About eight years ago, I first discovered the wonderful world of Emmeritus Productions. For those who don't know, they were a Canadian film company that made a slew of shot-on-video titles in the eighties. In addition to hitting the video market, they also first played on Hamilton-based TV station CHCH.
After experiencing The Tower – the probable “crown jewel” of their thirty or so title catalogue – I have been searching for more. It took many years, but recently Dan at Eyesore finally hooked me up with a bunch, the first three of which I will regale you with today.
Before I do though, I would like to say that despite the cheap and cheesy quality of these movies, there's something really endearing about Emmeritus pictures. Several of their movies are set in Hamilton and I think it must have been cool for those watching CHCH back in the day to see their neck of the woods being represented.
First up was Larry Pall's 1985 teleplay Death in Hollywood. I'm glad that I watched this one first because it was the weakest of the three by far. I was immediately tipped off at the onset when the title sequence was a parade of tepid stills that dragged on to the tune of four(!) minutes. What followed was what seemed like a bad soap opera involving a washed-up director scheming to get his comeback movie made.
I hope you like the golden age of cinema because Gilbert Sheridan (Phil Rash) prattled on about it a bunch. In fact, there's a scene where a reporter interviewed him and it felt like it went on for twenty minutes. Actually, the passage of time could've been measured by the number of drinks that are fixed in this movie. Seriously, these cats put the Mad Men to shame.
I should re-emphasize teleplay here, as the action is mostly confined to one room, with the others probably just being other parts of what I wager was Casa Loma. I definitely recognized some of the same parts from Beyond the Seventh Door. I also found it difficult to nail down the era it was set in, as the time period seemed to shift from conversation to conversation. At one point, I thought it was the fifties, then later the sixties and since there were no exteriors you just couldn't tell. I do know that I was almost falling asleep when the climactic gunshot rang out.
Death in Hollywood was certainly something made for TV. I don't know what time slot this would have originally played, but it surely would've only made a captive audience of night owls who had no other choice after all the other channels had signed off.
Second, and most entertaining of the trio, was Rob Stewart's 1986 Mark of the Beast.
This one was about a secret cult operating out of Hamilton. So great! I love the landmarks used in this one, including Mohawk College and City Hall, the latter of which was the site of a political rally that had like twelve people there - some of whom were wearing hard hats because you know, they're working class types!
So this cult was global, as the Hamilton faction referred to their “American and European brothers” yet I wonder if it was just us Canucks that sported the relatively visible tattoo outing themselves as part of the conspiracy. I must say that Mark of the Beast has one of the most untwist-y twists ever. I mean, the guy's last name was Devlin and he had a giant picture of himself in his office, were we not supposed to know he was the villain???
I will give the movie props for going against convention and shifting protagonists mid-way through. I guess they thought we'd rather watch Paul (Jim Gordon) edit his school project and fail badly (twice) at cooking noodles. Then of course later he fumbled around trying to fix his car and get lucky with Karen (Carolyn Guillet) while people's lives were at stake. Oh yeah, the tape!
|Canuck Cult Command Centre.|
I was glad to see Charlene Richards (The Tower's stripper with a heart of gold) show up as Karen's best friend. It was a little shocking to see her get offed after playing cat-and-mouse with the assassin for like ten minutes of the third act. Also, can we talk about the receptionist job at the Hamilton Memorial?
Thinking back on Mark of the Beast puts a smile on my face so it is definitely up there with The Tower so far. Lastly, I watched Joseph Gaudet's The Hijacking of Studio 4.
This one was about a father (Jack Zimmerman) who holds up a TV station with a bomb to demand his daughter be released from a prison in the fictional African nation of Kanzaal whose leader happens to be in the studio. Emmeritus actually sprung for some location shooting as the first five minutes take place in Kanzaal (i.e. the Caribbean).
Studio 4 sported a large cast of characters which was probably why there didn't seem to be as much filler as there usually is in Emmeritus titles. I mean, there was the pair that went behind the set to have sex, got stuck there and when all hell broke loose decided to just have more sex. Oh wait, I forgot the lengthy scene at the beginning where the hijacker looked at an old photo album and listened to disembodied voices of his family tell him what a terrible father he was.
Interestingly enough, this was one instance where the shot-on-video format actually fit the story. I'd go so far to say that a good chunk of it seemed like a clinic on television production. Is it just me or does Emmeritus just have a hard-on for technology? Energy efficient buildings, editing bay montages and now this.
Now that I have watched a few of these movies, I'm beginning to see Emmeritus' stable of players. Phil Rash showed up again, moving from the ego-maniacial director in Death In Hollywood to an ego-maniacal TV host. I also recognized Mrs. Sandawn (Dorothy Clifton) from The Tower playing the hijacker's estranged wife. As for the story, it played out fairly predictably, but was still an engaging watch even if it was evident that perhaps the filmmakers didn't know how bombs worked.
So three up and three down and it was painless. Enjoyable in fact. But I hope this wasn't the best Emmeritus had to offer. I have a bunch more to watch so I'll likely do another post next month. Until then, take off eh?