With Halloween only days away, you will likely find yourself flicking through the myriad of uninspired horrors that clog your search results, having already watched anything worth a damn…or so you would think.
Here are some of my favourite Canadian horror gems, and while not all of them are available on streaming services, they can be found elsewhere, and are worth watching come October 31st if you are looking for chills, thrills and good old fashioned scares.
Although, before I continue it is worth noting that in order to qualify for this list a movie must either be a Canadian production or feature a Canadian director at the helm. International productions with Canadian actors and/or screenwriters only will not be considered.
With that out of the way, here are my Top 5 Canadian Horror Movies to Watch this Halloween.
- Cube (1997)
A bona fide indie cult classic, Vincenzo Natali’s Cube is as close to arthouse as a B-movie can get. Built on a premise that, for the time, was thinking outside the box (or cube, in this case), this horror film was an influential stepping stone for the Saw franchise and all the clones that came with it, though few have replicated the tension and ingenuity on display here.
Natali pulls out all the stops to deliver the guilty pleasures viewers implicitly crave from horrors of this ilk, but his surprisingly deft direction in a claustrophobic environment transcend B-movie norms. When the concept is delivered with such zeal, it is easy to forgive the stiff acting and occasionally hammy writing that is to be expected.
- Backcountry (2015)
While each other entry on this list derives its horror from ultimately implausible scenarios (although my next one can be eerily uncanny in these strange times), Backcountry is frightening because it has happened.
Loosely based on a tragic true story, Backcountry follows a couple who hike into the Canadian wilderness for a weekend getaway, only to find they are being tracked by a bear. Writer/director Adam MacDonald does a wonderful job of placing his characters front and centre, as he takes the time to develop his leading duo before patiently raising the stakes to tense and ultimately brutal heights.
Backcountry might test the patience of some viewers, particularly those who seek the creative deaths of Cube, but this is a film whose grounded premise preys on the most basic instincts of viewers, to viscerally terrifying results.
- Rabid (1977)
With such an extensive body of work, narrowing down the very best of David Cronenberg’s horrorography can be a difficult task. For the first of two entries by the Godfather of Body Horror I could have chosen from some of his best known works of the 1980s, such as Scanners or Videodrome, but I prefer a lesser known flick that I believe is one of the most underrated films in the early half of his career: Rabid.
While this film features the usual wince-inducing affronts to the body that Cronenberg is known for, there is a rich psychosexual undercurrent that drives its themes while justifying the admittedly abstract nature of a woman with a phallic stinger in her armpit. Yes, that is the basic premise, but as the story escalates to endemic proportions in its Montreal setting, the story can fleetingly reflect our ongoing battle with COVID-19 to an uncanny degree.
Perhaps not the best material for those seeking absolute escapism, but Rabid is nonetheless an excellent horror and must-watch material for fans of David Cronenberg.
- Black Christmas (1974)
While the first part of the title should be enough of a hint, Black Christmas is not a movie that imparts any sense of Christmas spirit, as its viewing is much better suited for Halloween night.
One of the earliest examples of a slasher film (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released the same year), Bob Clark’s Black Christmas is not only one of the single most influential horror movies ever made, but it features some of the best character work I have ever seen in a slasher, and that includes Halloween.
Each character is more than a number for the body count, as Clark takes the time to flesh out the varying, sometimes conflicting personalities of the sorority members stalked by a mysterious killer. The universally excellent performances further lend a sense of naturalism akin to a well-directed drama rather than a horror, with each death instilling in us a sense of loss rarely found in a slasher.
Influential as Black Christmas may be, they truly do not make slashers like this anymore. For me, Black Christmas is the best horror movie ever produced in Canada.
- The Fly (1986)
The Fly on the other hand, an American productions, is the single greatest achievement by a Canadian director in the horror genre. The second of David Cronenberg’s entries on this list, every prior horror film made by the filmmaker was building up to this one masterpiece, exemplifying an artist at the peak of his craft.
A harrowing but thoughtful story on the nature of sickness and aging, Jeff Goldblum, in one of the finest performances of his career, plays a scientist who is molecularly bonded with a fly only to subsequently undergo a slow and gruesome process of transformation. The makeup and special effects for said transformation are a masterclass that holds up even to this day, illustrating the largely bygone magic of practical effects over CGI.
Like any Cronenberg horror, however, The Fly is driven not only by its effects, but also its narrative substance. At its heart, The Fly is a tragedy on the deterioration of a good man into something that is beyond recognition, with allusions to the AIDS epidemic of the time not lost on critics.
Cronenberg’s magnum opus of body horror ranks amongst the cinematic greats, and you owe it to yourself to see it this Halloween if you have not already.