Skip to content

Calling horror-philes: Thursday staged reading is for you

Thunder Bay playwright Andrew Paulson is working out the bugs on his new work ‘You Paid For it, They’ll Pay For It’, a celebration of Canuxploitation films of the 1970s and 1980s

If you’re a horror movie fan of a certain age, chances are you’ve seen several Canuxploitation films of the 1970s and 1980s without even knowing it.

The term refers to the era of Canadian film before there was Canadian film. It was an era where a generous tax credit encouraged dozens of people to invest in or make films in Canada. Most of them were horror, many were not very good, but some have become classics of the horror genre and some of the people that made them have gone on to become global household names.

How’s this for a plot description: In 1981, in the concession lobby of the Highway 69 Drive-in just outside of Sudbury, a group of prominent Canadian horror directors gathered to create a writing collective. Inspired by the ’70s and ’80s horror film slashers, this alternative history of Canadian cinema explores the critically derided tax-shelter era film boom to shine a light on how this marginalized and misunderstood period of Canadian filmmaking has been sadly ignored.

The mind behind this plot description is Thunder Bay playwright Andrew Paulson, and the name of his new work, a celebration of the Canuxploitation era of Canadian film, is You Paid For It, They’ll Pay For It.

He explained to that Canuxploitation was born during the “tax shelter era” of Canadian film. In 1974, he said, three Canadian feature films were made. Maybe as a bid to encourage the creation of Canadian content, a tax credit was created that allowed a 100-per-cent writeoff on Canadian film investment.

“In 1974 only three Canadian feature films were made, but from 1975 to 1982, around 345 feature films were produced, the bulk of them being horror films, which defined the era and its eventual public scorn,” Paulson said.

The films were often schlocky, gory and weird — and many were also awesome (at least in this reporter’s opinion).

“I love Canuxploitation, not just because of the films that were produced, but because of the amazing stories that surround it, that far too few people have heard about,” Paulson said. “There’s a scrappy underdog quality to the whole thing. Yet, I am extremely frustrated and annoyed at the disposability of it all. 

“No other country has ignored its genre output quite like Canada, while other countries' genre material, like Ozploitation or the ’70s and ’80s Giallo films from Italy, are sought out and become cherished prize pieces on any home video collector’s shelves.”

Directors like David Cronenberg and Ivan Reitman (yes, The Ghostbusters guy) were born in the Canuxploitation era. Classics like Prom Night, Terror Train, My Bloody Valentine and Black Chritsmas.

It’s unfortunate, Paulson said, that the cultural contributions of these films aren’t more widely celebrated.

“I know so many Canadian horror fans that love Canuxploitation films and don’t even know it,” he said. Why do we bury this cultural identifier? Sadly enough, most of the films did as well, pretending to be set in America, except for the occasional few like David Cronenberg’s second theatrical released film Rabid

“So what does it mean to be a Canadian film? It gets confusing once you consider how much money comes from overseas or America, or where the script, cast, or crew is coming from. My play explores this very notion: That maybe Canadian identity is a non-identity.”

Why he decided to use the stage and live theatre to explore a celluloid medium is pretty straightforward.

“I don’t believe there is anything that shouldn’t be on stage,” he said. “I like to draw inspiration from non-traditional theatre sources: films, comics, board games, video games. I think anything is possible on stage, and I constantly want to challenge those that like to categorize something as more of ‘a film piece’ or more of a ‘theatre piece.’ If it can be imagined, there’s a way to figure out how to depict it on the stage.”

If you’re curious about Canuxploitation or Canadian horror in general, Paulson recommended visiting and listening to the Hoser Horror podcast. And also, maybe, taking in his play.

Incidentally, the title of the play comes from a pretty amazing quote by Canadian film critic Robert Fulford in his review for Cronenberg’s Shivers. Fulford seemed pretty incensed that taxpayer money would go to something like that.

“The title of the play comes from Robert Fulford’s review of David Cronenberg’s first theatrical film Shivers called: ‘You should know how bad this film is, after all, you paid for it.’ Fulford said the film was ‘disgraceful,’ ‘repulsive,’ an ‘atrocity,’ and concluded that ‘if using public money to produce films like [Shivers] is the only way that English Canada can have a film industry, then perhaps English Canada should not have a film industry.’ 

“This resulted in many House of Commons debates over what types of films are worthy of funding and Cronenberg being unable to work for the next two years. My play starts with Cronenberg being evicted from his apartment, which happened in real life, due to a morality clause in his lease. There are thousands of stories like this, all fascinating, and too often, forgotten.”

He said the play is also a history lesson of sorts.

“I think anyone interested in the history of Canada and its filmmaking (including local Sudbury history) will be interested; there’s a lot to chew on and discover,” Paulson said. “But like all Canuxploitation history, it's disposable, and it’s optional to engage with.”

But beyond the history lesson, You Paid For It is a celebration of classic horror films.

“The second part, the main plotline, is a who-done-it classic 80’s slasher film, where important historical figures take the place of slasher tropes: the stoner, the jock, etc. It’s all fun, all weird, and chock full of insider baseball of the Canadian film industry. It’s a mish-mash of Canadian history while trying to wrestle with the idea of how impossible it is to have a Canadian identity. It’s history re-written in blood.”

Originally from Hurkett, near Thunder Bay, Paulson worked in film, TV, radio and theatre as a director, producer, writer, and actor. A member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada, his works have been produced internationally and he runs the theatre group, New Noise Productions, in Thunder Bay.

The staged reading of You Paid For it, They’ll Pay For It is Feb. 23 at Sudbury Theatre Centre. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online here. Curtain is at 7 p.m.

Mark Gentili is the editor of


Verified reader

If you would like to apply to become a verified commenter, please fill out this form.

Mark Gentili

About the Author: Mark Gentili

Mark Gentili is the editor of
Read more