Not content to let their pop passions go unloved by the masses, Loser City staff have banded together to provide Pop Rehabilitation to the works that have been unjustly maligned and forgotten. In honor of Project Greenlight’s return to the airwaves after a decade long hiatus, Nick Hanover looks back at the film that emerged from the show’s last season, Feast, a gross but lovable horror work that arguably would have fared better in today’s post-Cabin in the Woods horror sphere.
The funny thing about the horror and comedy genres is that they’re often immune to harsh criticism, somehow able to don teflon armor against critics on their way to the box office or gain a second life on home release. Yes, this occasionally leads to pop culture holocausts like the weirdly prolific Friedberg/Seltzer Movies that are forever assaulting consumers but it’s a phenomenon that’s especially important to the horror world, where one critic’s garbage is a fan’s treasure. Take it as a badge of honor then that Feast failed on pretty much every possible level- critically, commercially, culturally.
For most, if Feast is known at all it’s because of its sad standing as the last film to come out of Project Greenlight, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s attempt to turn filmmaking into reality tv which got resurrected this week after ten years off the air. Feast was the film produced by the series’ third season and amazingly was its highest grossing release despite making back barely a fifth of its budget. Much of Feast’s commercial failure can be blamed squarely on Project Greenlight and all of its baggage, which caused Feast to be stuck in the middle of the tumultuous divorce between the Weinsteins and Miramax as well as forcing Feast to come to viewers already underwhelmed by Project Greenlight’s pathetic track record. Undoubtedly all this chaos goes a long way towards explaining how the film was only shown in theatres for a month before going to DVD and it’s easy to see why the current incarnation of Project Greenlight forgoes theatre distribution for its “winning” film in favor of airing directly on HBO.
Given its plot and tongue-in-cheek handling of horror tropes, though, Feast very well could have been an unlikely hit with the right promotion and release schedule, particularly now that Cabin in the Woods has proven there is a market for unabashedly goofy meta-horror works. That said, Feast does not share Cabin in the Wood’s grandiosity or impossibly gorgeous youthful cast. Taking its cues instead from the similarly budget-strapped early works of John Carpenter and Wes Craven (who is credited as one of the film’s many producers), Feast is set almost entirely in one claustrophobic location, an anonymous small town bar that suddenly and inexplicably finds itself assaulted by a mysterious alien force. The West Texas setting and the gleeful mutilation of recognizable faces presaged Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse entry Planet Terror, another flop from the same era, but the film is more commentary than pastiche.
Within the bar are a handful of classic horror archetypes, all given nicknames associated with the clichés they mock rather than actual names. Thus we get the “Hero” and several rounds of “Heroines,” all to communicate that director John Gulager and writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton have a firm grasp of the anatomy of horror and a willingness to manipulate that to their own ends. Gulager and his creative team thus count on their audience to be similarly aware of the trappings of horror and play with their expectations, giving each character an on-screen breakdown that unveils their stats and life expectancy. Like Wes Craven’s Scream franchise, Feast is confident in the knowledge of its viewers and upends that knowledge as much as it can, turning the viewing experience into a game of will they or won’t they that makes it clear Gulager got more than a little delight out of proving the audience wrong.
Though it lacks Scream’s star power and sexual tension, Feast finds strength instead in its adventurous plotting and gruesome, creative effects (again predicting what Rodriguez would do with Grindhouse). Unlike heavy handed studio horror films that all too often miss the point, Feast understands that the typical horror viewer is more likely to react to tension and creative situations than awkward character development and dreaded romantic subplots. Feast overcomes the need for backstory because it makes it clear that none of its characters stand all that great a chance at living through the night; similarly, these characters don’t have convoluted connections to one another or decades of shared history, they’re just a group of folks trapped in a bar together with no real idea of how to survive their increasingly absurd situation. There’s real fear to be milked from this concept, the idea that you could wind up stuck in a life or death conflict with no one to support you but a group of strangers and Gulager knows this. Similarly Gulager doesn’t shy away from letting humor sneak into his film, allowing Judah Friedlander (of 30 Rock fame) in particular to get immense mileage out of his sleazy and slowly degrading Beer Guy character- Gulager knows there’s an innate absurdity to what happens in Feast and he utilizes Friedlander as a means of expressing this.
For moviegoers who grew up on the saints Carpenter and Craven, Feast is a godsend, an irreverent yet tense take on situational horror that deserves a second life, even if its writers went on to helm the humorless Saw franchise and its director seems to be stuck in sequel purgatory. For at least one film, Feast’s team got it right- horror that eschews high budget effects and bloated writing in favor of a simple streamlined idea that isn’t afraid to laugh at itself. What more could you ask for?
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover