When it came to select a Canadian filmmaker to prelude my imminent sojourn across the pond there was really only one maple syruped shriek inducing candidate for the job – the arch deacon of the physical and physiological – David Cronenberg. As a horror fan I’ve followed his career closely over the years of course, unlike his splattery kin his career has evolved to stratospheric heights and is showered with serious academic and critical appreciation (compared with the genre ghettos that say Romero or Carpenter reside in), in fact he’s almost respectable these days with his literary adaptions and star wielded statements on society. Well, that’s all great and everything but we ‘real’ fans remember the dark old days of the 1970’s and early 1980’s when he forged a unique path of pricking body horror pictures which caused outrage in the conservative press, as government grants were shockingly seized to create his very visceral visions of modern society, although of course he did experience some of this tedious manufactured outrage with the still difficult to penetrate (if you’ll excuse the pun) automotive erotica of Crash.
Of course this mini season which I specifically restricted to the earliest portion of Dave’s career also produced some glimpses of Toronto of the late 20th century where many of his movies were lensed, just to get my juices flowing I have also programmed a viewing of Scott Pilgrim the night before my flight, I hope you’re positively pregnant with anticipation as this coming weekend should see a burst of final activity here as I’ve finally identified three separate Tiff lists to share with you, if you’re not positively sick of my constant bleating on about the festival then you soon will be. But first any excuse to revisit some of these macabre genre benchmarks in drooling and glistening upgraded high-definition, with all the remakes these days I can’t believe that much of his early material still remains untouched, I dunno if he is standing guardian over these properties (assuming he holds the rights to some of these which I doubt) or his particular surgeon like skills is just to cerebral for your modern executive. Spoilers from the very first clip so be warned, bourgeois drones;
Shivers (1975) – AKA The Parasite Murders AKA They Came From Within, this was Cronenberg’s first slithering feature, heavily influenced by the cold social scribing of J.G. Ballard this suffers somewhat from some dated production constraints, but as an early proponent of infectious Armageddon it’s quite a chilling and sterile vision of society in collapse, or maybe a illustrative evolution? Scorsese cited the finale seen above as one of the most chilling endings to a horror picture he’d ever seen, and its diagnosis many years before the AID’s pandemic seized popular attention seems eerily prophetic. It’s also received a digital restoration at this years Tiff, so maybe we’ll get to be creeped out on the big screen.
Scanners (1981) – The first thing that struck me about a long overdue off this VHS rental classic was just how shockingly violent is it. Now I’m not referring to that notorious scene, I’m talking about the litany of gruelling incidents that follow in the wake of the chilly, telekinetic cat and mouse chase narrative with the government goons intent on converting our mannequin hero Cameron Vale to their homicidal cause. Scores of fellow mutes are mercilessly mown down in scene after scene, it also has a very distanced, enamelled pose to its pyrotechnic proceedings, before the final showdown with the snarling Michael Ironside as the brilliantly named Daryl Revok in that hysterical finale. I have fond memories of seeing this format favourite at a throughly inappropriate age, such were the halcyon days of the VHS rental culture which is getting a well received documentary treatment here….
Videodrome (1982) – If there is one film which cold actually benefit from a remake given its prescience and mirror to modern times then it has to be this, that pulsating satire on the increasing atomization of the body in a society obsessed with image and surface, of the gulf between corporate mandated fantasy and isolated, atomised reality. Given the umbilical connection we have forged anew with our ironically named ‘smartphones’ and the vast volume of our walking lives we now spend perched in front of screens – PC’s, TV’s, phones, at work, rest and play – has disintegrating constructs such as the church, marriage and family been supplanted with that glowing silver screen? Like TV the film blurs the intersections between fantasy and reality, cinema hectoring its more prevalent and ubiquitous young brother as the current climate seems to be of celebrating a new golden age of longer form, less intimately digested storytelling. There’s a curious lack of any extras on this Blu-Ray which seems like a shocking oversight…..
The Brood (1979) – And finally a taste of that ancient cornerstone of horror yarns – the fear and resentment of children, always a potent miasma of sacrifice and struggle to mine. The little pastel garbed blighters are actually quite creepy in this one, as physical manifestations of a psychologically damaged mothers raging id they are partial to some particularly grisly assaults which come close that ancient internet meme ‘how many-five year-olds could you take out in a fight?’ I think I’d only seen once before many years ago, perhaps it’s most amazing special effect was getting a coherent and somber performance out of Oliver Reed. There are images and interrogations of the relation of the body to the mind in this movie that you’d never get past a censorship board today given the cultural veneration of the infant, the sequence where a primary school teacher is violently bludgeoned to death in front of her screaming pupils is really quite shocking. Also, this is previewing at Tiff which looks at Cronenberg’s increasing relevance.
Time permitting I might have expanded this out to include the deja who of Dead Ringers and my personal favourite The Dead Zone, I’ve always had a something of a soft spot for that underappreciated King adaption which is far superior and clairvoyantly compact than the book. For your real completests out there in the digitial ether then here are shards of his early short films Stereo and Crimes Of The Future, I wonder where they got to with that Cronenberg scripted The Fly remake which could also be fun? Long live the new flesh…..