Thursday, December 06, 2007

Thanksgiving, with all the fixings of a short film

"White meat. Dark meat. All will be carved."

....brought to you by
seul-le-cinema's & culture snob's
Short Film Week 2007 blog-a-thon

Back in April of this year came the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino schlock film spectacular Grindhouse, a double whammy homage to the dead art of low-budget camp cinema. Rodriguez first gave the zombie gore-fest Planet Terror (my favorite part: zombies that explode on impact when hit by a truck), followed by Tarantino's talkier revenge flick Death Proof (my favorite part: Rosario Dawson's cowboy boots). But in between, the two directors had to ice the cake with the true grindhouse cinema experience: trailers for more schlock. What's interesting is that these trailers are all spoof.... they're not referring to actual forthcoming films, but instead each are made as a kind of movie within a movie.

So.... some see the much-enjoyed Grindhouse trailers as a bit of easter-egg fun. But, after seeing them a handful of times, I think Rodriguez and Tarantino aspire them to be (and in some cases, have each achieve being) their own short films.

Hence, my favorite: Thanksgiving. If every other holiday gets their own direct-to-VHS campy horror movie, guest director Eli Roth bestows upon us a slasher film for Turkey Day, with everything we could ever hope for in just under two and a half minutes.

What makes Thanksgiving particularly special, though, is its attention to detail of what it parodies. It's no surprise that the best spoofs are those that worship the ground that the originals walk on, and Roth (I imagine) is no stranger to the dusty video-rental shelf of horror schlock. His previous films fall into the unfortunate genre of belligerent torture porn (a sub-sect of horror that does not interest me in the least bit, for it sacrifices story for the most intricate and brutal death one can imagine, ad nauseum), such as Hostel and Cabin Fever. But for Roth to want to bring movies like these to light, he must have been reared on the never-heard-of-'em low budget horror movies that sneak their way onto late-night cable. So, needless to say, a movie such as what the trailer for Thanksgiving purports to be is reaching only to be trash, with a high teenage body count and a lot of fake blood.... hence why this trailer (read: short film) is so hilarious.

Because of this self-awareness, because of this wink to the they're-not-joking-around trailers for movies of grindhouse cinema, because of the loving over-the-top detail, a trailer like Thanksgiving, to me, seems more like a short film. I don't necessarily have an argument for what makes a short film and what makes a campy experiment, but Thanksgiving seems to tell its whole story to us, using the unique lens of format like a movie trailer: Random serial killer slasher stalks Plymouth, Massachusetts and kills members of the Thanksgiving parade, kills lots of high school students wearing letterman jackets, and kills a neighborly grandmother after she's done fixing the Thanksgiving meal. How is this any different, might you ask, than your average uninspired slasher film? Exactly.... except to wink at it and make it absolutely ludicrous is what elevates the material.... this slasher movie (short film) is inspired.

And that's where Roth gets to have his fun.... the schlock horror standards are in place (masked slasher, high school students, gratuitous boob shots, lots of oral sex), so why not throw in a hilarious trying-to-be-deep-voiced narrator? ("This Thanksgiving, there will be no leftovers.") A turkey that oozes blood? Lots of split-second decapitations? A shirtless cheerleader who lands the splits on a trampoline.... with a knife sticking up out of it? Or, my favorite, what to do with the neighborly grandmother after she's been roasted?

I don't have some grand conclusion here about the bending-of-rules of short filmmaking.... I suppose that when I learned about the opportunity to write about my reaction to short films in general, thanks to Ed of Only the Cinema, the trailers from Grindhouse are what sprung to mind first. I'm not terribly knowledgeable about the world of short films and wish that I had a chance to see them more often, because they're as much a mode of storytelling as a novel or a short story or a play or a movie.

Besides, it should be noted, the very first of Grindhouse's (hilarious) trailers, Machete ("They just fucked with the wrong Mexican"), is actually going to be made into a film, directed by Robert Rodriguez. How's that for short film inspiration? Fancy that.


Dale said...

The trailer for Machete was excellent and told enough of a story that you don't need a whole film but if RR makes it, I'll watch it.

I enjoyed Planet Terror over Death Proof although I saw them in reverse order.

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