Thursday, May 6, 2010

Low Budget Gems

When it comes to fantasy, SF and horror, low budget more often than not makes you think of the failures. Spectacular failures, unintentionally hilarious failures, monumentally inept failures.

But the other side of the coin is that sometimes big budgets just means movies that are both bloated and bad and sometimes neophytes with microscopic budgets produce gripping, suspenseful minor classics that because of equally low budget promotion and distribution don't get the audiences they deserve.

Today's installments: Parasomnia and Freaky Faron.

is a dark fairy tale. A heightened reality where characters, behavior and setting bring the darker side of the brothers Grimm to the modern world.

It has a beautiful princess locked in a lifelong sleep, a dark sorcerer holding her prisoner and the hero who steals her away.

Or its about a desperately ill patient, the hypnotic serial killer chained up in the hospital room next to her telepathically torturing her in her dreams and the slacker clerk visiting his druggie brother in the hospital and stealing away the comatose patient in one of her rare moments of wakefulness.

It's a film of almost cartoonish, guignol excess and arch stylization. There are gory murders, an arch-villain who could have been auditioning to be the next horror icon, abductions, escapes and daring rescue attempts. A high point is B-movie warhorse Jeffery Coombs as world-weary Detective Garrett. The low point is a lame nod to the Saw movies with a creepy doll in an abandoned warehouse. It almost seems like, 'Hey we've got his neat prop left over from another movie, lets throw it in.' It's a minor plot point though, so I can live with it.

The director William Malone has a track record that includes House on Haunted Hill and Fear.Com. Cheesy, but glossy and visually inventive horror. In some ways this film seems to take his style to its logical extreme.

Freaky Faron from Writer/Director John Ross is a very different film. There are no grandly structured gothic set-pieces here. No inventive camera work or shoe-string visual effects. This is a talky, slow moving character study made up of conversations in offices, in classrooms and playgrounds under streetlamps.

When she was 11 years old, Faron Hallowell shot and nearly killed a local TV weatherman. It subsequently comes out that she had been operating as a highly successful vigilante for months, investigating, revealing and punishing criminals, by breaking into dozens of homes.

She tells the doctors that she was trained by an alien to protect Earth from alien prisoners marooned on Earth in human bodies and she has intense almost Sherlock Holmesian observational and deductive abilities. Five years later she is released from hospital and tries to re-build her life.

But some people won't let her forget and some clues lead to the mysteries of her own childhood.

It's hard not to wonder what Freaky Faron would be like with a bigger budget. Most of the story happens in exposition, in memories related by children and interviews with doctors. As it is, the film has to depend on the performance of Courtney Halverson an intense redhead playing an emotionally guarded girl trying to live a normal life with a history no one will let her forget and abilities that drive her to pursue mystery.

Remember the name, you'll be seeing more of her.

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