Holly Dale’s low budget romantic horror comedy isn’t the same old thing, balancing its disparate thematic elements surprisingly well. Boya (Gordon Currie), a vampire, wakes up from a 25-year slumber, settling into a seedy Toronto flophouse. He befriends Earl (Louis Ferreira), a down-on-his-luck cab driver, and falls for Molly (Helene Clarkson) a jaded waitress at an all-night donut hangout. While he’s exploring his romantic options with Molly, he’s pursued by his former girlfriend from the late ‘60s. Complications ensue, no thanks to some inept two-bit hoods and their impatient crime boss (played by David Cronenberg – Yes, that David Cronenberg). It manages to maintain a light touch, without skimping on the horror aspects – a difficult task, indeed.
Available on DVD (If you can find it)
The Dog Who Stopped the War (1984)* The first in producer Rock Demers’ series of family films, “Tales for All,” is a gentle parable about the futility of war. During winter break, a group of bored kids agree to fight a war, while adhering to a strict set of rules. The ensuing series of battles pit friends against friends and household against household. The child actors appear refreshingly natural in their roles, presumably just playing themselves. Amidst the comedy are some important lessons about life, death, and friendship, galvanized by the eponymous neighborhood dog.
* Fun Fact: The movie was remade in 2015, in animated form, as Snowtime!
Available on DVD (If you can find it)
Happy Birthday to Me (1981) Director J. Lee Thompson’s slasher movie (with obvious giallo influences) keeps you guessing throughout, with red herrings a-plenty. Melissa Sue Anderson stars as Virginia Wainwright, a high school girl with gaps in her memory, due to a past traumatic event. Things are brought to a head when her friends start dying off, one by one, in grisly ways. Glenn Ford co-stars as her psychiatrist, Dr. David Farady, who attempts to assemble the pieces of her missing past. The story’s myriad twists and turns don’t always make sense, but it’s a diverting funhouse ride.
Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD
The Christmas Martian (1971) A pair of plucky kids befriend a Martian wearing a fishnet body stocking and ski mask (don’t ask). They engage in a bunch of frolicsome winter hijinks, and help him repair his flying saucer. Their parents seem oddly unconcerned about their missing progeny, taking most of the movie’s running time to eventually get off their butts to form a search party. Provided you can endure the bad acting and terrible songs, you might learn the true meaning of friendship… or something. I don’t know, my brain hurts.
Rating: **. Available on Prime Video (to rent), or YouTube (for now)
Things (1989) Two aimless friends spend a night in an in-law’s house, only to become mixed up in the aftermath of a fertility experiment gone horribly awry. That’s about the extent of this 83-minute plotless exercise in frustration. The “Things” in question, resemble poorly articulated, lumpy Zanti Misfits (from the eponymous Outer Limits episode). Porn actress Amber Lynn appears for no particular reason (except, perhaps, so filmmakers Andrew Jordan and Barry J. Gillis could feature some “star” power), as a news anchor, delivering her lines in the most monotone way imaginable. It’s tedious, incoherent, and utterly lacking in any entertainment value (Don’t give me the “so bad it’s good” defense. It’s simply bad). Oh, the humanity!
Rating: *. Available on DVD