Rough Cut opens with a trailer for Jesus Rinzoli’s Hiker Meat (1982), built from instantly recognisable elements of slasher, smalltown conspiracy and creature feature, and authenticated by distressed ‘celluloid’ and dodgy post-synchronisation. Indeed so familiar is everything here, and so predictable the narrative trajectory, that the film itself hardly need be watched – which is just as well, since it has never actually existed.
If you are expecting faux trailer-inspired grindhouse pastiche of the kind found recently in Machete, Dead Hooker In A Trunk and Hobo With A Shotgun, director Jamie Shovlin has something altogether more conceptual in mind. Hiker Meat may not exist, but its trailer is in fact a remake, reprocessed twice over from the half-life of horror clichés. For Shovlin has reconstituted this trailer shot-for-shot from another that he had completed in 2010, which was itself a collage of excerpts from real Seventies and Eighties features, reappropriated and reassembled to match the gestures and actions required by a generic outline scripted by Mike Harte (whose name, in anagram, furnishes the plausible-sounding title Hiker Meat). The sham trailer – and the sham film that it evokes – all support another sham: in an earlier project, Shovlin and his friends had dreamed up Seventies krautrock outfit ‘LustFaust’, whose career is supposed to have reached its Goblin-esque acme with a score for a certain disposable horror flick.
Rough Cut is a making-of documentary covering the shoot and post-production work on the second trailer (and opening and closing sequences) for Hiker Meat – the kind of behind-the-scenes feature that might be found as an extra on any DVD or Blu-ray, except that the very abstract, chimerical nature of what is being realised imports an unusually metacinematic heft. For the film goes all F is for Fake on its shamanic resurrection – through concentrated, collaborative effort – of a constructed world (of drive-in schlock, but it could have been anything else) otherwise lost to nostalgia-tinged archetypes. Most features, and arguably all genre features, reference countless other films, constructing (and deconstructing) themselves via the language of their medium’s past. Here, however, the recorded reconstruction is all, and the result of the process is not Hiker Meat so much as Rough Cut itself.
Shovlin offers articulate commentary off screen on this “reflexive continuum that was changed by the people involved”, while his fellow pranksters Harte and Euan Rodger offer insights into the processes and back stories that have, invisibly and inaudibly, informed Hiker Meat‘s script and score (including, from Harte, a compositional method of free-associative numerology and word play that is hilariously kaballistic in its convoluted impenetrability).
“Holding a mirror to a mirror,” says one crew member as, during a location break, he playfully films another filming him. The words also describe the ludic manner in which Shovlin and co. conjure something from the resonant echoes of nothing. It is the artistic process laid bare as a fun, often frustrating, endeavour of collective mimesis.