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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [September 21, 2015]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com] Everything old is new again as horror films increasingly take inspiration from their past. The latest retro trend arguably began with Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses, rooted as it was in 1970s aesthetics. Giallo is likewise making a comeback, as in Francesca's attempt to look like it was actually filmed in 1970s Italy. Slasher filmmakers too are turning their backs on neo-slasher films (e.g. Scream), and are instead striving for a more authentic 1980s slasher sensibility.
Such is the case with The Lashman, a film that not only tells a typically 1980s slasher story, but tries to recreate the look and feel of that era.
The tale is typical 1980s slasher fare. Some college kids camp by a lake, one with a local legend about a ghostly killer. Known as The Lashman, this killer was once a nice guy in the Old West, who was unjustly tortured and murdered. Now his spirit haunts the lake, seeking revenge by slaughtering teen campers.
Why a dead 19th century leathersmith would seek revenge against the outlaws who killed him, by killing 20th century college kids, is never explained. Nor is it clear why the outlaws hated a leathersmith who only minded his own business. But then, many otherwise entertaining slasher films are low on logic.
I say these are 20th century college kids because, though The Lashman is a current film, the time period is indeterminate. It could be the 1980s. The car and clothing are nondescript. None of the product labels or other items on screen suggest a particular era. There are no cell phones, nor even any mention of them. Instead, there is a campground pay phone.
"One of the biggest problems plotwise for most modern slasher films is how common technology is," explained writer/director Cameron McCasland to the Hollywood Investigator. "Wes Craven's Scream used [technology] to great effect, making it a part of the plot. But that's not what I was trying to do. I didn't want some cheesy line about how cell phones didn't work out in the woods, or gratuitous shots of low batteries or dropped phones.
"Once I had decided on that, I started toying with the idea of making a period piece, usually a no-no for low-budget films. But I had access to a lot of places that had been stuck in time. For the most part it works. I never committed to a specific date. It feels like the mid 1970s to me. However, the station wagon was a 1986 model. Take that for what it is."
The characters are likewise standard 1980s slasher film tropes. A disparate, broadly drawn group of protagonists, more caricatures than characters. There is the nice guy, horny jerk, good girl, skanky girl, and even Bobby, the obligatory fat comic relief guy. He's the usual unattached fifth wheel, who must be invited because he's the good girl's brother. It's a trope that extends back to another fifth wheel -- the wheelchair guy in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Eustice is another cliché. He's the local crazy who warns the kids away, mockingly saying, "The Lashman will get you! The Lashman will get you!" We've seen him before in Friday the 13th, albeit under another name.
Naturally, being a ghost, the slasher is of the superhuman type popularized by Halloween, and not a wimpier, post-Scream neo-slasher. That's appropriate for a 1980s slasher aesthetic. The Lashman's favorite weapons are a whip and an ax, but he's a slasher as the term is understood. Oddly, he also shoots a cop. (Or so we are told; we don't see the shooting.) Strange, that a 19th century ghost and slasher would use a gun.
The Lashman's production values are rough. Acting is unexceptional. The dialog is banal, mostly padding, full of the usual obscenities and clichés. Conversation revolves around sex and booze. Sound quality changes from shot to shot, as if recorded in-camera, without any ambient location sound mixed in during post-production. The nighttime lighting is poor. Grainy and hazy, as occurs with low-lit video. The Lashman was shot mostly night-for-night -- a good choice for horror -- but without the use of lights. The campfire scene seems lit only by the campfire itself.
Yet in a way, these crude production values enhance The Lashman. They recreate the ambiance of a low-budget 1980s horror film. The Prey and The Final Terror, also about killers and campers out in the wilderness, come to mind. I wondered if The Lashman's aesthetically appropriate crudities were intentional or serendipity?
"The funny part is, we actually had a really nice Mole Richardson light kit," said McCasland, "but our cabin was without electricity. Our generator was loud, and because of how the cabin is placed down in the woods, it amplified everything. So we got inventive using coleman lanterns and real fire. I think it gives the movie a cool look, like an old VHS tape, which I think helps sell that time period."
The Lashman was shot with two Panasonic DVX100s. As for the sound, McCasland says. "We used a Rode NTG3 tethered to one of the DVXs for sound. We didn't have a trained sound man. That is one of my only regrets from that shoot. We were conscience about sound. But as fortune had it, we shot during the two weeks the cicadas were mating, which only happens every seven years. It was so loud."
Why do a slasher film when there are already so many out there? "I wanted to make a werewolf film, but it was cost prohibitive with the make-up and f/x," said McCasland. "So I took an inventory of everything I had access to and built the story around that. I had worked as co-producer on Lee Vervoort's Gun Town, and through that met Tim and Carole Emery who own the Copper Canyon Ranch. From there my killer became a cowboy. We found an old truck we could use for a cop car. And so on."
McCasland estimates the film's budget at $35,000, but suggests that's not entirely accurate because much of the equipment he'd bought for The Lashman was later used on other projects, including his short film, Tailypo (see below).
"I raised the money for Lashman a few different ways," said McCasland. "I was doing music videos. A few weird videographer jobs. Working 60 hours a week at a record store, saving the 20 hours of overtime towards my movie. I did that for months. Crowdfunding is great if you can get it, but not a lot of people want to risk money on someone who isn't proven."
The Lashman is McCasland's first feature film. He's directed TV projects and short films, and has worked on Dr. Gangrene's Creature Feature, a local TV show in Nashville, where he met Larry Underwood (Dr. Gangrene). Underwood plays the part of as Eustice in The Lashman.
The Lashman was shot mostly in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, "save for the campfire scene with Eustice, which we shot in Hendersonville, Tennessee in the backyard of his parents."
Objectively, The Lashman is a poorly made film, with crude production values and mediocre acting. Yet subjectively, I greatly enjoyed it. If (like me) you're the sort of film fan who prefers crappy 1980s slasher films over $300 million Big Studio summer popcorn movies, you'll likely enjoy The Lashman.
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