Sasha does DMT to try and find answers— she finds only a nightmare.
Sasha finds out some secrets, while more mysterious things occur around her.
Trigger Man. 2007. Directed, Edited, & Written by Ti West.
Starring Reggie Cunningham, Ray Sullivan, Sean Reid, Heather Robb, James Felix McKenney, Seth Abrams, & Larry Fessenden.
KINO International/Glass Eye Pix/Scareflix/CCR Productions.
Unrated. 80 minutes.
This is a slightly unusual film out of Ti West’s filmography. He is a great director, in my opinion. You either dig him, or you don’t; no middle ground. And that’s fine, if everybody liked the same thing we’d be a boring lot of humans. For those of us who enjoy West and his brand of horror, Trigger Man comes as a surprise. I remember listening to an interview he did talking about how this film sort of came up on a whim. He wrote a script, brought it to Larry Fessenden, and then they had time to shoot it, so a real indie shoot came about. Ultra low budget. Almost rogue-style filmmaking.
Apart from the visual feel and the actual use of digital rather shooting on film, West looks at a more dramatic thriller angle than anything horror. Sure, the horror of humanity comes out. That’s a huge element. Most of his movies, aside from recently with The Sacrament, tend to go for classic horror elements while he does his best to subvert expectations, keeping with the spirit of indie film. Trigger Man works because it doesn’t necessarily try to change anything. It works by building up an atmosphere of dread, each scene slowly, steadily amping up the feeling that at any moment a horrible event is about to take place. True to what later became signature to his personal directorial style, West slow burns through his plot before reaching a nicely executed finale. Then if the terror isn’t enough for you concerning real people and their sometimes hideous actions in this raw look at a story that’s not unbelievable in the slightest, maybe I’m weak. Maybe I should hang up the ole horror hat.
Nah. I dig this one. It isn’t near perfect. However, West makes me sweat enough throughout this sparse flick that I can’t help watching it now and then. It’s a tough one to find on DVD, but luckily I picked it up last year. I’ll always support West’s films and I can admit when there are faults. I refuse to not acknowledge a solid low budget thriller when it’s in front of my face. You shouldn’t expect his best, though don’t sell West short here.
This movie was never intended to be on a grand scale. West had the time and wanted to make something with a very minimalist take, so instead of opting to shoot on film (as he usually does) he went digital. The entire film is much different from any of his other work, even his early feature The Roost. With a handheld and kinetic style, West uses this feel to create as much tension possible. If anything, this is a nice exercise in suspense. You can judge this for being low budget and all that, but it wasn’t ever meant to be anything more. Larry Fessenden, a mentor of West’s in the industry, gave him about $10K to make it. They found some nice locations, kept the cast to a bare minimum. West had a small story that worked for the basic needs. Nobody’s expecting a reinvention of the genre. Part of me enjoys Trigger Man because West isn’t exactly swinging for the fences, as he so often does with his other brilliant features. Here, he does his best at cultivating a specific mood of tension that worms its way through the short 80 minute runtime. Many might not find the finale rewarding. I do. The tension pays off in an excellent way and I find it properly horrifying. Along the way we’re treated to a couple smatterings of blood, one particularly chunky, gross practical effect honestly looks real. I found that one unsettling, in the best kind of horror way.
Ultimately, I don’t know if there’s even a lick of truth to the concept that West claims this is inspired by a true story. If so, I’d love to see what the real scenario was, how it played out, what exactly went down the whole time. But forgetting all that this is still a real-feeling situation. These guys essentially wander into the path of something over which they have no control. Then it’s a sort of city dweller v. backwoods story that descends into utter nastiness. Part of the ultra-realism is the sound design by Graham Reznick. When these guys are out in the midst of the forest, near the river, running for their lives, we get the feeling of being right next to them, as the river rushes and their voices carry. Some likely find that annoying, which I totally understand. To me, these elements only add to the extremely raw atmosphere. There’s also not so much a score as there is this wonderfully ambient noise from Jeff Grace . At times that does morph into something more musical in terms of short pieces that accompany specific moments. Still, the best parts Grace offers up are these brutish shrieks and hypnotizing swirls of sound that wrap you up then rattle you; almost representative of the mental processes going on in someone’s head were they in such a life threatening, insane situation as these guys. Everything is minimal. The story is contained. The blood is gruesome when it comes, but only comes in a couple little bursts. The camera work consists of digital handheld shooting, nothing fancy; only once or twice do we get shots that are motionless, everything else keeps the chaotic pace by wavering and keeping on the move with the characters, zooming from the landscape to their faces and expressions of fear. The music is kept down to a handful of places where it’s nearly perfect. Through and through, Trigger Man is a utilitarian production that if anything knows how to use its bare necessities and structures itself accordingly.
You’ll either dig it a bit, or find it unappealing. There’s really nothing halfway about Trigger Man. Similar to the way people seem to feel about its director. Personally, Ti West is someone I find incredibly talented. He and I are close in age, so part of my affinity for his work has to do with the fact many of the movies he seems to admire and have grown up watching are the same ones as myself. Because of that they reflect in his own work, in turn capturing my attention. Not only that, though. West is simply a great director. He makes interesting choices, as well as the fact he’s an interesting writer. Preferring to take things slow, his films are sometimes categorized as being boring. A word I’ll never use in reference to any of his features. But to each their own. For me, he’s a fascinating artist that often takes a genre story we know and brings his unique vision to a story in order to freshen things up. Trigger Man doesn’t necessarily liven the survival thriller sub-genre. It does excite and keep you on edge, or at least it does for me. Give this one the chance, it’s a taut piece of work. Ignore the flaws and get past the handheld stuff. West is a scary guy, no matter if he’s working within the walls of a haunted hotel, dealing with vampire bats that turn people into the living dead, or wandering the forest with people running for their lives. It’s all spooky.
The House of the Devil. 2009. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace, Heather Robb, Darryl Nau, Brenda Cooney, Danielle Noe, Mary B. McCann, John Speredakos, Lena Dunham, and Graham Reznick. MPI Media Group/Constructovision/RingtheJing Entertainment/Glass Eye Pix. Rated R. 95 minutes.
Ti West is one of the modern horror directors I think you could say is an auteur in his own right. All of his films have a similar feel, maybe all aside from The Sacrament, as in they’re all done on film (again aside from the aforementioned last of his films to come out), they have the full, rich look of movies from the 1970s and 1980s. Not only that, West is great at drawing out the tension of a film to create atmosphere and to setup excellent uses of suspense.
The House of the Devil is no exception. I’d actually seen this before any of his other work before, and loved it so much I went back to see anything else he’d done I could get my hands on. The Roost is a highly underrated indie horror gem, even Trigger Man – an early attempt at shooting digitally – has its merits. Since then he’s done The Sacrament, of which I’m a big fan, and another fun little spooky flick called The Innkeepers. Loves titles starting with The!
With this movie, West throws back to the ’70s/’80s Golden Age of Horror, not deliberately making a period piece but still harkening directly back to that time by use of similar techniques, camerawork, music, and aesthetic filmmakers were in the habit of using. Essentially, The House of the Devil ends up as West’s scary love letter to movies he grew up, the vibe of filmmaking happening at the time which influenced him, as well as he gives us a slow burn horror rooted in the false Satanic Panic especially prevalent during the 1980s. If you don’t like a slower paced film, this won’t be for you at all. If you don’t mind letting a horror build, letting it grow on you, then give it a shot; you will not regret it.
Trying to get out on her own, away from terrible roommate living, college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) ends up taking a mysterious job babysitting for Mr/Mrs. Ulman (Tom Noonan & Mary Woronov). Mysterious due to the fact the Ulmans don’t have a child. The job is, in reality, for Mrs. Ulman’s mother who lives with them. After some negotiating, Samantha gets a massive payday all for a single night. Her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) tags along to make sure everything is fine, and though not entirely satisfied she leaves Samantha at the house, almost literally in the middle of nowhere with the Ulmans.
And once they leave, Samantha slowly begins to feel as if something isn’t quite right in the big old house. Not to mention a young man named Victor (AJ Bowen) blasts Megan’s face off just a little ways down the road.
Nobody ever told Samantha babysitting would could be so hard.
There are lots of things to admire about The House of the Devil. While big films often try to go for period looks – such as how Martin Scorsese for instance did the different portions of his Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator according to how films looked at various instances throughout the 20th century – it is’t often an independent movie, horror at that, will try and emulate the particular look of certain decades. West not only shot this on film, but 16mm film, which gives it a great look that was very popular in the 1980s. Other ways West achieves his retro feel is through the zooms, nowadays a technique you’ll mostly see done through use of a dolly shot. Even right at the beginning with the freeze frame on Samantha, music playing, movie title in big block letters; totally ’80s style, through and through. Down to the fact this was the only movie since A History of Violence in 2005 which got released on VHS in one of the clamshell style cases, this is a unique and fun indie horror. So there’s a quaint charm about West’s film I feel gets lost on a lot of people who don’t care about any of that. Should you care? Well, that’s totally subjective. Me, I think there’s a certain artistry involved with all the care that goes into making a movie into more than just a movie, but instead making it become an experience. The House of the Devil, for me, has always been a solid horror while also very much being a horrifying experience all around because of its style.
When Samantha puts her ear close to the door, asking if “everything’s all right in there”, the slow and brief reveal West gives us of the Satanic-like markings, the bloodied corpses on the floor is shocking. It’s not shocking like the scene is going to make you gasp, or lose your breath and hide away. This shot and the scene is shocking in that you’re not expecting such blatant nastiness right behind the door. Even how slow West shows us what’s in the room is incredible, as I was expecting something more along the lines of the ‘mother’ in the dark, looking sinister in the corner, or anything close to that. Instead, it’s a pretty ballsy visual, such that West announces at this moment things are definitely going to start getting savage. At some point, anyways. Afterwards there are more moments of horror later like this, and also some key shots of very dreamy imagery in certain scenes. Generally, West strikes a nice balance between these two methods.
When Samantha discovers the full extent of what’s happening in the house (think: drinking blood from a horned skull), the plot takes us into the depths of horror. Mixing subtle creepiness with plenty solid doses of nasty violence, the finale of the film plays out with pumping adrenaline in a sequence washed with blood. In particular, a few shots remind me of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, almost homage-like cuts to a hooded demonic character much like how Friedkin made several subliminal cuts to the Pazuzu demon in his film.
Most of all, I found the atmosphere of the film combined with the characters pretty damn eerie. Such as the Ulman family themselves. First there’s Tom Noonan whose creepiness knows no bounds, never once calling back to his stint as The Tooth Fairy a.k.a Francis Dolarhyde in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, which is an unfair criticism of his acting I often see when he plays in horror movies; here, his character is all its own and he plays it quietly with great nuance. Then Mary Woronov does a spectacularly unsettling job with the character of Mrs. Ulman, even in the brief time she’s actually onscreen. Of course, Jocelin Donahue as Samantha is a perfect fit – she’s an ongoing yet at times quiet sort of person, but there’s a strength Donahue gives the character which is really great and adds something to the story. Throw in AJ Bowen and Greta Gerwig as interesting, smaller characters, and I’ve got to say West’s screenplay is a tight one with plenty of intrigue and none of the heavy, sagging exposition of other horror movies trying to spell every last thing out through dialogue.
This is a great film, 5 stars in my book. Ti West could’ve done a typical slasher with this, however, he opts to draw on his biggest influences from the ’70s/’80s and some of the real life yet fake claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse from decades ago, crafting a unique indie horror experience. Great and classic sensibilities show in the way West handles his directorial duties, as well as his writing. I can’t say anything else except for: watch it. Maybe you won’t dig it. But those who are into a slow burn, atmospheric type of horror, it’s full of that and it’s only a little over an hour.
Let me know what you think of the movie in the comments below, as long as you can be civil and have a proper talk!
The Roost. 2005. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Tom Noonan, Karl Jacob, Vanessa Horneff, Sean Reid, Wil Horneff, Barbara Wilhide, Richard Little, John Speredakos, and Larry Fessenden. Glass Eye Pix.
Unrated. 80 minutes.
In my recent review of Ti West’s The Innkeepers, I mentioned being a huge fan of him generally. So just keep that in mind. Maybe I’m biased; I still try to be a little objective when considering how others might look at the same film I’m looking at.
I don’t think this is a perfect movie, but it’s honestly one of my favourite horror feature debuts from a filmmaker in the genre. There’s a criminally low rating for this movie on IMDB – though, I personally don’t care about the ratings on any sites, let alone that one. While I spend a fair amount of time on there trying to even out the scores as best I can with my own, what I believe to be decent, ratings, I still don’t give much heed to it overall; mostly it’s a good database. You’ll see a lot of West’s films, most of them, have an underrated presence on IMDB. Because those people are sleeping, man. This guy is one of the greatest in horror today. He moves out from simple concepts, usually incorporating very personal relationships or at least characters who are relatable to an audience, then the horror takes hold. Basically, any horror writer – whether screenwriter or novelist or short story writer, et cetera – would tell you that’s part of what scares them: taking things to a personal level, the bringing on the horror. Many other horror filmmakers, particularly of the indie variety, try to do this, it’s no big secret. I believe, however, Ti West is simply better than the herd at making those types of excellent horror films.
While there’s a ton of old school sensibility in him elsewhere, I think so much of his 1970s/1980s influence comes through with The Roost simply because of the way there’s a frame narrative with the old school horror show on cable access and it leads into the real film itself. Right from then on, it feels like you’re watching an old school horror movie. That gives the movie a different style, something not entirely common these days, and within that I find it all pretty damn charming. Y’know, in that creepy horror charm sort of sense.
Starting with a late night horror t.v program on a local cable station, the host (Tom Noonan) introduces us to The Roost, the latest film playing on Cable 13.
A group of friends are on their way to see some friends get married. While heading along the road, they end up stranded. At a lonely farm out in the middle of nowhere, cornfields and the whole nine yards, the lost group end up coming face to face with what lays in the darkness of the farm’s barn.
Inside the old structure there are terrifying creatures of the night. Now, they seem to be waking up, and as night falls they’re looking for something on which to feed.
Something I love is how Ti West does these awesome edits with both visuals and sound. First, we get a SCREAM which happens during a transition from the barn out to the car, where and older woman is waiting for her husband to come back; it’s on the radio, but the way West crosses over to that bit is excellent. For a split second I honestly was waiting for someone to come running, or something. Effective, brief moment. Secondly another comes when the old woman wanders into the dark of the barn, then this sound starts to come that you almost feel is coming out of the shadows, yet it cuts to one of the friends standing behind the now broken down car revving, brake lights shining red in his face, and the sound has actually been the car the whole time. These are little simple bits people often don’t think of, however, when they’re used appropriately to put the audience on a tense edge, waiting for something, anything to happen, it’s a killer move. West uses these in a way other horror filmmakers might use jump scares – instead of frightening us, it simply ratchets up the tension and creates an unsettling, edgy mood.
Being his first feature, I think West does a wonderful job creating atmosphere in The Roost. It’s something I find pervades all his films, even when he switched it up most recently in The Sacrament with found footage style. He’s great with setting up tension and executing suspenseful sequences in order to build up that atmosphere, setting an evident tone. Each of his movies have it, which is partly why I think he’s one of those important filmmakers in horror today; more than that, genre filmmaking in general.
Also, there’s a degree of playfulness at times I think is essential in certain horror movies. Creature features being one of them. I always love when a movie featuring killer-somethings (in this case BATS) has a good dose of dark humour. One little scene I love is when one of the guys sneaks up behind the girl, about to scare her, but he stops short as if disappointed she didn’t even turn around like she couldn’t hear him coming; then he lightly taps her, scaring her anyways. It made me cackle for a second. Good bit.
Moreover, the guy is a pretty good writer. In my opinion, anyways. As a fellow writer, I like the way he writes characters because I find them personable. I’ve seen a lot of people say his movies have all these “hipster” characters, this and that, but whatever man. I don’t see that at all. The way I perceive most of his characters is that they’re real people, genuine; not characters in that sense really, rather actual people. Not to sound cheesy. There are a lot of writers capable of doing this, he’s just one. It’s something I love in horror, though, as a believable character in a film is more likely to draw me into their emotions, the plot, and the overall story. Here in The Roost we get those inescapable dynamics of friendship, particularly it’s amplified with the upcoming wedding to which they’re all headed, and even further compounded by the fact the car breaks down and they find themselves stranded out in the middle of nowhere. Probably one thing I dig so much about the script and the writing, I think West sets up a great situation with which he can play around in with the characters before introducing the creatures and the HORROR and the BLOOD!
I personally dig the whole vampire bats turning people into zombie-like reanimated corpses. Some online seem to suggest it’s no good. Me, on the other hand, I thought it worked very well. Creepy stuff at times. One scene shows the old woman from early in the movie, now obviously bitten by the bats and taken over, just behind a character in the window. It’s a nice little moment where you dread what may be coming next.
This whole aspect also makes it more than a mere creature feature. The creatures are affecting the humans and then the whole friendship dynamic is tested, as they all try not to succumb to the murderous infectious bats flying all around the farm’s property.
Even better than that, Ti West treats us to a good helping portion of makeup effects. Lots of nice practical work here, as the effects fall in line with everything else old school-feeling about The Roost. Love the blood and gory stuff because it really does feel like an ’80s movie. The effects are good, they just bring me back to the older horror where most everything was practical and we didn’t have to suffer through movies made up of CGI blood and CGI green-screen’d stuff constantly. West does well with taking things back to a more simple time in several ways here, this being one of them.
Finally, I love the narrative framing device of the horror show. Tom Noonan is amazing, as always. Very unsettling and creepy. Simultaneously, he’s hilarious. I didn’t exactly like the end of this part either at the finale, however, the whole thing is good fun. Real nice way to showcase an indie horror adding in this cable access style show.
All in, I think this is definitely a 4 out of 5 star horror movie. While I don’t particularly care for the last shot, and not every actor was the greatest. there’s enough here in Ti West’s feature debut that I can say it’s a solid outing. The writing holds up, as well as the fact he relies on an atmosphere of tension and practical effects to sell the horror.
You can do A LOT worse when it comes to horror, certainly when it comes down to the creature feature sub-genre. This is a great modern creature horror movie. See it if you can; the DVD is pretty damn awesome. Love the look and feel of this film, and dig the horror it dishes out!
The Innkeepers. 2011. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, Alison Bartlett, Jake Ryan, Brenda Cooney, George Riddle, John Speredakos, and Lena Dunham. Glass Eye Pix.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
Every time I’ve got a particular bias going into a review, one that I can recognize, I always like to take a moment to recognize that. Such is the case with myself and Ti West. I love his work, even when others tell me personally they don’t like a movie of his I can’t help but find myself thinking “Why the hell not?”. I just love his movies. Years ago I got the chance to see The Roost, which I thought was a clever genre film and a gnarly creature feature horror movie. After that I had him on my radar, then as soon as I’d seen that out he came with The House of the Devil, and that one floored me; an overall amazing aesthetic, harkening back to the best of the 1980s, this is a slow burn horror with that Satanic Panic edge. After that I secured a copy of Trigger Man and, while much different than his other films, I enjoyed it. Even later, after he did this movie, his segment in the first V/H/S was probably my favourite – “Second Honeymoon” – his “M is for Miscarriage” out of The ABCs of Death was a saucy piece of raw, reality driven horror. Perhaps my favourite of all his work, The Sacrament is an obvious re-telling of the Jonestown Massacre yet using found footage and the VICE News name he makes it into so much more, something visceral and savage.
So, have you got an understanding of how much I’m a fan of Ti West? Maybe that paints my view of The Innkeepers a little too subjectively. Who knows. Either way, I think this is a fun little ghost story in a spooky location. It’s got a good atmosphere, something to which West is no stranger at pulling together. As well as the fact Pat Healy and Sara Paxton give good performances which are effective and at the same time quirky, but not so quirky you want to roll the eyes out of the back of your head. This film has charm, darkness, and even a few good old fashioned horror jump scares.
In the last few days before the Yankee Pedlar Inn closes down forever, two employees – Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) – attempt to find evidence of the ghost of a woman named Madeline O’Malley (Brenda Cooney) who supposedly haunts the halls. They’re amateur ghost hunters; Luke runs a website about Pedlar’s apparent hauntings, Claire just dropped out of college.
As the last few guests arrive for a stay at the Pedlar, Claire in particular gets closer and closer to the spirit of Madeline, whose story is a sad one; how and why she ended up trapped at the hotel in the afterlife. But once Claire gets a little too close, things may change – and definitely for the worse.
One unique little scene/shot I love is when Claire (Paxton) is using the recording equipment. The first moment is so cool, as the camera tracks along as if on a soundwave, moving slowly around almost wandering. The music and everything make this a creepy little bit, even with nothing creepy happening. I think this is the first scene where Ti West begins to set up a definitive atmosphere and tone for the scarier bits of the film.
The music gives way to more of a silence, a dim hum, some static, while watching Claire listening in another room than the one previous. This also leads into Claire discovering a presence in the big dining room, a piano playing softly amongst the hum of the static in her headphones. Nice little scene following her as she finds the piano itself around the lobby and watches it play by itself. Or rather it bangs the keys by itself. Spooky and an effective jump scare.
Really dig the score for The Innkeepers. Sure enough, when I looked up the composer it was Jeff Grace. For those who may not know, Grace has worked on some incredible stuff. Most recently he’s composed scores for Jim Mickle’s Cold in July and We Are What We Are, Night Moves, Mickle’s Stake Land, Meek’s Cutoff. Then he’s done other probably lesser known films – though they ought to be more recognized – such as Bitter Feast, The House of the Devil, The Last Winter, Joshua, and another of Ti West’s again The Roost.
Part of any great horror, in my opinion, is a solid score to help with the atmosphere. Grace’s excellent music feels very haunted house worthy. This is, essentially, a haunted house horror movie. Instead of a house, we’re getting the Yankee Pedlar Inn, which is just as creepy in the end. Grace does a good job with ambient noise, strings, and some electronic sounds in aiding the direction of West to supply a nice feeling from start to finish. At times it grabs us, gripping hold and not letting go, other times it lulls us into a spooky mood or a false sense of security before a nice scare; proper horror score.
Aside from the lead characters played by Healy and Paxton, I couldn’t get enough of the fact West included Kelly McGillis in the cast. What a wonderful surprise. Most known for her work in the ’80s like Witness, Top Gun, and The Accused, in the past few years she’s been a part of the indie horror revival. Particularly, after being cast in Stake Land by Jim Mickle, McGillis put in a performance here, as well as in the remake of We Are What We Are again from Mickle. So I love that she’s been a part of these films. She adds a great air of authenticity, I’m not sure what it is, but there’s an elegant quality to her; no matter the character. One of those classy older women with a lot of grace, at the same time there’s something sassy and fun about her, too. Here her turn as an actress turned psychic is a good show, wonderful addition and she works great opposite Paxton.
Which leads me to Pat Healy and Sara Paxton. They’ve got real good chemistry in their scenes, reminding me of employee-employee relationships I’ve had at jobs in the past. What I love is that they aren’t two characters of the same age, like two young people. Having the character of Luke (Healy) as a bit of an older guy compared to Claire (Paxton) made for a more interesting relationship between the two, in opposition to so many horror movies featuring all young, teenage-ish characters with the same attitudes, same inflections in their voice, same problems and lives. Not saying it’s some revolutionary tactic, but I do think it was a smart writing move on the part of West, who could’ve easily strayed into complete typicalness. Rather, here he gives us two fun, weird characters who’ve got an equally fun, weird relationship.
Paxton is my favourite, though. Because so often horror movies have characters that do not feel real. Claire, on the other hand, feels real to me, she’s a new college dropout, she works at an old school hotel that’s shutting down after one last weekend. There’s a sort of angst built up inside Claire that I understand; a lot of people could understand her. Yet she isn’t some snotty young girl or anything, merely she gives me that sense of being a woman who is straddling the edge of being young – a woman, maybe not totally prepared to become one.
Most likely the greatest part of The Innkeepers is how Ti West shot it on film. I mean, I don’t have anything against digital, not in the slightest. That being said, there’s something to be said for movies still shot on film. There’s a depth to it, perhaps that’s the best way I can describe it – a fullness – that isn’t always present when shooting on digital. I don’t know, I could be talking out my ass. My love for the look of film has to do with a richness, a broader spectrum of what it can capture. This provides West the opportunity here to frame so many wonderful shots and catch every last bit of it in lush, dark detail. Makes a haunted house horror movie creepier. Honestly, I think that’s part of why so many found footage horrors ultimately fall flat is because on digital the exposure issues end up blocking out so much of a frame that, at times, this renders much of what’s in the frame not as creepy as it might have been had the movie been shot with film. With this movie, it helps West insisted on using film because there are a lot of wonderfully constructed shots here which pull their style from out of every corner of the frame.
I think some of the complaints about The Innkeepers seem to revolve around the fact there’s not a HUGE amount of ghost activity or full-on horror. However, I’d say to those detractors that it isn’t mean to be that sort of film. If you want that type of haunted house horror, stick with even something more like Insidious – West works more here at mood and tone than anything else, and I think that’s totally fine. There are most CERTAINLY a few classic horror movie scares, both of the jumpy variety and real tense, suspenseful moments. They don’t come in spades, it’s a slow burn film. Regardless, to me the all-out scary stuff here pays off because West does a good job slowly cultivating a spooky atmosphere.
With a slow and deliberate style – aided by great editing – a creepy backstory that isn’t served up for us like a prequel within the movie itself but rather alluded to appropriately, and good writing/directing, Ti West’s The Innkeepers is a pretty solid haunted house horror. 4.5 out of 5 stars on this one, all the way. Again, as I started out in this review, I could be biased towards West and his films because I’m such a hardcore fan of his. I don’t think so, though, because there’s just something special about his filmmaking to me. He has old school sensibilities while also bringing a modern, fresh edge to his subjects at the same time.
If you haven’t yet seen anything by West, I suggest starting with The Roost if you can find a DVD copy; worth it. Afterwards, move on to this, The House of the Devil, The Sacrament, and see if there’s anything about him you’ll agree with me on. I know others who feel he’s decent but nothing special. Me? I think he’s one of the new hopes for horror cinema and genre filmmaking, right alongside Adam Wingard (The Guest, You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die).
Insidious: Chapter 2. 2013. Directed by James Wan. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, and Tom Fitzpatrick. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 106 minutes.
Being a fan of the first film, I was excited to see what James Wan and Leigh Whannell had in store for us. I really think they make a good team. Maybe not a perfect team, but it’d be hard for me to say that there ever was a perfect writer-director team. Every combination, every artist as individual has their faults.
Regardless, Wan and Whannell obviously have very similar sensibilities. I find they know what horror is, or should be, and though there are flaws this series has a lot of the great classic style horror I grew so fond of as a teenager.
What made the first Insidious so interesting for me was that Wan created this incredible atmosphere throughout, which kept on from beginning to end. There were a couple too many jump-scare moments, but not so much it ruined the film.
Personally, I think that Insidious: Chapter 2 capitalizes on its faults from the first and turns those into something even better. From atmosphere, to performances (Patrick Wilson is fantastic here), to a bit better of a script from Whannell, I believe this sequel was able to step it up a notch not only in creepiness, in quality, as well.
Beginning directly after the events of the first, Insidious: Chapter 2 starts as Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) is being questioned concerning the supernatural activity that supposedly happened in the house, which lead to the death of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). The police have to investigate, so Renai and her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) must take their kids to his mother Lorraine’s (Barbara Hershey) house.
Unfortunately, the ghostly presence continues to haunt Renai – a woman in white appears and terrorizes her. At the same time, Josh is acting strangely; Renai can’t look at him the same, their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) hears his dad talking to someone while he appears to be alone. Even Lorraine starts to see the woman in white. Josh continues his weird behaviour, beginning to almost physically deteriorate.
Soon, Lorraine goes back to Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) to try and figure out once and for all what can be done to help the Lamberts get away from the evil presence plaguing Josh. And what follows proves to be even more difficult than bringing Dalton back from The Further.
So I’ll begin with the very few things I thought were lacking/did not work in the film.
That “Hunter Ninja Bear” moment is an instance of the dumb comedy between the two ghost hunting characters Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Sampson) that I thought hindered the first film. Luckily, this one went for much less of that comedy; there are still faint hints of it at times, but it’s less prevalent than in the first. This helps. However, it’s moments like these that make me roll my eyes. Some may find it funny, I find it tedious. Especially in a film that culls together such an pervading and perpetual atmosphere of dread/creepiness, I feel like this comedy is so far out of place that it’s not even sensible.
I get that some horror is infused with comedy, often very dark comedy, this is just not one of those movies, and I think Leigh Whannell basically jammed these bits in like puzzle pieces that don’t fit; it shows how awkward these scenes are when you look at the movie as a whole. In the moment they’re sort of laugh to yourself funny (for others – not me), but when you turn around you think, “Why were these bits of comedy stuck in here?” Just makes little sense to me. I guess that’s why I’m not a famous Hollywood writer/director.
I have long thought Patrick Wilson is a fantastically talented fella. He has that handsome leading man type thing going on, and at the same time he has this weird side to him. The two performances which woke me up to his rising talent: his role as creep photographer Jeff Kohlver opposite Ellen Page in Hard Candy, and the wonderfully pained/tender character Brad Adamson he portrayed in Little Children.
So I think, even more so than the first movie, Wilson does a phenomenal job here. To see him wither away in front of our eyes, in front of his family, is really unsettling at times. Especially once the dark force inside him starts to actual take him apart physically – a nasty, effective scene happens when Josh Lambert starts to pull teeth out of his own face, literally falling to pieces. Not only did the make-up work well in making him look caved/sunken in, Wilson did well at showing Josh fray around the edges; you could see his personality change as the Bride in Black took him over. Great, great stuff.
I thought Lindsay Seim was awesome as the young Elise. Naturally, they used Lin Shaye’s voice and dubbed it over, but Seim still had the feel of Elise in those brief flashback scenes. Excellent choice in casting.
Rose Byrne did a good job, but I also think Barbara Hershey deserves a shoutout. She is such a wonderful actress, with the small part of Josh’s mother she does get a bit of screen time. There were some nice moments with Hershey, as well as a few with her and Steve Coulter, who plays Elise’s old friend Carl.
Again, as was the case with the first film, I love how James Wan builds the atmosphere. There’s a very distinct feeling throughout the entire movie. Also, when people are in The Further, all the dead wandering around in the dark, there’s this other highly distinct feeling. Wan makes us feel that shift between the two worlds, which in turn makes it all the more immersive.
I really enjoy how Whannell chose to explore the Bride in Black character more, then we are revealed the utterly disturbed world of Parker Crane. Worst is Parker’s Mother (Danielle Bisutti) – terrifying! When Specs and Tucker, gang in tow, head to Parker’s old house and they make all those macabre discoveries, I thought that section worked so well. The whole backstory to Parker and his mother is just amazingly ghastly. I loved every second of it!
In particular, there’s a great scene with the young Lorraine (played by Jocelin Donahue from Ti West’s throwback masterpiece The House of The Devil) where she brings her then young son Josh to the hospital where she works. There, Parker Crane (Tom Fitzpatrick) grabs ahold of Josh, howling at him in a terrible voice, frightening the poor boy. MAN! What a scene. I thought it was perfect. There’s a little jump-scare, yet I still found it truly effective. Because you keep reeling moments afterwards. Excellent, well-executed horror.
Sticking to the horror and subtracting some of the outright comedy between Specs and Tucker, I really think Leigh Whannell wrote a great script. Of course, James Wan pulled off the directing near perfectly. However, I still think that there should have been no comedy, whatsoever. Insidious is truly terrifying stuff, I honestly feel that comedy is out of place in a film that has such a pitch-black atmosphere and tone. Mainly it’s the style of comedy – very dumb stuff, I found. If maybe it worked on a darker level, the comedy would have went well with the horror. It doesn’t, though. That being said, I can’t knock the script that much. It fleshes out the characters Whannell introduced with Insidious, explains some of the previously unexplained events of the first film, and there’s the backstory of the Bride in Black, serial killer Parker Crane, which I found perfectly chilling.
This is a slight head above the first, so I’m giving it a 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s near a perfect horror, for me anyways. I’ve seen it now probably 5-6 times since it first came out. I’d not seen the first in theatre, because I’m not actually a fan of being in the theatre (a cinephile with high anxiety isn’t good at times – I force myself to go for the stuff I really want to see), but I did go see this on the big screen. Good times, I must say. Everything here works, almost to perfection, from atmosphere and tone, to performances, developed characters, and the sound design is much better than the first (not so many purposefully jumpy string additions).
If you’ve not seen it, go watch NOW, and I hope you get the shit frightened out of you.
The Sacrament. 2014. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Kate Lyn Sheil, Gene Jones, and Kentucker Audley. Magnet Releasing. Rated R. 95 minutes. Horror/Thriller
Previously I discussed The Sacrament in my 15 Found Footage Films Worth Watching. Here, I’ll go much more in-depth on why I think this is a great film overall.
I only discovered Ti West once seeing his 2009 film The House of the Devil. I went back and secured a copy of his first feature film from 2005 called The Roost – a neat little movie with mutated killer bats and a few friends on a road trip headed to a wedding; I love every frame of this one. Included on the DVD I bought, luckily, there came his earlier short film from back in 2001, Prey. He later went on to do the fantastic modern ghost tale of The Innkeepers, and a couple of great segments in both V/H/S (the short called “Second Honeymoon” featuring Joe Swanberg – actually my favourite of the first film’s shorts), as well as the 2012 horror mega-anthology The ABCs of Death (a divisive short called “M is for Miscarriage”).
Then came The Sacrament – West’s retelling of the Jonestown Massacre )see: Jim Jones and the People’s Temple in Guyana). For those who don’t know, Jones was a supposed preacher who basically built up a cult of personality around himself using the faith, and money (and bodies/souls), of a congregation made up from lonely and lost, broken hearted people who wanted nothing more than to believe in something tailored to them. They all eventually fled to the Republic of Guyana on the coast of South America and, using the life savings of many members in the People’s Temple, built their own town – aptly named Jonestown. Jones convinced his congregation they were better off in Guyana. He also managed to convince many, not all however, the American government and certain agencies such as the CIA wanted to kill him, and in turn them – that people were, as the saying goes, “out to get them”, (as Father says in The Sacrament when a young member questions why their fate must be what it is: “(if not) they will come down here with their guns and bombs and wipe us out!”). Then one day, Jones finally went off the deep end, after having lived a double life for quite some time pretending to be the all-righteous preacher by day and then indulging his primal urges by night (including alcohol, drugs, and the homosexual practices he condemned – Jones claimed himself to be the “only true heterosexual male” and justified his sodomizing of other men in his church as his sole option in helping those men in realizing their own homosexuality). He brought everyone their little meeting area at Jonestown, a crew of people brought out big jugs of mixed up Kool Aid with cyanide, and everyone proceeded to drink up – some were force fed, et cetera. You get the picture.
This is essentially the plot of The Sacrament, however, West does not use this as a “based on a true story” tale. It never says this anywhere. I believe West used the Jim Jones story to translate things into a new modern era. This also explains the reasoning behind choosing VICE as a way to explore the Jones story through a different lens, as well as a neat way to help lend the film a found footage feel. People will argue it isn’t “true” found footage, but it is – using VICE, West is able to disguise this as one of their hands on trips to a foreign country, practicing what they call “immersionism”, and so under that he’s able to also incorporate little bits of editing and the like.
Which brings me to one of the things I really feel puts this movie over as a horrifying ordeal. Aside from all the imagery of terror throughout, especially in the final reel, the music really helps West’s film in regards to atmosphere and tone. The mood is immediately set when the VICE guys roll into the Eden Parish complex (the West-version of Jonestown) and soon the foreboding music begins. It’s really great. As things get more uncomfortable, and at times downright creepy, the score goes along: it gets dark and deep, slow, picking up its pace in parallel to that of the film itself. This is one of my favourite parts about the inclusion of VICE as part of the plot – West can account for the sense of editing inherent in the music by putting it off on VICE taking the footage back, editing later, as they do. This helps alleviate some of the pressures of the found footage sub-genre. West didn’t have to be too strict worrying about whether or not everything seemed perfectly explainable in as far as they had to perfectly fit the found footage “rules” in order for people to accept how things were being filmed (because we all know when it comes to horror and sub-genres specifically some fans are picky as all hell – to an unfair fault both to the filmmakers, as well as their own enjoyment of movies..). All that said, the music is just really wonderful. I couldn’t care less if it fit or not with the found footage aspect because it just worked so well for the film I really cannot complain one bit.
For those who don’t particularly care for / follow Ti West, he often works in conjunction with a bunch of other filmmakers and actors associated with the “mumblegore” film movement (a particularly silly moniker I think doesn’t do their talent justice). These people include fellow directors Adam Wingard and Joe Swanberg (who regularly acts as well), actors A.J Bowen and Amy Seimetz, and multi-talent Kentucker Audley (everyone aside from Audley was involved with Wingard’s 2001 directorial effort You’re Next which was only just released last year; West acted in that one and got murdered fairly quickly).
In this movie, we get everybody mentioned aside from Wingard. Bowen and Swanberg play the VICE guys – each of them are very believable and because of their previous relationship were clearly able to appear natural together on camera + playing faux-real people in the documentary-styled film. I particularly love Bowen, and here he is very good. I thought he played the character of Sam well from start to finish – both as the confident VICE reporter and then later as the scared man trying to help himself while also worrying about helping others. Bowen worked well as Sam in those later bits because West played with the fact this man was an expecting father. While he clearly wanted to get out of there, as anyone would especially if they have no real personal attachment to the place, Bowen showed the struggle of a man who couldn’t fly back home to his pregnant wife, his unborn child, knowing he didn’t do anything and everything he could to help the men, women, and children at Eden Parish. There was some great stuff in there. Bowen helped get that out and make it part of why The Sacrament was effective.
Amy Seimetz, who is always fantastic and great at playing complex female characters, gives a great performance as the sister to Audley’s character; she is one of the lost flock who follow Father down to Eden Parish. In fact, the scene between Audley and Seimetz (you’ll know which one) later in the film is not only heartbreaking, it is a master class in acting. Each of them were in fine form, most certainly Audley, but it was definitely one of the most heartwrenching scenes of any horror film in 2014; without a doubt. I could feel the pain dripping out the frame. Classic scene.
I know some people wonder why Ti West chose a story such as that of Jones to use as a template for this story in The Sacrament. But again, I say it – nowhere does West claim that his film is whatsoever based on a true story. He knows we’re smart enough to understand where it comes from – even those younger moviegoers who may not be all that familiar with Jones will probably, through the internet, come to figure out this has some basis in reality.
Regardless, West crafts something better than just a Lifetime Biography on the Jonestown Massacre because he doesn’t hold it to the standards of the actual story. West could write a more diverse character in Father by not holding him strictly to the mould of Jim Jones. If he had based this completely on Jones, he would have had to stick with the period of time in which it happened – right there, not only does this eliminate any elaboration on the character types within the story, it also completely puts the kibosh on the VICE angle, and then all the threads start slowly wearing away. I think it was smart of West to choose this story, as it’s socially relevant in any time let alone the strange times we live in today, and by manipulating it and not sticking totally to a true story he is able to leave certain aspects unlimited.
For instance, the relationship between the brother and sister (Audley and Seimetz) could have been done through an unchanged version of the Jonestown story, however, it also risks not doing justice to actual survivors.
While people can argue it’s just as insensitive (or whatever else they want to say) that West would make a fictional story out of a tragedy which really happened, he really makes a great film and tells a rich story. By not making this the Jim Jones story, he also sheds some responsibilities – not only to the sub-genre of found footage film, but also to the real people who experienced Jonestown firsthand.
Bad taste? I don’t think so. Not by my watch. This is a great and powerful horror film for modern audiences. It satisfied me to no end. Having seen almost ever single piece of Ti West’s work as a director, I can honestly say his work gets better and better. I’m looking forward to seeing In a Valley of Violence. He’s a guy to keep your eye on.
Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett deliver the home invasion horror goods with YOU'RE NEXT.
V/H/S is a wild, weird found footage horror ride.
The found footage sub-genre can be one of division. Some people like certain found footage films. Others don’t like the entire category, can’t stand it. I’m one of those who likes the genre. A lot. But only if it’s used to an advantage, if it works well. Sometimes the concept just falls flat on its face. On the other hand, when a competent director gets hold of a story and uses found footage correctly it can really be a treat. One thing worth noting is that a lot of times the actors involved end up shooting parts of the film. In the case of Blair Witch for instance a great deal of the footage (I can’t speculate how much but I’m sure near all of it) was caught on film by the actors themselves. Whatever the case may be, however it comes together, found footage in the right hands is a great sub-genre for filmmakers to use, and more often than not it can be frightening as hell.
Here are 15 of my personal favourite found footage films. Most of which I would consider to be the horror genre. And these are in descending order towards my favourite of them all.
15. The Collingswood Story (2002)
This is one of the lesser-seen on this list, no doubt. If only because it hasn’t been widely available on DVD, and as far as I know it isn’t on Netflix. I was lucky enough to see it a couple years ago. Mostly, to be honest, it can be boring, but for me it’s all about the payoff. If I can make it through to the end of a film (check my mention of Soft for Digging in previous post) I find a little less than exciting and the finale blows me away, I will always be impressed. This is one of those films which doesn’t have a lot going on. It’s the last 10 or so minutes that really change the game. A creepy story involving a weird house, typical. However, this film really uses found footage well as a concept, and I think that also gives this a spot on the list.
14. The Houses October Built (2014)
For a full review, click here.
I’ve never seen the documentary of the same name (also directed by Bobby Roe). This movie terrifies me. The concept is simple: a group of friends seek out the most extreme scare, to find where the wildest haunted houses across America are located. Of course they get what they’re looking for, just not exactly how they expected to find it. One thing I really loved about this flick is that the acting seemed so natural. A lot of found footage films come off as forced. These people seemed like they were very familiar with one another. Certainly they probably are, as they all appeared in the documentary The Houses October Built together. So there must have been an advantage due to that. Either way, I thought that really helped when it comes to character development. It felt like I was watching a group of friends who’d known each other a long time, made me really invest in them. When the terror really hits it can get very creepy. At one point, you’ll know it, Brandy (essentially Brandy Schaefer playing herself) is slowly figuring out she may now be alone, without her friends to protect her, and it is an extremely chilling moment. Got to me. I highly recommend this one. It’s especially great when Halloween comes around again.
13. Afflicted (2013)For my full review, click here.
This one came out of nowhere. Another film that really capitalizes on real life friendships. Derek Lee and Clif Prowse play themselves here pretty much. In the film, they’re taking a massive trip around the world, documenting everything on camera. However, the reason for doing so is because Derek has found out he’s got a serious disease, and it could very well take his life. So, all the more reason to do the trip of a lifetime with his friend Clif. While overseas though, Derek encounters a mysterious woman, and afterwards he seems to be changing. Into what, who knows. I really, really enjoyed this to the fullest. I won’t spoil this at all by telling you what Derek is turning into because it’s best left to slowly figure out. Not that it’s difficult. But it’s just worth discovering on your own. The realization setting in almost puts you in Derek’s shoes. All in all I think this is a good use of found footage, and really imaginative story with some well-done effects to boot.
12. The Conspiracy (2012)For my full review, click here.
One of my favourite things about scary movies is that some of them can be terrifying without really being what you’d call a ‘horror’ movie. One in particular, when concerning found footage, is The Conspiracy. I for one love the whole Bilderberg conspiracy theory/theories. Not that I necessarily buy into it all, or dismiss it all either, but I just love it- so much excitement in those conspiracy theories, and the theorists themselves. This film plays off all that. A couple filmmakers are doing a documentary on conspiracy theories, but it gets very dangerous, very real once they discover links here and there to a secret society that has been around for years. This movie mixes Bilderberg and Bohemian Grove stories together, and it really works. The finale is something to be seen. I found it all fairly scary. It’s not a horror, but it will definitely get to you in ways most horrors will. My interest in conspiracy/all related matters is most likely the reason this one is on the list. Really made this film work for me.
11. Exists (2014)There is nothing like a good creature feature. Essentially, Exists is a creature feature, but it’s dressed up like a found footage film. This works. Combining the real life typical plot of going into the woods up to a cabin with some friends and a really great looking sasquatch costume design, this film packs a punch. At times I was absolutely frightened to death. Bigfoot looks amazing. You don’t really get a great look at the creature most of the time; at first it’s a lot of quick, blurred images, slowly some more defined shots. Finally it all culminates near the finale when one of the characters comes literally face-to-face with the sasquatch. And is it ever wild. They did a great job making him look man-like yet still scarily ape, massive, and horrifying. I loved this. Worked really well.
10. The Last Horror Movie (2003)
For a full review, click here.
Everyone knows the classic mockumentary Man Bites Dog, and it is a doozy. Well this is my choice for the “serial killer makes a movie”-type plot. The Last Horror Movie is a frighteningly real depiction of a serial killer who decides he ought to make a true movie. He documents gruesome, horrific murders. There’s nothing much more to it. Though he does offer some psychotic ramblings to go along, it’s all mainly about the murders. Man, are they rough. There’s one in particular I actually cringe while watching (something which rarely happens nowadays as I’ve become almost desensitized on some levels) where he lights a person on fire and lets them burn. Very, very disturbing. Although I do recommend this one. It starts off as a VHS tape rented from the local video store; another little bit I really enjoy. Adds some character. So if you want some really depraved stuff, then go ahead, watch this one. It will bite on your nerves.
9. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
For a full review, click here.
Everyone knows this one. I don’t need to describe it. What I will say is this.. when the movie first came out I was about 15-years old. I hadn’t seen it yet, but I knew I would love it. I asked mom to get it for me. For my birthday, or Christmas, who knows. Anyways, when I got it on VHS I remember watching it a bunch of times. It frightened the life out of me. It was the whole thing that did it. But specifically those last moments, when Mike is turned against the wall.. it kills me. There are several moments which chill me to the bone in The Blair Witch Project. I still think it’s one of the best found footage films out there, and certainly the one that really kicked off the modern fascination with this sub-genre.
8. Frankenstein’s Army (2013)For my full review, click here.
I love any kind of horror movie that incorporates World War II and/or Nazi Germany. It’s fascinating. Frankenstein’s Army works really well. It’s at a time when sound recording with film was still relatively a new and fascinating thing. The concept of found footage works well here. There’s even one point where Frankenstein himself (played by the always fascinating Karel Roden) asks about the camera being used, and remarks he has never seen one “of those types of camera… with sound“. Great little film. There are some genuinely weird and creepy moments in this one. A lot of Frankenstein’s forgotten toys, it seems. When they start spilling out the woodwork it’s really something to behold. I was frightened a few times, just trying to put myself in someone’s shoes back then, seeing things that we wouldn’t see until almost 70 years later, and only because of the imagination of film. It’s an impressive found footage horror, and certainly belongs on this list.
7. The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
For my full review, click here.
Posing as a documentary about Alzheimers and those suffering with it as well as their caretakers, The Taking of Deborah Logan turns into something very scary. At first it seems like the disease is taking its toll on the titular Deborah. She scrapes her fingers until the nails nearly come off in her flower bed. At night, she’s climbing onto the counters while sleepwalking. Soon it becomes worse, and worse. And worse. Things get really scary, as Deborah’s past unfolds and comes back to haunt her quite literally. There are some extremely terrifying images in this one. The finale of the film is absolutely wild. I loved every second of it. I kept rewinding one part because I thought it was just so well done – the effects, everything. So satisfying. There were a few times I gasped out loud. I really recommend this to anyone tired of the same old plots in found footage, also. This is a unique and fresh look at the sub-genre.
6. The Sacrament (2013)
For a full & in-depth review, click here.
Ti West is an absolute monster in the horror field. I mean this in the most wonderful way possible. I’ve been a fan of his since The House of the Devil, purchased his first feature film The Roost which I also really loved. His films are phenomenal. One of only two feature films West has not shot using film, The Sacrament is a found footage-style look at a Jim Jones-ish cult and its charismatic leader. There’s not much else to tell plot-wise. Other than a few minor bits, West uses Jones’ story almost verbatim at certain points. But that’s not for a lack of originality. West sort of gives Jones’ story to a modern audience, some of whom might not know the story (though who they are I don’t know myself), and sets it in a world where everyone knows VICE, and how they report on stories. West sets the story in a digital world. One where the cameras are rolling. Unlike the actual massacre, we get to see everything instead of just hearing bits of audio. We experience all the deaths, the throes of agony, the screaming, wailing children and men and women dying everywhere. We hear the gunshots and the merciless shouting and the tears. It’s all there. This is an unsettling film. Anyone who passes this off as merely a rehash of Jim Jones is wrong. The story is much the same, but it is worth the watch to experience all Ti West has conjured up for us.
5. V/H/S/2 (2013) & V/H/S: Viral (2014)
I’m a fan of the entire V/H/S trilogy, however, I think the 2nd & 3rd entries are both huge improvements on the first. The 3rd, being the best of all, is an even bigger improvement on the 2nd.For starters, V/H/S 2 contained two very well executed shorts: Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale’s “A Ride in the Park”, & Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto’s “Safe Haven”. The first is an absolutely fantastic POV zombie short about a man who goes for a bike ride in the park forest only to end up with the only disease worse than cancer: zombie. I really loved it. Great use of found footage and the zombie genre.
The second, “Safe Haven”, follows a documentary crew into an Indonesian cult’s complex where things slowly spiral out of control, and one of them discovers they’ve fathered more than just a baby with a good friend’s girl. This is a wild, wild ride. Lots of gore, lots of weirdness, and even a little dark humour to top things off. I really enjoyed it.
V/H/S: Viral is, in my humble opinion, the best, or at the least most imaginative, of all three entries in this trilogy. The first short, Gregg Bishop’s “Dante the Great”, is a great little horror about a magician who discovers a cloak that can help him achieve even the most unknown of tricks. I really liked this one. Very unique take on horror, and honestly makes me crave a full-length feature about some sort of magician crossed with the horror genre; it works well here. The second is a mindbender from frequent mindfucker Nacho Vigalondo called “Parallel Monsters”. Basically it’s a view into another world. And it is god damn terrifying. I’ll say no more. The third segment (a fourth was cut from the first release on VOD but apparently will be added in later) is directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead, who previously co-directed the interesting Resolution, is called “Bonestorm”. It’s a bunch of skater kids versus a strange Mexican death cult of some sort, who barrel out of the desert towards the as they kick flip and ollie around a skate park littered with animal feces and strange shrines. Contrary to what some people seem to believe, I think this is the best one of the lot. It’s pure horror. I loved it. Not that the other shorts in this 3rd installment aren’t great – they are – I just think Benson and Moorehead tap into the real horror, and it’s a great little bloody short with an almost homage to Evans’ previous ending in “Safe Haven”, although not as blackly comic as that. All in all, both of these V/H/S films are worth checking out, and even the first, but the latest two have really picked up in quality moving forward.
4. Lovely Molly (2011)
Read my review for the Blu ray release, which is spectacular and creepy as all hell.
There are a lot of disturbing things going on in this one. Another Sánchez directed film (as were Blair Witch & Exists if I failed to mention, and also “A Ride in the Park” from V/H/S 2 which I did mention). This is about two newlyweds who move back to the wife’s (Molly) childhood home, where she once lived with her seemingly crazy, cruel, demented father. Soon things begin to happen. The husband is worried. His new wife once had a serious drug habit, and it starts to come back. But something is spurring it on, leading her down that path again. Something very dark. There are some great shots in this. Particularly one later in the film where Molly walks out into the darkness, into the arms of something creepy, maybe dangerous. It’s highly unsettling. Watch this. There are some disturbing shots here that will linger on and on.
3. As Above, So Below (2014)
Perhaps it’s my interest in strange history, alchemy (et cetera), or maybe this is just one well-done found footage film. Whatever. I think this is fantastic. The plot is great: a young explorer tries to carry on her father’s work searching for the Philosopher’s Stone. Along with some help, after discovering the key to a complicated map in the cave systems below Iran, she ventures into the catacombs below Paris, into hidden chambers where she believes the Philosopher Stone might just be found. I thought this film played out very nicely. There were some genuinely chilling moments. One is in the trailer, in fact. However, there is a moment where a hooded figure sits on a creepy little chair, and even though nothing really happens it’s just the atmosphere which really draws me in and captivates me. So scary. The end was not typical of most found footage films, and I have to applaud it for finishing on the note it did. Different. I think this is worth a watch. It’s unique. We don’t always have to see the same recurring plot over and over. It’s nice to mix things up a little with found footage, and it can work in a variety of ways. As Above, So Below showcases how it can work when mixed with a little history and adventure. This is like a found footage horror version of Indiana Jones at times. Great film.
For my full review of this horrifying film, click here.
1. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)* For a full & chilling review, click here.
The granddaddy of them all – The Poughkeepsie Tapes. Lucky for me I caught this a long while ago, and earlier this year actually it briefly appeared on VOD for a short time before it was pulled (just like how out of nowhere its theatrical release got pulled seemingly). Nobody can find it nowadays. Turns out this is by the same director who went on to do another of my favourites from just earlier in the list, As Above, So Below. I’m hoping with some success from his latest film it might prompt someone to distribute this one, because when I saw this film I was transformed. I couldn’t believe it. Every image seemed to horrify me worse than the last. Things escalate more and more. The whole thing is a series of tapes left by a serial killer who of course recorded all his crimes. He is the ultimate killer. His methods change from kill to kill. He is always one step ahead of police and profiles and FBI agents alike. It’s truly scary. Some of the masks the killer wears, including a Plague Doctor mask, are just the worst things you can imagine. Terrible, and perfect. This is truly a symphony of horrors. There is one scene where the killer answers his door and meets two little Girl Guides. As the audience watches, he teeters on the edge of either letting them go or killing them. You can never tell which. Until finally they walk out the door. It’s once they leave we get the real horror- one of his victims was underneath the coffee table the whole time. It is a horrifying moment. The whole movie sticks with you long after it is over. I highly recommend this. Definitely the most scary and wild found footage horror film I have ever seen. If you get the chance, check it out, and you will not be disappointed. You certainly won’t get any sleep.