From Sub-genre

Dawn of the Dead: Consumer Horror

Dawn of the Dead. 1978. Directed & Written by George A. Romero.
Starring David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, David Crawford, David Early, Richard France, Howard Smith, Daniel Dietrich, Fred Baker, and James A. Baffico. A Laurel Group Production. Rated R. 127 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★
dawn-of-the-dead-1978George A. Romero started the modern zombie craze with his 1968 horror movie Night of the Living Dead. Ten years later, he came back swinging with Dawn of the Dead. Full of iconic moments, even iconic zombies themselves (see: Hare Krishna zombie), Romero gives us an even more nuanced, darker, and at times funny, bit of horror cinema.
A lot of people nowadays are hugely into the zombie sub-genre. For good reason, as these Dead films from Romero, including the ones after it, are a whole lot of horror fun. The reason why Dawn of the Dead is so celebrated and loved after all these years is because not only does it do a fine job creeping you the hell out, like Romero’s 1968 film, even more than that it again explores social issues. Soon as the characters in this movie make their way to a mall, hordes of zombies trying to get inside, you can tell there will be some kind of commentary on Romero’s part. Dawn of the Dead is written incredibly well, with good characters, dialogue and action, as well as the fact Goblin does the soundtrack, Dario Argento worked on the music/editing, and master of special effects Tom Savini supplied all the zombie nasty work. This is one damn good piece of zombie horror and it’s no wonder we’re still talking about it today as much as we do.
dd3After the dead reanimate and start to feast on the flesh of the living, a group of people hoping to survive make their way via helicopter to a large mall: Stephen “Flyboy” Andrews (David Emge) and Francine Parker (Gaylen Ross), along with two SWAT team members Peter Washington (Ken Foree) and Roger DeMarco (Scott Reiniger). Upon arrival, they try and set up camp finding a safe room to spend their nights, food for sustenance and any other various items they can manage to whisk away from the stores in the mall. Only problem is the zombies have filled up a nice majority of the shopping complex, so they’ve got to maneuver their way around the huge building efficiently, and quietly, as humanly possible.
But when Roger gets infected by the zombie virus, their situation changes. With the situation inside the mall getting worse with every passing day, the group is forced to confront other options; that is, if there are any left.
dawn-of-the-dead-zombiesOne of the most intriguing things about this movie is how Romero expands on the idea of a post-apocalyptic United States of America. During Night of the Living Dead, we do see a microcosm of the aftermath with all the sheriff’s boys out hunting ghouls and seeming to have a grand ole time, plus there are the news reports and all those aspects. However, with Dawn of the Dead this plot allows Romero to give us a bit bigger of a look at the post-zombie society. Big part of that is the mall itself.
When they first arrive, Francine questions why the reanimated corpses would be at the mall, to which Stephen replies “Memory of what they used to do; this was an important place in their lives“. Later on, as the group listens to a radio, a commentator talks about remembering past lives and how the actions of the zombies are merely them working out what they once used to do. The thing I find interesting, the social aspect of Romero’s screenplay, is how he chose the mall/shopping complex itself. It speaks volumes about human society just in the number of living dead wandering around the building and outside; it’s evident how involved we as humans are in consumerism already, but Romero – back in 1978 – was already on to the fact we’re creatures of habit, as well as creatures of leisure wanting to shamble our way into the mall, mindlessly picking away at the things inside (a.k.a “shopping”). So I think, again like his first zombie movie, this one can be considered relevant today, if not even more so than it was on its original release. The way we consume things as a society of people has gotten out of hand, especially now in the post-2000 world. Say what you want about Dawn of the Dead, or the films which follow it/the one preceding it, Romero infuses his horror with a ton of commentary. Not every last shot is done like this. Overall, though, you cannot deny Romero’s zombie films encapsulate social products of their time and even then they go on with their strength for years. I won’t be forgetting these films any time soon, if ever.
Dawn-Of-The-Dead-1978-Flick-Minutedawn06I have to talk about Tom Savini. As someone whose love for horror grew out of older films intent on using practical makeup effects, before CGI ruled the industry, Savini is one of my personal gods. Honestly, even the first three films he worked on show off his immense talent – from his uncredited work on Bob Clark’s Dead of Night and putting his hands into the loose Ed Gein inspired Deranged, to doing fun stuff on Romero’s 1977 unusual yet awesome vampire flick Martin, to the stellar makeup/special effects he did in this film. I won’t go through the man’s entire filmography, but I’m just trying to show you how immediately Savini made an impression on the horror movie industry. In fact, Romero wanted him to work on the original ’68 Dead film. Unfortunately at the time Savini was called off to war; he actually applied some of the nastiness he saw during the Vietnam war as a combat photographer to the special effects/makeup he did in films. Luckily, they got together for this movie and did  a ton of bloody, fun horror work.
The look of the zombies alone is great. There’s a satirical part in how they look, as they’re all zombies yet representative of our own zombie-like qualities as humans. So while I’ve seen some horror fans wonder why the zombies are blue-ish coloured, I think there’s a wickedly dark comedic edge to their look. At the same time, they’re still fucking terrifying! Not just that, the head shots and the flesh eating and all that rotten business works well. Most of all, it’s the blood itself I find so wonderful. There’s nothing like a good looking bit of blood on camera and something about the blood in Dawn of the Dead is at once cartoon-ish and simultaneously nauseating: its rich red makes it appear almost like paint, like comic book blood, and the thick texture of it seeping out of chests/heads/et cetera has a visceral, raw essence which is kind of gross. Needless to say, without boring you too much to death on my thoughts about the effects overall, without Tom Savini this would not at all be the same type of horror film. Furthermore, I’d venture to say the zombie sub-genre wouldn’t be as rich and magical in terms of effects if Savini hadn’t done such good work with Romero here. This movie has influenced so many filmmakers and endlessly captivated the minds of legions of horror fanatics, and will continue to until the end of time.
dawnofthedead3 draft_lens21649007module169844112photo_ee321358980351f4a352aIt’s hard to say anything that’s not been said before concerning Dawn of the Dead. One thing is for sure, though, George A. Romero is the man who gave us modern zombies and this film is an intense piece of horror cinema which dives further into the zombie lore he created in 1968, as well as touches on aspects of human nature from friendship in close quarters to a reflection of our inherent consumerism as people in the 20th century. 5 stars, right through the roof and to the sky!
As I said in my review of Romero’s first zombie feature, Day of the Dead is actually my personal favourite. All the same, each of the three first films in his Dead series are perfect in my mind and neither are technically better than the others, at least that’s how I see it; I just prefer Day over the others, something more apocalyptic and foreboding about its plot.
Regardless, Dawn of the Dead constantly affects me, it always entertains and I love the two-disc DVD set this came in, which I ordered a few years back now. Lots of fun features on the release, as well. If you’re a fan it’s worth the cash. If you’ve not seen this: smarten up and watch it for Halloween.

The Visit is the Last Trip to Grandma & Grandpa’s You’ll Ever Take

The Visit. 2015. Directed & Written by M. Night Shyamalan.
Starring Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, and Kathryn Hahn. Blinding Edge Pictures/Blumhouse Productions. Rated 14A. 94 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
the-visit-movie-poster-2015-copyAny time M. Night Shyamalan puts out a film these days, it’s met with all sorts of opinions from those who can’t stand him, as if he’s let them down personally in some way by making a few subpar films, to others who await his return to form since films like Signs and Unbreakable (I don’t even need to mention the Sixth Sense, do I? Great spooky flick). I fall into the latter camp, I’m someone who actually hasn’t bothered to see a couple of his movies (the one based on the manga or whatever it was & After Earth with Will Smith if that’s even the title) simply because they weren’t my cup of tea to start. However, I don’t discredit him for the bad stuff I have seen, like The Happening which wasn’t so much horrible as it was ultra boring – okay, it wasn’t good either, boring and bad. Yet what filmmaker has made all perfect films? Sorry, you can’t tell me one of them, and I don’t care who it is; even the directors I hold in highest regard are some times capable of making a misstep.
With The Visit – a found-footage horror-thriller – Shyamalan recaptures some of his earlier essence with lots of mystery, subtle creeps and moments where you’ll question what exactly it is you’re seeing. Above all else, though, is the fact I found the screenplay Shyamalan wrote really tight, and once the ending came around I was absolutely sold. This is a solid, lower budget styled movie compared to so much of his other work, where Shyamalan gets back to what he does best – scare us. Because I feel that’s the place he works best, with a story made of mystery, fear, paranoia and suspense. All you’ll find delivered here.
Deanna-Dunagun-and-Peter-McRobbie-in-The-Visit-Movie-2015A single mother, Paula Jamison (Kathryn Hahn), needs a nice getaway with her latest boyfriend – her husband having run out awhile ago. So she sends both her kids Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) out to the quaint little town where she grew up in order to spend some quality time with their grandparents, Doris and John Jamison (Deanna Dunagan/Peter McRobbie).
When the kids arrive, everything is grand. The first time they’ve met their grandparents, both Rebecca and Tyler find it interesting getting to know them. Even better, Rebecca is making a documentary film about her mother, her hometown, her life, et cetera, and so meeting the grandparents provides Rebecca with more information.
A day or two in, though, the kids start to feel as if something is not quite right. First, Tyler comes across a pile of dirty diapers in the shed – where he was warned not to look. Grandma explains it away by telling the young boy his grandfather sometimes has ‘accidents’, and so he cleans it up in private, stowing the diapers in the shed until he can burn them. Sort of a sad thing. After that Tyler walks away feeling sorry for his grandfather. However, once dear ole grandma is discovered naked in the dark hallway outside the kids’ room, savagely clawing at the walls, Rebecca and Tyler start to investigate what’s really been going on around the old house. While Rebecca seems naive enough to believe her grandfather’s explanation of sundowning, the younger Tyler tries to make her see something sinister is beginning to happen with their grandparents.
Kathryn-Hahn-in-The-Visit-Movie-2015Going into this I was sceptical, only because I wasn’t sure why Shyamalan, a guy with a definitive, distinctive style of his own as a filmmaker, would choose to go with the found footage sub-genre. Then a little ways into the movie, I found myself caring less and less about why and focusing more on how it worked for the film.
There’s a moment a little while after the kids arrive at their grandparents’ place, when Rebecca and Tyler are playing hide and seek. They go out under the porch outside, the big deck, and crawl through underneath. After a minute, out of nowhere, grandma Doris appears behind them, very eerily, and becomes part of the game. She chases them outside, gets up and brushes the dirt off her knees, straightening up. Then Doris laughs and tells them there are treats baked inside. Such an odd and unsettling moment, I knew there was something not at all right with grandma at this point.
Most of all, I liked how the found footage was used in scenes like these. There weren’t many of the jump scare type shots, but definitely a few of these spooky moments where the style of camerawork absolutely lent itself to making things feel off-balance. Plus, I really enjoyed the two young actors and how they incorporated the camera into their lives/the trip. Especially Olivia DeJonge – I thought the bits where she interviewed her grandparents were key in making the plot come out, tiny bits slipping in through those scenes, and DeJonge does great with her part holding her own with the older Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie (who are both fucking fantastic here and part of why the movie works so well).
TheVisit_2015_Trailer

THE VISIT, Peter McRobbie, 2015. ©Universal Pictures

Again, though, the best part of The Visit for me is the screenplay. I found the writing really tight and the characters were excellent. The two young actors matched the acting talent of the older actors perfectly, there were no moments I found myself taken out of the film by the acting, which is often a drawback of the found footage sub-genre (too much worry about camerawork and a meandering plot and not enough attention to character or acting). Particularly in low budget movies, the acting isn’t always solid, at all. Here, Shyamalan has all the right people in place for the characters needed.
On top of that, his script just keeps you guessing. People always want to say they knew what would happen, this or that. But to be truthful, I thought this was going to be a supernatural or possibly alien type movie. I figured grandma and grandpa were maybe harvesting little baby aliens, or who knows what the fuck else, I don’t know. Did not see this ending coming. When it finally hit, everything said and done – the twist played out – and the music plays (which is worked in perfectly at the end harkening back to an earlier moment), it was glorious! Really fun ending. Not the typical found footage horror style finish, and still it worked. The writing subverted my expectations throughout the entire film, so kudos to Shyamalan. I was constantly trying to figure out what might happen. Instead, this one took me along for a heavy ride and I lapped up every second.
1280x720-bWuThis is one of the better found footage horror movies I’ve seen in awhile. Not only that, M. Night Shyamalan gets his groove back here with a movie that contains good writing, solid scares, and a bunch of great central performances out of the four main characters. 4.5 out of 5 star film, for me anyways. I know others have said completely the opposite, that it’s formulaic, or that it’s this, that, the other thing. Agree to disagree. Some of the most fun I’ve had in the theatre when it comes to horror movies over the past couple years. It was frightening yet exciting and there was a ton of mystery to boot, which kept me glued. Check this out as soon as you can if it’s still playing in your local theatre, worth seeing this proper rather than wait for Blu ray, DVD or VOD. Can’t wait to see what Shyamalan will cook up next.

Cooties: It’s Okay to Kill the Children

Cooties. 2015. Directed by Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell & Ian Brennan.
Starring Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Ian Brennan, Jorge Garcia, Cooper Roth, Miles Elliot, Morgan Lily, Sunny May Allison, and Armani Jackson. Glacier Films/SpectreVision.
Rated R. 88 minutes.
Action/Comedy/Horror

★★★★
2490326_bigOfficially out now on iTunes, Cooties was announced a little over two years ago. I remember seeing the premise alone and thinking this would be, at the very least, a bit of a good laugh. Admittedly, I’m not actually huge on horror-comedies. Funny that I love comedy and I am way in love with horror, yet the combination of both isn’t something that immediately appeals to me.
That being said, there are definitely instances of horror-comedy I’ve loved. Like Shaun of the Dead, which is almost the pinnacle to me of the sub-genre. There’s also Dead Alive, Gremlins, pieces of An American Werewolf in London are definitely full of comedy, Return of the Living Dead, House (a favourite of mine), and many more.
Cooties isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the best horror-comedy films to come out in awhile. There are lots of good laughs, solidly executed horror, and a pretty excellent script. This movie never takes itself too seriously; not to a fault, but enough to make it feel genuine. Some good performances help the whole film succeed, even in its slower moments. Rainn Wilson, of whom I’m not a fan, actually is pretty awesome. Not just him: Elijah Wood is great, Alison Pill cracked me up almost constantly, Nasim Pedrad played such an amazingly satirical character and proves she’s a real good comedian, and even the other much smaller roles had me in stitches.
But it’s the horror I love – the sweet, sweet horror.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.25.24 PMThe opening sequence of the film is pretty spooky, as well as nasty. Like churn your stomach nasty. Tainted nuggets… need I say more?
After this opener, Cooties shifts into comedy/dark comedy mode for a little portion. Which works extremely well. From a screenplay by Ian Brennan and Leigh Whannell, the comedy is genuine. It’s not awkward comedy, as some might expect seeing Rainn Wilson, however, it isn’t at all. There are some hilarious moments, especially from Elijah Wood whose character has a boyish charm while carrying the weight of the adult world on his shoulders; a writer trying hard to be whats he wants, stuck teaching when he’d rather be writing a novel as he says he is.
Still, things get intense fairly quick once the horror rears its fierce head. What I love is that the movie is only an hour and a half, not even, so the plot kicks in and runs wild without enough preamble to numb you. For a horror-comedy, this is an efficient technique and certainly made me enjoy Cooties even more than I might normally enjoy other movies in the sub-genre.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.17 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.35 PMKiller kid movies always freak me out. Something about the innocence of children combined with evil – and in this case an illness/virus – really just gets to me, in an awfully heavy way.
The kids in Cooties are creepy. Plain and simple. One of the first intense scenes is when Wade Johnson (Rainn Wilson) finds himself trapped on the basketball court, surrounded by a bunch of the kids; they’re hissing, snarling, growls and blood and pus come out of them.
Something I enjoy about the killer kid sub-genre is how it subverts how we feel about children. You don’t feel any fear from them. When you see a kid, as an adult, there’s nothing threatening about them. Even when it comes to really messed up kids who might talk a good tough game, worst comes to worst you can pick a kid up and throw them if necessary. However, when the evil aspect comes into play – in film – there’s something in that subversion, something about how the children suddenly become threatening, which unsettles me at the core. It’s the innocence coming back into play, in a very sinister sense.
Even more so, Cooties pits school teachers against the kids they’re meant to be teaching, caring for, moulding into responsible young adults. There’s something even more wrenching about seeing these educators forced to kill the ones they’ve protected so long, similar to zombie films where we see parents have to kill their children or children forced to kill their parents. Something about this whole idea eats away at me. And even though there’s plenty of comedy peppered in throughout, I think there’s an absolutely relentless sense of dread happening from start to finish which never ever lets go.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.47 PMWhat I enjoy so much about this movie is the fact it balances so well the aspects of horror and comedy. This is the strength of any solid horror-comedy, if they can find a balance somehow that ultimately works equally on both fronts. What I found worked, for me, is that Cooties teeters back and forth between riotous moments and nasty horror. I mean, there’s a genuine dose of R-rated horror here a lot of other filmmakers would be too afraid to include in their own films.
When Johnson (Wilson) kills the first kid with a fire extinguisher, I knew it was coming but there’s still an effective scare in that moment. Particularly I love the makeup special effects, the blood spray all over Johnson and the wall behind him, speckled red dots everywhere. A true horror scene. Often times there’s a comedic aspect to kills in horror-comedy; this is not one of those kills. In the midst of the comedy comes a brutal, vicious scene. Not only that, the weight is evident on the character of Wade Johnson, as he sorts of loses his fun loving attitude afterwards and takes a bit of time alone.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.27.03 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.00 PMThe cinematography all around is pretty awesome. There’s a genuine atmosphere from start to finish, which sort of evolves from section to section. Lyle Vincent is the one responsible for the camerawork here – he also did 2012’s Devoured, a decent little indie horror with some teeth, and also the downright fantastic A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (you can see a marquee poster for this movie at around the 1 hour 17 minute mark, or a little after, as the survivors pass a theatre). So knowing those two pieces – liking the latter more than the former – it’s no surprise Vincent is able to give Cooties an interesting look and feel. At the start, even in the creepy/nauseating opening sequence, there’s this real bright, shiny type of aesthetic happening – this leads through a bit to when the darkness comes into play. Following the “turn” of the children, a more gritty yet still colourful scheme begins. The vividness of colour persists, only darker now, along with the shadowy halls of the school, lit here and there with neon Exit signs, and the dull, sickly makeup of the kids, bloody and diseased looking. Tons of great visual stuff happening in terms of how the cinematography is both bright and gritty.
Also, there’s a rocking score from Kreng (Pepijn Caudron) – lots of cool electronic stuff happening. Unlike many modern horror movies trying to evoke a retro 1980s style soundtrack, I found this goes for the electronic sound while not necessarily trying to riff off the ’80s particularly. It might have that type of vibe, but for me it’s not the typical modern horror score. Helps the different aspects of Cooties become more intense, along with Vincent’s cinematography, whether it be the action-horror scenes near the end or the plain creepy horror moments throughout. A great horror score, definitely a bit different than some of the other stuff as of late from the indie horror scene.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.24 PMI have to mention one of my favourite scenes. It’s very close to the end, so without spoiling anything, the group of teachers trying to fend off all the infected/zombie children wander into a sort of McDonalds PlayPlace type of building. They find the PlayPlace itself, a massive jungle gym full of infected kids, frothing at the mouth, hissing and screaming, laughing like maniacs. The part I love is the lead-up, where first the group comes inside and the dark closes everything in, the flashlights give us enough to see bright party decorations, half eaten cake and nuggets; there’s this eerie quality to the scene I found incredible. Then when the lights go up, a neon multicoloured disco light ball turns, there’s this WHOA second where you can’t get over how wildly creepy the scene has become.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.47 PMWith a decent ending, that doesn’t try to wrap things up cleanly and to a precise point, I think Cooties overall gets a 4 out of 5 star rating. I loved the excellent mix of horror (good dose of blood/gore) and comedy. Plenty of good laughs, but horror wins out above anything else. There’s a lot of great intense kid-centric horror. This doesn’t shy away from showing any kids infected, bleeding, or straight up being killed. Though it isn’t malicious in the sense of useless violence. Mostly, as I said before, the subversion of the roles of the teachers in this film really makes things interesting, and horrific at various times for both the audience and the characters.
This is out now via iTunes, so get a copy! Maybe not everyone will love it like I did, but as someone not often drawn into horror-comedies, I’d at least suggest you give it a try.

Paranormal Activity’s Modern Hauntings

Paranormal Activity. 2007. Directed & Written by Oren Peli.
Starring Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Amber Armstrong, and Ashley Palmer. Solana Films/Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 86 minutes.
Horror

★★★★
paranormalactivity_posterWhen done correctly, I am a huge fan of found footage. Whether it’s using the thriller style, as I recently enjoyed in the film 419, or horror (The Blair Witch Project, Cannibal HolocaustHome Movie, and many more), I believe that if a director uses the sub-genre appropriately then it can be extremely effective. Particularly, horror movies using found footage can end up having a huge impact if it isn’t simply a gimmick, or a wasted tool in the director’s arsenal.
Even further than that, a writer (or writers) needs to know the limitations of the sub-genre, as well as where it can go. Too many writers seem to let the screenplay of a found footage film fall by the wayside, like it isn’t an important aspect so much as the visuals prove to be. Very bad way to look at ANY genre or sub-genre; you always need a good script, or at least an impressive idea to work from.
There are things I do love about Paranormal Activity, while I’ve got a gripe or two, as well. Mostly, I think Oren Peli really did an excellent job as director in cultivating an impressive piece of modern horror. He singlehandedly changed the found footage game, in my mind, after the originals left their highly impressive (and better) mark – like The Blair Witch Project and the infamous, controversial Cannibal Holocaust. Now there are plenty of others, since this film’s release in 2007, trying to work off the simple yet excellent format Peli landmarked.
This is not a perfect horror, nor is it my favourite found footage film. However, I’ve got to say that when I first saw Paranormal Activity – and to this day – there were elements and scenes which really unsettled me greatly and left a lasting impression on me. I don’t think, as a veteran in watching films and TONS of horror, that I’m easily frightened. But genuinely, at times, I found myself clenching up. Not to say I wept in terror or curled into a ball. Though, I can readily admit my muscles tightened and my heart rate pumped fast in several scenes, which is all due to the acting of the two leads and the good work of writer-director Oren Peli.
paranormalactivity1I won’t waste time relating the plot. This is one of those movies we ALL know about; if not, head over to IMDB or Wikipedia and it’s laid out pretty well. I’d like to just move into the things I liked/disliked about the movie.
An aspect of the screenplay I truly do love is how the character of Micah antagonizes the presence in their home. Starting early on, within the first fifteen minutes even, Micah begins to make fun of the whole concept of some spirit (or whatever) in the house; he plays creepy music, saying he’d like to make the presence feel at home. I always like when a story incorporates scepticism in an interesting way; Micah is a part of that, as he pretty much riles up the thing in their house.
Otherwise, one of the greatest parts in my mind about Peli’s Paranormal Activity is that the effects really started to push the envelope for found footage. Since 2007 there have been plenty more found footage films which used effects to a greater degree, but at the time this came as sort of revolutionary for the sub-genre. Before this movie, and those which followed it (both sequels and other films imitating this style), most found footage horror tended to go for the lost in the woods scenario, adding in tons of shaky cam and screaming and blood/gore here or there. Peli came along and decided to keep the camera stationary almost all of the time, which really helped, and on top of that he tried as best he could to do as much practically as possible, as well as the great majority of the film is centred so much on the relationship between Katie and Micah.
Keeping the camera in one place the way he does, Peli is able to let us relax a bit and get more into the characters and the story/plot than other found footage allows us. As I said, the shaky cam is prevalent in many other films similar to this. Even the amazing Blair Witch Project, there are a couple nearly nausea inducing sequences where the characters are running, screaming, and the camera is jostling around along with their movements; to the point where it’s tough to follow anything. Luckily, that was one of the first real found footage horror movies where shaky cam became a thing, so at the time it wasn’t really overdone.
Paranormal-Activity-3Nowadays with so many less exciting films than that trying to read in its huge footsteps, we get too many horrors using found footage and throwing in the shaky cam as a legitimate portion of the film when in fact it only detracts from the end product; we’re tired and sick of the shakiness, it’s not simply low budget and realistic it makes things look lazy. In Paranormal Activity, Peli foregoes that nonsense and allows us to get into the relationship between Katie and Micah, watching their lives unfold instead of constantly having one of them manipulate the camera, moving it around, and so on. Though Micah absolutely holds the camera at times, it’s not him running around and catching nothing except blurs. Whenever he does move it, the moment is brief, or at the least Micah is usually standing in one place. I think, albeit probably an obvious touch, Peli does his film a great service by allowing the camera to stay still a lot of the time. That way, his story comes out further, the characters are more interesting, and the plot is able to move along without the audience becoming totally unnerved (not in the right way) by the camera movement constantly shaking us out of touch with what’s happening in the film.
For this reason, as well as the fact effects are incorporated in a fresh way (not saying they’re spectacular; merely they were slightly new to this sub-genre), I truly feel Peli broke new, interesting ground with his found footage horror movie. Not only did it spawn a series of sequels, a whole franchise, Paranormal Activity – in a different way from its predecessors – had other filmmakers looking to do a low-budget horror almost copycatting everything about it.
They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery; in this case, I think it’s mostly about cashing in.
still-of-katie-featherston-in-paranormal-activity-(2007)-large-pictureFinally, it’s the acting from Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston which truly got to me. I think Sloat did a good enough job, especially in terms of being the sceptical and doubting boyfriend; he isn’t completely ignorant and arrogant in his speech, mostly he brings this aspect across through his coy, annoyingly playful demeanour. He certainly acts like a bit of a douchebag, but I think that’s almost definitely the right way for Micah to seem, as a character – it brings out that doubt very clearly for all to see.
Above all else, it’s Featherston who sells this film from start to finish. I like the character herself; she’s been followed all her life, basically, by some kind of spirit, an entity. Not that it’s a new idea. It’s how Featherston plays the character, the innocence she always seems to display and this naive but concerned nature in her. While Katie is the one who believes in it all, there’s still this naivety about her in that she’s holding onto the innocent part of herself, even while this demon/spirit/entity has latched onto her and won’t leave her, or Micah, alone. The way Featherston performs is incredible, unbelievably actually in the final half hour. Once things start getting very intense and claustrophobic in their little house, Featherston does a perfect job portraying all the terror Katie is feeling; there’s one moment where she tells Micah she feels something in the hallway, and I honestly got a fright just out of the urgency in her voice, the look in her eyes. Amazing job and makes Paranormal Activity all the better for it; anyone else would probably not have been enough. Featherston pushed this film above a ton of other found footage out there with subpar acting and lazy characters.
Paranormal-ActivityWith an undeniably horrifying final 15 minutes, I can definitely say this is a 4 out of 5 star film. There could’ve been a little more in certain parts, but overall this is an excellent modern horror. I’m not saying this will send you to bed cowering under the covers like when we were children. What I am saying is that Oren Peli did a good job directing this, as opposed to so many shaky useless found footage efforts, and he tried to instil the film with as much practicality (from plot to effects) as possible.
This is a slow burn type of horror film, in my opinion. It does well building up tension, in part that’s due to excellent actors, and in the end there’s a massively satisfying and creepy conclusion. Love the end and watching this for the first time since its release 8 years ago, I must admit I like the film more than I’d originally thought.

The Last Horror Movie: Genuinely Chilling Found Footage Horror

The Last Horror Movie. 2003. Directed by Julian Richards; screenplay by James Handel from an idea by Julian Richards.
Starring Kevin Howarth, Mark Stevenson, Antonia Beamish, Christabel Muir, Jonathan Coote, Rita Davies, Joe Hurley, Jamie Langthorne, John Berlyne, and Mandy Gordon. Prolific Films/Snakehair Productions.
Rated R. 75 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
lasthorrormoviethe2.0 I’ve talked a lot in my reviews about found footage. It’s a sub-genre which I happen to love, though, there are certainly tons of bad ones out there. Having said that, are there really any more than bad horror, drama, comedy, thriller, et cetera? Nope, not at all. It’s merely the fact that, after The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity later, this sub-genre was reinvigorated after cult classics such as Cannibal Holocaust or The McPherson Tape, and naturally when a type of movie gets popular there are always other filmmakers looking to capitalize. Maybe this brings about more dreck than needed, but it also brings out quite a few excellent films in the lot which are more than worth the time to sit through.
The Last Horror Movie takes found footage, even a concept which we’ve seen before, and uses it to create a chilling, horrific bit of film. Certainly the, as I see it, overrated Man Bites Dog has stomped through the territory Julian Richards takes us into. However, it’s in the charisma and energy of the lead actor Kevin Howarth, playing a savage, voyeuristic serial killer, where the true horror of this movie lies and it is him, through every last scene, that will terrify you endlessly.
IMG_1982Using a cheesy horror video rental, naughty serial killer Max Parry (Kevin Howarth) tapes over the bad film on a VHS tape and lets other unsuspecting people rent it from the store. He’s even recruited an unnamed assistant (Mark Stevenson) to record all his murders and assaults on videotape.
Max goes on killing and doing terrible things, as the assistant films on. At one point he even attempts to involve the young, naive assistant in his work, putting a knife directly in his hands in order to experience the thrill of the kill.
Will Max Parry keep killing? Will he be caught? Can he successfully indoctrinate his assistant into a world of serial killing and depravity? With the tape wearing on, Max and his assistant find themselves in a scary, voyeuristic world where it almost feels as if the camera’s red light is our own eye, Max’s eye; and even scarier, we may come to discover that Max is not unlike a great many of us, terrifying and unsettling as the thought may be.
IMG_1988There are several amazingly chilling moments which deserve to go down in the horror history hall of fame. Honestly, there’s a wealth of horror in this short feature. I’ll discuss a few I think are particularly awesome and which deserve recognition.
The first happens very early, around 15 minutes in, as Max (Howarth) goes by a school, picking up a young boy. My heart started pumping as we watch Max, his video assistant taping the whole time, as he goes over to the boy, talks to him – you’d never suspect it was his nephew. There’s an undeniably pulse pounding lead up to this, until you see him at a door with the boy; his mother, Max’s sister, opens up and the terror is finished for the moment. But heading into this, even on a second viewing – and beyond – I’m consistently terrified by this part, though I know the outcome. Still gets me because the tension is there.
Other excellent, similar scenes happen as we often forget Max has an assistant following him with a video camera. Such as when we see a woman getting into her car in a parking garage, I actually lapsed and forgot Max wasn’t actually filming his own murders: then we see the woman in the car get strangled from behind, as Max sits in the backseat and his assistant films outside the car. Little bits like this make the tension and suspense of The Last Horror Movie draw out and last nearly the entire, scant 75-minute runtime.
IMG_1990 IMG_1991What scares me most about the character of Max is how he, through this film and his own film within a film taped onto another film, sort of confronts us with madness, murder, and violence in order to make us confront the concept of voyeurism. How much should you watch? How much will you watch?
When Max kills two people separately in the same room – turning the camera away for the actual murder – he then asks if we’re waiting to SEE THE VIOLENCE – curious about what happened, hoping to have seen the savagery up-close (edited with quick cuts briefly of the stabbings full-on). What he says afterwards chills me entirely to the very core of my being: “If not… then why are you still watching?
It begs the question, for the supposed person actually watching the VHS tape which Max has recorded over with his murderous rampage, why would you continue watching if you know what he’s doing is real/wrong? If that person, us the viewer, waited through those stabbings, we were waiting in order to see some bit of the blood and gore, to see the effects, the “realism” that apparently we’re craving terribly. The overall theme of this film is set in stone through this scene, as Max basically gives us his manifesto RIGHT HERE. Not only effective in making his actions and intentions known, it is downright fucking creepy and horrifies me each and every time I watch this scene.
IMG_1984 IMG_1985 IMG_1987I think there are obvious comparisons to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which I do believe are warranted. However, while there are certainly similarities I believe The Last Horror Movie goes further in certain aspects. There’s a similarly disturbing angle concerning video cameras: here we have Max; with John McNaughton’s cult classic, Henry and Otis use a video camera to record some of their nasty doings. There’s the whole essence of voyeurism and how the audience relates to what they’re seeing, whether it’s CNN news footage showing war and death or serial killers like these guys traipsing around, killing, savaging people and capturing everything on video.
Max Parry goes further than Henry and Otis in the sense of recording every last killing. They, often times, would do lots of terribleness outside of the camera’s frame. Not Max, though. He and his assistant carry the camera everywhere, anywhere, to get each single solitary moment of pain and torture recorded for the unsuspecting next viewer of the VHS rental. Max strangles, stabs, bludgeons, and even lights people on fire! His methods are completely barbaric. Whereas Henry and Otis in Henry videotape in order to get their rocks off later – sort of a substitution for having to physically revisit the scene of a crime like many serial killers do – Max records his murders in order to make the person SEEING THEM respond in a visceral way; they are either disgusted, or they find themselves drawn in (for any number of reasons). Either way, Max shows us this absolutely frightening display of serial murder and makes us accept the fact we are voyeurs – as citizens in a media dominated world and also as viewers, as an audience, sitting and watching the horror of a “realistic” movie. This is what rocks me so hard about The Last Horror Movie.
IMG_1980This is one of my favourite found footage horror movies. Absolutely at the top of the list, there aren’t many others which find themselves above this one; 4.5 out of 5 stars on my radar. Some may say it’s boring, that there’s nothing happening: to those people I say, are you serious? There’s a ton happening, as well as the fact The Last Horror Movie boasts a great deal of commentary on how we relate to horror/watch it and the voyeuristic tendencies which come along with seeing videotaped murder (doesn’t stop at fiction; think of the beheadings which have been filmed, the supposed tape of Saddam being hung, and tons of other real life death captured in realtime on video).
If you’ve not had a chance, do see this film as soon as you can. It’s not even that long, either. Both an excellent example of modern British film, British horror to be exact, as well as just a plain ol’ heavy horror film. If you’re a big fan of found footage done correctly, as I am, then you HAVE to see it! Necessary viewing for those who love this sub-genre. If you have any comments or theories of your own concerning Max, the film, then leave a comment and put in your two cents. Always love a good civil discussion or debate.

The Gallows: Wasted Opportunity & Wasted Youth

The Gallows. 2015. Directed & Written by Travis Cluff/Chris Lofing.
Starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford, Travis Cluff, Price T. Morgan, Theo Burkhardt, David Herrera, Gannon Del Fierro, Mackie Burt, and Adrian Salas. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 81 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★
the-gallows-posterFound footage is a sub-genre I do enjoy, honestly. That being said, there is still a fine line between what I enjoy and what I find crap. Some people say it’s all crap; that’s just dismissive, to me. I’m a fan of Cannibal Holocaust, unapologetically I love The Blair Witch Project, and then there’s newer stuff I’ve enjoyed like the V/H/S trilogy (I got a ton of online shit on an IMDB message board for my love of all three especially the third), Lovely Molly, and the terrifyingly unsettling Home Movie. There are other titles, I just don’t want to go on. You get the picture: if something is done right using found footage, I believe there’s no reason it can’t be enjoyable. Certain people seem to think the whole sub-genre is useless, but again, I say that’s nonsense. Found footage needs to be used effectively, otherwise it’s simply another gimmick. To say there’s no good found footage is ignorant.
The Gallows has a fun premise and I haven’t seen any found footage so far to use this setting. The majority of what I enjoyed about this movie is the atmosphere, most of which came from the location of the school’s auditorium/theatre. Otherwise, I found almost all the characters to be stiff; the high school dramatics felt real, I did think Reese Mishler and Cassidy Gifford were pretty decent throughout the movie, but overall the cast wasn’t very solid. With only a little to enjoy, The Gallows feels more like a wasted opportunity than an absolutely useless horror.
1280x720-bgLStarting with a recorded home video from 1993, we see a boy named Charlie Grimille accidentally hang to death during a high school play. Worst of all, it happens in front of an audience who watch on in absolute fear and horror.
The present day in The Gallows sees a new production of the play being put off. In one of the main roles, a jock named Reese Houser (Reese Mishler) tries his best to play his part opposite a girl he has a crush on named Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown). At the same time, Reese’s jock budy Ryan Shoos (that’s also his real name) films everything behind the scenes, supposedly helping but doing nothing except make a mockery of the production while others work hard and passionately to make it the best they can.
In an effort to supposedly save his buddy Reese the shame and failure of going onstage, Ryan suggests breaking into the school’s theatre at night and trashing the set. That way the production would be halted and Reese could ‘comfort’ Pfeifer. Misguided and foolish, Ryan, Reese, and Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) head into the school through a door said to never be locked, due to it being broken for years.
However, once they run into Pfeifer inside – who wonders why they’re even there in the first place, as they wonder the same about her – they discover the door is now locked, out of the blue. What follows is a horrifying night for the group of friends while they begin to figure out all about what happened 20 years ago to Charlie Grimille, and why he’s still lurking in the shadows of the school.
the-gallows-movie-image-1There’s certainly an innovative aspect to The Gallows in its premise. I think beyond that, there’s not much to distinguish it from other found footage horror movies. However, the whole concept is pretty fun. Theatres in general all have their own spooky nature; there’s something eerie about a theatre, all the history and the many people who’ve graced both the stage and the seats. Add in a school and it’s even creepier, as old schools all have their own history, many lives passing through its halls and corridors, as well.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the filmmakers used this premise enough to their advantage. As I said, most of The Gallows sticks to the bargain basement techniques of Found Footage 101. For instance, there’s an early and needless jump scare – that you can’t even fully call a proper jump scare – which involves Ryan (Shoos) just popping up in front of his camera in his bedroom; not even horror, simply him trying to pull a gag. Stupid, and also gets your heart pumping for no good reason. A jump scare is effective if there’s a reason, if there is purpose to it, however, if you simply make people jump without any substance whatsoever then it’s a piss off. For me, anyways. There’s always the “trick jump scare” in horror movies, but this is not one of those at all. It’s just a dumb addition; in fact, the scene in which it’s involved serves no purpose itself, so the whole 1 minute or so could’ve easily been trimmed out of the film.
Horror-2015-The-Gallows-MovieEven though the movie uses so much of the shaky cam style, there’s still a decent atmosphere all the same. As someone who acted a great deal from a young age up until my early twenties, I spent a massive amount of time in theatres; specifically the big one at the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts back in my hometown, which partly resembles the auditorium of the school in this film. There’s something inherently spooky about the cold, sterile like hallways in the basement, the darkness of the theatre behind the stage, which immediately makes things unsettling.
If this were done in straight style, using some more steady handheld work even, I think it would’ve benefited greatly. Now I know, Blumhouse most likely wanted to try another lower budget found footage effort and try to make big bucks; the estimated budget is only$100K, which by industry standards in Hollywood is a minuscule production. But still, this is where the concept of the entire film becomes wasted. I’m confident had the filmmakers chosen to do this without found footage, a ton more emotion would’ve come through, the backstory might’ve benefitted – as well as the ghostly presence of Charlie – and the scares could’ve been ten times more effective.
Sadly, The Gallows comes out much like so many of the low budget indie efforts in the found footage genre – the ones unable to rise up to the weight of their premise.
maxresdefaultOne particular scene I did find effectively creepy, regardless of the found footage style (mostly because the phone camera being stationary for the shots), was when SPOILER ALERT Cassidy (Gifford) is in the red lighted hallway; behind her in the dark creeps the figure, hooded like the Hangman from the play. What I find most scary here is how there’s a moment where you don’t see anything, then all of a sudden – as if magic – the noose is around her neck. An unseen force drags her away through a door in the background of the shot, and it slams shut behind her. Very good and creepy scene, I found it wasn’t jumpy it was simply a nice shock to the system. A solid scare.
Furthermore, there’s a scene where Reese (Houser) and Pfeifer (Brown) are running from the ghostly presence of Charlie, clad in the suit of the Hangman, and they’re climbing up a ladder – we get an excellent, terrifying look at the Hangman mask/suit up-close. It’s again not a jump scare, so much as it’s one brief look that gives you enough to make you go WHOA. I’d almost love to see a slasher now set in medieval times, or before, with a hangman as the slasher – it’s just the first thing that popped in my mind when I saw the mask. Awesome little shot, not too long and not too short.
1280x720-uqwA part of the plot I did like was when everything returned in a circular fashion to the stage, as Reese and Pfeifer act out their scene together, and the camera turns on. The lights go up  as well and the stage is set.
However, after that sequence I found things started to fall off. What I don’t like is how Blumhouse is basically setting things up right at the end for another movie. That’s essentially what happens, can anyone disagree? It’s like a mash of things happening right at the end. There’s simply too many reaching connections. So SPOILER ALERT AGAIN we’re meant to believe that Charlie’s girlfriend – the woman who continued to sit in the same seat and watch the practices, waiting for another performance of the play which killed her boyfriend 20 years ago – is also Pfeifer’s mom? I’m pretty slick most of the time, so I apologize if I’ve misunderstood. But the finale is pretty much tell us all that. I found it very mixed and matched, like puzzle pieces not intended to fit together which were simply mashed into a pile for the sake of trying to turn The Gallows – and Charlie – into an iconic style horror movie.

But this is another problem I have, I feel like Charlie is made out to be this slasher type killer. Instead he’s a ghost with a noose. That’s fine. At the same time, the movie is being marketed in a sense that Charlie’s supposed to be aimed toward becoming the next Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. I think not. First of all, the movie itself is nowhere near good enough to become anything like either John Carpenter’s Halloween or Friday the 13th. Second, Charlie just doesn’t come across in that way. There are most certainly a couple creepy scenes, there’s not enough viciousness for me to say Charlie is a bonafide slasher. Maybe had he really done a psychotic job on one of the high school kids, I could give in and say there are elements about the character which fit the bill. I can’t say that at all because most of what happens is ghostly creeping in the background, supernatural deaths, and nothing in the way of any blood. It’ all about the noose. Certainly no gore anywhere to be found. Is there really any way we can call Charlie a SLASHER if he did no slashing? Something to think about. I guess that’s partly the marketing’s problem. Still, I feel as if the filmmakers were also pushing towards that, particularly with the ending. There’s just no way I can get with that.
qjtA9NJI can give The Gallows a 2 out of 5 star rating and feel okay with that. Some people say this is utterly trash. That’s fine, I respect anyone’s opinion as long as they’re not trying to force it on me as if I should feel the same way. However, I don’t think every last piece of this movie is bad. There are spots I thought were incredibly unsettling – one scene where Ryan slowly discovers there’s a body hanging up in between the walls in this tight crawlspace-like room I found to be VERY CREEPY. Ultimately though what makes The Gallows fall short is a reliance on horror cliches and tropes to the point of retreading too deeply through the footsteps of so many other found footage horror efforts, as well as the fact I found much of the acting (aside from Cassidy Gifford and Reese Mishler) extremely wooden. Not to mention I found the ending poor, beyond rushed, and it felt as they were forcing everything down our throats. While I did find parts of it scary, that finale did nothing for film overall and only served to make me actually say aloud once the lights came up: “Oh wow – that end was rough”.
Like I’d mentioned before, I think The Gallows would’ve made a better film if it went without found footage. Alas, Blumhouse – while doing exciting things on other ends – loves to go for the low budget shots in the dark like this after their huge success with bleeding dry the premise of Paranormal Activity. So it’s no wonder they went for a found footage style here instead of filming it regularly. Maybe more money would’ve been pumped in, but it still could’ve told the story more effectively, creeped people out in a much more visceral way than they accomplished here, and perhaps the performances might’ve also benefited from having a solid style. I can’t recommend this much, however, it isn’t as terrible as some critics and people online are making it out to be.
See it if you want to judge for yourself, and I urge you to do so – I’m no one to be listening to, really. Just don’t believe all the trashing, while at the same time you need to remember you won’t find anything more than a generic found footage horror. There are tons of better found footage movies out there to get you creeped out.