The Best Canadian Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen

(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. In this edition, we look towards our neighbors to the north for some chilly tales of terror.)

2018’s only half over, but it’s already been a pretty fantastic year at the movies for horror fans. One of the best and creepiest is Adam MacDonald’s Backcountry follow-up, Pyewacket, which is as terrifying a feature as you’re likely to find from an otherwise polite and kind-hearted Canadian filmmaker. Canadians are a humble people and don’t often brag about their accomplishments, but the country has gifted us with numerous horror gems over the years including acknowledged classics (Black Christmas, The Changeling), slasher favorites (Happy Birthday to Me, My Bloody Valentine), early David Cronenberg flicks (The Brood, Shivers), and ridiculous cult favorites (Cathy’s Curse, The Pit).

There are plenty more where they came from – the country’s filmmakers didn’t earn the Canuxploitation label for nothing – and in the spirit of this very bi-weekly column, I thought I’d point you in the direction of a few films that aren’t talked about nearly enough. Keep reading for a look at six of the best Canadian horror movies you probably haven’t seen.

Black Mountain Side (2014)

An archeological discovery in Northern Canada draws a research team to explore its history and meaning, but what should have been a scientific celebration instead descends into nightmare. Their pet cat is slaughtered, they lose connection with the outside world, and madness slowly begins to infect the team. And then things get even worse.

The influence here isn’t exactly subtle, and the end result is an eerie homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing set against a gorgeous but chilly landscape. Paranoia and blood fill the crisp air, and all of it works to ramp up the atmosphere as the truth behind the stone monument comes clear. Is the threat biological or psychological? Both? Neither?! The film teases out the truth with patience and smarts delivering an effectively creepy slow-burn that builds to a memorable and unsettling conclusion.

The film doesn’t feature a monster in the traditional, physical sense, but it really doesn’t need one either. Growing mistrust between the men combined with the clear sense that something is amiss works to build more than enough tension and terror in equal measure. Time is given to the character,s which in turn leaves viewers more connected and concerned with their impending fates. It means the horror is more mental and reactionary than visceral at times, but it’s effective in its ability to slowly heighten the uncertainty.

Watch Black Mountain Side on Amazon Prime.

The Carpenter (1988)

A woman recently released from a mental institution moves into an old home alongside her husband with plans on remodeling and repairing the exterior. She stops taking her medication and is soon visited by an odd carpenter working late hours with fantastic results. He looks out for her, but that concern soon leads to killing folks who don’t appreciate his construction skills.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this was your standard tool-based slasher more akin to The Driller Killer or Slumber Party Massacre – the cover certainly suggests a homicidal handyman – but it’s actually something a bit more complicated. Alice’s madness is clear as hallucinations have followed her home from the hospital, but the dead bodies piling up are very real indeed. Is she responsible for the killings and simply imagining the kind and very handy carpenter?

Wings Hauser plays the title role, and his performance is the film’s main draw. He’s damned enthusiastic about doing a good job whether it be repairing a gutter or stapling a guy’s eyes shut, and he does it all with a smile. It’s not necessarily a gory film, but blood flows pretty readily alongside a blackly comic sense of humor. The guy who gets his arms sawed off while standing there dumbfounded is a particular delight. I won’t pretend I fully grasp the third act’s explanation for it all, but the spin it takes is entertaining and it’s worth it to see our heroine beating the hell out of drywall with a vengeance.

Watch The Carpenter on Amazon Prime.

Ghostkeeper (1981)

Three friends snowmobiling in the snowy Canadian Rockies make the mistake of venturing onto private property and soon find themselves trapped by circumstance at an old and abandoned hotel. On the upside, they’re not alone as an old woman has taken up residence there. On the downside, though, she’s hiding something terrifying in the basement.

The joy of this methodically paced horror film comes in its willingness to toss more than one genre element at viewers to hold their attention and build a story. A creepily empty hotel in the middle of a snowbound landscape, a psychotic old woman fond of sharp objects, her murderously mute son, mental instability among the visitors, and some manner of humanoid creature chained up below all come together to keep viewers just a little bit unsure where the threat is truly coming from. The film touches on the wendigo legend, but leaves just as much up to the horrifying capacity of the human mind.

It’s very much a slow burn at times – and those times are between kills – as our protagonists explore their surroundings and argue about their situation, but as the pieces fall into place, the violence ramps up leaving people sliced, shot, impaled, and eaten. It’s an effective setting, and while it reminds of The Shining, the closer comparison is to the Norwegian horror/thriller Cold Prey. Hotels are meant to be bustling with life, and these films understand the unease that comes from that absence while brittle cold seeps in from outside.

Watch Ghostkeeper on Amazon Prime.

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