- Ghosts of Empire Prairie (2013) Review

Title: Let's Make a... Horror Movie

Also known as:

Year: 2014

Genre: Independent / Experimental / Thriller / Horror

Language: English

Runtime: 120 min

Director: Michael Todd Schneider

Writer: Michael Todd Schneider


Underground filmmaker Michael Todd Schneider and his film crew consisting of friends are desperately trying to make their dream project come through. On their journey trying to make the '70s throwback movie "...And Then I Helped" they stumble through a number of problems, ultimately ending in disaster.

Our thoughts:
It's been 6 years since I started to become friends with Michael Todd Schneider through mail contact. I believe he was making "Let's Make a... Horror Movie" already then. It's been nearly 2 and a half years since I wrote a pre-review for "Let's Make a... Horror Movie". Yesterday I finally got to watch a more complete version of his experimental semi-autobiographical, docu-/mockumentary tragedy. To say that this is a filmmaker who goes down to the details to get his movie just the way he wants to would be an understatement. He knows what he wants, that's a good thing - but as a fan of his work it can be a very slow process, and sometimes completely confusing. "I watched this movie in a somewhat finished state over 2 years ago!", my mind screams, but did I? The new, finished version is a more consistent trip and it has all the power that I remember the screenplay had when I read a short version many years ago.

"Let's Make a... Horror Movie" takes its inspirations from Michael Todd Schneider's own life. Constantly trying to make art and with a thousand balls in the air at the same time, it's obvious that a movie about it would be chaotic, mindbending experience. In this movie they focus on the pre-production of the wonderful psychedelic '70s tribute "...And Then I Helped" - a movie which actually exists. That makes this whole thing a lot more exciting to watch, since it's not about the production of a made-up thing. We see things from behind the scenes of his retro-piece that further pushes "Let's Make a... Horror Movie" to real life, even though there's barely any real ground to stand on once the movie goes to its more chaotic territories. The crew's excitement is built up and torn down over and over again through the movie, from finding a location to seeing it burning down, or meeting a producer and realising that he thinks they are too weird to give them money. It's not until the very end that the tension of this filmmaker's roller coaster comes to an appropriate end.

The end of the movie was the thing that I loved about the script I read. The end is what I loved in the very early version I saw, except... then it wasn't the end of the movie. I've been secretly hoping ever since that Michael Todd Schneider would reconsider his decision and keep the ending as tight as it originally was meant to be, and not continue the movie after it. This ending represents all the chaos, fear and frustration of the movie itself and of the process of filmmaking.

"Let's Make a... Horror Movie" is nothing if not a testament to what it feels like trying to create something but constantly walking into walls. It's pushing the feeling to an extreme and succeeding with it. The only thing that makes this hard to watch at times, is that it's so spread out, so compact with ideas and metaphors, that there are times when we lose focus on what Michael's character (or Michael the real person?) has set out to do. It wouldn't have hurt if there were even more scenes of actual filmmaking/pre-production in the movie. But then again, it wouldn't be a magGot film if I wasn't taken on a long all-expenses-paid vacation straight into Michael's oozing, ecstatic brain.

Through the movie we also get to meet a lot of the people that surround him on his productions, from his now ex-girlfriend Nikki McIntyre (who yet again delivers a fantastic performance), the late Ben Tatar (may he rest in peace), the trusted Max Almeida, Justin Alvarez, Eric James, Ultra Violent magazine creator Art Ettinger, and a number of other personalities that we've seen in previous magGot Films productions - but this time they're not always acting. Many of them we see behind the scenes of real productions. It's a bit of a treat to the fans of magGot Films when we get to see footage from early productions such as "Sorry" spread all over the movie, and it makes the ending all the more powerful.

Technically this is a very varied movie, which is intended. Since it jumps between years of behind the scenes footage, to staged scenes with trippy cinematography, it's actually quite impressive that it still manages to feels complete. There's a million things going on behind, in front of and with the camera - small details which all create the unique magGot atmosphere. Not to mention the editing, which is what takes the longest for a magGot Films. And we wouldn't want it any other way, since it's that final touch which paints the entire picture.

Everything that you know about Michael Todd Schneider and magGot Films is present in this one, but it's not a movie that is out to shock or deliver the gore. It's a rather close portrayal of Michael's life, just done in an extreme way. This is most likely the least crowd-pleasing of his recent endeavors, and sometimes he makes it a little too hard on the audience when he tangles us into a dread of confusion. But this is a small price to pay to get to see a movie that sums up his personal thoughts of 15 years of working on underground movies. I can't think of a single filmmaker who comes close to Michael Todd Schneider's territory.

Positive things:
- A compact showcase of what goes on in Michael Todd Schneider's head.
- A great blend of fiction and behind the scenes footage.
- It's not done as a mockumentary, but still succeeds in feeling like it is.
- Fantastic, powerful ending.
- The effects are excellent, as you would expect.
- Performances are solid.

Negative things:
- It's 2 hours and can sometimes feel as if it forgets its main plot (even though you know Michael didn't).

Gore: 2.5/5
Nudity: 3/5
Story: 3.5/5
Effects: 4/5
Comedy: 2.5/5

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