Thursday, February 18, 2021

#2,532. Deadline (1980)

Deadline, a 1980 Canadian horror flick, tells the story of Steven Lessey (Stephen Young), a well-respected screenwriter of the macabre, whose movies feature barbarous violence and lots of gore. His films have brought in tons of money, yet despite his professional success Lessey can’t seem to get a handle on his personal life, which is unraveling before his very eyes.

One of the most engaging aspects of Deadline is its inclusion of random scenes from Lessey’s movies, all depicting mutilations and murders. In one snippet, two children lead their blindfolded grandmother (who is also bound at the wrists) into a bedroom and set her ablaze, though Deadline’s strangest sequence is undoubtedly the cannibalistic “mass”, in which a group of nuns devours a priest in lieu of receiving communion.

Yet what takes Deadline to another level is how it juxtaposes these moments of fictional terror with the actual horrors that have become Lessey’s life. Much to his chagrin, he and his wife Elizabeth (Sharon Masters) have drifted apart. In fact, it’s fairly obvious to everyone (except Lessey) that she has grown to despise him. At one point, Lessey receives an award from the University where he once taught, and during the ceremony he’s verbally attacked by several current students, who object to the violence in his movies. While Lessey is frantically trying to defend himself, a quick shot of Elizabeth’s face shows her grinning from ear to ear, taking extreme pleasure in her husband’s embarrassment. To further complicate their relationship, Elizabeth is also using drugs, and there are hints that she’s having an affair.

Despite his success, Lessey’s professional life is quickly becoming every bit as chaotic as his marriage; he himself isn’t happy with the quality of his movies, but his producer Burt (Marvin Goldhar) pushes him to keep writing horror because “that’s where the money is”. On top of everything else, Lessey ignores his three kids (played by Cindy Hinds, Phillip Leonard, and Tod Woodcroft), chasing them away while he’s writing and screaming at them when they interrupt his thought process. Ultimately, one of Lessey’s most popular films will have a terrible effect on his family, leading to a disaster that could very well shatter his already-fragile psyche.

And it’s here that horror fans may take issue with Deadline, namely it’s assertion that fictional horror has the power to influence real-life (a charge that politicians, religious leaders, and even some critics have leveled against the genre time and again). When all is said and done, Deadline seems to support this theory. In fact, during an interview, the film’s producer, Henry Less, even went so far as to call Deadline an “anti-horror” film.

It’s a tired argument, to be sure, but if genre fans can bring themselves to look past it, they’ll find that Deadline is a well-made, briskly paced, and expertly acted film, with a number of scenes that they won’t soon forget.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (it might piss you off, but give it a chance anyway)

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