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By Jeremy Knox | September 25, 2004

“The Night They Returned” is definitely a step in the right direction when making a low budget exploitation film. You know how people always say, “Why did they have to spend all that money on this crap?” Well, they can’t say that in this case because the film cost, get ready… $1,800.

No, I didn’t forget a zero. That’s what it says on the website: One thousand, eight hundred dollars.

I know what you’re thinking: “This film must be the cheapest damn thing on Earth.”

Surprisingly, no. I’ve seen a lot of movies with a LOT higher budgets that end up looking cheaper than this. (“Blair Witch Project”, for example, cost almost 15 times more) This is what I meant about a step in the right direction. If you’re gonna make a horror/porn/gore film, don’t go wasting money in a genre that’s been reduced to a big cliché of itself because of the sheer number of movies that are released each year. Show how creative you are and make one for the least amount of dough!

So what do we get for a budget that’s less than the cost of a ’93 Dodge with a bad transmission? Well, the editing is pretty good, so is the cinematography. The makeup/gore effects are on par with most low budget 80’s movies and there’s even a few CGI effects thrown in. Hell, there’s even a cameo by a porn star and two montages that work so well that you forget for a minute that this is a dirt cheap film.

The story will be familiar to anyone who knows his “evil redneck” genre well. The three crazy (but drop dead gorgeous) Taggart sisters live alone in the woods with their daddy who is umm… not feeling well. (Hint: He hasn’t moved or talked in years) Two of the three are cannibals who lure men to their death. The third, Jessica, refuses to participate in the killings because she’s a psychic and can feel the men’s terror as they die. Of course, she’s as crazy as her sisters so she doesn’t oppose murder the same way you or I would. She just shakes her head and goes “Awwwww you GUYS! Not again!”

Okay, so this isn’t Shakespeare. However the movie does built up to a cool-ish ending, which was probably the most expensive part of the whole thing. It involves a toxic waste monster, telekinesis and zombies with crowbars. That’s like a thousand bucks right there.

Is it enough though? Ehhhhhh, keep reading.

“Night They Returned” is filled with clever touches but none of it is really explored. It’s kind of sad, because you can tell that there’s a half-decent flick buried under all the blood, sex and exploitation. Most of the problems can be blamed on the expectations of the genre, the minuscule budget and the rushed shooting schedule. However, writing doesn’t cost a thing and that’s one of the movie’s main stumbling points. The story may be something that had been brewing in Bell’s mind for a long while, but the script literally feels like it was written on the spot 5 minutes before each scene was shot.

Which leads us to the acting.

The short critique: it’s not that great.

The long critique: the problem seems like lack of rehearsal. You get the sense that most of the shoot went like…

DIRECTOR: Hey Mel, here’s your lines for this scene.
MELANTHA: What? I have lines for this scene???
DIRECTOR: …and in 5, 4, 3…
MELANTHA: WaitaminuteIdon’tevenknowwhatI’msupposedtosay…
MELANTHA: *reads real fast*
MELANTHA: *acts* I wonder… *blank* uh… what’s that uh… noise… outside?

Okay, it’s not as bad as that (Although at times it comes close). I’ve seen some of this cast in another film I reviewed “Sinners & Saints” so I know they can act fairly well. It’s just obvious that a lot of this was done in one or two quick takes.

In the end, I think the movie stands as a testament to how much digital filmmaking as a whole has improved. The film looks like it cost much more than it did. By all accounts this should be like watching someone’s home movies, but it’s not. It’s equivalent to the low budget cheapie that started it all: “Blood Feast”. Except for the fact that this is shot on Digital Video rather than film; the acting, directing, writing and gore are all more or less on par with the older movie. Take that as either a warning or a recommendation.

So did I like it? In a word: No. (Meh, i’m not a big fan of “Blood “Feast”, either). However, I do think that this would be a fascinating movie to watch with a director’s commentary. Meanwhile, with budgets like these if at first you don’t succeed, try try again. Bell’s got talent; no one manages to make a movie for 2 grand that looks this good without some measure of artistic capability. He just needs a better script.

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