For myself, and I’m sure a lot of people reading this site, we tend to populate the majority of our week with horror films. Hell, this column is dedicated to that period each week in where I carve aside 3 hours to watch a double feature of horror movies! And while I love seeing films paired up with their remakes, or sequels, or even just a spiritual counterpart with a similar theme, I also love the passion that goes into the making of these films as well. And not many documentaries out there capture that infectious enthusiasm as much as AMERICAN MOVIE.
A few weeks ago, Forever Midnight released a stellar vinyl edition of the soundtrack from COVEN, the short film by Wisconsin-based filmmaker Mark Borchardt who is the subject of the 1999 documentary AMERICAN MOVIE. Hearing Patrick Nettesheim’s eclectic score to the short got me in the mood to watch the doc again. And anytime someone brings up AMERICAN MOVIE, I always immediately ask them, “have you seen the 2005 documentary HORROR BUSINESS by Chris Garetano?” That film follows 5 different filmmakers on the outskirts of the business trying to just tell their horror stories. One of them is Mark, post-AMERICAN MOVIE, so although he’s only a small fragment of that doc, it feels like an unofficial sequel, in spirit.
AMERICAN MOVIE is about Mark Borchardt, a guy who’s been making films ever since he first picked up a Super 8MM camera as a kid and saw horror classics like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Despite having made several shorts for fun, it’s his dream to pull together the funding to make his feature length debut movie, a black & white drama titled NORTHWESTERN. But considering his location, financial & domestic woes, and his eccentric-yet-devoted tight-knit circle of friends, it’s proven rather difficult.
And a few failed attempts and several years passing by without being able to make the movie, Mark decides the smartest thing to do would be to cull together a little bit of money to finish up his incomplete black & white horror film COVEN and prove that he can sell it and make a profit on a film he made. His Uncle Bill is the official producer because he’s the one in the family (and town) with a little bit of money set aside that can finance this thing. Every aspect of the never-ending production proves to be a challenge. But nothing will get in the way of Mark’s ambition and drive to make it happen.
It’s interesting watching the movie now in retrospect, considering how much home filmmaking technique has changed over the course of the last 17 years. Mark is a very charming, highly intelligent and articulate guy. Likable too. He’s definitely the sort of dude my friends and I would gladly have a beer with whilst shooting the shit about movies over a game of pool. I’ve heard he wasn’t happy about his portrayal in this film, but I think if anything, it’s the timing and place he’s at during the course of it that resulted in his production woes and not him, himself. He’s a talented guy and there’s no doubt in my mind that he has a clear vision and appreciation for cinema. But there are moments in the movie that are tremendously frustrating where he’s trying to get his close friends to do simple tasks and they’re just not getting it.
Which brings us to our second feature, HORROR BUSINESS. If you thought Mark and his friends were eccentric, you haven’t seen anything yet! Filmmaker Chris Garetano acts as a “fly on the wall” for several aspiring horror filmmakers that we meet during the course of the doc. David Stagnari (formally of the band BILE) is the most identifiable one of the bunch. He offers the most logical insight into why we as viewers are drawn to the genre, as he attempts to complete his ambitious short film CATHARSIS. In one of the movie’s best moments, he’s lamenting in front of a BABIES R US about how this was the spot where he saw movies like DAWN OF THE DEAD and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT for the first time. “The fact that tits used to be projected right where that BABIES R US sign is…”
Other filmmakers include Ron Atkins out of Las Vegas, who arguably makes some of the most offensive and controversial horror videos to ever hit the convention circuit; artist and animator John Goras, who has one of the oddest and most unique view points of the world; Florida-based FX artist Brian Singleton, whose ambitious and wild creature work is the focus of his elaborate ideas; and of course, Mark Borchardt who is trying to shoot his feature film SCARE ME.
There’re lot of other familiar faces from the convention halls we get to chat with about what stands out in our beloved genre, and that includes former Fangoria editor-in-chief Tony Timpone, the Godfather of Gore Herschell Gordon Lewis and actor Sid Haig! We get to ride alongside FX artist Tate Steinsiek as he works on the film ZOMBIE HONEYMOON and on the other spectrum, we watch the latest collaboration between Atkins and friend John Brodie, an alien/Illuminati conspiracy horror thriller, unfold. Basically, as the title implies, making these kind of movies (or even simply being obsessed with them) is a “horror business” to be in. But when you’ve lived and breathed it your whole life, what else are you going to do?
The opening of HORROR BUSINESS has an Orson Wells quote that I believe truly summarizes both of these movies perfectly. “It’s about two percent movie making and 98 percent hustling. It’s no way to spend a life.” Making any film, let alone a horror film, can be one of the most challenging, yet rewarding things you ever do in your life. Here’s a double feature to inspire you and to remind you why you keep doing it. And for those that just like to watch ’em – here’s evidence that you’re the lucky ones!