[ZINE] THE BEST CANADIAN HORROR FOR THE WINTER

Michael Walls-Kelly decided to compile a list of the best Canadian horror films to watch this winter.

BEST CANADIAN HORROR FOR THE WINTER

True fans know that just because October ends doesn’t mean you have to watch any fewer horror films. Maybe you’ll end up watching less, or ones with a different vibe, but you’re gonna still get your fix.

Knowing that cosmic truth, I’ve decided to compile a list of the best Canadian horror films to watch this winter. I’ve chosen movies that hopefully work with the vibe of this season — stuff that feels cold or rainy or snowy. I’ve also tried to stay away from any super obvious examples … except for my first example … and, of course, I had to make an exception and include a David Cronenberg film or two … but other than that, not completely, super, totally obvious! I swear!

So, here is a list of films that are best enjoyed when it’s freezing outside, the wind is making the windows rattle in their frames, and you’re curled up with a nice, hot drink and absolutely no clue who could be lurking in your attic.


BLACK CHRISTMAS

It’s a well-known classic, but it’s impossible to leave off of a list about Canadian horror, especially Canadian horror films that are perfect for the winter. Black Christmas is one of the best ever. Unlike some classic horror, which can still be appreciated even if it doesn’t quite thrill anymore, this movie can still deliver a punch. The killer’s obscene phone calls and total invasion of what should be a private, protected space continue to get under my skin no matter how many times I’ve seen it. It also helps that the main cast is a true murderer’s row, including Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, Andrea Martin, and Margot Kidder as my boozy and bitchy cinematic crush.

The 2006 remake is solid, with a good cast and some great kills, but it never held in my mind much. I’m definitely looking forward to the next remake, or reboot, or whatever they want to call it, which is coming out this year. It definitely looks like it’s trying something different from the original, and I can’t blame them for not wanting to invite the comparison. Black Christmas is an all-timer.


RABID

Okay. It was going to happen, so I’m going to get my David Cronenberg recommendations out of the way right now. Rabid is lean and mean and a perfect encapsulation of Cronenberg’s body horror years. Shivers came first, but Rabid works better for me, and it’s more wintry, so I’m sticking with it. Rabid is about Rose (Marilyn Chambers), who gets in a terrible accident conveniently close to a plastic surgery clinic. The head doctor uses an experimental grafting technique, which has the unfortunate side effect of giving her a taste for blood. Oh, also an orifice in her armpit that shoots out a dick-shaped stinger.

There’s a lot going on in the film. There’s the focus on Rose’s story, the body horror, the experimental procedures, the eventual outbreak. It balances everything well, and Chambers, in particular, does a great job of making Rose a tragic figure. It’s impressive how, early in his career, Cronenberg had such a steady and singular vision. 


THE BROOD

My second Cronenberg pick is one of his most wintry and maybe his best work from his earlier period. Fair warning, do not watch this film if it’s both winter and you’re going through a divorce. The vibes are too powerful. The Brood is about Nola (Samantha Eggar) and Frank (Art Hindle), a separated couple battling for custody of their child. Nola is also undergoing therapy from Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) and dealing with the fact that she’s parthenogenetically spawning murderous psychic children in snowsuits to do her subconscious bidding. It’s definitely a difficult relationship.

The biggest selling point for The Brood is its mood. It’s unpleasant and oppressive. It’s the same sensation you get when a couple starts arguing hardcore at a dinner party. That may not seem like a selling point, but it is! It’s extremely well done, and Cronenberg is such an expert at taking those uncomfortable emotions, both good and bad, and making you feel them through his films.


THE CHANGELING 

The Changeling is rightfully a classic of the haunted house genre. It has everything you’d ever need: an interesting and creepy house, some ghosts acting up in weird-ass ways, a mystery plot, a séance, and a great lead performance to center it all. That performance is from George C. Scott, so it also gets delightfully big and crazy at points. When he movies into this house and is determined to find out what the hell is haunting it, you’re glued to the screen following along with him. You trust George to get the job done.

The Changeling feels slicker and more polished than some of the other entries on the list. It feels more Hollywood. Having George C. Scott involved helps, but the “elevated” horror aspect, the perfect sets and production design, and the big set-piece finale help to give it that mainstream sheen.


PONTYPOOL

This is a movie that’s shifted up and down a lot, in my opinion. Sometimes I find it hokey. Sometimes I think it’s fantastic. On my most recent rewatch, I thought it was great except for a slightly overdone score. I’m sure it’ll shift again the next time I watch it, and that’s part of the reason why I revisit it so much. Pontypool takes place almost entirely in one setting, a radio station in a church, and there are roughly five characters, with only four of them actually being seen on-screen. The best way to describe it is 28 Days Later meets Orson Welles’s “The War of the Worlds” radio broadcast.

I may have made it seem more middle-of-the-road than it actually is. It’s a great little movie that I think everyone should check out at some point. It stars Stephen McHattie, a Canadian national treasure. That alone should be enough to get you to seek it out.


GHOSTKEEPER

I find Ghostkeeper so interesting, mostly because I don’t actually like it. But I do recommend that people watch it. The plot is generally about three vacationing snowmobilers getting stuck at an old hotel due to a snowstorm, where the spirit of the Wendigo may or may not be held in the basement. That’s a hell of a Canadian premise. Unfortunately, the film itself is such a strange contradiction. The premise is interesting, but it never gets explored to its fullest extent, just like the hotel location sounds intriguing but ends up being kind of bland. The three leads are mostly extremely annoying, but the actors are actually pretty good, and the ending tries to do something interesting and conceptual, but it absolutely does not land. 

Ghostkeeper had some trouble behind the scenes with financing, so that could explain some of the shoddiness and unmet potential, but I think there were larger issues at play. Still … check it out! If only because I want more people for me to talk to about this film. 


CURTAINS

This film is an underseen treat. It’s a little weird and a little messy, but it’s absolutely worth a watch. Curtains is the story of a sleazy director—wonderfully named Jonathan Stryker—who gets his lead actress committed to an insane asylum. Seemingly so, he can invite six other actresses to his house for the weekend to “audition” them, AKA, go full Harvey Weinstein. The movie gets really good once they’re all together, and it becomes a Canadian Giallo. Giall-eh? I’ll have to think about a name for it. There’s a cool gimmick where the protagonist/”final girl” constantly seems to be shifting, there are plenty of weird and wintry set pieces, and it wraps up in a perfectly what-the-fuck kind of way. 

Curtains is anchored by Animal House’s John Vernon and The Brood’s Samantha Eggar, but everybody holds up their end. I can’t recommend it enough, especially if your list of Canadian horror is getting low.

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