Saturday, December 7, 2013

Schlockbusted #8: "Horrors Of War" Review

Depending on who you are and where you're from, chances are you've probably not heard of this movie. Its rare and even took me a while to track down, and I would never have heard of it and wouldn't be reviewing it at all if I didn't have a personal connection to it. Horrors Of War is a Nazisploitation movie (as I've said before, a genre near and dear to my heart) made by a crew of local Ohio based filmmakers who I have come to know through my participation in the Columbus Independent film scene. I learned of this movie via a dickish review posted to the Mid-Ohio Filmmakers Association Facebook page that I will not link to or reference beyond this point, because the guy who wrote it can go fuck himself for various reasons that need not be addressed here. Still, I felt that just based on the fact that people I knew coincidentally made something so in line with my tastes, I had no excuse not to check it out and tell you all what I thought about it.

Horrors of War is billed as a Nazisploitation horror movie filled with zombies, werewolves, and various other monstrous entities corralled by the Third Reich in an attempt to win World War II by attaining a supernatural edge. I say it is billed like that, because unfortunately the supernatural elements are few and far between for my tastes, at least until the last fifteen minutes or so. We get glimpses here and there and the occasional rubber faced creature popping out of the woods from time to time, but really, my first problem with the movie is that for much of it, it feels like you could have taken this element out completely and told a traditional war movie without all that much alteration to the plot. Sometimes the people they are firing at are Nazis, and sometimes they're Nazis with rubber masks on, but until the climactic fight scene, there's not all that much difference between them.

I started to get a Prometheus vibe going into it, like they were just throwing in everything but the kitchen sink and hoping they could get by without explaining anything. This extends beyond the supernatural stuff, as the plot is very meandering and ends up all over the place, never settling down long enough for me to get invested in anything that's happening or any of the characters. Its almost twenty minutes before we even really establish the main character, and even then he's often not the focus of the story, as it shifts to other random people who I get the feeling are important, like I drifted off and missed the part where they were established. Sometimes I think I'm following a major character, and then all of a sudden he's just a creepy rapist who gets murdered two seconds later. A lot of this problem stems from the editing and the use of flashbacks, which is very confusing and often left me unable to discern exactly where I was until well into a scene, but not in a clever misdirection sort of way, as I don't think it was on purpose.

The biggest problem I found was that I didn't see much evidence of passion behind this particular project beyond the technical side of things. These guys are all clearly invested in making their movie look as good as they can make it with what I can only guess was a low to no budget approach, but I don't get the sense that anyone on the creative side really had much interest in this genre or this story beyond maybe thinking it was a popular niche that could get the movie and the production house exposure. I don't feel the love for Nazisploitation or even horror in general, and I know that's an elusive and kind of pedantic thing to accuse a producer or director of, but if you have that love as a fan, its unmistakable when you do or don't see it in a movie. It's like they have a general idea of what people who like these kinds of movies like in them and wanted to hit as much of the checklist as they could, but with no direct experience or appreciation for it, it rings sort of hollow.

For instance, there are moments of seriousness that would work wonderfully in a different kind of movie, like a straight up war film, just not one with Nazi zombies and werewolves in it. This is a genre that demands a certain pulp faux-grittiness, a hard to quantify hyper-stylized badassness that doesn't have time for quiet reflection or meaningful examinations of what it is to be human. At one point a squad of soldiers makes camp in a home occupied by two French women, and all of a sudden there's a dark turn where the soldiers turn into rapists. Its a reality of war that shouldn't be ignored and its treated with an appropriately somber tone, but then the next scene is the same squad besieged by a werewolf, and I can't help but feel like I'm jumping back and forth between two different movies, neither of which can reach their full potential because they have been wedged together with the other one.

This is a problem I've found a lot with this community of filmmakers, and its not a terrible one to have, but they seem to be much more focused on the technical side of filmmaking and less on the creative end of it. They are more focused on the how than the what, which is to say, what the movie is is less important than how well it is made. Its understandable, as I gather most of the people involved come from a technical rather than creative background. That's not even to say that they are bad writers, or that Horrors of War is particularly badly written (which it isn't), just that writing isn't the first priority, and I think that's the exact wrong way to do it. I'm biased, as the people I work with are all writers who learned everything else second, but for us, we don't do anything unless the concept and execution from a creative standpoint is worth doing, and even a well made movie without anything else original going for it just feels like wasted effort better spent on a more interesting project.

The creators of the film fully admit that this was an early and amateurish production that now serves more as a learning experience for them, which I get, and I can actually attest that many of the people involved with the movie have gone on to do better things (not to mention its certainly better than any movie I've made, considering I haven't actually made anything longer than a short). That being said, its not irredeemable or without its charm. Though its very hit and miss, many incidental scenes are very well done and showcase a style that at least suggests they wanted to get this right, even if they didn't quite know how. Its haphazard and unwieldy, but rarely boring, and even as it descends into unintentional camp, the randomness almost made me more interested in seeing how it was all going to turn out than had it made more sense from the outset. Its nowhere near the best of this genre I love so much, and flawed enough that I'd hesitate to even call it good, but its far from the worst I've seen, and considering the amount of crap peddled in the name of Nazi zombies, that's actually saying something.

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