The definition of an independent film used to be simple and succinct: anything made outside the massive maw of the studio system was considered an excellent example of autonomous work; usually crafted by artists with no desire to kowtow to standard conventions. No matter how good or bad the result was, just beating Tinsel Town at its own charade was recognition enough. But since the invention (and now widespread availability of) the video camera, the notion of what actually accounts for outsider cinema is changing. At one point in time, Pulp Fiction was the well-established benchmark for inventive independent film. Then The Blair Witch Project came along and zapped that definition all to Burkittsville and back. With the advent of DVD, we've seen the self-produced motion picture take on an even more decidedly down home approach. Recreational auteurs with visions of Sundance in their head borrow Dad's camcorder and with a group of friends, create their own private universe of film. They infuse their follies with personal bias and unique obsessions. They imitate their favorite genres with style checking exactitude and fanboy flattery. And they usually never confuse what they are doing with art. Instead, they are making the kind of movies they would like to see, the sort of Friday night home alone stoned for take out pizza pie pass the evening ennui made for video VHS rental repast. Midnight Skater, from the unsane in the membrane crew over at Speed Freak Productions, is such a hilarious, heartfelt homework project. This group, responsible for such other wild and random acts of movie making, such as Splatter Rampage Wrestling and Demon Summer, really know how to handle a horror homage. And they make you laugh all the way to the blood bank.
The kids on the campus of Kent State University (actually, the college goes unnamed in the movie, but the references are numerous) are in an uproar. A serial killer is on the loose, carving up co-eds with psychotic abandon. A drug named "Z" is rapidly addicting the entire student body. And worse, an anonymous skate rat is graffito tagging the school each evening around the witching hour. The Campus Crusaders, a loose amalgamation of matriculation misfits, wants to stop the sidewalk surfer in his spray-painting tracks. As for the corpses and pharmaceuticals? Well, one has to have priorities. So as the raving maniac continues to slice and dice his way across the Quad, the posse of pusses tries to get a grip on this X-treme extrovert. But just like your typical four years in undergraduate studies, something comes up to confuse the whole issue. Zombies. Yep, that's right, the living dead, the walking cannibal corpse, the closest thing to Clay Aiken outside of American Idol. These reanimated adversaries, made monster mental by all those "Z" drugs they were taking, now want to do a little intercollegiate intestinal chomping. And it's up to our Camp Cruisers to avoid the hordes while confronting the killer and stopping the skater, all in one non-alcohol fueled night.
Midnight Skater is a classic example of a "look beyond" film. If you can "look beyond" the amateur antics, unprofessional production values and overall neophyte nonsense exploding all around you and simply merge with this movie's mindset, you'll really enjoy yourself. Unfortunately, getting in the same Spock state of brain with the insane and inventive no-budget filmmakers here may require Ritalin, a gross of sugary juice boxes and about a hundred trips to the video store (or at least a couple readings of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film). This is horror and hilarity as channeled through a TV eye mentality, a narrative knowledge derived almost exclusively from issues of Fangoria and untold reams of fan fiction. Brothers (and co-writers/ directors/actors) Andy and Luke Campbell are fervent about their fear factors and they are not afraid to share this sinister urge with the rest of the world. But they also know that this is all a big joke, a sincere swipe at all the retarded, retread fright films they had to suffer through as true aficionados of scares. So they pepper their film with unforgettable characters, great gore set pieces and enough linear lightening to keep the whole mess moving forward. Sometimes, they reach beyond the scope of their ability and come back with a hand full of failure. But more times than not, they create a unusual and unique motion picture experience, one that hints at being a believable, if bargain basement slice of slasher while always showing how the tongue is planted firmly in ass cheek.
One does have to admit that this pack of pretenders gets a lot of their movie magic right. Aside from the wildly varying performances and the $200 budget construction values, the visual force of this film far surpasses that of some of its more proclaimed professional brethren. Director Luke Campbell has a knack for composition and can really piece a death scene together to impact its outrageousness. This is not some incoherent, tossed together series of scenes that hopes to somehow magically transform into a motion picture by sheer force of will or osmosis. Like other recent terror tickles, Monsturd and Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker, this is a film forged in fun and friendship, littered with toilet and tinkle humor and resulting in a joyful noise that resonates off the screen to stimulate your pleasure centers. While it's true that this movie is about as scary as a poorly told ghost story and the gore is so gloriously over the top that it's more goofy than gruesome, Campbell and the gang have a knack that makes the movie seem real and the scenes appear actual. We never feel a sense that events or individuals are forced or fake. They are trying to sell you on this little home made movie just as badly as we want it all to work. And like a special case of synchronicity (or perhaps a case of corporeal kismet) the good natured vibes emanating from the cast and crew are met by your return sensations of satisfaction to create an ultimately endearing good will for what some would consider some dumb student static.
Midnight Skater understands how to keep the macabre mavens satisfied. And they do it with almost every aspect of their film. Take the characters, or specifically, the trio of Andy Campbell as the total nerd Danny, Stacey Silvers as a behemoth drug dealer and Erza Haidet as the mincing, magnetic Alvin. While Cory Maidens can't decide if his serial killer character is a joke, a jerk or a tic-filled drunken menace and the rest of the Campus Crusaders come off as far too disaffected youth, Campbell, Silvers and Haidet completely seal and steal the show. Campbell turns Danny into that complete and utter tool that everyone has run into at some point in their life, the confused about their social and sexual orientation sci-fi farthead who wants to be cool but can't figure out how. Then there is Silver's massive dope seller, a man who is resplendent in both his girth and his presence. Silver is a big guy (a really, really BIG guy) but his weight never interferes with his complete badass personality. He is a truly menacing presence in the film and his final transformation into a flesh-eating fiend gives the atmosphere the right amount of gravitas. Then there is Erza Haidet, gender bending his way through an outrageous pageboy haircut, an extreme set of glasses and a questionable speaking voice to turn Alvin into the kind of creepy coward you'd immediately beat up the minute you saw him, except you really wouldn't want to touch him at all. Either dancing alone in his bedrooms, too tight of Underoos turning him castrati or drooling like a dog over Pokemon hentai (God help us all if something like that really exists), he's a zit-faced know-it-all whose self righteous nebbishing makes him hateable and hilarious at the same time. Imagine a gayer Reggie Mantle with hygiene issues and you've got Alvin in all his fey fabulousness.
But even the most hilarious of components can croak under the weight of ineptitude. Thankfully, the Campbells know what they are doing. They've watched enough made on the cheap crap to inherently understand what will fly and what won't. Part of the fun of this film is the sensational shoestring nature of the elements. You have to relish the tomato soup and spaghetti sauce sanguinity. The zombies resemble depressed clowns with too much greasepaint at their disposal. Basic chemistry experiments pass for pus. But every once in a while, a brain is splattered or a torso erupts in a torrent of blood and a smile creeps across your face. And you get it as well. You are among fellow flesh fiends and they appreciate how much fun a monster movie can be. What makes Midnight Skater such an enigmatic piece of enjoyment is the principle that, at its core, the film is just a bunch of friends, all out to share and experience the joy of creating. They are striving to amuse themselves and each other (and hopefully, anyone interested in watching) and are having a blast doing so. Their goal is not to create some private joke jack assing to premiere at an all night keg party. This is an honest attempt at a real endeavor of entertainment; to see how far imagination and innovation will take you when money and support are fleeting. Had this movie been made by a bunch of film school graduates with an AFI grant and a couple dozen maxed out Visa cards, the results would be worthy of outright ridicule. But Luke and Andy Campbell and the gang over at Speed Freak deserve a great deal of credit. They manage to make $200 look like $20000 and create something enjoyable and energetic. And that's more than can be said for a lot of poseur pretenders to the theatrical throne.
Oh boy. Have we got problems here. Taking into consideration that the film was shot on a borrowed camera with no additional lighting and under less than specialized conditions, what we see in the 1.33:1 full screen image is amazingly good. But it is so far from perfect that to consider it anything other than a very clear VHS dub is being foolish. There are massive grain and compression defects. The night scenes are littered with the telltale gray pixels. Sometimes, the illumination lets the movie down and actors or scenes are drowning in darkness. It is still very watchable, but it is far from a fantastic, pristine presentation.
Aside from film, Speed Freak Productions are also heavily into punk and hardcore music. And it appears all over the soundtrack to this movie. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (as an ex-punk from the Sex Pistols/Clash days, any dissonance is good dissonance) to allow the sound to overmodulate and completely obscure out the other aural issues is really slapdash. This mixing flaw makes parts of the movie difficult to listen to, if only because you have to turn down your volume to save your speakers. So don't expect the Dolby Digital Stereo to blow you away, just your woofers and tweeters.
After the two previous elemental missteps, the gang at Speed Freak (and Tempe Video who is distributing this title) gives Midnight Skater some fantastic bonus content. The first stellar entry is the group commentary. Featuring almost every cast member in the film and handled in a kind of party hearty atmosphere (the revealing sprits of opening beer cans give away the mood of the narrative) this alternative audio track is great. Able to recognize (and riff on) their flaws as well as explain some of their more memorable moments, this group effort is entertaining and enlightening. Cory Meadows explains that the mistakes in his performance as the killer come from the fact he was really drunk most of the time. Andy explains how hard it was to get certain shots when both he and his director brother were in the frame. The suspiciously low tripod (which captures everything from a "looking upward" perspective) is blamed for a lot of production problems and the nauseating taste of moldy Ragu is explained in sickening detail. Again, Erza stands out as he makes outrageous comments, cuts up on others in the cast, and gives his cinematic alter ego "Alvin" a chance to speak for himself.
Just as good is the deleted scenes material, with introductions by Andy, Cory and Stacey Silvers. These guys don't mince words. They tell you that the reason these scenes failed to make the film was that they sucked donkey balls, big time. And they are right. Nothing is funnier than seeing an already amateur production go completely in the toilet, and some of the excised lines and edited scenes really are atrocious. Yet the self-deprecating attitude toward this material makes the intros a hilarious must see, even if the deleted material is mindless. Add in some trailers for other Speed Freak titles (Splatter Rampage Wrestling is especially fun) and you've got a great professional package for a really homemade labor of lunatic love.
In order to enjoy Midnight Skater, you're going to have to meet the movie halfway. You're going to have to disregard your hatred of the entire pop punk nation, replete with piercing, tattoos and unbridled bi-curiousness. You'll have to ignore your irritation at the kind of kids who use their skateboards to careen off of every embankment near your home or work, and simply see their desire to entertain. Like the great exploitation pioneers of the early 20th century, these home video visionaries are changing the very nature of independent film. A better tag would be one forwarded previously: outsider cinema. These are not privileged pukes working under the auspices of some undergraduate thesis mandate. The Campbells are not out to explore their painful childhood. There is not an abused child, a cancerous conman or woman on the verge of a spiritual/sexual awakening to be found here. And no, there are no cowboys eating pudding. Don't call them wannabes cause they've already been there and done more than most so-called 'film'-makers. To label them amateur is to completely disregard the way in which most of this mislabeled chaotic crapfest actually surpasses other direct-to-DVD dung. Indeed, for the cockeyed cinematic crackheads of Speed Freak Productions, Midnight Skater is pure, mindless fun. It's a throwback to another, more devious age of video entertainment. And it understands the horror genre better than most masters of the macabre. So give this "look beyond" blast a spin in the laser illuminator. It may not be the most professional product you've ever witnessed, but it's a damn good time. And what more can you ask for from a zombie/slasher/ vandalism epic made for $200?
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