If cinema is an art form, then film is an industry. If both were represented as circles lightly overlapping one another, cult movies would occupy that sliver of no-man’s land where they meet. At its foundation, a cult movie is distinguished by its perennial, concentrated place in culture rather than pure artistic and/or commercial merit. Thus, a cult movie doesn’t need to make money to be considered a cultural success. Just look at Fight Club. It doesn’t have to be any good either…at least by traditional cinematic standards. The Room is proof of that.
They are a beautiful mess of obscure misfits that can challenge the preconceived notions of what constitutes a successful movie. And Canada has its fair of them, which is why I have compiled my own list of Canadian movies for lovers of cult classics.
I pieced together this list using not just my favourite Canadian cult movies, but also some of the most noteworthy and influential ones that have been produced in Canada over the years. Using this a guide for my finalised list, it was only midway through writing this piece that I realised four out of the five entries are horrors. While this might somewhat reflect my own personal tastes, it also speaks to horror’s place in Canadian cult cinema. This is certainly food for thought to be discussed at length another time, but my list nonetheless remained the same. The thought of adding Porky’s to the list for diversity’s sake is almost unbearable!
So, with that out of the way, here is My Top 5 Canadian Cult Movies.
Hard Core Logo (1996)
Canada’s answer to wildly influential mockumentary and cultural milestone This Is Spinal Tap, Hard Core Logo is not some simple rethread of a winning formula, but rather an accomplished cinematic piece in its own right that stays true to its punk rock setting.
Director Bruce McDonald uses this musical movement as a fitting backdrop for darker themes not seen This Is Spinal Tap, primarily through its complex frontman Joe Dick, whose abrasive ‘zero shits given’ persona is a clear nod to Sex Pistols legend Johnny Rotten, but hides his greater insecurities regarding recognition and legacy, which conflict with his punk rock roots.
Hard Core Logo is funny, thought provoking and ultimately devastating, offering what many fans view as noteworthy entry in the mockumentary genre.
While it perhaps owes part of its cult status to the infamous exploding head scene that has led to countless memes, Scanners is nothing to scoff at, especially when it came from one of Canada’s most accomplished cinematic maestros, David Cronenberg.
While it is fair to say that Scanners is not perfect, much like The Brood it was nonetheless a significant creative stepping-stone toward Cronenberg’s greatest accomplishments in horror. The filmmaker’s usual affinity for the body is ever-present in Scanners, and while some at the time of its release dismissed its gratuitous violence (but praised its impressive practical effects for the time), critics had overlooked its dissection of psychology, radicalism and capitalism, which are still eerily relevant today.
Cube features hammy acting and gruesome deaths that would have normally relegated it to all-out B-movie status, but an original concept and Vincenzo Natali’s direction lends it the undeniable hallmarks of a cult classic horror.
Cube manages to grip you right from the beginning and rarely lets go during its tight 90-minute runtime. The movie delivers horror tropes that were ahead of their time, as many have become mainstays in some of the most creatively violent movies of the 21st century. Yes, for better or for worse, Cube’s influence helped spawn the Saw franchise and many other copycats which are still using its narrative foundation over 20 years later.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Ginger Snaps is not just a cult classic, but a classic in the 21st century Canadian horror scene as a whole. It is a teen flick mixed with lycanthropic horror, but what makes it stand out from the likes of Twilight is the way it transcends both tropes to make something that still feels fresh despite turning 20 this year.
Modern horror’s far too often take themselves too seriously, forgetting to ease the tension with some well-placed humour, but John Fawcett and his excellent lead actresses don’t skip a beat as the film effortlessly weaves between its laughs and cries, whether the latter be emotional or physical.
It is a shame that it never gained the box office traction it deserved, but Ginger Snaps has at least gone on to earn its rightful place in the annals of Canadian cinema.
Black Christmas (1974)
I might have intentionally avoided adding Porky’s to the list, but its director Bob Clark did manage to land a spot with Black Christmas.
Like Scanners, Black Christmas is a cult movie that was so ahead of its time that contemporary critics misunderstood its significant artistic merits. The key difference is Black Christmas’s overall contribution to the horror genre.
It is one of the earliest examples of a slasher film, being a great source of influence for John Carpenter’s Halloween, a cult classic that is in a stratosphere all of its own. Many of the technical and narrative techniques used in Black Christmas might have been perfected in Carpenter’s masterpiece, such as the faceless murderer and emphasis on character deaths as set pieces. However, Bob Clark’s underappreciated work helped create the framework, while the character work set an early but tenacious high standard for the slasher genre. There is a loyal subculture of fans who know and appreciate this, which includes me.