An Analysis of Cultural Identity in Genre Films

More than twenty years after its original release, a puerile high school sex comedy remains the highest grossing Canadian film of all time. If you ask many of those who made it such a financial success, they probably had no idea that was a Canadian film. In “Porky’s” none of the characters are Canadian, in fact, the film is set in Florida, and its subject matter is a great departure from that of traditional Canadian filmmaking. Within any other era of Canadian film this movie would have been an enigma, but for a brief period during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the creation of films which mimicked commercial American cinema became financially feasible.

This sudden influx of “genre” films, often featuring prominent American actors, was spurned by the Canadian government’s decision to encourage the production of Canadian motion pictures, which actually made a profit. This period in Canadian cinema, is often described as “The Tax Shelter” era, because producers seeking to make a movie in Canada, did not have to pay a single cent of tax.

Get quality help now
Verified writer

Proficient in: Canada

4.7 (657)

“ Really polite, and a great writer! Task done as described and better, responded to all my questions promptly too! ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

During this time, filmmaking output was its peak in Canada, with their domestic industry reaching a number equivalent to 50% of Hollywood production in 19791.

Many dismiss this era as a low point in the history of Canadian cinema, with their belief that the artistic value of Canadian films reached its nadir. However it should not be forgotten that never before, and not since has there been a period of Canadian Filmmaking with such widespread appeal.

Get to Know The Price Estimate For Your Paper
Number of pages
Email Invalid email

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Write my paper

You won’t be charged yet!

Many “classics” were born out of the tax shelter system. Films such as “Meatballs”, “Porky’s”, and “The Christmas Story” are all works which popularity has remained strong, decades after their original release, not only in Canada, but all over the world. One of the most unique aspects of the movies made in Canada during the “tax shelter” years, is their almost subconscious exploration of the Canadian image, which seeps through when trying to convey American ideals and conventions. Although not ambiguously “Canadian”, these movies often emphasis the role of an outsider who has a personal conflict with the status quo. Through this conflict, many insecurities which Canadian’s can relate to are presented. This unique sub-genre of Cinema, is perhaps the most truly Canadian, because it doesn’t intentionally set out to explore the Canadian identity, but rather, the Canadian identity naturally makes its existence be known.

Many herald John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, from 1977, as the film which created the “slasher” genre. But what these people do not know, is that three years earlier, the quintessential director of the tax shelter era, Bob Clark, made “Black Christmas”. This film was every bit the “slasher” film that “Halloween” was. All the classic “slasher” conventions were represented in “Black Christmas”. There were powerless young females, a mentally disturbed knife wielding killer who stalks a sorority house and murders his victims in a most gruesome manner, and even the ever popular incompetent police officers. Throughout the next many years, Canada would produce several more “slasher” films, including “Visiting Hours”, “The St. Valentine’s day Massacre”, and “Terror Train”, to name just a few. All adhere to the same basic concept of a mentally disturbed “outsider” expressing his frustrations with mainstream society, by physically punishing them. It is strangely appropriate that Canadians pioneered this unique genre, because often Canada is viewed as a pacifist nation, and “slasher” films are anything but pacifist. It is quite possible that these films were used as an outlet to express rage, within the confines of a seemingly docile nation. Most “slasher” films begin with the image of a seemingly ideal community which is torn apart by a killer with an anger which has not been addressed through constructive means, causing him to explode with violence.

Whether or not this is a method in which Canadian filmmakers express their inner rage, or a warning against taking a pacifist approach to life, it is no doubt an interesting way to look at these films within a cultural context. It is also fascinating to examine these movies, taking into account the sexual perversity which is such a key aspect of this genre. There definitely is no lack of unusual sexual subject matter in Canadian films; this is easily witnessed through such motion pictures as “Kissed” and “Crash”. The “slasher” genre offers a more mainstream outlet for Canadians to deal with these pent up feelings of sexual frustration, which they are unable to express within a passive culture. When a psychopath such as the character Keir Dullea potrays in “Black Christmas”, murders a female while she performs a sexual act, he expresses his frustration, in a manner which seems to suggest that he is trying eradicate the cause of the feelings that society deems inappropriate. Another Bob Clark classic is “The Christmas Story”, recently voted by E! Entertainment Television, as the best Christmas movie of all time. “The Christmas Story” was a direct byproduct of the tax shelter system, and is one of the better examples of a film made during this era, which relies on an unconventional storytelling approach. The movie was a US/Canada co-production, and set in Indiana. Even considering its American location, it is hard to think of a character who is more Canadian then the protagonist of “The Christmas Story”, a young boy named Ralphie. Even the Canadian obsession with gun control, is a prominent theme in the film.

Ralphie and his yearning for a Red Ryder BB gun, could be viewed as analogy for the power Canada’s neighbor to the south possess, and Canada’s secret longing to be a stronger, more threatening nation. Ralphie’s dream finally becomes a reality, and he gets a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. After this occurs, he learns that he and weapons are not compatible, when he is unable to effectively harness its power and the gun misfires, nearly blinding him. Throughout the film, Ralphie’s parents constantly warn him about the gun, repeating the phrase “You’ll shoot you eye out”, and in the end, their predictions are almost correct. This film could be seen as a warning to Canada, not to abandon its more peaceful approach to dealing with situations, because Canada, like Ralphie would be unable to deal with the responsibility the use of force brings with it. In the end, Ralphie was no stronger because of the gun, and in fact it weakens him. Bob Clark, who has yet to be recognized as an auteur, was truly a master of working within vastly different genres, and it is a shame that recently he has been delegated to directing such inferior projects as “Baby Geniuses 2”. In 1982, Clark directed a small film about adolescent sexual hi-jinks set in 1950s Florida, which went on to gross over one hundred million dollars in the US alone. As was the case with Clark’s other films, “Porky’s” also took place in an American setting, but still managed to reflect Canadian’s feelings of inferiority. The film focuses on a group of adolescents who lust for sexual experience, and try to fulfill there desires by going to a bar called Porky’s. After first visiting the establishment, and giving the manager their savings for a night with one of the bar’s exotic dancers, the boys are tricked by the owner and the bars patrons, who insult their desires, and keep their money.

Eventually, the boys seek revenge on the bar by using brains instead of brawn to destroy the establishment, and end the owner’s quest for power through the exploitation of the inferior. The concept of this film seems to cater to the Canadian mentality, that although it is younger and smaller than most other countries, Canada and its people are still superior to the so-called “Mega-Powers”, through the wealth of their intellect alone. “Porky’s” like “Christmas Story” presents a commentary in which, mere size does not always make one superior, a theory Canadians seem to live by. It is almost impossible to examine Canadian genre films, without at least touching on the work of David Cronenberg. In the context of the tax shelter period, the best film to examine would probably be “The Brood”, because it was created in a era when Cronenberg was yet to be regarded as an auteur, and he was still working more or less within strict commercial “Horror” genre confines. Unlike the work of Bob Clark, many of Cronenberg’s early films take place in Canadian settings, without exploiting this fact. “The Brood” is primarily set in Toronto, which can be attested to, through many appearances of “The Toronto Sun” newspaper. Although on the surface, “The Brood” may seem to be a simple biological horror film, there is also a subtext which many Canadians can relate to, advocating the dangers of a homogenous society. In the movie, the purveyors of evil are a group of physically identical blonde haired, blue eyed mutant children, who are all spawned from a common evil. Canada has long identified itself as a cultural mosaic, where uniqueness is encouraged, and the villains of the brood, are almost a caricature of a bland, selfish, Anglo-Saxon society without the stimulation of other cultures. These mutants are spawned from the womb of a woman who personifies true evil, and are the result of her anger towards a world which no longer recognizes her importance. The little Aryan children, are her attempt to have her hatred noticed by a society, which no longer supports the ideals they were born from.

In essence, “The Brood” is Cronenberg’s way of addressing; those in society who are unable to adjust to a country whose cultural landscape is ever changing, and instead choose to face it with hatred. Low-budget genre films were not the only result of the tax shelter period, every once in a while there would be a prestige project, as was the case with George Kaczender’s production of “In Praise of Older Woman”. The film, took subject matter that would not normally be embraced by mainstream society, and “Hollywoodized” it, with big name American stars, and beautiful European locations. With a more somber tone and a lower budget, “In Praise of Older Woman” could easily have been another contemporary Canadian film about sexually perverse behavior. Instead it became a fairly lightweight romp dealing with the sexual escapades of a man who prefers the company of woman who are many years his senior. Montreal makes a brief appearance in the film, but the city is never fully explored, and it really could have been any North American locale. The film examines the life of an outsider who legitimates his behaviour, until he comes to a point where it is socially acceptable to date older woman, when this occurs, he shifts to another extreme, and pursues woman who are younger than he. “In Praise of Older Woman” has many similarities to the Canadian film industry itself, when it is pursuing the mainstream ideal, as was the case during the tax shelter period, much of the Canadian film industry feels like it is failure, and it isn’t satisfied until it takes a less conventional route to tell its stories.

The irony occurs, when the viewer realizes that the elite of Canadian filmmaking would have probably frowned upon the mainstream approach taken by this movie, which is essentially about someone who shuns the mainstream. As the Mulroney government came into power, and the tax shelter period of filmmaking dwindled, the Canadian film industry had one last blockbuster “The Gate”. The film opened at #1 the same week “Ishtar” premiered, a movie which was possibility one of the best examples of the excesses of Hollywood filmmaking. An unusual example of a Canadian film with stunning visual effects, “The Gate” is the story of a young boy who discovers the portal to hell in his own backyard. This was no doubt a commentary on the dangers of American influence, because the American influence could very easily be described as being right in Canada’s “backyard”. The protagonist of the film, a pre-teen boy named Glen manages to close the gate to hell, and save his loved ones from Satan’s evil wrath, merely by discovering the good within his heart, and outwitting, what seems like an unbeatable force. This plot has many similarities to “Porky’s” which also explores the seemingly weak protagonists, confronting what appears to be an unbeatable force, and outwitting the dominant power structure. Shortly after “The Gate” was released in 1986, Canada had one of its first art house hits of the 1980s with “I Heard the Mermaids Singing”.

After this point, much of the emphasis on mimicking Hollywood filmmaking, was abandoned, in favour of films which Jim Leach described as “more modest productions exploring Canada’s regional and ethnic differences” 2. It is almost a shame that the era of commercially viable Canadian genre films of the late 1970s and early 1980s is now over. There was something magical about a time period when Canadian films were embraced by more than just the most high-brow members of society. If nothing else, the methods utilized by American genre filmmakers have the innate ability to attract a cross section which is perhaps more truly representative of the Canadian population. Although the films produced during this period, were no always explicitly Canadian, they were often easier for many Canadians to relate to, then so-called art films such as “Margaret’s Museum”, “Crash” and “Lillies”, which appeal to a very slim margin of society. If anything can be learned from the success of the “Hollywood” system, it is the idea of balance, it is important to have something for everyone. They say the greatest way to prove a classic is through the test of time, and it is probably fairly likely that in fifty years, “Porky’s” will be more fondly remembered then the majority of critically acclaimed Canadian films from the last ten years.

Cite this page

An Analysis of Cultural Identity in Genre Films. (2022, Sep 20). Retrieved from

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment