Episode 612 - "Blood on the Reel" (2016)

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By Joseph Dobzynski, Jr. and Joseph Dobzynski. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Hi everyone!

Welcome to Reign of Terror 2019! 31 straight days of horror movie reviews and interviews with yours truly, our team of critics, and a host of other podcasts. That’s pretty much it. I’m sure since we’ve pre-loaded this episode back in September that nothing has happened to me, or that I’ve been kidnapped, or have fled from aliens, or have been shot out of a circus cannon. That would just be silly.

Because otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to say how excited I am to feature today’s review of “Blood on the Reel”. This no-budget documentary film covers the independent, microbudget horror film scene, whose subjects are just as interesting as the evolution of the documentary itself. Whenever I connect with someone online, I always like to check their filmography, so when Johnny Daggers followed the show, and I saw this documentary in his credits, I just had to reach out. I was stoked when he said yes, and we sat down for over two hours, talking about his career, early Hollywood films, the independent horror scene, along with his recent and current projects. Speaking of which, be sure to check out Johnny’s website at officialjohnnydaggers.com for more information on all his work, including his most recent film, “The Noctambulist”, and his recent illustrated children’s book, “Neverlasting”.

We’ll have a bit of a format switch for today. Instead of the usual trailer segments, we’re going to run the whole trailer audio for “Blood on the Reel” prior to the review. Throughout the review, I’ll be including segments from our interview where appropriate. And if you want to hear the full interview, it will be available in two parts in October as another pair of Patreon exclusives. Unless someone has accidentally made all our Patreon media free and I am unable to find my way back to our podcast headquarters.

We will be publishing weekly exclusive content going forward, which you can only get by signing up with a monthly donation at patreon.com/onemoviepunch at any level. You’ll also be invited to request one movie review from yours truly, as long as we haven’t reviewed it yet, with just a few exceptions. All support goes to paying our expenses and to help us grow with our audience.

Here’s just a taste of what you’ll be missing:

JOHNNY: “And there’s so much I could have talked about. Like, for instances, one of my pitfalls was being watched under a microscope while you’re still learning your trade. 2010, make a short film, don’t expect anyone to see it, then it goes to a film festival. Next thing you know, I’m getting a phone call from magazines, because I had just started ‘Caustic Zombies’, which was very pre-production, and they’re like, ‘Oh, we want to have you on for an interview.’ And then it was just like, immediately I was thrust into this media spotlight, and I’m like, ‘I don’t even know what the hell I’m doing yet.’ You know, even with ‘Caustic Zombies’, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I’m just a guy that started making a film because I love it.”

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Here we go!

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Today’s movie is “Blood on the Reel”, the low-budget documentary directed by Johnny Daggers and written in collaboration with Craig Everett Earl. The documentary covers the independent microbudget horror film scene, a how-to guide to making your own films, and a healthy collection of cautionary tales about filming with very little money and even less hope for success. The film was produced by Daggervision Films, Johnny’s film company, and distributed by SGL Entertainment.

No spoilers.

The horror movie scene really took a turn in the 1970s. Coming out of the Golden Age of Hollywood, the industry saw the rise of independent filmmakers, with a categorical disregard for rating systems and production codes, willing to tell stories deemed too risky for the major studios, and finding more and more commercial success. Low-budget films like “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974) (Episode #035) would be produced on shoestring budgets and would largely redefine horror for their respective subgenres. Films weren’t being made for the largest possible audience, but for smaller, more intentional audiences.

Towards the end of the decade, and especially in the eighties, came the rise of the slasher films, but also the camcorder, which would put the tools for filmmaking within the reach of some middle class homes. Another burst of independent filmmakers hit the scene, producing pictures with this new technology, and finding their audiences at the growing conventions and film festivals, and home video sales would open up new opportunities for filmmakers, especially as the jump from cassette tape to DVD brought production costs even lower. It was a time period that Johnny Daggers knew well.

JOHNNY: “Now, the problem with conventions, and I’ve been going to conventions since ’98? Because I’m going to be fifty soon, so I’ve been in this for so long. So going back, being the cranky old man... back in the nineties there was convention out in Pennsylvania where I’m originally from. It was called the Monster Bash Film Festival. It was the very first one in the nineties. At that particular point in time, I was publishing a fanzine that reviewed independent films and goth musicians and so forth, and I had a press pass to go to the Monster Bash.”

JOHNNY: “Where Gunnar Hansen was there, who was Leatherface in ‘[The] Texas Chain Saw Massacre’. Lon Chaney, Jr. was there. Sarah Karloff, which was Boris Karloff’s daughter, was there. You could just literally just walk right up to somebody. Gunnar Hansen, I mean, this is going back to the nineties, I didn’t even recognize him without his Leatherface mask on. He was just this older gentleman with white hair and a big white beard, and he was sitting at a booth with a little stuffed cow, and I just thought, ‘Wow, this is Leatherface?’ Sarah Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr. and Bela Lugosi, Jr. were there. They all signed autographs for free. Posed for pictures.”

It was a great scene, until the money got involved...

JOHNNY: “As far as being an independent filmmaker at a convention, it’s hard to compete against all the big celebrities that the convention have nowadays. And the big celebrities are charging astronomical fees for autographs and merchandise and photos. When people have a fixed or limited income, let’s say you spend twenty or thirty dollars to go to a convention, just to get in. And then you have to account whether you’re getting a hotel room and you’re staying there for the weekend, that’s an added expense, plus food and drinks while you’re there. Then you want to save up for autographs from your favorite celebrities, and pictures, and their merchandise. After that’s all said and done, most of the people that stop at an independent booth, will look at your products, but they don’t really want to spend the money because they don’t really have the money left.”

Even the independent conventions have ballooned into nothing more than fan-centered advertising, which we see nowadays in large scale events like San Diego Comic Con. Conventions where you would go to discover new properties were now filled mostly with established artists hawking their wares. Even some film festivals have become prohibitively expensive and crowded. The great irony now is that it is cheaper than ever to make a film, and it’s the hardest thing in the world to get recognized in the vast ocean of the Internet. So, where does one go to take a look at the current microbudget independent horror scene? Well, aside from Twitter, you can check out “Blood on the Reel”, which came from an unexpected trove of stories from independent horror filmmakers.

JOHNNY: “I put out on Facebook that I was in the process of making a documentary called ‘Blood on the Reel’. Before I knew it, I had... I had ninety filmmakers, from all over the world, blow up my inbox, saying, ‘We have stories we would love to share. Like, we would love to be a part of your documentary.’ Okay, wow... this has just taken on a whole new life of its own. What was meant to maybe be a bonus feature release, or a re-release for ‘Samhain’ has now turned into this big thing. And I started thinking, ‘Wow, we have something here, because we can compare... maybe indie filmmakers in another country have it better than we do here, because as we all know, in Europe they’re a little bit more supportive of the arts and the funding of the arts, so maybe they don’t face the same tribulations and pitfalls that we do in the US. So, I thought this is really cool.”

The concept for “Blood on the Reel” is categorically brilliant. In a world where anyone with a smartphone can now film and produce a movie, there are more filmmakers than ever, producing everything from YouTube shorts to feature-length films. And with the power of the Internet, we can produce and share content faster and easier than ever before. Johnny was getting gigabytes of content, but also quickly realizing it wasn’t as great as it seemed.

JOHNNY: “A lot of footage that was sent, you can imagine, with that many filmmakers, there was a plethora of different film formats sent to me, both for audio and video. Some filmmakers took time to properly light their set. Other filmmakers used no lights at all, so the lighting was off and looked terrible. Some people have a professional audio guy record their sound while others just used whatever equipment that they had.”

JOHNNY: “So, it literally in that aspect, kind of turned into a nightmare, where I really had to weed it down to not only who had the best stories, but who had the best-looking footage that I could possibly use.”

Microbudget filmmakers don’t always have the equipment to make the crisp videos on display in high budget documentaries. You can see the stark differences in production quality throughout the film, which impacts the visual cohesion. You can also see the stark differences in how each person presented themselves, everything from relaxed videos on the couch to a full suit and tie presentation from Troma veteran James Balsamo. Eventually, you need to take stock of what’s possible and also what’s appropriate for the subject.

JOHNNY: “I literally couldn’t go there with my cameras and do the cinematography. To me, it was just kind of just someone back in the eighties sitting around, putting a compilation cassette tape together. Like, I was just kind of taking compilation video footage and throwing it together and saying these are our stories, and I didn’t have full control, and I have OCD and I’m a bit of a control freak, so it kinda really bothered me that I couldn’t have control over so much of the film.”

JOHNNY: “So, when I was thinking about how I wanted to put the documentary together, I thought, ‘You know, I could polish up some of this raw footage that people sent me, but this is about the nitty gritty independent low-budget horror films. And, I kind of went with the idea of, I want this to be a film that, back in the day, if you went to your local video store, that had the section for independent horror filmmakers, which I was blessed to have a couple video stores like that around where I come from, where you can find the cheesiest, most b-bizarre-films that you could possibly find. I wanted it to be one of those movies, that you might not even realize was on the shelf of your video store, but it was on the bottom shelf and kind of, somehow, fell to the floor, and you tripped over it while you were walking out, and you were like, what’s this? Oh, this looks interesting. If you overpolish it, and it’s about indie films, that’s going to lose that aesthetic of like, the true grit.”

And that’s what it is. It’s probably the best version of that documentary, given the finances and the resources, the spirit of the subjects being spotlighted, and its intended audience. The independent horror fan in me absolutely loves the spectrum of creators on display, even if some of the content needs all the trigger warnings. The creator in me appreciates the concept, the approach, and the style. But the critic in me can’t ignore the lack of cohesion, or the somewhat overbearing presence of Johnny Daggers throughout the film, which was a necessary inclusion.

JOHNNY: “It was not my intent to be in the documentary as much as I was. I was surprised, and maybe it’s because I’m an archivist, but like, I archive everything. If I like something, not even from my own work, but if I love a band, I will get every vinyl that they’ve ever released. I just archive everything. I love to be an archivist. When it came time for the ‘Blood on the Reel’ documentary, I reached out to these filmmakers, and said I want to hear your stories about the trials and tribulations, but I want to hear your success stories, and I want you to send me footage of premieres, and screenings, and send me video footage that you have of certain events or conventions. I honestly didn’t think anybody was going to give me any footage other than what I had on my own films. Because nobody had anything! Literally, out of all the filmmakers involved, I only had two say, ‘I actually have recorded footage of a screening or a premiere or...’ I couldn’t believe it! I was just like, you know, I thought everybody did.”

Even with all its flaws, however, there is still plenty to appreciate about the documentary. “Blood on the Reel” doubles as a how-to guide for independent cinema, in the tradition of “The Anarchist Cookbook”. Each creator talks openly about their trials and tribulations, with some stories that are truly depressing. I could definitely identify with their feelings, and their financial pain. I had a concert promotion go very sour in the early 2000s, where we lost a great deal of money. But it’s not all horror stories and cautionary tales.

JOHNNY: “I was just trying to show that you can have success. You can get on the radio and you can get on television and have screenings at actual movie theaters and get a distribution deal. The one thing I’m thankful for with ‘Blood on the Reel’ is that it not only landed me my first distribution deal, but I would say that fifty to sixty percent of the filmmakers that were in ‘Blood on the Reel’ got a distribution deal with SGL Entertainment because they were seen in that documentary. I was happy that ‘Blood on the Reel’ got other filmmakers signed.”

“Blood on the Reel” is a low-budget, independent documentary about low-budget, independent horror films. Johnny Daggers compiles and arranges the trials and tribulations of the microbudget horror scene to deliver a visual mixtape of independent creators. If you like microbudget cinema, and you love independent horror films, then this film is truly for you!

Rotten Tomatoes: NR

Metacritic: NR

One Movie Punch: 6.5/10

“Blood on the Reel” (2016) is not rated and is available for streaming on Amazon Prime, or by visiting the SGL Entertainment website at sglmoviestore.com.

Thanks once again to Johnny Daggers for his participation. I really enjoyed our conversation. And you can catch the full interview coming up on Patreon in the next two weeks.

See you tomorrow!

I hope?

638 episodes