What they did, in this Tim Reaper directed flick, is to bypass the usual conceits of Independent Horror Flicks and instead create a comedy about the trials, tribulations and discombobulations of making an Independent Horror Flick! It's disarming to note that just about every single complaint that one might have about such a film is immediately reclaimed by the cast and crew as our main characters openly discuss the fact that their (film-within-a-film) cast can't act, their (film-within-a-film) crew is only in this to see huge, naked breasts, the (film-within-a-film) star was only hired because she has huge breasts that she's willing to show, the (film-within-a-film) co-star was only hired because she's sleeping with the director and the (film-within-a-film) script is actually pretty lame. What's an obnoxious internet film critic to write about, then?
This is the story of director Ryan Black (Wes Reid) and writer Steven Didymus (J.C. Lira), two clowns intent on bringing their vision to life under "20 gallons of Red Paint". After a disastrous series of American Idol-bad auditions, Ryan and Steven are finally ready to get things rolling on their new "Zombie Masterpiece" called The Music Box (think The Evil Dead with a "Box of the Dead" replacing that ghastly book). They have their supporting scream-queen in the form of Ryan's girlfriend Kari (Amy Lollo) and their leading lady in the form of Melanie (Monica Moehring). While clearly a stand-out among the other auditioners, Melanie clinches the audition by exposing her camera-magnetizing breasts (which we don't actually see... in spite of the repeated promises... so don't get too excited).
The production goes perfectly... well, as "perfectly" might be defined on "Bizarro World"! It's about this time that things fall completely apart and the cast and crew (real and meta-fictional) seem to be channeling (with tongue-in-cheek nudgery) the very definition of "Filmmaker's Blues". Compared to what actually made it onto the film, what Steven and Ryan go through is the real horror show. From the disinterest of The Composer (Richard Christy) to the stone-cold reality that The Editor (Hunter White) lays on them, it's clear to both writer and director that the film is a disaster!
But... they've got a plan on how to finish their movie!
It's almost impossible not to find Lights Camera Dead both hilarious and painfully tragic in that same way The Office can be. That brilliant eye-rolling sort of comedy that at once makes you feel for the creators and causes you to thank your lucky stars and garters that you're not them. These elements make Lights Camera Dead enjoyable even when there are acting and writing issues in the film itself (as well as the film-within-a-film).
And Lights Camera Dead stays enjoyable throughout the rest of the film. However, the momentum is interrupted when Lights Camera Dead ceases to be the meta-fictional exploration of making a B-Movie and becomes the very thing it started out spoofing during the second half. At no point does the film take itself too seriously, however, and it's still good fun to watch. Personally, I couldn't wait to see what might happen next. Still, the second half doesn't quite live up to the promise of the first. Sure, it might have been the intent of the creators to have the film dig deeper into its theme by showing (as the tag-line would suggest) just how far a dedicated (if somewhat insane) cast and crew might go to finish their film. The ultimate result feels more like two different films. Luckily the movie never takes itself too seriously, so a good time is had right up until the very end.
To be thorough, there are times at which Lights Camera Dead has the look and feel intentionally or not) of an amateur B-Horror Flick. Sometimes the acting and lighting don't cut it. Then again, this isn't a movie that was made with the intention of competing with the polished, multi-million-dollar SHOCKERS of your local multiplex. Much like the subject-matter tries to showcase, the (REAL) cast and crew of Lights Camera Dead do a great job of doing great things within their meager budget... well, better things than the (fictional) cast and crew managed on The Music Box.
They also manage a noticeable visual difference between what was recorded on "VHS" for The Music Box and what was intended to be the "real thing". Scenes from The Music Box have a grainy, shaky Cinema Verite-look, often with added black and white and film-scratch effects, while the "off-camera" work is more clear and digital in its presentation (I watched their DVD through my Blu-Ray Player on a Hi-Def TV and it still looked pretty good). Credit should be give to fellow director Jonathan Straiton who worked as both cinematographer and (real) editor on Lights Camera Dead. Straighton does an excellent job of blending these two divergent video looks while still keeping them distinct from each other in framing and motion. There is also a good bit of "virtual" acting on the part of the camera folks as the camera's focus continues the running joke surrounding the crew's obsession with Melanie's large breasts. Monica Moehring seemed to be a good sport about the whole thing and never breaks character as her actual part or her film-within-a-film role.
While we're on the "real reality of things", the actual composer for the film is credited as Mean Gene (also listed as a producer, with Straiton, John M. Clark and Wendy Willis) and the actual musical director was Reidy NineNine.
In short, Lights Camera Dead is quite a funny film with a few genuine scares here and there. However, this is primarily a comedy, much more than a straight horror flick. The filmmakers seem to have a good grasp on both comedy and horror, however, and blend things together very well, even as the second half becomes a little... shall we say... "dismembered". Taken for all with all, Lights Camera Dead is worth Three and One Half Stars out of Five! It doesn't take a huge budget to make an enjoyable film. With Lights Camera Dead being as much fun as it is (and it is), I can only wonder what we might get if someone did give this gang a multi-million dollar budget. See you in the next reel, folks... no matter what the cost!
How far would you go to finish your film?
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It's almost unfair to focus this much on Melanie's boobies and never show us. Melanie has some big, beautiful tits!
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Melanie has some big, beautiful tits!