Nov 2, 2008

Plague (1978)

When Trash Palace showed Plague (1978) in January, I sadly couldn't attend the screening because I had the plague, and was too sick to leave the house. This thirtieth anniversary screening also featured an appearance by Barry Pearson, who co-authored the screenplay for this thriller with the director, Ed Hunt. Since it was still the thirtieth year of Plague, the folks at TP decided to do an encore performance on the Saturday evening of their Halloween weekend extravaganza. Sadly, Mr. Pearson wasn't in attendance this time, for if he was, I would've bombarded him with questions about Ed Hunt.

To some of us regular Trash Palace denizens (as well as some others in my social circle who are interested in Canuxploitation), the mention of Ed Hunt's name brings forth quirky enthusiasm. For my money, the man's name will live on for being the brainchild behind Canada's only science fiction masterpiece, Starship Invasions (1977). Perhaps he is better known for his daft films from the 80's (Bloody Birthday, Alien Warrior, The Brain) before disappearing from the director's chair. Twenty years on, his small oeuvre of strange films deserves rediscovery. (In his early career, he helmed a couple of naughty movies, as well as two paranormal docs-- the creepy UFOs Are Real, and the elusive Point of No Return, which is high on our list of lost films to search and rescue.)

Plague is another interesting Ed Hunt movie which has fallen off the radar. Like many of the director's films, it was only briefly on video, and has never appeared on DVD. My sole encounter with it was an airing on Global television one evening in 1987, and while I didn't think much of it at the time, a certain mystique had formed with the movie, especially since I became more familiar with its creator.

In this tale, a plague is spreading through Toronto because of a leak from a laboratory. While people are dying all over the city, the scientists at the lab (namely Daniel Pilon and Kate Reid) are put under quarantine, and work around the clock for an antidote. Meanwhile, Celine Lomez (who is HOT HOT HOT) escapes a quarantined hospital, and unknowingly causes more deaths from the plague she carries, yet she is immune (a device that is never explained).

Despite the endless padding of far too many extreme closeups of organisms squiggling on a microscope slide, and some admittedly shoddy production values, this amiable piece of schlock is nonetheless fast-moving and enjoyable, especially when witnessed in a screening room of hecklers who now view the film with post-modern irony.

But despite how we think of the cinema of Ed Hunt (a friend of mine once referred to him as Canada's own Ed Wood), this guy however "had something". I admire his panache (or some might say, "overkill") in creating a sense of paranoia with oblique camera angles, anamorphic lenses and jagged editing. Actually, my favourite moments in the film are those of urban warfare: when two guys attempt to break out of the lab and shoot it out with the cops, and when a bunch of hosers (from Mississauga?) open fire on the army officers that barricade an escape route. (This film couldn't have been made 20 years later-- the army would've been shoveling snow for mayor Mel.)

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