When I got my first video rental club membership back in 1982, I immediately began renting low-budget horror films. (My first two rentals? The Evil Dead and The Burning.) Since that time, I've seen countless movies in this genre, and with a gig reviewing DVDs, my intake of indie horror has increased. And, over the years, I've learned one thing: many of these movies aren't very good. Thus, when one comes along which is just slightly above average, it catches my attention. Bit Parts is by no means a great movie, but, as you'll see, it hits some high notes.
As Bit Parts opens, we witness a young woman enter a darkened warehouse for what she thinks is a movie audition. She is subsequently attacked. Next, young Melissa (Molly Fix) arrives in Los Angeles. She hails a cab and soon strikes up a conversation with the driver, Bobby (Dave Reda). Melissa explains that she's come to town for a movie audition. Bobby explains that he's an actor as well and that he's never known of anyone holding auditions in the neighborhood where Melissa wants to go, but she insists. After Bobby drops Melissa off, she enters an old warehouse and disappears.
The next day, Melissa's sister, Brenda (Sarah Gordon), arrives in L.A. looking for Melissa. Melissa is able to track down Bobby and they begin to look for Melissa together. Meanwhile, we learn that Melissa has been captured by the demented Dr. Cranston (Christopher Page). Cranston abducts young women and uses pieces of their faces to rebuild the face of his daughter, Maggie (Michelle Angel), who was injured in a car accident. Melissa is drugged and hung by her wrists as she awaits her turn under Dr. Cranston's knife. Will Brenda and Bobby find her in time?
Bit Parts comes from a group of filmmakers from Pasadena & San Jose, who, armed with $30,000, decided to make their own horror film. The script by Jon Rosenberg is far from original. The idea of the naive young actress who arrives in Los Angeles with stars in her eyes, only to find that Hollywood isn't what she thought it would be has been done in countless films. The doctor kidnapping young woman in order to aid his disfigured daughter goes back to 1960's Les Yeux Sans Visage. The outrageous behavior of the disfigured Maggie, who demands that her captors join her in tea parties, feels very cliched. I really had a hard time buying the fact that Melissa's sister would fly from Phoenix to L.A. after she hadn't heard from her sister for one day.
Overall, Bit Parts's budget shows through. The bulk of the film was shot in what appear to be existing locations or an abandoned house. The acting varies in quality from decent to "amateur with a camera shoved in his face" and it's never a good sign when a first-time director casts himself in one of the lead roles. At times, I got the sense that the movie wanted to be gory, but the special effects are few and far between.
And yet, Bit Parts works as a bargain-basement shocker. The movie has a palpable spirit and it's clear that the film makers are horror film fans. The film tosses in pieces of Italian horror, slasher movies, and Frankenhooker. It walks a fine line between horrific suspense and camp, and at various times, it strays deep into either territory. (When private detective Tony Giallo was introduced, I couldn't help but roll my eyes.) Director Dave Reda keeps things moving along at a nice pace, and at just over 70 minutes, he clearly has no intentions of dragging things out. Yes, the movie is silly and cheap at times, but Bobby and Brenda have a genuine nature, which is juxtaposed to the sheer insanity of Maggie and Dr. Cranston. Not to be confused with Hollywood fare, Bit Parts is a throwback to the indie horror films of the 80s and should appeal to those who don't mind their horror feeling a bit cheap.
Bit Parts tries out for DVD courtesy of Cinema Epoch. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.85:1, but the transfer is not anamorphic, despite the fact that the DVD box proclaims the image to be 16 x 9. Bit Parts was shot on 16mm film and the transfer shows the ups and downs of that medium. The image shows a noticeable amount of grain throughout the film. Artifacting abounds in this transfer. A times, the picture is somewhat soft and lacks details. On the plus side, the colors are quite crisp and natural looking. The somewhat dark look of the image really adds to the scenes in Dr. Cranston's lair.
The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which shows a few problems. The volume of the track vacillates wildly, as some scenes are quiet and some are very loud. The audio sounds canned and hollow at times (probably ADR stuff) and at other times, there's a great deal of hissing. The most annoying issue was that the dialogue was isolated in the right channel for several scenes, even when the action was taking place on the left side of the screen.
The Bit Parts DVD contains three extra features. Director/actor Dave Reda, writer John Rosenberg, and actor Peter Redman provide an AUDIO COMMENTARY for the film. This trio speaks at length throughout the film and related the woes of low-budget filmmaking. They talk about locations, actors, costumes, and special effects while discussing how this labor of love was made. Reda and producer Karl Schweitzer appear in a 5-minute interview taken from a local NBC affiliate, where they talk about the making of the film. The final extra is a trailer for Bit Parts, letterboxed at 1.85:1, but not 16 x 9.
The home video landscape is littered with horror movies where a group of guys got together with a video camera to make a "feature". Most of these movies look like a group of guys got together with a video camera to make a "feature". Bit Parts is by no means a classic, or in some ways, even a good movie, but it was shot on film, it's short and to the point and it's pretty fun. That makes it better than most of what is out there.