Showing posts with label found footage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label found footage. Show all posts

Jan 9, 2021

HAUNTED HOSPITAL: HEILSTÄTTEN (2018)

You can’t keep a good gimmick down, which is why, ten years on from the release of Paranormal Activity, found-footage horror flicks are still trickling in. Thankfully, theaters are no longer inundated with them, but quieter and lower key productions are continuing to use the tactic – hence we now have the awkwardly named Haunted Hospital: Heilstätten (which, come on, I will DEFINITELY be calling Triple H for the remainder of this review).

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a group of kids take an array of filming equipment into an abandoned hospital believed haunted for sensationalistic reasons but then – plot twist – turns out the place really does have ghosts! (Or demons, or witches, or the pit of hell, or, you know, something that HMOs will write off as a preexisting condition.) Along with this, the Germany-lensed Triple H opts for a modern update by presenting all the trespassers as hosts of their own very disparate Youtube channels, some more successful than others, which has led to some tension between them all. (I think they used to be friends in real life before or during their Youtube fame, but that’s never made clear). There’s Betty (Nilam Farooq), whose channel seems to consist of her sitting on a bed and talking about makeup but never applying any (accurate); Emma (Lisa-Marie Koroll), who helps participants face their very specific fears; and lastly, there’s Charly and Finn (Emilio Sakraya and the amazingly named Timmi Trinks), who host something called Prankstaz, which is exactly what it sounds like, and which is the most obnoxious thing you have ever seen. (Also accurate). Joining them are Theo (Tim Oliver Schultz), the level-headed worrywart, and Marnie (Sonja Gerhardt), a psychic and Theo’s former squeeze. (I’m going to be honest, I’m not 100% of that breakdown because all the girls, bundled up in hats, scarves, and big jackets, kinda look the same, and most of their names are barely spoken aloud during the entire running time. Girls just sort of keep showing up, making you go, “oh, guess I missed her the first time.” Just know that this movie is basically Hellstätten 90210.) The kids all figure that cross promoting with the sadly successful Prankstaz will boost the number of theiir Youtube followers, and that’s all that matters on the entire planet.

For the first two acts, Triple H unfolds exactly as you would expect: the characters are introduced and established as: the main one who will probably live, the “silly” ones who definitely won’t, and the window dressing ones whom no one will especially care about. Dark hallways are wandered, fleeting creepy things in the dark are glimpsed, fights break out among the cast, and bodies begin to drop. During this time, Triple H is very okay – it’s absolutely every other found footage flick you have ever seen, but it’s well made enough that it doesn’t feel like you’re watching anything offensive. In addition, there’s a scene where Theo berates the two Prankstaz hosts for peddling idiocy on their channel and contributing to “the stupidity of our youth,” so you might be thinking, “Oh, wow, Triple H has a message.” Once the third-act twist happens, whatever credit you were willing to lend toward Triple H goes totally out the window and you will groan, groan, groan. To its credit, you’ve never seen anything like it in a found footage flick, but that’s because the twist is nearly as ridiculous as, say, if it’s revealed that the haunted hospital had been under the hellish influence of an evil cantaloupe named Jeremy.

Haunted Hospital: Heilstätten is every found-footage flick you’ve ever seen – that is, until it’s not, and that’s when it’s worse. If you’re among the breed of fan who devours these kinds of flicks regardless of budgets or reputations, you’re likely to find a few worthy yuk-yuks within. For everyone else, avoid.

Jul 26, 2020

[REC] 4: APOCALYPSE (2014)


What a weird road the [REC] series has traveled. After the successful release of the first film, which can be fairly described as a modern classic, its directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza were smart enough to realize that to a successful sequel should revisit all the things that made its predecessor so effective: the claustrophobic surroundings of that Barcelona apartment building, the cast of quirky characters slowly transforming into hideous mutants, the emaciated hammer-swinging thing residing in the attic, and most importantly, the inclusion of the found-footage aesthetic. [REC]2, a clever sidequel, posits: say, what else could be going on in that apartment building? And while on paper that sounds like a total cop-out, it worked just fine. Going beyond its ability to strike gold twice utilizing an identical concept, it took things one step further by introducing a rather interesting idea: what if this "disease" being passed from person to person via bite and turning everyone afflicted into bleeding, shrieking, gooey ghouls was, in actuality, demon possession? With this idea in motion, the ghouls of [REC] didn't have to just scream and hurtle at their prey. Now they could sprout wings, or crawl upside down on the ceiling. Now there was the simmering suggestion that it would not be a scientist who could potentially find a cure, but a priest. Now we suddenly had The Exorcist in the back of our minds, and that ain't a shabby association to call forth.

While some factions of the audiences didn't fully embrace this new demonic twist, [REC]was wildly popular, and so it wasn't long before not one but two more sequels were announced: [REC]3: Genesis, and [REC]4: Apocalypse. However, in a surprising move, the co-directors also announced that each of them would be tackling one of the sequels solo, and even more surprising, abandoning the found footage aesthetic that had helped to make the series so far stand out from its flesh-ripping cinematic colleagues. And so, with two solid films already winning over most horror fans, audiences waited to see just what kind of new ideas its creators would bring to the table.

They got their answer: stupid.

Paco Plaza took the first swing with [REC]3Genesis, a film severely hampered by its overly aggressive but laudable attempts to avoid treading derivative ground. While a worthy endeavor, the dropping of the found footage technique, the insertion of constant and too-silly humor, and setting the film prior to the events of the first all led to an entry that was uneven, inconsistent, and lacking in any thrills.

With the long-confirmed fourth and final entry in the [REC] series looming on the horizon, this one under the guidance of a solo Balagueró, audiences once again waited to see if the franchise would go out with a bang instead of a whimper.

It hasn't.

That law of diminishing returns refuses to ever cut audiences a break, so [REC]4Apocalypse eventually arrived, unseating [REC]3 from its very brief record of being the weakest of the series. In what amounts to an even stupider film than Friday the 13th: Jason Takes Manhattan, [REC]4 has our characters running loose on a barge as one by one its collection of military soldiers and doctors fall victim to the very "disease" they have been trying to cure. Manuela Velasco, Spain's own beautiful doppelganger for Marisa Tomei, reprises her role from the first two films as the battered and bloodied Ángela Vidal, who following her nightmarish experience in that demon-infested apartment building has been whisked away to this same barge, filled with the aforementioned military personnel. Very far from shore, and cut off from the rest of the world, she and several others find themselves quarantined by a gaggle of doctors in an effort to figure out what is causing the disease, and how to cure it.


While [REC]is in some ways an improvement over its predecessor, thankfully jettisoning all the cheap cartoon humor and contributing an entry that actually feels like it belongs to the [REC] series, unfortunately it gets nearly everything else wrong. The attempt at series continuity by utilizing Velasco is certainly appreciated, but her character is utterly misused, setting her up as a red herring for much of the film's running time until the third-act twist that, to be fair, is a genuine surprise, but to be fairer, is surprising because of how cheap and shameless it is. The twist "works" not because the film was successful in subtly setting it up, but rather because it was unmercifully lazy - the kind of "gotcha" moment played out in that theoretically non-existent wasteland of Offscreen Land where Balagueró insisted on hiding it like an Indiana Jones relic, because to have seen it play out on screen under the pretenses with which we were already provided would have made the twist obviously lazy.

Say, speaking of lazy, why take the time in having the virus spread from one person to the next when you can just say, "Oh crap, the food's infected," and demonize a whole slew of people at once? And if [REC]suddenly doing an about-face on the whole "demonic possession spread by bite" thing and instead having it spread through some dripped-on lamb wasn't bad enough, a really unnecessary and unintentionally silly adversary has been added to the mix to chase around our human cast: monkeys. And not just monkeys, but badly-rendered CGI monkeys, their "realism" at a level usually reserved for Planters' Nuts commercials.


Director Balagueró seems to miss the found-footage technique he and his co-director had employed on the first two films, but while he doesn't resurrect the gimmick for this go-round, he attempts to bridge the gap between amateur POV shooting with traditional film, utilizing the ever-popular handheld approach that is at best disorienting, and at worst downright nauseating. Occasionally, filmmakers are sometimes tempted to obscure the lack of substance in their film by depending on all manner of disorienting camera techniques to fool their audiences into thinking something dramatic is happening, and here Balagueró is no different. Close-ups of blood being drawn or weathered men standing around talking are shot with all manner of quick zooms by its cinematographer who seems to have swapped out a tripod for a stair-machine. What's supposed to seem interesting and intense is actually quite dull.

Speaking of dull, [REC]takes entirely too long to get going, and once it does, it has no fucking idea where it wants to go. The revelation of demonic possession spreading from one person to the next introduced in [REC]2 is barely a footnote here, as if the filmmakers realized far-too-late they had written themselves into a corner. "Oh crap, if they can fly, then what's the point of quarantining everyone on a ship?" etc. But no wings are sprouted, no ceilings are walked on. And without being able to use, no hyperbole, one of the creepiest and most effective images in modern horror - that of the sickly gaunt Nina Medeiros swinging her hammer blindly in the dark - Balagueró opts for an altogether different path: instead of Ángela running for her life through the dark bowels of a ship, pursued by something so monstrous that the only thing it has in common with mankind is a disturbing depiction of its form, instead Ángela can be found running through the bowels of a ship, being pursued by...monkey sounds. LOUD monkey sounds.


Still, this idea does make for a killer dramatic moment: with the stirring Zimmer-like musical score by the talented Arnau Bataller beginning to mount, Ángela flees her tiny-primate pursuers through the dark, desperately heaving herself through nooks and crannies of the ship, and finally she sees the way out; she throws herself to freedom, screaming, in near hysterics; she surprises another character who happens to be searching for her at that very moment, and before he can say a word, she looks at him with near-madness in her eyes, and in one long triumphant cry of release, bellows, "MOOOOOOONKEEEEEEEEYS!"

[REC]is the fourth part of a once-solid series that lost its way halfway through. It wants to use CGI to ensure a dramatic ending, but it can't afford it. It wants to have a big cast, but doesn't know what to do with any of them, that is beyond having all of them running around in the dark yelling "Vamos!" at each other. It wants to expand on the previously established [REC] cannon, but then...it doesn't. This proclaimed final entry in the series still not only manages to set up a [REC]5, but one that promises this series will still be swinging blindly in the dark.


Jun 12, 2020

THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (2007)


You know how many found footage flicks are based on tapes or film cans being discovered and exhibited, reflecting footage that had been shot during an abstract past? There’s a tangible irony in that, being that’s not only the same deal for The Poughkeepsie Tapes’ concept, but because The Poughkeepsie Tapes is probably more famous for how long it sat on the shelf waiting to see release than anything else. The Poughkeepsie Tape was actually shot and completed alllll the way back in 2007 at the height of the found footage rebirth. Produced by MGM, who began going through a series of financial woes and lacked the means to properly market and exhibit their films during that period (which is how the MGM-produced Cabin in the Woods eventually ended up with Lionsgate), Shout! Factory stepped up to acquire the distribution rights so that horror fans everywhere without the inclination to use a torrent program could finally see the long-mooted film for themselves.

So after ten-plus years, was the wait worth it?

Not…really.


Before you let the term “found footage” steer you toward a certain expectation, know that there aren’t any paranormal/supernatural/metaphysical aspects in The Poughkeepsie Tapes. Refreshingly, it’s a straightforward and (mostly) realistic look at a serial killer, his victims, and the law enforcement angle that surrounds the investigation. And again, “found footage” doesn’t just mean that The Poughkeepsie Tapes is 90 minutes of raw serial killer home movies, but instead features sit-down interviews with law enforcement officials, family and friends, and more — along with serial killer home movies. From a reality point of view, this is the ideal way to present this kind of story while still maintaining the ultimate suspense question: how is this going to end? The problem is nearly half of the interviewees in The Poughkeepsie Tapes are clearly actors who are clearly focusing on trying to look natural and casual and end up giving a performance. For something billed as “reality,” it busts the illusion consistently throughout.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes’ content is disturbing at times, and during others, surprisingly violent. This is far less about titillation and more about disturbing viewers and making them uncomfortable. To its credit, The Poughkeepsie Tapes concocts some eerie images (the corpse being yanked out of the coffin via rope is especially eerie and it belongs in a far better film), but it also concocts some that are incredibly dopey. One interviewee preempts a coming sequence known as “the balloon footage” that one expects is going to be super disturbing, but instead shows a prostitute blowing up a large balloon, tying it off, and then bouncing on it. “Like this?” she keeps asking the off-screen perpetrator (which conjured images from The Greasy Strangler*, causing me to laugh), and the whole notion of it is just bizarre. If this is supposed to be funny…why? Because other than this, The Poughkeepsie Tapes doesn’t try to be. And if it’s not supposed to be funny, who on earth thought this was disturbing?


Ten years ago. That’s when The Poughkeepsie Tapes was completed and ready for release before Shout! Factory rescued it for a video release. A lot has changed in the horror genre since then, including the most important thing: found footage fatigue. But even if The Poughkeepsie Tapes had been released during a time when found footage was still considered a novelty, that still wouldn’t help its overall presentation — as an unconvincing, alternately silly and disturbing, but forgettable low budget horror flick that happens to feature the logo of a major film studio.

Very few films could be worth waiting ten years to see, and that very long delay has to be taken into account when determining its overall value. By now the more tenacious horror fans have already seen The Poughkeepsie Tapes, whether it was on a torrent, Youtube, or a bootleg DVD-r from a horror convention. MGM’s financial woes may have been a good scapegoat for the company to avoid otherwise releasing an almost unmarketable and disturbing film to the masses.



"Like this? Like this, Janet? I don't know if I'm doing it right, Janet. I don't know if I'm doing it right, Janet. Like this? Is this right? Janet? I don't know if I'm doing it right, Janet. Like this?"

Oct 18, 2019

THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 2 (2017)



The Houses October Built seemed like an unlikely candidate for a franchise starter. It was a reasonably well made found footage horror film back during the era when audiences still cared about those. It provided a handful of creepy moments, but honestly, overall, it was kind of a failure as a straight-up horror narrative. The five haunt-hopping characters in the film play fictionalized versions of themselves — they’re real people who traveled the country to document the various haunts and celebrations that spring up during the Halloween season. Personally, this is why I found enjoyment in the first film, and why I was able to mine some from its sequel.

Again, like the former, The Houses October Built 2, as a horror film, is a failure. It’s just not scary at all, and unlike the first one where there was an attempt to build suspense and slowly increase the terror, this time around, there’s very little of that. It plays out much like the first one — our characters traipse around the country in an RV, go to different haunts, and every once in a while they’ll hear from a haunt worker that there’s one haunt in particular they’ve definitely got to check out. Last year it was the Blue Skeleton, and this year, it’s Hell Bent.

You know that thing about being doomed to repeat history if you don’t learn from it?

Welcome to the sequel.

Again, like the first, the sequel is a documentary masquerading as a horror film. And I don’t mean that it’s a fake documentary or a mockumentary presenting itself as reality. Granted, a certain percentage of the film is fictionalized. But much of the footage captured is from real haunts and of real haunt actors, and this is why horror fans tend to look at these films as “boring” and “slow.” They’re not wrong to feel like that, because the films are definitely marketed as your typical found-footage horror scarefests; trickery is involved in getting people to watch.


The sequel throws a bit of variety into the batch, this time adding a Zombie 5K Run and even a trip to an “R-Rated” haunt, where its performers use ungodly amounts of profanity and walk around topless. “This way, assholes,” the haunt host says to our characters at one point, beckoning them into the entrance of the haunt, which offered a legit guffaw on my part.

The synopsis explains the rationale behind why these characters would ever go back out on the road after almost dying the last time as the characters “facing their fears,” but really, Brandy (Brandy Schaeffer) is the only one doing that. The other four members — all men — are doing it entirely for the money, as their notoriety has made them hot commodities in the haunt industry. Not only that, not a single one of them seems bothered by their experiences last time. One of them even admits, “I had a blast last year.” It’s…odd.

One thing The Houses October Built 2 has done to improve on its predecessor is its photography, mostly in the form of some beautiful sweeping drone footage that helps to capture very expansive looks at the different places they visit around the country. It’s most impressive during the Zombie 5K Run, whose grounds cover several acres and with very impressive set designs featuring demolished buildings and parking garages, some of which is flooded and dotted with submerged cars. But there are different forms of footage on display, from standard digital camera to phone footage.

Cautiously, I would recommend this sequel if you love Halloween, and its ambience, celebrations, and the different attractions out in the world. If you want to relive your own times spent at haunted houses or hayrides or Halloween parades but you’ve grown too curmudgeonly to leave the house anymore, these films do serve a purpose. Basically, if you’re here for the horror, look elsewhere. If you’re here to celebrate Halloween vicariously through our characters, “This way, assholes.”

Jul 4, 2014

WATCH: THE CONSPIRACY



There are certain factions of the American populace who are a little...off. If I were being as respectful as possible, I would say that those people who have broken off from society and chosen to live in survivalist camps, hording non-perishable food, water, guns, etc., convinced that society is soon going to collapse and leave people scrounging for survival...well, let's just say I don't have too much in common with them. Though there are times when I have grown so exasperated and disillusioned by my own government, the idea behind which is to provide law, order, aid, support, and "freedom," but which instead is fine with being as useless as a three-ounce paperweight, that I've sworn off my social security number and credit cards and threatened to pull an Into the Wild and go off the grid entirely. Granted, though the chances of me ever following through with this threat are pretty slim, the fact that my sometimes anger and disenfranchisement has lead me to even consider it perhaps shows that I do share something in common with those aforementioned groups.

I bring this up because, at the heart of these kinds of thoughts, sometimes lies any variety of conspiracies. I can look at the government and think the only thing driving them is greed and their blind stunted political ideology. But others can look at the government and think all kinds of shadowy conspiracies are afoot. We are a country that has long been obsessed with conspiracies. From the JFK assassination to Area 51, we as a people like to, or need to, believe that we're never being told the whole story. We don't want to believe that it was simply one jack-ass who managed to kill the most powerful man in the world; we need to believe it was the mafia or Castro or the succeeding Vice President Lyndon Johnson, or all of them, who were responsible. But, sometimes, it really is just one jack-ass.


The Conspiracy, a mockumentary approach to unveil the world's most powerful secret society, presupposes that World War I, the Vietnam War, and 9/11, among other deadly events significant to American history and culture, were caused not because of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, a naval attack in the Gulf of Tonkin, and religious extremists, but were all actually perpetrated by something called the Tarsus Club: an Illuminati-esque group of the most powerful individuals across the globe.

The documentary within The Conspiracy begins with focusing solely on a man named Terrance (an awesome Alan  C. Peterson), whom our documentary filmmakers, Aaron (Aaron Poole) and Jim (James Gilbert), are studying. Terrance has some wild claims about the Tarsus Club, but his public tirades delivered via loudspeaker are mostly ignored. Aaron seems rather taken with Terrance while Jim seems only amused...that is until the filmmakers, one day, have trouble getting in touch with their subject. Calls go unanswered, messages unreturned, front doors unopened. They eventually gain access to Terrance's apartment and find that it has been ransacked and vandalized; his blanket of newspaper clippings linking together five random news stories in order to construct one single conspiracy, has been torn off the wall.


Aaron feels compelled to take the evidence left behind from the ransacking and continue the investigation where Terrance had left off, and gradually, as he unearths more and more about the Tarsus Club, they welcome into their lives more and more layers of danger, beginning with a black SUV that seems to follow them everywhere they go, and ending with an upfront and terrifying confrontation with the very club they are investigating.  

The Conspiracy, an amalgam of JFK, the non-sci-fi aspects of "The X-Files," Conspiracy Theory, Interview with the Assassin, and many more like it, is simply put, fantastic. Written/directed by Christopher MacBride, it is a hyper-realistic, well-written and well-acted piece that presents you with some pretty fantastic claims, but never in a way where they feel fantastic. The cast is sympathetic and entirely convincing (and special mention must be made of character actor Julian Richings, perhaps most famous for his reoccurring role of Death on "Supernatural," whose entire performance is limited to two scenes, a blurred-out face and artificially deepened voice, and who is still, somehow, entirely recognizable).

(Image from "Supernatural.")

Your personal mindset will determine how much belief you'll need to suspend (while some of you may even believe everything you're watching is 100% real). The Conspiracy is a film that both deserves and demands your attention; the more details you soak up and infect your brain, the more rewarding the outcome will be. (For instance, if you consider the ending "ambiguous," then you simply hadn't been paying attention.) This was a film I'd been waiting to see for two years or more once news broke of its existence; all these years later, it was more than worth the wait.


* For the record, it was through absolute random chance that I've chosen to highlight a film about conspiracies related to the American government on this, the anniversary of the country's founding. But, I don't feel bad about it, either.

Nov 1, 2013

REVIEW: TO JENNIFER


The line between art and "hey, let's make a movie because we can!" is becoming increasingly blurred. Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick bought a couple cameras, made The Blair Witch Project, and then made back most of their production budget by returning the cameras for a refund. The film cost them around a handful of Mercedes to produce and made back its budget 300 times. Several years later, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau bought a couple digital cameras, rented a boat, and shot Open Water without the support of a major studio. Unknown actors got in the water with real sharks for hours upon hours, and the filmmaking duo edited the film on their home computer. It was another box office smash. And it continued the new trend of do-it-yourself filmmaking began by the likes of Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater, and that damn Burkitsville witch. It proved if you had the materials and talent, you didn't need a major studio's resources or funding. 

In theory, this is great. The unachievable dream has become that much more achievable. The one-in-a-million chance for success tested and subjugated by a Michigan nerd who loved horror movies and made Evil Dead (and who currently rules Hollywood) is now the stuff of history.

Which brings us to a little film called To Jennifer, shot entirely on the iPhone 5 - a large part of the marketing platform. If it's the first time ever, I honestly don't know - but by film's end, it wouldn't have mattered if it were shot with the eye of God. 

Your main character is Joey (Chuck Pappas). His girlfriend is cheating on him, or so he thinks. So he decides to make a video about catching her in the act, so he can give it to her. I'm...not sure why. Along for the ride is his cousin (and cameraman), Steve (James Cullen Bressack, also writer/director), and their mutual friend Martin (Jody Barton). Their video diary takes them across multiple states, a failed plane ride, a couple ugly confrontations, and the inevitable and obvious twist ending.


To Jennifer
is every scene from The Goonies when all the kids shout over each other, loudly, and without mercy, only now that yelling is crammed with testosterone, profanity, and behavior that would make most people severely uncomfortable, but instead makes everyone giggle. 

Because the film is shot on a phone, any attempt at direction is, at best, limited, and at worst, non-existent. There's only so much you can do to lend the film any kind of style. Due to this, the rather no-frills production will instead have to depend on the intrigue of the story and the power of its cast.

Speaking of, most of the cast does a fine job, at least at first. Pappas as Joey depends on your sympathy as he is your lead with a lot of baggage. He is the cuckolded boy of the story and should already have at least our attention, being that we've likely all been in his shoes and we know how much it blows. As the film progresses he veers into dangerous overacting territory, but being that his character is supposed to be on a somewhat downward spiral, it's not a detriment to the film. 

Continuing on, major fucking props goes to fucking Cullen Bressack as Steve, who tries his fucking best to be as fucking obnoxious as possible, rattling the audio with his fucking bawdy laughter and his over-the-top "I'm a party animal!" demeanor. Count how how many fucking times he can cram "fuck" into his dialogue - astrophysicists can't count that high - while simultaneously being completely fucking unlikable. Watch as Joey sadly confesses that his girlfriend is cheating on him as Steve laughs. Watch as Joey has a nervous breakdown on a plane as Steve laughs. Watch as Joey lays in a hospital bed as Steve laughs. Watch as Joey gets his ass handed to him at a party as Steve laughs. Watch as Joey is clearly becoming more and more mentally unbalanced over the course of his descent as Steve laughs - hard and squeakily.

To Jennifer has an interesting concept - a sort of road movie where friends could bond and help one of their own get over a sad development - but this is a double-edged sword, because all you're seeing is a bunch of college kids hanging out and doing what college kids do: drink, smoke pot, go to parties, talk about mackin' wit girls, etc. An approach like To Jennifer should be as realistic as possible, I admit that, but it shouldn't be so realistically mundane that I begin to wonder why I'm watching these random videos on that iPhone I found at the bus stop.

But hey, what do I know? To Jennifer's Facebook page is covered in positive reviews. Perhaps other folks are seeing what I'm not. Perhaps I'm prejudiced against this next stage in filmmaking where all you need to make a film and have it distributed nationally is a cell phone. Perhaps I'm embittered because no one wants to give Don Coscarelli a few measly million to make Phantasm V, or that no one wants to fund any of John Carpenter's potential projects - you know, the man whose entire filmography is being remade and dumbed down in nearly their original order of release, to the "benefit" of the audience whose target age is decreasing year by year.

To Jennifer really could have been that next step in proving that a successful end result could be shot with something as simple as that thing in our pockets we used to use strictly for making phone calls. To Jennifer has a beginning, middle, end, actors, and makes use of available light quite handily. If your film is location heavy, intimate, and okay with the raw digital look, then this DIY approach really could be your new best friend if you're a filmmaker with a great concept and little money.

Sadly, To Jennifer seems more to be the result of kids who made a movie because they had a camera, rather than an original idea strong enough to withstand and complement its gimmick.

Oct 29, 2013

#HALLOWEEN: DVD REVIEW: WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL


To drench yourself in my love for the WNUF Halloween Special, refer to my previous in-depth review. Everything I could have said about the film I believe was already said. Instead I'll be going through the DVD release that Alternative Cinema was kind enough to send me. Strictly put, it's essential Halloween viewing.

Writer/director Chris LaMartina gets things going with a solo audio commentary. If you're even a casual listener of audio commentaries, you may have found that when some folks go solo, they can tend to fill their recording time with long bouts of silence, having no one by their side to spur them on and ask questions. That's not the problem here. LaMartina hits the ground running with his inspirations behind the project, how it came to be, and what he ultimately envisioned. He speaks rapidly and throws a lot of information at you, none of which is ever superfluous. The nature of the film, which is essentially one huge montage, has him leaping from point to point, and in terms of words per minute, puts Tarantino to shame.

Much of what I wondered while watching the film for the first time - the origin of the footage used, if the filmmakers shot it themselves or sifted through public domain stuff - is answered. Basically, it comes from everywhere! He also confirms his shout-out to The Monster Squad, which makes me feel like a total nerd for even picking up on it the first time. Yay!

Also included are additional commercials created specifically for the film but cut from the final running time. They range from awkward to amusing to slightly faux-erotic (and even contain a reference to Motel Hell). You'll love the "safe sex" commercial. That AIDs gag amazed me.

The next feature shows a side-by-side comparison showing what the original footage looked like versus the final version, after copying one VHS to the next three times. It's neat strictly on a technical level and is quite brief. Generally some video labels, like Criterion, will do the exact opposite when showing just how well they were able to remaster a film. Not here!

Moving right along are an amusing collection of bloopers, line flubs, and alternate dialogue. (That fucking vampire in the crowd kills it every time.)

Finishing things off are "Rewinding the Fast Forward," which shows in their entirety the sequences fast-forwarded during the film; something called "Meadowlands Showcase," which, frankly, defies description; and some trailers.

DVDs are available directly from the distributor, Alternative Cinema, and I honestly can't recommend it enough. I have a very small collection of films I make sure to watch every Halloween week. Going forward, WNUF Halloween Special will be part of that list.



For decades, obscure film collectors and lovers of esoteric cinema have sought it... 
Finally, the search is over… Originally broadcast live on October 31, 1987, the "WNUF Halloween Special" is a stunning expose of terrifying supernatural activity that unfolded at the infamous Webber House, the site of ghastly murders. Local television personality Frank Stewart leads a group of paranormal investigators including Catholic exorcist, Father Joseph Matheson and the prolific husband-and-wife team Louis and Claire Berger. Together, the experts explore the darkest corners of the supposedly haunted Webber House, trying to prove the existence of the demonic entities within. Did they find the horrific truth or simply put superstitious rumors to rest?
SPECIFICATIONS: 82 mins. (171 mins. TRT) / Horror / Color / Not Rated / 4x3 / Region 0 / English / Stereo 
SPECIAL FEATURES:
  • Audio Commentary with writer/director Chris LaMartina
  • WNUF Commercials
  • Bloopers and outtakes
  • “Rewinding the FF”
  • Trailers
  • Meadowlands Showcase Halloween Show
  • Aging the Video

 

Sep 23, 2013

TEOS RECOMMENDS: FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY

 

I'm just gonna come out and say it: Frankenstein's Army doesn't really have that much of a plot. And since it wants to involve the mythos of the Frankenstein legacy (which, by now, has become almost a genre unto itself), then you could argue it has even less of a plot.

I think the filmmakers kinda know what, which is why they went the extra mile in creating some absolutely jaw-dropping creatures to fill those damned bunker tunnels and maze-like corridors.

But fine, okay: the "plot."

A group of Russian soldiers, in the midst of World War II, traverse the German wilderness to root out and extinguish the Nazi threat. While doing so, they stumble across a decrepit village that no longer seems inhabited. However, below one of the many buildings in this village awaits a threat more monstrous than the world has ever known before. 

And because the soldiers are filming this journey for some reason, you get to experience it all first-hand. 

That's primarily it for your plot, but like I said: the plot is inconsequential. It is the equivalent of, "I've got this camera. Oh, what's that?" (Monsters.)

Every once in a while, that's simply okay. Sometimes we would rather just have a fun, spookhouse environment where things literally leap into corridors and thrill us with their imaginative and completely wild appearance. And that's what Frankenstein's Army is, really. It's a filmified version of any haunted hayride or Halloween walk-through you've ever visited. You walk around, you see creepy things, the things get progressively creepier, and you get hammy acting all over your sweater.

Speaking of the acting, it's good enough to not make you say, "The acting in this fucking sucks." And the use of the camera is certainly serviceable, though I am curious about the choice to go with the found footage aesthetic, considering the film is a period piece. Though they make an attempt at first to add "camera whirring" sound effects and some light old-timey grain, after a while both of those ideas are dropped, and we're left with some pretty impressive crystal-clear footage...ya know, for the mid-1940s. And even from an artistic standpoint, the found footage angle doesn't add all that much, anyway. It's still more than possible to achieve that kind of "you're really there" feeling without succumbing to the newest Hollywood gimmick. (See Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men as proof.)

But why we're really here is for what's promised by the title: we want to be surrounded by a group of walking, drooling, shrieking experiments. And that we are!

The production design and special effects/make-up teams should be universally applauded for their wicked and wild creations. They are something straight out of a nightmare, dripping with steampunk inspirations with a twist of Nazi madness. I wouldn't go so far as to say they are the only reason to watch Frankenstein's Army, but if they were not made the front and center of the action, my argument to convince you to watch otherwise would not be nearly as exuberant. I fully admit that Karel Roden (quickly becoming one of my favorite character actors) turns out an incredibly fun and insane performance as Viktor Frankenstein, grandson of the original grave-digging and monster making mad scientist, but for real y'all, here are your reasons to watch:




So do it. If enough of you do, maybe they'll make House of Frankenstein's Army.

I'd be all over that.


Aug 29, 2013

REVIEW: WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL

 

A package awaited me on the porch as I approached my front door. The return address didn't look immediately familiar, and inside the package was nothing but a single VHS tape.

No typical accompanying press release. No pre-sale ad. No tear sheet. Just that lone, ominous VHS tape with the hand-scrawled label:

WNUF Halloween Special.

Naturally I was intrigued. Who wouldn't be?

I was hesitant to pop in the tape, halfway expecting to see shaky, nightime footage of myself asleep in my bed, unaware of my image being captured by my phantom visitor. Also, Bill Pullman might be playing fusion jazz saxophone right behind me. (Lost Highway reference, for the win!)


After a bit of research, I found this:
Recently discovered VHS videocassettes of the infamous and terrifying Local-TV Halloween Show broadcast-gone-bad. Only 300 in existence!

Taped off of WNUF TV-28 on Halloween Night, 1987, this strange broadcast follows local news personality Frank Stewart and a team of paranormal researchers as they set out to prove that the abandoned Webber House – the site of ghastly murders – is actually haunted, through a fascinating live on-air program featuring shocking EVP recordings and one-of-a-kind Call-In seance.
Thoughts of the BBC's Ghostwatch popped into my brain and my excitement grew. Needless to say, my Halloween-loving fires were stoked. I popped in the VHS and awaited my adventure in live TV gone wrong.


The Weber house: Twenty years earlier the scene of a double-murder, where a young son named Donald decapitated both of his parents with an axe. The legend states that young Donald was found sitting on the curb in front of his house, mumbling "demons made me do it." He was later executed for his crimes. And it is this very same house where local television station WNUF will be filming their Halloween special, featuring anchorman Frank Stewart, husband-and-wife paranormal investigators Louis and Claire Berger, and Father Joseph Matheson. Frank will lead his team into the Weber house for the first time since it was sealed following the murders in an effort to put to bed the rumors that the house is haunted including the rumor concerning the headless specter that was often spotted in the house and on the grounds. Almost immediately upon entering they hear noises in far off rooms. Then some unseen force destroys their equipment. Are the legends true? Is the Weber house haunted? Or was young Donny framed and the real killer still stalks the grounds?

Frank et al. will find out...whether they want to or not.

Can I just say flat-out that I fucking loved the WNUF Halloween Special? As I hit play on my VCR (which I literally had to dig out of storage strictly for this occasion), I'll admit to expecting something other than what I got. What I found, however, was something I adored not five minutes in. 

I don't think I am ruining anything when I say this is not "recently discovered" video of "an actual television broadcast." Sure, it's a fun way to promote a film, I get that, but I'd like to think that the distributors know that we know better. And I bring this up not because I want to spoil the fun, but I kind of have to if I am going to successfully applaud co-writer/director Chris LaMartina for his flawless recreation of an extremely realistic 1980s television program. This may not sound like a big deal to some, but these some have certainly not seen the film for themselves. To a tee, LaMartina and his crew have created an uncanny homage to this gone-but-not-forgotten decade, not just of television, but of pop culture, fashion, and even the political landscape. 

The WNUF Halloween Special (which is the film's actual title) is a painstaking recreation of the following: a news broadcast, broken up by commercial breaks, which then leads into the actual "live" special, which is also broken up by commercial breaks. It looks as if someone literally hit "record" midway through a news broadcast and let the tape capture everything that followed. From the actors playing the news anchors to those taking part in the special, everyone (for the most part, anyway) comes across as perfectly genuine. The news anchors, after highlighting a typical schmaltzy human interest story about a local dentist instituting a "Halloween candy buy-back program" to lower the risk of cavities, even spit out insufferable cornball exchanges because that's just what they did in the '80s.

I like to think that LaMartina is a super-fan of the genre, because that would mean all the easter eggs I grinned at like a schmoe weren't coincidental. I think it's safe to assume that the "Weber murders" actually refer to the DeFeo murders, which took place in Amityville, New York, and inspired an infamous book and film series. And I think it's safe to assume that Louis and Claire Berger are based on Ed and Lorraine Warren (of recent dramatized fame in James Wan's The Conjuring) who investigated the Amityville house. But when it comes to Louis' on-screen look, am I going out on a limb when I see a purposeful recreation of legendary writer (and Halloween enthusiast) Ray Bradbury?

  

And what about the name of the priest, Father Matheson (as in Richard)? And am I really reaching when I recognize a reference to Shadowbrook Road, aka the location of the mansion in which Dracula and his monsters dwelled in The Monster Squad, a Halloween-set adventure? (And also made in 1987...the same year in which this film takes place.)

I'm not sure what makes me a bigger geek either recognizing the references before me, or seeing connections that are strictly happy accidents. Either way, I don't really care, because this thing was a hell of a lot of fun.

Speaking of fun, that's actually something I should emphasize. Despite the film's marketing campaign, the WNUF Halloween Special is actually pretty hilarious. And it's supposed to be. If you've seen any of Christopher Guest's mockumentaries (Best in Show or Waiting for Guffman), then you're familiar with his dry style and his ensemble of oddball characters. LaMartina takes this style and weaves it through a fairly typical (at least at first) television special, including interviews with slack-jawed gawkers who shouldn't be anywhere near a microphone. Not every gag is knocked out of the park, but it's a safe bet that at least all of them will have you smiling.

My personal favorite aspect of the film is probably the bleakest, and might also very well be the most under-the-surface and easily missed and this would be the world of 1987 versus the world of today. LaMartina isn't content with simply pointing his finger and laughing at bad '80s culture. He's quick to remind you that the world and our country, specifically has changed. This comes across in the commercial that depicts an airline offering wide and comfortable seats and gourmet meals, which ends with a stock shot of the New York skyline pre-9/11. Because this is a thing of the past. With soaring gas prices and a suffering airline industry, all the old airline perks have been tossed; seats were condensed, and forget gourmet meals if you want a cold tuna sandwich and an apple, it's gonna cost you big time. And this goes with the oil company commercial, too, which pledges to do its best to contend with "unavoidable and accidental" spills. And don't even get me started on the commercial for the shooting range, stressing "fun for the whole family" and the importance of exercising your "second amendment rights." It's not my intention to bring down the mood, but it's clear the world was incredibly different 25 years ago, and while the film makes this obvious in the lighter and more comedic moments, it also wants to state the same thing in a more somber yet less confrontational way. It's in no way political, but present all the same. I think it's safe to say it's the last thing I expected in what is essentially a low budget horror film majorly assembled by stock footage.

As a film in and of itself, the WNUF Halloween Special is mostly successful. For the most part, the acting never feels forced or disingenuous. The humor works like gangbusters, but the horrific aspects are slightly less successful. Earlier I mentioned Ghostwatch, a legitimately frightening scripted narrative also masquerading as a live on-air special. The WNUF Halloween Special comes nowhere close to matching that film's level of intensity, but it doesn't want to, either. That's not its goal. What it wants to do is recall a time in our not-so-historic history where things seemed purer when people bought heavy metal compilation CDs or took in-store lessons on how to use "floppy discs" and this forgotten time also includes Halloween, as our society simply doesn't seem to care as much about October 31st as it once did. And this super legitimate approach to maintaining the "recorded off television during the actual 1987 events" vibe might turn off some viewers who want an uninterrupted experience; the commercial breaks, especially, may start to annoy some. But I purposely left this point last because what I really want to stress is this: whatever level of success the WNUF Halloween Special attains as a film, it is a flawless and impressive recreation of 90 television minutes from 1987. The VHS tape on which this special was recorded is appropriately degraded and fuzzy, as if it were a copy of a copy of a copy something shared amongst the curious like so many bootleg films from another era without proper distribution. And from the corny news broadcast to the commercials to the live broadcast, it captures late-'80s television in its essence and during a time in which people were hopeful about the future, and who only had a haunted house in their neighborhood to worry about. In that regard, the WNUF Halloween Special is perfect.

WNUF Halloween Special is now available for purchase on extremely limited edition VHS. I cannot encourage you enough to grab yourself a copy.


Aug 9, 2013

THE BITTERROOT FOOTAGE

My name is Chad. I'm a student at a university in New York. I just moved to a studio apartment and needed some furniture. I found a guy on Craigslist that wanted to desperately get rid of his things at super cheap prices so I went to check it out. He sold things in bulk to get rid of as many things as possible. I bought a small table and it came with a bunch of other random things. Some of it I gave away and some I kept.

An old wooden box caught my attention. It was locked, and out of curiosity I kept it. I had to force open the lid with a screw-driver and inside I found some old pictures.
The word 'bitterroot' was handwritten on the backs of all of them. There was also a tin can that contained a reel of film that I later learned from my friend Dario (a film student), was 8mm film.

The film was pretty damaged so I just kept it on my bookshelf as decoration, but I couldn't get the images of the pictures out of my head. I had to figure out a way to watch that film.

With help from Dario, we got an old 8mm projector in good working condition on Ebay. The film skipped in several spots so we put it together with a special tape and then watched it again. What we found was disturbing.


Visit the website for more.

Apr 29, 2013

REVIEW: STRIPPED


I suppose if it had been a bigger hit, or if someone had thought of it, Stripped would have been marketed as "Project X meets Hostel." Because that's pretty much what we have here: "found footage" of a group of horny frat-boy types hauling ass to Vegas for a weekend of debauchery, but finding themselves victimized and stalked by a group of black market organ traffickers.

It is Graham's 21st birthday, and so it's off to Sin City with his BFFs Luke, Cameron, and Tommy. They like to smoke weed and drink booze. They make an awful lot of jokes, some involving puke and some involving mothers. They call each other "fag" and make fun of Twilight. Because, you know, kids.

Along the way they pick up Capri, who crashes the party to hitch a ride so she can meet up with her boyfriend, Jake, who lives in Vegas. Once that happens, drama ensues when it's revealed she once had some kind of romantic tryst with Luke. But the kids quickly get back to their jokes and the social awkwardness is left behind for the time being. After stopping off at a gas station bathroom, they discover a business card promising "women willing to do anything to make you happy." (That means hookers.)  And we have a catalyst!


"Mind if I fornicate?"

The minute we meet out first character, you can immediately tell he, and all his cohorts, are going to be obnoxious and unlikable. That's a huge problem, especially in this genre. For Stripped, it's genuinely hard to tell if this was a conscious choice to make the eventual bloodletting all the more satisfying, or if the desire to make our kids "realistic" and "fun" didn't really work out that way. They fart, talk about fucking constantly, and make references to having sex with babies. (Seriously.) Either way, I don't care about any of these kids, at all.

Stripped, as a "story," takes entirely too long to get going. Except for the rather cheap and brief cuts of debauchery and torture soon to come (foreshadowing, only far less subtle!), the first 40 minutes is nothing but watching handsome and/or pretty young people hang out, high five, test your patience, and hold beer bottles. It is around the 40-minute mark when the kids finally get to the shady, out-of-the-way place where the strippers/hookers hang out.

Oddly, it is around the 45-minute mark where director J.M.R. Luna abandons the found footage aesthetic altogether and begins to shoot the film traditionally, which is jarring, to say the least. There is an attempt to maintain the style using surveillance cameras (which make no sense existing in an incredibly illegal and murderous operation), but all this does is make the brief, traditionally-shot sequences stick out all the more. Adding to this confusion is they seem to have used the same camera for every shot - the "found footage" amateur stuff as well as the real-movie, traditional stuff. So, take your established inconsistency, add this newer confusion, and you have Stripped: the feature film that dares you to figure out what's happening.

And finally, it is around the 50-minute mark when anything the least bit resembling a horror film finally begins to occur. This in a 75-minute film.

There is absolutely no attempt at coherence in Stripped. Although it's plainly established there is only ever one camera in use for most of the trip, suddenly, when it's essential to the plot, Capri randomly has her own camera. And speaking of, there's absolutely no reason, once Capri attempts to find her friends in a seedy whore house and becomes understandably scared, that she would hold her camera out at arm's length and film her own face as she walks around - especially when it's been established the filmmakers are willing to switch perspective to  traditional shooting, which easily could have been employed here. The most damning aspect to this is that Capri clearly has a camera - speaks directly into it at one point, like a diary - but then when she walks by in a "surveillance camera" shot, is obviously not holding a camera. This doesn't happen just once, but repeatedly.

I mean, what the fuck?


Honestly, there isn't much I can say about Stripped that's positive. The acting is decent, but only because it's not hard to get a bunch of kids to act obnoxious and silly. The girls were pretty and the boys were handsome. Everything shot was in frame and in focus. The strippers showed off their cleavage and sometimes their goods (if you're into that sort of thing). When the kids are killed and harvested (spoiler?), smile in relief, because it means the end is coming. 

I mean...that's it.

Look, if you always wanted to see the guys from "Jackass" get sliced up to rock/rap, all mixed with a lot of nudity, AND a scene where a naked boy fist-fights a crazy surgeon, now's your chance. Normally I'd feel guilty trashing a film this bad, but I don't this time. Maybe because this isn't even really a film. To call it such is an insult to filmmakers actually trying.

Sep 30, 2012

REVIEW: BACK FROM HELL (EX INFERNIS)


Synopsis
Six friends decide to spend their holiday together and rent a manor house in the countryside where they can leave behind the madness of city life. Once there, they befriend a priest, Father Elia, who lives alone in the adjoining church. Very soon the party mood turns frightening, as strange phenomena, apparently paranormal, begin happening around the group. It soon turns into a nightmare when one of the friends, Giorgio, begins acting as if he is possessed, which the group interprets as being demonic.

While Alessandro, his best friend, tries to find a scientific and rational explanation to the happenings, the other friends appeal to Father Elia for assistance. He feels Giorgio is surely possessed by the devil and tries to exorcise him. But in the end what is happening is beyond their ability to understand and, moreover, their possibility to control. Is Giorgio’s possession the sign of a larger, even more diabolical phenomenon about to envelop the world?

Review
It's difficult to review films that leave you with neither a positive nor negative reaction. It's just as easy to throw heaps of love to a film that works as it is to trash a movie that doesn't. But then there are movies like Back From Hell (formerly known as Ex Infernis) that aren't offensive enough to warrant any kind of laundry list of ways it could've been better, nor is there much of it worth pointing out and complimenting.

But I can try.

First off, that synopsis above, which I pulled from a piece of sales art during the film's festival run, is a little misleading. The friends aren't renting a house, but have accompanied Sara, an architect, who has been contacted about visiting an old monastery to see about its potential for restoration. The structure is very beautiful, old age or not, and the high ceilings and tall doors help it to become a character almost effortlessly.

The interaction amongst the friends never feels forced or scripted. And thankfully the actors playing them, all whose first language is clearly Italian, speak English well enough that it doesn't hinder any of their performances. (I bring that up because foreign productions find English-speaking actors in order to give the film more international appeal, which oftentimes can prove distracting.) There's only one weak actor among the cast, and he spends most of his time behind the camera remaining quiet. Giovanni Guidelli is especially good as Father Elias, whose haunted eyes make you sympathize with the poor, isolated priest who seems to know shit's ready to hit the fan even before the audience does.

Making a possession movie is always going to automatically draw comparisons to The Exorcist. It's unavoidable. Because of this, part of me wants to commend director Leonardo Araneo for avoiding over-the-top special effects or sound editing to make the possessed actually appear possessed. The possession comes only from the abilities of the actor to appear so, intended to make it appear as realistic as possible. In theory, this is a good choice. After all, look at Jennifer Carpenter's performance in The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Despite how you might feel about that particular film, her performance as the possessed Emily is creepy and effective, and was accomplished not with special effects, but with the abilities that Carpenter possessed. However, in the case of Back From Hell, this decision creates a problem: It never seems cinematic. And because this is cinema, we need more than an evil smile and some drool.

There are interesting ideas festering within Back From Hell, one especially being that Giorgio goes on record during a heated debate in the first act that God doesn't exist (and through an odd defense of his own beliefs, might even insinuate he is a Scientologist). It is Sara with whom he argues, and her beliefs in God are unwavering, leaving the argument to become quite intense. I bring this up because, from what I have read about possession, those with faith are the ones more susceptible to possession than those without it. If this was a purposeful choice, I'd be curious to know why. Or perhaps it was supposed to be that "irony" thing I've heard so much about.

At times the film's plot feels almost improvised, or cobbled together from footage three times as long as the final running time. There's an unfocused feeling of meandering, as if there was less of a script but more of an outline. "We need to get from Point A to Point B, but we can just wing whatever happens in between," etc. Because of this, it's sometimes difficult to pinpoint exactly what is happening or how scared we should be. (Based on the final output, not much.)

Back From Hell is sometimes effective in that way found footage movies are effective by default: A character walks down a dark hallway shining a flashlight in certain rooms, and suddenly there is someone - or something - standing before them. Moments like these are always startling because that's how we as human beings react to something unexpected. So in that regard, Back From Hell provides a few easy scares.

One of the more disturbing subplots features Sara's unborn baby. To spoil this would be to spoil the most shocking moment in the film, so I will refrain. One thing I will say about it is...it's not something I was at all expecting.

Look, could you do a lot worse than Back From Hell? Yes, you sure could. And anything in The Asylum's catalog would prove that almost instantly. Could you do a lot better, too? Yes, you could. But if you consider yourself a fan of the found footage technique, it's worth taking a look; it's low on scares, but high on concept and ideas. 

Oh, and by the way, don't expect anything remotely similar to what you see on the poster to occur during the film. 


Aug 24, 2012

REVIEW: DOCUMENTING THE GREY MAN


Warning: Spoilery content contained throughout.

Many filmmakers will tell you that they are just as satisfied with their film having a negative reception as they are a positive one, their reasoning being that their film in some way challenged their audience and triggered an emotional response. For some filmmakers, I’m sure that’s true, and for others, it’s probably a curtain to hide behind when celluloid shit hits the critical fan.

The only thing Documenting the Grey Man triggered in me was an overwhelming desire to turn off the thing and try to salvage the rest of my hour (because the movie is an hour long).

The movie opens with our eventual ghost-hunting crew sitting down at some kind of low-rent fast food place as the “leader” lays it all out on the table. He wants to “investigate” a Pawley’s Island home, in which the family claims to be experiencing a haunting, possibly by the Grey Man, a well known South Carolina legend. He explains he basically wants to fake everything and record everything, because, ya know, I guess it's easier to immediately establish a reason why he's a dick, and why our film crew don't drop their cameras and run the hell home upon seeing the first instance of creep.

"Ya'll makin' a movee? Can I be Boom Man?"

The crew soon meets the family, including the little girl who seems to interact with the ghost (of course, since that’s become a common staple in the genre). Each family member is interviewed, and they each provide firsthand accounts of their so-called haunting. Sounds, things being moved, etc. Oh crap, the girl’s possessed. Everyone dies. Cut to black.

Thanks?

I was initially drawn to DTGM because of the found footage format it utilizes. Found footage movies are my weakness. I will always be tempted to sit down with one, no matter the concept, the budget, or the production company. Added to that, DTGM is based on a “true” story: that of the Grey Man, a mothman-like mysterious phantom who haunts the beach of Pawley’s island.

According to Wiki:
A local legend on the island has grown about the Gray Man. Thought to be the original owner of the Pelican Inn, the Gray Man is a friendly ghost who warns of impending hurricanes and protects the resident's houses from the storm. Serious hurricanes have struck in 1724, twice in 1752, 1822, 1911, 1954, and 1989. As recounted in an episode of the TV series Unsolved Mysteries, several different witnesses reported that they had seen the Gray Man shortly before Hurricane Hugo.
So, okay. That’s enough to capture my interest, as most ghost stories lean more toward the sensational and the dangerous. You often don’t hear stories of ghosts trying to be courteous and maternal.

Too bad DTGM had no idea what to do with this concept, as it eventually devolves into yet another film in which a camera crew runs around a house being pursued by an evil entity, intent on killing them all for no discernible reason whatsoever.


The performances are tepid pretty much across the board. Not a one of them feels at all natural or genuine, and each time a character speaks, you can’t help but realize that you’re not experiencing something even in the least bit real, but a really crappy direct-to-video movie. This becomes painfully evident once the in-movie documentary begins, and Pawley’s Island natives are interviewed. It’s almost astounding how unnatural and forced each interviewee appears, being that all they have to do, literally, is speak. There’s no need for a performance, because it’s just…talking. And they can't even do that. (The very first interviewee just may be the worst offender, going out of his way to sound as stereotypically black as possible, falling back on a “dammmmm!”, and even managing to shoe-horn in a bad joke about the business with the ghost being “white people’s” problems.)

In preparation for DTGM, writer/director Wayne Capps (who also plays the film’s fake psychic, and who also gives a performance so grating and irritating you start looking for a hammer to smash your television) intensely studied other found footage stalwarts like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Then he threw out everything that worked about those movies and just winged it, resulting in a film in which people randomly wander around a house and then die by an invisible blow to the head. Seriously. Not a one death in DTGM (and come on, of course they all die) is the least bit compelling or interesting. The entire cast literally just falls down, one at a time, with bloody foreheads, complemented with a muffled “splat” sound added in post so viewers are able to understand what the hell just happened.

Hey, I have a question: Why base your film on a real legend, using said legend to set up your concept, and then abandon everything about that real legend just to do your own thing? That’s like saying, “I’m making a movie about Bigfoot,” but then instead make a movie in which Bigfoot walks around with a knife and stabs babysitters in Haddonfield. Couldn’t the in-movie filmmakers have unearthed anything at all – a single piece of evidence – to imply that perhaps the Grey Man isn’t as helpful as his legend dictates; that his existence isn’t as romantic as Pawley’s Island wants to believe? Couldn’t the film have unearthed some kind of revelation to explain why everything previously known about the Grey Man was terribly incorrect? After all, they had an otherwise unused half-hour to play with. But I guess they were too excited to get to the game-changing money shot in which the entire cast throw their heads back and fall down.

Post-rough cut viewing.

When the credits rolled I stared at my television, and then after a while, I said, “Why bother?”

And that’s the real question here: why bother making DTGM? Nothing was gleamed, nothing new was introduced, at no point was it remotely creepy, and the legend on which it was based was completely dismissed after the first ten minutes.

Actually, after having written this review, I may have been wrong. I guess the film triggered an emotional response in me after all: unbridled anger.