Actors: Stephen Young, Sharon Masters, Marvin Goldhar, Jeannie Elias
Writer: Mario Philip Azzopardi
Director: Mario Philip Azzopardi
This underseen Canuxploitation stands apart from its contemporaries in some odd ways. Unlike films like Prom Night or My Bloody Valentine, Deadline plays out more like a morality tale. It’s a drama with some horror cut in. While that makes it seem a little overlong and preachy, it also gives it a fairly unique quality. Deadline feels like essential Canadian horror viewing.
Steven Lessey (Stephen Young) is an acclaimed horror author struggling with his new book. His agent keeps harassing him to make it trashier and gorier and more disturbing than his previous books. Lessey wants to use his horror as a commentary and actually “say something” with it, but the more lurid and exploitative aspects of the genre are what sells. He’s also dealing with a marriage that’s run its course and three young children who seem to want to spend any amount of time with their father. That’s a lot of stress for one man!
The majority of the story deals with Lessey’s home life falling apart. Elizabeth (Sharon Masters), his wife, is clearly over him. They met while he was her teacher in college and a Q&A at the same college seems to confirm to her that their marriage is over. This scene also has some of the most overt and heavy-handed moralizing, with various college students asking Lessey how he can put his filth out into the world.
Besides the more realistic horror of a dysfunctional family falling apart, the horror aspect of the film is various scenes of Lessey’s ideas for his new book. We get cutaways to scenes like a shower filling with blood, two kids setting their grandmother on fire, and a woman giving birth gone very wrong. The best of these cutaways is actually a scene from a film adaptation of one of Lessey’s books shown during the Q&A. It’s a man in a garage fixing the blades of a snow removal truck (how absolutely Canadian) when a creepy goat starts bothering him and then…psychically turns the blades on? I don’t know what was going on, but it was fun.
Young and Masters play off of each other very well. Both of them get melodramatic in various scenes, and Masters has the unenviable task of being a generically nagging wife most of the time. Still, they actually sell some of the more disturbing aspects of the drama very well. There’s a scene where they’re at some industry party together, and they realize that neither of them arranged for a babysitter. It’s a tense, frustrating scene where both of them clearly feel guilty but can only blame the other person.
Ultimately the horror interludes all feel like afterthoughts, and the family drama is stretched out about as far as it can go. I think Deadline would make a solid entry in an anthology TV show if you cut it down to 40 minutes. Even at 90 minutes, it overstays its welcome. It’s definitely still worth checking out, though, and the weird finale does the best it can to try to tie everything together. It’s not exactly an instant Canuxploitation classic, but it feels like a very distinct entry into the genre, and I’m glad I finally had a chance to check it out.