Feature 46 – Pontypool (2008)

or “Radio Ga Ga, Eh?”

Featuring: Stephen “Shoot ‘Em Up” McHattie , Lisa “Ejecta” Houle , Georgina “Eddie: the Sleepwalking Cannibal” Reilly

Director: Bruce “Roadkill” McDonald

Writer: Tony “Septic Man” Burgess

Origin: Canada

Review_____

“I feel like I’m living in the basement of the world.”

Welcome to the first installment of my 25 part (give or take) series, “World Tour de Farce 2015”! Every episode will basically involve my ignorant American self (Egyptian godhood aside) traversing international bad cinema in an effort to make myself a more cultured Death God… and maybe expand my brand on a global scale into heretofore untapped markets, exploiting my core competencies with an eye towards productivity and connectivity. Sorry, I hired a business consultant to try and turn the Tomb into a profit and he just kept barfing stuff like that into my ears until I had to staple his tongue to the roof of his mouth. Anyway, stop #1 on this round trip is the maple syrup dripping, lumberjack spawning, hockey rocking, very polite Great White North known as Canada! And the landmark shown in our “Where in the World is Anubis Von Mojo?” teaser image? That’s the UFO Landing Pad in the town of St. Paul, Alberta! Yep, Canada’s got its own UFO landing site. Apparently Mars Attacks was never released in the land of the Doug & Bob McKenzie. You can read more about Alberta’s extraterrestrial airport at this link. Arm yourself with knowledge, kiddos!

I know I just reviewed a Canadian film a few weeks ago (Santa’s Slay) and a zombie movie last episode (Pro Wrestlers Vs. Zombies), but I’ve been itching to give Pontypool a viewing for a couple of years now, so fuck it. Here comes what’s guaranteed to be some of the most accommodating living dead (except they’re not) this side of Mormon Heaven! And if you don’t like it? Soory, hosers. I’ve got a thing for girls who say “aboot”. Let’s split a sixer of Moosehead, fry up some back bacon, enjoy the free health care and take in some Canucksploitation until we leave for our next destination!

People (well, 2 of them) have been preaching the benefits of Ponty to me since its release. The best I could offer them was the promise that it would have a place on my “I’ll get to it when I get to it” list. Well, I got to it. And sweet succulent jalapeno poppers dropped from the Virgin Mary’s hair pie do I feel like a better human being having done so. Let’s run the recap and afterward I’ll take a cue from Ben Murphy if you’ll “Permit me to explain wah.

For starters, this is NOT to be mistaken for the documentary Pontius Pool, which followed Jackass member Chris Pontius through the summer of 2013 as he attempted to fill a swimming pool with his friends’ bodily fluids, while living within said gathering of secretions. It lead him on a downward spiral of madness and near-fatal body toxicity that won him 3 Oscar nominations, a Golden Globe, and 4 CableACE Awards… despite the CableACEs having been discontinued in 1997. No, this is Pontypool, based on the novel “Pontypool Changes Everything”, as written by Tony Burgess. Why does that name sound familiar? Oh yeah, it’s because his name’s up above in the “Writer” credit! Yep, he’s the same Tony Burgess who adapted the screenplay. I’ve never read the book because, as I told my high school English teachers, I’m illiterate. That said, given that the author of the book was also the author of the movie, I really hope this turned out to be a faithful adaptation. Especially since I’m actually going to break my illiteracy rule and READ the damn book now!

From the opening, I get a hint that there’s something interesting in store for my next 90 minutes as we’re greeted with an oscillator scope illustrating our opening narration from talk radio host Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie). Despite being played by a native Canadian, I’m presuming that Grant’s a transplant from the U.S. of A. given his unfamiliarity with the surrounding area and very American “cowboy” manner of wardrobe selection. “Presuming” rather than “assuming”, as I make it a point never to leave myself verbally vulnerable for the same “assuming makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘Ming’” retort that I prefer to inflict on others. And you never want to make an ass out of Ming. He’ll put his bejeweled boot a Mongo mile up your Flash Gordon.

The Mazzster’s a Don Imus-y type of “Fuck politically correct, I don’t care if people think I’m a racist asshole, you’re gonna listen to my opinion!” personality who takes his morning coffee 50/50 with whiskey. His radio perfect voice carries the morning show on CLSY Radio 660 (“the Beacon!”) in the small town of Pontypool in the province of Ontario. On the way into his shift one dark and snowy Valentine’s Day morning (it is Canada, after all), and after firing his agent over his cell, Grant’s stopped in the parking lot by an oddly acting woman who bangs on his car window while uttering something incoherent over and over again, only to slowly back away into the darkness when Grant addresses her. He calls out to her, only to be answered by his own echoes…though I’m not entirely sure they’re all his (he said, knowingly).

Joined by his no-nonsense producer Sydney (Lisa Houle) and starry-eyed tech engineer Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly, pulling off that “girl next door/looking good while not looking like she’s trying to look good” appeal so well), Grant goes about his morning business battling back his winter blues to give the hosers something to listen to on their way to cut down trees and wrestle beavers and play hockey and whatever else it is Canucks do for work. They’re your typical talk radio trio: Grant causes trouble, Syd tries to rein him in, and LA sides with the old man because she admires him and may or may not want to fuck him. That’s not just me being an old man saying that young girls are attracted to we fossils, through “daddy issues” or some misguided sense of “age = maturity = sexy”, either. My Evil Dead Bride actually said it as soon as we see their first morning exchange, so if that sounded sexist, blame her!
Editor’s Note: She was TOTALLY eye-fucking Mazzy. This is NOT UP FOR DEBATE.

After a morning of what I’m presuming to be their typical “office family” squabbles, news of a hostage situation comes in over the radio band with a pair of gunmen holding a van of people against their will… you know, hence the term “hostage situation”. Thanks to LA “accidentally” feeding it into the booth to him against Syd’s wishes, Mazzola (the Indians call him “Maize”) reports on it prior to any police approval, while also implying that everybody involved is probably drunk, including the alcoholic local constabulary. Following, the station is called to drop the story as it’s officially been “resolved”, leading to a nice little exchange between Mazz and Syd where she politely tells him that their listeners are small time folk who prefer their shared small town ignorance, as the cops are actually alcoholics and, while we’re peeking behind the curtain, CLSY’s reporter/weatherman/traffic guy Ken Loney’s “chopper” is just a Dodge Dart he parks on top of the tallest hill. Everybody knows it, but they just like to pretend his sound effects are the real thing. A town just oozing blissful ignorance. Mazz in turn opens up to Syd, confessing that he’s got serious depression issues and every winter wonders if he’ll be able to hold out long enough to see the Spring again. Cue the canned audience noise where everybody goes “Awwwwwww”, but in an awkward way where they’re all worried that Grant will lose it and hang himself from the only bridge in town.

Immediately following their little moment, another newsflash comes in about a big mob of people swarming around the office of John Mendez: a local doctor who’s had recent controversy with writing questionable prescriptions. “Chopper” man Ken (voiced by Rick Roberts) calls in with a play-by-play of the pure chaos on the scene, including “an explosion of people”, bodies all over the place, and military trucks and helicopters (real ones) coming in from out of nowhere. Mazztermind wants to cover the story, but Syd would rather keep the airwaves free of potential public panicking turmoil while she tries to dig up something official that they can report. Mazzter Blaster is forced to go ahead with the planned show, including a performance by their special guests: local a cappella group Lawrence and the Arabians! Fun fact: the guy playing the group’s titular leader is none other than writer Tony Burgess. Hold onto that one next time you and your friends are playing DIY horror movie Trivial Pursuit.

As you can imagine, this performance doesn’t sit well with our self-professed bastion of truthy journalism…until shit gets interesting when Maureen/Farraj, one of the “Arabians” (I see Canadians don’t have the hang-ups with wearing black face that we do down here in North America’s ever-expanding waistband), starts speaking gibberish and eventually just breaks down into repeatedly shouting “PRA!”. Hannah Fleming, who plays the girl, actually does pretty well with her brief smattering of dialogue and that’s saying something coming from the guy who’d rather watch the child actors of the world thrown onto one massive tire fire than have to watch them “act”. Good for you, Hannah. Maybe when you’re older I’ll get to see you in a role with a few more lines and a lot less racial insensitive minstrel show shit smeared on your face!

As more reports make their way into the station, we learn that the people from the Mendez incident have formed into a “herd” of maniacs, swarming like bugs over people trapped in their cars, and collectively making weird sounds (like windshield wipers) or speaking utterances and phrases in unison as if they’re all connected with a hive mind. While trying to sift through the deluge of updates, suddenly the BBC is contacting CLSY in an effort to verify reports that the rest of the world is getting – news about military quarantining of the entire town and a possible terrorist insurgency/mass political uprising in progress! Not much later, an emergency message broadcast breaks into the station’s signal, relaying in French about how everyone within earshot should avoid loved ones, using terms of endearment, and speaking English…and how they also shouldn’t translate this message into English… which Mazzy and friends do…over the air…oops. Keep fucking that chicken, Grant.

Ken escapes the mob, holds up in a grain silo somewhere in town, and calls in to report further. We listen to a man whose face we’ll never even see as he sobs on the brink of total collapse about things he’s seen today “that are going to ruin the rest of his natural life”. Don’t worry Ken, I’m pretty sure your natural life won’t be haunting you much longer. Over the air, Ken relates how everyone is acting less than human and more like wild-eyed like dogs, cannibalizing anyone in their path, and tearing people apart with their bare teeth. Listening to Ken narrate everything to us is somehow far more intense than if we were watching it ourselves. Seeing the three in the studio hanging on each panicked word just as desperately only adds to it. When he records the twisted baby-like screams escaping an infected victim’s throat before it dies, followed by Grant descending into his own auditory hallucinations inside the sound booth? Fuck. That’s some stomach churning Silent Hill levels of terror tension. The games, not those dumbass movies.

When the horror movie paranoia and isolation kick into full swing, Mazzter & Commander and Syd argue right out the front door and into the awaiting blizzard (like I said, Canada)…where a horde of mindless psychos nearby catch wind of their exchange and start screaming “DON’T YOU WALK OUT ON ME, GRANT!” together, mimicking Sydney. Director Bruce McDonald refers to the infected as “conversationalists” rather than zombies, given that they’re not dead and they’re continuously listening while repeating words in a twisted form of symptomatic conversation with their victims. A great concept, but a twist in the vas deferens for someone like myself who doesn’t want to type “conversationalists” twenty or thirty times over the course of a few dozen paragraphs. As such, since they’re all basically brain dead on a conscious level, I’m sticking with “zombies”. If you don’t like it, then in the words of the epic poet Homer (Simpson), go to Russia!…like I will be in a future World Tour installment! Hope they’ve got enough vodka stocked away. Not for me, for them. I’m a whiskey kinda guy.

Barricading themselves in the studio and attempting to maintain their sanity by going on with the show (starting with a surreal obituaries segment), Laurel-Ann joins the ranks of the zombies almost immediately after, standing in place and mimicking the whistle of a tea kettle as she stares off into nothing. This is when Doc Mendez (and his German accent?), the guy whose practice went up in an explosion of bodies and flames earlier, crawls in through a window! He hurries Syd into the sound booth with Snazzy Mazzy and starts telling us what he’s learned by studying the outbreak’s victims. Meanwhile, LA spirals into her own zombiehood as her co-workers watch in saddened horror. To make matters worse, Ken calls back in finally…only to start losing his own mind as we listen to him jibber-jabber away the closing incoherent lines of his life story. Mister T would not like this virus.

Syd drops a shocking little revelation about Ken after his “passing” that fits in with her previous theme of small town not-so-secrets secrets that folks would rather ignore than confront. The twisted look of surprise and disgust on Grant’s face during this is priceless and mirrors what the audience is probably feeling at hearing the same news. Anyway, according to Mendez (whose accent I can’t hear without picturing Dr. Scott in Rocky Horror), the victims of the virus degrade into little more than a “crude radio signal” that’s just seeking something to bounce off of. His theory is that the it’s some kind of “god bug” that spontaneously came into being and is spreading, unpredictably and possibly boundless, infecting people at random and reproducing at epidemic proportions. And how is this bug being passed? Through the blood? Through the air? No. It’s being spread through the mind. Specifically, through the English language. Somehow words are becoming “infected”, and when these infected words reach into a victim’s brain and are understood, it turns the victim into a mindless animal. It then forces them to “hunt” for more words. And when they find someone speaking said words? They rip out their victim’s throat. And if they can’t find a victim? They die. Violently. And Vomity. The only motivator for one animal to murder the fuck out of another animal: self preservation.

In an effort to stem the virus from infecting them too, Syd and Grant stick to communicating in French and through written notes, while Mendez rambles in what may or may not be unsubtitled German. Sooner than later, the mob make their way into the building, but are lured away by a recording of All That Mazz saying “Sydney Briar is alive” played over the outside loudspeaker. Because things can’t be that easy (remember, we’re in an outbreak movie!), a random blip in the power causes everything to reset, defaulting to a playing of the Canadian National Anthem inside the building that lures the mob back in, all shouting “OH CANADA!”. Mendez runs off into the blizzard shouting “Sydney Briar is alive!”, presumably to perish as he leads the maniacs away to give Mazz and Syd a chance for safety. So much for my theory that Mendez was part of some Nazi think tank whose experiment to destroy the world through a 70 year old genocide project got away from them, what with the zombos’ rambling about Hitler and U-Boats. Oh well.

Trapped together in a supply room, Syd works on drinking herself into a numb oblivion and writing stuff on the walls in Sharpie like a teenager, while Grant tries to figure out how to cure the virus. His theory? The reason people are repeating the words over and over again is to say them so much that the words lose meaning, thus losing their contaminating power. It’s a defense mechanism by their immune systems attempting to purge the invading taint. The Mazzter Baiter’s idea for a cure? Don’t just repeat the words until they’re meaningless, but reteach the infected a new meaning to the words. Example? When Syd starts to lose it, her trigger word is “kill”. Instead, Grant keeps repeating “kill is kiss” to her until her brain replaces the meaning of the word “kill” with the meaning of “kiss”, thus curing the trigger! It’s weird, it’s a bit heady for a movie most people will probably expect to be a basic zombie schmoz coming into it, but it’s different. It works though, with Syd whispering “kill me” after, leading to the resolution of that “just fuck already!” workplace sexual tension between the two as they trade spit. It’s like some kind of emo romance thing.

Grant makes one last broadcast in an effort to fix the problem, but it’s like putting a band-aid on a severed leg. Too little, too late. The only people who know the cure take it to their bomb obliterated graves with them as Pontypool becomes a victim of the Return of the Living Dead Protocol. But, to his credit, Grant Mazzy’s last words are spent shitting all over the heavy handed government who responds to something they don’t understand by murdering an entire town of people in fire and thunder. It’s a brilliant tirade, and I don’t use that word casually either, because this diatribe is fucking brilliant to behold. Stick around after the credits though, because there’s a fun, entirely nonsensical stinger at the end that gives our heroes a fucking insane Tarantino-ish happy (I think?!) ending send-off. I hope to see you on the other side, Johnny Deadeyes and Lisa the Killer!

Before I get into the technicals, I’d just like to make mention that the term “OPP” dances through the dialogue time and again. OPP stands for “Ontario Provincial Police”, hence its frequent usage in a Canadian quarantine flick. All I could think of every time I heard “OPP” though, is that Naughty By Nature’s message of what they were “down with” had a whole different meaning up North. In Canada, they must’ve come off as the most law abiding, Kilted Yaksmen supporting rappers ever!

Pontypool. Holy. Shit. Holiest of shits. My faith in movies as a means to grab me by the nose hairs and make me feel things has been restored. Freddie Mercury meme goes here. I have not felt this sense of dread and suspense licking my neck with its barbed tongue since [REC]. While that movie managed it by utilizing the “found footage” method to perfection, Pontypool does it on pure pacing. Oh, and Stephen McHattie (who looks a LOT like Lance Henriksen from the right angle). Stephen McHattie’s like…fuck. His performance is uncannily good here! It’s almost inhuman. Like my Evil Dead Bride said, he was like Dennis Hopper levels of grand with his perfect transition of casual into intensity into stoic into in-fucking-sanity and back into “fuck you” stoic. Mazzy keeps his shit together, but not without faltering here and there so we can be impressed with how quickly he regains his shit just when you think he’s gonna lose it down his pant leg. McHattie acts his ass raw. Down to the bone. I hear he had to sit on a hemorrhoid doughnut for a month after they wrapped filming before they could find a compatible donor for seat meat implants. So much more than I expected from the evil NRA guy from Shoot ‘Em Up. Odd coincidence how he’s the connecting element between the Tomb’s first two 5 star features… and weird as John Merrick’s balls how McHattie looks like Jon Astin on the DVD cover art.

The minimal approach is just so fucking potent! It’s full-on tension. I said it before, but it bears repeating: it’s a thousand times more effective than anything they could actually show us. There’s very little in the way of graphic violence (really, there’s just zom Laurel-Ann bashing her face off of a window and hyper barfing all over the place), but it’s the way that we’re relayed the violence verbally that haunts us. The voice acting by Rick Roberts as Ken as he tells us all of the horrors he’s seeing is fantastic. It’s intense, borderline heartbreaking stuff to hear. The characterization of our tiny group is excellent. Pardon me for finding myself unable to stop sucking it’s metaphorical dick, but this has to be one of the best slow builds I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking for a fast paced splatter-palooza, this is not the movie you want. They’re great in their own right (one of my favorite sub-sub-genres, really), but Pontypool is all about the drama and gradual slide into deep horror. To keep you on your toes, there are also these weird, brain poking moments where reality seems to hiccup. As if the movie is a nightmare coming apart in places as the threads unravel. They’re not as blatant as the “PANCAKES!” scene in Cabin Fever, but they’ll get your attention.

Beyond that, there’s not really a whole lot left for me to say on why I love the maple syrup out of this motherfucker! Let’s bathe in a bit of the afterglow before we go.

There are/were two sequels to Pontypool that were actually planned before this initial installment. They’re supposed to provide more exposition, according to Burgess and McDonald, but given the nature of most sequels, this knowledge fills me with more apprehension than anticipation. When something unique really works for a movie like this (i.e. the isolation and the very slow-but-satisfying expositional foreplay), it doesn’t usually carry over to the follow-up. Remember how The Blair Witch Project and Quarantine both went from “found footage” benchmarks directly into paint-by-numbers horror movie sequels? I have this stabbing dread in my liver that Ponty 2: Electric Booga-Pool Harder would just try to be a low budget World War Z… or that could just be a serious infection from that uncooked meat I ate yesterday. Hey, I just can’t say no to ChiChi’s Baby Tartare Enchiladas! And yes, ChiChi’s does still exist, but only in China, Belgium, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Indonesia and here in the Underworld.

Given that it’s been 7 years since the first sequel was announced at the 2009 Cannes, and director McDonald and writer Burgess have had a dozen or so other movie and TV projects between their respective schedules since with NO sign of any actual progress on the proposed Pontypool Changes (not as good as my title, to be honest), I’m going to officially call it a Natalie Wood – dead in the water. Natalie Wood: the only kind of wood that doesn’t float! Or, if you’re going for a more “upturned proboscis” approach, you can call it a Virginia Woolf. Pinkies up, fuckers!

Oh well. As douche-snob shithead as this might sound, I prefer my PP pure… call me a hipster and I’ll feed you your mother’s insides colon end first. Just focus on the part where I “peepee” and let’s move on.

Pontypool was also done as an hour long radio play that was broadcast on the BBC’s website, which I was legit excited to hear of, considering the H.G. Wells “War of the Worlds” vibe I was feeling throughout the length of the feature. Sadly, all attempts on my part to find a playable version of it met with dead ends. The best I could drudge up was a YouTube video someone put together of Mazzy’s radio material as taken from the flick. Speaking of the spoken word, if IMDB is to be believed, Burgess’s original concept for the movie was going to be the “The Outer Limits” style oscillator image (seen in the movie’s opening) as the singular visual, bouncing along to Burgess’s voice as he simply read the script for an hour and a half… Might’ve been okay as some kind of performance piece, but as a movie you’re asking people to pay money to see? Outta your fucking mind. Besides, we would’ve been robbed of McHattie’s brilliant visual performance that came along with the verbal. A performance that probably gave Sir Alec Guinness’s ghost an erect lightsaber as he watched from Jedi Heaven. What does that even mean? I don’t know! I may have just become infected… TIME TO GO! GO! GO! GO? GO! GO! GO!

Seriously mine peeples, why wouldst thou be breeders of sinners? Get thee to a Netflixery and submerge thy selves in the Pontypool, lest I pity thee as fools, eh?

With the finale of our episode, so ends our time in France’s North American piece-on-the-side. The Canadian Chuck Norris, Zap Rowsdower, welcomes you to get the fuck out. See you next time in [REDACTED]! To the airport!

Moral of the Story: Genocides are always better when accompanied by elevator music.

Screenshots_____

Typoo – what it’s called when your spelling and grammar mistakes are so far from correct, they’re just straight up unrepentant shit.


That’s a few too many man rings there, Grant. Just buy a pair of brass knuckles and be done with it.


The only movie where you can watch Joey Ramone sexually propositioning a fish. In real life he was more a marsupial type of guy.


This reminds me of Monkey Shines… but Pontypool is still a great movie in spite of that. Fuck you, Monkey Shines.


“Wait till she finds out that I replaced the morning weather report with a track of nothing but fart sounds! And that I replaced her coffee creamer with Ex-Lax! And that I replaced her birth control pills with rat poison! … What the fuck is wrong with me!?”


“‘Best part of waking up’ my ass. This stuff tastes like it was poured out of a ranch hand’s boot at the end of a long day.”


Ever since Laurel-Ann made the joke about how microphones are robot penises, Grant doesn’t like having his nearly as close to his face as before.


Ladies and gentlemen, the look of an actress who just realized her current role should probably be left off of any future audition reels.


“Why so serious?!”


That moment when you’re in the middle of introducing your morning interview guest and regret having a breakfast of nothing but coffee and bran muffins.


Grant gets a little too wrapped up in his latest promo read for Crazy Larry’s Discount Used Cars. “WE’RE NOT JUST CRAZY AT CRAZY LARRY’S! WE’RE FUCKING INSAAAAAAANE!”


“All work and no play makes Syd a dull girl. All work and no play makes Syd a dull girl. All work and no play makes Syd a dull girl. All work…”

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Anubis will return next time in
“How Sweet”

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