The digital video technology that led to a boom in cheaply shot indie horror over the last few years, also chanced to come in the wake of the critical and commercial success of “The Blair Witch Project” and its predecessor “The Last Broadcast”: two films which made the horror 'mockumentary' format by far the most obvious way for aspiring film-makers to circumvent the limitations of budget and the aesthetic roughness inherent in the new medium by utilising these very qualities for their own ends -- instantly transforming them into the authentic qualities of the diegetic texture of the fictional work supposedly being offered to the viewer. In other words: it no longer mattered if your film looked like a piece of crap -- you could simply claim it as a deliberate mimicry of the amateur standards commonly found in low budget film-making.
Unfortunately, tempting though this sub-genre must now be for the budding indie film-maker, the mockumentary is still one of the most difficult genres to execute properly. Not least because you're having to follow two of the best attempts in the style, particularly with the atmospheric and ultra-scary “The Last Broadcast”. The problem is that both that film and the following “The Blair Witch Project” addressed our inherent trust in the documentary form and undermined it in clever, sometimes subtle ways to unnerve and wrong-foot viewer expectations, that there seems little left to be done with the format. “The Last Broadcast” undermined the authority of the investigative documentary form itself, making everything it showed us the build up to a magnificently executed twist at the very end; while “The Blair Witch Project” created an unnervingly realistic atmosphere with its imitation of raw, ‘found footage’, that worked on the imagination by offering no resolution or documentary structure other than that which the fictional subjects of the ‘work’ had allegedly filmed themselves.
“Resurrecting the Street Walker” is pitched more in the style of “The Last Broadcast”, but also includes echoes of “The Blair Witch Project” in purporting to be a documentary about an aspiring film-maker who has discovered the only copy of a legendary, unfinished horror film from the Video Nasty era, and his subsequent attempts to complete the project himself. Thus, we are presented with several layers of artifice over which the real director, Ozgur Uyanik, provides his own narration -- just to bring an extra level of post modern cleverness to the project.
The film is ostensibly presented to the viewer as a documentary made by film-school attendee Marcus Grady (Tom Shaw) about what happened to his friend James Parker (James Powell): a film-obsessed horror fan struggling to make it in the film business by working his way up from a lowly position as a runner for an insignificant production company called Portland Pictures, based in Soho. We know from the get-go that something horrible must have happened to James because Grady’s fictional film foregrounds the fact straight away; but Grady’s film started life as a co-project between the two aspiring film-makers, the idea being that Parker’s experiences as a runner would form material for a documentary about the struggling British Film Industry in the Noughties.
Throughout its 80 minute running time, footage supposedly shot by Grady for his documentary in fact captures Parker’s unpleasant experiences as an unpaid dogsbody, constantly harassed and abused by spiteful production executive Dorothy Thistle (Lorna Beckett), inter-cut with subsequently filmed Talking Head shots of Parker’s friends, family and colleagues which ominously intimate at the disaster to come. Not only is Parker the subject of abuse and bullying at work, but his parents aren't keen on his choice of career either, his father threatening to kick him out of the house unless he starts earning a proper wage. Parker also keeps his own secret video diary in conjunction with Grady’s documentary. In the light of subsequent events, the diary footage illustrates a man close to the edge -- in marked contrast to the public persona he attempts to convey in everyday life captured in Grady’s film record.
The turning point comes when, after being assigned to make an inventory of the contents of an old film storage facility in London, Parker stumbles upon the materials for a legendry lost video nasty “The Street Walker”. This is a film about a serial killer who trawls the pubs and clubs of London, picking up young girls and leading them back to his flat where he drugs, tortures and murders them in a dingy, soundproof basement room. The plot starts to get interesting when he meets a woman called Catherine who seems to get to him in a way no one else ever has, but here the footage just stops before the story is completed. The film is unfinished and consists only of endless footage of women being murdered in grainy black & white. Parker becomes obsessed with both the film and the mythology surrounding the footage: why did the film’s writer and director David Foreshaw commit suicide before the movie was completed? And are the rumours that the whole thing is in fact a snuff movie true? While re-running some of the footage, Parker becomes convinced that one of the actresses was accidently killed during the filming of one of the murder scenes -- but by now not only is everyone at his production office fed up with his obsession, but even Marcus has had enough.
But then Parker hits on a new idea. What if he re-edits all the surviving footage and combines it with his own to complete the project? This could be his big break in the film industry at last: he could complete the story begun by Foreshaw with his own written material and use the infamy and controversy surrounding “The Street Walker” to kick-start his career and escape the abuses and indignities of his wretched life as an unpaid nobody for a backstreet production office.
Parker’s obsession with this idea then becomes the main focus of Marcus Grady’s fictional film. He needs to convince the head of his production company to provide the money to complete the project. Marcus documents his attempts. But after giving him half of what he asks for and allowing Parker to cast a new lead to play Catherine, his boss also assigns Parker’s nemesis Dorothy to oversee the project. Her sneering presence on the mock-up set of the new Street Walker shoot soon starts to tip the pressurised young film-maker over the edge, but an on-set accident which threatens to derail the whole project is the final straw and terrible consequences result.
“Resurrecting the Street Walker” starts well by evoking the Video Nasty panic of the mid eighties and filling the viewer in on the real historical background of the day: there was real outrage and public fear about these kinds of films, most of which quite simply seem unbelievably tame by today’s standards. The recreation of the fictional James Parker’s early 8 mm work looks convincing also; but the minute the mock documentary switches to presenting the raw footage Parker finds in the storage vault, depicting clips of the murders from the supposedly lost “The Street Walker”, we're instantly taken out of the illusion since there is no way this looks anything like a film that would have been shot in the 1980s. Uyanik’s recreation of standard documentary techniques and familiar tropes is quite well executed, but from here on in you are never really fooled into thinking you could be watching a real documentary in the way you are by “The Last Broadcast”, for instance; and while it aims to build up a sense of dread and nervous anticipation for Parker’s final meltdown, when it finally comes it does tend to feel more like watching someone having a tantrum on Big Brother than a dangerous explosion of murderous aggression accidentally caught on film: actor James Powell simply isn't menacing enough. It’s left to Lorna Becket as the spiteful and aggressive Dorothy Thistle to provide the film’s most captivating performance. The big finish finally arrives as something of an anticlimax, not least because it is so completely expected and predictable. Nonetheless, Ozgur Uyanik’s film is better made than the majority of indie features of this ilk -- the idea simply hasn't been developed thoroughly enough to provide the full intended effect.
As a final word I should mention that the UK DVD disc from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment is set to arrive with a number of special features which were not included on my screener so I cannot comment upon them. Apparently it will also have some deleted scenes; test footage; a cast & crew Interview and an audio commentary.