Essays · Features and Columns

Oh Canada! 15 Fantastic and Underseen Films from Our Neighbors to the North

If we don’t celebrate Canada, who will?
Canadian Movies
By  · Published on April 19th, 2018

We here at Film School Rejects are big fans of our neighbors to the north and want to wish them a happy Canadian Film Day! (We’re a day late with our well-wishes, but we’re pretty sure Canada forgives us.) The country has gifted us with so many joys over the years including David Cronenberg, John Candy, Imax theaters, and my first girlfriend (you wouldn’t know her), so a few of us here wanted to do them a solid in return.

There have been many fantastic and highly acclaimed Canadian films including Mon Oncle Antoine (1971), Black Christmas (1974), Dead Ringers (1988), and The Sweet Hereafter (1997). Rather than talk about the movies you already know and love, though, we’re gonna shine a light on some lesser-known gems we think are every bit as great (or maybe just great in their own ways).

Chris Coffel previously touched on the country’s genre fare with a shortlist of Canadian films for you hosers to check out, but we’re tripling down on his five with fifteen more of our favorites from the Great White North. They lean towards the dark, violent, and plain old weird because we do too, but there’s still something for almost every taste in our picks below.

Keep reading for a look at fifteen Canadian movies that Chris Coffel, Kieran Fisher, and I (Rob!) think you should watch sooner rather than later.

Dead of Night (1974)

In 1974 director Bob Clark forever changed the horror landscape with the release of Black Christmas. What often gets overlooked is that a few months prior he released an equally good but lesser appreciated horror entry with Dead of Night (aka Deathdream). In this film, a young soldier named Andy is shot and killed in Vietnam but shortly after his family is notified of his death he shows up at the front door apparently unharmed. The family assumes the notification was some sort of error and happily welcomes him back home. However, it doesn’t take long before everyone starts to realize something isn’t quite right with Andy. Clark creates an eerie and darkly funny film that uses the zombie genre to take a political shot at the horrors of war. The film also served as Tom Savini’s debut into makeup effects. – Chris

Shoot (1976)

Depending on where you stand on the gun culture here in the United States it’s either out of control or a necessity in case the British return. This Canadian flick nails it either way as a group of hunters find themselves in an unexpected firefight with another group across a river. They walk away mostly unscathed after killing one of “the enemy,” and when the death fails to be reported truthfully they come to believe that the other group is preparing for revenge. Cliff Robertson headlines as an ex-military man who decides to preempt that presumed assault with an impromptu squad of itchy trigger fingers, but he doesn’t quite get his wish. Tensions rise, conflicts erupt between friends, and the film highlights the danger of being too-easily armed. Toss in a badass Henry Silva, an against-type Ernest Borgnine, and a doozy of an ending, and you’ve got a dramatic thriller built around aggression, paranoia, and man’s seemingly unquenchable desire to destroy. Southern Comfort fans — which should be everybody — should move this one to the top of their list. – Rob

Self Defense (1983)

With the city’s police on strike, a group of fascist assholes enters a gay bar looking to bully and harass its occupants, but when they accidentally kill the bartender they decide the only option is to eliminate any witnesses. One escapes and makes it to a nearby apartment building where a small group of strangers takes him in before they find themselves targeted by the thugs too. The clear inspiration here is John Carpenter’s brilliant Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), but its DNA is equally evident in later films like Trespass (1992) and Tower Block (2012). It’s happily its own thing showing ingenuity, well-crafted sequences, and a real mean streak. The motley crew of good samaritans is a solid mix of panicked and capable — they science the shit out of whatever’s in reach to craft weapons — and they have viewers in their corner from the very start. – Rob

Crime Wave (1985)

The greatest cinematic experience of my life was seeing this movie in a tiny venue packed with strangers a couple of years ago. No one had any idea what was in store, and when it was all over we knew that we’d witnessed something special together. The story centers around a little girl and her strange adult neighbor who spends his nights writing “color crime pictures.” But he’s struggling to complete his masterpiece, so the pair seek out a man called Dr. Jolly to help bring his vision to life. Let’s just say the doctor isn’t who he appears to be, however.

I don’t really know how to describe this movie other than delightfully strange, absurd, and laugh-out-loud funny. Writer and director John Paizs evokes the suburban nightmare sensibilities of David Lynch and infuses them with silly vignettes that are tonally reminiscent of Kentucky Fried Movie, but comparing this movie to anything does it a disservice, so just head on over to Amazon Prime and see it for yourself. – Kieran

The Park Is Mine (1985)

This is a Canadian-American co-produced TV movie starring Tommy Lee Jones as a Vietnam veteran that forcefully takes control of Central Park in order to shed light on issues surrounding veterans. Thematically it shares a bit in common with Dead of Night, but it gets its point across with a much more straightforward and on the nose approach. The film features a wonderful score from Tangerine Dream with a main title theme that is one of the best you’ll ever hear. This also marked the first time a movie was made for HBO. – Chris

The Peanut Butter Solution (1985)

When young Michael goes snooping in an abandoned house he sees something that scares him bald. It’s pretty much the end of his social life, but a possible cure comes in the form of two homeless ghosts who share a magical recipe that promises to grow his hair back to normal… provided he doesn’t overdo the peanut butter. This delightful kids movie most definitely scarred hundreds of young Canadian kiddies in the mid-’80s with its ghosts, terrifyingly long hair, child abduction, slave labor, magical paintbrushes, and absent mothers. Oh, and did I mention the fast-growing pubic hair sprouting out from one child’s pant legs? You know it’s a Canadian classic because it features Celine Dion songs in English (her first in the language) or French depending on which version you see. – Rob

The Boy In Blue (1986)

Welcome to the greatest movie ever made about sculling. The story is based on the life of Canadian sculling champion Ned Hanlan who was praised for his highly efficient stroke. As we all know if you want to be a world champion sculler it’s very important to have an efficient stroke. If for some odd reason you’re not crazy about sculling you should still check it out because it stars a young and a ripped Nic Cage. Seriously, stop what you’re doing and Google pictures of Nic Cage from this movie and check out those guns. That’s the sort of definition you can only get from a superbly efficient stroke. The film is for some odd reason out of print on Blu-ray and goes for outrageously high prices, but if anyone has a copy they’re willing to sell for a reasonable amount please let me know. – Chris

Brooklyn Nights (1987)

This next choice is a cheat of sorts because I haven’t actually seen the movie, but Rob said I couldn’t pick a movie I’ve previously written about which meant I wasn’t allowed to choose Beyond the 7th Door. So I’m doing the next best thing and choosing a film written and directed by B.D. Benedikt and starring Lazar Rockwood — the same iconic duo behind Beyond the 7th Door (1987). From what I’ve read online this film is about a street artist who’s brutally attacked by a group of drug dealers. My best guess would be that this film is loosely based on the life of Toronto street artist Ben Kerr who was once beaten by a group of Nazis. Kerr has a small part in their other film. (I’d love to see this movie so if anyone knows where I can find it, please let me know.) – Chris

The Gate (1987)

For the longest time, I was trying to remember the name of a movie I watched a lot in my childhood. I couldn’t remember the plot of the movie, but I remembered a scene in which an eyeball appears in a hand and it always creeped me out. I eventually figured out that movie was The Gate, and it’s awesome. A group of kids left at home alone accidentally release a horde of demons from a hole in their backyard. Oops. This is a pure 80’s classic with great use of practical stop motion effects and forced perspective, but what makes the film really special is the absurdity of it all. These demonic creatures are released in the backyard of a suburban house, and all the madness is centralized to this one location. No one else in the neighborhood even notices, and I kind of think that’s amazing. – Chris

Pin (1988)

Dr. Linden (Terry O’Quinn) is a pediatrician known for having a life-size anatomical doll in the office he uses like an immobile ventriloquist dummy to teach kids about their bodies and behaviors. The doctor’s own children respect and fear Pin’s wisdom, but while Ursula grows up and out of believing he’s real Leon knows otherwise… and his conversations with Pin carry on long after their father’s death. There are some untimely deaths that follow, but the film is more of a twisted and highly creepy psychological thriller. Leon’s descent into madness is equal parts sad and disturbing, and David Hewlett’s performance delivers on both fronts. The film’s based on a novel by Andrew Neiderman, a staple of supermarket paperback racks throughout the 80s and 90s, who also wrote The Devil’s Advocate (later adapted into a Keanu Reeves/Al Pacino thriller). – Rob

Parents (1989)

Remember when you were a kid and lived in fear of your parents because you thought they were cannibals? Well, allow me to reignite your trauma as I talk about this dark comedy from Bob Balaban, who also directed the masterpiece My Boyfriend’s Back. The story is basically what I just described as we witness the darker side of what is a seemingly perfect family. You’d love these folks as your neighbors, and you’d probably attend their BBQs. The main strength of Parents, however, comes from its ability to tell its story through the hazy viewpoint of a troubled child. Sure, it’s a funny movie, but it’s also quite disturbing as it’s more or less the movie equivalent of adolescent psychological turmoil. The humor is deliberately awkward, but only those with macabre sensibilities will find it funny anyway. – Kieran

Maelstrom (2000)

Denis Villeneuve‘s Polytechnique (2009) remains not only my favorite of his films but also my favorite Canadian movie period, but I’ve got a lot of love for his second feature too. It opens with a fish on death’s door who pauses to tell a story — the fish narrates the film — about a troubled young woman who accidentally kills a man while driving drunk. Circumstances and guilt lead her to the man’s son and the two fall in love with this devastating secret hanging over their heads. It’s an odd movie with moments that shock, delight, and thrill, and viewers who can stomach the absurdities will find a film that explores the weird ups and downs of life in very peculiar ways. Oh, and did I mention it ends with the fish deciding to reveal the meaning of life? – Rob

End of the Line (2007)

Maurice Devereaux is Canada’s best-kept secret. His movie Slashers is a wildly entertaining riff on The Running Man concept with a fun Japanese game show twist, and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re the type of person who watched Rob Zombie’s 31 and wished that it didn’t suck as much as it does. His follow-up End of the Line saw the director really find his groove with a superb apocalyptic thriller about a fanatical religious cult offing people in a subway station late at night. But there’s more going on than initially meets the eye. This is definitely a case of the less you know, the better. In the truest sense of the expression. The director hasn’t made anything since, and that’s a goddamn shame. – Kieran

Father’s Day (2010)

The Astron-6 collective should be on your radar. They make fun exploitation and genre spoofs that simultaneously embrace and poke fun at the types of movies they’re paying homage to. All of their movies are special, but Father’s Day is the demented little nasty that stole my heart. The tale follows a vigilante, a priest, and a male prostitute who team up to hunt down a serial killer who’s been raping dads and literally eating their dicks. Their voyage leads to some interesting terrains of existence, including strip clubs, Hell, and other places where a Lloyd Kaufman cameo could crop up at any moment.

The laughs are constant, the lines are endlessly quotable, and the bloodletting is all practical, baby. There’s also some hot incest which adds a little bit of romance to proceedings, which in a way makes this a perfect date movie if you’re banging a family member. If you aren’t hunting Father’s Day down right now you’re probably a decent human being. – Kieran

Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)

After winning Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s fake trailer competition for their 2007 double feature Grindhouse, Jason Eisener decided to turn his trailer into a full feature starring Rutger Hauer as a homeless vigilante. The story takes place in Fucktown, an awful place where the blood of the innocent stains the streets and crime reigns supreme. The town needs a hero. So the titular Hobo steps up and blasts his way through pedophile Santas, corrupt cops, organized crime kingpins, and other no-good scum. Along the way he befriends a prostitute and encounters the demonic hitmen who killed Jesus and Joan of Arc. – Kieran

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.