Happy Canada Day! To celebrate, I decided to watch one of my Canadian VHS, Harvey Hart's 1973 film The Pyx.
After call girl Elizabeth (Karen Black) falls from a high-rise apartment roof, Detective Henderson (Christopher Plummer) tries to piece together the events that led to her demise.
The Pyx was an adaptation of the 1959 novel of the same name, and also released with the tad more explanatory title of The Hooker Cult Murders. This movie was likely the most Canadian film I've seen in a long, long time – perhaps since Bon Cop, Bad Cop! It was shot entirely in Montreal, and the characters often switched back and forth between French & English while talking to each other. Christopher Plummer was so young in this, that it was almost distracting and Karen Black was as striking as she always was.
|Karen Black as Elizabeth in The Pyx.
The narrative played out in a back and forth style as we saw the twenty-four hours before and after Elizabeth's death. I appreciated that Hart's didn't feel the need to over explain the shifts with the use of title cards and the like, as he had faith that his audience would be able to follow the flow of his film.
The Pyx functions as more of a crime drama than a horror film. Likely in response to the popularity of Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, this film was one of three Satanic-themed titles to come out of Canada around this time (The Reincarnate and The Possession of Virginia being the other two). We Canucks didn't really get a true handle on horror until the tax shelter system began the following year. Although, despite most of the film being pretty sedate, the cat stuck to the door with a kitchen knife sure made a statement!
I think what I liked most about the movie were the little flourishes. Some of the exchanges between the cops were priceless, like when the ambulance pulls up to the crime scene;
“Cut the racket, she ain't goin' nowhere.”
“Yeah, but I am, heavy date.”
Or when the detectives are talking to the coroner;
“I don't know if you guys noticed but she's got needle marks on her.”
“Yeah? You must have looked her over real good.”
“Well listen. My wife don't look as half as good, and she ain't even dead yet.”
I think the part that takes the cake for me though was when the rope being used as the body's crime scene outline was picked up by some neighbourhood kids to be used to jump rope. So morbid! I love it!
Lastly, there was the music. In addition to the three songs that feature Black on vocals, there was some really strange choral music that sounded like Alvin & the Chipmunks sat in with the Tabernacle Choir. It was amusing at first, but during the last moments of Elizabeth's life, it actually became quite eerie.
The Pyx, while not outwardly horror, was a competent yarn full of spirited performances. The opening visual where the night-gowned figure fell from the building was, even within my murky VHS, quite alarming and something I won't forget for a while. Tres bon!