BIG BITING PIG: STEVE HUDGINS'S GRASSROOTS HORROR FILMS ENTERTAIN
by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [March 7, 2010]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com] Horror cinema's strength has always been its low-budget grassroots, spawning innovative films such as Night of the Living Dead, Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Halloween.
The proliferation of inexpensive production equipment over recent decades has proliferated this trend. The downside is that a greater percentage of low-budget horror films originating from Middle America are basically just friends and family fooling around with a camcorder.
But there are those indie production companies that strive for professionalism. Such as Kentucky-based Big Biting Pig Productions. Its first film, The 3rd Floor (2007), was rough in spots, yet lovingly crafted and highly entertaining.
In The 3rd Floor, a couple move into a large apartment building in which the 3rd floor is ominously sealed off. Strange noises emanate from that floor. The husband (Tom Dolan) has nightmares about that floor. He investigates and discovers the 3rd floor's dark history. Whereupon a series of ghostly possessions turn this story into a slasher film.
The 3rd Floor is admirable for its ambition. Zombies and slashers can use gore to get by on a low budget, but The 3rd Floor's style of supernatural horror more often requires a larger budget (e.g., Gothika, The Grudge, The Ring), though that may change with the success of Paranormal Activity.
The 3rd Floor's "special" effects are limited to smoke and elevator doors opening into a dark void (an "effect" that seems created by black blankets or cardboard). The film's ambitions outreach its budget, but still, it manages to entertain.
While some of the acting was rough, much of it was enjoyable. I liked Bradley and Jill (Leif Erickson Rigney and Audra Hall), an eccentric "artsy fartsy" couple who provide the film with comic relief. And actor Steve Hudgins (who co-directed with Tom Dolan and Adam Gilliam) turns in a professional performance as Buck, the husband's brother.
Hudgins is a trained actor -- and the film's writer. He also founded Big Biting Pig. "I handle the majority of the day to day operations," he says. "PJ Woodside has been co-producer and co-editor on all our projects, and will be writing and directing regularly from here on as well.
"We'll be making one movie per year. We'll alternate between us. Whoever writes the script will direct it. This past year, I wrote and directed Hell Is Full, which will be released in summer 2010. Then we'll shoot our next movie, which will be written and directed by PJ Woodside. Whoever is writing and directing has final say on those projects."
After The 3rd Floor, Hudgins directed Maniac on the Loose and Goatsucker. Woodside directed Widow. These films are more polished production-wise, and demonstrate Hudgins's and Woodside's commitment to improving their craft.
Maniac on the Loose seems inspired by the recent spate of torture films (e.g., Saw, Hostel). A psycho escapes an asylum, and begins killing again. But Hudgins adds a clever twist to the old formula: the asylum's head doctor sends a lunatic security guard to track down the lunatic patient. Furthermore, the doctor is himself evil. There are additional twists on top of those.
Again, some of the production values and acting are rough. Some of the script if over-written. Yet the plot is innovative, the twists clever and unexpected, and Maniac on the Loose is enjoyable enough to bear repeat viewing. I actually enjoyed the film more the second time around.
In Goatsucker, city rubes go on a "chupacabre tour." Again, Hudgins's film is full of clever twists. The apparent heroes and victims are not who they appear, and their outcomes are unexpected. The production values show improvement over Hudgins's two previous films.
Hollywood should take note of Hudgins's ability to weave clever and surprising plots. While he also directs and acts, his true calling may be that of script doctor, one whose skills center on structure.
PJ Woodside's Widow is a psychological suspense film about a woman who thinks that her dead husband is trying to contact her. Like Hudgins's work, Woodside's story has some clever twists. And as a director, she has an eye for composition. Hudgins also turns in a nicely subtle performance as the nice guy trying to court the grieving widow.
Maniac on the Loose, Goatsucker, Widow, all feature non-linear plots. The kind of structure increasingly seen since Pulp Fiction, where we flash back and forth in the timeline, collecting news bits of information that constantly shift our understanding of events. Is there a reason Big Biting Pig films favor non-linear plots?
"I never go into writing a story with a non-linear structure or flashbacks in mind," says Hudgins. "In most instances, I reach a point where it hits me that the story would benefit from that sort of angle. If you go into the writing process trying to cram a story into that kind of structure, it can come out gimmicky. It has to happen naturally."
Big Biting Pig's films feature different horror subgenres: supernatural (The 3rd Floor), psycho (Maniac on the Loose), monster (Goatsucker), psychological (Widow). Does Hudgins see a unifying theme or attitude in BBP's output?
"Originality," he says. "Most of these genres get stuck into standard formula ruts. We are trying to bring something fresh to these genres. Even if we tackle an established general idea, we think it's important to present it in some kind of fresh, original, and unpredictable way."
Horror audience can anticipate ever more professional works from Big Biting Pig. And they can look forward to seeing more of "the pig" itself. Like Alfred Hitchcock's walk-ons, every Big Biting Pig film has a toy pig, usually in the background. "After that stuffed pig in The 3rd Floor," says Hudgins, "I thought it would be funny to make sure it got some kind of cameo in the movies from there on out. It seemed especially fitting with the new production company name!"
Yes, what is the meaning behind the name?
"There are a lot of production companies out there," says Hudgins. "I forget the names of most of them ten seconds after I hear them. I wanted to come up with something original and catchy that people would remember. So I flashed back to my younger days when my mother was trying to come up with a name for a real estate agency. My suggestion was Big Pig Realty. She didn't go for it. Well, I couldn't let that fabulous idea go to waste. PJ Woodside suggested the 'Biting' adjective and the name was complete."
Although not in SAG or AFTRA, Hudgins is a trained actor with a background in theater. He also cites experience in short films, commercials, and feature films. Did he found BBP primarily as a means of jump-starting his acting career?
"I've been writing stories since I was young," he says, "so the main appeal to me was to tell these stories with the freedom that comes with independent filmmaking. I met Tom Dolan, an established actor in the region, and Adam Gilliam, who had a college filmmaking background, both through theater.
"Based on Adam's behind the camera experience, and myself and Tom's on set experience as actors, we decided to tackle the project of making a feature film. I adapted a book I had written when I was about 20-years-old called The 3rd Floor into a screenplay, and we shot it.
"After that, Adam and Tom were a bit burned out, but I was ready to jump right into the next movie. That's when I created Big Biting Pig Productions."
Big Biting Pig is building a repertoire of seasoned performers. Many cast members appear in more than one Big Biting Pig film.
"We hold open auditions for the majority of the parts," says Hudgins. "Our area is heavy with theater talent. Nashville, Evansville IN, Louisville KY, Madisonville KY, Paducah KY, Owensboro KY... All of these areas have regular theater acting pools. A lot of people who do theater regularly are looking to get more film experience. For most of them, it's a combo of getting more experience and the love of it. I've been quite happy with most of our actors' ability to adjust to film from theater, as there is a big difference between the two."
Curiously, one of Big Biting Pig's repeat actors, Randy Hardesty, looks very much like Newt Gingrich.
"Actually, that is Newt Gingrich," Hudgins explains. "His stage name is Randy Hardesty."
While a film production company is nothing special in Los Angeles, Big Biting Pig is naturally a big deal in its Kentucky area. The company enjoys local support, which it reciprocates.
"We always have the World Premiere screening at one of the local venues," says Hudgins. "Word is continuing to grow about our projects. Auditions for Hell Is Full pulled in the largest turnout to date, by far. We had inquiries from as far away as California and England. Word is getting out and we're growing in popularity!
"Be on the lookout for Hell Is Full. It premieres in summer 2010. Most zombie movies today are comedies. I wanted to get back to the roots of the zombie, when they were meant to scare. At the same time, I wanted to steer clear from the typical zombie formula that we've seen a million times before. I think we have something pretty interesting here."
In addition to its website, Big Biting Pig is on MySpace and Facebook.