Reed Alexander's Horror Review of 'American Movie' (1999) and 'Coven' (1997)
The American Dream
I'm here to talk about something I actually found intensely inspiring. I should preface first by saying that I'm not a believer of the American dream. I do believe in hard work, but I know anyone who talks about their success without admitting to some luck, is a liar. Here's the thing, Mark Borchardt makes me believe, if only for a second, in the American dream. He was a nobody, some redneck in Wisconsin with a 8mm and a love of horror movies. He had no training, no direction, not even the internet as we know it. He had an imagination and heart.
But I'm not just here to talk about American Movie. I'm also here to talk about Coven the movie that came before it. Note, that's pronounced "Coavin" not "Cuven." Apparently they didn't know how to pronounce it and no one believed the only guy who did. Most of this documentary is about the making of Coven though, it starts out as a documentary about the making of Northwestern. Basically, they start off trying to make Northwestern, give up and decide to finish Coven as it's already partially made.
The whole thing is a total cluster fuck. You wonder to yourself how this poor fella gets anything accomplished. And seriously? It's his complete refusal to throw in the towel. When the documentary starts, he's broke, he's behind on his taxes, he's up to his elbows in credit debt, the mother of his children has left him, and his uncle is bankrolling his movies. The man can hardly string together a coherent sentence let alone a coherent story. The way things start off, he seems like a shit director, a shit father, a shit son, a shit friend, a shit nephew, and just an all around shitty person. Not on purpose, not intentional malignant, just so obsessed he's ruining everything he touches.
You would be completely wrong. This man might not be good at much, but he's got a lot of heart and he gives with all his heart. He's got this buddy Mike, who is so sweetly simple you'd worry Mark is going to break the poor kid. But as you get into the movie, you can tell he loves Mike, he loves his kids, and he loves his uncle. He's obsessed, for sure. It might even be a little toxic, but he just wants these people to be proud of him. He aspires to be something and refuses to give up.
Let's talk about Coven now. When this documentary starts, Coven is already six years into production. The documentary almost covers another four year period. Opening day of Coven is just a few months shy of ten years. When I say this man gives with all his heart, I mean he latches on like grappling hooks for all his life. Almost ten years and he never gave up. No mater the shit he got from friends and family, regardless of the backhanded complements, in spite of the obstacles, even with his own doubts trying to snatch failure from the clutches of victory, he never gave up.
Lets talk about the cabinet door scene. The cabinet door scene sums up the absolute disaster that is this man's life. This scene is actually famous for the cult followers of Mark's work. In the scene, Mark has to put another actor's head through a cabinet door. They clearly have no idea how to do this. They construct a door blank out of ply, score the back, and go all in. And when I mean all in, Mark tries to put this poor actor's head through the cabinet at least three times. But god damn it, risking concussion, they score the cabinet again, and hit that fucking thing with the man's head till it brakes.
What exactly is Coven supposed to be about? Best I can tell, it's a movie about how much AA sucks. Having been forced to attend NA meetings at one point in my life, I can personally attest to them feeling like a fucking cult. And that's what this is all about. There's a cult or coven recruiting using AA and Mark's character get's pulled into it. And here's the fucking thing. It's actually pretty good. For a shoe string budget horror movie, it's actually one of the best I've ever scene. It boarders on genius. No joke. I'm not saying it's a great movie, and it can be a little incoherent and hammy at times, but as shit production goes, it's fantastic. I actually recommend watching Coven. If you're a true horror fanatic, it's required viewing. And while you're at it, watch American Movie.
This brings me to Uncle Bill. You spend the first half of American Movie thinking Mark is grifting Uncle Bill for money to finance his movie. He comes off as a user taking advantage of some lonely old man who just wants someone to talk to. Uncle Bill is definitely not happy about giving Mark money, and clearly doesn't actually share Mark's vision or passion. This movie has a ton of cringe worthy moments but the most cringe worthy are always with Uncle Bill. Then they give you a look behind the curtain into Bill's relationship with Mark. Mark is pretty much the only person in Bill's life. They share time together, they spend holidays together, they share drinks together, Mark fucking sponge bathes the guy. Bill indulges Mark because Mark is there for him. You just want Uncle Bill to live long enough to see Coven. And he does. Then he dies. My god the feels.
Finally, everyone deserves a Mike. Sure, Mike barely has two marbles still rolling around upstairs. He's clearly burned out all the usable brain cells years ago. But my god, he's so sweet. He's like a damn puppy. He's loyal to a fault and Mark really looks after the guy. You just love him.
Watch Coven, watch American Movie. This man deserves to be a legend.