***** out of *****
Not including the spectacular 4K restoration by the TIFF Cinematheque unveiled at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve seen Crime Wave.
Has it been 40, 50, 60 times? Have I seen it 100 times, perhaps, even more? Whatever the final tally actually is, the fact remains that each and every time I see the film, I’m not only howling with laughter as hard as I did when I first saw it, but absolutely floored by how astoundingly brilliant and original it is.
This is a movie that has not dated and will probably never date.
It’s a film that has inspired filmmakers all over the world and not only is it the crown jewel in the ‘prairie post-modernist’ crown – coined and bestowed upon it by film critic Geoff Pevere – it’s paved the way for Guy Maddin, Bruce McDonald, Reg Harkema, Lynne Stopkewich, Don McKellar, Astron-6 and virtually any other Canadian filmmaker who went on to blow the world away with their unique, indigenous cinematic visions of a world that could only have been borne upon celluloid from a country as insanely staid and repressed as Canada.
Borrowing from his favourite childhood films – sleazy, garish crime pictures, Technicolor science fiction epics, film noir, weird-ass training/educational films, Roger Corman, Terence Fisher, Kenneth Anger, the Kuchar Brothers, Elia Kazan, Orson Welles, Walt Disney, Frank Tashlin, Douglas Sirk, John Ford (!!!) and yes, even National Film Board of Canada documentaries – John Paizs made one of the most sought after, coveted and beloved cult movies of the past 30 years. For everything it pays homage to, the picture is ultimately 110% ALL John Paizs. There’s nothing like it.
Taking on the lead role of Steven Penny, Paizs created a character who is hell-bent upon writing the greatest ‘colour crime movie’ of all time. He rooms in the attic above a garage owned by a family of psychotically normal Winnipeg suburbanites whose little girl Kim (Eva Kovacs) befriends the reclusive young man. Every morning, she rifles through the garbage where Penny has disposed of his writings and as she reads them, we get to see gloriously lurid snippets of celluloid from the fevered brain of this young writer.
These sequences are dappled with colours bordering on fluorescent and narrated with searing Walter Winchell-like stabs of verbal blade-thrusts.
Contrasting this, we also get Kim’s gentle, natural, non-colour-crime-movie narration. She innocently describes Penny not unlike serial killers upon whom have been bestowed, après-capture, fond reminiscences like: ‘Gee whiz, he was a really nice guy.’ Indeed, Steven Penny inhabits Kim’s words like a glove: ‘He was a quiet man,’ she says sweetly.
As Crime Wave progresses, Penny’s creative blockages become dire. As he locks himself up for weeks, his room, so foul and fetid, invites rats to scurry upon his immobile depression-infused carcass. Kim finds salvation in a back page ad of Penny’s Bible-like magazine Colour Crime Quarterly. It seems that one Dr Jolly (Neil Lawrie), a script doctor, exists in Sails, Kansas. Kim insists, that HE is what Steven needs. Dr Jolly provides comfort to burgeoning young screenwriters. What they really need is the one important thing he can provide:
Unbeknownst to anyone, Dr Jolly is a serial killer who lures young screenwriters into his den of depravity to sodomize and murder them. Dr Jolly’s goal is to truly show young men the meaning of the word:
As a filmmaker, Paizs eventually leads us on an even more insane journey than we’ve already been on board for, and during the dizzyingly final 20 minutes of the film, he delivers one of the most brilliant, hallucinogenic and piss-your-pants funny extended montages you’ll ever experience. John Paizs then teaches us the meaning of the word:
You’ll see nothing like them in any film. Crime Wave is one of the most ravishingly original films ever made. If you haven’t seen it, you must.
If you have seen it, see the picture again and again and again and yet again.
That’s why they call them cult films.