Thursday 25 October 2012

I Want to Be Tom Savini (2011)

Director: Bianca Luedeker
Star: Bianca Luedeker
This film was an official selection at Phoenix FearCon V in Scottsdale in 2012. Here's an index to my festival reviews.
It really isn't surprising that I Want to Be Tom Savini won for Best Short at Phoenix FearCon V, as it's almost a textbook on how to engage the audience at a horror film festival. It's a lively piece from the outset, with an enticing lead character and a just as enticing sense of humour. In fact it was the humour that leapt out at me first, not only because Bianca Luedeker, who is not only the writer, producer and director but also the subject of the piece, is a real character. From moment one we only see her hidden behind a black wig and a thick moustache, meaning that in one fell swoop we get a visual explanation of the title, a simple gimmick that isn't annoying, the means by which the shy Bianca can keep a distance from everyone she meets in the film (and at a festival) and, perhaps most important of all, a surefire way to keep the audience wanting more. It may just be the merest hint of a disguise but it's a sheer stroke of genius.

Luedeker is refreshingly grounded, honest and aware of her limitations. She describes herself as a 27 year old child who's afraid to be around other people and she squees quite magnificently at the slightest provocation. She's a small town Arizona girl, who apparently hasn't been anywhere or done anything. She's never been further from Sedona than Flagstaff and she hasn't been on a bus, a plane, a subway, you name it. However she very much wants to change that. She wants to do all those things and more, you know, like casting full size heads, filling them with blood packs and shooting them with a shotgun so they explode, that sort of thing. After she absorbed Grande Illusions, a 1983 manual on special effects, she knew exactly who she wanted to be: the author, legendary make up/effects artist Tom Savini. By the point she proclaims, 'I'm really into blood and gore,' festivalgoers will want to be her, or be with her, or both. She's horror nerd heaven.
While half of what follows isn't surprising in the slightest, it's done with style and it's flavoured by the other half, which is pure character. Luedeker heads off to Hollywood, where she meets a host of genial effects guys who make her feel welcome and answer her questions about how to get into the industry, but it isn't as remotely dry as that sounds. These guys are impishly cool, even when not playing eviscerated corpses in horror movies and she's less like a CNN reporter and more like a teenage writer for a punk zine. She intermingles real substance with giggly girly stuff, the sort of thing that many filmmakers would cut out, but it's this mix that makes the film. Here's Oscar winner Tom Woodruff of Amalgamated Dynamics Inc, but there's Luedeker running down an up escalator. Here's Tom Devlin's body parts closet but there's Luedeker attacking her fear of people by holding up a Free Hugs sign in Hollywood. In her Tom Savini disguise.

And so, while she forgets most of the questions she wants to ask these industry experts, it really doesn't matter because at heart, this isn't about special effects, let alone Tom Savini. It's about discovering who you are and having the balls to do what you want to do. Luedeker meets people getting full head casts who are claustrophobic. The funny and outgoing adrenaline junkies who run Hollywood effects shops explain how they started out as shy kids. So the engaging humour on the surface turns into a meaningful journey, both for Luedeker and for us. Repeat viewings do wonders, peeling away the layers of this deceptively simple 21 minute short. The first made me laugh, the second think and the third highlighted Luedeker's skill in editing, as I appreciated her decisions about what to leave in, what to take out and how long to pause. Oh, and yes, she does meet Tom Savini, of course, and that's no spoiler as it doesn't play out remotely how you expect.

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