Revenge of the Nerds
The local undead rise in Melvin
by Molly Templeton
|Henry Weintraub directs Melvin
Though it’s the middle of summer blockbuster season, let’s ignore those bloated Hollywood flicks with huge casts and multi-million dollar budgets for a little while. “I think Hollywood movies cost way more than they need to. Fifty million dollars for The Happening!? Let’s get movies down to a more realistic level!” says local filmmaker Henry Weintraub, whose latest film is the product of $4,000 and the work of about 50 people. For more than seven years, Weintraub has been making short films that range from the sci-fi comedy MindSlime (which should see national release from Troma Entertainment this year) to music videos for The Sawyer Family. This weekend, he premieres Melvin, his first feature length film. It’s the story of a picked-on high school kid, Melvin (Leif Fuller, who also serves as cinematographer), who enlists an unwilling and equally put-upon college student to help him have his revenge on a trio of bullies. If Norton Pincus (Patrick O’Driscoll) gets the girl in the end, hey, even better.
Did I mention that Melvin has been dead for three years when he recruits — which is to say bites — Norton?
Like many good genre films, Melvin takes a not-unrealistic basic scenario and twists it, using the elements of the genre to up the stakes, the drama and, in this case, a particular kind of bloody humor that comes not from straightforward jokes but from the creative ways the film’s undead find to kill people. Weintraub’s last non-music-video film, the 26-minute Depraved, also focused on a person getting violently back at her tormenters, but it was a much darker affair. Weintraub notes that it was written by Ryan Nyburg (an executive producer on Melvin), who has a different style. But he also says Melvin wasn’t meant to be quite as humorous as it turned out to be. “It seems when I write something (like one of our last flicks, MindSlime), I usually shoot for something way more serious, but when the cast gets a hold of it and puts their spin on it, it turns out way funnier than intended,” he says. “I think that’s part of the charm of our movies, though: Everyone has a bit of input, especially with their characters.”
The DVD version of Melvin includes a generous selection of bonus material from the film’s shoot, much of which involves Weintraub and company cheerily putting together scenes involving, say, a Mortal Kombat-style spine removal. But as entertained — and entertaining — as they are, they’re not messing around when it comes to their work. Weintraub says of his cast and crew, many of whom have become friends and worked on several of his films, “We have a lot of fun kidding with each other on set, but we take our films and jobs very serious, which I hope shows in our finished product.”
And it does. While Melvin is clearly a movie with a small budget, it’s equally clear that time and care was taken to stretch every dollar. Scenes in Melvin’s timeline have a vivid glare that makes them look a little eerie. The effects can be over the top, but at times they’re downright stomach-churning, particularly Norton’s nasty thigh wound and the copious amounts of red vomit that follow his bloody nighttime excursions. Some images in Melvin have an off-kilter grace that nicely contrasts with the unpleasantness they’re depicting, and the Eugene locations are well-chosen, from the dim alleys of downtown to the red walls of Wandering Goat. “I think Eugene’s a great place to make movies,” says Weintraub, who shot Melvin entirely in Oregon. “I really hope some of the other filmmakers around come together and start helping each other out. I’ve recently come in contact with Mr. Ooh La La, who made the local horror film Earth Day, and I’m glad to be in touch with someone locally doing similar things to me.”
After this weekend’s premiere, Weintraub has a handful of screenings planned all over Oregon. Beyond that, he’s hoping to get Melvin into places like Hollywood Video and Netflix, and to distribute the 1,000 DVDs he’s made. But his plans are already reaching beyond this release: “I have an idea for our next movie, but it’s going to take more money than this one. It’s another feature called Midnight Movies. We made Melvin for under $4,000, and I hope to get 10 times that for our next one!”
Melvin premieres at 9 pm Friday, May 22, at the Bijou, and also shows at 10:25 pm May 22 and 11:15 pm May 23. For future screenings, see www.531productions.com