Champagne the prostitute got her name from a piece of paper pulled out of a hat.
It began back in 2007, when local filmmakers Jon Vinazza and Dawn Dubriel of Underlab Studios entered Fort Lauderdale's Quick and Dirty Short Film Festival. The rules called for filmmakers to finish their work in 25 days. They also had to name their flicks after whatever came out of the hat.
The resulting Champagne is a six-minute film about a prostitute/witch murdered by her pimp for withholding money. Each Halloween, a machete-wielding Champagne, played by Dubriel's sister Amber, comes back to avenge her death. Her name is explained by the movie this way: "Her johns used to call her Champagne, because that's how fine her pussy was."
If you don't take yourself too seriously, you'll most likely recognize there's at least entertainment value in a statement like that. This absurdity defines most of the horror films showcased February 13 for the Valentine's Eve Massacre at Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale. Local film crews brought their own examples of outlandish gore, castrated hookers, and Bible-toting psychopaths.
The event was part of the monthly Auteur Explosion, which brings together local artists, musicians, and filmmakers. Vinazza and Dubriel started Auteur Explosion to create an outlet for local creative talent, and Valentine's Eve was the third event in the series.
Unlike Los Angeles, where Dubriel went to film school, Fort Lauderdale's film community struggles from a lack of organization and local participation. Dubriel, who is a local director, writer, and producer, hoped partnering Auteur Explosion with Cinema Paradiso would encourage local involvement.
"In L.A., everyone makes films, and they're so good because of the resources," she says. "A local filmmaker scene is definitely here. It just needs to be organized."
Last Friday's event included musical performances by Marc Solomon Trio, New York singer/songwriter Craig Greenberg, and local hip-hop artists such as Sewerside and J. Hexx.
Other notable films included Vinazza's Cut Your Hand on the Good Book and Angry Pig Productions' After the Prom. Cut Your Hand is the story of a drug pusher named Free, who steals from his dealer, and his religious friend Mason, played by local spoken-word artist Renda Writer. The trouble starts when Free rips a page out of the motel Bible to smoke the weed he's supposed to be delivering. When it turns out to be laced with PCP, an inebriated Mason wastes no time killing his first victim the moment she gets topless.
"When I wrote this, I knew the locations I was going to have," Vinazza writes via email. "I knew that I could get a grimy-looking hotel for less than $50. We really, really tried not to mess it up. We respect our locations, so we did not want to bloody it up. So I went to the thrift store and bought blankets in order to prevent damage to their real sheets. However, the blood splattering got on the sheets. The next morning we went to like three different locations trying to buy sheets before checkout. When we got back the guy already changed the sheets... [But] he also told us not to worry because they buy new ones regularly. I think we all know why."
After the Prom provided the only truly tense "horror" moment of the night. A girl comes home from prom after refusing to make a night of it with her date; she claims she doesn't want to be the stereotypical girl who gets pregnant on prom night. Putting aside the wild assumption that getting pregnant on prom night occurs often enough to label it a stereotype, the protagonist makes it to her room, but not before the audience observes some indiscernible figure flash behind her. It was the only moment during the event that watching through your fingers was completely reasonable.
Champagne was one of the more successful pieces of the night. The revenge-seeking Champagne is aided by her son, played by the hilarious Hexx, who lures his friends to a warehouse near his mother's grave, where she castrates one character and stabs the film's other female character to death mid-orgasm. The boyfriend's response to his dying girlfriend's blood-soaked mouth and jerky movements? "Good one, baby."
The film came to be after Underlab Studios colleagues stumbled into the Halloween section of an art store they had entered for inspiration, Dubriel recalls.
"We bought a fake severed arm and two styrofoam skulls," she says. "We made it as bad as possible and implemented an evil book, slashing of male parts, boobies, severed arms, and Halloween spirits."
Filming wasn't without its obstacles. The martial artist whom Dubriel cast to play Champagne flaked at the last minute. And rain ruined one of her shotgun mics. But ultimately, what makes it work on this low-budget, local level is the collaboration among friends, the receptiveness of community venues, and the completion of the project.
"If you are a short-film maker with a low budget, you have to rely on your own resources and your friends as resources. If you make friends with people with cool locations and you offer to promote their venue in your film, then you are good to go," Vinazza says. "Since no one is really getting paid, they at least want their creative stamp on the product. In the end, though, after all the scuffles, disagreements, mishaps, egotistical bullshit is dealt with and you see... it was all worth it."