Carlo Schefter and Joe MacKinnon say they’re kidding about the maple syrup in the fake blood.
But the Toronto indie filmmakers behind PM Pictures are sincere in wanting to further a particular style of moviemaking with their “Canadian grindhouse renovation” trilogy.
The idea is to “merge art house and grindhouse,” said Schefter, 27, who was in Caledon last week with MacKinnon, 26, shooting ’70s-inspired Hippypocalypse, the first of three genre shorts.
Next they film Love Hurts — about a death-wish gumshoe named Bruce Love — and finally, Illuminatus, about the conspiracy behind the conspiracy. Or they may end up making twisted stockbroker thriller Yuppie Scum.
Around for decades, grindhouse is named for the 24-hour movie houses in New York and L.A. that screened low-budget exploitation films on a non-stop rotation. Big on retribution, sex and mayhem, and low on production values, the style gained a new audience when Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino released their double-feature film Grindhouse in 2007.
So what makes homegrown grindhouse uniquely ours?
“There’s perhaps an intellectualism that might be lacking in the American side of things,” explained MacKinnon, who co-writes the scripts with director-editor Schefter.
It’s “a thinking-person’s grindhouse,” offered Schefter. Think of it as a Great White North take on what he calls the “tongue in cheek, blood on the walls” style of grindhouse.
Schefter and MacKinnon see the ultra-low-budget, off-the cuff style of these films with their untrained actors and simple production, as a forgiving way to make movies.
“It’s a style you can pull off,” Schefter explained.
“It allows you to have more fun and it’s more accepting of a retro esthetic,” he continued. “There’s a lot of beautiful underground cult films from the ’60s and ’70s that we would source for esthetic inspiration.”
And then there’s the humour. Love Hurts grew out of a single joke line from a shot cop and “when we’re laughing that hard, you know there’s something there,” said MacKinnon
Winnipeg filmmaker Adam Brooks, co-director with Matthew Kennedy of horror-thriller The Editor, which recently opened in Toronto after its Midnight Madness premiere at TIFF 2014, wasn’t familiar with the term Canadian grindhouse, but said it makes sense.
“There is no question that there has been a big resurgence of Canadian genre films since the American movie Grindhouse came out,” he said in an email interview, citing Father’s Day, American Mary, WolfCop, recently released Turbo Kid, as well Manborg, another movie from film collective Astron-6, which includes Brooks and Kennedy.
“The old-school exploitation films brought audiences everything the mainstream movies couldn’t, so long as it wasn’t expensive,” Brooks observed of grindhouse’s signature “lurid” content.
Ottawa filmmaker Lee Gordon Demarbre, director of Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, prefers the term “trash cinema” and says David Cronenberg, with 1970s horror films Rabid and The Brood, was “probably the first exploitation filmmaker in Canada.”
“Movie making is, by and large, based around the star system,” said Demarbre, who plans to start production soon on Bring Me the 5 Heads of the Deodato Family.
“We spend money to see the new Brad Pitt movie and when you don’t have the money to add a movie star, you use genre and exploitation and kung fu and wrestling, lesbian vampires, gore, sex and that’s the draw of the exploitation film and trash cinema.”
As for Schefter and MacKinnon, who met six years ago in a rhetoric class at the University of Toronto, they “have a lot in our crosshairs,” said Schefter, conjuring up a classic grindhouse image.
MacKinnon is also a novelist (Faultline 49) and they’ve teamed on pulp books including their latest, Savage Kingdom, an Edgar Rice Burroughs-influenced fantasy. They’ve written a radio play, are working on an album with their band Innerpulse and are pitching a TV miniseries as well as an animated series, Tales of the Bizarre.
Up next they hope to up the budget and production values for a neo-noir with Asphalt Sea and Western horror The Last Spike.
Said Schefter: “We want to make something interesting, something that is a feast for the senses, but also makes people … feel things that have emotional depth, but also something that’s completely insane and entertaining.”