Monday, January 9, 2012

THE PYX (1973)

(Canada - 1973)  Directed by Harvey Hart.  Written by Robert Schlitt.  Cast: Karen Black, Christopher Plummer, Donald Pilon, Jean-Louis Roux, Yvette Brind'amour, Lee Broker, Terry Haig.  107 mins. R.

There's an unsettling, almost suffocating sense of dread that permeates this strange Montreal-set thriller that's often labeled a "Satanism" horror flick but actually feels more like a Canadian giallo.  I was reminded of two Italian gialli in particular while watching:  Aldo Lado's SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS (1971) and Flavio Mogherini's THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE (1977).  The later PYJAMA GIRL CASE shares THE PYX's set-up of an alternating storyline that follows the investigation of a woman's death, juxtaposing it with following the victim in the days leading up to her demise.  While PYJAMA GIRL treated that element as a plot twist, THE PYX sets it up from the start, with a body plummeting from the penthouse of an apartment building onto the street below.  The dead woman is Elizabeth Lucy (Karen Black), a heroin-addicted prostitute.  Leading the investigation is Sgt. Henderson (Christopher Plummer), who doesn't believe Elizabeth's death was accidental and knows he's close to uncovering a disturbing conspiracy when people who knew Elizabeth start turning up dead.

A low-key, very downbeat thriller with horrific elements, THE PYX, directed by longtime TV veteran Harvey Hart, is a thought-provoking, offbeat film unlike any of the "devil movies" that were in vogue during that period.  The film was recently released on DVD by Scorpion Releasing in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio, after years of bad transfers on various public domain releases, sometimes luridly retitled THE HOOKER CULT MURDERS.

Scorpion presents the film in a very nice transfer as part of their inane "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" line, with ex-WWE star Katarina Leigh Waters acting as a horror hostess.  Fortunately, you can skip her intro and go right to the film.  There's a commentary track with Black, who also sang three effectively haunting songs heard in the film that only add to the downbeat, chilly atmosphere.  Hampered only by some occasionally choppy editing, THE PYX is a lost-in-the-shuffle gem that cult movie nerds have largely kept to themselves for nearly 40 years.  It doesn't help that it was probably never marketed correctly.

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