Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Liberty Bleeds

Director: Stuart Wood
Writer: Stuart Wood
Producer: Stuart Wood
Cast: Stuart Wood, Tara Jennings, Peter Scivier
Country: UK
Year of release: 2010
Reviewed from: YouTube

I watch this stuff so that you don’t have to. And I don’t mean that in a nasty way.

Liberty Bleeds describes itself on YouTube as an ‘amateur horror film’ and that is completely accurate. It’s horribly shot, has no discernible story, drags on way too long and is of no interest to anyone except those who made it and British horror completists. In the spirit of fairness, I’ll give the film-makers props for honesty and for not trying to pretend their picture is something it’s not, but it’s still unwatchable crap.

Storywise, this is a thoroughly generic slasher with assorted young people stalked at home or in Southampton town centre by a killer wearing a rubber Statue of Liberty mask (hence the title, which is easily the best thing about it). Early on there are some Scream-inspired phone calls from the killer to his potential victims but that angle is swiftly forgotten.

Writer/director/producer Stuart Wood and Tara Jennings star as teenage siblings Camron (sic) and Julie Carter whose parents are away. Who the rest of the characters are is not clear, although one of them is played by Peter Scivier who with Jennings shares ‘co-director’ credit. There is a small boy who gets hanged by the killer while Julie is supposed to be babysitting him. And there’s a ridiculously young-looking and abusive cop who interrogates the siblings on suspicion of the boy’s murder. More than that I could not tell you.

Eventually, Camron collects together all those who have been attacked by the killer but survived – his sister and three others – and they all go to a large isolated house in the countryside where, predictably, the killer turns up and starts attacking them. Julie thinks it’s Camron but it’s not. I don’t know who it actually is, despite an unmasking and numerous subsequent scenes, including a long, dull sequence of the siblings holidaying in Tenerife. Two characters in the end credits are identified parenthetically as ‘(Killer 1)’ and ‘(Killer 2)’ so presumably they share the rubber mask, but I don’t know who they are, and certainly don’t care. It almost goes without saying that no-one in the cast can act and none of them have made any other films, so far as I can tell.

Speaking of the end credits, I feel obliged to reproduce the minimalist crew credits which are as follows:

  • Pre Production Scriptwriter – Stuart Wood
  • Editer (sic) – Stuart Wood
  • Camera Operators – Everyone
  • Stunt Co- ordesigner (sic!) – Peter Scivier, Sam Saunders

I suspect that ‘Pre Production Scriptwriter’ may be a unique credit in the history of cinema, although not as unique as that bizarre chimera of stunt co-ordinator and production designer! Even more bizarrely, the exact same credits, with the same errors, are then repeated - except for the third line which is replaced with ‘Special Effects Editor - Jacob Drewett’. After general thanks, the credits round up with a detailed list of all the copyrighted music used without permission in the film, including tracks by Black Eyed Peas, Dizzee Rascal, Rihanna, Chase and Status, Kula Shaker and Moby.

Music aside, one aspect of the soundtrack does stand out and that’s a news report on a murder, heard in two separate scenes. Now, one thing that always bothers me with no/low-budget productions is that directors cast poor actors as news reporters. I always think: if you need somebody reading a news report, why not cast a presenter from your local radio station? They’ll probably think it’s fun and may even be keen to add a film credit, however minor, to their CV. They’ll almost certainly give you some free publicity on their show. And they’ll sound professional. Win win win. So when I heard what sounded like a real news report from a real reporter, I was initially impressed that somebody had had the right idea.

…Until I realised that it was a real news report. Specifically, it was a report on the murder of Sophie Lancaster, a 20-year-old who was attacked and killed by a gang in Lancashire in 2007. Lancaster’s death was a high profile case because she and her boyfriend (who was badly injured) were attacked for being goths, thus the incident contributed to a broadening of the concept of ‘hate crime’ as something which could apply to any subculture or group. Lancaster’s mother established the Sophie Lancaster Foundation in her memory.

I must say that – irrespective of the amateur nature of the film or the non-existent budget – using a recording of a report on a real life, brutal, unprovoked murder as background in a horror movie is utterly tasteless and insensitive.

The above notwithstanding, Liberty Bleeds is basically a bunch of mates larking about and shouldn’t be considered as a ‘real’ feature film aimed at an external audience. On the other hand, Wood and co went to the trouble of uploading the whole thing to YouTube in 11 ten-minute chunks. (The last is only two minutes but nevertheless 102 minutes is clearly way too long for something like this, even if the last ten minutes are credits/out-takes. The film could easily lose half an hour and still be feature-length, although it would be no more comprehensible, entertaining or interesting.) There is naturally a pejorative view of ‘releasing’ a feature film onto YouTube as the lowest cinematic rung of all (at least Vimeo has a certain class) but on the other hand it is a valid distribution model and there are plenty of good, well-budgeted professional movies which have been made legitimately available on YouTube. Freakdog and Fired spring to mind as a couple of examples.

So the fact that this is on YouTube should not necessarily count against it, although the ten-minute chunks thing does to some extent. On the other hand, it’s so unwatchable for anyone not directly involved – featuring as it does a mixture of unlit, shaky handheld footage and camera mic-recorded dialogue frequently drowned out by background noise – that it’s very difficult to stomach more than ten minutes at a go. Only 175 viewers have made it all the way through so far.

And there, really, is the dichotomy of modern amateur film-making (I touched on this in Urban Terrors): the sort of crappy home movies that people used to make on 8mm and show to their mates are now available for the world to view. By virtue of being posted online in March 2010, Liberty Bleeds has to be counted as a ‘released’ film and hence a title in the British Horror Revival. Shot between August 2009 and February 2010, it was actually the second film from ‘Liquid Productions’ following an earlier ‘teen slasher’ called Screamer, shot in the first half of 2007.

Wood and Jennings subsequently became ‘South Lunar Productions’ and began work on a third feature in February 2011, entitled Purgatory: “A Movie about the paranormal and a group of friends who find themselves lost in the woods and seek for help in an abandoned psyciatric hospital to find out things we'rent what they seem.” Production was halted after one week and seems to have never restarted, although a two-minute clip of one scene was posted in May of that year to a Facebook page which went completely silent six months later.

Now this may be a coincidence, but at exactly the same time that shooting on Purgatory fell apart, Jennings was in court, being fined for assaulting a journalist from the local paper. When Jennings’ mother was convicted in October 2010 of falsely claiming more than £50,000 in benefits, a hack from the Southern Daily Echo took a picture from across the street of her leaving court with her daughter, who took exception to being snapped, grabbed the journo and screamed, “I’m going to kill you!” Charged with a public order offence, Jennings failed to turn up for her hearing in February 2011 (possibly because she was busy making a crappy horror film…) so a warrant was issued and she was arrested. Jennings was fined £350 with £250 in other charges, which was probably considerably more than she and Stuart Wood had ever spent on any of their films.

And that’s pretty much all there is to say about Liberty Bleeds: woeful technical quality, no discernible characters or plot, pirated music, of passing interest as an example of how anyone at all can make a feature-length film and distribute it online, and notable for being followed by an unfinished project which was apparently abandoned because one of the film-makers was nicked for assaulting a journalist covering the story of her benefit-fraudster mother. Which is different at least.

I would have notched this up to a D for the title, which I still think is pretty cool, but I have to knock it back again for using the Sophie Lancaster news report.

Like I say, I watch these things so you don’t have to.

MJS rating: D-

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