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The weakest segment, "Tuesday the 17th," struggles as a riff on the Friday the 13th formula with flat dialogue and acting. To its credit, it features an ingenious, disturbing special effect, and may be the chapter that could best support expansion to feature length. Director Joe Swanberg, leader in the mumblecore movement of low-budget, doggedly realistic movies, helms a skin-crawling, technically brilliant segment, using a picture-in-picture Skype-type program, about a worried young woman telling her long-distance boyfriend about poltergeist-type activity. Halloween hauntings cut loose in the final segment, "10/31/98," but here a group of partying young bros makes a selfless, heroic choice. V/H/S ends holding out the thinnest sliver of hope for humanity amid a world of near-constant supernatural menace.
At nearly a full two hours, V/H/S feels one segment too long, but the short film format makes the recurring themes of compromised technology more overt than if the film only told one story. The anthology could provide the last word in found-footage movies, but Bruckner doesn't think the you-are-the-camera approach is going anywhere. "Found footage is going to be around for a while. People will view it as a stylistic choice and less as a gimmick. I'd like to see found footage put in other genres than horror," he says.
Five years to the month before Bruckner accompanied his fellow V/H/S filmmakers to Sundance, he debuted another horror film there, the entirely homegrown The Signal. Directed in three parts by Bruckner as well as Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry, The Signal explores a transmission that turns city dwellers into crazed berserkers, and alternates between different narrative techniques, from disgusting slapstick to contemplative, apocalyptic atmospherics.
A cult film since its 2007 release, The Signal announced Atlanta's emergence as a vibrant horror community. Three years later, AMC's "The Walking Dead" cemented the city's spooky reputation with episodes that featured hordes of zombies ravaging downtown Atlanta. Why does the Georgia capital provide such a believable backdrop for Armageddon? For anyone stuck in the city's rush hour, the idea of Atlantans turning feral and attacking each other in the streets is not a stretch.
Shows like the "The Walking Dead" and "The Vampire Diaries" provide steady paychecks for horror enthusiasts like Myers, who works a day job as a set dresser for the zombie show's set decorating department. "Our job is to make the apocalypse. Sometimes I have to build a pile of garbage that I can pick up and move as one piece, or a barricade that's on wheels, so we can move it out. Every once in a while I get to bring out my blood spatters." He finds it to be far more entertaining than decorating the sets of conventional films and TV shows. "Normally it's 'Stain these curtains. Clean this floor.' On 'The Walking Dead,' it's 'Smash that. Make that look like shit.' It's a lot of fun," he says.
That anarchic idea of fun suggests one of the reasons that a community of would-be horror mavens has coalesced around Atlanta. "Not only are the locations abundant, the talent top notch, and the pool of production companies growing, but the beer is cheaper than in L.A., which matters," remarks Deadhead Films' Eric Hollinshead, director of the upcoming horror-comedy Hell Hole. Hollinshead may be speaking tongue-in-cheek, but he conveys the esprit de gore of many first-time scary moviemakers and their vibe of "Let's make a movie in the backyard, only one NSFW."
Youth may even provide an advantage to filmmakers working in horror, compared to other genres. "If you're 25 years old trying to make a domestic drama, no one's going to pay attention to what you have to say about marriage. But I think people look to young voices specifically about horror," says Tecosky.
Overall, if Atlanta has a high quantity of film production, it stands to reason that a significant percentage would be a genre as popular as horror. "Horror has always been popular among indie filmmakers in every community, because it is the most upwardly mobile, narrative genre — the least dependent upon big budgets and major stars," says Wood.
"I would guess that Atlanta produces more than its share of low-budget horror films because the city has become such a major subcultural hub. A rising filmmaker can't help but be influenced by the energy surrounding 'The Walking Dead,' Zombieland, Scary Movie 5 — not to mention such wildly popular events as Dragon*Con, Netherworld, and the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse."
Horror may be hot, but the frightful film genres still face the same challenges as any cinematic venture. Local director Deronte Smith and his production company Solaris Filmwerks have shot the scary tale Prosper, about a 300-year-old witch who sustains eternal youth by preying on young people every few decades. While Smith and his crew have finished the film's principal photography, he's now struggling to raise money to complete post-production.
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