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I have been on a bit of a Joe Dante kick recently.

The director of GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (aka: The Greatest Live-Action Looney Tunes Movie Ever), is someone who I have desperately wanted to make something akin to Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET or Spielberg’s WEST SIDE STORY. A movie which basically shows every current modern filmmaker how it is done.

Because that is who Joe Dante is for me. A filmmaker whose reverence for the classics, the B-Movies, the shlock, has led to some of the most unique Hollywood films since the JAWS ripoff PIRAHNA came out in 1978.

So, when I read that the Roger Corman-produced, SPLATTER was available on Netflix. I had to drop what I was doing and spend 30 minutes with Corey Feldman, Tony Todd and Joe Dante.

The plot is as follows:

After self-righteous rockstar Johnny Splatter puts a bullet in his own head, only five people are chosen to attend the reading of his will: the manager, the shrink, the guitarist, the lover, and the groupie. Will they get what they came for, or what Splatter thinks they deserve?

The reviews are overwhelmingly negative. On Letterboxd, a lot of viewers wishing they hadn’t had thier curiousity piqued by the talents involved. And, to be fair, I was very much on the same wavelength.

As a short film, this is astonishingly bad. The aesthetic feels like a VOD release from the mid-2000s, the acting is hammy and camp (not in a good way), the dialogue is not even worthy of analysis, and the gore is… actually, the gore wasn’t too bad.

However, something happens when you do some actual reading on the making of the movie.

SPLATTER was concieved by Netflix for Roger Corman in 2009. This was a Netflix that hadn’t yet left the USA with its streaming service, hadn’t yet become the global juggernaught that is in 2023. This is from an interview Roger Corman did in 2013:

They called me and said ‘Here’s what we’d like to do: three 10-to-15-minute segments of a horror story in which somebody is killed in the first segment and the audience votes on who they want to kill in the second. The second segment must be written, made, edited, and on the air one week later. Then the audience will vote again!’ I took the idea just because I thought it would be fun, that this is something new and an incredible challenge to do everything not in seven days but six, as we had to wait a day for the votes to come in on who was going to be killed. I called Joe and said: ‘This is going to be back to where we all started! Are you interested?’ And he said ‘Yes’ on the same basis that I did. He said: ‘It’ll be a challenge and it’ll be fun.’

This is an interesting idea. Choose-your-own-adventure, interactivity that Netflix tried again 10 or so years later with BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH. There is one keyword in both what Corman and Dante states: ‘fun’.

The experiment itself may not work in execution. There are many issues with SPLATTER as a short. But ‘fun’ is not one of them. Mark Kermode has the theory that the more the cast and crew enjoy making something, the less enjoyable it is to watch. Which is probably the case with SPLATTER. In this behind-the-scenes, you can really tell that Dante and Corman had a good time making it. Dante in particular looks like he is enjoying himself, and the guy deserves to after his many disagreements with Warner Bros. on LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION.

What the behind-the-scenes information for the film does is make me love movies all the more. Joe Dante and Roger Corman have been in the industry for a long, long time. Hollywood has a tendency for ruining those who step in the shadow of the sign, look at Corey Feldman. Yet, when given the opportunity to experiment, to try something new, they see it as a chance to have fun.

What is even more insane is that Roger Corman and Joe Dante initially sought out the talents of Richard Matheson to write the script. That’s ‘I AM LEGEND’ writer Richard Matheson. However he was unavailable, so called in his son Richard C. Matheson to work on the script.

Which brings me to my final thought. Matheson wrote something which is schlocky, and unafraid to be obvious. It is of a piece with the loves of Corman and Dante. Roger Corman pretty much built a career on schlock.

I am pretty glad this little curio and oddity in Joe Dante’s filmography is on Netflix. It maybe pretty bad, but its fun knowing that they had fun making it. And if anything, thats all we can ask for with the movies.

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