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Monday, February 14, 2011

A Dietary Consideration

Imagine if you will that you're a zombie.  You're shambling along the darkened streets of the city, the occasional flickering of the street lights illuminating you in a staccato rhythm.  Your kindred are staggering through the alleys and parks around you.  All you know is a need... an unending hunger... and undying, painful desire for human flesh.

Suddenly the sound of voices, and the scent of living meat draws your attention to the intersection in front of you.  The deathly silent air brings the voices and the enticing aroma of dinner to you- pulling you forward with a sluggish limping gait.  You approach them, the shadows and their voices disguising your approach.  If you could articulate what you saw, you would describe one of the appetizing morsels as lean... low fat but tough.  The other tasty treat is high in fat, but tender.

Suddenly, the street light on the corner comes on as its timer activates!  They see you, and in some dim corner of your thinking mind, you realize they're going to bolt.  The lean victim scurries off down the road to the left, while the fatty one rushes down the one on the right.

Which would you pursue?

I'm often confronted with this question when it comes to my horror movies.  I'll be at Future Shop, or London Drugs perusing the movie section and see a low budget horror movie sitting next to a higher budget one.  Should I eat the lean, or the fatty victim?  It's really not that easy of a question, since there are benefits and detriments to both sides of the question... though, personally, I tend to lean towards the "lean meat" of horror movies...

The main downside to a "lean", low budget horror movie is... well, the lack of money to do stuff.  When you don't have much money for a movie, you're severely limited in how "special" your special effects are.  After all, it's hard to have a decent army of walking CGI skeletons when you only have $22,000.00 to spend on your movie.  The same can be said about casting- you may want to cast Rutger Hauer as Satan in your movie, but if you can't afford it, you can't have him.  A low budget also limits your locations, sets and props.  Your script may call for filming in Paris, but since you might now have enough for the trip, you'll probably wind up having to settle for a coffee shop with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on the wall.

Of course, a low budget can have some positive side effects as well.  The main one is forcing the director and crew to be creative and innovative with what they have.  It also forces the director to cut out things that "would be nice and cool", and focus on what actually is needed to tell the story.  If John Carpenter had a bigger budget, he probably could have added more gore and cool locations to "Halloween", but we probably wouldn't have the highly effective opening sequence, nor the tightness of pacing and suspense that made his movie such an enduring classic.

And low budget films are great for actors and actresses just starting out.  Let's face it, if it wasn't for low budget horror movies like "Halloween", Wes Craven's, "A Nightmare on Elm Street", and Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead", celebrities like Jamie Lee Curtis, Johnny Depp, and Bruce Campbell might not have gotten a start in movies.  Wes Craven probably could have gotten more "teen idols" to attract the teen crowd (in the 80's there were A LOT of teen stars), but the characters probably would've been overshadowed by the names of the actors who played them.  And while it's true that that most low budget horror films contain bad acting, we need to remember that other than comedy, horror is actually one of the harder genres to act in since there is a fine line between a scary movie and a laughable movie.  Besides, even if you're laughing at the movie, you're still being entertained- which is to be honest, the goal of EVERY movie... or should be.

I have found that for me, some of the best horror films have been ones where they're limited in the number or scope of their settings.  This helps to create a sense of claustrophobia (especially if the director uses tight close up shots of scenes), and adds to the tension since we know the cause of the horror is nearby, but don't know when or where exactly it'll strike.  Would "Evil Dead" have been as effective and fun if Sam Raimi hadn't been limited to a small cabin and the words surrounding it?  I don't think so.  You knew that the evil was outside the cabin door... and even inside the cabin.  The fun came from watching it "play" with its prey.

So, when I'm shuffling down the DVD aisles at my local stores, and I see a lean piece of movie meat sitting next to a plumper tidbit, I'll grab a bite of the lean meat... after all even a zombie should watch its cholesterol...

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