Recently, I went to visit a friend of mine, and he’d rented the DVD of “Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.” We ended up shooting the shit, and I wasn’t really paying attention to it. But I kind of wish I had, because I find the concept of DVDs like that oddly fascinating.
Keep in mind, that movie title isn’t a misprint on my part. The title’s similarity to the mainstream Hollywood release “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is purely intentional.
See, it was put out by a production company called “The Asylum,” whose entire business model consists of putting out straight-to-DVD “mockbusters” that are blatantly similar to more well-funded, mainstream productions. And their titles are often deliberately confusing. A few examples: “Sunday School Musical,” “Transmorphers” and “Snakes on a Train.”
So why do I find it interesting?
Well, obviously the production company has already accomplished its goal when people mistakenly rent “Transmorphers” in the mistaken belief that they’re bringing home “Transformers.” But I guess they’d face fraud charges if the movie consisted of nothing more than a caption that reads: “HA! GOTCHA, ASSHOLE!” They actually need to furnish a movie.
Maybe I’m totally off-base, but I’ve got a picture in my mind of the people involved in these productions — be they screenwriters, directors, actors or special effects technicians.
In all likelihood, they’ve got some training in their respective fields. They want to eventually make real movies. But in the meantime, here’s a paying job that will let them practice their art — in a sense.
I wonder if any of those people end up sneaking some genuine quality into the cheap rip-offs they’re tasked with making. A clever script? An inspired line-reading? A well-staged action sequence?
That’s not as far-fetched as it may sound. For a previous generation, Roger Corman’s studio filled the niche occupied by The Asylum and its ilk. Producer Roger Corman’s purpose was first and foremost to get paying butts in movie seats, for as cheaply as possible. And like The Asylum, his studio often straddled the line between low-budget film-making and blatant hucksterism.
It produced a lot of derivative schlock. And some genuinely good films ended up getting made. Prime example: “Piranha,” 1978, conceived and marketed as a cheap ripoff of “Jaws.” Directed and scripted, respectively, by a couple of neophytes named Joe Dante and John Sayles.
Dante and Sayles certainly aren’t the only prominent Hollywood types to get their start with Roger Corman. A brief list of others who meet that description include Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert DeNiro and Jack Nicholson.
To be honest, the little I saw of “Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies” didn’t give me the impression of some tragically neglected classic. But who knows? Maybe future generations of cinephiles will talk in glowing terms of The Asylum films, and share the consensus that they far surpass the Hollywood fare they’re supposed to be imitating.
Hey, it could happen. It’s not like “Transformers” set the bar impossibly high.