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10th February 2014

Cornerhouse Pick of the Week: Rough Cut

Matthew Thomas reviews Jamie Shovlin’s latest project, commissioned by Manchester’s Cornerhouse

“I wanted the Xenomorph, what I got was this giant condom monster”

So went the words of one of the disenchanted prop masters on this often charming and sometimes baffling film-within-a-film. Intended as an affectionate pastiche of 1970’s horror exploitation films, Hiker Meat is the slasher film that never was and Rough Cut is the story of how it was made. Commissioned by Cornerhouse and masterminded by artist/director Jamie Shovelin, writer Mike Harte and composer and previous collaborator Euan Rodger, the Hiker Meat project began life as a lurid film pitch by Harte that Shovelin gave life in 2010 through a Frankenstein-like process of stitching together scenes in a mashup of “over 1000” horror movies from the 70’s and 80’s.

As one would expect from this sort of B-movie silliness, the plot of this hypothetical movie revolves around a group of misfit American youths at the fictional Camp Pharos in California. They party, smoke weed and have sex before being dispatched with extreme prejudice by unseen malevolent forces. So far, so good, but this 90 minute film only yields two completed sequences and a trailer with the majority of its run time devoted to fly-on-the-wall camera work of the actual production intercut with interviews of Rodger and Harte.

Aiming to re-film Shovelin’s original compilation shot-for-shot, the Hiker Meat production team journey to the Lake District, where they contend with adverse weather, carnivorous midges, faulty pyrotechnics, vintage American motors and the aforementioned giant rubber condom (actually a sinister worm monster). It’s in these sequences that the film shows the most charm with the production team candidly commenting on their work with a refreshingly self-awareness and spontaneity absent from most behind the scenes documentaries. Slasher film tropes are lovingly scattered through the film with homages to Sam Raimi and Brian De Palma most apparent. The acting is deliberately hammy and the special effects makeshift and prone to misfires.

Shovelin’s previous collaboration with Euan Rodgers similarly used “archive footage” to create a portrait of Lustfaust, a fictional Krautrock band circa 1970. They are here credited as composers and at one point, Rodger details an imaginary history of the band and where they were “at” at the time of supposed recording. Writer Mike Harte similarly provides backstories for his paper thin characters that never made it to screen showing an endearing affection for the deliberately corny material.

A loving homage to horror exploitation flicks, Rough Cut is likable but lacks any real trajectory. The decision to re-dub the actors in post-production is baffling and Shovelin is notably absent from the on-screen events. Eventually, the film just fizzles out quite suddenly after 90 minutes, fortunately so as I feel any longer in the same vein would lead to boredom. I would recommend Rough Cut as a how-to guide to low budget film making but the lack of purpose could prove a turn-off to some. A Xenomorph this ain’t, but it’s intriguing enough for a casual viewing.

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