• Vance Osteen

An Introduction to Regional Horror Filmmaking

If you’re anything like me, your outlook on the state of the modern cinematic machine is, justifiably, pretty grim. From the monolithic machine art that populates the auditoriums of the local multiplex every weekend to the continued hollowing of the shell of the art-house, the cinematic landscape becomes ever more desolate with each passing weekend. In the age of democratized entertainment, it seems as if it’s harder than ever to gain any sort of foothold into the entertainment industry for the burgeoning creative. What if I told you, dear reader, that it didn’t have to be this way. What if I told you that there exists a by-gone era of filmmaking in which the filmmaker was given a budget, a Bolex, and a bucket of blood and told to go out and make the fucking thing. If this premise titillates the inner creative/pervert within you, then I’d feel honored to unlock the gate to the world of regional filmmaking. A realm populated by bands of rogue artists living outside of the mainstream systems established in New York and Los Angeles – the so-called epicenters of artistic expression – who carried with them a camera, a miniscule budget, and a dream. Technical competence wasn’t required – you’ll figure it out as you go. If you’re even remotely intrigued by the promise of art-for-funs-sake, here’s a list of regional horror films to plant the seeds of obsession within the tendrils of your fledgling cineaste brain.

Two-Thousand Maniacs! (1964, dir. Herschell Gordon Lewis)

Filmed in the bucolic Florida city of St. Cloud, Two-Thousand Maniacs! is the best of Gordon “Godfather of Gore” Lewis’ sun-soaked scuzz-fests of the drive-in era, a bleach-white ode to cannibalism in the American South. Frightening and hysterical in equal measure, Gordon Lewis’ dollar-store milieu gives the film an otherworldly quality, existing somewhere between the spheres of Flannery O’Connor and Paul Terry. Keep your eyes open and your barf bag close for an excellent scene of a man being drawn-and-quartered.

Messiah of Evil (1973, dir. Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz)

Rather than include George A. Romero’s monolithic Night of the Living Dead on this list, I offer to you, dear reader, a zombie film of an entirely different ilk. With Messiah of Evil, Huyck and Katz craft a phantasmagoric experience, the film’s admittedly convoluted narrative offering the viewer a head-trip of the highest order. If you can attach yourself to the film’s peculiar wavelength, you’ll be rewarded with a world populated with death-obsessed painters, ghouls, hedonists, and a tinge of sweet New England atmosphere. Its best moments best left unspoken, Messiah is one of the only films to retain the specific qualities that make nightmares so endlessly enticing.

Legacy of Satan (1974, dir. Gerard Damiano)

Played on double bills with both Tobe Hooper’s immortal The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Andy Milligan’s Blood – two films that this author personally recommends you seek out – Legacy represents the only “straight” (a la non-pornographic film) by Golden Age of Porn auteur Gerard Damiano. Oddly sex-free when considering Damiano’s other work, the film has a constricting atmosphere, accentuated by Damiano’s fragmented shot compositions and stilted blocking. The screeching synth score lulls the viewer into a state of delirium, feeling as if they themselves have been entranced by some sort of vexing enchantment. The worst film on this list by a country mile, but the film’s bizarre tone makes it worth a cursory glance. The grindhouse’s answer to The Mephisto Waltz.

Sledgehammer (1983, dir. David A. Prior)

The first shot-on-video horror film to be made specifically for the home video market, Prior’s 1983 metaphysical slasher jam has it all: scenes of fully grown adults having a food fight in a rented summer cabin, children being neglected in closets, murderers disguising their faces with Saran Wrap, ghosts of dead children, and bros looking wistfully at one another for an unnaturally long period of time. The film’s synth-laden slow-motion sequences give it a hypnogogic quality that a lot of modern horror seemingly lacks. While not scary in any sort of tangible way, it’s hard to ignore the alluring frequencies of Prior’s VHS dreams.

Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! (2012, dir. Charles Roxburgh)

An earnest recreation of the monster pictures that regional filmmakers like Don Dohler and Ed Adlum were pumping out and tossing onto video shelves in the early 1980s, Roxburgh and co-writer Matt Farley’s Riverbeast makes up for its lack of formal precision with a winking charm that defines all of Motern Media’s film output. Though the film has, admittedly, only one real joke – giving overwrought, turgid dialogue to people who cannot act – that joke remains largely hysterical for the majority of the film’s runtime. Starring a cast made up entirely of locals, the film’s great moments are too numerous to mention here. Though I’ve left this summary intentionally vague, if lines such as “there’s nothing in these woods but picnic babes” or “butternut squash is not to be shared” provoke any sort of reaction within you, then Riverbeast is worth seeking out, along with Roxburgh’s and Farley’s other film work. (As an aside, the Gold Ninja Video release is excellent – and selling fast!)

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What’s the point of any of this? What information should you glean from this piece after you’ve finished reading? Well, I hope to have shown you that, even if none of these films pique your interest in the slightest, you have to, at the very least, acknowledge and respect their existence. These aren’t people who expect to make any sort of long-term profit from these films – filmmakers like Damiano saw almost no money from their productions – merely those who are moved to create by some innate passion to do so. If you’re an adventurous and patient viewer, why not give the world of regional filmmaking a whirl? Who knows – you may find your latest cinematic obsession waiting for you.