How ‘One Cut of the Dead’ is a DIY Horror Filmmaking Masterclass
Take some inspirational wisdom from the surprisingly insightful DIY horror slasher ‘One Cut of the Dead’ film within a film.
Editor’s Note: major spoilers contained within!
Like the note above states, there are spoilers in this article. Which puts us in a bit of quandary for those who are reading this who haven’t seen One Cut of the Dead already. I was lucky enough to catch it at Fantastic Fest, where Shinichirou Ueda’s insane DIY horror film won first place in the audience awards.
For those who didn’t see it at a festival, it was briefly uploaded to Amazon Prime Direct a week ago. However, in another odd twist for the film, that was revealed to be an illegal (and unlicensed) upload which has thrown Amazon Prime Video Direct’s service into a state of contention for letting it happen.
Still, we’re going to talk about One Cut of the Dead anyways, spoiler-filled, because it is truly a remarkable film that is perhaps more appealing (and important) to aspiring DIY filmmakers who could take a lesson or two in how to string an audience along and create creative, fresh and fun-loving horror.
The 37-Minute Single Take Opening
One Cut of the Dead starts off mildly enough with an oddly directed 37-minute opening take which presents itself as a fully realized zombie slasher. It has a beginning, a middle, and plenty of small twists and turns for its final girl ending.
After the credits roll, it’s revealed that the story will, in-fact, continue and we meet the director of the short feature and learn how it came to be. We then get to re-experience the entire 37-minute single take film again, but from an outside perspective with new knowledge about the director and the film’s rag-tag production crew. It’s very enlightening and funny.
It also hits pretty close to home for any DIY filmmakers who have tried to take a run-and-gun approach to shooting a film of their own. We get to see the director work through all the fun problems of film production like casting, missing props and dealing with a drunk actor.
A “How-To” in Shooting Horror
It’s interesting that One Cut of the Dead is set around the shooting of a zombie horror slasher. The meta-idea of a film-about-a-film could have been used for any genre, but it definitely feels at home in horror. While not a slasher in a traditional sense (here’s an in-depth video essay about what makes a slasher a true slasher), One Cut of the Dead hits just about all the tropes needed for your standard run-of-the-mill horror flick.
It has zombies, it has corpses and plenty of jump-scares (planned and unplanned, of course). It also showcases both how accessible the genre is as well as its difficulties. You get to see the differences between “bad” acting and “good” acting (or maybe “motivated” and “unmotivated” works better).
We also get an interesting look into just what the horror genre is capable of. The genre has always been open to tongue-in-cheek interpretations and cross-genre combinations. The film-within-a-film, which can quickly become pretentious or overly meta, works pretty well in One Cut of the Dead as a film which doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The Indie Filmmaking Spirit
Finally, what ultimately does come across throughout One Cut of the Dead is a reaffirming wholesomeness to its characters and their passion for the project. As the behind-the-scenes director, cast and crew are revealed, we find out how the director’s filmmaking family eventually find their way into the production - and what it means to him to see it all the way through. Despite the rest of the crew’s madcap antics and, you know, an actual zombie outbreak.
In a way other meta-films-about-making-films like The Disaster Artist may be slightly off the mark (but perhaps closer to the actual documentary American Movie), we get to see characters on screen who actually enjoy film and filmmaking. To a level that it’s contagious after viewing the film. It makes you want to get your family and friends together and shoot your craziest idea the very next weekend.
If you are looking to make a DIY horror film of your own. Here are some great articles to help you get started. How to Build a Groovy DIY Chainsaw Arm Like the One Ash Uses in 'Evil Dead II', 10 Horror Films That Can Teach You a Lot About Indie Filmmaking and How the Filmmakers Behind Horror Anthology 'Holidays' Use Genre to Thwart Expectations [PODCAST].