Eight filmmakers known for shooting movies on a video formate have created eight short films for a new anthology that celebrates shot-on-video movies.
I had originally intended to review the anthology movie “Hi-8” when it was getting ready to be released but many reviews had popped up before I had an opportunity to do so. There were so many that it felt like it had become a moot point for there to be one more review. Yet, to no surprise, many of the reviews were terrible and some were down right stupid. I say that not because I think I’m a superior reviewer (I'm saying mostly to be an asshole), but because the people who were reviewing “Hi-8” had absolutely no knowledge or understanding of the shot-on-video culture.
Not that there’s much to understand since SOV movies are far from complex. With that being said, it does take a certain mindset to enjoy backyard productions since, obviously, not everyone is going to like them and appreciate what they can offer. It’s part of the reason why “Hi-8” was created; it’s more than just an anthology with a gimmick but a celebration of no-budget schlock.
Film Bizarro is also part of the internet group — SOV: The True Independents — where the idea for the project germinated. The idea was spear headed by Brad Sykes (“Camp Blood”) but it was supported by Sykes’ peers because everyone had the same frustration with movies like “V/H/S“ and their inability to follow through with their own concept. Instead of sitting around complaining, they drew inspiration from that movie’s failures (and it was a failure): Why not get together a group of filmmakers who actually made movies on analog formats, like VHS and Hi-8, and make their own anthology?
Again, many previous reviewers cite “V/H/S” as a source of inspiration for “Hi-8” when in fact it drew more inspiration from Trier and Vinterberg’s Dogme 95 movement. Much like Dogme 95, the filmmakers of “Hi-8” had to follow a particular set of rules:
- Running Time (between 8-10 minutes)
- Format (VHS, Hi-8, Digital 8, and miniDV)
- Lighting (nothing more complex than a 3-point lighting kit)
- Camera Work (hand-held and tripod only)
- Sound (boom or onboard mics - white noise acceptable and encouraged)
- Special Effects (all practical and no visual)
- Editing/Pose (keep it simple - no post tech effects)
- Aspect Ratio (kept at 4:3)
The rules were a nice touch and help add to the obvious sincerity of the project, and all of the filmmakers seemed to have stuck to them fairly well. Unfortunately it does appear that the aspect ratio may have been altered (stretched) for the retail release of the movie since, as you can see by the screenshots, the movie is presented in a widescreen format.
And on that note, I guess I’ll get into the negative aspects of “Hi-8” first since I have very few complaints. The first, obviously being, that the aspect ratio being altered. I’m not going to fault Wild Eye, or whoever is responsible, since I would assume they’re doing what’s best in terms of distribution and market appeal. However, with the retail DVD release, I can't help but feel that the true audience for “Hi-8” was lost in an attempt to appeal to wider and less niche crowd. Again, that is understandable from a business perspective but it is sort of a poke in the eye to a fan who's part of that niche crowd.
As far as the actual movie goes, the only short I didn’t like (at all) was “Genre Bending” from Chris Seaver. That’s to no surprise on my part since I simply don’t like Chris Seaver’s style of filmmaking or humor. To his credit, he has been making movies for over 15 years and has stuck with the no-budget style, but his movies always tend to have a blunt stupidity to them. Intended for humor purposes, but it’s something that I’m not into — especially since they also tend to be self-aware. Because of that it is hard to judge his installment without being biased, leaving me to simply state that I didn't care for it.
Beyond Chris Seaver’s bit, the only other one I didn’t like was the wrap-around segment, “No Budget Films Presents”, directed by Brad Sykes. Not because it was bad — it was fun, actually — but because I wish it integrated the other segments into the story. Instead the movie simply cuts from “No Budget Films Presents” to whatever short is playing next. Nothing to tie them together and no transition between the wrap-around to the individual sections. It made it seem…uninteresting, I guess is the best way to put.
Other than that though, I think “Hi-8” accomplished what it set out to do quite well. While their segments didn’t stand out; Tim Ritter (“Switchblade Insane” — a woman starts participating in her husband’s killing spree), Donald Farmer (“Thicker Than Water” — a jealous girlfriend tortures and kills her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend), and Todd Sheets (“The Request” — a murdered woman comes back for revenge against her murderous fiancé) had enjoyable installments that showed why SOV movies are fun in the first place. Making the most out of small budgets with simple, straight-forward stories with plenty of gore thrown in for fun.
The last four movies of “Hi-8” were the ones I enjoyed the most out of the anthology. Marcus Koch’s, “A Very Bad Situation”, is one that does the most with the least. A “Twilight Zone” -esque story about a group of survivors hiding out in a garage after the world falls apart from an asteroid entering earth’s atmosphere. A concept that excels with the no-budget style with paranoid built tension that’s complimented with one of the most impressive special effects sequences in the entire movie.
Ron Bonk’s, “Gang Them Style”, is one that caught me by surprise as it proved to be the funniest and most entertaining segment. Perhaps not something that would work as a feature length, but the story about a grandson saving his grandmother and other elderly folks during a zombie apocalypse has the comedy down pact. It was silly and goofy in all the right ways and managed to make a story about zombies enjoyable (anyone else fucking tired of zombies?) without relying too heavily on gore.
Relative new comer, Tony Masiello (new to directing but has worked extensively in movies for awhile now), provided a segment — “The Tape” — that celebrates many different aspects of the SOV movement. Not just the DIY attitude that these films have, but the obscurity of these movies and what it's like to be a fan trying to track them down since so many have become lost. “The Tape” is actually impressive of how well it captures the culture surrounding SOV movies, but towards the end, it becomes almost a send up to German splatter movies (most of which were SOV as well). With over-the-top torture sequences and plenty of horse guts — “The Tape” might have actually been the bloodiest segment in the bunch.
And while I have my issues with Brad Sykes’ wrap around story for “Hi-8”, he provides the final piece of the movie with “The Scout” about a young, inspiring no-budget filmmaker scouting locations with his hesitant girlfriend. Almost reminiscent of “Resolution”, Brad Sykes put together a very creative story that goes to show that, while these people work with no-budget and limited resources, something good can still come from it.
That’s ultimately what “Hi-8” was trying to accomplish in celebrating shot-on-video movies: demonstrating creativity out of necessity. Yes, many SOV titles are simply bad amateur movies, but there were just as many made by talented filmmakers who simply had limited resources and funds but still made the best of it. It’s not that much different that the horror genre as a whole. I’m not sure if “Hi-8” will bring any new fans into the world of no-budget schlock since there were reviews that showed people do continue to look down on movies for not having a “proper budget.” With established fans and people who can appreciate entertaining backyard productions, “Hi-8” is a great anthology movie to watch since it offers plenty of gore, laughs, and creativity.