It’s been several years now since Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s ambitious Grindhouse crashed and burned at the box office, but its influence has nonetheless been huge. Independent filmmakers have spent those years plumbing the depths of 70s and 80s horror and exploitation cinema with predictably mixed results. For whatever reason, Canada seems to have picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Grindhouse and really ran with it: Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun began life as a trailer made for a competition whose winner was actually shown with Grindhouse in Canada, and the feature-length version showed that the 80s Troma style of filmmaking was perfectly suited to Canadian sensibilities. Astron-6 took the 70s revenge film to insane extremes with Father’s Day, a film that made even the most offensive Troma films look like Merchant Ivory productions. The latest Canadian take on a grindhouse sub genre is Renaud Gauthier’s Discopath, which feels like a simultaneous tribute to Juan Piquer Simon’s Pieces (a bizarre giallo/slasher) and Alberto de Martino’s Blazing Magnum (an Italian crime film shot in Montreal) with a dash of Saturday Night Fever.
Duane Lewis (Jérémie Earp-Lavergne) is a young man living in New York. It’s 1976, and disco is taking over the world. This is bad news for Duane, as the insistent beat of disco puts him into a trance, and the more he hears the music the more sensitive he becomes until hearing a disco song sends him into a murderous rage. After getting fired from his job over his disco problem, Duane runs into an old friend from his neighborhood who takes him out to a disco with tragic results. Duane wakes up the next morning covered in blood, and while a pair of tough New York detectives investigate the murder, Duane manages to skip town. The story then picks up in Montreal in 1980, where Duane has taken a job as a handyman at a Catholic girls’ school. When two girls try to stay in the dorm over a weekend and Duane hears them playing a disco record, his homicidal impulses take over and soon the police are investigating the murder of the two girls and the disappearance of teacher Mireille Gervais (Sandrine Bisson). When New York detective Paul Stephens (Ivan Freud) reads about the girls’ school murders, he’s sure it’s the same killer who eluded him in 1976, and teams up with grizzled Montreal Inspector Sirois (François Aubin) to find the murderer before it’s too late.
Discopath‘s opening sequences in New York are impressively staged for an independent production, although the cast’s painfully awful New York accents are a dead giveaway that this might not have been shot on location in the city. Still, the attention to period detail in Discopath is excellent, sold not just through wardrobe and a few well-chosen licensed songs on the soundtrack, but with an excellent original score by Bruce Cameron and a canny replication of 70s exploitation film structure. The film spends a lot of time with its world-weary cops, and after Lewis abducts the teacher, there are frequent cuts back to him doing weird stuff and terrorizing her that do not move the action of the film forward at all. Writer/director Gauthier revels in 70s cliches, and François Aubin is particularly hilarious as the hateful, lazy Inspector Sirois. The origin of Lewis’s psychosis is also pretty amazing, falling perfectly in line with the sort of characterization common to horror and crime films of the era. The game cast hits every note perfectly, making Discopath reach near-Wet Hot American Summer/Black Dynamite levels of simultaneous loving tribute and sly parody.
Discopath is well worth seeking out for horror fans looking for something fun and unique. While fans of slashers, giallo films and Italian cop dramas (and disco music) will probably enjoy it most, the film is solid enough to stand on its own merits. This is one of the best horror films of the year so far, and more proof that Canadian filmmakers are weirdly in tune with 70s exploitation cinema.
FilmBuff released Discopath on VOD 29 April 2014.