Monday, December 8, 2008
The Horror, The Horror
I once had hopes of becoming a filmmaker.
Seems laughable now, but I was young and energetic and full of ideas. I wrote short stories and poems and radio plays like I write e-mails today. I hadn't yet learned to criticize my own work so viciously. Now, I find myself frozen in a kind of creative paralysis, afraid of putting any halfway imaginative thought down on paper because before the ink is dry I know I will have concluded that it's crap.
But I digress.
I once had hopes of becoming a filmmaker. I even remember sending off a letter and resume to some B-movie film studio I seem to recall was in North or South Carolina at the time, in the hopes of landing a job. I figured Hollywood was out of the question, but that I had a chance in North Carolina.
I never heard back.
When I was in my mid- to late teens, I, along with a good friend of mine, Tony Bezich, wrote and directed four short films, each about four minutes in length. To say "wrote and directed" is a bit of a stretch, since each of the plots could be summarized in one sentence, and our direction consisted of yelling "Action!" and "Cut!" and nothing more.
We were obsessed with horror stories, and so we made horror films. (Now, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, they could best be called horrific.)
We made the first film, "Scenes of Horror," in 1977, and cranked out another one each summer for the next three years.
We used an old Kodak Brownie regular 8mm movie camera that belonged to my parents. I still have it.
"Jesse Black: Bounty Hunter"
We had no editing equipment, so each movie was a series of one-take shots. If we screwed up, the movie was screwed up.
We'd wind up the camera, film two minutes of footage, and then we'd have to open the camera and turn the spool of film over so we could shoot for another two minutes. Then we'd take the exposed footage to the Foto Shack in the parking lot of some strip mall. They'd send it away for processing, where someone would cut the film down the middle and splice the ends together to make a four-minute movie.
We'd have to wait a couple of weeks to get the film back. It was excruciating.
The movies were silent, so we'd usually make up some cassette tape of spooky music roughly timed to coincide with crucial parts of the plot. We'd hit the play button on our Radio Shack cassette player as soon as we'd start the projector and hope the timing was OK.
(I've added some music to these YouTube version to try to achieve the same effect.)
We made four films, three of which I was able to salvage by taking them to a camera shop here in Prague and having them transferred to DVD. Amazing that places still do that, really.
The three films are "Madman," "Night Visions," and "Jesse Black: Bounty Hunter," which is more of a surreal action-adventure film than horror, but what the heck.
I've uploaded them onto YouTube, just for fun.
I think "Night Visions" is the most accomplished, if I can use that word. I think it was our last one, which means it most likely dates to the summer of 1980.
It features some crude stop-motion animation and a disappearing and appearing man. The animation was created by duct-taping the camera to a tabletop, pointing it at a bookcase in my room, and then flicking the shutter so that as few frames as possible would be exposed. We'd then rearrange the items on the bookcase ever so subtly, and then expose a few more frames. The end result is, well, not too bad for a first effort.
"Madman" is pretty damn boring, even for a four-minute 8mm amateur movie, but it does contain a cool shot of an ax blade slowly being lifted in front of the lens, while the Madman's victim can be seen in the background. Let me tell you, it wasn't easy holding the camera and activating the shutter with one hand while wielding a full-sized ax in the other.
There's also a fairly imaginative shot in "Jesse Black" of the bounty hunter's boots stomping through a forest, shot from above.
That's about as good as it gets here, folks.
Tony and I were living on opposite ends of Pennsylvania while we made these movies -- he in the tiny burg of Slickville, southeast of Pittsburgh, me in Bloomsburg, in the north-central part of the state. We filmed "Jesse Black" in the backwoods of Cuyler, New York, southeast of Syracuse, where my family moved in 1979.
The films have deteriorated markedly over the years, with mold being the primary culprit. But the mold has produced a cool effect on the film that you'd probably have to pay big money for today.
The mold is so bad on "Scenes of Horror" that it's not even worth posting, however.
It's been a lot of fun to see these movies again after all these years. I have no pretenses about their artistic merits. They're awful, but in a fun sort of way.
I hope you get a kick out of them.
And if you know where Tony Bezich is these days, don't keep it a secret. I've lost touch over the years, and reconnecting would make a nice ending to this story.