In 1995, Danish director Lars Von Trier started the “Dogme 95” movement: rules to take filmmaking back to the roots of traditional storytelling, acting and themes while eschewing elaborate uses of special effects and technology. As such, filmmakers that participated in the movement were forbidden from shooting anywhere but on location. They could only use diegetic sound and were only to employ hand-held cameras while using only the most basic of lighting.
The movement eventually dissipated, but not before spawning a number of notable films including The Celebration, The Idiots, and Julien Donkey-Boy. In 2013, a similar experiment was conducted. Producers Brad Sykes and Tim Ritter assembled a group of independent horror directors and gave them full creative freedom to shoot a horror short providing they conform to eight rules which included location shooting only, the use of nothing but analog equipment, and only practical makeup and special effects. The eight shorts, plus a wraparound directed by Sykes, were then compiled into the anthology film HI-8 (Horror Independent Eight).
The resultant film is a return to the glory days of the shot-on-video (SOV) horror films that populated mom-and-pop shops throughout the 80s and 90s. Like all anthology films, some segments are slightly stronger than others. Still, the margin of quality between the best segments and the worst is razor thin in this one. Each segment of HI-8 is brimming with ingenuity, creativity, gore and gusto, making HI-8 that rarest of anthology films: one which is all killer with very little filler.
Highlights segments include the fourth-wall breaking “Switchblade Insane”, directed by Tim Ritter. In this one, a wife discovers that her husband is in actuality the infamous Switchblade Butcher. This segment examines whether a couple that slays together can actually stay together. “The Tape” by Tony Masiello documents video store employee Tim’s discovery of a rare, unfinished SOV film entitled Bloodgasm. Tim becomes obsessed with the unfinished film and is determined to track down anyone who had a hand in making it. This segment is incredibly gory with some killer practical effects.
“A Very Bad Situation” by Marcus Koch shows a small group of survivors seeking shelter in a garage after a meteorite shower hits Earth. It features an incredible transformation scene which makes it well worth the price of admission. “Gang Them Style” by Ron Bonk is a humorous look at why septuagenarians would never survive the zombie apocalypse.
HI-8 is an ambitious undertaking that truly works. Naturally, the SOV aesthetic means that the film is decidedly not glossy, the actors not those that might grace the cover of Vanity Fair, and you won’t see any of the directors thanking the Academy anytime soon. But if that’s what you’re looking for, by all means, skip HI-8 – I believe there’s a Conjuring sequel scheduled for release sometime soon. The rest of us will be having a blast with this one.
**** (out of five)