Friday, October 16, 2020

Trash Horror Defined: The Example of Cold Blooded

Both Trash Horror and Horror Trash are common terms. I'll use Trash Horror in this post, because I'm focusing on horror films and so "trash" is the qualifier.

How to define the Trash Horror subgenre? Many Trash Horror films are funny, but not all, so while in Trash Horror and Comedic Horror overlap, each subgenre has its own defining criteria.

A great Trash Horror film is a glorious failure. Several elements are required.

* The budget is usually minuscule.

* Production values are rough. Actors can either chew scenery or do an impression of wood, but they must never display emotional depth, subtlety, or talent. (Re-Animator's stellar cast disqualifies it as Trash Horror).

* There should be ambition -- a filmmaker whose vision extends beyond his abilities.

* And for true Trash Horror greatness, that vision should be outré -- too crazy for anyone to take seriously.

* Nevertheless, there must be sincerity. As with the Great Pumpkin's choice of pumpkin patches, great Trash Horror displays sincere artistic effort and love of horror.

* Finally, the result must entertain (e.g., Blood Feast, Don't Look in the Basement, Horror High, Basket Case, Shock 'Em Dead.)


 

Kidd Tommy's Cold Blooded pays homage to both Horror High and Shock 'Em Dead. Set in the 1980s, it's the tale of Moonie (Teva White), a young mad scientist who also manages her boyfriend's rock band. Then Rick (Nolan Potter) dumps Moonie for a hot blonde, and she concocts a potion that turns Rick into a lizard-man -- leading to rock & roll stardom and a trail of dead bodies.

But it would be inaccurate to call Cold Blooded a failure in the true Trash Horror sense. The film is also a "genre parody" -- a film that painstakingly mimics past genres, eras, and cinematic styles. Examples include Shafted (1970s blaxploitation), Isle of the Damned (1970s Italian cannibal horror), Automatons (1950s robot sci-fi), Man of the Century (1930s musical comedies), and Francesca (1970s Italian giallo). What these films have in common is a love for their source material.

That same love shines through Cold Blooded. Writer/director Tommy's film looks to have been shot in the 1980s and distributed on VHS. You have the hair styles and fashion, the hair band, the video store, and the color bleeds and tape glitches one expects when watching an old VHS tape.

Essentially, Tommy set out to make a film that's "so bad it's good." That's not as easy as it sounds. Directors who make an intentionally bad film rarely produce a film that "so bad it's good," but more often a film that's "so bad it's unwatchable." Their films lack sincerity. We sense the cast and crew got lazy because they thought bad filmmaking didn't require effort. The results on screen are more often slipshod than entertaining.

Cold Blooded is not true Trash Horror, but a painstaking parody of Trash Horror. Which, ironically, because of its sincere effort at parody, succeeds as both parody and as Trash Horror. It's actually Trash Horror, once removed. (Are you still with me?)

Kidd Tommy does an excellent job capturing the look, the sound, the vibes of the 1980s. Plus, she successfully depicts it through the direct-to-video prism of that era. Finally, she tells an entertaining story with engaging characters -- despite the actors' hammy performances, we are emotionally invested in Moonie and Rick. We care what happens to them.

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For more information on defining and demarcating the subgenres of horror, see Horror Film Aesthetics: Creating the Visual Language of Fear. This blog represents a continuing discussion of my views on horror, picking up from where the book left off.