A documentary by Paul Hunt and Julie Kauffmann about ‘grassroots horror’ – which has been around in America since the 1960s at least, and had a heyday in the 1970s and ‘80s thanks to the filmmakers celebrated in Stephen Thrower’s Nightmare USA. Of course, with the rise of affordable video equipment, there has been a mushroom growth of hand-to-mouth horror movie production … the kind of kids who might once have formed a garage band that rehearsed but never gigged or put on a play with their friends can now make films and see them get something like a release.
Of course, it’s still not easy – the de facto lead of the film is auteur Mike Lombardo, who we see struggling to get through a day of shooting on The Stall (characters puking blood in bathrooms seems to be a recurring theme in grassroots horror) while racked with doubts about the project, frustrated by tehcnical shortcomings and distracted by family woes. Also featured are filmmakers Jeremiah Kipp (Slapface – one of this year’s best FrightFest selections), Paula Helfley (Movie Monster Insurance), Thomas Norman (Gitchy), Julie Ufema (Caveat – not the one from FrightFest last year), plus pundit Michael Gingold and academic Noel Carroll. Some folks hawk whatever they’re making, others play up to the stereotype of alienated horror fan – and one or two are clear-eyed about what they’re trying to do.
It’s an issue that a lot of grassroots horror is as hard to watch as it was to make, and you get a sense that the only way any of these movies would get shown at FrightFest – a festival which once programmed Bubba’s Chili Parlor – is in tiny snippets in the context of this doc. It’s not quite as essential as American Movie or Clapboard Jungle, which gain from being narrow-focused, but it’s breezily odd enough. I could still do without seeing another puking-blood-in-a-bathroom movie, though.