Color, 1973, 108m.
Directed by Harvey Hart
Starring Karen Black, Christopher Plummer, Donald Pilon, Jean-Louis Roux, Yvette Brind’amour
(US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9) and a lot of bad public domain labels

The PyxAfter the success of 1971’s Klute which included a Best Actress Oscar for star Jane Fonda as a call girl in peril, filmmakers started coming up with inventive ways of placing ladies of the evening in extreme peril. One of the weirdest variations on this formula came two years later from Canada courtesy of The Pyx, which was later reissued in theaters and on home video under the less enigmatic title of The Hooker Cult Murders.  This time Karen Black (who also croons on the soundtrack) gets to play prostitute as Elizabeth, a smack-addicted lost soul who turns up murdered with a pyx (a.k.a. a communion wafer in a locket) and a crucifix around her neck.  The detective in charge of investigating her death, Henderson (Plummer), starts to uncover some nasty secrets involving a very evil conspiracy while flashbacks intercut with the action reveal how Elizabeth’s creepy final days played out.The Pyx

At the time of this film’s release, Canadian exploitation films hadn’t really taken hold on worldwide theaters beyond the occasional under-the-radar offerings from Bob Clark and company. This one was obviously striving for a certain amount of prestige appeal given its cast and commercial premise (which also includes nods to a certain occult hit from a few years earlier), though its melding of different genres and unusual title also made it a challenging sell to viewers expecting a straight-up slasher film. The Quebec setting also gives it a unique flavor and emphasizes the distinct relationship between English and French-speaking citizens, while Plummer brings some much-needed gravitas to his role. Of course, the Canadian actor later turned in his most spectacular performance for his native land onscreen a few years later in The Silent Partner, still one of the best thrillers of that decade. Canadian-born director Harvey Hart mostly specialized in TV work, though he did earn a mild claim to cult fame with the oddball ’65 Leslie Nielsen horror film Dark Intruder and the ’71 screen adaptation of the controversial Fortune and Men’s Eyes.  

The Pyx has turned up on home video most often in North America, with countless budget labels in America and Canada recycling the same godawful cropped transfer (probably originating with the Prism VHS release) which demolishes any semblance of the original scope photography. A non-anamorphic letterboxed version did turn up from the budget label St. Clair, but it still looked terrible and was vertically squeezed to fill the frame more fully and looked completely ridiculous. Trinity Home Entertainment also The Pyxreleased an absurdly overpriced pan and scan version, too, which should be avoided at all costs, and the long-defunct Beverly Wilshire label (anyone remember them?) even chipped in with their pressing.

Enter Scorpion with a new uncut transfer, finally anamorphic and in the correct aspect ratio. The film looks about as good as it could considering its origins as a dreary-looking Canadian production from the early ‘70s; detail and colors are finally pleasing, the framing looks just right, and black levels and compression are at last brought to industry standard levels. The film itself is certainly worth checking out, but the real selling point here is the wildly eccentric and entertaining commentary track with Black and moderator Mark Edward Heuck, which swerves in some pretty unexpected directions (sometimes unrelated to the film itself) and features lots of candid observations from the iconic ‘70s actress. Though this can’t be strictly classified as a horror film from start to finish, it still fits snugly within its packaging as part of the label’s signature horror hostess line, "Katarina’s Nightmare Theater," with the game Katarina Leigh Waters offering her usual cheerful, amusingly morbid wraparound segments for the film with a little trivia about the cast and director thrown in for good measure. Also included are the original theatrical trailer and a few bonus ones like Final Exam and The House on Sorority Row.

Reviewed on 12/5/11.