Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Stone Cold Dead (1979)

When I’m not watching movies, I can sometimes be found reading a book. Much like I love genre films and Not Quite Classic Cinema, I also have an appreciation for sleazy pulp novels and hard boiled crime fiction. As a teenager, I read all of Mickey Spillane’s classic books and had since moved on to more obscure novels that looked cool. One day I picked up six old beat up paperbacks for a dollar in a used bookstore bargain bin – and one of those books was The Sin Sniper by Hugh Garner. It looked like a sleazy crime story about a serial killer murdering prostitutes, which I hoped might make it a typical example of entertaining Not Quite Classic Literature.  But there was one thing that set this book apart from all the other pulp novels I had read: it was openly Canadian. I’m pretty sure that before that moment I had never encountered a book like The Sin Sniper that took place in Canada. Of course I had to buy it and check it out.

Book Cover of The Sin Sniper by Hugh GarnerSet on the mean streets of Toronto, The Sin Sniper was a good book – almost too good. It wasn’t the “so bad it’s good” kind of book that I might have expected. It made me curious to know more about the author, Hugh Garner, and when I came across other books by him at places like The Children’s Hospital Book Market, I picked them up and added them to my library. Most of them looked more like respectable literature than pulp crime novels. Cabbagetown seemed to be his most famous book, but he also won the Governor General’s award for Hugh Garner’s Best Stories. I did find a couple of other books that looked related to The Sin Sniper: A Nice Place to Visit (1970) and Violation of the Virgins (1971) – both of which had salacious looking covers. The more books of his I read, the more impressed I was with Hugh Garner, and I wondered why I had never heard of him. Despite winning Canada’s highest award for writing, Garner did not seem to be remembered alongside other great Canadian authors like Robertson Davies, Margaret Laurence, Mordecai Richler and Margaret Atwood. Maybe because he died of alcoholism at age 66, or maybe because he wrote pulpy looking mysteries toward the end – who knows? But I will always take an interest in any book with the name Hugh Garner on the cover.

I was surprised to learn, years later, that The Sin Sniper had been made into a movie – a Canuxploitation movie, no less – called Stone Cold Dead (1979). The movie was made at the height of the Tax Shelter Days, which I have talked about a few times before – most recently during my discussion of Sudden Fury (1975). Much like Sudden Fury, I had never heard of Stone Cold Dead. I had not seen it on late night TV back in the day, nor had I rented it with my friends during those glorious early days of Mom and Pop Video Stores. I first read about the movie in Gerald Pratley’s A Century of Canadian Cinema. Pratley, who can be very hard on movies – especially genre films, gave Stone Cold Dead a decent review. I knew that I had to track it down and watch it.

Until very recently, the only way to watch Stone Cold Dead was on an old VHS tape, and luckily I was able to locate one. I actually recognized the box art from the video store shelves of my past. I remembered seeing it, but somehow I had never picked it up and taken a closer look at it. If I had, I surely would have rented it long before now. In any case, I finally watched the movie and I liked it. I was surprised and pleased to see both Linnea Quigley and Michael Ironside making (admittedly brief) early appearances in it. I was also surprised, and less pleased, to see that the filmmakers seemed to be trying to imply that the story was taking place in New York City. The book had been clearly set in Toronto, and the movie was clearly mostly shot in Toronto. Pratley, in his review, had called it a “Steamy melodrama about a Toronto detective…”. I have read several other reviews that claim it’s set in Toronto – and even Wikipedia, at this very moment, says “A Toronto detective (Richard Crenna) searches for a serial killer who shoots prostitutes…”. So why does Julius Kurtz’s (Paul Williams) limo have New York license plates? And why is there an American flag prominently displayed behind the desk of Sgt. Boyd (Richard Crenna)’s boss?

Hudson's Bay coat like the one seen in Stone Cold Dead (1979)

Hudson’s Bay coat like the one seen in Stone Cold Dead (1979)

I knew something was up when an early shot of the city’s skyline included the Twin Towers, and there was also a montage of images from Times Square. These shots were, however, mixed with recognizable shots of Toronto’s famous Yonge Street. I thought perhaps the filmmakers were simply trying to fictionalize the city a little bit, or maybe make the unreasonably clean looking Toronto just a little bit grungier. This strange mashup of Canada and USA really came to a head for me during a scene in which a handful of American money is held up just a few feet away from a person wearing a Hudson’s Bay coat (an incredibly iconic Canadian thing). I can’t help but think that someone was laughing up his sleeve when this scene was shot.

I recently upgraded my old VHS copy of Stone Cold Dead to the new Kino Lorber Blu-ray, and I was shocked to discover that it’s a different cut of the movie. The one on the VHS tape is the 99 minute American cut, and the one that Kino Lorber has lovingly restored for the Blu-ray is the 108 minute original Canadian (and presumably director’s) cut. There are apparently many subtle differences between the two, which are itemized on The biggest difference, at least to me, is Linnea Quigley. To put it bluntly, she is in the shorter American cut of the film, but she’s not in the longer Canadian cut.

What the -?

Usually when a movie is restored to its longer, more complete form it has MORE scenes in it – not less. How can Quigley’s scene not be there? Mild SPOiILER ALERT for those who haven’t watched this movie yet: Linnea Quigley plays the first murder victim.  We see her get shot in the shower at the beginning of the shorter VHS version of the movie. I had seen this version of the movie a couple of times over the years, so I had strong memories of it. The longer, original cut of the film starts after the first murder has already happened. The police make reference to it, but we never see it. The first murder we see, is actually the second murder (and incidentally the victim is played by future star of Canadian stage and screen Jennifer Dale).

This brings up a question: Was this scene with Linnea Quigley shot for the original movie and cut for some reason (like running time), or was it shot and added later by the American distributor? I can’t find any reliable answer to this question. The Blu-ray includes an interview with the director, George Mendeluk, who went on to direct many TV movies and episodes of TV shows including Miami Vice (1984-1989) and Canadian favourite Night Heat (1985-1989). I had hoped that Mendeluk might talk about the different cuts of Stone Cold Dead, but alas he did not. Neither do film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, who do the commentary track.

The fact that there is an offscreen first murder in the original cut make me suspicious that the scene may have been shot and left out for some reason. It just feels a bit odd that we don’t start the film with that first murder. It might be different if they were saying that these murders have been going on for years, but the killing just started. If they treated the second murder (of Jennifer Dale) as if it was the first murder, then I might be more suspicious that the Linnea Quigley scene was tacked on later. As it is, I’m just not sure what to think. But either way, it’s unfortunate that the Blu-ray doesn’t at least include the Linnea Quigley scene as an outtake.

Incidentally, Linnea Quigley has shared the trailer for Stone Cold Dead on her YouTube channel, and you can see clips from her scene in it. The trailer included on the Blu-ray is different (presumably from the original Canadian release) and does not include Quigley’s scene. However, the poster art for the movie, which is included with the Blu-ray (and used as the menu of the Blu-ray) is an image of a woman who’s just been shot in a shower (if that’s not actually Linnea in the picture, it’s meant to evoke her). Of course, this poster might have been created to promote the American cut of the film, and not the original Canadian cut…

And so the mystery only deepens.

One thing I can be sure of, is that I need to hang onto my VHS copy as well as the new Blu-ray – which is stunning, by the way. The movie has never looked better, and I for one am always glad to have more of a good thing, so the extra eight minutes of footage is gold as far as I am concerned.

I’ve already gone on for far too long, but I have to say a few words about the performances in Stone Cold Dead. They are all excellent. Paul Williams is particularly brilliant as Julius Kurtz, a pimp and prime suspect in the murders. He is essentially playing a bad guy in this movie, but he manages to be three dimensional and even sympathetic at times. He can be scary and evil in some scenes, but then display a depth of human emotion and sadness that you do not normally see in a character like this. I grew up watching Paul Williams guest star on some my favourite TV shows, like The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries (1977-1979), The Love Boat (1977-1987) and Fantasy Island (1977-1984). I also saw him in movies like Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), and of course The Muppet Movie (1979). I also loved the songs that Williams wrote for that movie and I even bought the sheet music so I could try to learn how to play them on the piano.

I should also mention that I am from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada – and as such, Paul Williams is practically royalty to me. He was the star, and wrote the music for, Phantom of the Paradise (1974), which flopped all over the world but was a smash hit in Winnipeg and played here for years. I remember reading the movie listings in the Winnipeg Free Press and seeing Phantom of the Paradise and  The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) playing every weekend at midnight. I was too young to go, but I really wanted to. I was able to see Phantom of the Paradise when it debuted on TV – and it was still playing the theatres in Winnipeg. Needless to say, I loved it and it only furthered my appreciation of Paul Williams as an actor, musician and songwriter. Anyone who wants to know more about the story of Winnipeg and Phantom of the Paradise, should check out the documentary Phantom of Winnipeg (2019).

Newspaper ad for Phantom of the Paradise (1974), starring Paul Williams who was also in Stone Cold Dead (1979)

It’s hard to believe that a fairly obscure Canadian film like Stone Cold Dead could add even more fuel to my Paul Williams appreciation fire, but it does. I loved his performance in this movie, and I think it’s safe to say that it’s essential viewing for any Paul Williams fan.

Stone Cold Dead (1979) is an unfairly forgotten Canuxploitation classic. It could be compared to Dirty Harry (1971), Vice Squad (1982), and even Dario Argento’s giallos. It’s not quite like any of those things, as it tends to be more strangely nuanced and (dare I say) realistic – at least in terms of having three dimensional, human characters. This is rare for a piece of certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema, and some might call me mad for even suggesting it but I’m okay with that. I now feel like I need to re-read The Sin Sniper to see how it compares. And then I will definitely be re-visiting the movie on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Sudden Fury (1975)

Growing up in Canada, there were opportunities to see unusual and obscure Canadian films on TV from time to time. This was due to a little thing called Canadian Content Rules. TV stations were required to fill a certain percentage of their schedules with Canadian programming. TV stations, however, believed that no one wanted to see Canadian TV shows and movies, so they used a lot of tricks to avoid actually showing any. The two exceptions were local news and sporting events, which not only counted as Canadian Content but were actually popular. Aside from that, Canadian TV stations used to air several extremely short form programmes in between and/or during popular American and British shows – almost like commercials. If you grew up in Canada in the ’70s and ’80s, you will undoubtedly remember shows like Hinterland Who’s Who. Each episode lasted barely more than one minute, and provided some brief information about a particular form of wildlife that called Canada home. Here is an example from the National Film Board:

There were other short programmes, such as Body Break which provided health and fitness advice in very brief segments, and Canada Vignettes by the NFB. TV stations would air some of these shorts over and over again, and seeing some of them became almost like hearing a favourite song on the radio. I know I would always get excited whenever I saw certain vignettes, like this one called Faces:

Canadian TV stations did show Canadian movies from time to time, but usually late at night or during the summer – when less people were watching. I, of course, was one of those lesser people – and over the years I saw some really memorable movies, like the craptacular shot on video Niagara Strip (1987). I didn’t know this at the time, but it was one of the now legendary low budget movies made by Emmeritus Productions for a TV station in Hamilton, Ontario. In retrospect, I really admire them for making movies like this to satisfy their Canadian Content requirements. At the time, I just thought it was a horrible movie – but it kind of inspired me. If those guys could make a movie this bad and get it onto TV then why couldn’t I? Unfortunately, I never did.

I also saw good Canadian movies on TV, like The Changeling (1980) and Terror Train (1980), but it’s more interesting to think back on the strange ones that I’d never heard of before (and in some cases, since). I’m not even sure what some of them were. I have vivid memories of scenes, or moments, or images – like a young, hippy-ish biker wearing a leather jacket with a Canadian flag on the back. I have no idea what movie that was from. If anyone can tell me, I’d be very interested.

One movie that I did not see on TV back in the day (and had not even heard of until very recently), is Sudden Fury (1975). Oddly enough, since I tweeted (and posted) about watching it last Friday, a few people have told me that they saw it on TV when they were kids – and that it really disturbed and/or frightened them. How cool is that?

Sudden Fury is a suspense thriller that borders on horror at times. It was directed by Brian Damude, whose only other directing credits are a short film from 1974 and a made for TV feature that was apparently shot in 1986 but never released. It’s hard to believe that Damude didn’t have more of a career as a filmmaker because Sudden Fury is masterfully done. He is a film professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts, so that may explain what he’s been doing with his time since making this movie back in the mid ’70s.

Perhaps Damude’s lack of filmmaking success could partly be blamed on the fact that Sudden Fury was another one of those Tax Shelter films that never got a very wide release. The people that put money into it likely only cared about the tax breaks and didn’t work too hard to ensure that the movie was seen. I knew nothing about it until very recently – and I have a particular interest in Canadian movies from the 1970s so that’s saying something. Still, it’s good to know that some people of my my generation were lucky enough to see in on TV back in the day (before it virtually disappeared). I am so glad that Vinegar Syndrome has now restored and released it on Blu-ray (with the approval and involvement of Damude).

The cast includes Dominic Hogan, a successful theatre actor who spent three years at the Stratford Festival. He has a few TV credits, including the Canadian sci-fi show The Starlost (1973-74) – another weird Canadian production that I remember seeing on TV when I was very young. Hogan apparently died one year after Sudden Fury was made, at age 40. According to a MacLean’s magazine profile of actress Julie Amato, Hogan had been living with Amato for six years when he suddenly died of a heart attack.

Strange Personal Connection: Julie Amato starred in Canadian TV series called House Of Pride (1974-1976), which was partially shot in Winnipeg (my home town). One of Amato’s co-stars was Doreen Brownstone, my friend and favourite (currently) 98 year old actress. I first learned about Amato from Doreen’s stories about working with her on that show. Amato would have been living with Dominic Hogan at the time that Doreen knew her.

Gay Rowan plays Dominic Hogan’s wife in Sudden Fury. She was a regular cast member of The Starlost TV show. I really need to buy the complete series and re-watch it one of these days…

Sudden Fury (1975) is an excellent, gritty, suspenseful 1970s crime thriller. It’s complete lack of commercial success is hard to believe, but it also makes it a #Certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic. I will undoubtedly be watching it again (and again) in the future – perhaps on another #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

The Bloody Brood (1959)

One of my obsessions is Canadian cinema, particularly movies that were made before there was much of an industry for making films in Canada. This would include movies from the 1970s and 1980s – although those decades were in some ways quite good for Canadian filmmaking (the famous Tax Shelter Days as they are often called) – but more importantly, films that were made before the 1970s. I’m less interested in the 1990s and beyond, because by that point there was a fairly healthy system of independent filmmaking in Canada. On the plus side, this meant a lot of interesting filmmakers got to do their thing, including people like Winnipeg’s Guy Maddin (although he technically got started in the ’80s). On the down side, it meant many more serious, art-house pictures were being made – and not so much genre output (which is, of course, my main interest).

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love horror movies, and vigilante movies, and women in prison movies – basically all kinds of B-movies and exploitation movies. And any of those films that were made in Canada are of particular interest to me – especially if they were made a long time ago. The term Canuxploitation is sometimes used to describe those movies, but no matter what you call them, some of my favourites can be found among their ranks.

When Séan Weathers invited me to be a guest on his YouTube series, Rotten Apples FIlm Reviews, I asked him if he had a list of movies he was hoping to feature. He did, and as I skimmed through the titles one jumped out at me immediately: Rituals (1977). It is a movie that could be described as Canuxploitation – and it is also a movie I happen to love. So right away I told Séan that I wanted to do it. I wrote a blog post about the movie, and you can watch the episode of Rotten Apples… on Séan’s YouTube Channel. You can also watch it on my YouTube Channel, but if you go to Séan’s you can watch the entire movie there (as well as many other fine episodes of the show).

For those who don’t know, Séan Weathers is an accomplished filmmaker who, according to Wikipedia, “specializes in making low-budget films primarily in the erotic and horror genres using skeleton crews and guerrilla filmmaking tactics.” How cool is that? He’s got a page on Wikipedia!

Seriously, he makes low budget genre films, which are the best kind as far as I’m concerned. Check out that filmography!

I had a great time talking about Rituals with Séan, and he graciously invited me to come back and talk movies again sometime. Having looked at his list a little more closely, a second title had already jumped out at me: The Bloody Brood (1959).

The Bloody Brood is another Canuxploitation classic (or not quite classic, depending on your point of view). What makes it particularly interesting (and unique) is the fact that it was made in 1959. That’s very early for English-language Canadian cinema of any kind. Yes, there are some isolated examples of earlier films. But it was a pretty rare thing – especially for a genre film – to be made in English-language Canada prior to about 1970. Not that this is the definitive measuring stick, but a quick search on the IMDb reveals a list of 146 movies tagged with the keyword “canuxploitation” – and only three of them were released before 1970. The Bloody Brood is, in fact, the first one on the list.

The Bloody Brood was directed by Julian Roffman, who was a pioneer of Canadian (and Canuxploitation) filmmaking. He is perhaps best remembered for his second feature, The Mask (1961) which was filmed partly in 3D. He went on to produce several movies, including the often admired Canuxploitation classic The Pyx (1973).

I’ve seen The Bloody Brood more than once over the years, and I quite like it. Séan, on the other hand, recently watched it for the first time. What did he think? What weird areas of film and social history did our discussion illuminate? What do Alfred Hitchcock, Roger Corman, Orson Welles and William Shakespeare have to do with it? And what exactly is a Beatnik, anyway? Just go to Séan’s YouTube page and watch the video to find out. And after we’ve finished discussing The Bloody Brood, you can stick around and watch the entire movie – for free. What could be better than that? I can’t think of anything, so head on over and get started.