Written and directed by: Mario Azzopardi
Produced by: Henry Less
Reviewed by: Brett H.
ďI like Toronto. Itís clean, you know. Too clean. Still, itís just about the only city you can walk around at two in the morning and not get mugged. They donít make good pictures, though. I donít understand why you donít move to L.A., Steve.Ē
The seventies and eighties brought forth a plethora of schlock, which was dominated by the Europeans mostly, but there were no shortage of American films in bad taste. In 1979, Deadline was shot and set in Toronto for a budget of under a million dollars and it proved to be an abnormal epic that remains little seen to this day. By this time the CFDC was lighting up in regards to funding on horror films and tax laws had already been in effect for a few years, though the word hadnít completely spread yet, which they would by the time Deadline was released in 1981. It proved to be an odd film for the time seeing as most Canadian flicks were tax shelter slashers worried about kills and ďmysteryĒ, but Deadline dealt with social issues and how horror films as an art form were looked upon by outsiders, insiders and the mind of a struggling artist. Take a trip to the local pen and beg the guards for some delousing powder, youíre going to need it.
Steven Lessey (Stephen Young) is an accomplished writer of schlock-films who is under a lot of stress from everyone in his life. As most kids do, they act up on occasion and his wife battles drug addiction, all the while his manager is up his ass trying to get him to write and write and write splatter and exploitation junk. Steven is very talented at this, his ideas are outrageously sickening and entertaining, but he wants more. An agreement he made with his manager said that the first couple of works would be standard mainstream schlock, but from there heíd be able to explore other, more artistic areas of the horror genre. When his works become a hit, management decides that he needs to continue writing crap to please the fans and leave the artistic, meaningful stuff to Europe.
As Steven meets deadline after deadline with gruesome tales of murderous children (they set fire to their grandmother!), cannibal nuns and satanic goats controlling heavy equipment, he becomes further frustrated at home. His relationship with his wife is sour and he is so wrapped up in work while she seemingly wants to party and partake in drugs, so the kids suffer from seeing their parents fight, physically and verbally. Things take a turn for the worst when their children see Stevenís biggest hit, The Executioner, on late night TV. They imitate what they see in their fatherís film and end up hanging their sister. His introverted manager doesnít seem to care, wanting to send him to Florida to do some more grisly work to take his mind off things. With these events and many others, Stevenís life begins to take turns more so resembling his disgusting tales than the good life that a successful writer should have.
Deadline isnít very well made by any means (itís proported to be in 2:35:1 scope, which this full frame VHS transfer would completely obliterate), but it is very effective as a sickening journey through the rigors of a tortured family life. Itís very appropriate that a horror film that deals with the social impact of genre works and family based drama would emerge from Canada as those ideals were installed in the Canadian film industry from early on. What isnít so appropriate is the downright sickening tone the film takes, itís pretty greasy, although not due to over the top violence as much as how it uses reality to make the viewer queasy. The film is very gory, but the gore parts are all shots from various movies Steven is a part of, but where the film bashes you in the head with a baseball bat is in the scenes involving the family. Wife beating, drug addictions and the tragedy involving his children, it really is raining shit on Steven Lessey. And thatís very appropriate as well, as one of his horror ideas involved a new sound frequency being developed that when played, killed the person who heard it and actually made them defecate themselves. Since scenes (only the gory stuff, of course) from Stevenís films are randomly shown within the film, itís got a documentary feel as though you were watching an A&E Biography, which is another Canadian trait the film has going for it.
The film has a lot of meaning beneath the surface of disgust. Steven has to deal with people criticizing his works for being trash (which they are, even if it is incredibly amusing), especially at a speaking at his old university. Many students decide to be pricks and viciously attack his works for contributing to social troubles rather than commenting on them and say he does it only for money. Frustrating for Steven since his views somewhat match what these people are saying and he actually wants to make a true and relevant horror film. Steven points out that people are free to see what they see, and then heís accused of writing solely for the mainstream. Of course these are mostly university students who have yet to take the plunge into true filmmaking, and Steven also knows that the people in the audience criticizing him will be forced to do the exact same thing should they want to make it in the film industry. Itís very reminiscent of the attack David Cronenberg received when Shivers was released and it adds to the Canadiana of the flick, especially since itís set in Toronto with a struggling Canadian artist being pressured to go to America. Like Cronenberg, he sticks to his guns. A particular student says to Steven, ďI donít want to identify with horrorĒ and he retorts, ďWell, thatís tough.Ē
All in all, itís a classic example of snobs sticking their noses where it doesnít belong and the exhuberiance of youth before plunging into the real world and experiencing real life. Perhaps this was director Mario Azzopardiís way of bashing the horror genreís lack of artistic creativity or perhaps he thought it would make a good movie, so little is known about Deadline that itís impossible to say. Regardless, film exists for different reasons to different people and if you donít like a particular genre, shut your hole and support what you do enjoy. Stevenís films are over the top and crazy, featuring topics generally only covered in such a ghastly manner in Europe, but at the time it was made there wasnít quite the onslaught of trash then would eventually surface. Film producers in the movie also have to deal with an uptight bitch of an actress, who always wants more lines and wants to be legit, again a young up-and-comer who canít grasp the reality of the world of filmmaking. Likely, Deadline is a retort to the exaggerated and unwarranted hatred towards the horror genre, but also a kick in the ass to the man to say that art and plot are more important than beheadings. Or, at the very medium, that they can coexist together, which is exactly what happens in Deadline.
The tone of the film is similar to 1981ís iconic diseased slasher, Nightmare, but it is much more interesting. Itís cheap, the acting is rough and the script isnít bright and shiny, but it remains an effective and sickly shocker that stands out from the pack regarding horror films of the time. Itís hard to take and thatís the whole reason itís such a great watch, the drama scenes are scary whereas the faux horror film scenes are all for cheap pops. Horror films can be exploitive, fantastic, cheesy or just plain fun, but they can also be torturing views into the terrors of true life and when they portray life in a realistic manner (or try to), people become even more offended. Perhaps the most interesting scene of the film (besides the crazy deaths in his movies and the heartbreak of the death of a child) is one in which Stevenís manager stands, gazing at the CN Tower, and criticizes Canadian films, but praises the city of Toronto. Itís great to see a true Canadian setting, but itís sad to know that the film hasnít received a DVD release yet. The Paragon VHS will have to do for now. Without a doubt, many will not be able to take this one, itís much tamer than Cannibal Holocaust and other such works. The dead-serious tone works to create a dirty little picture that is high on gore even though thereís no gore in the actual storyline. If youíre lucky enough to stumble across this obscurity, check it out, especially if youíre a fan of the more grungy side of cinema. Funny, sickening, and everything in between, Deadline is deplorable, and I loved it! Buy it!
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