How one UCB comedian is making no-budget horror films

Back in 2008, filmmaker Brandon Bassham and I we were on a house team at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre called Mixtape ‘98. One of the sketches we did together was called Fist-Fuck of Clarity. Shocking and gross but also smart and funny, the laughs we got were real and so were the bike shorts I wore.

Since then, Bassham has turned his comedic talents to horror films, but he’s kept that air of absurdity. Over two long weekends in May 2013 and 16 Sundays that fall, Bassham shot his first film, Fear Town, USA, with a cast of 70 people for $10,000. Almost exactly one year later, he screened it.

It’s a classic horror tale: There’s a party on Lake Blood to celebrate Saint Blevin’s Day with all the cool kids and none of the dorks. It’s a crude and uncompromising masterpiece that includes Satanism and a stirring rendition of “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”

In his latest film, The Slashening, five girls at a slumber party are terrorized by a mysterious masked murderer. The mounting pile of dead pizza boys on the lawn and young women perpetually on the verge of taking off their bras shows an awareness of horror tropes. It was shot at Bassham’s producer’s parents’ house in Long Island over three weeks in August 2014. The small cast and minimal locations got it in the can for only $6,000. 

Without any pesky investors, Bassham has creative freedom, but doesn’t make any money. His films exist entirely outside the scope of Hollywood’s money-fist. The tiny crew owned most of their equipment, but he also credits his friends and the NYC comedy community for helping him out.

“A lot of these people have day jobs making viral topical garbage content and are thrilled to do something creative,” he said. “My DP Mike Doyle on The Slashening had mostly just worked on reality stuff and interview shows, so the chance to shoot a horror movie and actually use his talents for something was a thrill.”

The outdoor scenes were shot at campgrounds in New Jersey a friend let them use for free. They booked the lakehouse on rental site VRBO, but didn’t tell the owner they were shooting a movie. The special effects were cheap. The biggest expense was transporting and feeding the cast and crew.

Coming from a UCB background, Bassham has seen lucrative success bloom all around. Fame seems pretty possible when you know someone in every commercial you see. But the red carpet path doesn’t interest our man in New York, and neither does money. 

“I don’t have dreams of working on sitcoms,” he said. “Not saying I’d turn down those jobs, but being a staff writer on a sitcom that I didn’t create sounds about as miserable as working a shitty retail job.”

Through one of his actors, Amber Nelson, Bassham partnered with Troma, the independent film studio responsible for The Toxic Avenger among other classics your grandparents would hate: the kind of radical underground entertainment that makes people tattoo poorly rendered VHS tapes on their forearms. He boasts that he’s “down on the wrong side of the tracks with Troma,” and his films have carved out a place for a younger generation of video nasties. (The uncensored versions of his movies are currently on Roku channel FilmRise, and will soon be on Xbox and PS4. The censored version is on Amazon.)

It’s the edited-for-television versions of films like Evil Dead or Italian horror movies “that had to be re-edited until they became totally incomprehensible” that Bassham is paying homage to.

“For my dumb little comedy to need a few scenes recut for being too graphic is both hilarious and an honor,” he beamed. “What they accomplished with violence I did with jokes. So I didn’t fight it. I just said do whatever. Now I can make an unrated director’s cut Blu-ray.”

Like the recut films of late-night cable, there are two versions of Bassham’s films: the approved one and the one they don’t want you to see. Tracking down original prints in the infinity of the Internet is the new driving three towns over because they’re doing The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Bassham’s movies are out there—if you can find them.

You can catch an uncensored version of The Slashening at Brooklyn’s Videology Bar & Cinema on Saturday, Oct. 10, at 9:30pm.

Screengrab via TromaMovies/YouTube 

Cece Lederer

Cece Lederer

Cece Lederer is a journalist and former television writer from New York who wrote about entertainment, lifestyle, and comedy for the Daily Dot. She is a former writers' assistant for The Colbert Report, and her reporting has also appeared in Salon. She's currently based in Berlin.