Hi-8 (Horror Independent 8)
R1 - America - Wild Eye Releasing
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (25th December 2014).
The Film

Springing off of the current vogue of anthology films V/H/S (and its sequels V/H/S/2 and V/H/S: Viral), The Theatre Bizarre, and The ABCs of Death (and its sequel), Hi-8 (Horror Independent 8) brings together eight direct-to-video filmmakers to get back to the basics with eight stripped-down shorts made according to eight Dogme 95-like edicts: 1) a running time no longer than ten minutes but no shorter than eight; 2) a choice of formats limited to VHS, Hi8, Digital8, MiniDV (no HD formats); 3) no more lighting than can be obtained from the standard 3-point lighting kit; 4) camerawork limited to handheld or tripod (no jibs or other special rigs); 5) outboard boom or camera microphone for sound (wind noise in exteriors is okay and encouraged); 6) only practical special effects (no CGI or any other kind of visual effects); 7) relatively simple sound and picture editing; and 8) a 4x3 fullscreen aspect ratio ("just like the old days").

"No Budget Films Presents…" by the film's co-producer Brad Sykes – who has directed twenty shot-on-video features starting with Camp Blood – is actually a wrap-around/interstitial story involving the attempts of young Bieber-haired filmmaker Travis (Paul K.) to make a slasher film with his actress Andrea (Danielle Nicole Rosario) and friend/assistant director/masked killer Brett (Baker Chase) in a derelict zoo (actually parts of Griffith Park in California). A homeless "weirdo" (Andre Martin) tries to warn them off the location with its history of disappearances and faceless corpses (stage actor Martin rates a "special appearance" credit for the entire film's most studied performance), but the rumors provide not only atmosphere but also "production value" when the blood starts flying for real.

The other stories do not so much weave in and out so much as they are slotted at eight transitional points in the wraparound story (some more abruptly than others). "Switchblade Insane" is the work of SOV (shot-on-video) legend Tim Ritter – whose 1984 Super 8-lensed first film Day of the Reaper just received a 100-copy limited Blu-ray/DVD/VHS release – examines the complex relationship between the "Switchblade Butcher" (Ford Windstar) and his long-suffering wife Camille (Kristine Renee Farley) who learn that the "couple that slays together stays together." One of the better-structured shorts on display here, the wry tone prevents the short from being shocking or transgressive despite some gore, torture, and sexualized violence. "A Very Bad Situation" by Marcus Koch – a veteran of New York low budget filmmaking starting out as a make-up effects artist on films like Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV and Nikos the Impaler before graduating to directing with the "killer clown" pic 100 Tears in 2007 – is a claustrophobic piece about a disparate group taking shelter in a garage from the monstrous after effects of an extraordinary meteor shower. It's rather run-of-the-mill and underdeveloped, but capped off by a show-stopping, gooey and gory practical transformation effect. Tim Ritter veteran Joel D. Wynkoop has a "special appearance" as a weatherman on television.

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Tony Masiello has worked as a 3D visual effects artist on mainstream films like The Amazing Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian, but he was inspired by eighties SOV films and he makes his directorial debut here with an affectionate tribute in "The Tape" in which laid-off mom-and-pop video store clerk Tim (Travis Hoecker) receives a parting gift of a box of tapes without covers (since "stupid VHS hipsters" often buy them for the cover art alone) and discovers lost SOV film "Bloodgasm". The tape appears to be incomplete, but the nauseating sampling is sufficient for Tim to research the people behind it (while alienating his girlfriend Bobbi Beach). He is unable to find any of the actors but eventually comes upon the film's auteur Chester Koz (David S. Hart who eagerly consents to a meeting since the film was never finished and he could use some "help" to complete it. Publicist Andrea Adams has a cameo as an entertainment reporter, receiving a "special appearance" credit on the basis of her place in SOV history with roles in United Home Video's (now VCI) stab at producing movies specifically for the home video market in the eighties: The Ripper, Revenge, and Blood Lake.
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"Gang Them Style" by Ron Bonk is a humorous take on that staple of the indie horror genre: the zombie flick, by way of eighties John Carpenter (some of the characters are named after Carpenter characters, although you will have to consult the end credits since most of the names are not spoken in the short). A Snake Plissken-voiced MacCready (Wes Reid) and ill-fated ally Childs (David Royal) brave the offscreen zombie hordes to rescue his "Nana" (Anne Fitzgerald) from her retirement home. Nana, however, refuses to leave unless they take her fellow residents with them; so MacReady – aka "Mongoose" – must find a way to round them all up before the situation turns into "night of the shuffling dead". "Genre Bending by Ron Bonk colleague Chris Seaver is the least "horrific" short, playing like an extended joke with a punchline followed by a "twist" with a curvy dame (Noel Williams) too self-absorbed to notice she has attracted a stalker… or two. "The Request" from Zombie Bloodbath's Todd Sheets sidesteps a character study in guilt and paranoia in favor of an EC Comics-style punchline as DJ Magic Matt West (Brad Westmar) unwilling celebrates a very special one year anniversary.
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In "Thicker Than Water", from SOV veteran Donald Farmer, Emily (Alaine Huntington) may be able to blame her pregnancy hormones on her sudden insecurity and jealousy over boyfriend Ted's (Mike Malloy) ex-girlfriend Lauren (Vanessa Nocera), but she may be going over the deep end in her attempts to clean up her boyfriend's emotional baggage and ensure their happiness. Farmer's entry is not particularly original or as shocking as it wants to be, but it makes the best of the imposed running time limitations. In the final short "The Scout", low budget filmmaker Adrian (Mark Sadr) and aspiring actress Madison (Alexis Codding) come to realize each other's true motives for being in a relationship when their car breaks down at the abandoned "Gold Town" in the middle of the desert. The short shares some elements in common with the wraparound story as it was also helmed by Brad Sykes, but it has a more atmospheric setting and is not as drawn out; on the other hand, it's flimsily developed with a nonsensical twist (hopefully the shoot is a location scouting of a sort and Sykes might utilize the unique location and the two actors in something more substantial).
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The combined results are obviously disparate in plotting, tone, style, and technical competence as well as entertainment value. The running time limitation means that the bad ones are painlessly short while the others are hardly showcases for the directors. The challenge may have proved stimulating for the filmmakers but the not so satisfying for a viewer standpoint (although viewers better versed in the works of each of the filmmakers may glean more from the shorts); that said, one hopes the effort may have recharged their creative batteries towards more interesting features.

Video

Despite the aspect ratio edict listed in the end credits, Wild Eye's interlaced transfer is stretched to anamorphic 1.78:1 from its intended 1.33:1 framing, making most of the cast look a bit "thicker" than they really are (and exaggerating the girth of one actress in a short that already emphasizes her curves). The stretching does not help the low-definition sources in terms of what detail there was, but the framing can at least be adjusted by some viewers whose televisions have a 4:3 or squeeze mode. Sharpness, color, contrast, and video noise vary by the short (and sometimes within), but that is appropriate to the approach taken with the films.

Audio

The sole audio track is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix that, like the video, suits the low-tech approach to filmmaking employed here. Music is well-balanced throughout while dialogue is largely at the mercy of the original location recording (mostly audible but sometimes uneven in volume).

Extras

The film can also be audited with an audio commentary by producers Brad Sykes and Josephina Sykes recorded over the phone with the expected buzzy sound quality. They discuss the origins of the project, including "The Eight Simple Rules of Hi-8" (printed in the end credits sequence), creating the wraparound segment as a last minute idea to frame the other shorts, balancing the creative freedom of the filmmakers with making sure the shorts were distinctive (as well as their concerns over whether some of the filmmakers could realize some of the more ambitious scripts on a low budget and within the time constraints), and the reception of each of the shorts with different audiences. They also relay anecdotes from the other filmmakers (including advising Tony Masiello on his short since he admired SOV filmmakers and was enthusiastic but needed guidance on some of the practicalities), about shooting on locations without permits, how weather dragged out some of the shoots, and the realization of some of the practical effects by filmmakers who do have professional experience in make-up effects. Since are recorded over the phone, the Sykes are generally not scene-specific in their commentaries but keep their anecdotes restricted to the order of the shorts.

In "The Making of Hi-8" (15:36), the Sykes talks about the inspiration for the film (starting with a discussion with Tim Ritter that lead to the eight rules for the filmmakers). It is actually more succinct in its discussion of the individual projects and background on the filmmakers. The piece on "Switchblade Insane" includes some behind the scenes video while the one on "The Tape" promotes Masiello's forthcoming documentary SOV: The True Independents", but each of the segments features some behind the scenes stills and/or clips.

Besides a teaser trailer (0:49) and trailer (0:59) - the latter included in the Wild Eye trailer section rather than the film's extras menu - the disc also includes promo clips from three of the shorts: "Gang Them Style" (0:53), "The Scout" (1:06), and "A Very Bad Situation" (1:00), as well as a behind the scenes stills gallery. Also included are trailers for the Wild Eye releases Final Entries, Frankenstein's Hungry Dead, The Turnpike Killer, Murder University, Blood Soaked, The Perfect House, Play Hooky, and Scream Park.

Overall

Hi-8 (Horror Independent Eight) does no impress as a whole - although few anthologies do - but it has its entertaining points and could serve as a digest of sorts for viewers unfamiliar with the included filmmakers in case they want to seek out their other works.

The Film: C+ Video: C+ Audio: A Extras: A Overall: B

 


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