RADIANT CIRCUS went to see the latest of Billy Chainsaw’s NOVA NIGHTS at The Horse Hospital (16 JAN 2018). Here’s our writeup.
NOVA NIGHTS at The Horse Hospital is where the programming gets personal. “Conceived and hosted” by Billy Chainsaw (the series has reached Episode 8 and counting…), NOVA NIGHTS regularly feature in our weekly SCREEN GUIDES as welcome extensions of Chainsaw’s own creative collaborations. As if inviting his audience to lounge in the front parlour of his (peculiar) passions, NOVA NIGHTS are billed (if you’ll pardon the pun) as “progressive, transgressive and underground”. They celebrate everything we love about sitting in the dark.
The latest – MY EYES! MY EYES! [16 JAN 2018] – was a night of pure “indie horror and surrealist movie magic” but it also served as an incubator for some fledgling filmmakers. Over the course of the evening, Chainsaw presented a programme of micro- to zero-budget short films, interviewing three filmmakers at various stages of finding their feet on film and in front of an appreciative audience.
The evening kicked off with the real charm of Calieb Thresher’s jokeshop horror shows. Introduced to the genre by an older brother – “I first watched BRAINDEAD when I was about 8” – we got a killer baby doll (SPLATSH, 2015) and a red-hooded creature feature (I WAS A TEENAGE SHMERWOLF, 2017). Rapid, DIY filmmaking, these are shorts full of recognisably recycled props, strap-on abs, broccoli and (x2) buckets of gore. As passers-by stray into frame there’s enough fanboy adulation here to launch a thousand Jackson/Landis/Raimi retrospectives.
Enquiring about the next project, Chainsaw revealed there’s more in the vaults than slapstick blood and guts: Thresher has also made more dialogue-driven shorts – “like Mike Leigh”. “I’d like to see a mix of those” suggested Chainsaw, clearly sensing the potential of an intriguing genre mashup. At the end of it all, the young filmmaker received generous applause from the underground audience. Because that’s what NOVA NIGHTS is.
Next up was Russ Gomm, a more experienced maker with a much more polished film. THE WELCOMING (2017) is a delicious slice of folk horror with a (shocking) sting in its tale. A family picnics in the woods. One child wanders off. A man in a trenchcoat appears. A knife. An ancient evil. A word. The end. Framed in handsome 4:3, this is 8 mins of sombre visuals with an unsettling soundtrack.
Introduced as “The Man Who Can’t Get his Films Shown”, Gomm has already made a pair of features: a documentary about a certain found footage horror, THE WOODS MOVIE (2015), and a tribute to low-budget gorefests, THE LEGEND OF THE MAD AXEMAN (2017). Both of which it seems we won’t be seeing anytime soon. Chainsaw’s attempts to explain BLAIR WITCH to an audience he’s convinced weren’t old enough to know it – “a boring film about twigs and leaves” – prompted debate about what kind of film THE WELCOMING actually is… Chainsaw went for “I love that you have inadvertently made a pagan movie”. Gomm didn’t agree, inadvertently or otherwise.
The final film of the evening was a more experimental and surreal piece: Finn Callan’s THE GARDEN (2017). A man in a Maus-like mask (without the ears…) encounters another man with a TV attached to his arm in an isolated windmill. A VHS tape is played. Visions ensue. Everything gets (extremely) amplified.
THE GARDEN is loud, raw, and ugly – “Dissonant, uninviting, harsh… I wanted it to be as difficult to watch as humanly possible” – but these are characteristics rather than criticisms. 17 when he “conceived of the whole bloody thing”, Callan (now 19) claims not to have seen David Lynch’s films until after the final edit, but there are raw chunks of ERASERHEAD here and, in an all too rare homage, echoes of DUNE’s time folding space odysseys. There’s also the entire soundtrack of Seinfeld’s BEE MOVIE (2007) accelerated to 2 minutes and layered into the sound design. YouTube clips and social media memes have been mined for yet more discomfort. Final Cut Pro filters distort everything to painful levels.
Dismissed by its maker – “I’ll be honest with you, I hate my movie” – and much admired by Chainsaw, THE GARDEN is an at times overwhelming insight into an embryonic talent. Uneasy about discussing a project he feels he has moved on from, Callan took a poll of the audience: most liked it, some didn’t (at all). Wrapping up, Callan reflected: “I have yet to make something I’m truly proud of”. Chainsaw countered: “This is the kind of thing I live and breath”. And there endeth the evening.
Warning, this video may potentially trigger seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy. Viewer discretion is advised.
With each NOVA NIGHTS episode, Billy Chainsaw ensures attention is paid to art he (really) appreciates. He is a careful guardian of the off-kilter creative flame, encouraging honesty and reflection from his charges, praising them for their work and prising out analysis and insight. Not everything in Episode 8 was great – our minds drifted a couple of times to friends across town watching THREE BILLBOARDS – but such doubts betray the greater joy of witnessing early career muscle being flexed (even if the power poses have yet to be finessed).
It matters that there’s an audience for this work and we are happy to be counted amongst that audience. We hope NOVA NIGHTS continue to make generous space for films and makers who might not otherwise get projected. Outside of runs in the rarified wheat fields of London’s film festivals, nights at The Horse Hospital remain an important entry route into the capital’s screen estate for micro budget filmmaking (Callan spent £58 on THE GARDEN, the rest was begged and borrowed).
We often warn that there’s a storm coming… Without Billy Chainsaw and the other indie venues and programmers we cover across London, we might only ever get to see Marvel and the murmuration of smaller – better-behaved, awards-hungry – films that flock the city’s silver screens. That would be a very dark hour indeed.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
- Find more shelter from the storm at the next NOVA NIGHTS [13 FEB 19:30, The Horse Hospital]. Details coming soon.
- Discover more about Russ Gomm at IMDb. His new book The Blair Witch Project is published by Arrow and will be available from the big river [02 FEB 2018].
- Rent, buy or stream [with Prime] Finn Callan’s THE GARDEN at Amazon Video.
- Buy something from The Horse Hospital fund-raising store to give a vital venue a boost.
Join the hunt for adventurous moving pictures.
Featured images: THE GARDEN (2017). Below: The Blair Witch Project (2018).