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In an odd twist of circumstance, Massawyrm's opinion on this film has changed due to newly understood context. CLICK HERE to see his new, updated review!
Happy Anniversary, Massa...
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
Well, today marks the five-year anniversary of my very first review here at AICN. And it’s been a bizarre ride. I’ve seen a lot of crazy things and had a number of truly unique experiences, many of which far outdo anything I’d encountered “Pre-Harry.” From late night phone calls barking “Get your ass down to the Drafthouse right now, Someone got a hold of this Brotherhood of the Wolf we’ve been hearing about” (only to discover it was missing the last 10 minutes, but kicked our asses so hard that no other screening compared to the excitement of that first flawed one) to the hours of mind numbing lunacy I endured while writing my “Indie Indie” column, it’s certainly had its ups and downs. But all told, it’s been a wonderfully harrowing 5 years, filled with adventures and experiences (both good and bad) that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Experiences like the one I had last night when I was lounging at Geek Headquarters and the Bigman threw some unknown little indie called “Horrors of War” onto his projector. Neither of us knew much about it and what came to pass was one of those film experiences that just plain body checked me. It was as if this film were passed down from the hand of God himself to sum up the last five years of my AICN writing into one 90 minute incident. Frankly, I was stunned. I still don’t know what to think about Horrors of War. It’s either an unrivaled work of genius attempting to make a modern version of a terrible, old school (circa 1950’s) B-Movie (something akin to “They Saved Hitler’s Brain” or, dare I say it “Plan 9 From Outer Space”) or it is a terrible mistake of truly Epic proportions, epitomizing everything I learned from my work on “Indie Indie” about how NOT to make an independent film. Quite simply, it is something that must be seen to be believed.
Indie Indie taught me a lot. While it was part of my portfolio here at AICN, I was watching between 40-50 hours a week of independent film (mostly homemade efforts) for what lasted about a year and a half. There isn’t a single mistake out there that I haven’t seen made a dozen times over, and over the course of my time with the column I developed a series of rules on what works and what doesn’t in the realm of low budget cinema. The first and most important rule is this: Never, ever make a film more ambitious than your budget. Every independent filmmaker out there hopes their film is the next El Mariachi or Primer – that zero budget indie that captures the imagination of audiences worldwide, or at the very least gets them noticed by the big boys. Unfortunately, almost every no budget indie makes the mistake of trying to be bigger than it can be. The reason El Mariachi and Primer work is because they were written while fully aware of the budget they had on hand and in the place of action sequences, special effect scenes or anything requiring real money was story, mythos or ideas so complicated that the audience was so distracted by them that they didn’t have time to notice that they weren’t actually being shown a visual representation of them. You cannot, I repeat, you cannot make a Star Wars style epic for $40,000. It can’t be done. That’s not to say that you can’t make one hell of a kick ass fucking movie for $40,000 - because you can – but it’s not going to be Star Wars. And yet, people keep trying. I guarantee you that right now, somewhere in the world, someone is reading this maniacally screaming at their monitor that I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, and that their epic Sci-Fi trilogy that they’re making by maxing out their parents credit cards will prove me wrong.
Which brings me to the whole point of this rant. Horrors of War is a film that is woefully out of its depth, a film so ambitious, so determined, and yet so big that its low budget simply cannot support it. It is a WWII nazi zombie movie, with more emphasis on WWII than it ever is on zombies. Utilizing every standard “low budget trying to look big budget” trick in the book, (from artificial grain added to video footage to CG sequences of flying planes and parachute drops) you can’t help but be flabbergasted by just how ridiculous it is. It’s a solid 90 minutes of jaw dropping “What the fuck were they thinking” moments strung together by bad acting, terrible dialog and action sequences that look like a bunch of guys in uniforms walking around someone’s backyard.
Now there are tricks to making a WWII film work, little subtleties that allow classics like “A Midnight Clear” and “Cross of Iron” to convince the audience that a film about a handful of guys wandering in the woods is actually taking place in the middle of WWII. Horrors of War doesn’t manage to grasp a single one of them. From CG muzzle bursts to ambiguous uniforms to battles in which Nazis simply stand there waiting to be shot, this film cranks the cheese meter right up to eleven. Hell, there are even sequences that have a soundstage feel to them even though they are clearly out in the woods – woods that look much more like the Ohio backwoods they were shot in then they ever look like those of the European Theatre.
And I haven’t even mentioned the monsters yet. Wow. Just wow. These monsters are so cheesy, so stolen right out of the pages of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Make Up Playbook” that it’s simply unreal. Nazi Zombies that only appear one at a time and clearly have gone through more make up and CG work than they need (zombies that make you long for the look of the drown Nazi zombies in the cult classic Shockwaves), werewolves (yes, werewolves) that look like guys in rubber masks walking around on all-fours, and “Monster-vision” shots cribbed painfully from Sam Raimi’s Evil dead films all work in tandem to create a truly original cinematic failure. To make matters worse, it’s a low budget horror film that skimps on the gore – with only a few bloody shots to be found. For some reason these Nazi Zombie Super Soldiers prefer to break soldiers’ necks with their bare hands then bite or tear them apart. And yet in a 90 minute ‘horror’ film, there’s probably less than 10 minutes of anything involving monsters whatsoever. It’s astonishing just how bad this film is.
And what’s so damned heart-breaking about it is that nothing, and I mean nothing, in this film seems remotely half-assed. This film was made with so much heart it hurts. Every actor is acting their heart out, the cinematographer is trying to use camera movements to make it look and feel like a big film, the weapons and vehicles are authentic, the make up was painstakingly applied, the CG probably took weeks if not months to complete – everything about Horrors of War belies a sense that they were absolutely serious about making the best damned movie they could. And watching it I can actually see in my head the movie they believed they were making. But it’s a very different movie than what showed up on the screen. The result of all this heart, all this effort, is a colossal failure - a film that never, ever achieves what it’s striving for.
So why am I even writing about it? Why am I taking an indie that few will ever see out in the open and publicly executing it? Because I loved the god damned thing. Seriously. Is it one of the most terrible films I’ve seen in a long while? Oh hell yes it is. But is it one of those amazing, unbelievable midnight movies best served with a six-pack and some good friends to hoot and holler with? You bet your ass it is. This movie fails so spectacularly that you cannot stop watching it. I so couldn’t believe what I was watching that I had to watch it again, start to finish. There are moments so painful that you can’t stop laughing, dialog so stilted and out of nowhere that it broadside’s you. This movie will leave your bad-movie loving ass in a daze. I mean…werewolves? Where the fuck did the werewolves come from? And how come they can be killed by things other than silver bullets? Who the fuck cares. It’s all worth it just for the howl inducing line “He’s a Lycanthrope, or what you might call a werewolf.” And yes, they even go so far to give us a Zombie-werewolf fight.
This movie is a few buckets of blood and a few more pairs of tits away from getting an excited phone call from Lloyd Kaufman to become the next Troma release. But the filmmakers never seem to want to take it to that level. This is a ‘serious’ Nazi Zombie movie. One that rarely jokes and never winks at the camera, and as a result becomes all the more beautiful and awe inspiring because of it. Most films like this simply fail to achieve what they’re aiming for – this one completely self-destructs while doing it. And it is a thing of beauty. An unintentional masterpiece.
If this was actually supposed to be this bad, my hat is off to the filmmakers. This film is convincing as hell. The wobbly Styrofoam headstones during one of the shootouts was probably one of the single greatest homage’s ever (I mean who ever makes a Plan 9 From Outer Space homage?) But if it wasn’t…oh my God. You just have no idea.
I highly recommend this film to anyone, and I mean anyone, who enjoys bad movies. Anyone who drinks them in, loves them and just has to pass them along to their buddies – this one’s for you. Horrors of War is a doozy. Something, that as I said, has to be seen to be believed. And fortunately, you can see this amazing little gem this week at two special screenings. If you live in Indianapolis, it’s playing Tuesday May 9th at the Keystone Theatre at 7PM…but for us Austinites, it’s playing this Thursday, May 11th at 7PM at the Dobie. I challenge you folks, you lovers of bad horror, you trumpeters of terrible cinema, to come out and support the little engine that couldn’t. So bad it’s good, a deliciously terrible treat.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. I know I will.
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