The Pyx (1973, 1 hr 48 mins)
After a brief and tipsy jaunt in Montreal, I thought it only fitting that I write about a 1973 classic that I stumble upon at Suspect Video. Filmed in Montreal, and based on a novel by John Buell, The Pyx is a trippy, time jumping story that showcases a very young Christopher Plummer and the striking Karen Black in some lesser known roles.
Elizabeth Lucy (Karen Black) falls to her death from the penthouse of a posh apartment complex, adorned with an inverted crucifix and a pyx (a vessel used to transport the Catholic Host outside the church). Detective Jim Henderson (Christopher Plummer) is assigned to the case; a sarcastic, hard-nosed but thoughtful cop who’s been around the block. His partner, Detective Pierre Paquette (Donald Pilon) realizes that she was a prostitute, and piece by piece, Henderson uncovers a mysterious plot where no one is as they seem, and fear and the occult fuels everyone’s motives.
The story is revealed through two parallel timelines: Henderson’s present investigation, and events in the past that lead up to Elizabeth’s death. In my opinion, it is actually two films; a complex weaving of both characters’ race against time. I found the film to be good, but I would have liked to have seen Henderson’s character expanded just a touch more. We get to see Karen Black’s great performance of Elizabeth as a world-weary addict/sacrificial lamb (literally), but just a glimpse of Christopher Plummer’s brilliance as the tough cop with a haunting secret. And when he spoke French in that pseudo-French/British accent, I fell in love with him all over again! A nod also goes to Jean-Louis Roux, who played Elizabeth’s mysterious client Keerson. He had very little screen time, but was effectively creepy!
I loved the religious aspect of the film. It is so fitting since, as I learned on my double-decker bus tour, Montreal has churches all over the place. Like everywhere. Made my weird phobia of churches and religious statues more evident, by the way. Hence the tipsiness, but I digress. The director, Harvey Hart, had his pick of gothic looking churches to convey Elizabeth’s personal conflict with her faith and profession. And the anticipation of finding the villain, supernatural or otherwise, created a decent amount of suspense. Just to throw in a quick note, another film that comes to mind is the more recent Kill List (2011). Check it out for a similar feel. I think it’s an homage to the horror films of the 1970’s.
As a good ’70’s supernatural thriller, The Pyx fits the bill. Weird, and intricate, it’s definitely worth a watch to see Montreal in the old days, the beautiful Karen Black and her folk singing skills, and a debonair Christopher Plummer rocking some sweet ’70’s suits.
Most Memorable Line: When Henderson investigates the penthouse Elizabeth fell from, he is challenged by the superintendent. “Are you a superintendent or a lawyer?”, he asks. The super replies, “I’m the superintendent of this building.” Henderson then quips, “Then be a good superintendent and stay right there, and shut up.” Said with such a condescending tone. Taking notes for the next time I’m challenged…
Favourite Scene: Instead of a chalk outline, Elizabeth’s body is marked by a string, which is then pulled up and used as a skipping rope by the neighbourhood kids as the camera pans upwards. All to the soundtrack of one of the eerie folk songs written and sung by Karen Black herself for the film. Talk about ’70’s trippyness!!
Karen Black is currently battling cancer. If you are interested in her progress, there is a crowd funding site that gives official updates on her condition. Here is the link. Along with all of her fans, I truly wish her all the best.