Jul 29, 2011


"For Ventriloquy, or speaking from the bottom of the Belly, 'tis a thing I think as strange and difficult to be conceived as any thing in Witchcraft, nor can it, I believe, be performed in any distinctness of articulate sounds, without such assistance of the Spirits, that spoke out of the Daemoniacks."
--Joseph Glanvill,  1681
Saducismus Triumphatus: Or, Full 
and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches 
and Apparitions



Jul 28, 2011


Found footage movies, especially in the horror genre, are very polarizing to both general movie audiences and the hardcore genre niche as well. Some people love the format (I’m one of them), and others hate it—and for a variety of reasons. Some cite the shaky nature of the camera as too nauseating to endure; others find the (sometimes) lack of a tangible and visible antagonist boring and anticlimactic (though these are actually the people who long ago abandoned the concept of using their own imagination).

My favorite argument: the filmmakers go through the trouble of making it look real, but we all know it’s not real, because it’s a movie.


I recall going to see The Blair Witch Project in theaters, and the crowd was quiet the entire running time, which in this day and age is almost unheard of. No one at my screening, at the film's conclusion, walked out complaining—in fact, everyone walked out quietly, as if in a daze. It was a movie I would end up loving and revisiting several times at home, along with the equally creepy and interesting Curse of the Blair Witch, a fake television special/documentary created to enhance the myth which established the foundation of the The Blair Witch Project.

And then it happened.

The inevitable.

The backlash.

The first people out of the theater doors (and probably well aware of the marketing approach) proclaimed The Blair Witch Project to be terrifying and utterly realistic. "The scariest movie since The Exorcist!" the TV spots would boast.

People, being people, reacted in the way that people do: if someone tells you something is scary, you must not only see it, but prove them wrong. "That wasn't scary! It was stupid! You don't know me! You don't know what scares me! Because NOTHING can!"

The last thing we as people like to be is predictable. This extends to every facet of our life—up to and including film as a medium.

And so we return to that one generic complaint people have about found footage movies in general: the common knowledge that what they are seeing isn't real, despite the filmmakers breaking their backs for their films to appear as such.

When The Blair Witch Project first came out, the Internet was booming—and not just for nerds in garages, but for regular, blue-collar folks like you and me. The Internet hoax was yet to be realized...until a brilliant marketing strategy from now-defunct Artisan Entertainment, the mini-studio that would go on to release the film.

Their marketing? 

Everything in The Blair Witch Project was 100% real. And those kids in the film? They weren't actors, but real students. And up to that time, they were still missing. At that point, everyone had visited the Blair Witch website, which unbeknownst to them, was secretly promoting the film, all the while seeming to instead serve as a sounding board for the missing students' heartsick parents. We all remember the photos of Heather's mom hanging up "missing" photos. We all saw the testimonies from the students' friends and families begging anyone with information to come forward.

And most people bought it like the suckers they are.

I didn't, however; and not because of my supreme intelligence or superiority over the hoi polloi, but because of my basic concept of common sense and my love for Fangoria Magazine. Yes, I knew walking into that theater that the movie was fake—yet I still managed to adore the film.

So why didn't people feel the same way?  Why—once the cast started making the rounds, and they each appeared on the covers for both Time and Newsweek, and Heather suddenly showed up on Jay Leno—did audiences suddenly feel cheated?

"We thought it was real!" they cried. "If it never happened, it's stupid!"

The irony that they had bought the lie and thought the movie was real—the intention behind Artisan's marketing—was lost, not to mention dripping with the subtle and creepy inference that audiences were disappointed to learn those kids in the film were actually quite alive and well. Audiences wanted them dead...strewn about in bloody bits and turned into witch hats. Especially Heather.

And since then, found footage movies have received lukewarm receptions by movie goers. Whatever steam had been established, up to the release of The Blair Witch Project, had suddenly dissipated.

None of it was real, you see. And that sucked.

But almost ten years later came a rebirth of the sub-genre, thanks to the recent success of Cloverfield and The Last Exorcism, movies which proved that money is to be made, and critics are to be wowed.

And so the found footage is back in a big way.

As I write this, there are more than 30 found footage movies (and probably more, considering my half-hearted Google attempt) either in production or waiting to be released. They range from low budget indies with casts of unknowns to crews of A-list talent (and Barry Levinson). Some of these films have already enjoyed film festival screenings, or await major wide releases, but regardless, they're coming. 

Break out the Dramamine. 


Life is short, and shortly it will end;
Death comes quickly and respects no one,
Death destroys everything and takes pity on no one.
To death we are hastening, let us refrain from sinning.

If you do not turn back and become like a child,
And change your life for the better,
You will not be able to enter, blessed, the Kingdom of God.
To death we are hastening, let us refrain from sinning.  

Jul 27, 2011


Insidious is a movie you have seen before. Even the most casual movie-goer who claims not to like horror films for a variety reasons has seen a pretty famous 80s gem called Poltergeist. Directed by Tobe Hooper (kind of) but more so by Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist told the tale of a family unit that moves into a new house (in a brand new housing development). Their house features skeletons in the swimming pool, and things that go bump. Creepy things happen. A ghost-hunting crew, with all manner of fun gadgets, are brought in and provide comic relief. An oddball, older woman (Zelda Rubinstein) is their leader. In the climax of the film, we find that only one person--the father--can venture into the otherworldly dimension to rescue his daughter, Carol Ann, (played by the adorable Heather O'Rourke, an actress who at a young age tragically died of poop).

, too, follows a family who moves into a new house. Instead of skeletons in the pool, there are noises in the attic. The eldest child of the family ventures upstairs, falls off a ladder, and bumps his head...thus paving the way (or not...) for the following events:

Things go bump. A ghost-hunting crew, with all manner of fun gadgets, are brought in and provide comic relief. An oddball, older woman is their leader (Lin Shaye). In the climax of the film, we find that only one person--the father--can venture into the otherworldly dimension to rescue his son.

In all honesty, Insidious could have been officially rechristened as the Poltergeist remake and not one person would have said, "No, really??"

But here's the most important part: Insidious, a Poltergeist rip-off or not, is a damn good movie. In fact, it's better than its predecessor.


Shut up.

Face facts.

It's a better film.

Directed by James Wan and written by frequent collaborator Leigh Wannell (Saw, Dead Silence), the movie features every essential component: A cast of respectable and talented actors, a smart script, believable characters, and most important, genuinely frightening and unsettling imagery. To attempt to describe any of these images would be disrespectful to the specters that the filmmakers created. So here are some pictures!

Also, to help distance itself from Poltergeist, it features an aspect otherwise underutilized in modern films: Projection, and out-of-body experiences (the ability for your "spirit" to leave your own body at will and travel to distant places with ease). While perhaps not as explored as it could have been, the point is made, and the danger of doing so is quite clear.

What really makes Insidious work is the focus strictly on unnerving imagery instead of needless violence and jump scares. The filmmakers purposely set out to make a film where they endeavored to scare you only with genuine moments of fear--perpetrated by the onscreen haunts. You will not see cats jumping out of closets, or a character rushing on screen and saying "WHAT'S UP???" unnaturally.

Basically, when the musical score is mounting (and it's a rather marvelously unorthodox one by Joseph Bishara--think more Penderecki than Goldsmith), and you can sense something coming...well...that's because it is. And it's not going to be bullshit.

Lots of filmmakers make that same claim when working on a horror set--the emphasis on psychological fear over jump scares and gore (and 90% of the time, they are either bullshitting you, or eventually fall victim to a brainless studio). But the makers of Insidious not only meant it, they nailed it.

Besides, just fucking look at this:

If you don't find this the least bit creepy, then I don't know what to tell you.

I hear they're remaking The Monster Squad.