Archive for August, 2009

August 15th, 2009
Michael Varrati

happycloud

In Waynesburg, Pennsylvania (a little south of that other burgh) exists one of the indie film community’s best kept secrets in the form of Happy Cloud Pictures, a production company that has set out to prove that just because film is low budget does not mean it has to also be low quality. Founded and maintained by the dynamically creative husband-wife duo of Mike Watt and Amy Lynn Best amylynnbestand their mutual friend Bill Homan, Happy Cloud Pictures has produced a handful of movies that have screened across the tri-state area. Since they were picked up for national distribution both at festivals and on DVD, they have developed a small but growing fan base, and considering the quality of work they do, quite justly.

While the majority of the work thus far the Happy Cloud team has produced falls under the horror genre, the ingenuity and creative process that goes into each of their films often prevents them from being lumped with the usual “splat” style scary movie. This owes much to the writing of Mike Watt, who splits most of the creative duties with Amy Lynn Best. Watt’s the writer, she’s the actress—but they both produce and direct, and have shown proficiency for both. Certainly, there is no lack of skill on each movie set. But I digress; we were discussing Watt’s writing, and really, this is truly the foundation of the merits each film Happy Cloud Pictures has produced. The scripts are often acerbic, biting, and extremely clever, tackling the tropes of the genre and turning them on their heads. This is writing by someone who knows that horror has become too usual, and understands that, sometimes, the tongue-in-cheek is all we have left to provide a good scare. Watt often does exactly that: scare us while we are chuckling.

direction-copyIt’s no small wonder that Watt is skilled with words. In addition to his film career, he has served as the editor and driving force of the nationally published film magazine Sirens of Cinema and has written two books of his own, the first being the novelization of Happy Cloud’s first movie, The Resurrection Game, and the other being his recent collection of short stories, Phobophobia. Both highlight his ability to craft a story in the most traditional sense—and both are available for purchase at http://www.happycloudpictures.com.

The aforementioned zombie survival piece, The Resurrection Game, was written and directed by Watt and starred Best. Combining elements of sci-fi, horror, and black comedy, Resurrection set the pace for the films to come, each building upon the last’s unconventional approach to horror genre staples, now Watt’s calling card. What followed were forays into such horror topics as werewolves (2002’s short Weregrrl), vampires (2007’s A Feast of Flesh), and even a slasher movie satire (2003’s Severe Injuries, which also marked Amy Lynn Best’s directorial debut, and remains one of this writer’s personal favorites of the Happy Cloud back catalog). Each film carries its own unique stamp and merits its own viewing.

Given enough time, I would be inclined to go film by film and provide commentary for you, dear reader and Happy Cloud novice, but in the essence of brevity, I’d like to take the last few bits of my Open Thread space to highlight Happy Cloud’s most recent filmic endeavor, Splatter Movie: The Director’s Cut.

I have no qualms admitting I watched Splatter Movie three times. Once when it was being screened at the Cinema Wasteland Horror & Exploitation movie weekend in Cleveland, and twice when I had the screener in hand for this very article. It’s a compulsive little watch, and what it lacks in big Hollywood budget, it certainly makes up for in sheer creative willpower. Splatter Movie: The Director’s Cut can be described as one of the few meta-filmic films on the market.

What’s that mean, exactly?

Well, I’ll explain as best I can—though I feel it’s one of those movies that is best experienced personally, in the 90 minutes the audience is given. Splatter Movie takes place on the set of a movie, wherein a documentary crew is filming a “making of” documentary about a slasher flick being directed by a character played by Amy Lynn Best. Meanwhile, we as the audience know that there is an actual slasher stalking the film’s set and killing members of the cast and crew, thus ensuring actual scares and menace to those of us viewing at home. It seems very straightforward, but this is actually where it gets tricky. As the film wears on, we are viewing the film through the oscillating camera of the documentary, the film within a film’s cameras, and the audience’s eye (for lack of a better term.)

It becomes a delicate affair. How do we know when we are seeing the documentary? How do we know when we are seeing the truth? How do we know if the kill we just witnessed was in the movie that is being made or the movie we are watching? It seems like it would be confusing (and it can be), but Splatter Movie is never frustrating, and that is key to its success. I loved this movie because it was a challenge. It took on the notion of how reliant we as the audience can be on the idea of what a movie is supposed to be, and how we expect the camera to feed us what we expect to know. To me, Splatter Movie was exciting because it was fresh and original, and I don’t really get that all too often at the multiplex these days.

splattermovie

Of course, fans of traditional genre horror will like it too (At least I think so.) as it has just enough scares to keep you on your toes—not to mention appearances by some genre favorites, such as Debbie Rochon (a B-movie queen, and notable for her performances in several Troma movies) and Tom Sullivan (famed art director of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, and one of the most pleasing performers in the film).

Essentially, I highly recommend this film, but even more so I recommend keeping your eyes on Happy Cloud Pictures, as their back catalog is fun, and if this most recent outing is any indication, they just keep getting better. In fact, their next feature, The Demon Divas of Damnation Lanes (a horror comedy set in a bowling lane wherein strikes are not the only shenanigans), is due out later this year and allegedly they are already working on their first non-horror film to follow that, pretty much indicating that when all is said and done, this Happy Cloud also has something of a silver lining.



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