A guide by Piper Keyes
If there’s one thing my friends and family know about me, it’s how much I love movies. In particular, I’ve been hooked on the horror genre since I was a young teenager, in all of its variations—sci-fi horror, gothic horror, horror-comedy, horror-fantasy, horror-Western, slashers, creature-features, you name it. I’ve seen a lot of great films over the years, and I’ve probably seen even more bad ones.
This month, I finally decided to put my love of horror films to use for a good cause: for you, dear reader, I’ve researched and reviewed a few of the best horror movies my city has to offer.
Sit back, relax, and get ready to pop some popcorn, because the following films are all worth a watch!
In the small town of Wheelsy, disaster strikes when an alien organism crash-lands on earth and begins to transform citizens through skin-burrowing parasites. Soon enough, a Sheriff (Nathan Fillion), an unhappy housewife (Elizabeth Banks), and a teenage girl (Tania Saulnier) are the only ones left who can prevent this gruesome hivemind from causing the apocalypse.
Rating? 8/10. Despite its failure at the box office, Slither has gone on to become a cult favourite. It’s goofy enough to make you giggle, but its kill count, practical effects, and gag-inducing body horror are not entirely for the faint-of-heart.
How Edmontonian is it? 2/10. Okay, so maybe I’m cheating by including this one on the list. It was shot entirely in British Columbia, meaning you won’t be catching any familiar glimpses of the City of Champions … but Nathan Fillion was raised in Edmonton’s Mill Woods neighbourhood and resided here up until his graduation from the University of Alberta in the mid-nineties, which makes him one of the most authentically-Edmontonian icons in showbiz. (Sorry, Michael J. Fox, but you were only born here.)
Grey (Lauren Beattie) is a successful pop singer who occasionally struggles with hallucinations that she is turning into a wolf. When the infamous producer Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk) offers to produce her next album, Grey and her girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So) travel to his remote mansion to begin working on new music. As Grey gets more and more invested in the project, Vaughn begins to exert a dark influence over her, and she finds herself beginning to hunger for raw meat.
Rating? 6/10. In brief: this is an alright movie with an okay plot and average acting.
The “stringent-vegan-descends-into-savagery” plot is far too similar to Grave (2016) for me to properly enjoy it, and many of its recurring themes (psychosis, family, “predator vs. prey”) felt tired and predictable. I struggled to feel any emotional connection to the protagonist or her girlfriend. That said, Bryk gives an excellent performance as an intense, mysterious mentor figure, and the film’s original soundtrack does have a few stand-out moments. The cinematography is gorgeously-composed, and I’m glad I took a chance on this relatively-hidden gem.
How Edmontonian is it? 2/10. The entire story takes place inside of a house, with a few scenes shot in rather generic-looking rural areas. The amount of snow and deciduous trees will be familiar to Edmontonians, but unfortunately, that’s about it.
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)
Thirty years after Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage) is killed by her ex-boyfriend Billy (Michael Ironside) on prom night, she returns from the grave to exact her revenge on former classmates and high school students alike. Mary Lou torments kind, virginal prom queen nominee Vicki Carpenter (Wendy Lyon) with eerie visions and terrifying apparitions, and eventually possesses Vicki’s body in order to wreak supernatural havoc upon the unsuspecting students and staff of Hamilton High.
Rating? 9/10. Don’t let the cheesy title dissuade you — this film is not to be overlooked! It’s good, gory fun, with plenty of gratuitous nudity and some of the best practical effects the 1980s had to offer. As much as I love Jamie Lee Curtis, I actually like this film significantly more than the original Prom Night (1980). Fans of Carrie (1976) will delight in its religious themes, fans of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) will get a thrill out of Jim Doyle’s masterfully-crafted special effects, and fans of Michael Ironside will get to see him performing at his best.
How Edmontonian is it? 3/10. Though filming was conducted almost completely in Edmonton, a disappointing amount of the movie was shot on sets constructed inside of a 300,000-square-foot furniture store. On-location shooting will likely only be familiar to alumni of Westmount School, or maybe those who were alive to hear about its production during the late-1980s. According to commenters on IMDb, the black paint used to cover some of Westmount School’s windows for the film remained long after its release, until construction was done on the school’s library in 2001.
Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004)
Following the events of Ginger Snaps (2000), Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) has become reliant on routine injections of wolfsbane serum to keep her lycanthropy at bay. After her supposed ‘drug addiction’ is discovered, she’s forced into a rehab clinic for teen girls, where she must go to extreme lengths to obtain a supply of wolfsbane. The danger of Brigitte’s situation only increases when she becomes aware of another werewolf hunting her down.
The creepy abandoned building featured in Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed was first erected in 1913 as a Jesuit College for boys, but became repurposed as a tuberculosis hospital between 1946-1967. The majority of patients brought to the Charles Camsell Hospital were Indigenous people from residential schools and communities in Northern and Western Canada, many of whom faced abuse, forced sterilization, and deeply unethical medical experimentation at this location.
Rating? 8/10. The first Ginger Snaps movie is a personal favourite of mine, and I consider this sequel an admirable follow-up. Though much less lighthearted than the original, its twisting, turning plot and sinister setting make for a far more frightening story. I’d recommend watching Ginger Snaps (2000) beforehand in order to develop context, but if you’re a complete rebel who doesn’t believe in sequential order, this film could probably stand alone.
How Edmontonian is it? 5/10. The uninformed Edmontonian viewer probably wouldn’t recognize their own city, but a little bit of poking around reveals some harrowing information about the film’s on-location shooting at Charles Camsell Hospital, which still partially stands at 128th Street and 115 Avenue.
Although the Camsell Hospital became a general hospital in the 1970s and closed its doors for good in 1996, its dark legacy has lingered in Edmonton. It’s long been reputed to be haunted, and has been a frequent target for after-dark break-ins by people seeking a good thrill (and asbestos exposure). As of December 2021, the site is under construction.
Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004)
The final instalment of the Ginger Snaps trilogy takes place in 19th-century Canada. After becoming lost in a forest, two orphaned sisters (once again played by Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle) are rescued by a mysterious hunter and brought back to a fur-trading outpost known as Fort Bailey. The dwindling group of settlers they encounter at the Fort are suspicious of newcomers and armed against a mysterious threat that exists outside the Fort walls, though they refuse to tell the sisters exactly what they’re so afraid of. (You guessed it: werewolves.)
Rating? 5/10. This film is the weakest of the three Ginger Snaps movies, but it’s still worth a watch. While its treatment of historical issues like racism and misogyny are clumsy at best, and its portrayals of Indigenous characters are painfully stereotyped, Nathaniel Arcand’s performance as ‘the Hunter’ is commendable, and it’s a much more bearable movie if you can regard it purely as fantasy rather than “historical fiction”. It’s almost entirely unrelated to the other movies in the series, so it can easily be viewed on its own.
How Edmontonian is it? 9/10. Anyone who has ever taken a school field trip to Fort Edmonton will have immense fun seeing how this film transforms the typically tourist-y locale into a wintery, gothic nightmare.
Come True (2020)
Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone) is a waifish eighteen year-old runaway with troubling nightmares. Looking for a reliable place to sleep at night, she agrees to take part in a two-month-long sleep study, which quickly goes sideways when she begins to experience troubling symptoms in her waking life. As the study continues and she forms a highly unprofessional bond with one of the researchers, Sarah starts to lose her ability to distinguish nightmares from reality.
Come True is the first feature-length film written by Toronto filmmaker Anthony Scott Burns, and the second film he has directed. If you can look past a few instances of overacting, some shaky character development, the story’s complete disregard for the scientific method, and the highly-predatory nature of the researcher/participant romance it depicts (as well as one of the most uncomfortable, eye-averting sex scenes I’ve seen in recent memory), this film is worth watching for its aesthetic value alone. The special effects are slick and eerie, and its stylized, retro-futuristic visuals are incredibly captivating.
How Edmontonian is it? 10/10. The story’s events could easily be transplanted to any other city in the world, but landmarks such as Lock Stock Coffee, the LRT (Dudley E. Menzies) bridge, the North Saskatchewan River, and the University of Alberta’s Fine Arts and Humanities buildings are instantly recognizable, turning this film into a fun ‘I Spy’ game for familiar locations.
As we slip into the holiday season, there’s nothing I love more than getting cozy on the couch with a good scary movie. I watched nearly a dozen Edmontonian horror films over the past few weeks and seeing my city portrayed on the big screen has brought me a renewed sense of appreciation for my everyday scenery. The horror genre is close to my heart, and I’m optimistic that Edmonton’s future will include many more gems like the ones mentioned above.