Monday, October 27, 2008

The Creek, Trailer Park of Terror, And Independent Horror Movies

Horror, it has been so commercialized that I sometimes wonder if we as members of the viewing community have forgotten about the roots and fun that the “bad” horror movies, also known as the “B” or Independent movie can bring. Thankfully with the recent influx of Independent film makers and direct to DVD releases we have an abundance of new, fun, “bad” movies.

Now the first mistake one can make is to assume that a “B” feature, direct to DVD release, “bad” or Independent film can’t be good, fun, and flat out enjoyable. The truth is, in the terms mentioned, with the new technology available a “B” feature don’t have to be a “B” quality, a direct to DVD release can be as good as a theatrical release, and a “bad” movie can fit the contemporary definition of bad by being really good.

During the month of October I always try to engross myself in some horror. I have to admit, even at the blasting of many Christians, I love this genera. I happen to believe that no genera of film address real spirituality as eloquently as does horror. I try to watch at least 31 horror movies during the month, not to focus on Satan, but to focus on how good overcomes evil and God reigns supreme. This month, I have watched more than my fair share of independent, “B,” “bad” (really good) movies. In this article I want to focus on two of those. The Creek an independent direct to DVD written, directed, edited and produced by Erik Soullaird, and the “B” direct to DVD release of Trailer Park of Terror featuring among others Trace Adkins. While I want to focus on each of these two movies, I will start with Trailer Park of Terror.

Trailer Park of Terror frankly reminded me of Dawn of the Dead and a comedic version of Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses. This movie is targeted towards the audience who likes a contemporary horror, mixed in with some gore, a good soundtrack, and some comedic moments. In those departments it delivers on all counts.

While some will have issue with these concepts, this movie addresses spirituality right off the bat. It seems as if a group of High School problem students is being taken by a good Reverend to a camp to work on some of their behavior issues. Along the way, the Reverend looses his temper, ends up wrecking the van in a thunderstorm, but thankfully there is a trailer park nearby where the kiddies, albeit, a little crude kiddies in their late teens, can get out of the storm they are in.

Unfortunately, the Reverend and kiddies don’t realize the seemingly abandoned trailer park is run by a sexy, voluptuous young lady who in reality is a zombie who had some years earlier made a deal with the devil. With that being the case, how much more could the devil and zombies that are hiding in the town enjoy the opportunity to cause the young derelicts, and Preacher to fall into sin?

If seeing a movie like this you likely aren’t looking for a Citizen Kane performance. You are looking for a little gore mixed in with some humor and thrills, and in that regard this one delivers. There are a couple of things I will mention to give an indication of how fun this movie is. One of the classic zombies in zombie films appears in Trailer Park of Terror. My personal favorite was Roach, a guitar playing, drug addicted individual prior to becoming a zombie, and thankfully, still a guitar playing, rough singing, drug addicted individual after he becomes a zombie. I don’t know if there has ever been a zombie like this before, but to my recollection he is the first. Not only that though, but poor ol’ Roach when accidentally getting blown up by a land mine, has dear zombie friends who find another benefit of duck tape in putting a zombie back together again.

This movie obviously addresses spiritual themes, from Pastor Lewis who is weak in his own areas, to The Man, (Trace Adkins) who takes on the role of Satan in having others sell their souls for temporary gain, and long term damnation. Even when a decent, seeking a better life character sells their soul to the devil, there is hell to pay. It would make one wonder of the real benefit of selling out to Satan. As Trailer Park Terror shows, there is no real benefit to being among the living dead.

While Trailer Park Terror is built in part on effects, gore, and a much higher budget, The Creek is a ghost story built on character development and story. Eric Soulliard had a much smaller budget to work with. In fact, he takes on the role of editing, directing, writing, producing, and acting alongside his wife Nancy Soulliard.

This coming of age ghost story has a few unique twists that keeps the interest of the viewer and has them guessing as to what is going on until the final moments of the film. While I would have liked to have had better lighting for this film, I was actually pleased with the story.

One of the things about The Creek is that the making of the movie, the love and desire to make the movie is as impressive in many ways as the movie. The Creek is in many ways what Independent film is really all about. It is about the love of film and the desire to birth and see film come about. While some may watch a film like The Creek and be disappointed, I remind those individuals, to understand the root of horror, understand the intent of what the genera is all about. It is often times, especially for young film makers like Soulliard a process of going from one film to another, hopefully breaking even if not making a profit to go to the next film and make the next one better. It is if you will a sort of working resume. We have seen that type of resume take place with other film makers, I suspect a few years from now we will know more about one Erik Soulliard.

There are some good moments in The Creek. I liked the ghost techniques addressed and the movie does a good job at addressing evil. While one may think the evil comes from the dead, often the real evil that exists exists among the living. We can become so preoccupied with the dead that we refuse to see the evil that is around us. We see this played out really well in The Creek. We see this often times in the real world, especially among certain religious groups who presuppose that The Devil is responsible for all evil, while all the while ignoring that some of us bring about our own evil.

While The Creek isn’t a top of the line horror movie, it is a pretty good Independent film. It is a film that those involved with should be proud of as it doesn’t depend on gross gore, superficial special effects, to tell the story. It depends on story to tell the story, and for many horror purist, this is something we appreciate. It doesn’t take itself so seriously that we as the viewer aren’t allowed to have fun, and that is one of the fun things about horror that we often forget about.

Regarding The Creek, I have to admit, I watched the film twice, the first time I was tired, actually at 3:00 AM, and was barely able to stay awake. I watched it again a few nights later and really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the story and character development. While the acting was not Oscar noteworthy, there were good performances and Soulliard showed some promise in directorial skills as he was able to do a good job with casting to get what he wanted out of the characters. Soulliard knows this is an Independent film and a passion of love.

Both of these films are doing well on the Independent Film Circuit. They are both deservedly getting good reviews from horror publications, both print and other media. I think they deserve that, they deserve an audience and one of the things they have done is make it easy to access their film, whether purchasing or renting. From NetFlix to Blockbuster and Best Buy, these film makers have taken their love for film, and made it available to those of us who love this style of film, whether based on gore, or based on story, there is something for all of us.

Unfortunately, and to some extent understandably so, there will be many who never see an Independent Film, or either of these movies. I understand for those having issues with gore, Trailer Park of Terror is certainly understandable. On the other hand, The Creek could have easily had a pg or pg-13 rating. Those things don’t bother me, there is a theme of evil that is addressed and is worth seeing, discussing, and supporting.

Leaving the typical review numbering system behind I am going to give some love to both films, here goes.

If loving gore, comedy, and good music, check out Trailer Park of Terror! While the sinners have their way for most of the movie, it is amazing at what God can do for good through the most unlikely of people. A Terrific, Terrible Bloody Good Time!

If story is your forte, you will appreciate The Creek. One of the best Ghost Stories to come about in a long time, thankfully real evil is addressed in a real way. We don’t always have to be afraid of the things that go bump in the night; sometimes it is the things that go bump in the day. The Creek is well worth seeing, and well worth discussing as to the themes addressed.

In conclusion, I had the opportunity to throw some questions at Erik Soulliard about the making of The Creek and Independent film making in general.

While the interview with the Writer, Director, Editor, Star of The Creek Follows, make sure to check out the following two videos. Just click on the video to watch, and if the video don't appear, just click on the provided link.

Trailer Park of Terror Movie Trailer

A Closer Look at Trailer Park of Terror

The Creek Trailer

Interview Follows:

Mike: What are some of the difficulties of producing and putting out an indie horror film?

Erik: This is a loaded question. Part of me wants to say, "What part isn't difficult." It's tough when you're ultra low budget because you literally beg, borrow, and steal when it comes to the equipment you need, the amount of crew you have, and the talent you acquire. We were very lucky and got some great deals on our lighting kit from WM Productions in Lancaster and Location Lighting in Orland, Pa. I found that in order to maximize the money we had I specifically took advantage of anything that would save us money. This sounds like an obvious choice but in reality it's limiting.

The Creek was written specifically for locations we knew we could get for free. Some of the characters were written for talent we knew we had at our disposal. All these things can be restrictive.

Mike: From a director’s perspective, how do you get the talent out of the actors you do?

Erik: I found that casting was critical. If you choose well in casting then the job of directing becomes infinitely easier. We had a great cast and a great location. People don’t tend to need a lot of coaxing to be scared when it’s 2am in the woods at a creepy cabin. My personal technique in directing is very collaborative. I would let the actors show me what they brought to the table first. At that point I would work with them to tweak where they were at to where I wanted them to be. Sometimes they would do something that wasn’t what I had in mind but it worked. As an actor myself I feel as though you should never underestimate a good actor’s instincts. They can completely surprise.

Mike: It seems as if most horror addresses moments where there is spiritual themes, The Creek is no different as we see things like crosses, prayer and so forth. Why is that?

Erik: I think spirituality is just a universal human experience, especially when you’re dealing with death. A lot of brave men become very religious when faced with death. So horror lends itself to spirituality much more than any other genre.

Mike: What are the hopes for the future?

Erik: The Creek is an ultra low budget movie that we essentially made as our calling card. I am ecstatic that we’ve gotten it out there to major retail outlets so hopefully we’ll reach the right people. Our next film 12 Bells is a big step up and we hope to find backing so that we can do the film justice.

Mike: The Creek has been doing pretty well on the Indie Circuit regarding film festivals and all, why do you think that is?

Erik: We took a lot of time in post production to give The Creek a polished of look as possible. We did color correction, ADR, cleaned the sound, and all the little things that a lot of independent film’s dismiss. I think this helped us a lot. I also think The Creek’s story was a benefit. Most films on this level really don’t attempt to do a strong story. The Creek is dialogue driven and not just a slasher film. I think that hurt us with some horror festivals but I also think it broadened the appeal of the movie to non-horror audiences.

Mike: What was the biggest challenge with The Creek?

Erik: The budget or lack thereof was definitely the biggest challenge. A movie takes a lot of people and we were lucky enough to find some very talented individuals for cast and crew. However, we definitely could have used quite a few more but the money just wasn’t there. Everyone did an amazing job filling the gaps we had in crew but I think all would agree that life would have been much easier with those few key positions filled.

Mike: You look like you have pretty good distribution for the film, how did you come about that?

Erik: Distribution was a long process. We were offered multiple deals but after researching some of the early offers we realized that those companies were not very filmmaker friendly. After sending out a lot of screeners we found our current distributor Indie-Pictures. They are a great company that supports independent filmmakers.

Mike: What should fans of horror expect here that they won't get in another horror film, in other words, how is The Creek Different.

Erik: The Creek is different from other horror films of its budget because it is dialogue driven. Don’t get me wrong, we have a good amount of killings and blood but that’s not what drives the film.

Mike: You wear various hats, from writer, to director and editor, what was it like getting everything done?

Erik: In a word, tiring. Those three jobs are actually pretty separate because you write the script and then you direct the film and then you cut the movie. They weren’t really the issue as much as the producing and marketing. Marketing starts early with the website and that overlaps the post production. Functioning as the producer on set while directing was also not a fun experience. It’s tough to set up a shot with the DP when people are asking you where the milk is and if we have paper towels. Despite all that the shoot went rather smooth. I know the shoot was going to be a mad dash to the finish so I tried to have as many things organized and ready going into it. This allowed narrow down the number of distractions that came up. Needless to say the next film WILL have a line producer to find out what happened to the milk.

I did enjoy being able to write, direct, and cut the movie. There’s a level of creative control there that you usually wouldn’t get on most big budget films. Although, it also puts everything squarely on my shoulders. I frequently tell people that the down side to it is that I have no one to blame. The buck basically stops here.

Mike: Special effects seem to always be a large expense of Horror, yet you seem to have been able to get by on limited dollars, what were your thoughts in this during the filming process?

Erik: We knew from the outset that we did not want a solid ghost. You can do amazing things with good make-up and Final Cut Pro. We also wanted it to look a little more polished so before shooting we did test shooting. Then we went to Michael George and Justin Harrell and had them show us what they could do with the footage. This allowed us to plan the plate shots needed and know what we could and couldn’t do within our tiny budget.

Mike: Not really a question, but anything you really want to say, go ahead and say it; I will do my best to get it in the review.

Erik: Thanks for the story! The Creek has gotten out there due to persistence and grass roots support from horror fans and review sites. It’s truly amazing to finally have the film come out. Hopefully people enjoy the film despite the budget limitations. I’ve found that most people usually go in with low expectations and then we surprise them. Please note I said “most” and not “all”. Seriously, to have such a small film actually reach the mainstream retail market is amazing. We are very excited and appreciative of everyone who has supported this film.

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