…Well, today is Canada Day up North here, and while I will be naturally celebrating today with fireworks and a traditional local buffet of poutine, Double Doubles and donair egg rolls, I figured what better way to celebrate Canada’s birthday than by sharing some of our nation’s greatest pop culture highlights with all of you?…Actually, there are probably several better ways, but for some reason I chose a list consisting of Canadian cinema, so why the hell not?
Joking aside, despite the number of criticisms I have against a lot of our entertainment, such as inferior cable channels and requirements and mandates by the CRTC that tend to set the bar pretty low for quality, we’ve still produced a decent crop of work over the years, a lot of it most notable in the film area. As such, I’ve thrown together a list a ten great and purely Canadian films that every nerd should see. Naturally, there will be some notable omissions, so I’ve missed anything, please feel free to reasonably suggest your own picks in the comments. And by “reasonably”, I mean a limit of three swear words.
So consider this a look of some of the finest and…um, relatively classiest films our proud nation has created over the years. Oh, and consider this as part of an apology for Johnny Test and Nickelback. Seriously, even we don’t know what we were thinking.
(Also, yeah, I guess we could’ve use an image more related to Canadian film here, but c’mon, how was I supposed to resist something as awesome as that? Muchos gracias to DA’s HammersonHoek for letting us use it.)
You know, sometimes the mere title of a film can be enough to tell you that it’s going to be a classic in some way or another. So when a film comes along called frickin’ Manborg, you know you’re in for something good. An apologetic tribute to the sci-fi B-movies of the ’80s made on a budget of a thousand dollars, Manborg sees our titular half-man/half-cyborg team up with an Australian gunfighter and a kung fu master after the future’s Hell Wars to fight the oppressive Nazi vampire regime and okay, if you have read all of that still have no desire to see this film, I call bull. In fact, I’m just going to wait here and stop the list right now until you go see it. Kay?
…Seen it now? Good. I knew you couldn’t resist it. It’s a hefty serving of incredibly delicious cheese that may be pretty short (the whole thing clocks in at 71 minutes, and that’s with a five-minute fake trailer for Bio-Cop that alone is sheer brilliance), but it will indeed be some of the finest cheddar you have tasted, my friend.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know there’s at least one of you out there waiting for an opportunity to pounce here and claim “Waaaahhh, but that’s not nerdy enough!” NO. Nerdiness is not like like some sort of meter with a quota that must be met; it’s a feeling, dammit! And if you can’t feel the nerdiness in a film about Bill Murray helping to lead a bunch of horny kids at Summer Camp through a bunch of shenanigans, pranks and the Camp Olympiad, then damn, do I feel sorry for you. Unsurprisingly, Murray is the clear highlight of the whole film, delivering several choice lines including one of the best motivational speeches ever put to film, but there’s also the treat in seeing one of the originators of classic teen comedies in action, complete with all your favorite sexcapades and coming of age moments in action. And let’s face it, it’s not like you weren’t an underdog in your own Camp North Star as a li’l nerd in your youth. Meatballs: A comedy classic dripping with the essence of nerdiness. And pantsings.
8. Hobo with a Shotgun
Remember what I just said about movie titles two entries ago? Well, you damn better believe that applies here as well. What started out as a fake trailer winning a contest attached to Grindhouse grew into a full-on ode to exploitation films and ’70s vigilante flicks, with Rutger Hauer as the cherry on top. Rutger plays our titular grizzled hobo riding the rail into Hope Town (you know, with a name like that, you’re kind of asking for shit to go wrong), finding a completely soulless craphole run by some of the most delightfully hammy crime lords ever. And what starts as a hobo trying to earn an honest living soon turns into a hobo spending his nickels on a shotgun (which presumably came with a free bottomless sack of shells with every purchase) in order to do the right thing and bring some much-needed justice to this city. Much like Manborg, the whole deal is a low-budget cheesefest complete with gratuitous violence, synth music, and enough red dye and corn syrup to make the Dead Alive folks jealous, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. Oh, and bonus points for using Lisa Lougheed’s “Run With Us” for the end credits, adding a bonus bit of classic Canadian content, a genuine WTF moment of contrast, and ensuring that I will never get that song out of my head for another five years…
7. Rock & Rule
The first animated feature film from Nelvana, whom you might recognize as the people behind countless Saturday morning cartoons, Rock & Rule is the tale of a struggling rock band in a post-apocalyptic world attempting to stop an evil aging rock star from forcing their friend to summon a demon from another dimension…and the fact that this is all acted out by mutants resembling rejected Goof Troop characters will be the only weird thing you’ll notice kind of says a lot about the film.
Jokes aside, the whole tale is a surreal little bit of sci-fi with some great animation and music (Lou Reed is Mok, dammit), and it all has the perfect level of campiness and light-heartedness going for it to help create an odd yet awesome rock film that one must see to believe. Although it kind of goes without saying that Rock & Rule probably owes a lot to its predecessor of sorts, that predecessor being…
6. Heavy Metal
(WARNING: Trailer is NSFW)
Admit it: The second you read that title, the soundtrack started playing in your head. Taken straight from the pages of the classic sci-fi/fantasy magazine of the same name, Heavy Metal is an anthology of strange and mysterious tales told to a little girl by the evil artifact known as the Loc-Nar because…um…eh, he was bored. Sure, let’s go with that. But that’s not important; what’s important is that these are twisted, fun, and action-packed tales merging an excellent variety of animation along with the sounds of pure rock awesomeness.
How much you like Heavy Metal does somewhat depend on how many of the vignettes you prefer, but the end result is still a true classic of ’80s sci-fi and fantasy films that earned its place in pop culture history. Also, if you see no joy in watching John Candy travel to a far-off planet, transform into a muscled warrior, nail an evil queen, topple her empire, and ride off into the sunset with a hot British woman, again, I feel sorry for you (and you clearly have issues)…
5. Black Christmas
It kind of goes without saying that it’d be a pretty boneheaded move to leave one of the the true pioneers of slasher flicks off of this list. Some of you young ‘uns may just see a simple tale about a bunch of sorority girls and the old tale about a killer in the attic, but oh, did director Bob Clark make it into something so much more. Simple, dark, and tense with a completely insane, merciless and never-seen killer, and filled with a talented cast of characters with a lot of personality (including a scene-stealing, foul-mouthed Margot Kidder), Black Christmas has straight up earned its rank as a horror classic over the years.
There’s even a nice dose of black humor in it all (pun not intended), which helps provide a contrast to the utter creepiness expertly created by the mysterious killer with no identity, background or motive other than “murder and mental torture for fun”, dark atmosphere, killer POV, and the fact that the film was based off of real-life Quebec murders, giving you the feeling that this type of horror could actually happen to you. Meaning you could one day find yourself being asphyxiated by a plastic bag mere minutes after getting a phone call consisting of nothing but violent pig noises. Merry Christmas!
So remember the epilogue to Shaun of the Dead? Where after a zombie uprising, humanity just decides to try re-integrating zombies back into humanity my keeping them around for manual labor? Well, swap “modern-day Britain” with “semi-dystopian alternate universe 1950s suburbia” and you basically have the world of Fido. Simple as that. When young Timmy Robinson (oh, of course his name is Timmy), finds himself actually befriending the new zombie his mom brings home as their new help, a special bond is formed that will last a lifetime…or until Fido’s safety collar malfunctions and he devours an old lady, leading to a potential zombie outbreak.
And thus begins Fido and Timmy’s adventure to save their friendship, which thankfully involves one of the most creative and clever zombie and sci-fi flicks in recent memory, with a ton of great humor, wit, terrific performances a little bit of heartwarming moments, great use of the ’50s backdrop, and an all-around damn terrific adventure. Oh, and Carrie-Anne Moss as one of the hottest ’50s housewives imaginable. You’re welcome, guys.
3. Strange Brew
When iconic Canadian hosers Bob and Doug McKenzie graced the silver screen in 1983 with what would be their magnum opus, truly it was our Shakespeare…I mean that literally, because as discussed earlier, Strange Brew is largely an adaptation of Hamlet in several areas. Yes, a version of Hamlet…that just happens to involve Max von Sydow developing mind-controlling beer by testing it on violent hockey games starring mental patients while being haunted by cyber-ghosts and having to deal with two new employees at the brewery who found a mouse in their beer. You know, like the Bard always wanted to do all along.
So yeah, this is definitely a film that goes completely off the wall, and in all of the best ways possible. Jam-packed with several clever and hilarious moments and a pair of unsurprising and killer performances by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, Strange Brew is a quirky cult delight guaranteed to get a smile out of even the most cold-hearted bastard…oh, and it has super-powered beer-drinking dogs in it. Can’t forget about that, ya know.
Way before an insane cancer patient and his puppet started to force people to hack their limbs off in order to save their lives, we had seven strangers mysteriously locked in an entire maze of giant, identical, booby-trapped cubes. They don’t know a damn thing about each other; all they know is that they need to seek a way out before they all starve to death. One of the most simplistic sci-fi and horror films ever dreamed up, consisting of only seven actors, one cube (used over and over), and a handful of free special effects, it’s also one of the most creative and enjoyable ones as well, backed up by a talented cast and a creepy, mysterious setting that helps create the feelings of paranoia doused throughout every single six-sided speck.
What aids even more is how little we know about the cube, adding to the mystery and eerieness of it all. We don’t fully know what the cube is, why it was made, who was behind it all, what the point of the whole experiment is, and we certainly don’t know of any inferior sequels that try to explain everything and spoil the mystery. Nope. Nosiree.
Okay, let’s not kid ourselves: This list could’ve easily been filled out by ten David Cronenberg films alone (well, save for the purely American ones like The Fly), so in the interest of fairness, I decided to limit the amount of Cronenberg on this list down to one film. And while some of you are no doubt whipping out the ol’ pitchforks & torches for not picking your favorite (besides, its not like there were any other Cronenberg films with scenes constantly used around TR), in the end I found myself gravitating towards Videodrome. Possibly one of the most surreal and insane sci-fi films ever created, what begins as James Woods’ television station CEO discovering a new TV show devoted to nothing but ultraviolence quickly leads to a journey straight into madness, as Woods gets obsessed with Videodrome to the point where it starts making him hallucinate scenes of weird erotica and body horror, all before leading to the insane truth.
A trippy and twisted look at the then-growing world of cable TV and a bizarre time capsule of the ’80s in general, extremely creative, unique, and backed by terrific performances, especially from James Woods…you know what? It just dawned on me that no matter how much crap I type on my keyboard that tries to convince you how awesome Videodrome is, it will never be the same as actually experiencing it in all of its deliriously superb glory. So I’m just gonna end things here, you’re gonna track down this film, and you’re gonna have a damn good (albeit possibly confusing) time. So happy Canada Day, hail Cronenberg, and LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH.