By Jaime Grijalba
It was the mid-80’s in the United States and a new format was rising for filmmakers that wanted to make films on a tiny budget: to shoot them on video. Super-8 had its time, it was first and foremost a format that was used by families to shoot their birthdays and vacations, and with time it was used by filmmakers and until this day by mostly experimental artists that both shoot and directly affect the strip of film. Video, on the other hand, came to take the reigns of the market of amateur and familiar entertainment, when Super-8 started to become scarce (as well as the process of developing was getting more expensive), and it was the source of mostly “family videos”, where people waved at the camera and could talk, sing and dance. It had, in many ways, much more advantages than turning out a can of super8 film that could only last about 90 seconds each time, and it had the opportunity to record audio without much external equipment (nor the need to synchronize it afterwards). But, just like with Super-8, some brooding filmmakers would make the step and go towards the making of features, and most of the time they were horror and genre pictures, stuff that could be done in backyards or small hidden studios, stuff that with time would prove that could get sold in major markets.
But these two films are the exception among the exceptions. In a time where if you wanted to be taken seriously as a filmmaker, you shot on film (and not on video, as the quality of the image would instantly cheapen all your intentions), but at the same time when the technology of video was available, some filmmakers still decided to go through the route of super8 when it came down to make it an amateur and still cheap film (35mm stock was expensive even back then). Gore-met, Zombie Chef from Hell (1986) and Ozone: The Attack of the Redneck Mutants (1986) both serve as examples of movies made by non-professionals that had the crew and the possibilities of filming a movie, and they couldn’t afford the negative cost that the video format would have in their artistic visions, or at least one would think at the time. But after taking a look at both of these movies released in 1986, at least one would think that “Goremet” would’ve benefited from the video format.
According to Steve Carlson, author of the upcoming Screaming in Analog, a book that will explore the “shot on video scene” of horror and science fiction films, 1986 was a turning point for filmmakers interested in the video format, but it was mostly used by “fly-by-night exploitation types with quick profit on their minds”, while the really interesting works made by amateur artists were films like Demon Queen and Cards of Death (Steve even declares “he latter never came out in America, so you can see how the timbre of the times was”), so in a way for many of these filmmakers maybe super8 was the only option to have something even resembling a reputable film, and even at that both of these films somewhat fail, but specially Gore-met, Zombie Chef from Hell. Shot mostly in a closed environment (a bar where the titular zombie resides and cooks whoever goes through his door) and using a microphone on the camera to record sound on the strip of film (hence the deterioration of the dialogues in the newer copies, as well as how ‘drowned’ the voices sound whenever they are mixed in with background or diegetic music), the film would’ve been benefited by the video technology if given the opportunity, as the video cameras worked better in darker areas (unlike film that needs more light to capture better colors and nuances, which are completely absent in this movie, that seems dipped in a red neon light the whole time and becomes annoying whenever it goes out of that enclosed place where most of the action takes place), and the sound would’ve been better preserved, as well as more easily mixed in with the soundtrack. Besides, the film itself does have a more modernist vibe, as the main zombie politely addresses the camera and talks to us as if it were a vlog posted on YouTube, and the Super8 format isn’t used to give it any visual flair of any sort.
While Ozone: Attack of the Redneck Mutants isn’t exactly much better, most of its faults are because of things that are actually in the movie, and not because of how bad the film looks or sounds due to the way it was shot. This movie does take full advantage of the fact that it was filmed in such a precious format as Super8. It even has fun with itself, as all the sound is dubbed in post-production (the lips don’t match the words half the time, as if a rewrite of the script was done in post-production to add more jokes, once they figured out how ridiculous the whole concept of the film truly was). But more than anything there is an underlying beauty in the filmed events portrayed here, even though the events are just zombies (here called mutants) created by a hole in the ozone layer that puke on people to convert them into mutants as well. While the whole concept itself is ridiculous, there’s much to be marveled at, specially when one thinks of the way it was shot, with some really daring shots inside a car, where all the action happens outside of it, or whenever we are being witness of the mother of one of the protagonists, an old lady that kills a hen, makes our heroes a meal and later gets puked on by one of the zombies. The bravura of this woman in committing to this performance (though how much of it was dubbed over and transformed into something else than what was truly recorded is anyone’s guess) is something to be reckoned with.
While not exactly great films nor even hidden gems, both of these movies perfectly capture the spirit of true independent American filmmaking, the one that was made with no money and with a sense of proud and delicate sense of what was going into the frame, as they were shooting on film and couldn’t repeat what they were doing many times. Particularly such an effect-heavy film like “Ozone” is particularly interesting, as it never achieves “fakeness”, nor it loses its style, especially in terms of how its world is built, as crude as the special effects may be. On the other hand, “Goremet” also shows how that same approach of having your movie taken seriously by doing it with film, and as much care as you could’ve put into it, it can still be plagued with bad performances and bad choices, such as lighting and how bad it overall looks, and is a testament of how it would be time for video to take place as the format for both brooding, amateurs and passionate genre films to experiment and have their chops honed in. Or, at least, to try to make something that was worthwhile.