Great Moments In Low Budget Filmmaking, #1

Bruce Campbell as an aged Elvis, teamed up with Ossie Davis as JFK, in Don Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep, attempting his kung-fu against a spellcasting mummy.

The beauty of Coscarelli’s flick? Despite the premise (Elvis is alive and living in the same home they put JFK, except that JFK’s been turned black somehow, and they must fight this mummy to save their fellow residents), this is really not a camp movie until the end, when the low budget catches up with them. (The final battle.)

Most of the movie is actually an examination of old age and regret, if crudely told. Possibly Ossie Davis’ greatest role, and at 85, he actually looked healthier than the heavily made up Campbell.

The copyright stinger worns that infringement on the copyright may result in the wrath of Bubba Ho-Tep.

I actually caught this in the theater when it came out. It had a two-day run 15 miles from here.

Baghead (Not A Story Of A Trooper York 3AM Date)

There’s some well-worn ground in the new little flick Baghead. Four actors who long for bigger and better careers are inspired after watching a (amusingly pretentious) low budget film to go into a cabin in the woods to make their own picture. The sexual dynamics between them are ambiguous on the one hand, and on the other, one of them dreams of a man with a bag over his head, and turns them down the road of making a horror movie.

Until Baghead starts making his presence known and they start disappearing one by one…or do they?

So we have a relationship movie about guys making a movie, that’s also a horror movie about guys making a horror movie.

It works pretty well. Someone on IMDB compared to the Coen Bros., but this is no Blood Simple. That said, it’s not bad.

Our characters are: the handsome one (Matt, played by Ross Partridge), the nebbishy one (Chad, played by Steve Zsiss), the older-and-wise blonde hottie (Catherine, played by Elise Muller), and the new blonde hottie (Michelle, played by Greta Gerwig). Matt and Catherine are “beyond labels” in their relationship, while Chad is crushing on Michelle. Michelle, of course, is crushing on Matt, which pisses Catherine off. Chad is resentful of Matt, who he thinks gets all the girls, but Matt isn’t doing too well, apparently, since he broke up with Catherine.

Somebody shoot me.

This stuff’s all right. There’s a lot of drinking. And scheming. But it’s a bit slow.

It’s also a bit familiar. I kept wondering if I knew these actors or I just knew a lot of people like them.

Baghead livens up the proceedings but the movie sort of plays with being a horror movie without ever actually being a horror movie. That’s not necessarily bad, except for me finding that, when they finally commit at the climax of the movie, I was curiously unimpressed. I didn’t buy it whole hog. The filmmakers didn’t convince me that they would actually allow the things to happen that I was seeing.

Part of this is the limit of low-budget-ness. The camera’s at a pretty removing distance most of the time. Part of it is the limit of the story, though, too. There’s a sleight-of-hand that’s not very convincing even when it’s all laid out at the end.

But, all-in-all, not bad. Short. Fairly thoughtful. They do manage a few good scares, though I would hasten to point out that that’s a relatively easy task compared to making an effective full-on horror movie.

Nonetheless, no point in critiquing it for not being what it’s not trying to be. It does what it tries to do fairly well. So, good work to the Duplass brothers who wrote and directed.

Rejected Film Category #1: Best Head

You know, you’d think you could make a pretty good category out of “best disembodied, talking head”, but if you have to struggle to come up with ten films to fit the category, it’s not that good.

I came up with: They Saved Hitler’s Brain, The Thing That Couldn’t Die, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and Re-Animator. I’m on the fence as to whether Wizard of Oz would count (I think not, since it’s not a real head), and also disinclined to count Jason X and Alien, which both feature severed talking heads, but robotic heads. Oh, an Hayao Miyazaki uses a lot of floating heads, but that’s animation and they’re spirits so I don’t count those either.

Re-Animator wins this hands down, as the severed head is not just talky, it’s in control of its own destiny, and is a pervert.

Second place goes to They Saved Hitler’s Brain, just because they don’t just save his brain, they save his entire head, and a darling head it is. It sneers, glowers, wiggles its moustache, and also seems entirely in control of its own destiny, which is pretty impressive for, you know, a head in a jar.

On the TV show “Futurama”, they have guest stars (and generate other plot devices) by storing everyone’s head in a jar. All the US Presidents, for example, are in jars. The entire cast of the original “Star Trek” (and John Frakes of TNG) are in jars, Pamela Anderson’s head is in a jar, Claudia Schiffer, Lucy Liu, Al Gore, etc.

On the commentary for the DVD, someone asks him where he got the idea and he said something to the effect that “it’s a common sci-fi device.”

If it’s so common, I ask, where are all the disembodied head movies? The only actual head-in-a-jar movie I can think of is They Saved Hitler’s Brain, and I never once read any SF with that as a premise.

Anyway, Trooper York is already hard at work, I suspect, creating more good movie categories.

We shall see who walks away from this battle with his head in a jar.

New Link: Retromedia Forum

The Retromedia Forum is place where real filmmakers hang-out and discuss the craft and the business. Yeah, real low-budget filmmakers, but don’t be such a snob. These guys make more movies and do more business in a year than your average big-budget guy has done his entire life.

Seriously, Fred Olen Ray, who hosts the joint, is filming something like four films back-to-back, which I think is only going to last him till Thanksgiving.