Borrowing a line from one Charles Dickens, 2008 is the best of time, and the worst of times, for the homemade moviemaker. On the plus side are the advances in technology and access to same. In just a few short years, cameras and software have gone so far down in price that even the most amateur auteurs have been given the chance to express themselves in a manner more polished and professional than ever before. The negative part of this equation remains the tenuous state of digital distribution. Niche companies are closing at a record clip, while big wig entities like Lionsgate are larding the marketplace with as much subpar product as possible. The result is a kind of collective consumer nonchalance. Where once the independent and outsider arena was growing, it seems destined to get shoved aside for more mediocre mainstream fare. And that's a shame, since movies like the horror comedy Necroville definitely deserves a wider audience. While not perfect, it shows what a little imagination - and some creative gumption - can produce.
Jack and Alex are lifelong friends. Living in the dead end New Mexican burg of Necroville, they spend their days working at a local video store, their off hours battling various craven creatures of the night. You see, this city has a zombie/werewolf/vampire problem, and since there seems to be no "cure" for the condition, the people have learned to live with it. When the guys lose their job over a misunderstanding, they go looking for new employment. They end up at Zom-B-Gon, a company specializing in metropolitan monster eradication. This makes Jack's freeloading girlfriend Penny nervous. The horrid hosebag is worried that her musky meal ticket will get killed by one of the many members of the undead. Of course, when former flame Clarke reappears in town, Penny tries to reconnect. But Jack is more worried about another facet of this lothario's return. Seems Clarke may be the Master Vampire, capable of creating a race of nasty neckbiters in his own image. It's up to the boys from Zom-B-Gon to put a stop to his potential reign of terror once and for all.
Imagine Clerks combined with Ghostbusters, toss in a few riffs from the Evil Dead school of creepshow cut-ups, accent with some amiable performances, and you've got a pretty good idea of how Necroville plays out. This lightweight terror tale, purposely encased inside a solid slacker universe, suggests there is more to the genre than gore, guts, and godawful direction. The brainchild of buddies Bill Garberina and Adam Jarmon Brown (who also star as pals Jack and Alex), this pseudo Shaun of the Dead derives a lot of its pleasure out of simply watching characters interact. Sure, we get the standard undead shuffle, some frightening (and fanged) Goth kids, and very limited lycanthropy. In between are the kinds of conversations that Kevin Smith excels at, curse-laden exchanges where individuals hide their inner angst via mutual sarcasm and slams. As our heroes, Garberina and Brown are wonderful, eliciting a cool chemistry that's rare, even for a mainstream movie. Whether it's girl or guy trouble, these men make us care about such lumbering leads.
Unfortunately, they aren't surrounded by much in the way of support. Necroville is basically Jack and Alex's tale. Wherever they go, whatever they do, we are compelled to follow them. Yet no other character draws such consideration. Penny is such a harpy that we wonder how her man tolerates this manner of shrew. The answer, apparently, is sexual (though we don't get a lot of nakedness or necking here). As a villain, Clarke is the kind of fey goof who gets mad when people claim he can't "spin for shit" (he uses his DJ gig as a vampire cover). His only effective moment? A disgusting grin offered after indulging in some delectable baby brains. Between the faux Rastafarian manager of Zom-B-Gon to a Paul Bunyon like character who seems more angry than approachable, Necroville definitely could use a more compelling cast. Garberina and Brown are indeed the stars, and the unusual 'town under siege' setting works wonderfully, but these facets tend to shine so brightly everyone else appears dim by comparison.
In addition, Necroville is never very scary. The zombies are an easily defeated threat, and the neckbiters are more closely connected to Bauhaus than being badass. As directors, Garberina and Richard Griffin (Feeding the Masses) offer very little in the way of outright invention. A clever commercial parody is about it. Instead, they frame their scenes very carefully, and then rely on editing and performance to move the story along. We don't get stylized visuals or an attempt to ape other filmmakers. Instead, this movie is more concerned about conversations and friendship. This may anger some fright fans who want buckets of blood mixed in with their overwrought irreverence, and it will probably bore a few within the hardcore horror crew. But what Necroville proves is that filmmaking remains a deeply personal and problematic art. It's clear that Garberina, Griffin, and Brown are working from the heart. If viewers respond, that's great. But make no mistake about it - this movie proves the boys have talent. If anyone will ever see it is another story altogether.
PopCinema and its subdivision Shock-O-Rama are releasing Necroville in a nice 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The image is straight from video plain, with just a few post-production digital tweaks to keep things consistent. There's also a pair of CGI splatter effects that are well worth looking out for. Overall, the colors are sharp and the details well defined. The picture is not perfect, but it does come across as somewhat proficient.
On the sound side of things, there is nothing to get excited about. The Dolby Digital Stereo is typical of the digital format, and the soundtrack skirts between moody keyboard fare and standard dirge metal. Still, the dialogue is readily discernible and easy to follow, and for a film like this, that's really all that matters.
Offering up a nice DVD package, we are treated to a wealth of added content. First up is a commentary from Garberina that's loaded with blow by blow production detail. From the 'who, what, when, where, why, and how' of making this movie, to other experiences with other filmmakers, this is a good scene-specific discussion. We are also given access to a series of deleted scenes and outtakes, a look at Necroville's Visual F/X, a talk with actor Mark Chavez (Clarke), two terrific short films (Legend of Aeereus Kane and Cum-uppance) and a trailer vault. Toss in the color insert featuring thoughts on the film and you have a first class set of complements. They really give Necroville some professional polish.
Thanks to the wonderfully tricked out DVD, and the decided joys of the film they supplement, Necroville earns an easy Recommended rating. Anything higher would give this minor movie too much credit. Anything lower suggests a level of lameness that's just not there. In fact, one could easily see this kind of entertainment becoming a new digital standard - the same old mix tape mentality/ cross category genre breeding - meshed with more personal perspectives. Indeed, as this generation of filmmakers grows up and realizes that a life in service of one's art is a rather dead end street, more introspective efforts like this one might just take the place of the random brainless bloodletting. Necroville may not be the next big thing in outsider cinema, but it does signal something special from all involved. Again, here's hoping fans can find it - before the format reconfigures the independent out of the marketplace once and for all.