Scared Stupid

Local filmmakers shoot retro horror in a very modern way

Stupid Teenagers Must Die begins with a title sequence that reads, "Long ago, in a time of pure evil . . . the 1980s." And yet it's shot on digital video, processed through a filter its director likens to a "dirty diaper," and looks, to the casual viewer, a lot more likeThe Blair Witch Project, Ghost Hunters, or any number of modern verité-style attempts at horror than it does like Friday the 13th Part Whatever.

This, however, may be part of the joke, too. Just as John Hughes insisted you accept Judd Nelson as a high-schooler in The Breakfast Club, so, too, do the filmmakers here insist that simply saying it's the '80s is enough.

Besides, we don't need another freakin' Blair Witch parody. The reason for setting it in the '80s is "the best movies are from the '80s. Those are the horror movies that are funny now, and we weren't trying to do anything really scary," says La Habra-based director Jeff C. Smith, who studied film at Chapman University.

Lead actor Jovan Meredith, who gets to wear a Michael Jackson Thriller jacket in "reverse colors" for the entire film, feels that the '80s setting gives the characters something of a built-in excuse to be more naive than audiences today want their horror characters to be. "Kids don't for fall that stuff now," he says. "Nowadays, the characters have to be tricked into being part of some serial killer's plan. In the '80s, it was like, 'Let's go up to this cabin in the woods!'—just being dumb."

Recently released on DVD by Vanguard Cinema—sales figures haven't been released yet, but producer Sara Parrell says she's been promised a report at the end of the month—Stupid Teenagers was a project several years in the making, beginning when Parrell, Smith and Meredith found themselves working at an unnamed "theme park in Anaheim." (Smith still works there, so he can't bring himself to actually say the name in public.)

"The first thing we did—just for fun, with a bunch of other employees—we took a Hi-8 video camera and made a movie set at a party," Smith says, "basically as an excuse to have a party every week and videotape things . . . "

". . . With actors that weren't paid!" Meredith adds.

"I dunno if you'd call them actors," Smith says. "They were our friends. We'd go, 'Hey, you're a slut, you play the slut. . . .' From that, we realized we needed to pay actors."

The resulting movie, titled The Happening, was screened for the only time at the now-defunct Captain Blood's Village Theatre in Orange. But it inspired Smith to try again with a script called Blood and Guts, written with Meredith in mind, that would eventually become Stupid Teenagers, in which a group of moronic high-schoolers, all to be played by actors clearly in their 20s and 30s, hold a séance in the house of a deceased killer named Murder McGee. This time, they would hold auditions.

But a horror movie, even a low-budget spoof of one, requires more money than videotaping a party. They lucked into the funds when Smith's co-writer, Curtis Andersen, extracted a drunken promise from his sister's father-in-law at a family wedding. No one expected the guy to actually come through once he sobered up, but sure enough, a couple of days later, he called. "You guys still wanna make that movie?" Three-fourths of the budget ended up coming from him; the rest from Parrell, who works as an event planner in Huntington Beach.

With location permits ridiculously high, it was decided that actually renting a house for a month would be cheaper than formally scheduling a shoot. They found the perfect deteriorating wreck in Long Beach, on a one-way street, in a neighborhood where loud screams and people wearing bloody clothes were not looked upon as anything out of the ordinary. They even managed to intimidate some unlikely locals, recalls Smith, like "the guy that hopped over the fence while the helicopter with the searchlight was chasing after him, and he comes up, he's got blood on him, and then we're all covered in the fake blood, and he's like, 'Oh, terribly sorry'-he had an English accent."

Smith claims he has the outline for two sequels, while Parrell says they have another idea they can't talk about that's "very different," but it's going to take a while to recover from the vast credit-card debt they incurred on the film. Meredith now works at Bank of America, and despite being the most charismatic of the cast, both in his tense lead performance and riotously funny "hidden" commentary track conducted with both his crying baby daughter and Smith, he is done with acting, at least for the moment.

"I've auditioned plenty of times. I've failed miserably plenty of times," he says. "I did the whole 'acting life for me' thing, but obviously I said, 'Fuck auditions' after a while. I got to the point where I was just over it."

Nonetheless, he promises he'll be back for the sequel, by which time, Smith jokes, Meredith's baby girl will be a teenager and able to play the lead role.

 

Stupid Teenagers Must Die is now available on DVD from Vanguard Cinema. 

 
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