Film Review: Good ( and Dead) Burger

Ghost Burger directed by Lee Hardcastle

Available at Vimeo ($.99 rental; $1.99 purchase)

Lee Hardcastle says he makes “claymations… not for children.” Indeed. His claymation films have gained a cult following on YouTube, where a search of his name will reveal a variety of handcrafted, still-shot, detail-heavy videos that range from spoofs of violent movies (Evil Dead II – with cats!), never-to-be film trailers (Ghostbusters 3 as directed by Quentin Tarantino), and original shorts.

If you’re not familiar with his work, Hardcastle brings a disarming and purposefully childish claymation aesthetic to action and horror presentations. The result is equal parts hilarious and grotesque. His creations kill, dismember, eat, and attempt to microwave one another with the madcap energy of a Monty Python sketch written by Clive Barker and directed by Stuart Gordon. His videos are instantly mesmerizing: so unlike anything you’ve seen since childhood Christmases watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and wondering what the Abominable Snowman would do if those little elves caught him on a really bad day.

The best part? His claymation is not just a gimmick. Watching the horror play out goes beyond the novelty of the form; it’s frenetic, funny, and creative. Hardcastle employs lighting, sets, pacing, music, sound effects, and creative camera work that is the equal (proportionally) to the films he seeks to emulate and pay tribute. His shorts seem familiar somehow—even the original works. That’s because, like all great directors, he pulls techniques and call backs from those who came before him. He’s a talented visionary, and an obvious horror fan and student of the greats. Claymation as a concept may pull you in, but you’ll stay for the substance.

Ghost Burger comes on the heels of Hardcastle’s unfulfilled crowd-funded effort Spook Train, which was to be a full-length, semi-episodic exploration of a haunted carnival ride gone wrong. The trailer itself is a work of demented art, and I can only hope he one day gets the funding to complete his vision. Ghost Burger, meanwhile, is a hearty replacement. Available for free (in episodes) on YouTube, or for less than two bucks to download and keep, you can watch 22 minutes of genre filmmaking at its best.

Set after “T is for Toilet” in the ABCs of Death anthology film, John, a young boy disfigured by his encounter with a possessed toilet, discovers that he can fight back against the ghosts that haunt him. Not only that, but they make tasty hamburgers. It just so happens that his uncle runs a struggling burger stand, and, when John and his cousin Ritchie hide the ghost’s ground-up remains at his stand, the ghost burger is born. No surprise—it’s a big hit, and all the townspeople want a taste. His uncle directs him to go get more—and doesn’t care where the meat comes from.

Thus ensues an action-adventure-horror romp that’s equal parts Ghostbusters, Monster Squad, and Evil Dead. John and Ritchie become more and more desperate to track down and kill ghosts for their “meat,” the townsfolk gobble up their efforts… and a mysterious old man warns them of impending doom.

To get into much more would spoil the surprise—and the chaos—to follow. At 22 minutes it’s rather short, but well worth the $1.99 you can pay to own the film. Think of it less as a price of admission, and more of an investment in the talents of a growing and promising filmmaker. Hardcastle’s style and form call back to the glory days of 80’s horror and genre film while doing something new in an old medium.

Here’s hoping that Spook Train gets to leave the station someday.

5/5 Piles of Premium Ghost Meat

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