Friday, October 7, 2011

Deadline (1984) [copyright 1980]

Directed by:
Mario Azzopardi

While not entirely successful, this is one of the more interesting non-Cronenberg Canuck horrors from the 1980s. Horror novelist and screenwriter Steven Lessey (Stephen Young) became rich and famous when his first novel "The Executioners" was turned into a controversial film. It was followed up by more of the same - successful book to film adaptations - including "Anatomy of a Horror," which features a scene where a demon sheep uses supernatural powers to dismember a man with a piece of farm machinery. All of Steven's movies seem to do well at the box office and he's built up a "name" in the industry. While speaking at a college, he has to defend both himself and his art to a group of pretentious students. He's called a "degenerate" and accused of propigating sickness because he sells sickness and being socially irresponsible. His films are brushed off as nothing more than "horseshit horror." Steven informs them that he tries to represent what he sees around him and uses genre conventions metaphorically. But regardless of the front he uses when it front of the firing squad, deep down inside, he's unhappy both at home and with his career.

Though he lives a lavish lifestyle in a beautiful mansion with a wife and three children, Steven is feeling the sting of having neglected his family in favor of his career over the years. His miserable wife Elizabeth (Sharon Masters) more or less hates his guts. She's unfaithful and has a serious cocaine habit. The children typically just get brushed off by both parents as they deal with work and play. They're so busy that while they're off hobnobing with film folk at a party, they forget all about hiring a babysitter to watch them. If that's not bad enough, Steven's work - both the quality and the quantity - is declining. Steven feels his films are getting shlocky and his slimy agent, film producer Burt Horowitz (Marvin Goldhar), is breathing down his neck, demanding a finished screenplay in two weeks on else he'll face a lawsuit. Can Steven deal with all of this, or will he crack under the pressure?

The film cleverly integrates scenes from Steven's completed films, with ideas he's contemplating using on his newest script and what's going on in his real life. As the film progresses and his sanity starts to slip, his ideas become more and more absurd and desperate. He toys with ideas of nuns killing a priest and passing his heart around at communion, suicidal fetuses that implode inside the womb and a Nazi enlisting the aid of a punk band (Carole Pope and Rough Trade) to infuse their music with sound frequencies that'll make those who listen to it literally shit themselves to death. Other macabre footage involves a woman trapped in a blood shower and two little kids tying their grandmother to a bed, covering her with gasoline and setting her on fire.

Deadline also calls into question the effects horror films may have on children. After viewing one of their dad's movies, his two sons decide to play a game with his daughter Sharon (The Brood's Cindy Hinds), which results in her accidentally being hung (and naturally speeds along the writer's decline). Though this may seem to suggest horror films have a detrimental effect on the mind's of young children, it should be pointed out that the tragedy is only allowed to occur because of the absense of both parents in the home. Thus, it could be seen as a cautionary message for parents to be more involved in what their children are doing and seeing.

Though the film contains some humor (Burt at one point suggests Steven relocate to Los Angeles because he claims they don't make good films in Canada!), it's overall pretty downbeat and leads up to a pretty dreary and depressing finale. None of the characters (aside from the children) are the least bit likable. The writer is incredibly self-absorbed, arrogant, neglectful of his children and physically absusive to his wife. The wife forsakes her children in favor of wallowing in her own self-pity and addictions. The film producer is a money-grubbing, prostitute-hiring sleazebag with a bully complex. The only other character with a significant amount of screen time is an actress (Jeannie Elias) and she's a demanding bitch with a diva complex who thinks she's above what she's doing.

Director Azzopardi was born in Malta, but relocated to Canada in the late 70s, where he's found steady work ever since, primarily in television (including directing over 20 episodes of the newer Outer Limits series). He also made the feature Bone Daddy (1998), which again centered around a tormeted writer; a pathologist and true crime novelist played by Rutger Hauer, who's terrorized by the subject of one of his books.

Paragon Video handled the American VHS release. As of this writing, there is no DVD. According to IMDb, this wasn't released until 1984. It was filmed in late 1979 and the copyright date in the end credits is 1980.


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