Written by guest contributor Brian Roe
We are currently in an era of bad movies. Bad movies that are fun to watch because of their total cluelessness, like The Room and Birdemic, and movies that are just idiotic-stupid-dumb bad like anything that Michael Bay has touched. But Bay has committed a greater sin than making a merely bad movie. He has made his crap by blowing millions upon millions of dollars.
But I’m not here to talk about this sort of waste. I’m here to talk about the true heroes of American independent cinema. The people who make due with minimal budget and rely on tenacity, creativity, and lots of friends and family members to create their cinematic offerings. And honestly to offer them a bit of a challenge and explain why what they do is more important than it’s ever been. But first let’s talk about LizardMan: The Terror of The Swamp.
We begin with this tantalizing bit of info:
The Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp (Also Known as The Lizard Man Of Lee County) Is a humanoid cryptid which is said to inhabit areas of swampland in and around Lee County, South Carolina
Awesome! Cryptids and shit! I bet this is going to be a “based on a true story” ride like The Legend of Boggy Creek. Unfortunately I would have lost that bet.
Instead LizardMan: TToTS starts off in an undisclosed time period in an area that seems to be the edge of a normal neighborhood. A boy loses his bike chain and has to walk his Huffy home. Then all hell breaks loose! Not really. A guy in a foam rubber suit knocks him down and waves his hands in front of his face while digital blood splatters appear and disappear on the screen. This is the first shock of the film, shocking in how bad the blood effects look. Digital blood looks like shit all the time every time. Please for the love of Karo Syrup stop using it. If someone doesn’t want to get bloody and sticky don’t let them be in your movie. This should be known as The Bruce Campbell Clause, if you’re not willing to have 55 gallon drums of Ultraslime poured into your face, then you really don’t want to make a movie.
Otherwise the film looks really good. The transition scenes work well and the overall coloring looks pretty filmic and not like a mid-grade camcorder. This level of image quality runs throughout LizardMan and sets it apart from other low-budget movies that seem to be content to use their mom’s old Kodavision.
Another element that LizardMan handles pretty well is with the actors, especially lead
James Arthur Lewis as Mark Turnbull, the special ops fellow contracted to bring the LizardMan back alive. Lewis has a sense of gravitas with his performance that is improved by his physical presence and good ability to move around like a bad-ass soldier. There’s a quick leap onto a loading dock stunt that is damned excellent even if the possible action scene it could have turned into never materializes. And sadly this seems to be the biggest take-away from LizardMan: The Terror of The Swamp. Instead of using the resources that director Peter Dang had on hand he squanders them in favor of a mixed up movie that is really only a collection of things happening and not a driving narrative story.
I am however not here to mock or overly critique director Dang, the producers, actors, or anyone else involved in LizardMan. Instead I have a question and a challenge for independent filmmakers like Dang.
Why are you making movies?
Answer this question honestly and I think it’ll give you a more intense focus that will help you to create interesting and truly memorable work.
Why are you making movies? To break into “Hollywood”? To make money? To have fun? To meet attractive people? To have something to do with your friends besides getting together to watch other people’s movies? These are all valid reasons to make movies but when they are merely nebulous concepts they only tend to muddy the waters of a project that usually requires intense focus and absolute dedication. Making a movie, any movie of any quality level is damned difficult. Know why you’re doing it before you start so that you’re not depleting the time and money of those involved without at least getting something good out of it.
I don’t want to just write LizardMan: TTOTS off because there seems to be some heart in it and it’s not offensively inept. It just doesn’t seem to give a damn. It doesn’t have the passionate soul of a movie made by someone who loved the genre so much that they couldn’t contain their love and it manifested itself as their own vision. Instead it feels like a copy that no one really gave to much of a shit about. And that’s what makes it disappointing, that parts of it look great but don’t ever hold together long enough to keep the viewer enthralled.
So now my challenge to anyone who is currently or will ever make a low-budget independent movie.
Give a damn about it.
Real world, “Hollywood” movies are currently controlled by six companies. Everything that is released in theaters has to be allowed to be shown by these six companies and the fucking MPAA censors. And it’s pretty obvious that they have some of the shittiest taste in the world. Those of you who are somehow able to get together enough funding and support to create an entire film should take what you’re doing very seriously. Because you’re making the future of filmic art.
The great ideas in film are never going to come from the formulaic, audience-tested, pits of mediocrity in Hollywood. They are going to come from independent creators who actually care about what they’re making as more than a way to generate profits and points. They are going to come from people who want to see giant robots fighting on the moon, zombies crawling out of the ground, and lizard men creeping through the swamps. The great ideas are going to be created because we now have excellent video cameras in our phones and the ability to create and distribute movies throughout the world to audiences who just want something interesting, something that they haven’t seen before. We have online services like Netflix that want more, more, more and are willing to pay for it. Like the drive-in boom of the 50s and 60s and the video store boom of the 80s we have a need and a desire for movies that are dangerous and risky in a way that corporate Hollywood crap can never be. And you could be the person who makes those films.
But only if you actually give a damn.
(Sorry to pick on LizardMan but it was so close to being a decent movie that it pissed me off a bit. There is an overall lack of cohesion to it that made it hard to watch and harder to care about. And the less said about “LizardMan Rock” the better.)
Director: Peter Dang Studio: Camp Motion Pictures Run Time: 81 mins