From time to time I will venture out into the dangerous, lawless land of micro-budget cinema to see what creative filmmakers with almost no money are producing. A few such indie movies, fueled by rebellious DIY passions, have made their way in front of my eyeballs in recent months. Here's what they were and why you may want to check ‘em out. Join me as we take a walk to the wrong side of the tracks and explore the sinister underbelly of American cinema.
Chris LaMartina has been crankin' out a fairly constant stream of indie horror since 2005. Despite his microscopic budgets, he seems to be building an enthusiastic fan base. Mr. LaMartina was kind enough to send me his two most recent movies, President's Day (2010), a love letter to the good ol' fashioned slasher film, and Witch's Brew (2011), a throwback to 80s horror – chock full of foam rubber, fake blood, and campy fun.
President's Day features a maniacal killer in an Abe Lincoln mask, of course. This hack-em-up does not take itself very seriously, so expect the kills to be over-the-top and goofy – but still very original and entertaining. Usually, in a movie like this, the talking faces you're forced to endure are just filler until the next scene of bloodshed occurs. LaMartina didn't get that memo, evidently, because the plot between the kills - about high school kids in a drama-saturated race for student council - is unexpectedly engaging. Furthermore, what the cast may have lacked in acting experience they made up for in natural on-screen charisma.
In LaMartina's Witch's Brew, a batch of micro-brewed beer is cursed by a witch, resulting in numerous old-school special makeup effects. Again, a rather inventive plot and LaMartina's tongue-in-cheek tone save this tall glass of indie horror from becoming unsatisfying suds. Both President's Day and Witch's Brew are well shot, skillfully edited, and directed with enthusiasm. If you are looking for hard-core, go-for-the-throat horror, you may want to move along. If instead you seek a couple of fun and entertaining horror flicks for a beer-fueled party, you could do much worse than this double bill from Chris LaMartina.
I think my favorite micro-budget DIY movie I saw last year was The Puppet Monster Massacre, a work of lunacy and brilliance from director Dustin Mills, featuring an all-puppet cast. Mills has a sequel in the works, which I'm excited about – but before that production hits the sewing machine, Mills will unleash a bizarre exploitation / horror / action / comedy called Zombie A-Hole. Mr. Mills generously gave me a sneak-peek of this upcoming shocker a month or so ago - and again I was impressed with what lunacy this director is able to conjure from the tiniest of budgets. This film, about voodoo, vengeance, twins, and the frantic hunt for a particularly menacing zombie, mixes live action, computer animation, and a gritty but stylized grindhouse tone. Zombie A-Hole does a fine job of blending its wide variety of ingredients, from humor to gore to sleaze to action. I'm sure many will love and many will hate this film for throwing all the rules out the window and just being its own delirious, rabid animal, but in my opinion, straying from the beaten path is a very positive thing. Dustin Mills seems to be making a habit of doing so, and I commend him for it.
Just a few days ago I finally watched a film that I'd heard much praise for, The Bunny Game, directed by Adam Rehmeier. This gruesome tale of torture won the highest prize of the 2011 Pollygrind Film Festival in Las Vegas, which is how I heard about the film. The Bunny Game, about a junkie prostitute and her abduction by a maniac trucker, is thin on story and originality, but heavy on emotional impact. The story starts off sad, gets scary, then plummets into madness. The Bunny Game is not fun, b-movie shenanigans. It is straight-faced, unflinching, harrowing, and dramatic. Director Rehmeier scores major points for making a movie that delivers a hard punch and genuine shock that very few films - of any budget - achieve.
Stars Rodleen Getsic and Jeff Renfro contribute outstanding performances, helping elevate The Bunny Game from empty-headed exploitation to a disturbing work of art. Director Rehmeier was his own cinematographer and editor. Though he worked without a crew and generally had to rely on available light, the movie looks exactly how it should look in presenting this intense, distressing narrative. Both the camerawork and editing are excellent.
I suspect The Bunny Game will divide genre film fans. Some will think it goes too far. Some may find the lack of plot and abundance of depravity an uncomfortable mix. Others will praise The Bunny Game for going where films seldom venture. No matter what response the movie generates today, a devoted following will still be talking about The Bunny Game ten years from now, I predict, and using terms like "minor classic" to describe it.
Thanks for reading.