Red Victoria is an ultra-low budget horror comedy whose reach exceeds its grasp. The film has big ideas, and the film makers obviously enjoyed themselves making it. It fails more than it succeeds, but still represents a fairly impressive achievement considering the constraints under which it was made.
The story of Red Victoria is one that has a familiar ring to it. Our hero Jim, played by writer, director and producer Anthony Brownrigg, is a high minded screenwriter, interested only in "saying something" and high art. Unfortunately, he can't get any work and needs to make his house payment. His agent suggests that he write a horror script for some quick, easy cash. At first Jim is reluctant, but eventually succumbs, lowering himself into the gutter to pound out a horror script. Try as he might, he meets with no success, even going so far as to recruit the assistance of his horror fanatic acquaintance Carl (Edward Landers) for inspiration. It doesn't do any good. He is well and truly stuck.
Enter the eponymous Victoria, played by Arianne Martin, a dead woman who for reasons unknown and never explained (though they may involve quoting that Scottish play by Shakespeare) is sent back from the other side to be Jim's "editor", to help him understand the essence of true terror, and thus write a brilliant film. She also happens to kill people seemingly at random, apparently as part of Jim's education. Jim is understandably resistant to the senseless murder of his friends and associates, and the bulk of the film is made up of his scheming to either kill Victoria or somehow get out from her influence, all the while working on the script to placate her.
In the strictest sense, when viewed in comparison to the wide array of other films across genres, Red Victoria is not what can be categorically described as a good movie. It has good points. It is moderately humorous, and represents a unique twist on the old theme of writer's block and the misery that it wreaks. The performances are not terrible. On the initial viewing, the flaws outweigh the highlights, however. It is clear that the film was produced on a shoestring budget, which explains the sometimes hammy acting and numerous gaps in the logic of the story. Upon viewing the extra material on the disc, though, the true achievement of Brownrigg and company becomes apparent.
Red Victoria was made with literally no money. Brownrigg filmed at his own home and in locations which he could secure at no cost, using his own Panasonic DVX 100a camera. The actors were mostly acquaintances, and often manned the camera when a shot they were not in was being filmed. That is, when the camera was not simply placed on a coffee can or shelf. Arianne Martin even mentions (in the commentary) holding a boom mike steady with one hand off screen, while acting herself. The lights were all purchased at hardware stores. The score was done gratis. The film was edited on a Mac, and Brownrigg did all the digital effects himself. In scenes involving him alone, Brownrigg often just set up the camera and went to work, once even filming himself cleaning his own home for material.
This reviewer has watched hundreds of zero budget horror films, made by a group of friends over the course of a year and somehow getting a distribution deal. Red Victoria is to these lesser films as Lawrence of Arabia is to Ishtar. Judged merely in the context of no budget independents, Red Victoria is a towering achievement of subtlety and discernment. There are many flaws in the film. It could have been much more tightly written and done with some more intense direction of the performances. There are some issues with the sound and video quality. With its nonexistent budget, though, it looks and sounds about as good as is humanly possible. It is not a slap in the face to intelligent viewers, and employs actors who actually act for a living. That a film of this quality can be made with these limitations is astounding.
Because of its limitations, this reviewer cannot strongly recommend Red Victoria to a general audience. For the committed horror fan, or anyone at all interested in independent film production, it is a must see, particularly for the commentary and other extra material that provides scads of insight into the challenges and creative solutions available to the inventive film maker. Plus, Brownrigg and costars Landers and Martin are simply fun to listen to, coming across as funny and interesting people. If Anthony Brownrigg can make a film like this with no money, it will be interesting to see what he can do with an actual budget. This reviewer is anxious to find out.
The video on Red Victoria is presented in 16:9 widescreen, and fairly good. The film was shot in DV, and the image, while bright, is at times harsh. There is also some occasional posterization in background colors, particularly in a few night time indoor scenes. Other than these instances, the video is better than one would expect in a low budget film. The action is clearly visible and never murky or obscured by shadows.
The sound is in Dolby 2 channel, and is adequate for the subject matter, but nothing special. The dialogue is consistently clear and the film is free of hiss. During a few outdoor scenes, there are noticeable differences in background noise. As the film cuts between two people talking, car noise will appear and disappear. This is momentarily distracting, but does not significantly detract from the film. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are available.
The significant number and quality of the extras are what make Red Victoria actually worth the time invested. They are:
Super Extended Blooper Reel
Though the ending credits of the film run over selected bloopers, the producers also include this selection of fourteen plus minutes of bloopers from the production. This is a bit tiresome, but occasionally humorous. It reinforces the impression that everyone involved in the film is a slightly goofy kind of character that one would enjoy a beer with.
This featurette clocks in at 16:29 and includes interviews with Brownrigg, Martin, Landers and Christian Taylor, who plays Jim's overeducated friend Blake. The featurette is what first begins to relate the depth of the accomplishment and ingenuity of the filmmakers. Brownrigg and the others relate the origin of the film, how long it took to write (one week), the casting process and many of the ordeals of the production. This is quite interesting.
This is ten plus minutes of Brownrigg relating how he achieved the major effects shots in the film, all on his own on his Mac. This is an interesting insight into producing relatively good, (for a no budget film) inexpensive visual effects on a computer.
There is actually only one deleted scene, which is nothing special.
The commentary is the gem of the extras included on this disc, and in this reviewer's opinion, watching the film with it turned on is more enjoyable than a straight viewing. Brownrigg, Landers and Martin relate anecdotes and humorous stories (such as that the production didn't have enough money to plunge an actual knife through an actual office chair, and so had to digitally insert one in post, or when Landers fell asleep at his barber and accidentally got his head shaved the day before an important reshoot), point out continuity errors and give each other a good natured hard time throughout. All of this is of course recorded in Brownrigg's home with his (occasionally audible) dogs wandering around the whole time. This is a charming and engaging addition to the viewing package.
As stated previously, Red Victoria is not in the traditional sense a high quality film. The plot feels rushed and there are numerous gaps and unexplained leaps in logic. The performances are not terrible, but at the same time often over done or hammy. The special effects are at times cheesy and obvious. However, considering it in the context of other zero budget independent films, it is a standout and indeed a significant achievement. While this reviewer can only recommend a casual rental to the average viewer, horror lovers and those interested in independent film production are urged to go out and purchase this one. The abundant, informative and enjoyable extras alone are worth the price of the disc for those who want to see the messy guts of ultra low budget film.