The new Evil Dead remake, directed by Fede Alvarez, has much of the horror fan base buzzing like a chainsaw. It is interesting to note the trajectory that brought Sam Raimi (producer on the remake, director of the original) to this point. Today he has an impressive list of major Hollywood studio titles under his belt (three Spider-Man films, Oz The Great And Powerful), but Raimi sparked his filmmaking career creating amateur Super 8 short films with his buddies.
Raimi considered shooting his original Evil Dead on 8mm. The short prototype film he made to seduce investors was shot on Super 8 film, and he researched shooting the feature on this format as well. However, he abandoned the idea after conducting a series of blow-up tests. The Evil Dead was ultimately shot on 16mm. Still, it’s fascinating to me that Raimi’s thorny but ultimately triumphant Hollywood story began on grainy, gritty 8mm.
In recent blog entries I’ve been yappin’ about a movie I directed titled Ice From The Sun, released back in 1999. Today, I cringe a bit at this movie, as it was made by a younger, far less experienced me. Regardless, the movie still gets a lot of attention, for a variety of reasons. One major reason is the fact that Ice From The Sun was shot entirely on Super 8 film.
Questions and comments I received following last month’s Ice From The Sun blog posts reminded me that many genre fans maintain a fascination with flicks shot on Super 8 film.
35mm film was the norm in major studio production for many decades - an expensive film gauge only dreamt about by most aspiring filmmakers. In a separate category, digital acquisition spans the entire spectrum. Today, green, inexperienced filmmakers shoot quasi-amateur micro-budget digital movies… and Hollywood A-List directors shoot 100 million dollar digital movies that collect Oscars.
In a third and far more exclusive category, Super 8 traditionally, and uniquely, hovered in a thin no-man’s-land between amateur and professional. It required more skill to shoot Super 8 compared to shooting on video/digital, yet 8mm film was never embraced by any production above a certain low-to-mid level indie budget (except for very occasional, extremely sparse use in bigger-budget studio films… usually for flashbacks and such).
A small number of feature films shot on Super 8 managed an impressive financial return-on-investment and/or made a significant splash among genre fans, gathering passionate cult followings - sometimes despite the films’ flaws, and sometimes because of them.
I surveyed over five billion people, and using an equation only the world’s top scientists can comprehend, I arrived at the following list of The Top 8 Most Notorious Horror Films Shot On Super 8. Here they are, in order of release.
1. Weasels Rip My Flesh (1979)
Director: Nathan Schiff
An amateur effort about a weasel that turns into a mutated killing machine due to radioactivity from a returning NASA spacecraft. Schiff’s no-budget clunker possessed enough charm to keep cult film fans talking about the movie for the next three decades. Schiff continued his Super 8 momentum, cranking out The Long Island Cannibal Massacre (1980) and They Don't Cut The Grass Anymore (1985) to the delight of underground cinema aficionados.
2. A Polish Vampire In Burbank (1985)
Director: Mark Pirro
The tale of a reluctant vampire being taken out on the town by his sister. Director Pirro is a trailblazer in Super 8 feature filmmaking, and this is likely the most financially successful Super 8 movie ever made. It eventually collected about a million bucks net profit. (It was produced for only $2,500.) Pirro continued to secure his status as a Super 8 superstar with ridiculous but beloved cult oddities Curse Of The Queerwolf (1988) and Nudist Colony Of The Dead (1991).
3. Nekromantik (1987)
Director: Jörg Buttgereit
An artfully executed exploration of necrophilia. Shot for maximum shock punch, there’s much more to explore beneath the b-movie special effects and gross-out images. Buttgereit’s bleak but mesmerizing film is the most infamous, and likely the most respected and controversial entry on this list. It’s skillfully written, adeptly directed, absolutely unique, and bravely unblinking in its depiction of stomach-churning subject matter.
4. The Dead Next Door (1989)
Director: J.R. Bookwalter
The blood-splattered exploits of the Zombie Squad in a world overrun by the living dead. Speaking of Sam Raimi, he functioned as an uncredited executive producer on this, the most expensive Super 8 movie ever produced. A fun story and lots of gore and makeup effects won over zombie enthusiasts and fringe cinema fans around the globe.
5. Winterbeast (1991)
Director: Christopher Thies
A nearly plot-less jumble of highly imaginative ideas executed abysmally. Many viewers find the inept filmmaking painful and infuriating. Other viewers (like me) find the over-the-top performances, low-fi stop motion effects, bottom-rung production values, and deliriously bad writing exceedingly entertaining in a way only a movie like this could be.
6. Darkness (1993)
Director: Leif Jonker
The tale of a lone avenger battling undead vamps - his treacherous, blood-soaked path leading him to Liven, king of the vampires. It’s an energetic, entertaining, sinister movie, despite its micro-budget pitfalls. Among the world’s Super 8 feature films, Darkness is one of the more enthusiastically embraced by the horror film fan base.
7. Saurians (1994)
Director: Mark Polonia
A delightfully ambitious, wonderfully ludicrous yarn about dinosaurs being awakened by construction blasting. Directed by one of the kings of underground, micro-budget weirdness, Saurians ranks high among Mark Polonia’s most entertaining films.
8. Bleak Future (1997)
Director: B. Scott O'Malley
A low-brow post-apocalyptic adventure about the hunt for The Source, a legendary oracle of ancient technology, rumored to hold the power to enlighten the world. Enthusiastically embracing its no-budget, b-movie shortcomings, this sci-fi/horror/comedy bursts from the screen all guns blazing with mutants, action, gore, and desert-scorched madness. O'Malley’s nutty, off-beat Super 8 film is not for everyone, but the display of imagination and relentless, irreverent, anything-goes cinematic tomfoolery won the hearts of many a cult film fanatic.
Thanks for reading.
- Eric Stanze