Tag Archives: cult

Crime Wave

Crime Wave
Crime Wave

Director: John Paizs

Writer: John Paizs

Cast: Eva Kovacs, John Paizs, Neil Lawrie, Darrell Baran

Canada 1985

80 mins

***** 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:


Twists indeed.

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.

This review is part of our TIFF 2014 coverage.

Greg Klymkiw

Cold in July

Cold in July
Cold in July

Format: Cinema

Release date: 27 June 2014

Distributor: Icon Film Distribution

Director: Jim Mickle

Writers: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle

Based on the novel by: Joe R. Lansdale

Cast: Michael C. Hall, Wyatt Russell, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson

USA 2014

99 mins

Set in the late 1980s, Cold in July starts with a masterfully directed scene, in which father and husband Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) accidentally kills an intruder in his living room. Richard has the cops on his side and faces no charges, but soon enough the dead man’s father (Sam Shepard) comes to town seeking to avenge his son.

Although the film starts in straightforward fashion and director Jim Mickle demonstrates clear abilities in economic direction, it gradually becomes apparent that Cold in July is not your average thriller but a camp bomb primed to explode. From the cinematography and cheesy electronic music to Michael C. Hall’s ridiculous moustache, the movie cleverly undermines itself, and the audience is not sure whether they should invest in the story or burst into nervous laughter.

For a time, Jim Mickle walks the fine line between the two modes more or less successfully, but the narrative detours betray him and reveal the film’s true colours. Somewhere after the halfway mark, it becomes clear that Cold in July is more of an 80s Carpenter homage than a stand-alone film with a coherent plotline. What begins as a gripping psychological thriller develops into a buddy movie and ends with an absurd bloodbath. In the course of the story, Richard goes from being the clear protagonist to a mere helping hand in the final scenes, and it’s Sam Shepard who takes the reins as the narrative’s most important character. The plot’s various twists and turns feel forced and unreasonable, and so do the characters’ motives. The second act’s slow pace doesn’t help, and despite its strong start, Cold in July soon becomes boring. Sam Shepard and Don Johnson (playing a silly, Tarantinian cowboy/detective) do a decent job and seem to enjoy themselves when the movie slips into buddy-movie territory, while Michael C. Hall’s unsure performance mirrors the fact that his character doesn’t have a goal to pursue after the middle of the film.

Even at their most outlandish, the Carpenter movies that are such a strong influence on Cold in July retained gripping plotlines and clear protagonists. By denying us either, Mickle makes it very difficult to care about his film. The continuous shift in styles, protagonists and storylines becomes tiresome after a while; the audience has nothing to grab onto, and there isn’t much of an emotional or intellectual point being made by these constant changes, apart from the message that Mickle likes to stuff as many different influences and genres as possible into a single film.

Cold in July works pretty well as a goofy commentary on other films and genres and it’s funny enough to be an amusing, rather than an annoying, failure. Judged on its own, however, the film is slow-paced, uneven and shallow. The effort might have been admirable but the film is plainly forgettable.

Pavlos Sifakis

Watch the trailer: