It’s the most wonderful time of year when genre fans celebrate holiday horror. One of the most celebrated comes straight out of the snowy north – Ontario, to be exact – the famed Black Christmas. Canada has a thriving film industry and diverse locations for movies (even if they’re often dressed up as the United States) and several quality horror films have been made on her soil. This is partly thanks to the Canadian tax shelter in 1975-1982 that allowed film investors to deduct their entire contributions to avoid paying taxes on them. King Cronenberg benefited greatly from this program, and that made sure we did, too. We’ve come up with some recommendations here, with this list of 20 Canadian horror movies. When you’re finished, make sure you check out our previous list of Canadian Monster Movies! Get ready, it’s time for a dose of Canuxploitation.
Black Christmas – Bob Clark (1974)
Director Bob Clark has a peculiar body of work (A Christmas Story, Baby Geniuses, Porky) but his horror hits like Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things and Black Christmas are where he shines. A sorority house is plagued by sick phone calls: moaning and breathing into the phone, crude promises of rape and murder and general deranged laughter and babbling. When one girl goes missing, the threats become more serious. There’s a reason Black Christmas is well-loved. It’s surprisingly funny thanks to a bratty performance by Margot Kidder, and Olivia Hussey is at her prime in a fairly progressive story arc. An added touch of a drunk Sorority Mother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman) is the cherry on top for horror comedy connoisseurs. Though sometimes goofy, there is real fear to be found in Black Christmas. The calls received are truly disturbing, and the kills themselves are just juicy enough to entertain you through those long, cold, December nights.
Antiviral – Brandon Cronenberg (2012)
David Cronenberg’s baby boy Brandon entered the scene with a stoic and sterile feature-length debut with Antiviral. Syd (Caleb Landry Jones) works as a salesperson for company that sells and injects celebrity viruses. He also smuggles those viruses out in his body for sale on the black market. This is only one of a number of services requested in a civilization that has evolved to full-on celebrity worship. Antiviral asks a lot of its viewer, and its pace is slow but steady. If you’ve got a dystopian bone in your body, you’ll enjoy the ideas about celebrity obsession that are presented, since the idea alone is what makes Antiviral most compelling.
The Changeling – Peter Medak (1980)
One of the more recognizable entries to this list, The Changeling opens on a tragic accident as a composer (George C. Scott) loses his wife and child. Hoping to recover from the ordeal and start over, he moves to a grand house in “Seattle” and soon experiences signs of the paranormal. It seems there’s a message from a soul left behind. Genuinely frightening scenes, fantastic story and a wonderful performance by Scott and his costar Trish Van Devere make this a top-quality ghost story. Filmed in rainy Vancouver, those familiar with the city will enjoy a trip to the past at some local highlights and the natural eeriness the weather brings.
7 Days/Les 7 jours du talion – Daniel Grou (2010)
Quebecois filmmakers don’t get the spotlight they deserve most of the time, and that’s at least partly because their movies can be difficult to find. Thankfully, my local video store had this one tucked away for my viewing pleasure. Sort of. Bruno (Claude Legault) and his wife Sylvie (Fanny Mallette) have a happy life with their 8-year-old daughter Jasmine, until she goes missing and is found hours later raped and murdered. Once the perpetrator has been identified, Bruno intercepts him on the way to trial and tortures him for a period of seven days. This sounds a little similar to a film by another famous Canadian filmmaker, Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, which is just as tense if a little tighter.7 Days isn’t just torture porn, but the scenes of brutal violence can be difficult to watch as Bruno descends towards his ultimate goal. The movie also examines guilt, revenge, and grief, punctuating moments of human struggle with excruciating pain. The film is deftly shot and lives in the greys and browns of others of its kind, but if you give it a watch you’ll find there’s more there than meets the eye.
American Mary – Jen & Sylvia Soska (2010)
American Mary is the Soska Sisters’ most well-known film (well, until their remake of Rabid comes out) and it’s also currently their best. A stunning Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, Hannibal) stars as Mary, medical student gone rogue after dipping her toe in the body modification trade. When she’s assaulted, she takes bloody revenge into her own hands. American Mary is tale of feminine revenge that boasts atmosphere and a ton of onscreen talent. The Soskas – and everyone they work with – are solid horror fans and you can always sense joy and earnestness in their work.
My Bloody Valentine – George Mihalka (1981)
My Bloody Valentine is a Canadian cult classic that plays on the local folklore of Harry Warden, a man who went mad after surviving a devastating mine collapse. Legend has it he returns on St. Valentine’s day to murder anyone who celebrates. This year, the sleepy town of Valentine’s Bluffs is throwing a Valentine’s Day dance: the first in 20 years! This, of course, brings Harry back from his slashing slumber and the townspeople start to receive some gory warnings. Chock full of melodrama and teenage love triangles, slasher fans won’t want to miss this one’s seriously awesome kills.
Pin – Sandor Stern (1988)
Mannequins are base-level creepy. Instructive medical mannequins take things to a whole other level as is the case with Pin, a musculatory-system exposed dummy that serves as both model and teacher in Dr. Linden’s office. Linden (Terry O’Quinn) is a cold, scientific man who uses ventriloquism to make Pin speak to his two strange children, Ursula (Cynthia Preston) and Leon (David Hewlett). It’s Pin who diagnoses their illnesses and gives them the ol’ sex talk, and his presence in their lives has a profound effect on Leon’s psychology. When he and his sister are grown and tragically orphaned, Pin becomes a member of the family who disturbs and destroys the relationships around them. Pin feels really special because of its strangeness; from the plot to the dialogue found within. Relational boundaries are often crossed, and it’s sinister in more of a Psycho way than the popular slashers of the decade.
Pontypool – Bruce McDonald (2008)
“These long winters make me feel like I’m living in the basement of the world. It’s so cold, and so dark.” Welcome to Canada. Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is the local radio mouthpiece in Pontypool. The idea is compelling: residents of a small Ontario town develop an illness that’s spread by language. Grant and his coworkers Sydney (Lisa Houle) and Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) broadcast the happenings as best they can with the information that’s coming in. Most of the carnage is never seen, only described in detail over the phone by hysterical eyewitnesses. The strength here lies in your own imagination and what kind of macabre scenarios you can produce. The weakness is that the idea runs out of steam, eventually. Still, Pontypool has a rabid and loyal fanbase and stands as a unique take on what some would call the zombie genre.
Deadly Eyes – Robert Clouse (1982)
This one made the list purely for its use of dachshunds in rat costumes running around the sewers of Toronto. Deadly Eyes attempts horror from GMO crops, in this case, a steroid-infused grain causes giant rats to feast on the local residents. We all know that when you see one rat, there’s 10 you don’t see, and before you know it the streets are awash with the filthy creatures. If you’re looking for a fun flick to watch with a case of beers and a couch full of friends, try this one out. If you feel strangely connected to the idea, good news: There’s a book to fill in all the glaring gaps.
Cube – Vincenzo Natali (1997)
This ‘90s Canadian horror leans sci-fi in all the best ways. A group of strangers finds themselves connected inside of a labyrinthian death-trap, and must work together with their individual strengths to escape and find out where they are, and more importantly, why they’re there. Thankfully the premise is strong enough to carry the film’s weaker points, and it’s easy to appreciate the thought that went into the Cube’s design. Even if it doesn’t become a personal favourite, fans of Saw might find it particularly interesting. Good news? A remake is in the works.
The Mask/Eyes of Hell – Julian Roffman (1961)
Wow. Known for being Canada’s first feature-length horror movie, The Mask is something extra special for its use of early 3D. In this story, Psychiatrist Dr. Barnes (Paul Stevens) receives an ancient ritual mask from one of his patients who claims that wearing the mask gives psychedelic hallucinations that drive to madness and even murder. During these scenes when Dr. Barnes wears the mask, original audiences donned their mask-shaped glasses to experience the visions of cults and torture in colourific 3D. The visions are strange and eerie, and quite effective in their artistic appearances. I’d give just about anything to get my hands on a pair of those original Magic Mystic Mask Glasses! For genre fans, this one is a must-see. You can check it out in restored 3D on Blu.
Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile – Jeff Gillen, Alan Ormsby (1974)
Deranged begins with a somber narrator warning viewers of what they are about to see, calling the story one with “profound reverberations” that’s “not for the squeamish or faint of heart” and he’ll reappear several times to clue us in on what’s going on. Not that it’s necessary, but it is a little charming. This is a horror movie that tries to balance empathy with the real-life horrors of Ed Gein and even in its success proves just how difficult that can be. Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom) is close to his mother – a little too close. After she passes, his loneliness causes him to dig up and nurse his mother’s corpse. But bodies decay and require “maintenance” and Ezra needs somewhere to get parts. True crime fans, rejoice.
Happy Birthday To Me – J. Lee Thompson (1981)
This is another school slasher entering the magnificent eighties. This time it follows Virginia Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson) and her crew of the “Top Ten” at Crawford Academy. As members of the illustrious group begin to go missing, Virginia experiences flashbacks of trauma that occurred to her years before on her birthday. As we join Virginia in putting the pieces back together, the two events begin to connect. Happy Birthday to Me is full of signature cheeky ‘80s humour, inappropriate and always over the top. And while this movie dissolves into a bit of a ridiculous melodrama in the reveal of the final act, the kills along the way are a ton of fun.
Death Weekend/The House By The Lake – William Fruet (1976)
Perhaps channeling Pekinpah’s Straw Dogs, Death Weekend is a rape and revenge horror story filmed in rural Ontario. Unfortunately, this one has never had a DVD release so it can be difficult to get your hands on. Harry (Chuck Shamata) is a dentist and also a womanizer, and he’s managed to convince his new friend Diane (Brenda Vaccaro) to accompany him to his lake house for a “party”. Once they arrive, it becomes clear that there is no party planned at all. While the two are fighting over the bald-faced lie, a group of thugs from a road rage altercation on the way take the two hostage and torture them over a period of 24 hours. For fans of final girls, Diane is one who holds her own.
Backcountry – Adam MacDonald (2014)
I’m not sure if everyone grows up being legitimately afraid of bears, but growing up near the Rocky Mountains came with many warnings and scary stories about bear encounters. Even in school, we learned what to do in case we were being chased by one, and I’ve personally experienced – more than once – an exploded can of bear spray in a public bathroom. Anyway, bear attacks are scary, and Backcountry has one of the best you can find. Not much else needs to be said about this romantic camping getaway that turns into a terrifying ordeal. Good to watch before your next big camping trip.
Afflicted – Derek Lee, Clif Prowse (2013)
Found Footage fans, rejoice! Afflicted is a solid entry into the subgenre that takes an eons-old tale and serves it with a twist. Clif Prowse and Derek Lee wrote, directed, and starred in this tale about two friends who go on a trip around the world to film a web series as one of Derek’s last wishes, as he suffers from an abnormal connection in his brain that could lead to his death. After a sympathetic one night stand, Derek starts to display some symptoms that aren’t exactly related to his brain condition (or any known STI). Afflicted explores how far we’re willing to go for our friends, and how much of ourselves we’re willing to lose.
The Shrine – Jon Knautz (2010)
The Shrine, even in its modest form, is a movie that I can’t seem to stop thinking about. Carmen (Cindy Sampson) is an ambitious journalist whose commitment to investigation is affecting her relationship and her job. When she hears about several disappearances in a small Polish village, she endeavors to uncover the sinister truth behind them. The Shrine delves into cult territory, and having a weakness for dangerous religious zealots wreaking havoc on their followers makes this one to check out.
Rituals – Peter Carter (1976)
Rituals is commonly called the Canadian version of Deliverance, and it matches it both in pacing and survival scares. Four doctors continue their yearly tradition of taking a group trip. This year, they’re taking a bushwacking fishing trip in an extremely remote location. Their friendship has a long, rich history with ample baggage to root around in along the way, and as expected it seems like just a bunch of guys arguing about the ethics of medical procedures for the first bit. Before long, it becomes obvious that the group is being stalked by a menacing figure who contributes to their misfortune, and as time goes they being to think he may have more of a personal connection with them than they realize. Do yourself a big favour: watch the uncut version, and bring an extra pair of shoes.
Prom Night – Paul Lynch (1980)
Starring more familiar faces such as Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen, Prom Night is a classic story about owning up for your mistakes. When bullying causes an accidental death, a group of kids make a pact to keep it a secret. Six years later, as they’re preparing for and celebrating prom, a masked killer begins his slow revenge. Some snazzy disco numbers and an iconic rolling head stand out on this financially successful Canadian horror, making it one that features prominently on the slasher circuit even with its surprisingly tender ending.
Comforting Skin – Derek Franson (2011)
Koffie feels empty and alone. She combats this by dressing up and hanging out at the bar hoping to bring home someone who will love her. She has no luck in the romance department, and it’s evident from her scars and self-doubt that she has struggled mightily in the past. After yet another night of dejection, she impulsively gets a tattoo that wants to take up more real estate on her body and her mind. The tattoo whispers to Koffie and changes her behaviour, leading to obsession that drives her further and further into darkness. A hearty, earnest performance by Victoria Bidewell makes Comforting Skin soar surprisingly high as a story about destructive desire. This body horror fan wishes it leaned a little more into the grotesque, but the discomfort it brings satiates the appetite just enough.