I don’t think we’ve ever really discussed shot-on-video (SOV) before, dear reader. We’ve certainly covered a few – the wonderful “Things”, “Redneck Zombies”, and “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars”, among others – but as far as the genre goes, we’ve only hinted. So, as drive-in theatres were slowly dying off, home video and VHS rental places took over, and there was a massive explosion in demand for content to fill those shelves. At the higher budget end of things we get Cannon, who were so prolific they once made 54 movies in a year, but the very lowest end was helped by the decreasing cost of reasonably decent camcorders. One SOV movie even got a proper cinema release (“Boardinghouse”) but most of them were exceptionally bad, only turning a profit because they were so extremely cheap to make, and lured video shop renters in with their lurid covers.
Which brings us to “Demon Queen”, the first movie from Donald Farmer, who we recently encountered as director of the so-bad-it’s-good masterpiece “Vampire Cop”. It attempts to answer a question that no-one asked – “what is the most amateurish a movie can look and still be called a movie?” It’s quite extraordinary – 54 minutes long, with 8 of those minutes being credits, and that remaining 46 has plenty of padding in the form of extended driving sequences, too!
The story sort of centres around Jesse (Dennis Stewart), a sleazy low-level drug dealer. We’re introduced to him as he gets his ass kicked by Izzie, the rather diminutive fellow who’s a step further up the drug chain, and Izzie’s assistant Bone. He owes them money, and his miserable unhappy girlfriend Wendy is snorting all his profits away. We’ve already seen the Demon Queen herself, Lucinda (Mary Fanaro), performing an activity which may have been tearing someone’s heart out, but because of the confusing camerawork, could well have been anything. Anyway, she saves Jesse for absolutely no reason, then asks him if she can stay with him a few days, to which he immediately agrees.
Lucinda, it turns out, is in love with Jesse, although one would think she’d have slightly better taste in men than average-looking, not terribly nice drug dealers. Maybe she’s got self-esteem issues? Anyway, she kills a bunch of people, including Wendy, but the course of true love sadly does not run smooth. Oh, and then after a while some of the people Lucinda kill come back as zombies who can turn other people into zombies, but I’m not sure why any of that happens.
All this in 46 minutes! I know, it’s hard to believe, right? Some of Donald Farmer’s trademarks are there from the beginning, such as his indifference to showing the beginning and end of a scene; and there’s the baffling amount of driving footage too. The end credits are among the strangest you’ll ever see – each character’s name is on screen for upwards of 30 seconds, and to illustrate the character they’ll show several random clips from the movie featuring them. So far so good, you’d think, but some of the scenes have three people in, making it difficult to figure out which actor is being credited; and then there’s one bit, where a good half of one of the credits is a shot of the chap’s heart being pulled out, a shot which doesn’t show the actor’s face at all. It’s so confusing!
Not every SOV film is an incompetent mess (although with the vastly lower bar to clear, the likelihood of them sucking is certainly higher) but this is the incompetent mess by which all others should be judged. The quality of the footage ranges from almost tolerable to a blurry, indistinct splodge, with more of the latter than the former, and the music! Best guess, Mr Farmer just noodled around on an old Casio keyboard for a few hours and sliced up that improvising into several chunks, which he inserted at random throughout the movie. The music never once matches, or comes close to matching, the “action” happening on screen.
Even when something good happens, Farmer seems unable to take advantage of it. About halfway through, he gets a neck wound effect right, and it looks fantastic…but he’s so proud of it he holds on it for almost ten seconds, with the killer’s hands paused awkwardly just in the shot. To say it ruins the flow of the movie is a joke, but it certainly spoils the moment somewhat. Then, he’s filming a street scene one day and (I guess by accident) captures part of a real anti-pornography rally. A more enterprising director would have used this, written a scene where Lucinda walks past and says “there’s more dangerous things than pornography” or something, but he just awkwardly pauses on it for a few seconds before moving on.
I haven’t even mentioned the video store subplot…mostly because it has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie, and was presumably inserted as it was the video store Farmer worked at, or the guys there paid to be in the movie, or something. Or how the only bedroom he had access to only had a single bed in it, so whenever Jesse entertains one of the movie’s ladies, it looks like a bit of a squeeze. Or the out-of-sync screams.
From tiny acorns, do horrible diseased oaks grow, and Donald Farmer took this (which cost $2,000 and was presumably shot in a few spare afternoons) and turned it into a directing career which is still going today. He’s got “Shark Exorcist” and “Cannibal Cop” ready to come out this year, and those names just scream quality. I think we’ll have to do a series of reviews of Farmer’s decent-looking movies (he also did a few kids films and work for hire, all of which sound boring), so get ready for some terrible reviews. Er, sorry, movies, I hope the reviews are at least okay.
Rating: thumbs down