Tag Archives: Ti West

BLOG: YTC Episode XXXIV: Would You Watch This For A Scooby Snack?

Follow me on Twitter: @You_Total_Cult.

The YTC podcast can be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/

FINAL.2.2Trick ‘r Treat, Cabin In The Woods, and You’re Next are all horror films that have been well received critically, but that also took years to be released. Each one of these movies has sat on the distributor’s shelf for some time before being released. Why was this the case for each film? A combination of studio structural changes, advertising concerns and sheer bad luck by all accounts. In each instance the films did eventually see the lights of day, and each seems to have been received with much love since, at least judging by their general reviews across various media. Personally speaking I enjoyed all three, and waited with quiet excitement for each film to be released. Their strong reputations had permeated into my shell-like ears long before they were ever officially made available.

Like the three titles above, a fourth film had also caught my attention some time back. Saturday Morning Massacre was screened at a few festivals, gained some buzz and had an intriguing trailer released on the movie’s website.

 

 So when the movie did not seem to find a distributor and no release date was put forward in the trade magazines, the official website or the internet horror community as a whole then two thoughts popped into my head. Firstly that the film could just be bad and no studio wants to release it. Or secondly, that Saturday Morning Massacre could be the latest wonderful horror-comedy to sit on a shelf somewhere. Unreleased, unappreciated, gathering dust.

So imagine my joy when I discovered that this film I had kept an eye on- much like Trick ‘r Treat, Cabin In The Woods, and You’re Next- was finally released on DVD this year. Would this be the latest horror gem to escape from the coal mine that is Hollywood? Or would it be a lump of hard, black stuff instead? Well I bought the film to find out.

 

 As you may be able to tell from the above poster, the title has been changed. The film is now known as Saturday Morning Mystery. This is the films current title, which explains one of my problems in actually tracking the movie down. The original title of ‘Massacre’ in place of ‘Mystery’ was hardly dissimilar, although I do think it was a stronger title. ‘Massacre’ implies danger, death and mayhem. ‘Mystery’ could refer to misplaced car keys.

In fact, the full title of ‘Saturday Morning Massacre’ also implies a nice mix of a literal cartoon violence- something ideal for a horror comedy which the trailer presents the movie as. ‘Saturday Morning Mystery’ reads more like Elmo starring in a puppet-based detective story. Still, it’s of no real consequence. So the title has changed? Big whoop! The gentrification of one word is a small matter if it means that the film finally gets released.

bigdeal

A handy title card informs the viewer that it is 1994- which will handily explain away the lack of modern technology on display by the characters. An equally handy voice over informs the viewer just what is going on after a quick opening scene. Saturday Morning Mystery is a story about a group of meddling kids (and a dog) who drive around in a van and prove paranormal activity to be hoaxes. One of the male leads is a stoner, the other is a clean cut figure. One of the lead females is bookish, the other wears short dresses. Or as the Voiceover states

“There’s no such thing as ghosts or monsters or aliens. Only people with secrets to hide. My best friend Gwen and I co-founded the gang straight out of our Freshman year. She’s a great partner in business and even greater at fighting crime.

Chad’s our Sound Guy. He’s the only one who believes in the paranormal- and he also brings the van.

Before we found Floyd he repaired robots but now he’s our rockin’ gearhead! Hamlet’s his dog; Part-Great Dane, part-something else and all affection. He’s the muscle.

I’m Nancy, just a few months shy of getting my detective license and already years experienced in shady shit.”

(for the record, that quote is from memory- so it’s more of a paraphrasing. But hey, the fact I can recall that much amazes even me!)

 Clearly this is Scooby Doo brought to life. Nancy is a take on brain box Velma. Gwen is an alternate version of sex kitten Daphne. Chad is a replacement for ‘why-did-he-dress-as-a-sailor?’ Fred. Leaving Floyd and Hamlet as parodies of Scooby and Shaggy.

The Scooby gang V2.0
The Scooby gang V2.0

 

However unlike the actual official live action Scooby Doo movies, Saturday Morning Mystery presents the entire homage in a dim light. In this film there is zero doubt that Shaggy is a dope head. Annnnd he’s an acid head. Annnnd he likes to pick fights with Chad. Annnnd he used to be in a relationship with Nancy who he still lusts after.

‘Fred’ and ‘Daphne’ are not just a good looking couple who go off together for some private time as is implied in the cartoon. In Saturday Morning Massacre Chad and Gwen’s romance is a lot more pronounced. Which is probably for the best since they engage in a lot of sex on camera. You don’t get normally that sort of action in cartoons! Well, not unless you live in Japan.

 

This isn’t from any Anime,. It’s for Tamagothci, which I never played. I just thought it looked cool. Honest!!

Finally, Nancy is not a glasses wearing nerd here. She’s not so much a brave and curious ‘Velma’ as she is a pushy and manipulative Nancy. In fact it is Nancy’s quest for success and money that ultimately puts the gang in danger throughout the film. At one stage they are all set to escape potentially being murdered when Nancy convinces them all to go back into the danger zone to make their fame and fortune.

 

I’m actually reluctant to go into any further spoiler territory concerning Saturday Morning Massacre. Like any good Scooby Doo mystery, trying to work out what is happening is half of the fun of watching it. However what I am willing to confirm is that, sadly, Saturday Morning Massacre never rises to its own potential.

The core reason for this seems to be just how much of a brilliant the concept of a darker Scooby Gang in the ‘real world’ starts off with. However the movie abandons this very conceit quite early on. The most enjoyable aspects of the film are all of the adapted Scooby Doo motifs. The failures tend to shine through when Saturday Morning Mystery ignores its origins to become more ‘original’, which in an incredibly ironic fashion is in fact just hackneyed clichés available in any low budget horror film.

Emo Scooby
Emo Scooby

 

One such instance of the film’s success via parody is the opening of the movie. This reveals the gang uncovering a haunted house mystery that is actually the front for a kiddie-porn ring. This is a fun way of bringing together the idea of a Paranormal Gang with gritty reality, but all the more so in that their very solving of the case ruins a police investigation! This is the comedy of the ideal meeting the real, which should be the key to the entire experience.

Obviously in no way do I condone this sort of insult. But Polical Correctness sure is the bastion of retards sometimes.
Obviously in no way do I condone this sort of insult. But Polical Correctness sure is the bastion of retards sometimes.

A further traditional Scooby Doo element hinted at with a knowing wink is the notion of probable suspects. The bulk of the plot takes place in a haunted mansion. This gang take on the case of disproving the existence of anything supernatural in the building so the property can be sold more easily. When the Gang agree to take on this case they do not see who they are dealing with over the phone; a dubious looking businessman and a quiet janitor. Both of these are classic culprits from the animated adventures, so little references like this are great fun for audiences. Be it as one-note jokes or red herrings for later aspects of the narrative, the inclusion of infamous character tropes is a fun one.

And he would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for Wayne and Garth

A final example of a successful ‘Scooby-isms’ is that one part of the film features the Gang all chasing a suspect through an abandoned house. The suspect knows the house well and is able to run both figurative and literal rings around the gang. This leads to a clever parody of the ‘just missing each other in a hallway of doors’ chase scenes from many a Scooby Doo episode.

 Jinkies!
Jinkies!

Still, sadly enough for the aforementioned positive aspects of Saturday Morning Massacre, the negative ones take up a lot more of the run time- and at a short 82mionutes long, that is saying something.

Two of the major issues with the film are the look to it and the acting. Both are frankly terrible. The footage is so under lit that it can be hard to make things out on screen, whilst the actual production design looks like the film was made with a budget of $10.

(The story of my life!)
(The story of my life!)

The acting itself is pretty weak all round, although Johnny Mars as Floyd, aka Shaggy, is fun. Mars nails a performance that balances a nice level of loathing those around him with wanting to have simple pleasures (weed, sex, food) in his life. If you were stuck working with a cowardly-druggie like Shaggy, aka Floyd, he would be pretty selfish and easy to hate but he’d also be pretty easy to party with just as Mars nails him.

Johnny Mars- not just a pale dude in a scarf.

Sadly the rest of the actors play their characters as complete one-notes. This in itself would not be too bad if the notes remained clever parodies of their animated cousins. But instead there is not much beyond the superficial resemblances hinted at in the opening.

Gwen is nowhere near as vampish as a more interesting take on Daphne as a Sex kitten could be. Chad is not a big lunk like Fred could have been, but is instead a big whiner. Seeing how a jock handles real terror would be more fun than someone just moping around. Nancy is just a fool hardy woman pushing the rest on, where as a more arrogant version of Velma could be much more fun to follow. If Nancy appeared as someone that over-estimates her smarts with deadly results the film could be far more a more entertaining.

The fact that these core characters are all introduced in the opening Voice Over as fun parodies but the actual film deviates them into regularly assigned horror film roles. Soon they are all just victims and/or aggressors depending on whatever the scene calls for and they are all completely interchangeable.

"Real Rooby Rooby Roo?"
“Real Rooby Rooby Roo?”

Most short-changed is Hamlet. OK, he’s just a dog. But for the ‘all affectionate muscle’ introduced at the start, Hamlet is tied up to a pipe for most of the film and barely features at all.

I cannot imagine that this weakness of character development was missed by the screenwriters, since they go to the effort of bringing in a Sheriff character, Officer Lance. Lance has as much screen time as the gang. Played well by Paul Gordon, Officer Lance is presented just as blandly as the rest of the Scooby Gang characters. His presence is proof that variety is not the same as depth. Instead of adding an extra character in a one-note role, the film makers should have further developed the five fascinating ones already at hand.

Don’t Mess

The unfortunate truth is Saturday Morning Massacre fails when it tries to become its own film. Oddly, the more it sticks to imitating Scooby Doo then the better that it is. It seems strange to rebuke a film for being its own thing and not being enough of something that pre-exists, but then of course that is the point of the entire film. By becoming a completely generic Stalker/Haunted House type of horror film after the initial set-up, the movie becomes just like any other cheap horror film.

Saturday Morning Massacre is very much a case of a great idea, a good set up and a lacklustre payoff. This is one of those rare time that I long for a re-make. I imagine a Joe Lynch version of a ‘real’ Scooby Gang adventure would leak cartoonish-energy from every pore, just like he achieved in Wrong Turn 2. Or perhaps Adam Green’s ear for snarky dialogue and frustration shown in Frozen could be put to a much tighter version of the script. Or maybe Ti West’s knack for slow-burning suspense mixed with perky ghost hunters could bring the spooky elements to the forefront as he did with his superb film, The Inn Keepers.

I respect the actual film makers for coming up with a fun spin on Scooby Doo, and for getting the thing made. However the final product in this instance is perhaps proof that sometimes it is better to take your time and seek out help. Fools rush in, where as Shaggy and Scooby always take their time to seek out support…


Next time something fairly different. It’s a One Man Rap Battle!!!

Thanks for reading,

MJ

BLOG: YTC_Hollyweird: Episode IV: A New Moan

Follow me on Twitter: @You_Total_Cult.

In the short term, the YTC podcast can currently be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/

BLOG PIC

The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…

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Before I launch into this entry I’d just like to take a moment to dedicate this to my Granddad Ricky. Anybody whom has read the first of these blogs will know that I name checked him as an influence on my love of film. Well he sadly died a little unexpectedly a few hours ago. Thanks again, Granddad. x

 

 

——

 

Though to be honest, Angel was pants.

 

The last fortnight has seen the release of two Joss Whedon pictures, one as a co-writer is (The) Cabin In The Woods, and one as a co-writer/director is The Avengers (Assemble). Genre, dialogue and the casting of Chris Hemsworth aside these two pictures couldn’t be more different for two key reasons;

 

Firstly The Avengers is a highly budget film rushed to a deadline, fully supported and endorsed. However Cabin In The Woods has sat on a shelf for three years and survived primarily through word of mouth. Secondly, The Avengers is estimated to turn a huge profit and receive a follow-up movie. Cabin is on track to barely break even. I absolutely loved both films and one day dream the Avengers will take on the ______ from Cabin.

 

But love aside, the status of both films at the box office is a concern for me. After all, when a sure-fire hit does well and an attempt at a fresh idea barely survives but both are hailed equally within their respective fields, then you have to wonder what went wrong for Cabin. One potential reason I want to look at in regard to this is situation is online piracy.

 

I wish this was on my keyboard 🙁

 

Piracy is a tough subject to discuss. I’d be lying if I said that I had never downloaded anything illegally. But as I have grown to the ripe old age of 30, I’ve found myself far less willing to do so. In fact, I don’t even remember the last time that I did. When I was a little younger it was easier to justify doing it, but with ever increasing maturity- and I say maturity in a relative sense, since I have a Freddy Krueger tattoo on my leg and a Lego Werewolf figure beside me- has made me re-address things.

 

I’ve just known too many friends who were musicians or artists or film makers struggle to produce things without incurring losses, or worse having people steal their ideas. Does this make me a moral paragon, perhaps even some form of Guardian Angel for the struggling artist? Nope. I sometimes get free tickets to film screenings. Hell, I take leftover newspapers from the canteen at work! What can I say, I love a bit of Dear Deidree…. But no. This decision to avoid downloading does not make me particularly ‘good’. Instead what this makes me is just somebody who has slowly, but actively, chosen to help fund niche projects rather than just take from them.

 

So if it’s not a black and white issue, can we at least discuss the grey areas of downloading independent films? Here are some of the main things that come up when discussing this topic and how I see them.

 

 

SOMETHING THAT I WOULDN’T NORMALLY PAY TO SEE;

This is the argument that it is OK to download a film if the downloader was never initially interested enough to pay to see that film. From the downloader’s perspective, regardless of how enjoyable the film may or may not be, the film makers should not care that the film was watched for free since the downloader was never their target audience.

 

My problem with this theory is simple; how do you know what films are ‘worthy’ of actually paying to see before you see it?

 

At some stage I didn’t know that I’d like pickled eggs until I bought one. I’ve bought a hell of a lot more since. I didn’t just walk into a chippie, pick an egg out of a jar, bite it and then decide it was in fact good, but since I didn’t know that beforehand I could just walk out without paying.

 

Which leads to…..

 

 

 

WORD OF MOUTH

Taking the above example, perhaps a downloader watches something and ends up raving about how good it is to other people. Surely this positive act counters the negative act? Hmmmmmmm…. no.

 

Effectively downloading a film and watching it, even if the downloader ends up telling other people it is great, is making the statement that the downloader’s own voice supersedes that of the people who made the product.

 

They made it, they should decide if you can sample it for free, experience it fully for free or pay the same as everybody else.

 

 

Is it possible that the positive word of mouth from an individual downloader can cause a greater swell in profits? Sure. But if it was generally the case, the best regarded film a would be the most successful. Instead the most successful are mostly tripe. It simply is not your decision to say whether your positive opinion is worth more than the income raised by legal means.

 

 

 

THE MUSIC PRINCIPLE:

“Downloading music hasn’t killed the bands, just the music industry. The same will apply with films”.

Chances are people who use this have never been in a band…. And in the sake of honesty I will say that I never have either. But the fact even I can see this is a flawed argument shows just how dumb it is.

 

Bands have been able to survive beyond the recording industry, but guess what; it’s a different industry. Bands can get paid to perform live. They can have t-shirt sales. Even these are long shots for most bands given they have to self-fund their own tours and merchandise but at least it is possible to survive via slowly building up a loyal fan base. Yet films work the opposite way.

 

It is completely irrelevant if you love a film maker if you don’t support their product. For each film that is made they need to cover their costs to attract investors for the next project. Indie film makers will not get the funding to make any more films if you do not support them. You can’t pay to see the director ‘shoot a scene live’ or get a tour shirt for the latest Bela Torr film.

 

It is absolutely true that copying tapes did not kill the music scene. It gave audiences more incentive to fund bands via other means. Sadly films do not have other means beyond being paid to watch them in some format or other.

 

 

CINEMA’S SUCK

Brighton Marina on a Friday night

 

This is actually hard to argue against in some ways. They sure do cost a lot these days for the privilege of being served by staff who look bored whilst other patrons play on phones and the seats about as comfortable on the knees as brick jammed in your joint. Shocker; Nobody likes to pay for a poor experience! But when you download, you’re getting that anyway. I’m not going to imply that all downloads are poor quality or camcorder jobs. Many are excellent rips from digital transfers. But the ‘quality’ in question is the size of the screen and the impact of the surround sound.

 

It is not good films in bad cinemas that put us off cinemas. A good film makes you feel like it was worth the battle. It makes you appreciate the effort you put into seeing it in its optimum form. It is bad films in over-priced cinemas that disappoint so massively. But with this logic none of us would ever move on from any bad experience. We’d never get back on the horse, nor drink after a hangover nor bother voting in elections. In life you balance good experiences with the bad ones to dictate your future experiences. Cinema trips are no exception.

 

 

THE PUNK PRINCIPLE:

 

Business…..Big Business!

Big Business- the band, not the concept. Go see them.

 

It is giant corporate entities that fund films or at the very least distributes them. So you are only ripping off ‘the man’ not the artists who get paid flat rates.

 

Yeah, yeah. Well that all depends on the contracts which none of us are privy to. Some film makers rely on flat fees, some rely on profit shares. So there cannot be an assumption that the film maker is unaffected with something that they may have sunk their life-savings into.

 

None of this is to mention that indie films are made independently. The clue is in the name. They are then distributed by major studios on very rare occasions. This does not mean anything more than the costs will be covered for years and years of personal labour.

 

 

Now in full honesty, some film makers actually do support this idea of giving something back to audiences. A friend was recently at a Kevin Smith Q & A. Apparently ol’ Silent Bob himself said he doesn’t mind his films being shared by people whom have bought his other stuff in the past. So in all fairness maybe these are exceptions to the rule- so long as you have heard the film maker say it’s fine and you’re a long term financial supporter of said film maker. Unfortunately common sense tells me that is rarely the case.

 

 

Oh, and speaking of the big business mode, how about merchandising?

 

 

“Merchandising, merchandising, merchandising!”

 

If we stick purely with this example of The Avengers and Cabin In The Woods, both films will be pirated. But The Avengers has a toy line, a video game etc. as a secondary source of income. Perhaps a downloader will rip a film for free and intend to give something back via merchandising.

It is very doubtful that this will work to the film makers advantage. Since Star Wars’ merchandise rights were given to George Lucas, studios have gripped onto them tightly. The writers and designers will not see a cut of the merchandise. Earlier I mentioned that bands can sell T-Shirts to help them survive (and even bands won’t see much return in this way), but film makers simply will not get a cut of the merchandise sales.

 

 

ROBIN HOOD

Something I was formerly guilty of; Robin Hood syndrome.

 

The idea that it’s OK to download the big boys but not the little ones. Well perhaps there is some truth to that. Avatar is both the most pirated film of all time and also the biggest box office hit. But Avatar was always a massive corporate entity. Indie films are not. If you steal them you steal from artists and not from artisans.

Besides which, many lower-level employees on film sets are not the fat cats. A carpenter or an electrician still needs to get paid. On indie films they will work for free or for scale. They need to charge a full rate from their bigger jobs on blockbuster sets. Who is a downloader to even begin to erode that job opportunity from a hard working crafts person? Just because downloading blockbusters is ‘less’ wrong than downloading indie films, it does not mean that it is right or that it will not affect everyday people trying to feed their families.

 

 

SO…….

 

 

I don’t expect this article to change how people behave or the choices they make. As I said at the beginning of this piece, I am no angel. It is not a black and white issue. I was given a free cinema ticket so an Indie film screening just today. My personal justification is that it was offered to me. I had the money on me and I would have willingly pay for a ticket. As it happens I did not due to a friend being nice. I consider this to be different to actively seeking out illegal means of stealing films, but perhaps you disagree.

 

All we can do is make choices we believe to be acceptable an try to maintain them the majority of the time.

 

I suppose my real is summary is that if you are going to download any films, indie films in particular, then at least acknowledge what you are doing. As Ian MacKaye of the ‘most excellent’ band Fugazi once said in regards to punk shows; it is not always about how much money you spend but rather where that money goes.

If you are going to skim from artists then you have to accept the consequences- and I don’t mean a bobby knocking on your door. I mean a lack of future art.

 

 

Incidently, for a slightly different take on this topic please read Ti West’s piece here….. then go buy The House of The Devil. It’s intensely brilliant and can be found here.

 

 

If you agree or disagree with me then please leave comments. I’d rather this was discussed. I don’t have all the answers, I just have an opinion

 

Thanks for reading,

MJ