I love a good rip-off. Or a bad rip-off. Whether it’s Lady Terminator or one of the thousands of The Exorcist clones, I love seeing familiar ideas manhandled or passionately recreated by different hands (and with different budgets). Evil Dead is a film that’s inspired its fair share of copycats – I reviewed Bollywood’s take on it a few months back – but it’s generally Raimi’s style that is imitated rather than the story, and that’s certainly the case with Jerry O’Sullivan’s very fun Gut-Pile.
USA, 1997, Jerry O’Sullivan
Dan looks around the field. The camera shamelessly imitates Raimi’s signature 360° shot revealing that no one, except a scarecrow, has witnessed Dan’s crime. He throws the body into his car and buries it along with his guilt.
One year later, Dan joins his pals Mike (Sub Rosa‘s own Ron Bonk) and Bob (Edward Mastin) for a claustrophobic weekend at a cabin. Dan returns to the burial site of his accidental victim. It remains untouched. While Dan hallucinates a decomposed hand lunging at his ankle from the makeshift grave, bearded Bob and obnoxious Mike practice shooting and talk about marital problems.
Dan walks back to the cabin and past the same scarecrow in the field where the accident took place. Without Dan noticing, the scarecrow snaps its head in Dan’s direction. Fuck. An unnecessary dream sequence later, we return to Dan’s depressing weekend of card games and Pepsi with Mike and Bob. It doesn’t take long before weird shit starts happening and Bob sets fire to the outhouse toilet.
After leaving the outhouse an ashy mess, Mike and Bob head to the late night convenience store for cigarettes. Before he can even get in the car, Bob is dragged away by an unseen force. Mike drives off in a panic. Dan, unaware, is left to spend the night alone in the cabin. Cue the smoke machine, fake cobwebs and gore.
Gut-Pile delivers cheap, cheesy horror in earnest. And that’s why I like it. Too many no-budget horror films devolve into painful comedy and mugging performances. Thankfully, Gut-Pile plays it straight. And best of all, unlike many of its contemporaries, characters refrain from constantly making references to other horror films.
O’Sullivan smartly limits his actors, locations, and effects as to not overstretch his budget. The scenes with effects are a lot of fun and nicely executed. Rather than the usual cutaway shots of buckets of fake blood being thrown against walls (an irritating staple of SOV films), we actually get to see prosthetic limbs flying about and a slimy corpse.
Gut-Pile takes its stylistic approach directly from Raimi, and at times, particularly in the opening scenes, this can be frustrating. A lot of the movement the camera employs simply does not look good on video. In fact, the shooting format is probably the film’s biggest downfall. I enjoy the scuzzy look of video, but here it only quells O’Sullivan’s ambitions. Many scenes are plagued with video noise making it difficult to tell what’s going on.
Despite its shortcomings, Gut-Pile won me over as its miniscule running time ticked by (it’s only fifty minutes long). Visually, it blatantly recycles the style of Evil Dead, but it’s clearly been made with passion, ambition and a certain amount of skill, which is more than I could say for the bulk of SOV films and even some higher-budgeted horror films.
Gut-Pile is available from Sub Rosa Studios. The DVD is pretty great in terms of extras. It includes a behind-the-scenes featurette, trailers and, best of all, two additional short films. I’d recommend grabbing it from MVD.