Bad Girls: Grindhouse chills, thrills, and kills shot on a $16K budget
You’ve probably never heard of the underground film industry in Columbia, South Carolina—which is understandable, since it has only produced three films in the last 10 years or so. Two of those films are by producer/director/person-with-a-dream Christopher Bickel, who finished his sophomore full-length movie effort Bad Girls just this month.
Bad Girls is an over-the-top grindhouse jam, packed full of sex, drugs, loud music, and ultraviolent action. The movie was shot on a budget of $16,000—approximately one-tenth the amount that Troma (probably the best-known ridiculously low-budget production company) spent making its first film in 1979.
The microscopic budget makes it almost impossible for Bad Girls to avoid the Dancing Bear trope—but despite the movie’s lack of funds and semi-amateur cast and crew, Bad Girls delivers a thoroughly watchable experience to its target audience.
What does “semi-amateur” mean, anyway?
Bad Girls was shot in and relatively near the cast and crew’s home town of Columbia over multiple weekends, spanning the course of about three months. None of the cast and crew—including Bickel himself—was able to work either the shoot or post-production as a full-time endeavor. The majority of the film’s $16,000 budget went to paying the cast and crew during shooting, which could almost be described as a “film commune”—everyone involved, cast or crew, received a flat $50 per day for their efforts.
The equipment used to shoot the film was similarly spartan, consisting entirely of a handful of consumer cameras ranging from a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV down to a DJI Osmo Pocket. Filming locations were free—or, in one case, “They figured out we were shooting a movie and chased us off after a couple of days.” Use of the movie’s several, lovingly featured classic muscle cars was donated by a supporter—with an unexpected upholstery repair bill to one vehicle eating up about $800 of the budget.
Once shooting wrapped, there was another nine months or so of work to be done in post—including color matching, special effects, and soundtrack-wrangling, capped by several frustrating days of wrestling a final rendering out of Adobe Premiere. The final line of the film’s credits reads as half affirmation, half challenge: “There is nothing stopping you from making your own movie.”
Buckle in—it’s going to be a wild ride
There’s rarely a dull moment in Bad Girls‘ 97-minute runtime—by the time we even hear the titular bad girls’ names uttered, they’ve committed multiple homicides and robberies, overserved themselves with stolen hallucinogenic drugs, and crashed one of the movie’s several classic cars.
Bad Girls doesn’t maintain quite this frenetic of a pace the whole way through—the viewer is also treated to some exposition and character development. But it’s fair to say the major focus is over-the-top havoc, leavened with a sprinkling of running verbal and sight gags, mostly delivered by the pair of fumbling cops/federal agents/largely unspecified G-men following the girls along their cross-country rampage.
If you’re not sure whether you’re in Bad Girls’ target demographic, one line delivered early on by the very senior, very misogynistic Special Agent Cannon makes an excellent barometer. While investigating the corpse of one of the girls’ victims, Cannon declares, “This poor bastard reeks of gunpowder and pussy, of course this was [the work of] our girls!” That line will probably make most people determined either to watch the movie or to avoid it—whichever reaction you have, it’s almost certainly the right call for you.
Character development is Bad Girls‘ weakest aspect—the girls, the cops, the victims, and bystanders are all pretty much cardboard cutouts. Val, Mitzi, and Carolyn are teenage stripper desperadoes—a determined but unbalanced visionary, a realist, and a loyal friend. Special Agents Cannon and McMurphy are the grizzled, angry senior and the younger, put-upon voice of reason. The kidnap victims are largely on board due to free sex and drugs, and the majority of the murder victims clearly deserved it—you get the overall picture quickly.
The hollow characters and formulaic plot are largely alleviated by the cast’s enthusiasm for the project—some scenery will definitely get chewed along the way, but nobody’s bored while they’re doing it. The real fun in Bad Girls comes from the girls’ nonstop craziness, the special agents’ deadpan humor, and—surprisingly for such a low-budget film—its overall look and feel.
Despite its inexpensive, all-digital cameras and rough-and-ready lighting, Bad Girls manages to avoid looking like the world’s bloodiest soap opera. Most of the movie evokes a low-budget 16mm film aesthetic—Bickel self-deprecatingly described this as largely a side effect of amateur lighting and extensive color-matching in post between his disparate camera models. But the effect is genre-consistent and satisfying.
Bad Girls also exhibits a surprisingly deft touch with its special effects. The visuals get entertainingly trippy as the drugs are consumed, things go “boom” when they should, and the copious blood is well-delivered—with more attention given to “fun” than “realism,” somewhat reminiscent of the much higher-budget Syfy series Blood Drive.
Availability and distribution
Bad Girls isn’t available on any streaming services yet, but you can purchase a copy as a $9 digital download or $24 autographed Blu-Ray disc at its Indiegogo project page. Digital download delivery begins February 11, with Blu-ray discs expected in a couple of months; all copies are distributed directly by the project itself.
We asked Bickel when—or if—Bad Girls might show up on more traditional platforms like Amazon Prime. He told us he planned to put that off until all other avenues have been exhausted—because his first film The Theta Girl was downloaded by a bot and placed onto torrent sites on its very first day of Amazon availability, effectively destroying its revenue stream.
Listing image by Films Colacitta