Written by: Tim Reaper and Monica Reaper
Directed by: Tim Reaper
Starring: Wes Reid, Amy Lollo, J.C. Lira, and Monica Moehring
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"Less Bore, More Gore!"
For the past 40 years, it seems that the horror genre has been built upon independent features from an ambitious director who assembles a rag-tag crew composed of friends and family. Films such as Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Evil Dead are all notorious independent classics filmed on a shoestring budget, and there have been countless others that have attempted to follow in these footsteps. Some of these essentially homemade films rise to the top and manage to become cult classics, while others pretty much languish in obscurity; however, it's very rare that one of these films essentially reveals the hell behind attempting such an endeavor. Enter Lights Camera Dead, a film that does just that by revealing the frustration of dealing with incompetent actors, time and budget constraints, and hired help that are there for no reason except to see a pair of tits during the film's topless scene.
Okay, so maybe that last problem is exclusive to our protagonist, Ryan Black, a young film director who has set out to film his zombie masterpiece entitled "The Music Box" along with his friend and screenwriter Steven. Things are shaky from the start, as they soon find it difficult to procure any actors with any decent talent at all, and things only get worse when the shoot actually begins, as the hired "help" does nothing, the effects never work, and everyone involved is generally incompetent. They do manage to cast Melanie in the role of one of the female leads, especially when she displays her "talents" and agrees to the aforementioned topless scene (which, sadly, we never actually see). Eventually, the cast and crew lead a revolt against Ryan and Steven, who are left with generally incomprehensible footage that can only be edited into a short film. Needing more footage, the two re-assemble the crew for a special premiere of "The Music Box"; however, the unwitting crew is unaware that Ryan and Steven have more sinister motives to complete their film by any means necessary.
To put it quite frankly, everything about Lights Camera Dead reflects its low budget and independent nature. While it's obvious that everyone involved with Aisthesis Productions had a passion for this project, there's only so much that can be done with their resources. In many ways, the film's production mirrors that of "The Music Box" in that literally everyone always had something to do whether they were directly involved in a scene or not. Furthermore, the film was very much a side project for everyone involved, as it was filmed only when everyone had time to shoot the film.
As such, the film is hardly anything to write home about. It's not especially terrible, but the acting is certainly a weak point (as it often is in independent features). Wes Reid is particularly weak as the film's protagonist, as the character of Ryan never feels like a natural character. On the other hand, his counterpart, Steven, is played very well by J.C. Lira, who handles his sarcastic and witty lines fairly well. In terms of the direction itself, I don't really have many complaints: it's certainly not flashy, but it is adequate enough. For what it is, the film is put together pretty well, and the fact that it was shot on video is somewhat reminiscent of the glory days of SOV films.
The story itself is probably the film's strongest point, even though the idea of shooting real deaths for a film is very reminiscent of The Last House on Dead End Street (and, to a lesser extent, The Wizard of Gore). The first half of the film is rather mundane, though there is some genuine humor to be found in the audition sequences (particularly the very southern auditioner). There's also a fairly humorous sequence involving Richard Christy (of Howard Stern infamy) as the film's "composer." Unfortunately, all of the film's humor really lacks the powerful satiric bite that would really be well-suited for the film's subject matter. Once the film finally reveals its true nature in the second half, business picks up a bit, and we're treated to the film's other strong point: the gore, which is pretty well done, but not mind-blowing. There's one sequence that involves intestines that is heavily reminiscent of the aforementioned Last House, but it's not nearly as disturbing as that film by any means. Thankfully, the film doesn't wear on for too long, and by the time the film sort of meandered and fizzled to its conclusion, I can't say I felt robbed of my time by any means.
Lights Camera Dead ultimately won't be counted among the titans of the independent horror scene, but it is a decent film that reveals the passion and potential of those involved. It also provides a pretty interesting look into the aforementioned frustrating elements surrounding the production of these independent features--one can only hope that Reaper didn't have to reassemble (and then dismember) the cast and complete the film like his counterpart in the film! Currently, the film isn't commercially available on DVD, as it seems that Aisthesis is shopping it around to various festivals. In the event that it ever is picked up for distribution on DVD, I think it is worth a watch, if only because the story is interestingly demented. Just don't expect it be an indie revelation by any means, as there are other films that have done the same things (zombie films and pseudo-snuff films) much, much better. Rent it!
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