click to play:

Attack of the Killer Prunes/Invasion of the Sleeping Bag People, 1981 (titles added 2007). Directed by Mark Allen. Starring Dave Smith, Tim Flannery, William Hatcher. 8-mm; 2 minutes, 48 seconds; color; silent.

As kids, my friends and I used to make a lot of weird little films using my parent’s old 8-mm movie camera (an antique from the early 70’s, I think). This one, made in 1981, is entitled Attack of the Killer Prunes/Invasion of the Sleeping Bag People (a double feature). First, a young man decides to warm up some prunes in the microwave - for some reason. Unattended, the device’s radiation mutates the dried fruits, which grow to enormous size and creep upstairs to claim their victim, culminating in a life-or-death struggle as both are flung over the second story balcony (it was filmed in this house). Then… strange, unexplained sleeping bag monsters invade the Big Lake Park section of Plano, Texas, harassing and frightening park-goers and bike riders (click above to play).

As a double feature, the film was a kind of homage to our unwitting appreciation of the Roger Corman aesthetic. Both films alternately star my childhood friends Dave and Tim, and the second features William (who’s hidden by a prop - we took our cue from Hollywood at the time, most black actors were still marginalized). Also, a friendly bike-riding family in the park unwillingly volunteer as extras. I’m not in either film, as I was behind the camera.

At our age we had no idea how to splice and edit film, so all movies had to be edited “in camera” and shot in chronological order. If we weren’t sure a shot worked out the first time - too bad, that was “scene.” When it came back from the Fotomat, that was our movie! It was bliss. So, not surprisingly, don’t get your hopes up. At just over two minutes long, it’s as crappily homemade as they come; inexplicable, overexposed and often out of focus. And there’s no sound. Copying television actions shows; in one scene we replace Dave’s body (after he’s strangled by a giant prune, and flung over a balcony) with a stuffed, yarn-haired dummy dressed in his clothes (wait, are those the right clothes?). When he hits the ground, we quickly replace it with the real him while pausing the camera. The results are seamless! I haven’t decided if it’s all so charming, or just terrible. But now that it’s on the internet, both classifications are irrelevant; it’s forever - so enjoy! It’s also bit of a time capsule specimen. These days, six year-olds are making off-the-cuff movies with phone cameras that rival Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. But for us, back then we had to REALLY WORK to make something look like this. The titles were obviously added just now, using iMovie. Thanks to my brother Craig for discovering these rolls of film somewhere in my parent’s house, and surprising me one birthday with a videotape transfer of them. There’s a few more on the tape (this isn’t the worst), I’ll post them here periodically.