Tag Archives: low budget

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.)

QUARRIES (2017) by Billy Crash

You know those pathetic horror films, usually slashers, where the unsuspecting victims get the best of their antagonists only to beat up on them before freaking out and running away so the guy can get up again and hunt them down?

This isn’t one of those.

Directed and co-written by Nils Taylor, Quarries brings together a group of women on a two-week sojourn through New England’s mountainous wooded region. Posed to learn more about themselves, or to divorce themselves from the stress of life, Jean (Sarah Mornell) the experience backpacker and leader of the group, is matched only by Joy (Joy McElveen) and her former military service. The women are the strongest and most capable, while the remaining five are clearly inexperienced and may not realize how hard Mother Nature can be.

Although an ensemble, the narrative focuses on Kat (Nicole Marie Johnson, who co-wrote the script), a woman escaping from an abusive relationship who bears its most recent physical wounds. Unlike the others, she came late to the party and failed to undergo her two-days of mandatory wilderness training.

What the women have to face in Quarries is far worse than what the woods can throw at them because where Mother Nature is indiscriminate, someone sets their sites on targeting the group.

It’s easy to say we’ve seen this movie time and time again. From The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes to I Spit On Your Grave and the Wrong Turn franchise, as well as last year’s Carnage Park and, most evidently, The Descent, the idea of backwoods mayhem at the hands of man – or even mutants – has provided us with a sub-genre of the slasher realm. Films from Sweden, France, and Spain have also explored this “traveler beware” vein.

One can easily argue the strength of some of these movies, but at times we really don’t get a chance to know the characters, and many are “red shirts,” such as the wayward college students in almost any slasher. Due to the emotional disconnect, many viewers can’t wait to see who gets killed and how creative their deaths are going to be since these stock characters of jock, bully, manipulator, and more, are simply disposable – except for the stock “Final Girl.”

Again, Quarries offers a different take by establishing a heavy dose of realism and character depth that ramps up the suspense and leaves us concerned about those being hunted instead of cheering when they might go down.

Quarries is low budget venture, and we know how those can go. Quite often, someone has an idea that falls under the slasher, supernatural, or ultra-cheap found footage umbrella, and they crank it out. Hell, anyone can these days thanks to easy access to low cost equipment and software. Most so-called filmmakers, however, have no business shooting a birthday party for a little kid. Quarries has made clear that little money doesn’t mean a sacrifice in quality.

Regardless of budget, Nils Taylor and company made certain to do everything right. First and foremost, there are no bad actors. Each person “brings it” and delivers a definitive performance worthy of an audience’s investment as they all undergo a series of emotions in their test of survival. Johnson proves to be a formidable lead actress right away, and Carrie Finklea shines as Wren, the young women who has let her own trials and tribulations seemingly get the best of her in self-destructive fashion. None of the characters are stock, and even if they share some attributes to the tried and true, each women shares a different side of themselves when the environment changes instead of falling back on what seems to be their character’s sole foundation. And like most of us who give up some information about ourselves only to leave a bit of mystery behind in our wake, the characters do so as well in genuine fashion.

John Woodside’s cinematography is often amazing, keeping the action tight with close-ups and medium shots, and only pulling the camera back to establish distance. And the view of the Appalachians is not only stunning, but shows us the dichotomy of how isolated our protagonists are in such a vast region. A solid musical score that enhances the visuals and the action in Quarries instead of distracting us from them comes from more than capable composer Isaias Garcia. David Jacox and David C. Keith deliver the all-important editing, and Cody Davis, the stunt choreographer as well as an actor in the film, keeps the fight scenes hard, bold, and relentless. All of this is thanks to Nils Taylor for directing this cinematic excursion so damn well.

One can allude to this group of seven as the Seven Samurai or the American retelling as The Magnificent Seven, but the former didn’t choose the fight and had no training to combat attackers. They are every day women going through all the emotions and stresses that most of us do, yet they were all put in a position where they had to stand up or perish, which certainly outweighs 9 to 5 drudgery, money trouble, and family issues.

My former Kearny High School psychology teacher in New Jersey once said in class, “Anyone can kill. It’s just that not everyone has been in a situation where they’ve had to kill.” And in Quarries, the women may just have to do that to survive. This doesn’t mean morality is thrust by the wayside, but when “kill or be killed” is the mantra, one had best stand tall and fight with abandon, or it will be the last mistake one ever makes. Even if one does go down, the old saying “better to die on your feet than live on your knees” takes on a whole new meaning.

Keep in mind that Quarries is not a “feminist women getting back at misogynist men” tale, but a group of women simply fighting predators to live another day. To get on with their lives. To know their true strength, and to understand that they can now handle any stressor that comes their way because they’ve faced the ultimate battle. This is a rite of passage few of us get to endure. Whether male or female, we can live vicariously through their venture and experience such a gauntlet. But for most of us, we’ll still wonder if we can pass the test.

Don’t miss the interview with QuarriesNils Taylor, Nicole Marie Johnson, and Laura Small of D!amond Cutter Films, and Melanie Wise of the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival. And visit the Quarries‘ site.

Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk) loves great in depth characters and storytelling in horror, and likes to see heads roll, but if you kill a dog on screen he’ll cry like a baby. Billy co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on TwitterLinkedInIMDbAmazon, and his professional website.

(Photo of Dog Soldiers Buffy from Dog Soldiers Wikia.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: GET OUT (2017)

The Last Knock

Get Out has captured the minds of many, and even non-horror fans are discussing the themes and message of Jordan Peele’s debut as writer/director. We’ll take a look at the entire film, which means one big time spoiler alert looms on the horizon. Has Get Out lived up to the hype? Maybe it has, maybe it’s one of the most socially conscientious films ever in the horror genre – or maybe it’s just another movie. Check in, listen to our break down of themes, imagery, and so much more, and find out for yourself…

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@JordanPeele @LifeofComics @DanielKaluuya_ @RegalMovies @TraCee_tr @LilRel4 @jamiebernadett @FYFCStudios @RonGizmo @DreadCentral @VicsMovieDen @Talk2Cleo @IndieWire @PromoteHorror @GetOutMovie @LoudGreenBird

Let us know what you think of this show, the last show, and the one before that. Hell, we have nearly 250 to choose from…

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Women In Film with Melanie Wise, Nicole Johnson, Laura Small, and Nils Taylor

The Last Knock

Billy Crash, a staunch supporter of women in film, sits down with the incredible Melanie Wise, the woman behind the phenomenal The Artemis Women In Action Film Festival – and surprise guests: Nicole Johnson, Laura Small, and Nils Taylor part of the team for the horror/action/thriller, Quarries.

They discus women in film, the need for an Academy Award for stunt people, what Artemis and the film festival is all about, how the independent film Quarries will rock your world, what filmmakers can do to better represent women besides T&A, femme fatales, and mothers – and if Hollywood’s doing enough for women on the big screen and behind the camera.

(Crash Note: That was not a perfect day for Skype quality regarding tinniness, but it’s all there and all rockin’.)

Learn more about the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival on Twitter, and don’t forget to visit Artemis Motion Pictures.

If you want to learn more about the women in horror film, Quarries, get the latest news on Twitter and at Quarries the Movie. Also visit writer/director, Nils Taylor’s website, and check out what executive producer Laura Small’s doing with Diamond Cutter Films.

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

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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

Sinners in the Hands of an Indifferent God – CARNAGE PARK (2016) by Jonny Numb

(Author’s Note: this article is not intended as an endorsement or condemnation of Christian belief. Mentions of God and Christ will defer to the pronoun “he.”)

This review contains SPOILERS.

“The coin don’t have no say.” – Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald), No Country for Old Men

There’s a scene following a bank heist that’s ripped straight out of Reservoir Dogs.

There’s opening narration by loony loner Wyatt (Pat Healy) that waxes moral and existential, not unlike the opening narration by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) in No Country for Old Men.

There’s an attention to production design and gritty staging that winks at the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes (the gore also shows a flair for traditional, in-camera FX over CGI).

With Carnage Park, Mickey Keating is going for his Tarantino homage (or, maybe more accurately, the films that Tarantino homages). Granted, the indie-movie landscape never really stopped being littered with posers trying – and almost always failing – to craft their own unique Reservoir Dogs (Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, anyone?). So to pay tribute to a film that’s a cornerstone of savvy-cool-ironic-iconic was bound to struggle against a wave of preexisting imitators and the challenge of extracting something unique from a well-worn premise.

For what it’s worth – and to give Carnage’s critics some credit – the film doesn’t touch its influences. It’s also a fair distance from the aesthetic and narrative complexity of Darling, Keating’s previous film.

That being said, it’s still a worthwhile ride…but not for the (visceral) reasons genre fans will expect.

The originality that emerges from all of Carnage’s borrowed parts is curiously existential (in the Cormac McCarthy, No Country vein): if there is an omniscient “God” monitoring creation, where and when is his role in intervention? Does he owe humankind anything? And how can he ignore a world in which awful things happen with disturbing regularity?

Keating is too tasteful a filmmaker to allow his concept to unravel into glorified sadism (see Rob Zombie’s similarly-themed 31), and there is a bizarre innocence at the heart of Carnage: when financially desperate farm girl Vivian (Ashley Bell – The Last Exorcism) is abducted by Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hebert – Gangster Squad) following a botched bank robbery, we are given the immediate impression that both characters are in over their heads. Vivian is resourceful and assertive, while Joe is all violent swagger; both are oblivious to their roles in the world outside of their immediate circumstances, which is perhaps why, once the violence of the situation relents, they are able to share in an eerily even-toned dialog.

From the initial panoramic montage of open hills and sky, Keating establishes a sense of the existential: yet for all the open space, Carnage Park never seems to wander beyond its tight, character-based intimacy. (Given the grandiose title, perhaps the biggest surprise is that the violence is doled out with erratically-paced deliberation.) Does this require a suspension of disbelief in that Wyatt could preside over miles and miles of desolate terrain? Sure. But it also brings some intriguing observations to the surface.

The skyline – seen mostly from a “puny mortal staring upward” POV – is punctuated by bright light pressing through clusters of clouds. Characters’ pleas for rescue fall on deaf ears, suggesting an omniscient sadism that correlates to the homicidal mischief perpetrated by Wyatt (who intones, right at the beginning: “Out here, God don’t play favorites”). One early scene in particular – of Vivian tumbling out of a car, handcuffed to a very dead Scorpion Joe – glares from an overhead POV as she cries for help (to no avail). Vivian is our conduit for empathy, but her efforts to assist random victims (played by Darby Stanchfield and Larry Fessenden) are either thwarted by an off-screen Wyatt, or left behind and forgotten in the name of her own survival. She can’t save the family farm, or anybody else; she’s in a no-win situation where self-preservation takes precedence over altruism.

Complementing the Alice in Wonderland tone Keating establishes early on, the film’s idiosyncrasies possess a randomness that still feels reflective of the real world. Instead of devolving into a Saw-styled funhouse of torture devices, the landscape of Carnage Park is a string of mournful monuments to death and decay (including a nod to Christ’s crucifixion). This is reflective of Wyatt’s opening narration about the government closing mental institutions and leaving veterans damaged from war (mentally and otherwise) to wither on the vine. As a “fuck you” to the bureaucracy, his dried-up chunk of the American Dream being used as the equivalent of General Zaroff’s playground isn’t off base.

Even the spray-painted “God’s Country” sign on the gate of Wyatt’s property is presented without irony, and establishes him as judge, jury, and executioner of this contained world. The fact that his sheriff brother, John (Alan Ruck – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), is not only complicit in covering up his crimes, but also intimidated and emasculated in his homicidal brother’s presence, is a testament to their shared psychosis.

At the bridge between the second and third act, Vivian finds herself in a shack (adorned with macabre, homemade wind chimes and lawn ornaments – another Texas Chainsaw echo) that, for all intents and purposes, is Wyatt’s command center. She’s taunted via CB radio, and when she asks, “Who are you?” the straightness with which Wyatt answers, “Me? I’m nobody” delivers a chill on par with the everywhere-at-all-times presence he’s exhibited up to that point. Perhaps it’s a reach, but if Christ or Satan visited planet Earth today (in the most literal sense), it makes a certain amount of sense that they would walk among humanity incognito, rather than drawing excessive attention to themselves.

I’m not sure I can rationalize Wyatt as an analogue for Christ or Satan – Keating’s treatment of the character and Healy’s performance renders him almost innocuous –  but he judges his fellow humans based on his own perception (the film is light on explicit psychological insight). Does Scorpion Joe, with all his macho bluster, get a bullet to the head because of his lack of humility in the presence of someone – or something – greater than him? What of Wyatt’s absurd kindness (“HOW YA DOIN’?”) when he first meets Vivian? And what, especially, of Vivian getting the drop on Wyatt midway through, only for him to seemingly rise from the dead? “God’s Country,” indeed…

In an interesting aesthetic choice, Keating chooses to obscure Wyatt with a gasmask during the last half of the film, which raises the question: if John was covering up his actions, then who is to say that Wyatt also didn’t have other men prowling the hills? It seems unlikely that a solo sniper could orchestrate all of the sinister tableaus on display (including a camouflaged vehicle dumping-ground), given the area that would need to be covered. Also noteworthy: outside of the scene at the gate, there’s no definitive indicator as to where Wyatt’s land begins or ends; another subtle allusion to nature’s arbitrary boundaries, as well as the intangible, subjective spiritual boundaries that distance God from humankind.

An explanation that dances around the edges of Carnage Park is the possibility that Vivian, not unlike Sally Hardesty in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has been so driven to madness that her POV is unreliable by the end. Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold much weight, as the film is initiated by Wyatt’s narration (and his murder of an unrelated victim). Nonetheless, I love Keating’s approach to the ending, which excises the deus ex machina of the Black Marina savior from Texas Chainsaw in favor of something as simple as a literal light at the end of a tunnel. While this may fluster some viewers, I found it perfect – in a place where God doesn’t play favorites, it’s up to us to find our way out of dire situations, whether self-imposed or foisted upon us.

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) only plays favorites when it comes to review sites like Crash Palace Productions and loudgreenbird.com.  He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter and Letterboxd.

(Carnage Park photo from AV Club.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Filmmaker Mark Dossett

The Last Knock

Mark Dossett didn’t just dream about making a horror film – he made it a goal, and his first feature, The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom became a reality. Mark discusses how he made a horror period piece on a budget, what led him to turn down three distributors, why his star Shannon Scott is so amazing, and he gives us a look inside his upcoming thriller, As They Fall.

You can find Mark on IMDb and follow him on Twitter. Better still, check out his film, The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom.

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Horror Double Feature: HUSH, DARLING

The Last Knock

Just because a horror film’s made on a small budget, and shot with minimalism in mind, doesn’t mean it’s cheap and easy. Both Mike Flanagan’s HUSH and Mickey Keating’s DARLING are low budget, independent films with small casts, manageable effects, and few locations. But what they offer horror fans may be twists on old themes where tropes are turned on their heads, and solid storylines are inhabited by intriguing characters. So listen in and find out if we put a hush to the buzz, or declare them both darlings.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@ScreamHorrorMag @EmilieFlory @60Secondstodie @RonGizmo @RSBrzoska @sarahsweets83 @BleedingCritic @Promofilia_ @RealJillyG @MuldoonPatrick @LINTstagators @Tammysdragonfly @MelanieMcCurdie @AFiendOnFilm @nicolemalonso @OklahomaWard @AmandaBergloff @machinemeannow @saulnier_Jeremy @GreenRoomFilm @mrbluelouboyle @LAMANIACmovie @GreenRoomMovie @talk2cleo and Paul J. Williams from Facebook!

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Macabre Milestone: May (2002)

The Last Knock

At the beginning of the new millennium, director Lucky McKee wowed audiences with a phenomenal, quirky, independent horror. Star Angela Bettis played May, who longed for a connection with a boyfriend. Her performance was so heralded, critic Roger Ebert petitioned the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to nominate Bettis for a Lead Actress Oscar. The film also included stellar acting from Anna Faris, as well as Jeremy Sisto, James Duval, Nichole Hiltz, and the celebrated Ken Davitian, with music from The Breeders. And if you think this is some cheesy horror/romance, you are dead wrong because this brilliant tale goes to much greater depths.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS

@RealJillyG  @MelanieMcCurdie  @TTBOProductions @Theadman40  @oldbrecon68  @Artemis_FF  @RonGizmo  @nicolemalonso  @DreadCentral  @NylaVox  @flowpodcast @AngryDemon_Det  @Barry_Cinematic  @morales_ej  @Isreal_Finn  @SamesCarolyn  @OwenMcCuenQuest  @OklahomaWard  @ScreamHorrorMag  @LaceyLaneAuthor  @ValeriePrucha  @TimothiousSmith  @noelpershinger  @ThisIsHorror  @Nina_35_4ever    @DailyDeadNews