Malta needs a gore-horror film

Simshar is all well and good, but wouldn’t it be better if local filmmakers got down and dirty and made a mad, fun little B-movie instead?

Cheap as chips, sharp as a razor: the original Evil Dead (1981), now a cult classic, was made on comparatively paltry budget of $350,000
Cheap as chips, sharp as a razor: the original Evil Dead (1981), now a cult classic, was made on comparatively paltry budget of $350,000

Look, I’ve probably talked everyone’s ear off about how terrible local feature films tend to be. I’m surprised that my one-star reviews of Adormidera and Silhouette didn’t yield to death threats, though I’m mildly heartened that they were seen as a welcome beacon of genuine criticism in an island which tends to over-praise anything local.

On this count, too, you’re also probably growing tired of talk of how Simshar is the ‘great white hope’ of Maltese cinema and how it’s a ‘miracle’ that it even got made and so on.

Neither of these things are particularly encouraging – we should just stop making crap films, and instead of getting breathless over the fact that Simshar even exists in the first place, we should judge it on its own merits – so what should be the next step for the local film industry?
My humble suggestion, if you care to hear me out, is this: we should make a splashy, angry, gory-as-hell horror B-movie. Cheap as chips and sharp as a razor.

Simshar is the ‘worthy’, film festival-friendly drama about a weighty subject (irregular migration), but Malta shouldn’t limit itself to po-faced, inspired-by-true-events features – let’s search through the cracks of his limestone-yellow, sweaty island to find curious, potentially dark and grisly stories we could transform into bracing slices of pulp cinema.

I say ‘pulp’ – lurid, possibly sensational – because we can assume that a more brazen approach will a) attract the attention of a movie-going public jaded about local cinematic produce and b) give filmmakers a starting point from which to build their stories. The latter point is why I’ve singled out horror as a genre in particular: like fairy tales, horror has very clearly defined generic boundaries and stock characters, which can be easily reshuffled and adapted to any setting or context.

Now I’m not talking highbrow horror here either. I don’t mean The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, or The Shining. I want a Maltese take on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original, I hasten to add), a Maltese Evil Dead (again – the micro-budgeted original instalment in particular). At a stretch, even a Maltese Night of the Living Dead.

(A plethora of pun-tastic titles come to mind: ‘X’Ghala Bieb Zombie’, ‘Qassatana’… feel free to add your own.)

These films need to be given license to be bad. Or rather, they need to be forgiven some of their technical patchiness, their flat characters and moments of cheesiness. But only if their scripts come with tongue somewhat in cheek. Only if they poke fun at themselves, and if they acknowledge their status as B-movies: patchy, but running on a raw energy. Hardly artistic, but fun. The punk rock three-piece of movies: on their first gig at Rookies Bar in Buggiba after years of practicing in a stifling garage in Marsa.

This is where the likes of Adormidera and Silhouette missed the boat. Adormidera shot itself in the foot – or rather, impaled it with a period-appropriate Bastard sword replica – by declaring itself as Malta’s first ‘epic’ movie, marching into cinemas bedecked with a cod-Lord of the Rings aura that its budget – and the competence of its creative team – clearly couldn’t match.

On this count, Silhouette was slightly more humble, but it was still crippled by a complete lack of self-awareness: if it made fun of itself a bit more, maybe its abysmal script (with acting to match) might have gone down a bit easier.

And there’s so much on our little island that’s crying to be exploited (and ‘exploitation’ is another subgenre which, actually, may be worth riding on). The temples; festi; a history of knights and Inquisitors… the very fact that Malta is so deeply steeped in Catholicism also gives it an in-built gothic potential. Yes, rubbing the religious authorities the wrong way may cause controversy but so what? Cult films of this kind thrive on this kind of attention.

And it doesn’t have to be expensive, either. Take a page from Robert Rodriguez’s book. I mean this literally: the director of From Dusk till Dawn and Machete penned a guide to producing no-budget films – ‘Rebel Without a Crew (Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker with $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player)’ – which could make worthwhile reading for local filmmakers.

‘But he’s working in America, things are easier there!’ I hear you cry. Actually, Rodriguez claims that working outside of Hollywood was the greatest thing that ever happened to him – since working outside the system instantly gives you a fresh perspective.

He also adds an encouraging rallying call to all struggling filmmakers: “I’m from Texas, so when someone tells you which way to ride your horse, you think ‘I’ll just go to a different ranch. You guys are riding it backwards anyway’.”

Now, I’m actually willing to put my money where my mouth is. I’ll work on a script for this thing if I find willing collaborators.
So what will it be, guys? Who’s with me?

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