Of all things, the VHS tape is in the midst of a nostalgic resurgence. Not only does the dead medium of the 1980s enjoy having a horror-anthology franchise named after it, but no fewer than three new documentaries celebrate its heyday, and a few indie labels have issued limited-edition releases on bulky cassettes rather than high-def discs.
Joining the parade, local filmmaker Mickey Reece goes one better: His latest feature — his third this year — lives on VHS tape. Speaking to the disposable nature of the format, the oddball comedy was shot over the course of 24 hours with no script.
The seat-of-his-pants result, Queerbait, premieres for free Friday night at The Paramount OKC on Film Row.
It’s the 40th birthday of mustachioed misanthrope Harry Spaghetti (Dustin Sanchez), and there’s not much to do but huff inhalants and brag about the TV he won from the KATT radio station. Then his sister (Rebecca Cox) shows up with a cake.
Because he claims he’s allergic to vanilla, Harry opts to share a slice with every friend he has in the world. They number precious few but include a rabbi (Kameron Primm), a boy in a wheelchair and plastic Viking helmet (Dallos Paz) and a clumsy mute (Jacob Snovel) whose homophobic mother (Lisa Renee Woods) gives Queerbait its playground taunt of a title. (Besides, Freaks is taken.)
While the project may exist partly as a lark, Queerbait is not half-assed … except when it’s supposed to be. Characters may party and actors may improvise, but Reece and company still realize the movie’s appeal can’t be limited to its (merry) makers. You will, however, see snippets of such camcorder shenanigans during the end credits. These also pop up throughout, as if Harry preserved his big day by recording over evidence of now-regrettable actions of his past. (Apparently, this tape was quite the catch-all; watch for tracking-troubled cameos from Star Wars, Legend, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West and Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy.)
Twenty-four hours is like 10 minutes when it comes to producing a work of quality. Look no further than those annual 24-hour “film races,” in which teams churn out shorts that barely land on that side of the needle marked “watchable.”
Queerbait was made independently of those contests, but that Reece was able to pull off a full-fledged feature in such a limited time frame and for about $100 and the film has the added benefit of not sucking is quite an achievement.
If only he knew how to bring Queerbait to a close. Its final few minutes are akin to throwing in the towel, so focus instead on the winning scenes before it. There, you’ll find genuine laughs. You’ll feel real emotion. You’ll witness honest friendship. You’ll even see, in the words of Airplane!’s Capt. Oveur, a grown man naked.