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Evil Stalks This House (1981)
Not quite a movie and not quite a TV show
I saw this back in the early 1980s on First Choice Superchannel Pay TV. If I remember correctly, it only aired once or twice. It's basically a filmed stage play but a pretty good one at that. The story is about Palance, a passing motorist and his two small children (though he looks more like their grand-father than their dad), stopping at the isolated, rural home of two old women when he has car trouble. He gets the idea that the house is full of valuable antiques and that the two old women are senile. He decides to stay on for awhile and makes the two kids help him with his plan to loot the place though they clearly do not want to. Needless to say, the two old women are not quite as helpless as they seem. It's cheap looking but manages to sustain interest, no small feat given the very limited number of locations. The film takes place almost entirely in the home of the old women. There are no real special effects or stunts but the film contains a sense of eeriness and nastiness which many bigger budgeted movies do not. Palance is known for having played many schlock roles but he is genuinely menacing here as the evil father. The IMDb lists Christopher Lee as being the "host" but in the version I saw, there was no host/narrator. According to one book that I read, this was made as a pilot on videotape for a proposed television series (a la Tales from the Darkside/Twilight Zone) which never came to pass. It deserves more attention. Even now, over 20 years later, certain scenes, especially the surprise finale, remain clear in my memory.
My Pleasure Is My Business (1975)
Directed by the King of Kensington
This is not a porn film, nor is it a biography on the life of Xaviera Hollander, whose book based on her experiences in the world's oldest profession was big stuff at the time. (for that story, check out The Happy Hooker with Lynn Redgrave-1975). This movie is a low budget, Canadian made sex farce in which Xaviera is deported from the USA and has to find a new place to set up camp. Many countries will not allow her to stay as she is "too sexy". She finally lands in a fictional European country where she soon reverts back to her old madame-ish ways. There is a fair amount of exposed flesh but nothing too explicit. The film is more silly than anything else. The comedy is outrageously bad. It has an air of "what-were-they-thinking-at-the-time?" including a slapstick bicycle chase which I guess was meant to be like the silent movies but can't even measure up to those. The odd part is that it features several veteran Candian performers: Henry Ramer as the nasty official who opposes Xaviera, Jayne Eastwood as his libidinal wife, Marvin Goldhar playing various detectives, Colin Fox and Jackie Burroughs are also thrown in for good measure. The movie was directed by the late Al Waxman and is a good indication of why he didn't direct many features afterwards. In his biography, he talks about this movie with pride as it was a money maker in it's day. Today, it has a campy, cult-ish quality but not much else.
Night Magic (1985)
Someone thought this would be successful?
This movie involves a fair amount of talent, both in front of and behind the camera but little of that transcends to the finished product. The movie has no real coherent narrative. It deals with a man, Mancuso, putting together a show at a theater. He receives inspiration from a trio of angels. One of these angels, Laure (who looks great, as usual and is probably the best part of the movie)falls in love with him and becomes human so that she can be his wife (echoes of "The Little Mermaid") The movie is basically a rock opera with little spoken dialogue. Most of the music isn't even that memorable and the general tone is more European than Canadian. Night Magic seems so offbeat and experimental, that it makes you wonder what sort of audience the film makers were hoping to attract.
The Hard Part Begins (1973)
Life on the Road!
This early 70s effort is about the ups and downs in the life of a country-western singer (Rhodes from Danger Bay) as he travels throughout the country (in this case, small Ontario towns) It's slow moving and cheap looking like many Canadian movies but it does contain a 70s ambiance and is packaged in a more professional way than most Canadian products. The storyline, dealing with Rhodes' relationships with his band mates, groupies, family (which he abandoned years earlier) and various sundry characters he meets up with, is realistic though the tone is somewhat downbeat. The lack of glamor and sunshine depicted here compliments the melancholic nature of Rhodes' character. The late Paul Bradley plays Rhodes' band mate, fellow womanizer and best pal. It's nice to see him in one of his rare lead roles and he adds a certain manic energy to the proceedings. His "Goin' Down the Road" co-star, Doug McGrath, plays a small town lout with a score to settle with Rhodes. McGrath only has a small role here but, like Bradley, also hints at a level of talent he never really got to show. This was the third Bradley-McGrath pairing (the other one being "Wedding in White" in which they again played interesting characters). Actors like these make you wish that Canada had the kind of star system the USA does so as to properly recognize our talent (and keep them from heading south!).
How can you pass up a combination like this?
This aired on the ABC Saturday Superstar Movie. It's a pretty wild concept: The Groovy Goolies are big fans of the Looney Tunes characters and so, when they hear that a King Arthur movie that Daffy is making, is being sabotaged by a mysterious Phantom character, what comes next? Why, they rush off to Hollywood to help Daffy, Porky, Sylvester, Tweety and the others. Oddly, Bugs Bunny is absent from this project. Petunia Pig plays one of the performers in the movie and a gossip columnist with her own TV show as well. Her voice is a lot different than the one I remember her having. She sounds almost sensual! Oddly, it's Daffy and not Porky who plays her romantic lead. It's interesting to see two widely different assortments of cartoon characters in the same picture together. Come to think of it, how did the producers skirt around the legal issues? The highlight comes near the end when Drac, Frankie and Wolfie chase the villain (who's dressed as Hauntleroy) through a magic mirror and they all emerge on the other side as,,,,,, live action actors! There is then a slapstick chase which may remind you of those Mack Sennett comedies of the 20s. The sequence is so surreal that it may have you pinching yourself to ensure that it's not a dream. The actors soon go back through the mirror and become their animated selves within a few minutes but this part alone makes the film required viewing for anyone who's a fan of the Goolies, who sad to say, do not sing in this outing.
Canadian After-School Special!
This movie is basically like an extended after-school special and not even a good one at that. The title character is an adolescent girl who is a rebel at her school (by G-rated, 1981 standards that is, today, she'd hardly be noticed) As she and her re-married mom are not clicking, the girl ends up going to stay with her dad, Logan, who lives up in the northern wilderness. So what happens when this surly, irresponsible, self-centered girl is thrust into nature for the first time? Will she change her rebellious ways, learn self-respect and respect for others? Anyone over the age of 6 should be able to guess. In fact, the change happens so quickly that there is no real drama. Everything in the film is played completely straight and even the locations are dull. It's about as exciting as an average episode of Danger Bay or one of those hour long Walt Disney animal specials they used to show in the 60s/70s. It's another example of how Canadian film making has come a long way since the early 80s.
Tom Sawyer (1973)
Pedestrian Retelling of a Classic
Being a TV movie, this naturally has a cheap look about it, especially given the fact that it was made in 1973. The two lead kids who play Tom and Huck fail to convey any real sense of mischief, charm or good-heartedness. Their performances are flat and uninspired. Huck Finn is presented in a far less rebellious/courageous way which removes much of his charm. Not that the adults fare much better. Ebsen seems to be sleepwalking through his role as the town drunk. McGiver overdoes it as the sputtering, fussy judge and Morrow, who's supposed to be Injun Joe, talks in an unintentionally funny accent and has bizarre make-up and costumes. At least the film is short and uses a narrator to ensure that no one gets lost. It was shot in Upper Canada Village which explains the presence of Canadian veteran Chris Wiggins and the young Sue Petrie, who had done a few soft core Canadian porn films before this. Stick with the musical version of Tom Sawyer which came out the same year.
The New Archies (1987)
A Wacky Take-Off on the Comic Strip!
This was a short-lived, hardly seen cartoon of the late 80s. The original Archies cartoon was a hit back when it began in the late 60s but this version was definitely inferior. Even the theme song left much to be desired ("We're the Archies in a brand new show") It featured the Archies at middle-school age. The cartoon was almost amusing in it's amateurishness. The voice-over artists had very similar sounding voices, making it hard to tell who was speaking at times and most of the lines were delivered in a flat monotone to begin with. The facial expressions of the cartoon characters seldom matched the situation that was going on. Archie and Betty might be seen smiling broadly after just having learned that Reggie and Veronica had played a nasty trick on them. There were often long pauses in between the dialogue and action, giving the impression that the characters needed 30-40 seconds to react to everything. There was no real music on the show and the characters, who had been around in comics since the 1940s, were extremely bland and had no appeal. Stick with the original Archie cartoon ("Everything's Archie, Archie's here!") if you're a fan of the comic.
Hitting Home (1988)
A Must for Canadians!
If you are a fan of Canadian entertainment, you should really check this out. It's sort of a psychological drama about the after-effects when a child is killed by a hit and run driver. Saul Rubinek plays the driver from the USA who flees back there to avoid facing the consequences. The bulk of the film deals with the boy's mom, Kerrie Keane, trying both through legal and unusual channels, to bring Rubinek back to Canada to face justice. Veteran French-Canadian actor Daniel Pilon plays the boy's dad who tries to help. Alan Thicke plays Rubinek's lawyer. Jacob Tierney (well known to Canadian youths from late 80s/early 90s TV) plays Rubinek's son. The late Colleen Dewhurst plays the judge. How can you ask for a better cast than that? The film does have that Canadian look (that is, it appears to have the budget of an average American made-for TV film) but the story is engaging and deeper than expected and the performances are satisfying. The film covers ground that few other movies have. It's one of the few films in which the Canadian content and locales actually work to the film's advantage. There are even references to the TV show "Danger Bay"! If that's not enough, how could any fan of Canadian film or TV turn down a chance to see Daniel Pilon tackle Alan Thicke?