Canadian Film Programmes Blog

- 2008
- 2007

Most modern zombie flicks are so loaded with CGI baloney that by the 5th head explosion it’s pretty hard to care.  In Bruce McDonalds “conversational zombie” pic Pontypool the only digital effect necessary was a Don Imus-inspired cowboy hat.


World-class Canadian thespian Stephen McHattie felt his shock-jock who’s fallen from grace needed a hat not unlike the style McDonald has famously worn for years. Unfortunately working on a tight shooting schedule with only $10 million, McDonald was told the hat would slow down the lighting process.


Luckily Maple Pictures, realizing they have a movie on their hands that could potentially earn $100 million for a mere $10, asked the Canadian auteur if there was anything he needed a little extra money for.  The hat was digitally placed on McHattie’s head in almost every scene, and it would be impossible to notice if McDonald didn’t choose to spill the beans.


Enough about digital hats though.  I’m a zombie guy.  Always have been.  Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead is without question my favourite horror film.  So it was with enthusiasm I went to  Diary of the Dead and the other films in the so-called “zombie renaissance” only to be severely let down.


Sure there were lots of fast-running, impressive looking digital zombies.  But where were the meticulous Tom Savini effects, where was the early Romero-style social commentary?


Well the best zombie movie since Dawn of the Dead is coming, it’s Canadian, and it’s story-based.  You can count the fatalities on one hand, so when someone does bite it, it resonates. 


Based on a book by Tony Burgess, Pontypool uses that old William S. Burroughs concept that “Word is Virus!”  I won’t spoil too many details of how the English language turns rural Ontarians into zombie-like entities, or how McHattie and company don’t fight their adversaries with bullets to the head, but rather with a new linguistic mind-set. 


Set entirely in a radio station, McDonald drew inspiration from one-set classics like Twelve Angry Men.  It was originally adapted by Burroughs and McDonald as a radio play, but McDonald liked it so much he realized he may have a relatively inexpensive, yet ass-kicking feature.  Two sequels are anticipated if this does well.


The best word is creepy.  I actually had shivers.  And I never get shivers.  This one should explode if only because it’s a classic horror yarn that doesn’t require a lot of bells and whistles, but under that simple façade lies a work of stunning complexity that U of T linguists will be showing in class for years.

*The next two Pontypool screenings are Tuesday at 4:30 and Friday at 5pm, both at the Varsity.