Cult movies are strange beasts. Often lamented or even ignored when first released, a slow-burning word of mouth campaign methodically lifts a flick from ridicule to rapture, from slammed to celebrated.
No other genre fits the cult bill as snugly as horror, the suspense of reality, break-neck thrills and multiple claret-spills give the slasher movie an undoubted edge but with the recent trend in remakes and sequels clunking off of the Hollywood treadmill, it’s been left to the helmers this side of the Atlantic to weigh in with the classics of the future.
Already firmly nestled in the blood spattered spotlight are national treasures such as Neil Marshall and, thanks to limb-chopping chuckler Severance, we can add Christopher Smith to the list. Hovering close by is Jake West, armed with his new movie Evil Aliens, about a cable TV crew who head out to Wales to investigate the claims of a local lass who is supposedly impregnated with ET’s sprog. West knows full well that he’s crafted a movie set to divide critics and audiences but is unabashed in his pursuit of making movies in the name of fun and pure entertainment.
“It’s always a polarised view with movies like this. You either get it or you don’t,” he tells totalfilm.com. “The point of making this type of film is that it’s a break from the type of worthy film that’s dominating cinema. It’s about getting pissed up with your mates or getting stoned and just having a good laugh – we’re not trying to deliver a serious message on any front - it’s about balls to the wall entertainment and having a laugh.”
With tickling ribs high on the helmer’s agenda, Evil Aliens chirpily busts every rule in the book, slapping up one bad taste set piece after another. Crazy Welsh farmers engage in Mexican stand-offs with planet-bouncing beings, while a particularly inventive death scene involving a crucifix will have gore-mongers leaping from their seats and rewinding frame by frame.
“To shoot a sequence like that is a lot harder than shooting a serious drama scene,” West says earnestly. “Something like a conversation about AIDS or prostitution - you can film that in any kitchen sink apartment. When you’re doing big gore scenes with chainsaws, you’ve got a real level of danger, a lot of stuff that has to be set up and you have to be very patient, very much on the ball. So from a technical point of view it’s a lot more involved. I’ve shot dramas, when I was at film school and to be quite honest, that’s much more about the actors, whereas something like this is about the technique.”
On the subject of technique, TF brings up the fact that Evil Aliens is crisply shot and buried in there amongst the helmer’s unique style are nods to various influences, something he freely admits. “Sam Raimi had a big effect on me - his Evil Dead films, Peter Jackson’s early splatter movies, John Carpenter’s movies are great - but then I also love Spielberg and hopefully I can bring that energy to it, a sort of indie, punk rock feel and give the whole thing a sense of pace and urgency.”
To retain that urgency and enhance the level of detail during the blood-spilling shoot, West decided to plough a relatively new furrow and head down the route of high definition. “Basically it’s the first feature-length HD horror movie to be shot in the UK and the way it was made, it was very much influenced by the work Robert Rodriguez has done in the states,” West states proudly.
“It was shot on pretty much the same kit as he shot Once Upon A Time In Mexico on, which is a Sony HD cam.”
Unlike Rodriguez, West didn’t head to a swanky edit suite every morning in post-production. “Oh no, I bought all the editing equipment, a MAC and an HD card and edited it at home in my flat. The HD stuff is great and it lends itself to that night-time, low-light stuff so it suited this movie perfectly.”
Despite a relatively tiny budget, West was determined not to scrimp on the action but with an anorexic bank account, the director found himself biting off a little more than your average megaphone wielder. “We couldn’t afford a casting agent, so myself and the producer spent nearly three months casting this movie. We made it clear that if actors wanted to do it, they would have to be prepared to rough it. We made head casts of each of them which is a trial for an actor in itself.”
If night shoots covered in blood and guts and hours in the make-up chair weren’t enough to put off potential thesps, then the skimpy pay packet was a sure test of their resolve. “We were only able to pay the actors £125 a week, so they weren’t doing it for the money,” West chuckles. “This is a low-budget movie, made for £287,000, which is very low. First of all, I had to find an investor and I luckily found someone to put the entire budget up. When you’re dealing with that kind of budget, you have to adopt a different way of working. It’s not like a Neil Marshall £3 million movie. You’re on a totally different scale, more of a grass roots kind of mentality.”
Still, the plus side of counting the pennies was it drove the lenser to create something different and more challenging. “Well, I had to come up with an idea that was achievable within the constraints of the budget and everyone else seemed to be doing zombie films at that point. I just thought I hadn’t seen aliens in the cinema for a while and they make great bad guys – they travel across the galaxy with all this technology and all they want to do is mutilate cattle and give people anal probes - that tickled my fancy. I thought it could easily lend itself to some glorious, blood-splattering set pieces.”
Oh and it does – set pieces that the helmer has proudly displayed all over the world via the heady festival circuit. And it seems he’s picked up a few fans along the way.
“We got picked for the Toronto International Film Festival and it screened in front of 1200 people. We won a British Independent film award and the Raindance festival last year, played in San Francisco, Brussels, Luxembourg, just loads and loads of places and it’s done really well on the international horror fantasy circuit.”
Humbly accepting the numerous pats on the back, West still won’t get carried away - he knows what his movie is and happily concedes he never set out to make Gone With The Wind or Brokeback Mountain.
“I was lucky to grow up with some great horror movies in the ’80s, movies that you just couldn’t believe what was happening as you watched them and we’ve kind of lost that a bit… So this was a return to that mentality, that ‘fuck, I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen next in this movie.’ It’s a series of escalating set pieces and some people will see that as a weakness, that you’re not trying to tell a different kind of story and you’re going for sensation all the time.”
Despite the possibility of a pack of salivating critics waiting to maul him, West can’t seem to pry the grin from his face because he knows there is a solid market for this material and that is the audience he’s aiming to please.
“I think it’s refreshing, pure escapism,” he states. “It’s one of those movies where people either really love it or really hate it. They think it’s juvenile and silly, which is fair enough. You either get it or you don’t.”