Tag Archives: found footage

THE LAST KNOCK PRESENTS: Five Star Horror – The Scariest

The Last KnockDo you want the scariest horrors out there? Thanks to the amazing Dee Emm Elms, we have a whole new series to bring you: Five Star Horror!

That’s right, it’s all about the best of the best in the genre. So to kick it off right, we discuss the ultimate horror films that bring the fear.

Now, hide in the corner, start trembling, and keep one eye open as we bring nothing but the best damn scariest Five Star Horror films to keep us awake at night.

Of course, this show’s dedicated to Dee Emm Elms! Now check out the author’s book, Sidlings.

Thanks again, Dee Emm for the Five Star Horror suggestion!

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@d_m_elms @Scream_Factory @michasloat @OliviaHusseyLA @AFiendOnFilm @ShoutFactory @jeffreygoldblum @palkodesigns @synapsefilms @Art_Hindle @VicsMovieDen @Oren_Peli @DavidSchmoeller @sm_henley @LinneaQuigley @iamgoreblimey @katiedianne @terry_oquinn @mastermystery7 @ArrowFilmsVideo @LoudGreenBird @blunderground @J2thecarpenter and Paul J. Williams

THE DARK TAPES (2017) by Dee Emm Elms

[98 minutes. Not rated. Directors: Vincent J. Guastini, Michael McQuown]

As soon as I finished watching the horror film The Dark Tapes, I realized that I had a big problem as a movie reviewer. I wanted to immediately get the word out to encourage other people to find the movie and see it – but I also didn’t want to give much of anything about it away to anyone. I came into the movie almost completely cold, and that’s how I think everyone should see it. And, believe me, I think everyone should see it. Just watch it. It’s that good. But for those who need more convincing, I’m offering as much of a spoiler-free review here as I can. That’s how much I want you to see The Dark Tapes.

In telling you that this movie joins the ranks of The Blair Witch ProjectThe Poughkeepsie Tapes, and Alien Abduction, you can probably guess that The Dark Tapes is a found-footage movie. The title kind of gives it away. And let me add that before pressing “Play” on my remote control, I thought the title seemed uninspired and bland. After watching it, I realized that the title is perfect, and I wouldn’t want anyone to make a change. Its rather-generic name belies its contents, which is kind of a central theme to much of the movie – that what you see isn’t what you get, that conventions can and will be subverted in ways a viewer may not expect, and that sometimes it’s the most unassuming things that can hide the biggest and most sinister secrets.

So many found-footage movies try to compensate for a limited budget by being loud and shocking. They throw things at the camera over and over, or feature loud “stinger” sound effects or screams to hide the hollowness of their contents.  The people who made The Dark Tapes know this, and they play with the audience’s expectations of this in a variety of ways throughout the movie. I didn’t jump in my seat even once during The Dark Tapes, and if you think that’s a bad thing… well, I submit that you don’t know much about horror beyond its ability to provide the odd adrenal rush.

The Dark Tapes is about the horror of dawning realization. It’s about the horror of creeping dread. Right from the first segment, it draws your interest and makes you question what it is you’re seeing. It drops you right into its world. That could be a weakness for less-aware filmmakers, but I suspect it’s done here with definitive intent. Because from the first moment to the last, The Dark Tapes pulls off a trick that only the absolute best found-footage movies can manage: keeping you in that perfect horror movie moment where you’re in a state of perpetual dread, in that feeling you get when you hear the clickity-clack ride up the roller coaster… right before the big drop. Except that The Dark Tapes isn’t about the big drop. It’s about the ride climbing and climbing… and then coming to a sudden stop, and leaving you there – waiting for a more existential drop. With The Dark Tapes, you don’t get to release the tension the movie builds until after you finish the movie. This film leaves you halfway up the climb – perhaps suspended there, perhaps hanging upside-down, and waiting for a rescue that you know in the back of your mind just isn’t coming because that’s not how the world really works. In the world of The Dark Tapes, there’s something deeply wrong with the roller coaster we’re all on, and observing how and why – unspoiled – is one of the movie’s great pleasures.

Credit directors Vincent J. Guastini and Michael McQuown for making beautiful use of budgetary limitations. The Dark Tapes reportedly cost around $65,000 to make, but you wouldn’t know it from watching because this movie shows how creative people can overcome the shortcomings of any budget. So much work, craft, and care are evident, and special note should be made of McQuown’s clear expertise at editing that brings all these well-crafted elements together – they not only transcend typical found footage movies, but horror movies in general. In The Dark Tapes, you get a film that takes you on a journey from calm to chaos and back with the guiding hand of someone truly creative who knows what they’re doing and isn’t wasting a second of what you see onscreen. And, in a way, even that deft editing could be interpreted as something sinister. But I’ve said too much already.

Performances throughout The Dark Tapes are natural when they’re supposed to be, and unnatural when… well, let’s say when you’re dealing with the unnatural. Again, my desire to keep your experience undiluted prevents me from saying much else.

However, I do want to give praise to Cortney Palm as Nicole Fallek, and David Roundtree as Martin Callahan. Both play characters who are dealing with fear, panic, and realization – while also keeping their heads in bizarre circumstances. Like everything else about The Dark Tapes, their work displays a delicate balancing act that ramps up the tension while remaining believable. Future found-footage moviemakers could learn a lot by observing how these two performers play out their reactions to what they’re experiencing.

I want to, mysteriously perhaps, levy praise on a pair of elements: the visible and audible in-movie work of Guastini, McQuown, and Ryan Allen Young that I simply can’t reveal further without spoiling. The things I’m talking about literally gave me goosebumps on five different occasions. You’ll know them when you see and hear them. And, if you’re like me, you’ll never forget them.

Likewise, I don’t think you’ll forget The Dark Tapes. It’s a movie made by legitimate talents that gets at the heart of what makes movies scary, and what makes horror movies both unnerving and delightful. When the film ended, I felt like I could watch five more movies set in the world of The Dark Tapes, each telling different stories. If more is to come, I’ll be waiting – with a blanket pulled over my head in that mix of anticipation and fear.

Because in the world of The Dark Tapes, the truth isn’t out there – it’s right behind you.

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Dee Emm Elms was born in 1972 in Glens Falls, New York. Dee writes about many subjects ranging from social justice issues to Lost In Space, and often mixes them together. Her favorite topic is horror, and horror movies in particular. Her novel Sidlings may be read at sidlings.com, and she would be pleased for you to check it out.  Dee may be contacted at her email sidlingsnovel@gmail.com, or her Twitter: @d_m_elms.

(Movie poster from Teaser Trailer. Dee Emm Elms photo via Dee Emm Elms.)

The 2000s: Horror’s Best Decade (Part 2) by Paul J. Williams

Please allow me to preface this article with a warning and a statement: Beware! Dozens of movies are discussed and spoilers will exist, so please keep that in mind as you read.

And, I’m not a movie historian or expert; I’m just a cinephile, probably like you, who enjoys horror movies. I also like to reflect upon times and situations in our history and ask: why? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, as well.

LIFE AND TIMES OF THE LATE 2000s: A (Very) Brief Summary

The late 2000s continued the trend of worldwide heartbreak and despair:

Hurricane Katrina ravished the southeast United States and other areas in 2005, making it one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, and the costliest in terms of damage.

The Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 became the U.S.’s deadliest mass shooting, up until the Orlando nightclub massacre in 2016, claiming thirty-two lives.

2008 brought the Great Recession, which was felt around the globe, with many still suffering from its fallout.

Haiti was nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 2010, killing over 100,000 of its citizens and leveling scores of buildings, including the Presidential Palace.

LATE 2000s HORROR: Let the Fun Begin

2005 to 2010 gave us some of the best movies in the history of cinema, and especially horror. Low budget, huge budget, foreign and domestic; every demographic is represented and we are lucky to have been alive to catch it all…

A NEW SUBGENRE IS BORN: Torture Porn

Well, admittedly, it’s not my favorite, but we have to talk about it, don’t we? Film critic David Edelstein is credited with coining the term for a new subgenre (sub to the Slasher/Body Horror genres, I suppose) that emerged in the mid-2000s called “torture porn.” These films emphasized nudity, mutilation, and sadism, and though movies associated with this subgenre are not personal preferences, I can’t not mention them.

Eli Roth wrote and directed 2005’s Hostel, a story about a group of American college students traveling across eastern Europe, and historically, the first movie assigned to the torture-porn subgenre. These poor vacationers become kidnapped and sold off to be systematically tortured and killed. Over the years, proponents of this movie have tried to extract bigger meanings from it, most notably the socioeconomic implications and the consequences of U.S. involvement in foreign affairs. Maybe; who knows? Quentin Tarantino, who was probably tangential to the production at best, smartly had his name plastered all over the promotion of the film that, despite mixed reviews, grossed over $80 million on a $5 million budget, and spawned two sequels: the second again being written and directed by Roth, who would then sit the third one out.

What followed was filmmakers trying more and more to gross out audiences:

Australia’s 2005’s Wolf Creek, using the tried-and-true promotion of being “based on a true story” has a Crocodile Dundee-type hunt and kill three backpackers in the outback. It received mixed reviews from critics, but was a hit at the box office, grossing $28 million on a $1 million budget. Wolf Creek 2 followed in 2013, but like most sequels, didn’t live up to the first film.

Turistas was released in 2006. This time harassing backpackers in Brazil, the film was received poorly by critics, but made a profit in ticket sales.

Captivity, from 2007, tried, mostly in vain, to ride the wave of success of Hostel and Saw, and ultimately grossed $11 million.

The Collector, released in 2009 from Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunston, winners of Project Greenlight a thousand years ago, is a distant cousin of Saw, and now considered a cult classic. It tripled its budget, despite negative reviews, and spawned the sequel: The Collection in 2012.

ELI ROTH

With a dearth of worthwhile horror, or any horror at all, really, in the late 1990s, the early 2000s was up for grabs for anyone looking to be the next horror maestro. Love him or hate him, Eli Roth was the someone who stepped up. Starting in 2002 with Cabin Fever, which has since been remade (more on that nonsense later), Roth followed in the footsteps of The Blair Witch Project with its online marketing, showed everyone who his influences are, became a hit with audiences, grossed $30 million on a $1.5 million budget, and even managed to get a lot of good reviews.

He followed with the aforementioned Hostel in 2005, also launching the “torture-porn” subgenre, and followed with Hostel II in 2007.

Since then, he’s mostly worn the Producer’s hat, being the man behind such films as The Last Exorcism and The Sacrament, and dabbles in acting, as well, with his most notable performance of him chewing the scenery as “The Bear Jew” in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 fantasy, Inglorious Basterds.

His next film looks to be a departure from horror, remaking the 1974 Charles Bronson classis, Death Wish.

LOOK WHAT I FOUND: Another New Sub-genre is Born

Obviously kicking off the modern “found-footage” subgenre is 1999’s The Blair Witch Project (shout-outs recognizing Man Bites Dog and The Last Broadcast), but what’s odd is that it’ll take years before another recognizable film of this nature is released.

Fred Vogel starts his August Underground “franchise” in 2001, but these are extreme genre films only a select few can sit through.

Zero Day, from 2003, though not a horror, dramatizes the Columbine massacre of 1999.

Septem8er Tapes, also not a horror, was released in 2004, and makes use of every penny of its estimated $30,000 budget, and puts a War on Terror spin on the found-footage subgenre.

The U.K.’s The Last Horror Movie from 2003 is a very disturbing movie, sort of like the found-footage version of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

2007’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes from brothers, John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, has become more about whether people are ever going to see it or not than about the movie itself, and in some ways, this has given more longevity to the film than if it was widely released as originally planned in 2007. First, I’ve seen it, and surprisingly, it lives up to the hype: it’s very disturbing and odd. Second, when is this ever going to be released permanently to the masses? Hell if I know, but it’d probably be the worst thing for it.

What starts off, what I guess we can call the postmodern “found-footage” frenzy, is Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity. It originally premiered in 2007, then after a few ending changes suggested by Hollywood, and a fake story about Steven Spielberg being scared shitless of it, and we get the 2009 wide release, which you most likely viewed. If you don’t know what follows, then you must not be a horror fan: almost $200 million at the box office and, count them, six sequels to date. Not surprisingly, it has (almost) all the same ingredients that made Blair Witch a phenomenon: D.I.Y. filming and editing on a miniscule budget, amateur actors, more happening in the viewer’s mind than on screen, effective online and word-of-mouth marketing, and ultimately, perfect timing for a movie like this to come out.

[REC] is a 2007 Spanish found-footage/zombie film that shows just how much “fun” these types of movies can be. It doesn’t take long getting into the action with our attractive news reporter, watching the craziest 75 minutes of her life. [REC] became a huge hit and spawned a franchise.

Lake Mungo, from Australia, has several release dates between 2009 and 2010, but is ultimately a 2008 movie. More like one of these true-crime documentaries that are so popular today, the movie’s presented with interviews, news footage, etc. Ultimately a story about a family’s grief, Lake Mungo is very effective and downright creepy at times. I do see it listed on various “Top 10” lists every now and again, but I acknowledge it’s a divisive film and, admittedly, it’s a personal favorite.

Quarantine is the 2008 American remake of [REC] by the aforementioned Dowdle Brothers, and in my opinion, might actually be better. One thing I like about the movie is right from the beginning they shed the idea that this is actually real footage, using actors, including Jennifer Carpenter in the lead, that you have seen before. Just like [REC], we jump right into the action, following the reporter covering a local firehouse in L.A. Jump scares, creepy visuals, and claustrophobia follow, and it’s all a blast.

2008’s Cloverfield is what happens when you make a found-footage movie, which historically are independent and very low budget, by a Hollywood studio on a $170 million budget. A recipe for disaster, no? Nope. What you get is one of the best monster movies in horror cinema history. (Yeah, I said it.) J.J. Abrams and Co. make us hang out with a party of yuppies for a full half-hour before anything happens, but once it does, what a ride. Showing only glimpses of the monster throughout, he (or she) finally gets their close-up at the end (literally). A sequel has been talked about ever since, but it seems 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane and the upcoming 2017 movie God’s Particle, described as being in the “Cloverfield universe” is as close as we’re going to get…and that’s fine with me.

The Last Exorcism, produced by the aforementioned Eli Roth, is a 2010 “young girl possessed by a demon” movie presented in the same way as Lake Mungo in “documentary” format. It starts off great: perfectly casted and acted by Patrick Fabian as Cotton, a fraudulent Reverend, and Ashley Bell, as the aforementioned young girl. For me, the ending soured the movie, but it was received well by critics and movie-goers.

Though, not technically a horror, I feel I would be remiss not to mention 2010’s Troll Hunter from Norway. Another “documentary” where we follow some poor documentarians who wind up finding way more than they bargained for, the movie is a real fun take on Norwegian culture and folktales.

ROB ZOMBIE

Always a horror movie fan, musician, and former front-man of the band White Zombie, Rob Zombie started his filmmaking career with House of 1000 Corpses. Filmed in 2000, this movie would go on an odyssey before being theatrically released in 2003, after being acquired and dumped by one distribution company after another. The concern, not surprisingly, the content and potential for an NC-17 rating. Once released, you can guess the reception: critically panned, but it did manage to make a profit, most likely due to loyal Zombie and horror genre fans, and people finally getting to see a movie with so much mystique surrounding it over the previous few years.

Lions Gate Entertainment, seeing the financial potential they had with Zombie, quickly approached him inquiring about a sequel to Corpses. What follows is what is commonly regarded as Zombie’s best movie in his filmography, with Lords of Salem in the running as well: 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects. More grounded and visceral than Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects follows the Firefly Family who are on the run from just as crazy Sheriff Wydell. More successful with critics than Corpses and just as profitable in the box office.

When the Powers-That-Be decided it was time to remake one of the best horror movies of all time, they chose Rob Zombie in 2007 to do his take on John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, Halloween, and boy did he change things up. Despite my opinion about the movie (I prefer the original, to say the least), the film was a smash-hit with audiences and prompted the obligatory sequel in 2009, which fared far worse this time with both movie-goers and critics.

Zombie has remained in “the business” ever since, mostly with horror, but it seems he’s eager to reach out to other genres to write and direct.

KNOCK, KNOCK… Anybody Home?

Nobody was safe anywhere during the 2000s, and if you think locking yourself inside your house was the most secure place to be, you’d be dead wrong. The home invasion subgenre broke out big during this decade. Here are some victims:

2002 starts us off with Panic Room, though not exactly a horror. The famed David Fincher directs a stellar cast in this tale of a single mom, Jodie Foster, who protects herself and her daughter, the new Kristen Stewart, from a band of thieves. Ultimately not one of Fincher’s better films, the movie examines many themes and is still worth a watch.

Ils, the 2006 movie also listed in the New French Extremism category, opens with a great, Scream-esque prologue, then goes on to set-up a simple story of a young couple besieged in their huge home by a clique of criminals, who once their identities are revealed, turns out to have a pretty cool ending.

Funny Games is Michael Haneke’s 2007 American shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 Austrian movie, that does more than tell a terrifying home-invasion story, it plays with the audience. Characters break the fourth-wall, the movie rewinds to replay a scene giving it a different outcome, and ultimately, Mr. Haneke asks: If you think this movie is too nihilistic, then at what point did you stop watching?

2007’s Inside, also listed in the New French Extremism section, is a bloody revenge tale set on Christmas Eve as a very pregnant single mother fends off an intruder all night. The end reveal when the antagonist’s motivations are exposed is a really cool twist.

Strangers is a 2008 movie by first-time screenwriter/director Bryan Bertino, which also tells a depressing story of a young couple stalked and terrorized in their home for…well, just because. Taking inspiration from John Carpenter, the film is very effective and despite mixed reviews, grossed a sizable profit on its $9 million budget. Bertino was one of the rare spec-script stories of the 2000s, but oddly he has remained relatively dormant in the years since.

While, for whatever reason, Bertino did not produce any more low budget horrors for a while, other film-makers like himself sure did, which is where we’ll pick-up next time with Part 3 of 2000’s Horror…

(Photo of Lake Mungo from Pinterest.)

Crash Palace Support Team

12496273_131479987232834_5948852029879239438_o

Paul J. Williams is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, and his short films have appeared in numerous festivals. Although Paul’s the man behind Rolling Dark Productions, he’s also a detective in Morris County, New Jersey. Paul’s a Medal of Honor recipient from the City of Newark for actions on December 14, 2002

THE LAST KNOCK presents: THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (2007)

The Last Knock

John Erick Dowdle’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes is one of horror filmdom’s “Unholy Grails” and a snipe hunt rolled into one. On its ten-year anniversary, we take a look at the film that came with a trailer but an ultra-limited release before being pulled from theaters. The only way to get feature is as a bootleg. So what’s this mockumentary about, and is it worth purchasing illegally until the Dowdle brothers give us a legitimate release? We’ll have some answers – and we invite John and Drew to come on the show and tell us why in Hell The Poughkeepsie Tapes is in distribution purgatory.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@unclerayscrazy @MelanieMcCurdie @dvdinfatuation @SusanontheLedge @HershelGreene1 @GuyRicketts @JessicaCameron_ @AFiendOnFilm @IamMelanieWise ‪@ArtemisPics ‪@Artemis_FF @RealJillyG @RonGizmo @FANGORIA @dixiefairy @ScreamHorrorMag @Israel_Finn @SlaughteredBird @CrypticPictures @dkarner @TheFearMerchant @SpookyMovies @d_m_elms @RSBrzoska @jedowdle @DrewDowdle @Rodney_Ascher @TheNightmareDoc @LanceWeiler @TheTunnelMovie @allorange @TMZ @Scream_Factory @ArrowFilmsVideo @blunderground @JodorowskysDune @CANAL_Factory and Paul J. Williams

Before You Buy the DVD: BLAIR WITCH (2016) by Jonny Numb

[89 minutes. R. Director: Adam Wingard]

Summer, 2016. I took my seat in the theater and furrowed my brow at a trailer that seemed familiar. Kids in the woods. Handheld POV. Oops, someone dropped the camera! Blurbs from high-profile horror sites superimposed over panoramic aerial views of dense forests. Ominous, droning music.

The title? The Woods. Hmmm.

The connection to The Blair Witch Project was so transparent that part of me wouldn’t have been surprised had it been the type of De Palma-style homage that’s been all the rage with the horror kids these days. When it turned out to be a “surprise” sequel to Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s 1999 original (under the more succinct Blair Witch), it somehow lacked the cleverness of the grassroots campaign those filmmakers committed themselves to in the early days of the Internet, fooling a good chunk of the public in the process.

So, is Blair Witch an actual sequel? As handled by director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (whose erratic genre track record consists of A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next, and The Guest), the seeds are there, but the setup is merely an excuse to poorly reconstruct the beats of the original.

But hey: at least the technology’s been upgraded (and will look outdated in 5 years)! And there’s plenty of unnatural-seeming shaky-cam! So, yay! By the way…bitchin’ drone, man!

I’ve said it before, but 2016 has been a year of films pushing the horror genre forward. Granted, even the best efforts have borrowed parts, but are smart in how they reconfigure them into fluid fear generators. Go figure that the critically adored Wingard and the reliable Rob Zombie have delivered two of the biggest disappointments of the year, for the express reason that they so cynically fall back on “what worked before” in the very wrongheaded assumption that horror fans won’t care.

Oh, we care. And we also hope your bid for mainstream success has a Plan B, since based on the evidence here, I would say fans of Asian cinema have valid reason to fear for your remakes of I Saw the Devil and Death Note.

So let’s go there: Blair Witch is the most blatantly cynical remake since that retread of The Omen (which seemed to exist solely for its stupid 6-6-06 release date). It truly is one of those films that does nothing but update technology and make explicit things that were scarier when implied, with predictably underwhelming results. There is nothing contained within its 89 taxing, all-too-familiar minutes that justifies its existence in the slightest.

Gone is the naturalistic feel of the 1999 film. Everything in this new version is calculated and staged within an inch of its life, and our unlikable campers – even the trailer-park yokels (one of whom you’ll recognize from TV’s The Following) – look like they’d rather be modeling underwear. Are they worth mentioning by name? As Wingard and Barrett give us no reason to care, the answer is a resounding NO.

The plot is a lot of “just because” nonsense. James (James Allen McCune), little brother to The Blair Witch Project’s Heather Donahue, decides to follow in his sister’s footsteps and make a film documenting his attempt to find her in the woods of Burkittsville. His friends go along because, duh, they’re his friends. As well as Lisa (Callie Hernandez), a cinematographer/producer/I-don’t-know whose primary function seems to be keeping people sane by acting as ineffectual as possible. There is potential here: what if Heather, had she survived, reverted to a feral state in the woods, and established an alternative, primitive existence for herself – or, maybe better, reappeared as a conduit for the witch? Such development would’ve increased the emotional stakes, strengthened the character arcs, and given Blair Witch a desperately needed sense of purpose.

But that would suggest a film interested in matters of innovation and artistic integrity. (Just because it’s a remake or sequel doesn’t mean it has to be shit, but that is of no concern to Wingard and Barrett.)

The duo’s worst film, A Horrible Way to Die, ironically shows the most interest in character and setup, because it’s a perpetual wind-up device in service to a disappointing climactic payoff. In You’re Next and The Guest, the characters are hastily introduced and given flimsy pretexts for their actions, ignoring logic and reason. (We’re expected to follow along for no reason other than the promise of something “badass” occurring later down the line.) Wingard and Barrett are enemies of subtlety, and outside of some throwaway moments, nobody stops to question James’s thinking, or the legitimacy of the yokels who guide them into the woods. Characters wander off alone and are separated and inexplicably reappear and eventually die; there is nothing new here.

But remember to get some footage as you’re walking away from the vehicles, because that might foreshadow something.

On the technical side, Blair Witch is a mess. Cameras shake and fall; cutting is abrupt during action scenes; and sound effects are amplified in the name of desperate jump-scares. In other words, it reverts to the same lame tricks most mainstream horror films utilize to make lots of money these days. What’s it saying that the original still holds up – despite the countless imitators produced in its wake – and Blair Witch feels like the type of processed, shat-out imitation that most will see right through? By the time we reach a familiar (Blum)house at the climax, it’s a CGI affair punctuated by a perfectly-timed rainstorm, complete with lightning flashing through windows.

Seriously?

There were a few things I appreciated in Blair Witch: first is a unique death that, while lacking any sort of narrative logic, provides an unexpected jolt. Second is a sequence wherein a character finds herself in a tunnel beneath the house, pushing her way through an increasingly narrow space; this thrives off a sense of claustrophobia and the terror of something unknown waiting on the other side, and the minimal lighting – reminiscent of The Descent – adds to the dread. And when the aforementioned drone initially takes flight, it’s a genuinely vertiginous, majestic moment; too bad the filmmakers felt the need to repeat it two more times.

But if the worthwhile moments total under 5 minutes, you’ve failed pretty badly. To the horror sites that kept the (rather lame) “secret” of the new Blair Witch while praising all the good it would do for the genre, I hope the bump in traffic helped compensate for that weak sauce you so willingly sucked down.

1 out of 5 stars

(Deaditor’s Note: Blair Witch release date from Lionsgate is January 3, 2017.)

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) talks about horror movies at New Year’s parties and misses the countdown. His reviews also appear at loudgreenbird.com, and he judges other things via antisocial media @JonnyNumb (Twitter and Letterboxd), and co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace.

(Blair Witch photo from IndieWire.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: 2016’s Best Horror Films

The Last Knock

2016 was a pretty damn good year for horror – the movie variety, of course – and we’re happy to take a look at all those films that made the genre great. In fact, we’ll give you a reverse order countdown to the very best after we look at honorable mentions. Sure, we can wail about neon-colored witches hiding in rundown bars or something, but we won’t.

Is your favorite on the list?

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

@RealJillyG @ThisIsHorror @dixiefairy @awholelottabern @KissedByFate2 @Tammysdragonfly @DarkCorners3 @LianeMoonRaven @aus_warrior @actorMartinez @DeadExitComic @GreyaABC @Brooklyn99FOX @CSINY_CBS @GrindhouseDave @d_m_elms @smburkett @DFITWmovie @RomanJossart @jessicaalba @ThomasJane @ponysmasher @LightsOutMovie @maria_bello @teresapalmer @jenamalone @10CloverfieldLn @TheWitchMovie @anyataylorjoy @NicolasWR @canevrenol @SouthboundMovie @mariaolsen66 @sunchokefilm @SarahHagan4Real @BenCresciman @barbaracrampton @mickeykeating @laurenashleycar @saulnier_jeremy @GreenRoomMovie @GreenRoomFilm @SirPatStew @MaconBlair @BlueRuinMovie @murderpartyfilm

Don’t forget to weigh in with your comments, Billy and Jonny love to respond because they don’t get out much – unless it’s keeping the zombie hordes at bay…

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Macabre Milestone: The Blair Witch Project

The Last Knock

Many dark moons ago, in 1999, a phenomenal word-of-mouth campaign brought moviegoers to the theatre to indulge in The Blair Witch Project. We take a look at the original film’s success, the subsequent sequel, and the latest movie many seemed to think was a remake. We’ll also see where the filmmakers and stars of the original are today, and how the first film changed independent filmmaking, and made found footage a legitimate horror sub-genre.

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

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Crash Analysis: MORTAL REMAINS (2013)

blogger-image--1886723866What’s in a name? Everything. I’m not talking about some idiot politician or reality TV “celebrity” whose names are actually reflective of forgettable caricatures of humanity. This is about those among us whose names make us stop in our tracks and think about the world – and our next step. In the criminal kingdom, Keyser Soze helps parents keep their kids in check from ratting on bad guys, and for some Christians, the mentioning of Krampus during the holidays can puts kids into a freaked out coma, but for fans of horror, if someone brings up underground indie filmmaker Karl Atticus, grown men have been known to curl into a fetal position and sob.

In Mortal Remains, we follow filmmakers Mark Ricche and Christian Stavrakis on the trail of missing footage from Karl Atticus’s only known films. Why are they significant? The content was so abhorrent and reprehensible that audience members tore up the theatre in Baltimore where one was shown, and took the riot into the streets. What’s worse, Atticus supposedly used real cadaver parts in the films, far more than the Chinese government would in Men Behind the Sun some fifteen years later. Granted, horror fans would love to see a filmmaker use genuine body parts, therefore, I think Atticus actually murdered some of the actors on screen. This would clearly make Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust look like kindergarten movie time.

Before Mark and Christian can come to a conclusion about the nightmarish footage – they have to find it first. For one thing, no one has seen any of the material in roughly forty years, though some horror fans hint that they’ve seen a few seconds here and there. The second problem: Karl Atticus, the man at the center of the storm, is dead and gone. This happened soon after the theatre riot. As with everything else surrounding Atticus – and I dare you to find a birth certificate or an official death report – the stories surrounding his demise range from suicide to murder. From the extensive investigation of Mark and Christian alone, there is no way Atticus would have taken his own life, unless it was to somehow gain more dark power. Think resurrection of the antichrist. Regardless, Atticus, or whatever his real name is, became a ghost. Then again, maybe he always was a ghost.

This incredible, suspenseful journey of Mark and Christian will leave horror fans with a hearty lump in the throat. And even if you don’t sit on the edge of your seat, you will undoubtedly white knuckle the couch. I had the pleasure of watching Mortal Remains with my THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast cohost, Jonny Numb. We both had similar and intense reactions to the film. Hell, to engage with a horror that actually crawls under your skin is saying something, and to have one that leaves a lasting impression and plagues one’s thoughts is something much more. I still have those unsettling feelings from the first watch.

Moreover, many seem to hate the found footage or “mockumentary” sub-genre in horror. Right after Lance Weiler’s The Last Broadcast came the seminal word-of-mouth sensation, The Blair Witch Project and the sub-genre became cemented in the genre with usually low budgets, small crews, and no-name cast members. Yes, many found footage films seem to lack originality, and most viewers wonder why the videographer on screen doesn’t drop the camera and run for it, but Mortal Remains gets it right and that’s why it’s in my top three for best found footage films ever made (it’s in good company with Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity, followed by The Blair Witch Project and several others). Mark and Christian deliver a solid tale on a low budget that doesn’t fall into the usual pitfalls of bad acting, a weak narrative, and an unsatisfactory conclusion. The pair have created a great mystery that isn’t for the Scooby Gang faint of heart, and the story takes several intriguing turns until the outstanding ending that delivers an added chill and one hell of an exclamation point.

Now, I know some readers are scratching their heads: Is this a documentary about an evil Spahn Ranch wannabe or a mockumentary? Sure, I thought the whole thing was a conjured tale from Mark and Christian. Karl Atticus? Bah! Right after we watched the film, Jonny and I recorded an episode for THE LAST KNOCK where we reviewed Mortal Remains. Due to distribution deal negotiations between Cryptic Pictures and several entities, we had to hold onto the show. Two years later, the episode Jonny and I had worked on simply disappeared. As one who nearly lost an 80,000 word thesis in graduate school due to a damaged hard drive, I have external backups both onsite and offsite. Plus, I use Mac’s Time Machine and have a collection of flash drives. Nothing. The show’s gone. The only show Jonny and I ever lost – and man, was it a damn good podcast. Did Karl Atticus have anything to do with it? We’re not sure, but I can tell you this: Whenever I mention that crazy cat’s name to diehard horror fiends, they take a step back. The rumor now is that Mark and Christian’s film touched on things a little too deep and foreboding. Hell, even The Blair Witch’s maestro, the great horror director of Altered, Lovely Molly, and Exists, Eduardo Sanchez, will tell you about his own run in with the specter of the dead filmmaker.

Regardless of what truth you discover about Karl Atticus, and Mortal Remains, this documentary, mockumentary, whatever, is a powerhouse. Maybe the more horror fans engage with the film the less power Atticus and his cult of supporters will have. I don’t know.

But watch it soon. And watch it fast. Because my phone’s been ringing off the hook since I wrote this, and I’ve never seen the number before. Even so, I’m compelled to pick it up and say, “Hello, Karl.” More important, there’s someone knocking at my door, and I’m not expecting visitors…

A rock solid four-star film out of five.

025a03fe08ba729351008f0fd6118957_400x400(Top image from Promote Horror. Bottom image from Cryptic Pictures.)

Catch Cryptic Pictures on Twitter: @CrypticPictures

Crash Reports: The Best Found Footage Horrors

Talk about your much maligned sub-genres. Found footage has a usually love or hateMarlena-Lizzy-Caplan-left-and-Rob-Michael-Stahl-David-right-try-to-escape-underground-from-deadly-parasitic-creatures-who-are-chasing-them-in-Cloverfield.-Photo-Credit-Sam-Emerson.-2008-by-Paramount-Pictures.-All-Rights-8-960x640 relationship with horror fans with little room in between. For many, “jerky” camera movements tick them off to no end, and for others, this sub-genre is getting really, really tired due to story redundancy. Worst still, a simple argument from many is this: Why wouldn’t the idiot with the camera just drop it and run?

To date, nearly 100 found footage horrors have been produced. Sadly, most rely on the same elements of shock and awe to keep the audience guessing – which leads to a conditioned response of near boredom. Granted, horror does that in general, but with found footage, we’ve grown accustomed to filmmaker’s expectations. For example, it seems as if most actors have to prove how well they can scream as they’re dragged into the darkness by unseen forces, or how to yell at the other red shirts they’re with in whatever spooky house they’re visiting.

Like any horror film, two items are key: storytelling and characters. Whether it’s a ghost story, alien mayhem, or found footage, you can’t pass those up by any means.

Here’s the best found footage has to offer and why:

 

Cloverfield (2008) – 4.5 stars

This is the creature feature that came with the jerky camera warning. Another problem: people hated the characters – maybe because they were so real. Even so, no one could fathom why Hud (TJ Miller) would hang onto that damn camera. Well, why not record a historical document? And if that sounds lame, put me in Hud’s place and I’d do the same. Yes, I love history because it’s preservation is our only time machine. As for CGI, this is one of the few that did it well. In fact, it’s hard to believe in this virtually hopeless tale that almost every element was shot on green screen. Too bad Godzilla films don’t bring us such a sense of foreboding and hopelessness.

 

Paranormal Activity (2007) – 4.5 stars

Oren Peli’s surprise venture earned him an office at Paramount. The film explores an average young couple in an average house dealing with above average phenomenon. Better still, the story didn’t rely on trite jump scares, but played with the imagination to such a degree that the suspense never waned (think old time black-and-white horror like THE UNINVITED with Ray Milland). The tale captured the nightmares of my childhood and each time I watch this thing, I freak out to the point where sleep’s almost impossible.

 

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) – 4 stars

Nathan Baesel sells it all the way as Leslie Vernon, the man who has a film crew follow him as he tries to get his name up there with “Jason” and “Freddie.” The movie’s funny, bloody, and bizarre, and serves as a killer commentary on American media’s love for turning serial and spree killers into household names. Witty and unsettling, the blackness of the comedy makes this one poignant low budget horror. Play Morrissey’s “Last of the International Playboys” now.

 

The Blair Witch Project (1999) – 4 stars

The film delivered a monochromatic foray of desperation and intensity that set the standard for the rules of found footage. Though many claim it ripped off CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, the only reason found footage films didn’t happen sooner was because of the lack of access for regular people to carry around cameras due to size and film costs. Thanks to Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, their tale of naïve documentarians in search of the truth behind a legend launched a sub-genre. Like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, this played on my childhood fears.

 

The Last Broadcast (1998) – 4 stars

Actor David Beard brings the creep factor in this chilling mockumentary. Lance Weiler and Stefan Avalos delivered a story about the hunt for the Jersey Devil to viewers with a twist and a turn that proved disconcerting. Smart and suspenseful, the film delivers on an emotional level that unleashes a cold and distant feeling. Now that’s horror. Embrace the dark atmosphere and see why Weiler is one of the best independent storytellers of our time.

 

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) – 4 stars

Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman made what many think is the best of the demonic franchise (too bad the pair blew it with the fourth installment). The scares are intense, come out of nowhere, and leave us shaken thanks to excellent visual effects. Until the second film, which feeds on the success of the first film like a stupid parasite, this one brings wit, charm, and a more professional look to the series.

 

The Last Exorcism (USA/France, 2010) – 3.5 stars

Many fans questioned the end of this film, though it does work on several levels once one mulls it over. Regardless, Patrick Fabian’s turn as Cotton Marcus is fabulous, and we’re also introduced to the phenomenal Ashley Bell and the equally amazing Caleb Landry Jones. The story of a young woman either being brutalized by her father or a demon is completely disturbing. With solid acting and a tumultuous tale, this movie’s hard to ignore.

 

My Little Eye (UK/USA/France/Canada, 2002) – 3.5 stars

Are you in for found footage from a reality show? Sean CW Johnson brings frenetic realism to this conflict-ridden tale, also featuring Jennifer Sky, and a young Bradley Cooper. As for the reality show: What would you do to win big when you think the show you’re on might not really exist? With this broadcast, getting voted off the island takes on a whole new meaning. Shot in a lonely house in the dead of winter, there’s no room for escape from cameras that are always watching.

 

Skew (2011) – 3.5 stars

This one still leaves me in contemplation and upon a second viewing, the star rating could change for better or worse. Besides some decent scares, great character interactions, and more, the final scene is one cool head scratcher open for interpretation. But if you’ve ever had an obsessed friend who doesn’t know when to turn off the damn camera, you should appreciate this film. However, it may leave you with one freaky feeling when the credits roll.

 

The Tunnel (Australia, 2011) – 3.5 stars

This one outdoes many mockumentaries with a strong story and solid acting, as well as great structure. The only problem: from the interviews we know who lives and who dies long before the final act. But pay close attention to actor Steven Davis. In real cinematic life he’s a cameraman, but he delivers a highly spirited performance. Enjoy this news team as they research those things down under in Down Under.

 

Other great found footage horrors: Cannibal Holocaust (Italy, 1980), The Last Horror Movie (UK, 2003), [Rec] (Spain, 2007), Quarantine (2008), Undocumented (2010), and Europa Report (2013), V/H/S 2 (2013)

Over-rated and over-hyped found footage follies: Home Movie (2008), Trollhunter (Norway, 2010), V/H/S (2012), and the idiocy that is Evidence (2013).

(Cloverfield photo from Wodu Media.)

Crash Discussions: Found Footage Frenzy

PodcastimageTo date, nearly 85 found footage films have been made since 1980’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. Billy and Jonny explore the subgenre, explain its history, and reveal why there’s only more to come. We look at THE LAST BROADCAST and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and V/H/S – and many lesser knowns, including THE TUNNEL and LAKE MUNGO. And we can’t help but take a bite out of DIARY OF THE DEAD and go for a ride with EUROPA REPORT.

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