Thursday 16 September 2010

There's Something Out There (2004)

Director: Brian Pulido
Stars: Patty Tindall, Scott Jordan, Phil Blackmon, Jonesey Jones and Zack Miller

While he co-founded the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival with Chris LaMont and he remains a key figure in the thriving Arizona film scene to this day, Brian Pulido has surprisingly few film credits, instead forging a highly successful career in his chosen medium of comic books. Conveniently ignoring Lady Death, the mangled 2004 animated movie starring his most popular character, he has only two films to his name as a writer/producer/director and this short horror film was the first. Having now seen how good it is, I'm surprised that it took so long for him to follow it up with another one, especially given the obvious enthusiasm that climbs out of his commentary to attack us. There's nothing new in There's Something Out There, as the generic title suggests, except perhaps the choice of monster, but it's a capable collection of influences brought together with panache by a talented cast and crew. It's a joyous little shocker.

The monster is a garden gnome, named Boris by the filmmakers, who is a little overzealous at keeping Penny and Brad's garden safe. Really it's his garden, but they're too busy not getting on with each other to notice beady little doll eyes and signs of intent. In fact, as the director's cut shows, and I so love that there's a director's cut for a 16 minute short, Boris is just another thing for them to disagree on. Brad is determined to have his way and Penny acquiesces for the sake of peace, obviously something that happens a lot in this household, but what they have no way of knowing is that Pulido is a demonic pixie hell bent on reclaiming the annoying gnome from the Priceline commercials and turning it to the dark side. Soon this Siberian garden gnome that Brad picked up at a swap meet is going to go on a rampage of destruction with his tiny trowel of death and, of course, that's precisely the way we like it. Go, Boris!

Technically this is an accomplished little film that would serve well as a textbook for how to build a horror short. First it's all about sound cues and red herrings, those tiny moments of relief from tension that filmmakers just love setting us up for and shocking us with. Then, as we conclude that we're on a slow ride of suspense, Pulido kicks it into high gear and we find ourselves thrown into a neatly gory slasher movie. The phrasing is note perfect, bursts of action followed by pauses for breath, then more bursts of action, all underpinned by a quality soundtrack and some great lighting. The camera movements are very capable, even successfully switching to gnome cam without ever giving me motion sickness. Even though it's obvious who the monster is, it's kept mostly out of sight, the demonic cackling of Jonesey Jones keeping us well aware of its presence, as we focus instead on Patti Tindall, the only actor with experience in the film.

This was her first horror movie, though she'd go on to make plenty more, such as The Graves for Pulido, Machined with David Hayes and two movies for Sean Tretta, including my favourite of her performances thus far in Death of a Ghost Hunter. The rest of the cast are able but not remotely up to the admirable depth of her characterisation, so it's hardly surprising that none had acted before and none would again. The acting requirements sit squarely on her shoulders and she demonstrates how able a scream queen she can be, though Pulido's penchant for strong female characters means that she was always going to do a lot more than scream, however many cuts and bruises she ends up with. I found it hilarious that, while the film was shot at Pulido's home and much of the screaming took place in the wee hours, none of the neighbours complained. They probably didn't want to become characters in a Lady Death story as a writer's revenge.

Given that the entire film is constructed from all the best bits from the history of horror movies, there are influences to be found everywhere. A shameless pun highlights the most obvious, Night of the Living Dead, which anyone who's ever attended a panel with Pulido on it knows is his favourite film, but there are others too. What's in the basket, Brian? There's a sequel for you. For me it ended up playing out like Sam Raimi had hijacked The Shining from Stanley Kubrick by having his steadicam operator bite his knees off, fired Jack Nicholson and hired Warwick Davis in his place, then replaced Shelley Duvall with Sigourney Weaver. Obviously budgetary concerns meant that the Overlook Hotel had to become a Phoenix town home but if you still have tough chicks and maniacal midgets, how can you go wrong? Pulido has cited El Mariachi as his trigger for making movies. Now I'm picturing a remake of Machete with Boris as the lead. I need help.

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