A curious case of long time no sea, this Canadian aquatic creature feature was filmed in the summer of ’92, but for whatever reason, slipped under the radar, receiving little to no distribution and going virtually unseen for close to two decades. It was for sure never released in English speaking countries. For a while, it seemed as though Psycho Pike was the one that got away. But as fate would have it, it resurfaced sometime in 2011 after a determined fan set up a Facebook page to track it down. The movie was bootlegged from there and has since been uploaded to YouTube in full. It’s hard to believe this once legendary beast has finally been captured and put on display for all to admire. Join me as I take a look.
~1 hour, 26 minutes
A man is fishing from a little red boat. His section of lake is bathed in blue fog. He reels in his line and recasts. The lonely wail of a loon and the bloop of his lure hitting water are the only things we can hear. This is a screening copy only. There are underwater shots from the title creature’s point of view. The loon changes calls, signaling danger. The man reels in a severed hand. He panics and clumsily flips forward into the water. When his body pops up, his head is gone. Blood spurts from the stump. Psycho Pike!
The camera follows a red Jeep down a busy expressway as the credits commence. An alternative rock song by Two Thirds Water, now known as Dirt Farmer, kicks in. It’s catch-y and sung from the pike’s perspective. I reel-y appreciate that.
Far from the ocean
way off the roads
way deep down, deep below here
there’s nobody home
they’re all in Heaven
just where they should be
watching me entangle
some folks in the weeds
I know I should have told you
But what fun would that be?
Or we’d never have met each other
Alone in these weeds
A cow runs away. The Jeep is now on a lonely country road. There are two guys in front and two girls in back — driver Reg (Douglas Kidd as “Doug Miller”), his girlfriend Rhonda, Tim (Wayne McNamara), and Tim’s girlfriend Dara (Sarah Campbell). Their dynamic is weird because Tim and Rhonda used to date and aren’t over each other, and Dara is attracted to Reg. The guys take turns kissing their girlfriends’ feet. Just have an orgy already. “This will be the best summer of my life.” Reg assures himself. He sounds like an alien trying to act human.
Tim is reading out of a magazine titled The Angling Bible. He sounds surprised to learn pike can reach sixty pounds and eat ducks. Something tells me they’re doing more than that.
“Read this and your chances of hooking a lunker are guaranteed to improve.” Tim says.
“You mean you might actually catch a fish this summer?” Dara teases. “That’ll be a change.” This makes me think Tim will be the one to catch and/or kill Psycho Pike.
The four stop at “Willy T’s Gas Bar”, a rundown shack with a single gas pump out front. Reg honks more than is necessary or polite. A man with an eyepatch emerges. He asks where the four friends are going. They answer Lake Shippegew. While filling their tank, the man, Willy (Cliff Makinson), tells them there’s been a decline in tourism since a lumber mill opened on the lake. Reg seems to want to change subjects. He rudely asks what happened to Willy’s eye.
Willy launches into a dramatic retelling. “It wasn’t no hook, it was a fish. A Northern pike. That one.” he says, pointing to a trophy pike dangling from a wooden arch overhead. “They’re mean mothers. Crazy thing jumped right out of the lake and grabbed me. Clamped right onto my brow. Started whipping my head round back and forth trying to shake the mother loose. It was like a vice grip or something. Man did it hurt. It had teeth like a (pause) well, damn sharp. I’m telling you, I saw my life flash before my eyes. Well, at that point, I only had one left.”
Reg gives an incredulous smirk. “How much I owe ya?”
As the Jeep pulls away, Willy says to himself, “Yep, them fish are getting stranger and stranger.”
This scene leaves me wondering if we’re dealing with a whole lake of killer fish or just one. By film’s end, it’s still kind of unclear.
As the four friends approach their rented cabin, Reg explains that he’s actually there to collect water samples as part of his job. He speeds off in a boat just before a policeman walks up to Tim and Dara. The policeman informs them of the disappearance of a local man named Duffy, presumably the poor SOB from the opening. Tim asks if they’ve dredged the lake. This offends the policeman. The conversation gets awkward and heated. The policeman ends by stating he’ll be keeping his eyes on Tim and Dara. There’s a loud fart sound effect when he walks away.
Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
That night, the four friends go skinny dipping. It shows all their butts and one woman’s breast pretty clearly. Tim and Dara have super loud sex in the cabin. Reg tries to follow their lead but Rhonda says no way buster, not this coochie.
The next morning, Reg goes to mail some of his samples for analysis. A big Irish wolfhound pees on his front tire. The dog wades into the water. Rhonda watches it through a window, however, she gets distracted by more loud sex and misses what happens next. At the height of Tim’s orgasm, a pike bursts out of the water and bites the dog’s throat.
After getting his first set of results back, Reg drives to a pay phone to call his uncle William “Slats” Slattery at the lumber mill. He says the lake is contaminated. His uncle instructs him to find clean water and label it Shippegew to buy time until he can install new equipment that will expel cleaner discharge into the lake. “We have to make the lake a little worse before we have the money to make it a whole lot better.” he says. It sounds like he has good intentions, but as they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Reg agrees without much objection. He promptly hikes up a hillside to a trickling waterfall and fills a cup with crystal clear water.
A short while later, Reg and Tim motor off to a reedy patch of lake to go pike fishing. Tim pulls up a dead one. They head back. Tim starts de-boning it right there on the dock. Dara says it smells bad and goes with Reg to mail some more of his “samples”.
Elsewhere on the lake, two fisherman pull up an even bigger pike, also dead (I don’t understand how they’re hooking these pike if they’re already dead). The one who caught the long-bodied freshwater fish poses for Polaroids. Psycho Pike latches onto his arm. The photographer dives into the lake, which as we all know is the safest place to go when you’re being hunted by fish.
Reg and Dara stop at Willy T’s. Willy is saying goodbye to some Hong Kongese businessmen. They shake hands. The Hong Kongers hurry into an idling helicopter and take off.
“Could you understand what he was saying?” Dara asks.
“Well, I wouldn’t say I’m fluent in their tongue,” Willy responds, “but I can get the gist of it.” He goes on to say the businessmen want to buy up all the land in the area and build an amusement park on it.
Reg is pissed off for no reason. He shoves a box in Willy’s chest. “I need to mail this too.” Willy asks if they’ve seen the dog that got eaten earlier. Reg assures him he’ll keep his eye out, an unnecessary jab. As Reg pulls away, a man steps out of the shack. He walks up beside Willy and starts doing some kind of ballet warm-up technique with his right foot. “That guy’s trouble.” he says.
“How do you know?”
“Cos he’s my cousin.” This makes the ballet dancer the mill owner’s son.
Meanwhile, Tim and Rhonda eat his dead catch over wine. Tim is still really hurt that Rhonda left him for Reg. That night, they puke on the campfire.
The next morning, Tim hooks another dead fish from the dock. This leads him to question the quality of the water. Reg plays dumb, but Tim suspects Reg is hiding something. Tim secretly collects and sends in his own samples.
The last half hour or so is where things start to get cheesy. The Hong Kongese businessmen are attacked and try to use Kung Fu to fight off the fish. The scene involves a fish being thrown at the men multiple times from offscreen.
An Austrian tourist then asks to photograph Willy’s outhouse for a book he’s putting together on toilets. Willy is strangely protective of his outhouse, which is later shown to contain lots of pictures of naked men. Dara disappears while skinny-dipping with Reg. Finally, Willy attempts to extort Reg and Slattery, prompting the farting policeman, who’s in on the coverup, to go on a killing spree. This includes bombing Willy’s precious outhouse, but not in the way you might think. Fear not, Willy crawls out from the rubble unscathed.
Will Tim save the day? Kind of?
Psycho Pike was filmed in four weeks in August, 1992 at Cedar Grove Camp on Sky Lake in Mar, Ontario, Canada, just North of Wiarton, and at producer Joe Mohos’ Allenford farm. When I first started researching the movie I thought maybe “Shippegew” was a play on “Chippego”, a much smaller lake five to six hours east of there, but now I’m thinking the similarity is just a coincidence.
The crummy version on YouTube with intermittent burnt-in text reading “screening copy only” makes this look like an SOV movie, but the fact is it was shot on film and was actually a modest production. It cost “much less than one million”, which I take to mean at least half or three-quarters of a million. The big-ass explosion toward the end certainly doesn’t look cheap.
A mechanical pike head with moving eyes, mouth, and gills was built for the film. It was stolen by unknown persons August 29th after principle photography had wrapped and returned anonymously six days later in time for the pick-ups needed to complete the film.
The film’s production and prop theft received coverage in local publications such as The Sun Times newspaper and Cottage Life magazine.
According to Mohos, who in 2012 posted to the Facebook group “Where is PSYCHO PIKE??”, they did have a distribution deal. Why the distributor never did anything with the movie is a mystery. In another post, Mohos said he “believe[s] it was sold in some Asian markets & Brazil” but didn’t sound very sure of it.
All things considered, I’d say we’re pretty lucky to have the VHS dub we do. The film reel containing the original edit appears to be lost.
“There were two 1″ [tape] masters,” Mohos explained, “one given to the distributor ‘Grand AM’ & one stored at ‘Creative Post’ in Toronto. The last time that we tried to get copies from CP they told us that there were some tracking issues. As it stands now it seems as though a VHS copy is all we have of the original edit.”
Another producer, John Moran, restored hope with a picture of the uncut camera negative. The negative existing means it’s possible to release a high-quality version, whether it be an approximate reconstruction of the original edit or an alternate cut. There has to be a boutique label out there willing to spend the time and money on this to give it the ol’ 4K blu-ray treatment. Vinegar Syndrome just painstakingly constructed and completed the unfinished 1984 movie New York Ninja. Surely they’d be down for the challenge. AGFA, how ’bout you? Code Red, where you at?
Coolly, producers Mohos and Moran weren’t the only cast and crew members who showed up in the group. Douglas Kidd (Reg) and Wayne McNamara (Tim) were both there looking for copies to show their families.
Cliff Makinson (Willy T) dropped in to say hey and revealed he was part of an earlier hitherto unknown Poschun short titled “Beaver Fever” which I can only assume is about the intestinal infection, killer beavers, or vaginas (all three would be ideal). It’s not listed on IMDb. Great, now we have another movie to look for.
Werner Artinger (the Austrian tourist), actor/gaffer Paul Day (Jay), makeup/hair woman Traci Loader, composer Todd Booth, special effects man David Scott, and mechanical pike builder Tim Barraball also joined the conversation. Notably absent was writer/director Chris Poschun.
I decided to do a bit of my own research and asked Dirt Farmer how their music came to be featured, hoping maybe there was a story there. I’m not sure which of the two members I talked to, but they were pleasantly taken aback by the question. They told me a friend put them in touch with the filmmakers and they just so happened to be what the filmmakers were looking for. I then asked if they ever released any albums as Two Thirds Water, as all I could find were appearances on compilation albums. They told me they’re sitting on six albums (!) worth of material from that time which they’ve been thinking about putting out in the future. I hope they do, I love obscure 90s rock, though not as much as I love obscure 90s horror. FYI: they also performed the end title song “Have You Seen Red Lately?”, which works on two levels — in reference to blood and Canadian sportsman/personality Red Fisher who cameos right before the song starts. If there ever is a reconstruction, I’m sure Dirt Farmer would be willing to supply their music again.
There is, as far as I’m concerned, a lot of misinformation regarding Psycho Pike‘s story. IMDb claims “the film is based on the 1982 novel “The Pike” by [screenwriter/author] Cliff Twemlow”. That’s like saying Sharknado was based on the 1974 novel “Jaws” by Peter Benchley. Poschun may have drawn inspiration from “The Pike” in the sense that its mere existence planted a seed of an idea in his brain, but that’s as far as it’s fair to run with that notion. The two works are totally separate and different, each with their own stories and characters. Poschun explains that he got his idea while fishing for pike in a Sun Times article. Having known this, I bought a copy of Twemlow’s book for the heck of it, just to see if there were similarities.
Psycho Pike is a cheesy Canadian eco horror about a corrupt water sampler and his friends in which one or more fish bite back against pollution and greedy land developers. The real villains are the environmental criminals.
Twemlow’s book, I feel like, bears more resemblance to Jaws than Psycho Pike does to it. The book is set on Lake Windermere in Bowness, England. It mainly follows a journalist and three underwater photographers/surveyors who spend the majority of the book doing nothing but planning. There’s also a mayor, a marine biologist, and even a Scottish Ahab/Quint type. Like Jaws, the waters are knowingly kept open so as not to affect tourism, and no explanation is given for the cause of the creature’s mutation.
In my opinion, it’s well-written and moves along nicely. However, it does have some problems. MAJOR SPOILERS: The ending overcomplicates matters by introducing a mechanical pike (not a robot, more of a suit) piloted by a local florist named Will. The florist attacks the divers tasked with killing the pike and is arrowed through the heart by the Scotsman. In an earlier chapter, the florist is shown to revere the pike and other prehistoric sea creatures, namely their emotionlessness, and laments the fact that life isn’t dangerous.
The following comes from pages 145-146:
Back in his lounge, Will picked up the empty glasses and went toward the kitchen with them. At the door he paused, looking at his pictures, his models, his awesome pike. A bleak sensation passed through him, a cold edge of despair. Day in and day out it was the same: the Sam Raffertys, the old ladies with their aches and moans, bored housewives taking home flowers for peace offerings; a dreary daily round of mediocrity that was his chosen slot.
“And they wonder at me.” he murmured. People like Sam, seeing the collection and finding it odd, they were the ones to be wondered at. They accepted their dismal compromises with fate and managed to believe they were living when all they did was exist. Will sighed. There was no fight in life any more, no challenge. He looked at the pike, caught for eternity in the attitude of attack. It put a surge in Will’s blood, simply looking at it.
This made me think he was killing people to commune with these creatures, to see what it felt like to be a top predator. But then, before he dies, he denies killing anyone and says he wore the suit to boost trade. This goes against his characterization and makes no sense for two reasons. One, the pike didn’t need any help boosting trade. It was doing just fine on its own. The town was jam-packed with tourists. Two, it’s plain dangerous. Why would he pull such a stunt knowing full well the pike and a kill team were cruising the lake?
The cops close the book on the case, taking the stance that there never was a pike and the real killer is dead, even after a major character is dragged under in front of a hundred witnesses, and despite real teeth being found in the victims. The ending comes as a bit of a disappointment, given how good the rest of the book is.
Also, the version I bought is a reprint that’s riddled with all kinds of typos — missing letters, random capitalization, words misspelled as other words (“got” as “hot”, for example). One character’s name even changes from Henry to Harry. Because of this, I was constantly re-reading passages thinking I’d missed something only to see that I hadn’t.
I can’t say if these typos are present in first editions. I’m guessing they aren’t. The reprint seems kind of low-rent and sketchy. There’s another guy’s name plastered all over it (a friend of Twemlow) and nineteen pages of ads for his own books about hauntings and 60-second isometric ass workouts.
The book was almost adapted the year of its publication with Joan Collins attached. A twelve-foot long $250,000 pike was built, but the rest of the funding never came through. Some pictures, a BBC news report and possibly test footage are all that exist of the ill-fated production. The pike now resides at Low Wood Bay Watersports Centre in Ambleside, England.
Twemlow wrote another book about a dog that might be Satan called The Beast of Kane that I’m keen to check out. He was also involved in some exploitation/horror movies I’ve frankly never heard of.
Getting back on track, a valid criticism I’ve seen of both The Pike and the now-established-to-be-unrelated Psycho Pike are that they’re slow and don’t offer a whole lot of their title creature. Compared to some other works, I guess they are and I guess they don’t. Despite this, I recommend both. They’re charming and fun in their own unique ways.
Enough talk, enjoy!
Join the hunt for Beaver Fever!
9 or 10 + 1 dog.
2 male butts, 2 female butts, roughly 1 boob, & some pictures of naked men.
5 Kung Fu fish fights out of 5.
I Got My Copy From
these other non-shark fish horrors:
Orca (1977) — technically a whale
Killer Fish (1979)
Up From the Depths (1979)
Devil Fish (1984)
love that you tracked down the novel to check for “source material,” the dedication to your craft shows through. and “piranha” was probably among the earliest off-kilter movies i knew i loved.
now, since you titled this “merry fishmas,” i’m forced to leave this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQ4QdKy3o8g
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Thanks for the kind words! I’m glad you’re back posting again. Didn’t know I needed that song in my life until now 👍 Happy holidays.