Ontario-shot TV series ‘Slasher’ aims to be the next ‘Canadian Horror Story’

By Bill Brioux, The Canadian Press

Aaron Martin wanted to throw a scare into himself. He was tired of writing and producing TV shows that were, as he calls them, “very relationship driven, very soapy.”

After a stint at “Degrassi” — Canadian television’s finishing school — the Brantford, Ont., native and Canadian Film Centre grad was in on the creation of such homegrown series as “Being Erica,” “Killjoys” and “Saving Hope.”

After a season of “Saving Hope,” Martin took a stab at writing a horror series.

His L.A. agent thought it would be a hard sell. Then Toronto-based Shaftesbury Films (“Murdoch Mysteries”) optioned it and Super Channel in Canada as well as the U.S. cable channel Chiller picked it up.

“I lucked out,” says Martin, “in that I wrote something I had a passion for and found out other people had a passion for it too.”

The eight-part series “Slasher,” shot in northern Ontario in Parry Sound and Sudbury, premieres Friday on Super Channel.

Irish actress Katie McGrath stars as Sarah, a young woman who returns to her hometown and the house where her parents were brutally killed. Soon after, a series of gruesome copycat murders take place. As the bodies pile up, a creepy, hooded figure seems to be at the scene of every crime. Everyone in town is a suspect, including Sarah’s reporter-husband Dylan (Brandon Jay McLaren), her chain-smoking grandmother Brenda (Wendy Crewson), family friend Cam (Steve Byers) and the town’s police chief, Iain (Dean McDermott).

Mary Walsh (as a frosty neighbour), Erin Karpluk (the town “log lady”), Booth Savage and Rob Stewart round out a cast of Canadian TV veterans.

Viewers expecting a “Sharknado” campiness will be in for a jolt. “Slasher” lives up to its title as a psychological horror series.

Martin grew up on such drive-in slasher flicks from the ’80s as “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween.”

“They were sort of my rite of passage as a teenager,” he says.

His big inspiration, however, was a much more benign source — Agatha Christie novels. “She wrote the template for all slasher films with ‘And Then There Were None,'” says Martin.

He had no problem rounding up actors he’d worked with before, including Karpluk, Crewson and McLaren. Pitching Walsh was trickier. The “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” comedy firebrand read the script, which practically drips with blood, and saw horrible things happen to her crabby character.

According to Martin, Walsh said, “I don’t think I could watch it, but I’m happy to come up to Sudbury and have you do it to me.”

Crewson, who also stars on “Saving Hope,” is another fright film ‘fraidy cat.

“I don’t like scary movies,” she says. “I have enough of my own nightmares — I don’t need anybody else’s.”

The Hamilton native is a big Martin fan, however. “He’s a terrific writer who thinks on his feet,” she says. Martin gave Crewson room to flesh out her character, right down to the constant smoking.

“Those old broads, they’re always smokers,” says Crewson, who coughed through packs of the awful-tasting veggie cigarettes used on movie sets.

“Horrible!” she says. “Just give me the Marlboros, really.”

McDermott had no problem with the blood and guts.

“This is right in my wheelhouse,” says the former “Cooked Canada” host. “I love this genre.”

So does wife Tori Spelling, he says, along with all four of their children ages four through nine. “Let’s watch a scary movie, daddy,” is his kids’ request at movie time. “They’ve seen every Freddie and Jason movie.”

He even lets them watch “Slasher,” although “I make them close their eyes if there’s anything sexual,” he says.

McDermott says he was happy to return to acting after several years doing unscripted fare such as the “Tori & Dean” shows.

“Reality was a fun little detour for a while until it wasn’t,” he says. The 49-year-old Toronto-native spent some time in rehab after suffering through a marital crisis and lapsing into alcohol abuse on “True Tori.”

“That was too much and a little too personal,” he says. “It was a lot easier to get back to scripted.”

McDermott says it’s much more fun playing a flawed character on “Slasher” than being one in real life. Now clean and sober, McDermott and his wife recently threw a “Slasher” party for Martin and other cast members at their home in Los Angeles.

“Tori and Dean went all out,” says Martin, who hopes to make future “Slasher” seasons with this cast in the same vein as the “American Horror Story” anthology series. “It was my birthday that week, and they got me a bloody red executioner cake.”

— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

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