With highly adrenalized offerings like The Theta Girl and his latest movie Bad Girls, filmmaker Christopher Bickel is wringing big impact out of tiny budgets. Read on for our interview with a modern contender for the Russ Meyer throne.
One of the beauties of underground film is that it doesn’t have to pander. Not to the money people, who usually have some sway over larger productions, or to the general public, whose tastes often align with powerful advertising. That said, most underground films do not have a lot of money behind them, so their success as art and as entertainment depends upon the visions of their creators and the creators’ abilities to execute those visions. Christopher Bickel’s newly released second feature, Bad Girls, is an extraordinarily colorful example of an underground film that kills on both levels.
Bad Girls is a highly adrenalized, neo-grindhouse flick that plays out in a mesmerizing, hallucinogenic stratum. The film successfully balances social satire with nihilism, gore and sex, along with moments of poignancy. Bad Girls opens with three young women stealing money and drugs from a strip club, after which they hit the road, carving a path of murder and mayhem while being pursued by the FBI. It is easy to see the influences of the godfathers of underground and independent film, such as Russ Meyer, Herschell Gordon Lewis and Roger Corman. And while this is only the second feature film for Bickel—his first, 2017’s The Theta Girl, is a cult fave in its own right—he has been championing the underground film movement from the beginning; the credits of his films include the budgets ($16,000 for Bad Girls), the equipment and software used to produce them, and statements like, “The Theta Girl was produced for the price of a used car by complete novices. No excuses. Make your own fucking movie.”
Bickel’s arrival onto the filmmaking scene made a huge splash and, as Bad Girls demonstrates, that splash was not an anomaly. When HUSTLERMagazine.com had an opportunity to screen the film and speak with Bickel about how he does it, we jumped right in.
HUSTLERMagazine.com: How did you get bitten by the filmmaking bug?
Christopher Bickel: It was something that I definitely have always wanted to do my entire life and I kind of went to school for it as well, but I ended up opening a record store instead of pursuing that, and it’s kind of one of those things where you start getting a little bit older … you start to look back and think about the things that you wanted to do and that you didn’t. It’s always like, “I have to do this before I get any older.” Teenage Caligula (Bickel’s first short film, released in 2016) was really just an exercise to learn how to use the camera. And it’s a short film that we used as sort of a proof of concept to raise money through a crowdfunding campaign to do the first feature, which was The Theta Girl. It was just one of those things where you want to make sure that you do the thing you wanted to do when you were a kid, and it turns out that I kind of liked doing it. So I want to continue with that.