In '97, Anish needs his mother to send his novel by e-mail. But getting it done over the phone could prove a brutal experience.
Paranormal Activity. 2007. Directed & Written by Oren Peli.
Starring Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Amber Armstrong, and Ashley Palmer. Solana Films/Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 86 minutes.
When done correctly, I am a huge fan of found footage. Whether it’s using the thriller style, as I recently enjoyed in the film 419, or horror (The Blair Witch Project, Cannibal Holocaust, Home Movie, and many more), I believe that if a director uses the sub-genre appropriately then it can be extremely effective. Particularly, horror movies using found footage can end up having a huge impact if it isn’t simply a gimmick, or a wasted tool in the director’s arsenal.
Even further than that, a writer (or writers) needs to know the limitations of the sub-genre, as well as where it can go. Too many writers seem to let the screenplay of a found footage film fall by the wayside, like it isn’t an important aspect so much as the visuals prove to be. Very bad way to look at ANY genre or sub-genre; you always need a good script, or at least an impressive idea to work from.
There are things I do love about Paranormal Activity, while I’ve got a gripe or two, as well. Mostly, I think Oren Peli really did an excellent job as director in cultivating an impressive piece of modern horror. He singlehandedly changed the found footage game, in my mind, after the originals left their highly impressive (and better) mark – like The Blair Witch Project and the infamous, controversial Cannibal Holocaust. Now there are plenty of others, since this film’s release in 2007, trying to work off the simple yet excellent format Peli landmarked.
This is not a perfect horror, nor is it my favourite found footage film. However, I’ve got to say that when I first saw Paranormal Activity – and to this day – there were elements and scenes which really unsettled me greatly and left a lasting impression on me. I don’t think, as a veteran in watching films and TONS of horror, that I’m easily frightened. But genuinely, at times, I found myself clenching up. Not to say I wept in terror or curled into a ball. Though, I can readily admit my muscles tightened and my heart rate pumped fast in several scenes, which is all due to the acting of the two leads and the good work of writer-director Oren Peli.
I won’t waste time relating the plot. This is one of those movies we ALL know about; if not, head over to IMDB or Wikipedia and it’s laid out pretty well. I’d like to just move into the things I liked/disliked about the movie.
An aspect of the screenplay I truly do love is how the character of Micah antagonizes the presence in their home. Starting early on, within the first fifteen minutes even, Micah begins to make fun of the whole concept of some spirit (or whatever) in the house; he plays creepy music, saying he’d like to make the presence feel at home. I always like when a story incorporates scepticism in an interesting way; Micah is a part of that, as he pretty much riles up the thing in their house.
Otherwise, one of the greatest parts in my mind about Peli’s Paranormal Activity is that the effects really started to push the envelope for found footage. Since 2007 there have been plenty more found footage films which used effects to a greater degree, but at the time this came as sort of revolutionary for the sub-genre. Before this movie, and those which followed it (both sequels and other films imitating this style), most found footage horror tended to go for the lost in the woods scenario, adding in tons of shaky cam and screaming and blood/gore here or there. Peli came along and decided to keep the camera stationary almost all of the time, which really helped, and on top of that he tried as best he could to do as much practically as possible, as well as the great majority of the film is centred so much on the relationship between Katie and Micah.
Keeping the camera in one place the way he does, Peli is able to let us relax a bit and get more into the characters and the story/plot than other found footage allows us. As I said, the shaky cam is prevalent in many other films similar to this. Even the amazing Blair Witch Project, there are a couple nearly nausea inducing sequences where the characters are running, screaming, and the camera is jostling around along with their movements; to the point where it’s tough to follow anything. Luckily, that was one of the first real found footage horror movies where shaky cam became a thing, so at the time it wasn’t really overdone.
Nowadays with so many less exciting films than that trying to read in its huge footsteps, we get too many horrors using found footage and throwing in the shaky cam as a legitimate portion of the film when in fact it only detracts from the end product; we’re tired and sick of the shakiness, it’s not simply low budget and realistic it makes things look lazy. In Paranormal Activity, Peli foregoes that nonsense and allows us to get into the relationship between Katie and Micah, watching their lives unfold instead of constantly having one of them manipulate the camera, moving it around, and so on. Though Micah absolutely holds the camera at times, it’s not him running around and catching nothing except blurs. Whenever he does move it, the moment is brief, or at the least Micah is usually standing in one place. I think, albeit probably an obvious touch, Peli does his film a great service by allowing the camera to stay still a lot of the time. That way, his story comes out further, the characters are more interesting, and the plot is able to move along without the audience becoming totally unnerved (not in the right way) by the camera movement constantly shaking us out of touch with what’s happening in the film.
For this reason, as well as the fact effects are incorporated in a fresh way (not saying they’re spectacular; merely they were slightly new to this sub-genre), I truly feel Peli broke new, interesting ground with his found footage horror movie. Not only did it spawn a series of sequels, a whole franchise, Paranormal Activity – in a different way from its predecessors – had other filmmakers looking to do a low-budget horror almost copycatting everything about it.
They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery; in this case, I think it’s mostly about cashing in.
Finally, it’s the acting from Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston which truly got to me. I think Sloat did a good enough job, especially in terms of being the sceptical and doubting boyfriend; he isn’t completely ignorant and arrogant in his speech, mostly he brings this aspect across through his coy, annoyingly playful demeanour. He certainly acts like a bit of a douchebag, but I think that’s almost definitely the right way for Micah to seem, as a character – it brings out that doubt very clearly for all to see.
Above all else, it’s Featherston who sells this film from start to finish. I like the character herself; she’s been followed all her life, basically, by some kind of spirit, an entity. Not that it’s a new idea. It’s how Featherston plays the character, the innocence she always seems to display and this naive but concerned nature in her. While Katie is the one who believes in it all, there’s still this naivety about her in that she’s holding onto the innocent part of herself, even while this demon/spirit/entity has latched onto her and won’t leave her, or Micah, alone. The way Featherston performs is incredible, unbelievably actually in the final half hour. Once things start getting very intense and claustrophobic in their little house, Featherston does a perfect job portraying all the terror Katie is feeling; there’s one moment where she tells Micah she feels something in the hallway, and I honestly got a fright just out of the urgency in her voice, the look in her eyes. Amazing job and makes Paranormal Activity all the better for it; anyone else would probably not have been enough. Featherston pushed this film above a ton of other found footage out there with subpar acting and lazy characters.
With an undeniably horrifying final 15 minutes, I can definitely say this is a 4 out of 5 star film. There could’ve been a little more in certain parts, but overall this is an excellent modern horror. I’m not saying this will send you to bed cowering under the covers like when we were children. What I am saying is that Oren Peli did a good job directing this, as opposed to so many shaky useless found footage efforts, and he tried to instil the film with as much practicality (from plot to effects) as possible.
This is a slow burn type of horror film, in my opinion. It does well building up tension, in part that’s due to excellent actors, and in the end there’s a massively satisfying and creepy conclusion. Love the end and watching this for the first time since its release 8 years ago, I must admit I like the film more than I’d originally thought.
The Hills Have Eyes Part II. 1985. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring Tamara Stafford, Kevin Spirtas, John Bloom, Colleen, Riley, Michael Berryman, Penny Johnson Jerald, Janus Blythe, John Laughlin, Willard E. Pugh, Peter Frechette, Robert Houston, David Nichols, Edith Fellows, Lance Gordon, and Suze Lanier-Bramlett. VTC.
Rated 18+. 86 minutes.
When it comes to The Hills Have Eyes Part II, I can’t say in any way that it’s a good movie. By the same token I like it, as in it’s enjoyable for me. Do you know what I mean? It’s one of those guilty pleasure films. Wes Craven shot a bunch of this before A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it got slowed down because of budget issues, then after Freddie Krueger rocked the world the studio got Craven to put together a film for this; except only using the footage already shot. The reason there are a ton of flashbacks used in The Hills Have Eyes Part II is due to the fact he didn’t have enough footage to make a full feature, so filling in all the gaps were bits and pieces from the first. Now, it’s not that which makes everything a mess here. Well… it’s not only that.
In comparison with the original 1977 horror classic, this sequel is not nearly as well written. Not sure what else Craven had planned originally for the movie. Because even some of the initial plot is truly hazy. There’s no real explanation for some of what continued from the first movie, as well as a good few scenes that come off as eternally cheesy, so much so it’s hard to even care about the characters because they’re mostly walking cliches and tropes. Perhaps had the studio allowed Craven to go back and reshoot, plus shoot more, there’s a possibility this sequel could’ve turned out much better. Unfortunately we’ll never know. What we’re left with is a bargain basement horror, filled with nonsense. It’s one of the handful of blemishes on an otherwise impressively terrifying horror movie career on the part of Wes Craven.
The Hills Have Eyes Part II begins with Bobby Carter (Robert Houston) seeing a psychiatrist, trying to work through the traumatic events which happened eight years ago in the first film. He and Ruby (Janus Blythe), now called Rachel, run a dirtbike team. They’re headed out into the desert for a race, nearby where the massacre from the first film took place. Bobby doesn’t want to go, though, his psychiatrist urges him to try and do it. Instead, Ruby/Rachel goes in his place with the team.
But out in that desert, after their bus breaks down, strange madness begins to take hold in the desert. Pluto (Michael Berryman) shows up out of nowhere, attacking Ruby/Rachel, but no one will believe her at first. Despite her warnings they head out into the desert on their dirtbikes, jumping and racing about. What follows is more murder and mayhem from the cannibal family in the hills.
A part of this movie I always thought was just way too excellent, amongst the foolishness, is when Beast has his own flashback. After Pluto (Michael Berryman) attacks Ruby/Rachel (Janus Blythe), we go back to when Beast and Pluto met in the original. There’s just something about this sequence I find both hilarious and also amazing at the same time. I can just see Wes behind his writing desk, cackling to himself, thinking that the dogs ought to have their day, too.
There’s nothing much to enjoy about this sequel. Sure, it’s fun to see Michael Berryman again. He’s an excellent character actor in horror movies. His condition – not sure what it’s called but I believe one of the things it causes is no sweat glands – lends a bit naturally to playing an outsider, so I love that he willingly takes on these weird, psychotic roles, or just the strange and outlandish ones. He’s absolutely a treasure of the horror genre and continues to be.
However, seeing him is not enough to make any of the film worth sitting through. Not to mention the fact so much of the other acting here is downright terrible. I’m not even sure what the one guy’s name is – the loud mouth one always cracking jokes and laughing and being obnoxious – but I cared so little about him I didn’t bother to remember who he was – Harry? I’m going with Harry. His acting was incredibly bad. I don’t know if it was mostly him or mostly Craven’s writing. Certainly overall, the script does not help in any way.
That’s another thing. I happen to think Wes Craven is a pretty solid writer, most of the time. He has a few scripts I don’t find particularly intriguing, but I think a lot of his stuff is great horror. The Hills Have Eyes Part II is in no way a representation of his best writing, not in any shape or form. The dialogue is all stilted, as opposed to a lot of fun and creepy stuff which came out of the first film’s script. The characters are beyond generic; even worse, I happen to think Craven is decent enough at writing black characters most of the time, but his attempt to write the character of Foster (Willard E. Pugh) here is laughably bad.
My biggest beef is that we’re never fully explained anything concerning Ruby/Rachel and Bobby. It just makes zero sense to me. Why does Ruby bother to change her name? As if the census taker is going to come around wondering why Ruby from the hillside cannibal clan is now living in the city? I think not. It’s sort of silly, as if she’s escaping her past in a Witness Protection Act. Meanwhile, she goes back out into the desert with the dirtbike team. Why? She knows what’s out there. Bobby was smart enough not to go, I just don’t see in what universe Ruby would subject herself to going back out there; she clearly would realize if Pluto or any of the other mutants found her, they’d be pretty pissed, I think. Regardless of how the studio made Craven go back and work with things he’d already shot without being able to film additional footage, there’s no excusing a lot of lapse in intelligence that can be found in even some of the most basic elements of Craven’s script.
I can’t say there’s no way he would’ve been able to make this into a decent film, but it’s unlikely either way. The script is far too weak to start. Unless he planned to do rewrites if given the chance, I think we can certainly chalk this one up to a badly formed script on his part and that perhaps it would’ve been better off – on ALL fronts even his and the studio – just to leave The Hills Have Eyes as a standalone film.
Having gone through all the awful aspects about this movie, I can still put it on and enjoy it. Isn’t that strange? I’m not sure what it is. There are just movies I can sit through and get enjoyment out of even while they’re virtually useless. I like some of the music in the film, as well as the fact there are a couple genuinely creepy scenes. Outside of that, there’s nothing I can say is good. There’s simply a quality to this horrible and needless sequel that I can’t seem to shake; it sticks on me like a wet fart. But it’s a wet fart I happen to love, as bad as it is for me to enjoy.
This is a 1 star film simply because there’s a glimmer of something here, whatever it is I can’t tell but it is THERE. I’m telling you. Perhaps it’s the fact Beast is so prominent throughout a couple scenes, maybe I’m too attached to animals – dogs in particular. I’m not sure now, never have been, and I can’t be positive that I’ll ever figure it out. I think, above all, my lament for Wes Craven’s sequel takes precedence: I wanted this so badly to be a decent movie. There are a couple eerie moments, enough to make things creepy from time to time, but ultimately not enough for anyone else to call this even remotely a mediocre horror.
Don’t waste your time unless you’re a completist. Most likely you’re not crazy like me and you won’t find anything endearing about this dog turd of a Craven flick.