“It’s about two percent movie making and ninety-eight percent hustling. It’s no way to spend a life.”
“Horror Business,” a documentary following five guerilla filmmakers as they chase their dreams and embark on separate journeys to make independent horror films, opens with the above Orson Welles quote. The film pursues these directors as they try to overcome the inevitability of such a profound statement.
Among the no-budget filmmakers the documentary follows Mark Borchardt, the subject of the 1999 documentary “American Movie,” as he once again picks up the camera after a six-year hiatus. Having lost the inspiration to make movies, we meet him on the first day of principal photography for a work-in-progress entitled “Scare Me,” the first film he’s worked on since completing the short film “Coven,” which was featured in “American Movie.”
The film also follows Ron Atkins, a longhaired cross between Kirk Hammett and Mark Borchardt, as he works on his latest opus, a conspiracy driven piece about alien politicians. Atkins is a provocateur who makes films involving cross dressing schizophrenics and sexually obsessed, Leatherface-esque madmen, amongst other things.
David Stagnari is another director featured in “Horror Business.” Stagnari is an auteur whose latest project, “Catharsis,” is a black-and-white Lynchian exploration of the human psyche.
Behind the scenes footage and interviews are interwoven with investigations into why young and independent filmmakers aspire to make horror films. With interviews from Lloyd Kaufman (Troma founder), Sid Haig (house of 1000 Corpses), Herschell Gordon Lewis (considered by many to be the godfather of gore), and cult film critic Joe Bob Briggs, the film delves into the continued interest in horror films, the dos-and-donts of good horror filmmaking, and the passion that drives young filmmakers to explore what often proves to be violent and damning worldviews.
A textured documentary, “Horror Business” is an entertaining and engaging look into the world of low-budget horror films and the men (and women) behind them. It expresses an unflinching love for movies such as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Dawn of the Dead,” and “The Last House on the Left,” and laments the state of modern day horror movies.
As a documentary, it works on three levels, mostly to mixed results. As a chronicler of the production process, the film is mostly fluff; it comes closer to an EPK than it does to a bonafide behind-the-scenes documentary. But that’s okay, because it excels on the other layers. As an essay on the individual filmmaker, it provides a fascinating, if not a somewhat superficial, look into the minds of the directors, an intriguing group of men who express themselves, not through highbrow experimental films but, through good-old-fashioned slasher flicks. These are men who were inspired as children by movies and ideas that scared them and never grew out of this desire to be scared—and to scare others, which is the focus of the third layer: why horror films fascinate us. Theories from a simple desire to be frightened, to ideas relating the images of horror films to man’s own mortality are expressed as the directors—as well as actors and crew members—contemplate their obsessions with horror films.
This is an extremely competent, thoroughly engaging film about horror movies and those who love them. It is as inspiring a movie as “American Movie,” but the true heart of “Horror Business” is its absolute love of the type of horror films that will never be seen outside of independent and classic films, and that is violent, often unapologetic looks into minds too twisted for mass consumption.