[Edit: Turns out, I was wrong about Chicago Cinema Society hosting this event. That is corrected below.]
Scarewaves is an anthology film from ultra-low budget DIY filmmaker, Henrique Couto. I saw the Chicago premiere of the film at Chicago Filmmakers – another event organized by Jason Coffman. Henrique (pronounced: Henrick) was on hand to introduce the film and answer some audience questions afterward along with John Oak Dalton, one of the film’s writers. Couto is definitely a showman. He has an outlandish personal aesthetic, and an enthusiasm for his work that is infectious. After a few jokes, some audience flattery, and a “thanks for coming”, he sat and watched us watch his film. I took that as a good sign. He’s standing behind his work by sitting behind me while I watch his work.
Couto told us in the introduction that his film was a throwback to anthologies like Tales From the Crypt and Creepshow. He, like many of us, has fond memories of seeing those wonderfully campy odes to EC Comics (and their ilk) when he was a kid. That was very evident in the structure of the film as well as in the tone and lighting. The production is pretty impressive considering it was made for “the price of a decent used car”. It looks good, sounds good, and even has a decent score. The stories are what we’ve come to expect from these types of movies – people punished for misdeeds. Usually in a plot twist playing out in the last seconds of the segment. There are five stories. The wrap-around was my favorite. It concerned a vape pen huffing (that’s probably not the right term. I don’t fucking know. I had to look up “vape pen”. I thought those were just a Twitter joke.) talk radio show host. His show usually focuses on scary stories told by callers but this time, he’s telling his own best stories because it’s his final show. Each story is a different segment. (“No shit, Danger!”) There’s the ex-cop with a history of taking the law into his own hands facing the ghosts of his past and atoning for the mistakes that inevitably come from taking the law into your own hands (like accidentally killing a girl). There’s the mistress, who has convinced her boyfriend to kill his wife, waiting for the news (via text message) that the deed has been done. There’s the henpecked heister whose conniving wife is willing to throw him over for his heist partner/cousin. And finally – there’s the creepy painter who gets his totally rad (though never shown) painting abilities by sacrificing nude models (female, natch) to an evil entity. Hmm. There seems to be a pattern here…
The film isn’t bad. There were entertaining bits. And I was impressed by how polished Couto’s film was despite its extremely low budget. But it left a very bad taste in my mouth. Couto (and the writers) have thrown back a little too far. Like, to that time in the 80s when horror HAD to have some “tits” in it by some royal decree or whatever. A brief period when “women’s lib” had faded from the public consciousness and a ridiculed television talk show host (it was Donahue. I’m old, alright?!) was the face of feminism. Don’t get me wrong, I love looking at breasts as much as (or more than) the next guy. But, for fuck’s sake, let’s at least be artistic about it. Let’s expect the breasts we’re seeing to fit into the narrative. Move the story along. Establish character. ANYTHING is better than just making me think, “oh, has it already been nine minutes since we saw boobs?” The word gratuitous comes to mind. (Picture the word 135 feet tall with those World Trade Center memorial lights pointed at it.) Besides the gratuitous nudity, the film also suffers from one-dimensional female characters. Or zero-dimensional ones. There’s an (attempted) rape scene in which the woman is so unimportant as a character that she FUCKING DISAPPEARS. And not like – oooooh, spooky, she was a ghost probably (read that last part in a spooky voice for full effect). Nope. The character just wasn’t there after the rapist rolled off of her. Did she run away? Maybe. But why? A cop showed up and stopped the guy. And her purse is still there on the ground. What the hell? I guess the woman was just a set piece. At least she wasn’t naked fodder for a demon. Or the conniving nag. Or the conniving homewrecker. Or the clueless photographer turned Judas goat (for naked fodder). Some of the segments are even wrapped up with a confirmation of this sentiment when we come back to the radio show host and he explains the moral of the story as something like, “don’t get married, guys” or “kill your girlfriend”. We get it, you don’t like women! Sheesh!
Bonus review content (you’re welcome): The Q&A after the film was PHENOMENAL! Couto was eager to answer audience questions about the film and even more eager to answer questions about filmmaking. A prime example of this: he turned a question about a background whiteboard into a 10 minute story about the difficulties he and his crew ran into shooting at that location. This was unlike any Q&A I’ve ever seen. It was an amazing crash course in DIY filmmaking. If you ever get the chance to attend one of Couto’s films where he will be in attendance fielding questions afterward, and you are even slightly interested in how films get made, do yourself a favor and go.
THE FINAL CUT: Scarewaves is a surprisingly slick (for its budget) tribute to the horror anthologies of the 80s with some of the same social ignorance that makes a lot of 80s films and shows seem so dated now. Where Tales from the Crypt gets a pass as being a product of its time, Scarewaves doesn’t. For this, it may rub even Creepshow fans (all of us, right?) the wrong way.