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Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Essentially a love letter to VHS and independent shot-on-video filmmaking, Wild Eye Releasing's HI-8: HORROR INDEPENDENT EIGHT (2013) gathers eight leading indy directors, arms them with low-tech equipment, and lets them loose to make the kind of blood 'n' guts "SOV" flicks they did when they were teenagers.

Of course, it all looks like it was shot on camcorder because that's exactly how it was done. Given that, it still looks pretty good and is anything but the unwatchable crap that some camcorder movies are.

Still, if LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is the visual bottom line for you as a film viewer, HI-8 definitely isn't going to cut it. This is mainly for those who are already diehard fans of this type of entertainment, even though there's no reason people who have never seen a shot-on-video feature in their lives can't have fun with it.

The list of rules that co-producer/co-writer/director Brad Sykes gave to the other participating directors (Tim Ritter, Donald Farmer, Todd Sheets, Chris Seaver, Ron Bonk, Tony Masiello, and Marcus Koch) included staying away from CGI, green screen, fancy lighting effects, or anything else not available to them during their formative years as filmmakers.

These limitations, however, only served to get their creative juices flowing in other ways, with an emphasis on both clever storytelling and wild, over-the-top practical effects. Much of the focus, in fact, is on gore, gore, and more gore.

Nostalgia for the good old days of VHS is evident in Brad Sykes' wraparound segment, "No Budget Films Presents...", in which we find three teenagers making their own camcorder horror movie which comes back to bite them in a big way by the film's end. Not much happens in this one, but the final scene has some downright wicked makeup effects.

"The Tape" offers another wallow in VHS nostalgia as two guys packing away the inventory of a going-out-of-business video store happen upon an unknown tape called "Bloodgasm." Tim takes it home and is thrilled to find that it's a lost SOV "masterpiece" with unbelievably realistic gore (well, you have to use your imagination there) and becomes obsessed with tracking down the filmmaker. When he does, he gets more than he bargained for.

The theme of "Switchblade Butchers" is that the couple that slays together stays together. When a woman discovers that her husband is a serial killer, her initial shock gives way to an unexpected desire to join in the "fun" and before long she's slashing away with equal abandon. Lots of squirty fake blood and a tongue-in-cheek attitude, along with a giddy performance by Kristine Renee Farley and a bit of a twist ending, make this one especially fun.

"A Very Bad Situation" begins with a (stock footage) meteor shower that brings some kind of space virus along with it, resulting in (gasp!) extreme tentacle carnage! This one takes place entirely within a barricaded garage but a lot happens in a short time with only four characters--including a very twitchy stranger with an axe--who remain at each others' throats until one of them monsters out big time with the help of some particularly wet practical effects that resemble a poor (but happy) man's version of Rob Bottin's work on THE THING.

But even that can't hold a candle to my favorite, "Gang Them Style." When a bargain-basement Snake Plissken named "Mongoose McCready" rescues his Nana (who wears an eye patch) from the old folks' home during the latest zombie apolcalypse, he finds himself saddled with an entire crew of old folks who just don't know how to behave in an action movie. The typical Hollywood tough guy is hilariously spoofed here as are some of the most popular zombie movie tropes.

"The Request" is a nifty tale in which a late-night deejay is haunted by the telephone voice of someone who's supposed to be dead. Poetic justice with an ironic twist ends this one in the vein of the old E.C. comics along with more nice makeup effects.

"Thicker than Water" presents a couple in which certain latent dysfunctions suddenly become overt when the woman kidnaps her boyfriend's former lover and insists that he prove his love by helping her force-feed his hapless ex a Drano cocktail. The most comical entry is "Genre Bending", a table-turning tale of stalkers and victims which searches just a little too long for its punchline.

"The Scout" finds an aspiring actress trapped in a Mojave desert nightmare when a director scouting film locations disappears, leaving her trapped in the middle of nowhere with a killer. And finally, "No Budget Films Presents..." returns just before the fadeout to wrap things up in chilling fashion.

The DVD from Wild Eye Releasing is in 1.33:1 widescreen with 2.0 sound. No subtitles. Bonus features include a commentary track with producers Brad Sykes and Josephina Sykes, the featurette "The Making of Hi-8", trailers and teasers, and a photo gallery. The film is also available, fittingly enough, on a special VHS edition at Wild Eye's website.

While HI-8: HORROR INDEPENDENT EIGHT may occasionally appear sloppy and slapdash, there's creativity behind this stuff and darn if it isn't a hoot to watch. There are no lofty artistic aspirations here--just a loosey-goosey conglomeration of horrors for us to have some morbid fun with.

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Buy the VHS edition at Wild Eye Releasing


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