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Canadian horror hits mini-boom

Great White North turns out genre films

MONTREAL — If there is someone who’s happy to see a mini-boom in the production of Canuck genre films, it’s most certainly Steven Hoban.

When he was starting out as a producer in Toronto in the first half of the ’90s, Hoban was making horror pics, including an early short from director John Fawcett and the offbeat critically-acclaimed 1995 vampire pic “Blood and Donuts.”

But, at the time, all the public funding agencies and most everyone else in the Canadian film biz were only interested in making dark arthouse titles, during the heyday of auteurs like Atom Egoyan.

Flash forward 15 years, and Canadians are churning out all sorts of genre pics, including a slew of horror films, a few of which are unspooling at Sundance this year. The highest profile of the new genre pack is Hoban’s production “Splice,” the sci-fi horror film from writer-director Vincenzo Natali that stars Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as a pair of scientists who create a strange creature by splicing human DNA.

The other horror pics from Canada at Sundance are the French-language “7 Days,” a harrowing thriller based on the bestselling novel by Quebec horror specialist Patrick Senecal, and helmer Eli Craig’s “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.” All three screen in the Sundance Midnight series. In addition, Quebec director Alexandre Franchi’s “The Wild Hunt,” a fantasy-horror pic set in the milieu of medieval re-enactment fanatics, screens at Slamdance.

These are only the latest horror and genre pics to come out of the Great White North, following on the heels of the horror comedy “Fido,” vampire laugher “Suck” and arty horror offering “Pontypool” from seasoned helmer Bruce McDonald.

Many credit the critically-lauded werewolf trilogy “Ginger Snaps,” also produced by Hoban, for kickstarting the current genre revival in Canada. The “Ginger Snap” films weren’t big hits on their home turf but they sold robustly on the international scene, something that happens all-too-rarely in the Canadian film world.

It has a lot to do with economics,” said Hoban, who produced the 2005 animated-short Oscar winner “Ryan”. “It’s one of the areas where independent producers can compete. It’s the one kind of movie that you can make that can travel.”

Hoban has more horror projects on the way, including an animated feature bio of H.P. Lovecraft from “Ryan” helmer Chris Landreth, a supernatural thriller titled “Permission” from “Splice” director Natali, and a “Ginger Snaps” TV series.

Federal funder Telefilm Canada has been working to shift its coin toward more genre pics in recent years, which is why Telefilm national feature-film executive Stephanie Azam is not surprised by the strong line-up of Canadian genre films at Sundance.

At a certain point, we looked at our portfolio and said — ‘There are way too many dramas’,” said Azam.

She says roughly 40% of their cash now goes to dramas, down from 60% not so long ago. Telefilm is government funded, which begs the question — What would happen if a Canadian producer approached the agency with an R-rated or even NC-17-rated ultra-violent horror pic like “Hostel” or “Saw”? Would Telefilm be allowed to fund such a pic?

Azam would only say that Telefilm has yet to see such a project submitted to it.

Veteran Canadian film-sales exec Charlotte Mickie — who is selling “7 Days” internationally — said Canada actually has a long history of making genre pics, going back to the early David Cronenberg films and other pics produced by Montreal-based genre pioneers John Dunning and Andre Link.

There’s always been this alternative Canadian film culture of people making movies without the public funding agencies,” said Mickie, exec veepee at E1 Intl.

She also underlines that it’s not easy to come up with genre hits.

There’s a lot of competition,” said Mickie. “Tastes in genre change very quickly so you have to be a bit careful. They have to be good. It’s not enough to just be a genre movie.”

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