DVD has been a godsend for filmmakers desperate for distribution. Thanks to the advances in technology, the accessibility of an available audience (otherwise known as the Internet) and a definitive DIY stance, more movies are available than ever before. Finding them is another issue all together. Most of your noted B&M retail and rental outlets don’t touch ‘unknown’ quantities helmed by unproven talent with a tendency to believe their own hype. Instead, they fill their shelves with standard operating hackwork, the latest (and usually lamest) efforts from Tinsel Town’s crap factory – and its varying direct to digital run-offs. In order to find the truly obscure titles, one must do a lot of research and think outside the Netflix envelope, so to speak. As part of our blog prerogative, that’s exactly what Short Ends and Leader tries to do.
Of course, as with any year end list, a few consideration parameters have to be laid down. First and foremost, it’s important to note that the films themselves do not have to be made in, or originally released during 2008. After all, some outsider cinema takes years in legal or logistical limbo before making it out via some manner of viewable state. In addition, there is no need for an Oscar like NY to LA preview schedule. As long as the film made it out on DVD during this year (originally or in an update) SE&L considered it. Finally, we don’t discriminate against those who self distribute. As long as it passed over our critical transom, we considered it, no matter how it first got there. About the only consistent element is worth – if the movie wasn’t something really special, we just didn’t consider it in our final overview.
With that being said, 2008 was a sparse year in undiscovered gems. Messageboard nation loves to champion the underdog, and a lot of films that would normally make the list – Let the Right One In, Hunger – are seeing major studio support. Still, the ten titles here mark the cream of the independent crop, movies that find there way onto screens around the world thanks to one significant reason – they’re damn good. So without further ado, let’s begin our discussion with:
#10 – Cordoba Nights
Ohio filmmakers Andy and Luke Campbell have a reputation for being the purveyors of the homemade horror hybrid. With films like The Red Skulls (gang vs. zombies), Demon Summer (coming of age vs. otherworldly terror), and Midnight Skater (splatter comedy), it seemed like they would never branch out beyond the standard scary formulas. This amazing movie proves otherwise. Following the adventures of a pizza man who gets mixed up with a crime boss’s gal pal, the duo deliver a neo-noir slice of slacker life that’s filled with clever direction, insightful characterization, and bravura creativity. As a stepping stone to other interests, it’s outstanding.
#9 – Giuseppe Andrews’ Orzo
Giuseppe Andrews always has humor in his films. In between the pathos and the grotesqueries, his trailer park paradigm is laced with a laidback wit. But with this tale of Toggle Switch, a little person locked in her own insular world of weirdness, he’s made his first true consistently laugh out loud burlesque. Working within the same surreal strategies that make David Lynch’s dream logic experiments so satisfying, actor turned auteur Andrews has an inherent way with oddities. Here, he makes a sex toy bandit, a hyper-skinny exercise guru, and the endless travails of a ditzy dwarf into something staggering – and very funny.
#8 – Mil Mascaras: Resurrection
He’s a sensation South of the Border, one of many famed Luchadores who translated his square circle fame into motion picture popularity. But after his 1990 effort La Llave Mortal, wrestler Mil Mascaras stepped out of the celluloid limelight – until now. Created by scholar and fan Jeffrey Ulhmann as a tribute/reboot for the legendary actor/athlete, Resurrection brings back the villainous Aztec Mummy, a collection of Lucha libre cameos, and enough classic camp kitsch value to make even the sourest puss smile with guileless guilty pleasure. Anyone who wonders why these “characters” remain popular in the new millennium needs look no further than this fabulous throwback.
#7 – Hell’s Ground
Pakistan is in the news a lot lately – and most of the time, the reporting is rife with religious and political turmoil. With its constant struggles between fundamentalist ideology and sovereign state concerns, any unusual artistic expression (especially via an ’80s slasher film style) would seem like social insanity. So imagine the chutzpah of Internet café owner Omar Khan when he decided to make a blood and guts slice and dice. The Islamic backdrop is incredibly compelling, giving the teens something extra sinister to be afraid of. Sure, the gore is incredibly tame by Western standards, but the overall experience is unnerving.
#6 – Cyxork 7
With a wonderful cast perfectly in tune with his tirade, and a subtext that suggests the chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out aspects of celebrity, Cyxork 7 is quite unexpected. While Troma can treat us to movies that are entertaining and unusual, ‘thoughtful’ isn’t a word often used in connection with Lloyd Kaufman and company. This tale of a failing film franchise and the radical manner in which the cast and crew decide to breathe new life into it stands as something wicked and exceedingly inventive. A fabulous F-you to everything that makes Hollywood fraudulent – and phony – and fabulous.
#5 – Ils
While it may sound like gushing, one thing is crystal clear – Ils (Them) is one of the finest, more ferocious suspense films of the last ten years. It argues for the aptitude of the twosome behind the lens (David Moreau and Xavier Palud), as well as proving that their bitter Hollywood take on J-Horror’s The Eye was merely a fluke of paycheck cashing proportions. As a motion picture, it’s almost flawless. There is atmosphere to spare, and an attention to cinematic standards that’s hard to escape. We except buckets of blood and gratuity abounding in the post-modern genre. This is, instead, an effort worthy of Hitchcock himself.
#4 – Poison Sweethearts
With its exploitation derived framework and silly chauvinistic sheen, Poison Sweethearts truly marks the moment when Andy and Luke Campbell completely shed their homemade horror mantle and become real directors. This is not to say that their previous efforts represent lesser behind the lens mannerisms. But with Sweethearts, the boys branch out into good old fashioned grindhouse territory, and inside such a conceit they find a wonderfully wicked, homage heavy masterpiece. Indeed, the boys deliver enough recognizable references to the forgotten genre that Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino should be ashamed for the supposed take on the material. This is the real revisionist deal.
#3 – Inside
Wow! The French have really figured this out. From Haute Tension to Ils, France has forged a new wave of nastiness that has redefined the genres and styles of their continental countrymen. Inside is no different. Like watching the ultimate collaboration between Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento (with some nauseating originality thrown in for good measure) this sluice-filled sensation is one of the sickest, most gratifying gross out efforts in quite a while. Directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury have combined the visceral nature of childbirth with the mandates of the slasher film to forge a brilliant, ballsy bloodbath.
#2 – Storm
At its core, Storm is a time traveling take on personal pain and the memories we stridently store away told in a manner that is a great deal more spiritual, complicated, and open ended than its obvious Matrix inspiration. It may not have the Wachowski’s level of visual sophistication, but in its own unique way, this film by the Swedish directorial team of Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein is just as powerful and approachable. Storm is not just about a battle between good and evil – it’s a war fought on a landscape both cosmic and highly insular. Together, they make even the most mundane situations resonate with meaning.
#1 – [REC]
[REC] is ridiculously good. It’s a show-stopping terror trip through something that really shouldn’t work all that well. But thanks to the talent of directors Jaume Balagueró (the main man in charge) and Paco Plaza (our witness with the handycam), the visceral nature of the first person POV approach avoids any such issues. Like Cloverfield, this unique take of the genre (we aren’t quite sure what has infected the residents of this apartment complex) suggests a zombie stomp ala George Romero’s Diary of the Dead. But thanks to the single setting, the impressive acting, and a finale that will literally scare your socks off, this is a fine film that stands as a soon to be classic. Too bad Hollywood already hobbled its legacy by making the interesting if inconsequential Quarantine.