CanCon 101: The Filmplan International Comedy Trilogy

August 19, 2017 | By

Way back in 2014, I cheekily used the headline CanCon 101: The Simcon Trilogy, because I wanted to gather reviews of 3 films produced by a company of which two, Prom Night (1980) and Curtains (1983), were on Blu, and a third, Melanie (1982), was still an orphan film.

The tactic was to bring attention to a forgotten film and hope maybe it would materialize on disc or as a digital download, but given one company pretty much owns most of the films produced in Canada between the 1970s and 1980s, fat chance.

Naturally, nothing’s materialized in the intervening years – Melanie starred Burton Cummings in his only dramatic film role, and he was pretty good – and in 2017, we have another peculiar trio of which one is on DVD and Blu, and the rest are in CrapVision.

This new trio of orphan films I’m branding as the Filmplan International Comedy Trilogy, since they were reportedly shot in succession, some sharing the same actors, cinematographers, and composers, plus Montreal before winter had fully set it; the latter point is somewhat special, given most CanCon tax shelter productions of the era were filmed in winter, just as dentists, proctologists, and podiatrists were scrambling to dump money into a movie for a roughly 100% tax write-off.

Neither of the 3 films are especially good, but Code Red rescued the best of the bunch for a fresh disc release, and although The Funny Farm (1983) isn’t an hysterical comedy in any way, it leaves Dirty Tricks (1981) with Elliott Gould and Kate Jackson, and Gas (1981) with Howie Mandel, Donald Sutherland, and Sterling Hayden, in the dust.

Funny Farm – not to be confused with the vastly superior 1988 George Roy Hill classic of sorts with Chevy Chase and Madolyn Smith – has a schnook travelling to L.A. to become a stand-up comedian, and among the cast is Howie Mandel, and Y&R’s Tracey Bregman as a klutzy waitress.

Gas – not to be confused with Roger Corman’s post-apocalyptic spoof Gas-s-s-s (1970) – pokes fun at the gas shortage of the era (actually the second biggie, followed by the first Gulf War). It’s not funny, it’ll make you wince, and Sutherland cashed an easy paycheque after shooting a few scenes in a makeshift helicopter in what may have been an afternoon shoot.

Dirty Tricks – not to be confused with a generic 1980s sexy-shocker – evokes the Big Chase scenario of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) in which everyone wants a document that may prove George Washington was a stooge to the British crown. It’s also not funny, and might be worse than Gas.

There’s a rule that fans of Bruce Campbell will recognize and perhaps validate: if Bruce’s character dies, so does the film, hence Congo (1995) being a piece of shit after Bruce is killed in the opening scene. Same goes for a film where Nicholas Campbell’s character dies; as soon as he’s toast, we’re stuck with a terrible, terrible script directed by the maker of Death Ship (1980).

Like Bruce Campbell, you don’t kill Nicholas Campbell (no relation, but the surname adds immense credence to this thesis) on film; our Campbell’s been in (possibly) every movie ever made during the 1970s through 1980s, plus countless TV series.

CBC carried Da Vinci’s Inquest (1998-2006) for years, although the show’s never been on DVD because the CBC doesn’t care. Campbell is one of this country’s bullet-proof actors: versatile, likeable, prolific, fun, and a survivor of the peaks & valleys of the country’s film and TV industry. He’s even in what was then the most expensive Japanese film ever produced, Virus / Fukkatsu no hi (1980), because some scenes were shot north of Toronto.

If Campbell and stage director Andrew Burashko bring back their live version of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds, SEE IT, because the play version of the radio show’s superb, and Campbell’s wonderful. Here’s an interview with Burashko, done in tandem with the show’s first run in 2011.

As for the Filmplan International trilogy, you might ask whether the lesser of the three evils deserves its due on disc. Well, maybe not. Who’d want to talk about them with affection? And yet Gas shouldn’t be available as a bullshit letterboxed file cropped from a 1.33:1 VHS tape, and Dirty Tricks as a terrible YouTube file in 9 parts.

These films ought to be available as digital, ownable, DRM-free HD downloads from a commercial site that Canadians can access, and get the chunks of cinematic film history great and atrocious we’re still being denied. I don’t expect to see such a creature in my lifetime because by then indie American labels will have beaten them to the finish line, but sadly none of our corporate squatters in possession of domestic rights and ownership will feel any shame or embarrassment.

And since we’re on the topic of shameful things, how about Global TV (CanWest) making available on disc a cheesy, oversexed nighttime soap that ran on nascent Canadian Pay TV station First Choice during its first year? You know: Loving Friends and Perfect Couples (1983), from Dallas (1978-1991) creator David Jacobs.




If The Starlost (1973) can exist on DVD, so can this unique production that may be a sudsy guilty pleasure. Besides: both starred Keir Dullea, he of 2001: A Space Oddyssey (1968), Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), and Black Christmas (1974).

Coming next: a podcast interview with artist Hanna Kostanski, whose fine paintings of vintage Toronto scenes are currently showcased at The Urban Gallery from August 3-26.

Coming shortly: 1970s indie directors in Hollywood exploring smut in very different tales of woe – John Byron’s Inserts (1975), and Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979). Twilight Time released both on Blu, but I’ll also compare the Hardcore extras on the TT and British Indicator editions. Expect those dandies cum Monday.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Tags: , , , , , ,


Comments are closed.