Tagged VHS

Southbound is a Darker Twilight Zone for 2016

Southbound. 2015. Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath & Radio Silence. Screenplay by Roxanne Benjamin, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Susan Burke, Dallas Richard Hallam & Patrick Horvath.
Starring Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Kristina Pesic, Fabianne Therese, Nathalie Love, Hannah Marks, Dana Gould, Anessa Ramsey, Susan Burke, Davey Johnson, Mather Zickel, Karla Droege, Zoe Cooper, Justin Welborn, David Yow, Tipper Newton, Matt Peters, Maria Olsen, Tyler Tuione, & Kate Beahan. Willowbrook Regent Films.
Rated 18A. 89 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★★1/2
POSTER
Anthology films, especially those of the horror variety, can either end up being extraordinary, or very mediocre. The V/H/S films (sharing several of the same producers as this film), in my opinion, are pretty damn good; for the most part. Some thought they were a mixed bag. I actually loved the third one, Viral, most of all, even though so many thought it was terrible. Either way, there’s always a gamble inherent in putting different stories, no matter their genre, together into one whole anthology. You can divide people easily that way.
But fans of The Twilight Zone and other similar horror/science fiction might appreciate Southbound in the same sense I did. There really is something for everyone. That is, for everyone interested in the dark, macabre corners of the imagination. I’ve seen reviews dubbing this as a mixed bag. Not sure how they felt that way, but it’s all subjective. Me? I found myself dropping jaw several times, loving each scene and simultaneously wanting the current segment to end just so I could see what would happen next. As a lover of both horror and science fiction, the cross between the two genres is subtle, though, it is clearly evident. Maybe it’s not even science fiction, but rather a supernatural aspect. Either way it’s got that Twilight Zone vibe, as I said, and in a way that does not come off as a copy of anything from the series or movie. I’m not even sure if the filmmakers even intended to make this feel that way. Yet it has an amazing sense of homage without ever really trying to reference The Twilight Zone or any other films in particular. Mostly, the directors and writers come together to present us with one of the best anthology movies out there. Period.
SB4
Instead of attempting to briefly describe any plots, I’ll forego the usual format. Instead I want to focus on the impressive elements of each segment, without spoiling anything too much, or if possible at all.
“The Way Out” has an excellent monster, or whatever you want to call it. Super neat! Unique, too. Not saying there’s never been a drawing like it before, probably there has been. But as far as horror movies, even science fiction go, I’ve not seen a creepy creature like this in a long time. It’s part skeleton, part demon-ghost, part smog. Definitely a fun addition, and one that looks unsettling, especially when it stands (floats?) off in the distance like some supernatural Michael Myers waiting at the end of the street.
Overall, I dig the opener. It is an eerie sci-fi romp with bits of horror. Plus, I like that we’re not given a ton of exposition here to try and explain all we’re seeing. It fits and works perfectly for an anthology film with a bunch of shorts together, as you get just enough then walk away wondering: what sort of place is this? Added to that, it’s a killer way to start off an anthology. Really throws you off balance, in a proper way.
SB2
Second short – “Siren” – isn’t overly unique, nor are there any impressive effects really. That being said, I dig the relationship between the female characters at the center of the plot. And I also think less is more, in certain cases. Again, like how the first introduced some interesting things then left them fairly open, this one gives us a taste of the main characters and their lives, who they are, but it’s only a slice. We don’t get everything, and it’s one of the big reasons why I thought, despite its shortcomings, this segment works so well. There is a lot of creepiness happening and the build up to the reveal of what’s going on is definitely tense, at times darkly comic, as well as the fact we get Dana Gould playing a super weird dude.
Then there’s the connection between each short. Everything happens out on the highway, a desolate stretch of road where it seems nothing but terror happens. I especially like how the second and third connect, as it involves one of the women from the second in an absolutely mortifying sense. The writing in most of these segments is pretty fun and dark as hell.
In this third one, “The Accident”, there is some truly gory, gruesome work in the practical effects department, and I am ALWAYS a sucker for well executed blood in a horror. Although I found the second segment lacking in awesome effects, going more for lackluster work, this one makes up for that big time. “The Accident”, for me, is most similar to the vein of many great Twilight Zone episodes, and the movie, as well. It has a truly unsettling vibe from beginning to end. And who doesn’t find abandoned hospitals a creep-out?
SB1
“Jailbreak” gets really out there, too. If the point of being in Hell hasn’t come across strong enough yet, boy, oh boy – does director Patrick Horvath ever hammer it home in this short! Horvath and Dallas Hallam wrote this, and they directed/wrote the fascinating slow burn Entrance from 2011; a movie that, to this day, has not yet washed off me. Here, though, there’s a much more wild, supernatural, nasty angle to the story they tell. I won’t spoil it because there are a couple truly WTF moments you need to see going in blind. On top of everything else, the practical effects in this segment are outrageous; in the best fucking way.
My favourite out of this anthology is the final segment, “The Way In”. Above all else, the way this connects to the other segments is absolutely spectacular. Truly, it is wonderful and dark and weird. I wasn’t expecting this finisher to connect everything so perfectly, as if cauterizing the plot and its various threads. The build up in this segment I enjoyed incredibly, which then devolves into madness after everything breaks. Finally, it’s the very last few moments that reconnect the beginning and end of the entire anthology. I can’t say too much about this one, for fear of spoilers. I will say this – the beginning of this short lulls us into a real everyday type of crime feel, as if we’re about to see a typical thriller that we’ve seen a hundred times, and from there propels us through a vicious, quick and adrenaline-fueled segment which caps things off with the right touch.
SB3
Absolutely a 4.5 star film. Like I said: a favourite anthology of mine. This will be going up on the Blu ray shelf once it’s out, but for now you can snatch it up via iTunes. There’s really a lot of good stuff here and anybody who says it’s uneven may just not be into the style of this entire movie. Everything connects so well, as if a tiny thread runs through every segment to tie it all up, sewn nicely and stitched at the seams. Hopefully the team behind Southbound and V/H/S continue to do these anthologies, as I feel they’re really getting better at them all the time. Plus, different directors and writers come in, so the blood is fresh. This one contains a good deal of talent, heaps of the damn stuff.
Southbound, and movies like it, are the reason why I adore genre films.

Ti West’s The House of the Devil: A Slow Burn Satanic Panic Period Piece

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.
Horror

★★★★★
house_of_the_devil_ver2Ti 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.
the_house_of_the_devil_18Trying 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.
houseofthedevil_still2_cmykThere 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.
tumblr_le86wpjc6p1qcc83zo1_1280When 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.
2394_5 158868544_9aea38When 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.
hero_EB20091111REVIEWS911119997ARThis 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 Solid Action & Suspense of Mission: Impossible

Mission: Impossible. 1996. Directed by Brian De Palma. Screenplay by David Koepp & Robert Towne from a story by David Koepp/Steven Zaillian; based on the television series created by Bruce Geller.
Starring Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Béart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, and Rolf Saxon. Paramount Pictures.
Rated PG. 110 minutes.
Action/Adventure/Thriller

★★★★1/2
mission-impossible-poster
There are certain movies out of the 1990s I remember fondly because they’re titles I’d rent on the weekend and watch with my parents. They were always pretty good about letting me watch a lot of things, as long as my little sister wasn’t around, and depending on how crazy it was they would probably watch it with me. But even before that, when I lived with my grandparents – my grandfather was a member of Columbia House when it was in its prime and he’d get like 9 VHS tapes for such a low price. So their place was full of old movies on VHS; I saw tons of stuff I probably shouldn’t have seen at ages 7-8.
Mission: Impossible is one of those movies I remember seeing after it came out on video. My parents and I rented it, I remember enjoying it so much it was one of those films I’d watch over and over. Honestly, I think Brian De Palma did an excellent job directing this with a great deal of suspense and tension, plus there’s the fact I think it’s a pretty damn good adaptation from the original 1966 series. No doubt hardcore fans of the original television series might not enjoy it, however, I think they modernized it, updated things just well enough while keeping the spirit of the original to make it something interesting.

When Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) heads to Prague on another mission with his IMF team – including wife Claire (Emannuelle Béart) and top agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) among others – things begin as per usual. Unfortunately, there is an incredible failure during this new mission; a fatal failure. But no one is sure who did what to cause the chaos.
After he is left the sole survivor in a massacre which sees Phelps and Sarah Davies (Kristin Scott Thomas), among others, all die at the mysterious hands of an outsider, Ethan Hunt is accused of mutiny and the failure of their mission is pinned on him. With the help of Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Franz Krieger (Jean Reno), and even a shadowy arms dealer named Max (Vanessa Redgrave), Hunt goes underground, using everything and everyone at his disposal in order to uncover exactly what has been happening. Most importantly, he hopes to find out who laid waste to his colleagues from the IMF and why they hoped he would be framed.
still-of-tom-cruise-and-kristin-scott-thomas-in-mission--impossible-(1996)-large-pictureAbove all else, I think De Palma does well by crafting a genuine atmosphere of suspense because while there’s action here, it would come off like any other action film were there no such feeling to the movie. It follows along with the flow of the plot well. As we start, things are light and fun – the team feel in sync with one another, joking, laughing, generally acting as if being secret undercover agents in a dangerous high stakes type of game is no big deal. However, this quickly cuts from that lighthearted feel to one of tension. As the IMF team, one by one, are dispatched, the tension gets thicker. Even the way in which De Palma has the scenes go, the fog on the night air almost seems to intensify with the plot’s movement. Everything is shrouded, until finally it’s Ethan left; things clear off, he is the only one living, and then there are the police. This sets up how the next segments will feel, as we move into the heavy mystery of Mission: Impossible.

Something I’ve always loved about this movie is how there’s a ton of action, but it’s not a load of gunshots and muzzle flares and smashing objects, walls and other set-pieces filled with bullet holes. I find it’s all intense action while not having to resort to the typical gunplay with which so many other American action/crime/thriller movies seem to be obsessed. This is where that ever present air of suspense and tension helps.
While many films might’ve flubbed the scene where Ethan Hunt (Cruise) suspends himself down over the lasers, in that high tech security room from Thieves Hell, De Palma makes this so insanely tense you can almost feel Tom’s butthole clench just watching it. It’s great stuff because what could be so simple and visually unappealing at the hands of another director becomes the stuff of action movie legend under the guidance of Brian De Palma. He doesn’t have a perfect track record as a director – but honestly who in the hell does? Not even Kubrick for those typical film fans who say he’s perfect; he was amazing but not perfect – but I think De Palma is absolutely one of the greats of American cinema. No doubt in my mind about that. Here, he shows why he’s a master of the craft.
The entire sequence leading up to the ‘suspended above lasers’ moment is classic. Well filmed, nice pace, and the set they used for that is very cool. Always loved the way De Palma includes the shot showing a drop of perspiration slipping off a plastic cup, setting off the alarm in the laser protected room; such a perfect zoom in close on the cup as Ethan Hunt describes the security inside. Not sure why I particularly enjoy that little moment, but it’s always one that strikes me for whatever reason.
still-of-tom-cruise-and-henry-czerny-in-mission--impossible-(1996)Ever the fan of Alfred Hitchcock, as so many are, De Palma has a magnificent shot a little over 30 minutes in which reminds me of the staircase in Vertigo (which is my personal favourite Hitchcock). I don’t know if that was intentional, or simply a wonderfully coincidental shot that came up from the use of that location, but either way it is awesome. A wonderful homage. The camera rotates opposite the staircase and it creates a neat effect. Disorienting slightly, in a good way.
One of my favourite scenes is when Ethan uses his explosive gum. The way it’s shot, the angles De Palma frames each one, there’s a good pace of suspense up until the explosion, then Hunt is gone again. Not a long scene, it’s just well executed. De Palma goes for a lot of interesting low angles and tight close-ups in those suspenseful moments. Another great example is when Ethan first meets Max (Redgrave) and they’re watching for a signal – something simple, once more, becomes impressive because of the precise, honed direction. Has all the earmarks of a fabulous thriller.
mission-impossible-DIThough I do like a couple of the other Mission: Impossible films, it’s easy to see the distinction between this and every other one. I was even a huge fan of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, though, there is still no comparing it the original in this series of films. I mean, there’s such a genuine measure of tension built up throughout almost every scene, or every second one, that the movie never seems to let you go. Start to finish. From those opening bits, as the IMF team watch Ethan Hunt do his thing – mask and all – to the incredibly subtle, suspenseful moments as Ethan is being lowered into the ultra secure room at Langley a.k.a CIA Headquarters in Virginia; every important piece is shot in such a way that the maximum suspense comes out. Most of the franchise after the first movie seems to rely heavily on massive, epic-style set-pieces alongside fast paced action sequences and gunfire, as well as the odd explosion and demolition. I’m not saying that’s no good because with movies such as Mission: Impossible, you do come looking for a certain degree of explosive, big Hollywood budget type action movie stuff.
However, Brian De Palma gives us so much more. Almost each shot is deliberately framed which aids in setting the pace, and in turn the tension. Even in Ghost Protocol which I enjoyed to the fullest, there’s not the same type of tense atmosphere and tone created in any of the sequences, it’s mostly balls to the wall sort of filmmaking. Again, nothing wrong. Just different here. De Palma makes this more than another action flick, and more than a reboot of some old television series (something ALL too familiar now in 2015) – this is a genuine thriller, with mystery to boot, and there’s a bonafide sense of old school filmmaking from an old school director.
screen shot 2015-07-27 at 2.00.12 pmWhile my only complaint is mostly a bit of the acting (mainly Jon Voight who I find personally is either hit or big miss), I think the script itself is pretty solid. Lots of good twisty-turny corners and red herring-like activity going on, which fits perfectly with Brian De Palma who, as I mentioned, comes from the school of directors who pretty much worship Hitchcock. Overall, I’ve got to say this is a solid 4.5 out of 5 star film. A few things could’ve been improved on, but I think ultimately so much of this is pure excitement, thrill, and suspense/tension that it’s hard to deny how great of a film it is. Not to mention De Palma’s direction elevates this above all the general tripe we get calling itself action these days.
Naturally, there are some over-the-top elements absolutely. However, I think the way De Palma plays with everything, plus the fact the script knows exactly what it is and what it aims to do, really helps make it all so very worth it. Boasting an impressive performance by Tom Cruise, including his penchant for trying to do as much of his own stunt work as possible, Mission: Impossible is one of my all-time favourite action movies; it has everything from intensity to a drop of humour, and don’t forget there’s an expertly cultivated atmosphere at the hands of De Palma which would never have made it to the screen had this film been helmed by anyone else.

V/H/S: Viral is a Weird, Wild Ride

V/H/S: Viral. 2014. Directors: Marcel Sarmiento, Gregg Bishop, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, and Nacho Vigalondo (the Blu ray release will include the segment “Gorgeous Vortex” directed by Todd Lincoln).
Starring Emmy Argo, Emilia Ares Zoryan, Justin Welborn, Amanda Baker, Gregg Bishop, Nick Blanco, Dan Caudill, Stephen Caudill.
Magnet Releasing.
Rated R. 82 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★

Click on the titles for my previous reviews on the Blu ray releases for V/H/S V/H/S/2.VHS-VIRAL_FINISH-27x40_halfsize-691x1024So apparently a few people, for some reason, can’t get why I’ve given this movie such a high rating. I’ll attempt to explain it even further than I already have just in case any anonymous people once again have problems reading my review.

This is probably the most misunderstood and maligned entry in the V/H/S series. I never judge a movie by its rating online, or anywhere for that matter, but IMDB for instance has this somewhere around a 4 out of 10 star rating (IMDB, unfortunately, is mostly only great for finding titles/actors/et cetera – the ratings are ridiculous on there). I think that is such a nonsense rating. This is a worthy entry in the series, and it’s also a good, innovative horror movie. People don’t see it right now.  I get that – or no, no – I don’t get it, actually. I really don’t understand because I think this is the film where the whole concept of the V/H/S series comes to life, full steam blowing ahead.
I think it’s misunderstood simply because I don’t know why people prefer the other V/H/S films over this one. I love them all, but this installment has the most unique segments, and it’s definitely the most exciting in terms of energy; I never felt any sort of lag in this movie.

But who am I?  Just a lowly cinephile in a horde of horror fans.

The wraparound segment in V/H/S: Viral is definitely an interesting one. I wasn’t sure on the first viewing if I really dug it or not; things felt very chaotic and I wasn’t sure if it worked. Then, once I went back and watched this once or twice more, I started to really get into the whole segment (its official name is “Vicious Circles”) because it sets up the whole viral angle from the title; not only the main character’s intentions of being “a part of something bigger” than himself, but also just in how the videos come to is, as if transmitting around through cell phones wireless by way of this strange ice cream truck that’s rampaging through the streets on the run from authorities. It felt weird on the first watch, but second time around I started to really pay attention more, and I thought it worked very well to setup the whole film’s theme.

There are some real brutal moments in this segment, as well. Particularly, I really loved the scene where one kid is being dragged along from the back of the ice cream truck – his feet are flailing around awhile until finally they start scraping wildly along the pavement, and the sound is just disgustingly great, becoming only flying flecks of blood and bone. It’s one of the few moments in any film where I’ve literally cringed because of how it made me feel. A painful-looking moment. Loved it.
Vhs-Viral-Dante-640x360The first short directed by Gregg Bishop is called “Dante the Great”.  It centers around a magician, Dante (Welborn), who came into possession of a mysterious cloak (one formerly owned – apparently – by the great Harry Houdini but got sold because it frightened him). The cloak allowed him to do crazy, normally unattainable feats. But soon, it’s obvious there is something sinister driving the cloak and behind all its magic. Eventually, Dante kills people in pursuit of being the ultimate magician. I won’t say any more – you need to see this for yourself!

I really loved this segment. It’s my second favourite of the lot. The story itself is just really innovative in terms of horror – there aren’t too many horror movies out there (though a couple of questionable quality do exist) dealing with magicians. Why is it innovative? First off, “innovation” is defined as being “something new or different introduced”. So for starters, I began with saying there aren’t too many magician-themed horror movies. A user on IMBD had a particular problem with my review, which is fine. However, he commented that nobody wants to see a horror movie about magic “because it sucks and no one wants to see that *beep*” – I guess if that’s considered an explanation, then sure. For some of us, “Dante the Great” was unique in that a horror story about a magician is rarely done & I don’t think we’ve ever seen a found footage film about magic – correct me if I’m wrong. If this is the first magic-themed found footage movie then that alone is fairly innovative. It didn’t suck for me in any way. In a sea of horror movies, there are so many fast-forward-worthy films; the ones you just want to skip over until they’re done. For me, V/H/S: Viral had none of those moments. If it did for you, that sucks.  “Dante the Great” in particular is one of the better offerings in this installment.
I really dig this one. Bishop really uses the camera in some interesting and fun ways. A lot of people seem to get their brain in a twist over “who has the camera” and such things – but by using a magician and a supernatural-type cloak as the center of the plot, Bishop is able to not worry about all those little things. Because it’s about the magic! Dante can do anything. He proves this time and time again. Some of the scenes involving the police, specifically when they cuff Dante and put him in the back of the car, are just absolute perfection. The plot is great enough, but just the visual effects and the camerawork alone are worth the price of admission here. Really impressed by Bishop here, and hope to see some more fresh work from him in the near future.
VHS-Viral-photo-01Right off the bat, I absolutely love Nacho Vigalondo’s filmmaking. He is a special voice in a sea of horror films. Of course he loves time travel, so it’s no surprise his segment “Parallel Monsters” draws on elements of time travel, alternate universes (et cetera) to help him craft an expertly creepy, odd, and at times weirdly funny horror short. This one is about a guy who has built some sort of machine which allows him to essentially open a door and look into an alternate universe; through the door, he sees himself. We begin here as the man decides to finally switch places with the alternate version of himself on the other side. They agree to meet back there and switch over once more at a certain time. However, things get very weird for the man when he discovers the alternate universe into which he’d been peering is not at all what it seems. On the surface, at first it seems a little sexy, but slowly it devolves into the man’s discovery of a terrifying universe where nothing is sexy – and everything, especially sex, is awfully scary.
Vigalondo really knocks it out of the park with this one. I don’t know where he came up with this, but that man’s brain is genius – when he passes away, hopefully at a very old age, we should take that brain and preserve it, let future filmmakers study it/him. I can’t get over this segment. I really love, and own a copy of, his film Timecrimes. He does such an amazing job with the concept of time travel, et cetera. I don’t know if it’s just something he’s always been interested in, or it’s a concept he got into because it lent itself to very interesting horror movies – whatever the reason, I’m glad he loves it. When we finally get a look at some of the ‘people’ in this alternate universe, after they appear in their true forms, it is some of the scariest shit I’ve ever seen. Honestly. I was horrified. Once again, apparently this makes me crazy. I’m 30-years old, I’ve seen over 4,000 films, but because I’m terribly creeped out by something another person finds subjectively unscary I must be 12. OH – I’m sorry – have you been to the alternate universe where people have glowing faces, women’s vaginas are huge claw-like traps, and dicks are dripping, hair werewolf arms? Well, I apologize. The rest of us were disturbed by this. We’ve not yet been granted the ability to cross over into other universes and experience what life is like for the people there. Guess I’ll have to book a trip before watching any of Vigalondo’s movies from now on.

This segment is the best one in this film. It’s also the best segment overall in any of the V/H/S movies so far (I hope they continue to make more) – without any doubt. Anybody who disagrees? That’s fine. I love when people have differing opinions. I just agree to disagree. Even if they make another great V/H/S movie I doubt I’ll have a new favourite. “Parallel Monsters” is just so creepy, and a lot of fun.
VHS-Viral-Trailer-600x337The next segment is “Bonestorm” directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead, of whom I’m a fan (they did the excellent modern horror Resolution and the fantastic Spring). I enjoyed this one mostly because of nostalgia – I spent a lot of my teen years beating around the streets in my town skateboarding with my friends although that was in the late 90s and we mainly just had actual cameras. I actually still have some of the snapshots I took of my buddies and I doing lame tricks. Loved that stuff. “Bonestorm” is basically just the story of some skateboard kids, one who of course has a gun (maybe a little gun commentary on America in there?  I don’t know but it works!), who end up going into Mexican cult territory just across the border where they encounter some very scary people. This ends up in an all out blood bath where the young skateboard kids, the two who aren’t immediately killed, fight for their lives against a creepy group of cult-like worshippers (whose blood boils and catches fire, et cetera). It’s pretty wild.

I liked this segment, but it wasn’t all perfect. Though a lot of the young kids’ dialogue worked because they were young, some of it felt so forced and awkward. I wasn’t totally put off. Some of what they said was awesome, especially once the big fight starts going down. I loved how one kid went and switched on their music – says so much about our culture nowadays, and more so the younger kid – can’t even murder a bunch of weird skeleton people without putting on some tunes.
On the surface, “Bonestorm” sort of looks to be a real big excuse for blood and guts without much to it, but it’s more than that. First, we get a natural reason for the cameras, which sometimes is often an aspect fumbled in found footage; with the kids being skateboarders, especially in modern day, it’s only normal at least one of them has a GoPro or some type of recording equipment. I mean, one of them has a gun – not hard to believe they’d also have access to cameras. Second, I found it to be a good subversion of what we often see in horror – the monsters, or the villains (whatever they happen to be), don’t just rise up and obliterate everything, or at least not in total dominance. Instead of turning and running, the skateboard kids fight back. One even switches on their music, so they’ll have something to fight to – a soundtrack. Benson and Moorehead could’ve simply stuck with the kids running away, trying to escape all this scary stuff going on. Instead, they turn and fight. One of them sort of goes mental, which was hilarious. But it’s the end that caps it all off.
I thought the end of this segment was really awesome. Some people think it ripped off “Safe Haven” from the previous film, however, I think it went well with the whole cult vibe going on, and maybe it was more so meant as an homage. I don’t think, other than one part of the end, this resembled Gareth Evans & Timo Tjahjanto’s short from V/H/S/2. It fit well here for me because just as the two skateboarders think they’ve really kicked some ass and driven all those skeletal cult members into the ground, this (I don’t want to ruin anything so I’m keeping it vague) “thing” appears. Very cool.
Screen-Shot-2014-09-18-at-12.49.48-PM-620x400This is absolutely my favourite of the three V/H/S films. I can say that in absolute confidence. Not only are the ideas big, they are well-executed. I don’t know why I’ve seen some of the complains about this entry into the series that I have, granted some of that is mostly banter I see around the internet. I think all three of the shorts are great. The wraparound segment is pretty good, but there are also some parts I didn’t like a whole lot. I wasn’t a big fan of the moment in “Vicious Circles” where we land with the Latino gangsters – not that I have anything against the Latino gangsters, I just felt it sort of went too stereotypical, and also made them look really bad (misogynistic and very trash all around). It just didn’t flow with the rest of the wraparound. They should have tried to include less switching from camera to camera stuff, which is why they put this portion in, but it just comes off as too much; trying to cram all these bits into one. They might as well have just went ahead and included Todd Lincoln’s segment anyways, and cut some of the fat off those spots.

Regardless, I think V/H/S: Viral is easily the best in all aspects of the three films, so far, in this horror anthology series. I know I’m in the small minority, but usually I am when it comes to underrated films, or at least films I see as underrated. I think the ideas in the shorts themselves, mainly “Parallel Monsters” and “Dante the Great”, are so unique. That’s what a series like V/H/S needs if they want it to continue to have any sort of longevity. Otherwise, people will really bore with the whole concept. To me, it seems like a lot already are tired by it, but I think this is going to see better life on Blu ray, et cetera. Once people give the three films more time to sink in (it feels to me like they were almost rushed out in succession though I really love the series anyways), I really believe it’s going to hit people differently. I already love them. However, sometimes you have to give the general public awhile to digest certain movies. Maybe this will be one of them.
Right now, I suggest you watch it. I hope you’ll enjoy it. And either way, hit me up – we’ll discuss. Don’t just talk shit on the message boards. Don’t just say “the movie sucks” & half-quote what I’ve said trying to make your case. If you think it’s bad, share your thoughts – tell me! I know I’m in the minority, but that being said don’t expect me to give your opinions any type of equal weight in consideration if you can’t sensibly and sociably discuss a film. That’s what movies are all about.

V/H/S/2: A Mixed Bag of Nasty Tricks

V/H/S 2. 2013. Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sánchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, and Jason Eisener. Magnet Releasing.
Rated 18A. 96 minutes.
Horror.

★★★1/2 (Movie)
★★ (Blu ray release)

For my review of the first V/H/S on Blu ray, click here.  For a review of the third installment in the trilogy, V/H/S: Viral, click here.

vhs_2_poster_3The wraparound story for the first V/H/S held things together well enough. While it was at best a decently played out section of the film, what really sold me on it overall were the individual segments (minus one), which I thought were really creepy and the first was fairly innovative in terms of their use of found footage. This time around in V/H/S/2, the wraparound segment called “Tape 49” (directed by usual writer Simon Barrett) is much better than that in the first installment of the series, and by the same token I didn’t really like as many of the shorts this time around. While I still love this series, I do think V/H/S/2 is essentially the weak link of what is so far a trilogy; I’m a big fan of third regardless of what others think – I think it’s the most unique and definitely the most far reaching in terms of concepts, particularly the segments by Gregg Bishop and Nacho Vigalondo. That is for another review.

I’m a big fan of Adam Wingard, and I honestly love almost every single bit of his work, however, I really can’t get hugely into his segment here, “Phase I Clinical Trials”.
Quick synopsis: Wingard plays a man who has a bionic eye implanted by a company that will monitor his every move and record whatever he does – it isn’t long until he discovers the eye helps him see just a little too well, and a little too much.
500full It is not badly done whatsoever – let me start by saying this – I have no problem with the visuals or aesthetics in general. What I’m not a fan of is the execution in terms of how it was written. I find usually Barrett, who wrote this segment along with the one he directed, subverts some of the norms I come to expect from horror. Here, in “Phase I”, Barrett really plays into some foolishness. Like when the girl just suddenly decides the best way to ignore all the weird, undead-like stuff going on around her and Wingard is to take off their clothes and start having sex. I mean – come on. I am a big fan of both Barrett and Wingard, and I usually never find myself saying these things about their work together, but here it is just unbearably bad. I really thought this was some tired writing. The direction worked well, as well as benefitting from Wingard acting in the short, in terms of the filming techniques used (he talks about this in one of the featurettes on the Blu ray – Wingard wanted to have an actual actor play the part but because of the fact he was shooting the segment in the first person perspective he felt it easier to take on the role himself). Other than the fact Wingard directs well, this segment isn’t really much fun – a few cool effects don’t make a decent short horror. I like its finale; there are some creepy ghosts and all that. The build up, on the other hand, doesn’t really do anything for me.
VHS2_19-1024x576Eduardo Sánchez is another filmmaker whose work I really enjoy. He does really well in the found footage sub-genre, and thrives. His segment is a zombie-filled romp through some woods called “A Ride in the Park”, which sees a mountain biker zipping through forest recording on his GoPro – he comes across a wounded woman, gets bitten, and then slowly becomes a zombie. From there, we follow him and his GoPro as he wanders with a herd of zombies through the trees, terrorizing others, including a little girl’s birthday party.
VHS2_31-1024x576
Not only do I like the innovative use of found footage here with the GoPro camera on the biker, I really thought it was interesting to follow the perspective of a person who gets bitten by a zombie and becomes one himself. The GoPro really helps add to things by giving us a very up close and personal view of this perspective. Sánchez explores ideas about what happens to us after the zombie virus takes hold – do our feelings still linger? Can we retain any sort of control?

One really great, and heartbreaking, moment comes when the man-turned-zombie hears his phone making noise. After fumbling it from a pocket and realizing he accidentally dialed his girlfriend, a single pathetic-sounding groan comes from him, and it’s the stuff of good drama really. Thoroughly enjoyed this segment. It was good in all these senses while also being downright fun zombie madness – after the zombies infiltrate the birthday party it is just awesome.

Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto teamed up to create a really horrifying and adrenaline injected segment named “Safe Haven”. This short takes a young documentary film crew inside the complex of a cult run by a man known as Father. They want to give an inside scoop into the cult with untampered footage, giving the leader a chance to present his group, unbiased, to the outside world. Father allows them unprecedented access into the complex. Soon after, the crew begins to realize something is amiss. I won’t say any more. Go in knowing only this, or less.
500full-1I love how the pacing really keeps up in this segment. Things kick in with crazy gore, horror, and downright terror. I enjoyed every second of this one. The effects are outrageous, in the best way possible, and even the performances, specifically that of Epy Kusnandar as the previously mentioned Father – he is maniacal, a little funny at times, and absolutely scary as hell. This is by far the best segment of the first two V/H/S films because it scares the life out of me, but it also remembers to stay fun, and doesn’t take itself seriously the whole time. The final moments of “Safe Haven” are brilliant, hilarious, and terrifying all wrapped into one.

I enjoy Jason Eisener, especially after I’d seen Hobo With A Shotgun, but his segment “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” isn’t his greatest work to date. Not that I didn’t enjoy it – it was a lot of fun. The story is basically about a bunch of kids, with the parents gone away, who are then laid siege upon by a UFO and some aliens. Pretty good little plot for a short.
I just thought there was a bit too much epilepsy-inducing light flashing. The effect worked in certain places. Others, it was highly annoying. It really did help several shots look more effective, particularly when one of the kids goes up into an attic, and there ends up being a number of alien-creatures already there, some coming up behind, and I thought it definitely enhanced things. On the whole, though, there was too much of it. I just wanted the segment to end after things kicked into high gear. The adrenaline was pumping, there is no doubt, however, I don’t think it pumped correctly because there was too much flashy nonsense.
Eisener should have focused more on the horror itself and the terror rather than trying to forcibly slip us into being terrified by flashing lights and noises; I, personally, was creeped out as it was with the aliens, I didn’t need some of the nauseating effects that came along with it to be scared. Really disappointed in this section ultimately, but I did love the initial setup, as well as some of the kids’ dialogue.
VHS2_72-1024x576Part of the reason I really did enjoy V/H/S/2 is, as I mentioned earlier, the wraparound segment. Barrett’s “Tape 49” follows two private investigators who are looking for a missing student, and after they manage to get into his seemingly deserted house they come across a bunch of strange VHS tapes. Once they watch the tapes, their night gets even worse.

I thought this angle for the story that sort of encompasses the film, explaining the tapes themselves, worked very well, and it was also directed well by Barrett. I just thought it worked even better than the simple premise of the first film’s wraparound segment. It was more intriguing.
VHS2_75-1024x576I think one of the things V/H/S/2 really does have going for it, adding something new to the second installment of this series, is that the whole film is really fun. It’s absolutely an exciting and entertaining ride. Though I didn’t really click with Eisener or Wingard’s shorts, they were still enjoyable even if I had some problems with them myself. “A Ride in the Park” and “Safe Haven” really hit the mark the best I could have possibly imagined (I expected good things from both Evans and Sanchez because I was huge fans of theirs previous to this movie), and they keep the energy of the entire film at a really high level.

If you enjoyed the first V/H/S then you will most likely enjoy V/H/S/2 because, for all its faults, the film tries its best at all times to be entertaining, innovative, and above all else scary, as well as disturbing. You can do worse than this movie – certainly, I wouldn’t own it on Blu ray if I didn’t think it was worth watching.
That being said, the Blu ray release is not really the greatest. While the picture and sound are incredible, there is little else to be excited about other than a 3-minute featurette on each of the segments; one includes a ridiculously pointless video of Sanchez and crew tipping over a dead and rotting tree, which ends in slight injury. I only enjoyed the featurette for, surprisingly enough a segment I wasn’t big on, “Phase I Clinical Trials” – I really like Wingard a lot, and just hearing him talk a little about the filming process, et cetera, it was nice. Though, it was still only 3 or 4 minutes. Neither of these features are longer than 5 minutes tops. Disappointing, especially considering this is a film highly based around the visuals. They could have done better.
Check out the Blu ray, but don’t expect a ton of great extras to keep you entertained. You’ll be getting the film and not much in the way of added toppings. The movie is pretty good. The Blu ray? You’re better off waiting for them to put out all the V/H/S movies as a set. Maybe then they’ll get some more, and better, footage to include for the fans. Until then, this a mediocre at best Blu ray release.