Back in my "Slumhouse Days" where a treasure chest threatened to crash through our ceiling and the power went out every other day, we had a tradition of gathering the troops and watching b-reel horror movies. It allowed us to all perform our own versions of Mystery Science Theatre 30000 and impress ourselves with our startling wit. Even back then as we tore apart these cheesy and campy pictures, I stood by the belief that most of these low-grade special effects and Pinocchio-like acting pictures were aware of exactly what they were and who they were attracting rather than misfires. In the case of Alligator, Dead Alive and Re-Animator, it is accepted they were aiming to be absurd schlock, but my argument may get torn apart for midnight favourites like Troll 2 and Jaws: The Revenge.
The 1970s and 1980s b-movie camp festivals clearly have endeared themselves to many independent filmmakers. This is why we've ended up with stuff like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and Zombeavers. These are self-aware pictures purposefully embracing and lovingly playing with the clichés and tropes of the countless low-grade horror pictures trotted out during those decades.
The shoestring budget probably makes most young independent directors think this is a great way to break in. It is a bit of a challenge as the filmmaker actually needs to try to make a scary movie while also putting in dollops of cheese and camp that winks to the well-worn tropes and clichés. It needs to avoid overt parody or you're stuck with a Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer movie and no one but their parents want that. It also needs to create an atmosphere and feel that makes you nostalgic for the time period that often requires practical effects with ridiculous gore (but done in a way where actual effort in put into it even if it looks cheesy). The actors and events must be played straight with an undercurrent of wit, self-awareness, tongue-in-cheek humour and subversiveness. Even though one is mimicking past pictures, there still has to be a sense of originality and attempt to bring something fresh to the genre or the viewer throws up their hands and wonders why they just didn't dig into their old movie collection.
So here we are with Stung. A movie with a title and poster that makes it very clear they are jumping purposefully on the schlocky b-movie bandwagon. The problem is that wasps or any kind of bug is about as creative and fresh as alligators, sharks or bears at this point. Isn't it time for some gorillas or hippos or sea urchins to wreak campy havoc? The trailer gets some points for the casting of Lance Henriksen who screams 1980s and his performance is suitably over-blown. There is ample gore that looks practical and ridiculous, but then we have the very CGIed bees. It loses the whole vibe and aesthetic when putting in cheaply produced modern technology because then it looks like a knock-off of Asylum.
We have carnage and gore, but no signs of any real scares. And to be honest, there doesn't really seem to be any laughs here too. The more I write, I'm starting to think this may have been an attempt at a straight up horror movie and it was a savvy marketing guru at IFC Midnight that realized they need to sell this as cheap comedy camp to draw in the paying crowd.
This at least is a fine example that even the independent movie scene can be derivative and make stuff that exists just so someone can trick themselves into thinking they're at the cool table. On the winning side, it has now given me the idea for my big sea urchin hippo monster script.