31 Days of Hell: The Ultimate Writer's Block: Deadline (1980)

Deadline (1980) is an interesting and rather obscure little Canadian fright fest that mixes family drama with surreal jaunts into gore splattered vignettes. The plot is centered around Steven Lessy (Stephen Young), an extremely successful horror writer (and obvious analog to Stephen King) with a bunch of money-making film adaptations under his belt. His agent has been hounding him for a new story, but unfortunately Steven has been distracted by his volatile home life. As he falls deeper into depression and ennui he finds that he has a difficult time discerning between his terrifying horror ideas and real life. 

On the surface, the film deals with the theme of an artist who is questioning the quality of his output versus its commercial viability. Steven want to branch out into other subjects and try something different, but his trashy video nasties are so popular that his agent wants him to keep pumping them out. Deadline is constructed in an interesting way: the narrative switches between depicting events in Steven's home life and scenes from his films. 

These scenes consist of things like a telekinetic goat who can control farm machinery, a new wave band recruited by Nazis to play music in a frequency that makes people defecate their innards, and two small children who tie their grandmother to a bed and light her on fire. These sequences are well filmed and at times quite shocking and they often come without warning leaving the audience to feel disjointed and on edge. They are made even more disturbing by the fact that the "normal" parts of the film are shot made-for-tv style and the horror shorts feel like exploitation film clips. Their frequency and intensity increases as Steven begins to lose his grip on reality and after a tragic incident involving his daughter he starts seeing hallucinations in real life. 

Steven's life is falling apart, but much of it is due to his own inattentiveness and his fixation on his work to the detriment of everyone around him. His wife turns to drugs and affairs to satisfy her lack of intimacy, and his children act out to try to gain his attention. Even though Steven is the protagonist, as the narrative goes on, it becomes harder and harder to empathize with how self-centered and misogynistic he is and once he loses his marbles completely it feels like he deserves his fate. 

One can't help but feel the film is a critique of popular horror and industry practices as well (ironically using the same tropes) and there is an extended sequence in the first act of the movie where Steven is forced to defend the horror genre from a hostile audience at a college presentation. The narrative barrels forward with a breakneck pace and explodes with a truly revolting third act that will leave the audience speechless.

Boutique company Vinegar Syndrome has released a fantastic Blu-ray release for Deadline with an excellent transfer that is worth picking up for those curious to check out the film.

--Michelle Kisner