Sunday, October 14, 2007
The late director Harvey Hart is mostly known for his work on on many successful television series ranging from STAR TREK to COLOMBO. In 1972 he signed on to direct an oddball little Canadian thriller called THE PYX, and this flawed film would turn out to be one of the only theatrical releases he ever delivered.
THE PYX was advertised very much as a horror thriller when it was released in the late summer of 1973. It is actually more of a murder mystery and police procedural picture than anything else, with an odd bit of black magic thrown in at the end for good measure.
Karen Black stars as Elizabeth, a troubled smack-addicted prostitute who is found murdered in the opening moments of the film. The movie plays out then with two stories being told, namely the police investigation into her killing and her life leading up to it. While it shares a similar plot with Flavio Mogherini's later PYJAMA GIRL CASE (1977), it doesn't contain any of that film's inventive or audacious narrative style. Instead THE PYX is a pretty pedestrian thriller that is benefited by a solid performance from Black, some good location photography and little else.
The biggest problem with THE PYX is its pacing and slightly cliched script. We've seen stories like this told before, and the film's final twist feels forced and isn't very convincing. Black is very good in the role of the lonely and depressed prostitute, but unfortunately the script lets her down continually. There are some effective moments, including one great scene where Black is asked to disrobe for a john who just wants her to tell him her life story, but they are few and far between as THE PYX unravels much like any number of Hart's TV productions might have.
Distinguished and handsome Christopher Plummer appears as one of the detectives and, like Black, he does the best he can with the muddled script. Canadian character actor Jean-Louis Roux also delivers fairly solid work as the cult leader Keerson, who is convinced he is death itself.
The not very memorable score is courtesy of Harry Freedman, and the odd decision was made to include three songs sung by Black herself, which I guess are supposed to act as some sort of interior monologue from her character. Black's a better actress than a singer though and these songs outstay their welcome almost immediately.
As I said, the photography of the film is nice and future LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVED DOWN THE LANE (1976) and RABID (1977) D.P. Rene Verzier does good work here, and frankly he elevates the film much more than it probably deserves.
THE PYX was shot on location in Montreal and my print included several un-subtitled scenes in French, which added to its very Canadian feel. It disappeared pretty quickly in late 1973 and was later retitled with the charming moniker THE HOOKER CULT MURDERS, and it played as the lower bill on some drive in circuits throughout the seventies. A low quality DVD is available under the alternate title which I have heard is nearly unwatchable. The PG rated film is surprisingly tame, although it does contain a few instances of rear nudity and some blood.
The film was a loose adaption of a 1959 novel by John Buell, and it is notable as an early example of a Canadian film that managed to make a little headway in America. The rich Canadian horror market would continue to thrive thankfully, and many better films than this would be released throughout the mid to late seventies. Like CANNIBAL GIRLS, THE PYX is covered in some detail in the great THEY CAME FROM WITHIN book and those interested should absolutely seek it out.