Robert Hall broke onto the makeup effects scene in the early 90s working on such films as The Island of Dr. Moreau and The X-Files, eventually starting his own company called Almost Human and creating the iconic vampire makeup for the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel after that. Since then he has done effects for films like Superbad, Prom Night, Quarantine, The Crazies, Devil, Paranormal Activity 2&3 and the television shows The Sarah Connor Chronicles (one of my favorites) and Teen Wolf. In addition, he has written and directed two hit horror movies, Laid to Rest and Chromeskull: Laid to Rest II. But before those two, in 1994, he wrote and directed a very personal film that is also related to the horror genre, the autobiographical Lightning Bug.
Based on Hall’s own teenage years, Lightning Bug is the story of Green Graves (Bret Harrison), a young boy living in the south who dreams of one day creating makeup effects for the movies. The problem is, in his town no one understands his interest and he is made an outcast because of it. Add in a drunken stepfather (Kevin Gage) who terrorized his mother (Hellraiser’s Ashley Laurence) and you get a boy who is pushed to give up on his dreams. With a local religious group decrying his work, Green does find some salvation in a girl (Laura Prepon) who believes in him.
Lightning Bug is a very personal story, and it is this connection to Hall himself that elevated the film far beyond its modest means. The story is genuine, authentic and compelling and easily relatable by any viewer with misunderstood dreams. Bret Harrison is excellent in the lead role as is That 70s Show Laura Prepon, but the real scene stealer is Kevin Gage as the abusive stepfather. His character, Earl Knight, is as terrifying as any horror slasher, perhaps even more so. Gage is electrifying every time he is on screen. Everything about Lightning Bug just works, and works very well. Hall’s writing is the star of the film, and although his Laid to Rest films as good horror fun, I can’t help but hope he someday returns to this type of horror storytelling. He has a real knack for genuine characters and I can’t help but think if he tackled more story driven horror films, he just might be a force to be reckoned with.
The Blu-ray from Anchor Bay is a great step up from its DVD counterpart. The picture is clean with nice colors and detail throughout. And this time around it is loaded with special features as well. Do yourself a favor and check out this little gem, lots to love here. Highly recommended.
Available January 15, 2013 on Blu-ray and DVD.