Total Hell is a ninety minute horror movie. It is the worst film that anyone has ever made. Filmed in winter 2006 in the bleak Northumbrian woods of Northern England, it is shit. Very shit. Directed by the insane Jamie Gunn, produced by the deviant Raul Kemp and shot in glorious VHSc, it truly is breathtakingly bad. I should know – it was my idea.
The film is a lie.
Total Hell is a fake film. Director Jamie Gunn, producer Raul Kemp and all of the cast and crew are actors within another film; Behind the Scenes of Total Hell. The real film is a low-budget indie mockumentary, which pokes fun at low-budget indie filmmaking. With the film launching free online on April 22nd, this seems like a good opportunity to explain myself – or at least attempt to.
Behind the Scenes of Total Hell is a challenge to effectively describe, but essentially it’s a manic comedy about independent filmmaking gone wrong. I’ve always been a massive fan of film and filmmaking, watching any “making of documentary” or listening to any director’s commentary I could find. It was a logical project for me to undertake as my first feature. The idea was to show a truly terrible production from the script and funding stage right through production, post production, to the premiere and the subsequent aftermath. Chaos lingers at every turn, closing around our fictional Director, Jamie Gunn.
What’s even more confusing than the fact that this is one project of two full-length features, is the overlap in reality while making them. Many of the actors that were cast for Total Hell were led to believe they were actually making a genuine horror movie. The actors that were playing the fake filmmakers were instructed never to break character and to lead these other actors on. The idea was that by making a chaotic horror film, as if for real, we would provide unrivalled tension and drama. The trick however – and this is where it gets challenging to follow – is that I secretly told the horror movie actors the truth, but didn’t tell my fake filmmakers that they now knew. This gave me two warring factions to direct. Are you with me still? I don’t blame you if not; working this out is like multiplying Memento by The Matrix, to the square root of Mulholland Drive. I’d basically constructed a situation where I had two sets of actors playing themselves off against the other, on a single take that lasted three days. A big crazy train set of fun.
The heart of the film was shot as outlined above, but the other scenes were recorded in a more traditional method of direction. From the outset we did work to a well crafted and planned out script, but with almost entirely adlibbed dialogue. The two leads were talented young actors I already knew well, but everyone else was cast from local auditions. We weren’t looking for top method actors, what we wanted were hilarious adlibbers. Auditionees were given a sheet of paper with thirty words on (such as “Badger”, “Thursday”, “Manchester” etc.) and instructed to create sixty second sketches, after ten minutes of prep time. We managed to source incredible talent from this, two people being so good I wrote additional parts just for them.
So just what makes the film within our film, Total Hell, so bad? Well most crucially of all, it doesn’t have a plot. Now I know what you’re thinking, “a lot of the films I see don’t have a great plot”… No – this doesn’t have a plot of any working kind. Total Hell is about a group of people who appear at a wood, for no apparent reason. They talk endless nonsense, sometimes to each other, sometimes inexplicably to camera. Then a half-gorilla, half-dog monster appears. They run, they scream, they throw sticks, they scream, they die. Except that stuff just happens in any random order. This is all filmed badly, with the Director, cameraman and crew often mixing with the cast. We had great fun making the film as terrible as possible. Hopefully people will find the real film, our mockumentary, to be of a higher quality.
We’re launching Behind the Scenes of Total Hell totally free online. The idea is that by making it available to watch on Youtube, we’ll build and nurture a following. Social media being what it is, hopefully people who enjoy the film will share it with their friends and family. They’ll be amongst the first to see the film, and if they tell other people about it they’ll be helping to support independent film. There is, of course, also the 2 Disc DVD and app download for the fans who want to see more chaotic hilarity – Total Hell features in full on both, along with much more.