Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CAUTION!!! Magicians at Work: The Hidden Message of HORROR BUSINESS

I finally got around to watching the documentary about the plight of the independent horror filmmaker, Horror Business. The whole time I'm watching the movie I'm expecting a few Misfits riffs, but, alas, no riffage. Instead I had the privilege of watching a bunch of seemingly hopeless individuals try to make sense of the biz while trying to create movies in the medium that they love. That medium isn't digital video or celluloid, it is the medium of horror. Horror has it's own texture. A medium is the substance used to create artwork. Horror is a very real substance like crack cocaine or anal lube. It's malleable and tactile. Rigid when it needs to be. Delicate as a Portishead song when has to be. As I watched Horror Business I kept thinking that this little metaphor of horror as an artistic medium rather than a genre was more accurate for "our" type of filmmakers because horror has always felt like an amalgam of genres or rather it infects every genre. It's a modifier to your favorite genre. More on that later, the pitfalls and the perils as well as the absolute marketability. First let's talk about the film. Let's talk about filmmakers.

From the outset Horror Business weaves a seemingly hopeless tale. No one makes it. No one gets out alive. It's like telling your parents you want to be a rock star when you grow up. They just pat you on the head, buy you a New Kids on the Block album and maybe a toy microphone if you're not relegated to the broom closet to find a suitable substitute. Artists never come by success easy and even when they are successful it's best to use a non-monetary gauge of success. That's all well and good before you start running into the walls of which life manufactures your cage. Horror Business follows a few of this artists. It watches them fail or at least in the prospect of following their dreams. I can safely say that it feels like there's no light at the end of the this tunnel.

I am familiar with the documentary American Movie that follows Mark Borchardt through the perils of independent cinema, but I didn't expect for him to show up as one of the main focal points of this film as well. In Horror Business, Christopher Geratano follows his production of Scare Me, a vampire flick with a modern twist. I can't help but remember American Movie and how futile Borchardt's efforts seemed. That doesn't mean to say that I don't root for him. Even during moments of disdain for the project at hand due to my own personal bias, I still want him to succeed. I guess I figured that if you're featured in a documentary about filmmaking, you might have a shot at success in the big machine. It doesn't look like he's made much headway. That simple fact discouraged, and I left me wondering if the rest of the filmmakers featured would have the same futility associated with their projects. Yes, they did.

I have to admit that Borchardt was the only one who even offer the remotest name or facial recognition. I"m afraid that I haven't seen a movie by any of these guys no matter how much I had hoped that one of them might have a breakout successful picture. It's been five years and I haven't even seen Borchardt's work. You'll be happy to know that indy filmmaker Ron Atkins is still making movies. I am still wishing him well. Scare Me is slated for a 2012 release, but I really haven't heard much about the distro for it. What can we take from this?  There's a handful of test of time stars like Sid Haig, Lloyd Kaufman and archival footage of some of our favorite horror moments, but if you don't know about these guys and I don't know about these guys what are we to take away from the documentary... failure is absolute? Well, the point of Horror Business appears to be threefold.

One, expose the plight of the indy filmmaker. The filmmaker is underfunded, inexperienced and when aiming for a successful film, does not realize that movie making is as much a labor of love as it is a business venture that may not result in creative freedom. Each artists that Geratano follows struggles to find funding while telling their story, clear or unclear; talented or untalented. Horror Business isn't following the Adam Greens or Ti Wests. The studios haven't found these fellas yet and these fellas do not appear to have hopped on the film festival circuit. Ultimately first time filmmakers or amateur filmmakers trying to make it big end up with piles of debt, a finished product and without an audience.

Two, film school is in front of the television. Film school is in the movie house. Film school is in the drive-in. The way you learn about movie making is to watch more movies. The way to support independent horror is to go out and see these films in their limited releases. The fact that small chain theaters and drive-in theaters are dissolving is removing the outlet for potential small timers to cut their teeth in front of a crowd no matter how local or how small. The drive-in featured in Horror Business is about an hour away from my house, The Warwick Drive-In. I can tell you that I've never been there despite trying to encourage as many people as I can to support them. It's a beautiful thing to spend a summer night watching a movie in front of a huge screen with a marvelous concession stand. A Double Feature no less! If there's one thing that Horror Business wants to tell you its that the only way to keep horror healthy is to hit the theater. Make the effort.

Note: After watching the sequence about the Warwick Drive-In I immediately called in my eight year old daughter and asked if she'd like to go to a drive-in. Her response was ecstatic. She was especially fond of the concessions. Let's go out to the lobby. Maybe the only reason we don't make it out to these venues is because our kids don't ask about them because they have no clue they're even out there. Maybe if our dates new that we could make out in the back of our cars with booze while screening a double feature they'd make the extra effort (get your binaca ready).

Three, while we think of original ideas as making the best horror films it's actually about individual perception and individual vision. As long as indy filmmakers keep their eyes behind the lens there's hope to see something new, but sometimes we simply need to see the same old thing in a new way. The difference between repetition for the sake of financial benefit i.e. the great remake machine that this film could only hope to project the full scope of and the conceptualizing similar themes and plots is that one is done for the benefit of investors while the other is done to the benefit of the artist's vision. Sounds all well and good, but Hollywood isn't always the demon and it's important to remember that this is being told with an agenda. We have to take the message with a grain of salt. Not all indy films are worth watching even with the best of intentions.

Back to this whole artist medium suggestion/metaphor I made earlier. I can't stress enough that every time I'm talking to my coworkers at my day job that they ask me, "is such and such a horror movie?" I'm always surprised when I get this question because it seems obvious to me that the film question is in fact a scare picture. Well, it's not so obvious to non-horror fans. Hell it isn't obvious to horror fans, but I think that it can be summed up in the argument that elements of horror are worked into nearly every genre. There was a time before the rating classification system started labelling films H for Horror that films didn't have this label, that the genre didn't exist if it even exists now. So it's really a modifier to a genre title. Think horror comedy or even the dreaded psychological thriller. It's an add on. It's more than just an adjective. You make movies out of the substance of what is horror. The elements of horror might as well be colors in a crayon box or various timbres in a musical composition.  The things of fears. Horror is slimy and it is dark. It is cold and sharp. Horror seeps through your fingers like a blob. It's like clay that hurts your hands when you turn it into a vase. There's stuff in it. Matter and the lack of matter which just might be the great terrifier... the unknown.

And with that in mind the movie Horror Business is just the story about people using kilns and spinning wheels to create ceramics and tapestries of horror. Great big banner flags of horror. You don't just script horror movies, you first script a drama and tell a story and then you add in the scary bits. Movies that incorporate horror that are built from pieces of horror are characters stories first. They are action movies with great special effects. Before you go out to make the movies that scare people make the movies that are simply movies and remember your dose of salt and pepper in the pigs head shakers. These are the starving artists your parents warned you about first and the horror dorks second, the most passionate fantasy dwellers of them all. Horror Business got me thinking about what we do when we make films beyond the entertainment value and beyond the modern day Aesop. We take lives and stories and we put this THING into them. We put the very real, physical thing of horror into them. You may as well call these hopeless, melancholy dreamers alchemists or wizards. The plight of the filmmaker is not one of hope and the end result of a life without fame should not be despair. It is a life of mystery and unknown science, magic. The story of Horror Business is the story of wizards and secrets. The things of magic.

I've written a few reviews that don't exact support the little guys. I've also written articles detailing the plight of the indy filmmaker and the distro war caused by the over saturation of artists making movies. Let's try to be a bit more positive because these guys need it.

-Dr. Terror... warm. fuzzy.

By the by (you know I love that fucking saying), Steve Moore writes a damn fine composition for the score. It had me thinking City of the Living Dead which gave me goosebumps. There's talent there. He also worked on the ToeTag film Redsin Tower which is bad ass.

Here's the song Horror Business previously mentioned in the article in case you are unfamiliar with it.

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