Friday, September 6, 2013

Miscast Amazon Warrior Women in The Other Side

It's been said that 90% of directing is casting, because once an actor is cast, the director is stuck with that actor's physical and creative range -- limited to that actor's age, height, weight, facial features, voice, skills, and training.

Every actor has a limited range, some greater than others. No one actor is right for every part, though actors may insist otherwise. The Other Side provides an example of miscasting. In this case, the miscasting of a popular archetype -- that of the kick-ass, Amazonian warrior woman.

While the Amazon archetype extends back to antiquity, modern examples include Diana Rigg's Emma Peel in The Avengers, Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft, Carrie-Ann Moss's Trinity in The Matrix series, and Mila Jovovich's Alice in the Resident Evil series.

The Amazon archetype has long appeared in low-budget genre films. Alas, low-budget Amazons are often less impressive than their Hollywood renditions.

The Other Side is more of a theological thriller than a horror film. Like Resident Evil, The Other Side is heavily informed by action genre aesthetics. In the film, a young man escapes from Hell, along with other inmates. Satan dispatches "Reapers" to bring them back. The Reapers are kick-ass assassins. Their clothes and gymnastic gunplay borrow stylistically from The Matrix.

Male Reapers wear long trench coats and fedoras. They use only guns. But female Reapers are clad in high heels and black leather. They use guns, swords, crossbows, and martial arts knives. No logical reason is given for this sartorial gender disparity. I suppose that director Gregg Bishop simply selected whatever fashions he thought looked cool.

The female Reapers are played by Lori Beth Sikes and (very briefly) Amy Lucas. The problem with their casting is that these women appear to be lightweight, petite, and short. The role of a female Reaper can be better played by a truly Amazonian actress -- tall, strong, ideally even a bodybuilder.

Why were Sikes and Lucas cast? It's not as if acting ability was an issue. The Reapers don't have any lines. All Sikes does is keep her face in a deadpan scowl. (Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator. -- I guess Bishop thought a fixed scowl made Sikes's character look tough).

These petite Reapers in leather, flailing swords, look silly, thus risking audience disbelief. If the part calls for an Amazon -- cast an Amazon. Someone like the 5'10" Sandahl Bergman with her lean and muscled dancer's body. Or the 5'11" Lana Clarkson.

No, it doesn't matter that the Reapers are supernatural and thus don't need physical strength. The Other Side portrays them as warriors, in which case they should appear as warriors.

Every film requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. The more entertaining a film is, the more willing audiences are to suspend disbelief. And The Other Side is fairly entertaining. Its stunts and special effects are highly impressive for its claimed $15,000 budget. So I suspect that most viewers will easily suspend their disbelief, and accept the petite actresses as Amazonian warriors.

But why should audiences be made to exert that extra effort, when the filmmaker could just as easily have cast more appropriately? The further viewers must stretch their disbelief (already an issue with fantastique films), the sooner they'll give up, and relegate the film to Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fodder.

Such miscasting of warriors is not limited to women. Note the belly on the above "elite" special forces solider in Santa Claus vs. the Zombies. (And see my separate article on the poor hairstyling in this film.)

For more about mise-en-scène as it relates to actors, 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.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Poor Hairstyling of Soldiers in Santa Claus vs. the Zombies

Many genre films -- horror, sci-fi, and especially action films -- feature soldiers or police officers. This means casting actors for those roles. While low-budget filmmakers can't always be choosy about their casts, they should at least make the effort to have their soldiers look like soldiers -- especially if it doesn't cost anything. Like insisting that the actors shave and trim their hair.

Actors playing soldiers -- especially elite special forces troops -- should appear to be lean, trim-haired, and clean-shaven. Why? Duh! Because those are the standards demanded of real-life soldiers. Sure, some scripts can allow for unshaven troops -- say, if they've been fighting in the jungle for a while, or if the story is set in some distant past or future time period -- but otherwise, the rule applies.

Unfortunately, too many low-budget filmmakers ignore this rule, for no apparent reason other than sheer laziness.

Consider Santa Claus vs. The Zombies. This is yet another zombie apocalypse film. Much of it is set in a basement office with the President of the United States and his staff -- both civilian and military -- planning ways to combat the zombies. This being a micro-budget film, one forgives the tiny office and staff. What is unforgivable is the sloppy mise-en-scène -- particularly the hairstyling.

The filmmakers didn't even try to create a sense of realism. The staff comprises only one general and several "elite" special forces troops. Okay, the filmmaker could only afford a small cast. And his elite troops do have cool uniforms and special forces red berets. But ...

Some of these special ops troops have goatees or full beards. One has a long ponytail and is especially fat (see above).

The general is grossly overweight, but even if we can forgive that, we cannot overlook his goatee.

I can understand a filmmaker wanting to cast his fat friends instead of casting lean actors who actually look like special ops troops. But please make an effort. Give these actors military crew cuts and shave their faces.

It seems like a small matter, yet it's telling. It indicates that the filmmaker and friends didn't take this film seriously. The actors may have wanted the parts, but not to the extent of shaving or cutting their hair. (It would take a while to grow it back so long.) And the filmmaker accepted it instead of insisting on a military look for his military characters.

The entire film is low-budget and amateurish, and the above indicates why. It's not just lack of talent or money, but lack of artistic commitment.

No, it doesn't matter that this film is supposed to be a comedy. Even comedies require commitment to the story and characters.


For more about mise-en-scène, 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.