Category Archives: Canadian

Saint-Narcisse (2020) | Bruce LaBruce’s transgressive love letter to 1970s psychosexual thrillers

Since making his debut with 1991’s No Skin Off My Ass, Toronto filmmaker Bruce LaBruce has challenged audiences with his startling, sexually explicit films whose subject matter has included amputee sex, hardcore porn, gang-rape, castration and racially-motivated violence. Following 2013’s Gerontophilia, however, LaBruce changed direction, eschewing the extreme for a more meditative approach to his ongoing fascination with sexual taboos.

With Saint-Narcisse, he has crafted his most accomplished piece of transgressive cinema to date. Nominated for the Queer Lion award at Venice Film Festival, this anarchic love letter to 1970s psychosexual thrillers looks certain to mark a turning point for queer cinema’s former enfant terrible. But never fear; he still has a few shocks in store – this time, its twincest. 

Félix-Antoine Duval stars as 22-year-old Dominic, a sexually-adventurous young man in love with his reflection but doesn’t really know himself fully. Finding some unopened letters in his grandmothers’ closet, he discovers a family secret: his mother Beatrice (Tania Kontoyanni) didn’t die in childbirth. Determined to uncover the truth, Dominic heads to the parish town of Saint-Narcisse, north of Montreal, where he is shocked to find a tombstone inscribed with his name and date of death in a local graveyard.

Finally tracking down his mother (who the locals have labelled a witch), he discovers she’s a lesbian who was excommunicated by the church and was led to believe Dominic was stillborn. Now she lives in exile in a cabin in the woods with Irene (Alexandra Petrachuk), her late lover’s daughter. But Dominic also learns he has a twin. Sequestered in a remote monastery since birth, Daniel is being raised and groomed by a priest, Father Andrew (Andreas Apergis), who believes he is the reincarnation of Saint Sebastian. 

Whether dressed in leathers and sporting stubble or naked and shaved, Duval has the look of the divine about him, and his sex scenes (with himself) are both erotic and very tender indeed. It takes a good hour before the twins meet, but LaBruce uses that time to develop the narrative and his characters fully. Setting the film in 1972 also allows him to explore critical issues, such as children being taken away from their mothers (who happen to be lesbian or even just unmarried) and priests preying on the young men in their care.

I won’t reveal what happens, but LaBruce comes up trumps with a scene involving a St Andrew’s Cross, communion wafers, a wedding dress and some Caravaggio-inspired lighting that will stay with you long after the ending.

Kudos go to Andreas Apergis (who appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past and the US version of Being Human) as the film’s villain, the depraved Father Andrew. If his scary eyes don’t creep you out, his toe licking of the equally scary-eyed Saint Sebastian statue will. Oh, and that scene with the (very fit) monks skinny-dipping is gloriously gratuitous.

Saint-Narcisse will be released theatrically in the UK on 22 April
with a DVD and digital release from Peccadillo Pictures on 2 May 2022

Nightwing & Shadow of the Hawk | A double-bill of 1970s indigenous folklore horror on Blu-ray

In the spirit of the double-bill drive-in features that some of us were lucky to have experienced back in the 1970s, comes Nightwing & Shadow of the Hawk – two tales of indigenous folklore horror – on Blu-ray in the UK from Eureka Classics.

First up is the 1979 eco-horror – NIGHTWING. Driven by hunger and ravenous for blood, a colony of bubonic plague-carrying vampire bats sweeps across the American Southwest and settles inside a cavern within a canyon much revered by the Maski tribe in Tuscon, Arizona.

When Deputy Youngman Duran (Nick Mancuso) learns that his medicine man guardian (George Clutesi) has cast a spell to end the world and Tribal Council chairman Walker Chee (Stephen Macht) plans to drill for oil in the sacred canyon, Duran reluctantly teams up with a British scientist (David Warner) to destroy the colony.

Based on Martin Cruz Smith’s 1977 novel, Nightwing came at the tail end of the ‘Nature Bites Back/Man vs the Environment’ period that produced such cult-worthy fare as Frogs (1972), Jaws (1975) and Piranha (1978) – but also a lot of jaw-droppingly bad rip-offs. Columbia Pictures’ adaptation of Smith’s novel should have been ‘Jaws with wings’, but – more’s the pity – it proved a critical and commercial failure.

Now, I know there’s not much love for the film, but having revisited it, courtesy of the new Eureka Classics Blu-ray, I think it deserves reappraisal. Yes, Arthur Hiller was an odd choice to direct, especially considering his esteemed comedy credentials (The Hospital, The In-Laws, The Out-of-Towners), but he does bring great sensitivity to Smith’s themes about indigenous spirituality and outsider threats to ancient customs. And he does this best by directing his eye on the magnificent (New Mexico) desert landscape which is intrinsic to Hopi/Navajo culture.

Yes, there’s little in the way of full-on horror action, but the ‘bat attack’ set pieces are well-staged. And yes, Carlo Rambaldi’s bat puppets are pretty naff – but I much prefer them to any of today’s CGI nonsense. You also get some scenery-chewing moments from Mancuso (looking ever so fit in tight jeans and open-neck shirt), Strother Martin (weighed down by lots of Navajo jewellery), and Warner (his ‘Presence of evil’ monologue should be a drinking game).  

Next up, we head over the Canadian border for 1976’s SHADOW OF THE HAWK. Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation stars as Old Man Hawk, an ageing medicine man who recruits his citified grandson Mike (Jan-Michael Vincent) to help him defeat an ancient evil, the Dsonoqua (aka the wild man of the woods). Along the way, Mike (AKA Little Hawk) rediscovers his ancestral roots and his true calling.

This mystical adventure was directed by George McCowan, who helmed one of my fave eco-horrors Frogs (1972). But it is rather disappointing despite its stunning setting (the majestic forests of British Columbia), an earnest turn from Chief Dan George (who scored an Oscar nod for 1970’s Little Big Man), and Jan-Michael Vincent (showing off his lean physique). Lacking suspense and action, it looks more like a TV Movie of the Week, which isn’t surprising given McCowan’s long history of helming shows like Mod Squad, The Streets of San Francisco and Cannon. Oh, and there’s a man in a bear suit.

Watching this, however, has led me to down a rabbit hole, in search of some fave shows from my childhood featuring Chief Dan George (The Beachcombers) and Jan-Michael Vincent (the Danger Island segments from The Banana Splits). I’ve also dug out my old DVD of Frogs for another rewatch.

Nightwing & Shadow of the Hawk is out on Blu-ray from Eureka from Monday 15 March 2021

Nightwing: Commentary by film historians Lee Gambin and Amanda Reyes
Shadow of the Hawk: Commentary with film writer Mike McPadden and Ben Reiser
Oil and the (Geo)Politics of Blood – Audio essay by John Edgar Browning (if you love a bit of film academia, then pour yourself a large gin and tonic for this ‘frontier gothic’ analysis of Nightwing)
• Trailers
• Collector’s booklet

Possessor | ‘Pull me out!’ – Brandon Cronenberg’s body-hacking killing for profit sci-fi is a mind-bending original

After an eight-year break, writer-director Brandon Cronenberg returns with another searing sci-fi that landed him two awards, Best Director and Best Film, at Spain’s 53rd Sitges Film Festival in 2020. 

Possessor tracks corporate assassin Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) who hacks into people’s bodies to execute high-level targets using brain-implant technology. Intelligent and extremely violent, it’s a mind-bending sci-fi puzzle with a very dark heart.  

Kicking off, all-guns-blazing, a young woman in a blue tracksuit viciously stabs to death a prominent lawyer during a corporate function. It’s just another day at the office for Vos, Trematon’s No.1 assassin. But something’s amiss, as the host was able to stop Vos from using the required retrieval method: suicide. 

Vos’ handler, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), worries that with each new host’s body she inhabits, Vos is becoming detached from her own identity. She believes that only by being free of all human attachments can she excel in her job and take her place at the top of the table. And that includes destroying any remnants of feeling she may have for her estranged husband, Micheal (Rossif Sutherland) and son, Ira.  

Her latest assignment puts her to the test. Vos agrees to take a hit on John Parse (Sean Bean), the CEO of a data-mining corporation that Trematon wants control of, and his daughter Ava (Tuppence Middleton), via Ava’s fiancé, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott).

Again the assignment goes awry as Colin damages the implant, which leaves Vos’ consciousness stuck and the now fugitive from justice Colin experiencing fragmented memories of her life. What follows is an internal battle of wills.

In drawing on his own struggles with identity, Cronenberg has created a scenario that is deeply personal and uses the sci-fi construct for some fascinating psychological explorations – ‘Is it possible to maintain a sense of self, and what is that?’; while the graphic violence on display could be read as the kind of cathartic release for Cronenberg (SPOILER: Sean Bean’s eye-gorging, teeth-spitting demise is especially squirm-worthy). 

When I first saw Possessor, my head hurt trying to work out what and who was who. But a second viewing (and viewing some of the extras) helped me to really appreciate Cronenberg’s vision. I also love his alternate reality world, part-retro, part-futuristic; highly-stylised, and minimal: it’s every inch his creation. And those yellow, blue and red filters just screamed Roger Corman, Mario Bava and Dario Argento. I’ll be watching this again!

Possessor is out on Digital via Amazon Prime on 1 February and Blu-ray and DVD on 8 February from Signature Pictures

Special Features

• Deleted Scenes

• A Heightened World: The Look of Possessor: Brandon Cronenburg, production designer Rupert Lazarus, cinematographer Karim Hussain, special effects designer Dan Martin and actors Christopher Abbott and Andrea Riseborough look at the visual approach in creating the film’s intricate alternate 2008 universe.

• Identity Crisis: Bringing Possessor to Life: Cronenberg and the cast look at how the director explores psychological themes through a science fiction narrative, and how Andrea and Christopher worked together on sharing the same role.

 The Joy of Practical: The Effects of Possessor: Look at the film’s mainly on-set special effects. This one contains spoilers, so don’t watch this before you have seen the movie. The best thing is seeing Sean Bean’s body lifecast. 

• Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You (dir. Brandon Cronenberg, 10min, 2019): An institutionalised woman with a brain implant describes her dreams to a psychiatrist. Using the same effects and filters used in Possessor, this heavily stylised short effectively turns wigs, sticky fruit cake and blemishes into the stuff of nightmares.

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