Luke Owen with his thoughts on the low budget horror debut…
Some people have accused me in the past of having double standards. I have criticised films such as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen for having a terrible story structure, dreadful dialogue and awful acting. Yet I can sit and watch Happy Birthday to Me, a film with terrible story structure, dreadful dialogue and awful acting, and quite enjoy it. So how come some films can get away with it?
A couple of months ago, I went to a Q and A session with British filmmakers David Bryant and Sebastian Smith for their low budget horror film Dead Wood. During the session, we were given a free copy of the DVD and a copy of the script to read through. A couple of nights later, I popped the film into my DVD player and then sat through one hour and twenty five minutes of terrible film.
The film slumps around at a frighteningly slow pace, the acting is GCSE drama class bad and the script may have well been written in crayon on a piece of pink paper with a flower border. Dead Wood is 100% grade A dreadful from start to finish and it was difficult to get through in one sitting.
But I can get behind this film and its filmmakers in full support in a cheerleaders outfit and a big banner expressing my love and support.
Why? Because these people are first time filmmakers and they did it all by themselves. These are a group of friends who got together to make a cheeky horror film for little to no budget and try and make a name for themselves. It was a long process and it was a hard process and it cost them more money than planned. Well, seven years later it finally paid off when they got a DVD distribution deal with Lionsgate Films. The sad fact is that the DVD didn’t sell all that well and they didn’t make any of their money back. But the most important part of the process was that they have learned from the mistakes they made and won’t make them next time round. The next film they make will be a lot better than Dead Wood.
Filmmaking is a learning process. You can’t be taught how to be a good at it and you can’t buy your way into being good at it. You can take all the courses in the world you want but you have to physically go out and do it if you ever want to improve. Nearly all first time filmmakers will make a terrible film. They may think it’s the dog’s bollocks when they make it but over time they’ll realise it’s just bollocks. I should know, I’ve been there and I’ve done it.
This cropped into my mind last night while I was watching Backwoods Bloodbath, a low budget no frills horror film I picked up in ASDA for seven quid.
This has all the hallmarks of a true low budget horror affair. A group of teenagers go on a “get away” weekend to mourn the death of one of their friends. Whilst there, they encounter a local who tells them about “the horrors” that await them in the woods. The teens, predictably, ignore him and end up getting bumped off one by one in horrific ways.
The film gets off to a great start over the first hour (the first five minutes aside) and is really fun to watch. The characters are quite engaging and well thought out (if a little clichéd), the script is funny and not overly cheesy and the on-set make-up effects are outstanding. Some of the dialogue is interesting and well delivered and there are some genuinely excellent set pieces.
It’s not all positives unfortunately; the basic story premise is pretty weak and doesn’t sustain enough interest and debut camera operator Erin Castrapel frames some shots with such atrocious inaccuracy, which doesn’t help the film’s already amateur look. The film also features some of the most unsexy sex scenes I’ve ever encountered. They looked really uncomfortable and were difficult to watch.
But it really falls off a cliff by the time the final act rolls in. The idea for it is actually pretty great and well thought out and how it plays out could have been a really strong ending to what had been quite an enjoyable film. But the acting gets so terrible, the direction disappears and the scene timing and progression are so badly executed that the film started to lose its appeal, which is a real shame.
This was never going to be a film that set the horror world on fire and it was never going to be hailed as a classic. But I’ve seen films in the same genre made for the same money that are much worse. It’s just frustrating that the film doesn’t deliver come the final 20 minutes.
But going back to my original point while discussing Dead Wood – this was their first film and I was not expecting miracles. What I got instead was a film with some great set pieces, some good comedy dialogue, some superb special effects and a terrible final half hour. This was a great first attempt at filmmaking and I’m sure Donn Kennedy and Brandon Semling will go onto make more films and will get better and better.
And I wish them the best of luck.
As always, thoughts and opinions to email@example.com or visit my website www.boddicker-scripts.moonfruit.com
“Why don’t you take a cue from my dick and go long” – Brent, Backwoods Bloodbath (2007)
Addendum: One final comment, this film won the New York Independent Film Festival award for Best Horror Feature. I can only imagine that no other films were nominated in that category.