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Cult Revue Looks at Desperation and Monsters

September 2010

By John Yemen, Lost Dominion Screening Collective

The September 22 edition of the Canadian Cult Revue at the Mayfair Theatre begins with Search and Destroy, a post-Vietnam War action movie about a group of veterans being hunted by a former ally. It stars Perry King (Melrose Place), Tisa Farrow (sister of Mia) and cult favourite Don Stroud (The Buddy Holly Story). The film isn’t explicitly Canadian in content but it’s a very Canadian product from a key era in our filmmaking history: the Tax Shelter Years.

Search and Destroy

From 1975-1982,  our federal government allowed investors to claim a 100-percent capital-cost allowance for Canadian-based  film productions, an attempt to boost the local industry. And it was very successful, significantly increasing film production in Canada. However, it was also criticized for creating a lot of mediocre films, and ultimately the policy was discontinued in favor of alternatives.

Search and Destroy was never going to win any awards, but it wasn’t exactly junk either. Not only does it boast redeeming features – good performances, great scenery, some exciting action scenes – it’s also quite interesting to view as an artifact of its era, an unpretentious attempt to entertain in a country where that is not always a priority.

Director William Fruet is best known for writing the Canadian classic Goin’ Down The Road (one of our Hoser Triple Bill selections) and has a particular knack for audience-pleasing moments, even when exploring dark subject matter.

Both are very different pictures, one being an exercise in Canadian social realism and the other an American-centric action film about war and vengeance.  However, they are both films that feature characters desperate to escape their past. Class and cultural differences play a role in the conflict of each film.

To be fair, Fruet didn’t write Search and Destroy, but it’s not difficult to see what might have attracted him to the material, particularly when the film is compared to his earlier film Death Weekend, also starring Don Stroud.  It also explores themes of desperation and escape in the claustrophobic tale of a well-to-do young couple trapped in a country home by violent thugs.

The second half of the double feature is director Ed Hunt’s late-1980s horror-comedy The Brain. Hunt was raised in Los Angeles and came to Canada in 1969. We don’t know why he emigrated, but we do know it resulted in a string of exploitation movies made from the early 1970s onward.

The Brain was Hunt’s last film. It was shot on location in Mississauga, features plenty of familiar faces from Canadian TV and stars American-based actor David Gale, star of director Stuart Gordon’s cult favourite Re-Animator. For that reason alone, it has gained plenty of home video rentals.

It’s a monster movie with a satirical edge that elevates beyond pure schlock into the realm of social commentary (albeit punctuated with lots of gore). Many have favorably compared it to the work of David Cronenberg, sharing similar characteristics with Cronenberg’s oeuvre, particularly its exploration of psychological horror and physical mutation. But for horror enthusiasts, or even casual fans, it’s mostly just a well-made monster movie, and it owes its continued cult popularity to that fact.

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