Monday, June 26, 2023

Weird Canada Month Quick Picks and Pans


The Pyx

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

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.   

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD (If you can find it) 


The Dog Who Stopped the War

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! 

Rating: ***. Available on DVD (If you can find it) 

Happy Birthday to Me

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 

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


Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare


Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare Poster

(1987) Directed by John Fasano; Written by Jon-Mikl Thor; Starring: Jon-Mikl Thor, Jillian Peri, Adam Fried, Teresa Simpson, Jesse D'Angelo; Available on Blu-ray and DVD. 

Rating: **½ 

Triton, the "Intercessor"

“I am Triton, the archangel. You overstepped your line again, bub. It is the creator’s highest law that keeps you in your dark place, and yet you and your brethren still insist on coming into this world, trying to steal a place in the world of the living. When will you ever learn?” – John Triton (Jon-Mikl Thor) 

Can rock ‘n roll save the world? Considering rock’s impact in The Gate (1987) and Wild Zero (1999), signs point to yes. Submitted for your approval, is the one-and-only Jon-Mikl Thor (resembling Jareth from Labyrinth, if Jareth spent all his waking hours at Gold’s Gym),* whose cinematic exploits defy any conventional notions of sense. Director John Fasano shot the film in seven days around Markham, Ontario for $53,000 (Cdn), keeping costs down by hiring mostly friends and family members for the princely sum of $100 per head. If Fasano was the captain who kept the ship running, producer/star/writer/musician Thor was the admiral who handled everything else (well, in an Ed Wood sort of way, at least). The finished product was released as Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare** in the U.S. and Canada, and The Edge of Hell in the rest of the world.  

* Fun Fact #1: According to Thor, his onstage theatrics were heavily influenced by glam artists Alice Cooper, Kiss, and (you guessed it) David Bowie.  

** Fun Fact #2: The film’s original title was Archangel.

Triton and Friends

The film opens in a secluded Canadian farmhouse, depicting a family succumbing to demonic possession. Years (or months?) later, John Triton (Jon-Mikl Thor) and his pals (“The Tritonz”) visit said farmhouse to record their new album. The motley group (not to be confused with Mötley Crüe), includes their obnoxious manager Phil (Adam Fried) who resembles Duckie from Pretty in Pink, and Stig (Jim Cirile), an “Australian” drummer, who’s about as Australian as an Outback steakhouse. But something in the house has other plans for its new occupants. Wouldn’t you know it? One by one, they become possessed by the same evil forces introduced in the beginning. Soon, only Triton stands between all that’s good and the earth being dominated by satanic powers.

"We Live to Rock"

Every song by the Tritonz is an emphatic statement, starting with the bold proclamation, “We Live to Rock.” Triton follows up this thoughtful sentiment with "Energy,” reaching a zenith with the climactic “The Challenge.” Who needs a Greek chorus when you have Jon-Mikl Thor? When we’re not being pummeled by rock anthems, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare is peppered with awkward love scenes, presumably to pad out the film’s running time,* and justify the “R” rating (take away the filler, and it probably wouldn’t run more than 60 minutes). 

* Fun Fact #3: Speaking of padding, Fasano admitted that the run time was a bit short, hence the opening, overlong scene with Triton and bandmates driving in a van.

The Evil One

The lo-fi effects, many by director Fasano himself, add a special charm to the proceedings. A bunch of phallic critters* scuttle around the house, peeping on the band members and hocking loogies in drinks. A roast chicken suddenly becomes animate, taking over the fridge, and rubber starfish creatures fly at Triton (okay, they’re thrown from offscreen) while he clutches them to his chest, to sell the illusion that they’re sucking his life essence. But these are mere warm-up for the film’s pièce de resistance, a climactic battle with a fearsome demon. 

* Fun Fact #4: The (ahem) one-eyed monsters were called “Gibsons,” after their creature designer, John Gibson.

The Intercessor Battles the Evil One

The movie’s last-minute plot twist is frosting on one weird cake (SPOILER: Triton is an interdimensional superhero and his bandmates were merely an illusion “created” by him to deceive the Evil One. Right…). When the big baddie finally appears, Triton, sporting metal-studded underoos and a cape (What else would you wear to fight a demon?), identifies himself as the “Intercessor” (whatever that is). Summoning superhuman powers, he engages in a mano y mano battle with the head demon. The scene is supposed to represent a life-or-death struggle with ultimate evil, but it just looks like he’s either dancing with the puppet, or preventing it from toppling over.*   

* Fun Fact #5: Signs point to the latter explanation. According to director/creature designer John Fasano, the unwieldly 70-pound fiberglass puppet was particularly top heavy.   

One of the "Gibsons"

Some bad movies are simply bad viewing experiences. Thankfully, this is the kind of bad movie that lives to entertain (Or should I say, lives to rock?). So, is it a flick about a nightmare infused with rock ‘n roll music, or is the music simply nightmarish? You be the judge. Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare is meant to be watched with friends (or unsuspecting loved ones), complemented by your favorite adult refreshments. This may not be a Carl Theodor Dreyer movie, but then again, did The Passion of Joan of Arc feature the acting chops of Mr. Thor, overblown hair band music, and barely articulated rubber monsters? I think not. 


Source for this article: DVD commentary by John Fasano and Jon-Mikl Thor; 2005 featurette, “Revelations of a Rock ‘N Roll Warrior”