The Classics of Horror #19 – The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Only a few movies on this long-lasting list are ground-breaking enough to having given popularity to an entire sub-genre. One of them is The Blair Witch Project, responsible for the endless stream of found-footage flicks that came out ever since 1999. Thank you *insert sarcasm here*.

This entirely shot on camera, late 90s film is also famous for its lack of conventional plot and proper action, which makes its success and great receptions even more amazing. Continue reading “The Classics of Horror #19 – The Blair Witch Project (1999)”

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Once upon a time, there were a Demon, a Vampire and a Skinwalker… The Monster Project – movie review

It seems like the beginning of a twisted fairy tale, instead that’s the premise The Monster Project is based on.

Combine this simple (although a bit childish) premise with some found-footage style, isolated location, a solar eclipse and you basically know what film you will get. Sounds lame, right?

Monster Project 1If you ask me, this doesn’t look promising even in the slightest. Fortunately, in this case, what you have on paper doesn’t turn into reality in the execution, because The Project Monster is a very entertaining flick.

We follow aspiring filmmaker Bryan (Toby Hemingway, the only familiar face in the movie) who assembles a crew of misfits to film a documentary with real-life monsters: specifically, a demon, a vampire and a Skinwalker.

This movie runs for almost 100 minutes and, as soon as the action kicks off (around 40 minutes into the film), it becomes fast-paced and non-stop entertainment, with one impactful jump-scare after the other. Besides the ending, which has a silly plot twist I don’t really care for, The Monster Project is a constant adrenaline rush, a sort of The Blair Witch Project (1999) on steroids.

If you are into this kind of movies, I suggest to check this one out as soon as possible; just don’t expect anything more than that, okay?

Obviously, though, I wouldn’t call this a good movie. This time around, I am going to explain the main issues with the movie by figuring out a fictional, alternative version of what we got. An alternative cut, if you will.

Monster Project 2.jpgFirst of all, the ‘HorrorWorld&Reviews cut’ would be 70 minutes long: no characters’ introduction or formulaic backstory, the viewer would be dragged into the action straight away. In fact, the first 30 minutes or so of The Monster Project seem to be there just to make the flick get to the feature length. Also, every time this movie comes back to the characters it loses impact. In my fictional cut, all those elements would disappear.

Monster Project 3.pngSecondly, I would elongate the interviews with the monsters, which are the most original and enthralling part of this flick. Mostly Demon and Vampire (the Skinwalker not so much) are scary and intriguing and I would have liked to see a deeper exploration of their persona, which is what I would include in the ‘HorrorWorld&Reviews cut’.

Finally, I would film The Monster Project through a more traditional third-person narrative. The found-footage style is tiresome and has used up its impact in horror cinema, in my opinion. The main reason being it’s supposed to show the audience real and truthful events through the eye of a camera; however, in The Monster Project the viewer is bombarded with professional soundtrack (where does it come from?), awkward angles (why filming yourself kissing a girl?) and perfect audio recording (even when a freaking demon eats you alive).

The point is that a movie makes much more sense within its story and its ‘universe’ when it’s not filmed in found-footage fashion, because it doesn’t need to explain how this or that has been recorded. Therefore, my cut would rely on traditional filmmaking techniques and shy away from every form of found-footage.

A quick recap: I’d keep all the good stuff included in The Monster Project and make the segments about the monsters’ interview longer; I’d get rid of any attempt to character development; I’d film the movie in third-person and probably make the ending a bit less over-the-top and silly. What do you think? Would you watch it?

While we wait for Hollywood to hire my, as I said before you can still enjoy The Monster Project for what it is and you’ll probably end up having some mindless entertainment, filled with scary bits and extremely effective jump-scares, as long as you don’t overthink about it for more than two seconds. Otherwise, you’d realise that nothing makes sense. Cheers!

 

Thanks to DreadCentral for the images!

Another found-footage Sci-Fi on alien abductions. Phoenix Forgotten – movie review

On March, 13th 1997 lights of varying descriptions were spotted over Phoenix, Nevada and Sonora, Mexico.

The phenomenon has been described by local and national American media as a “mass UFO sighting”, overhyping the fantasies of conspiracy theories and tickling the curiosity of many.

As a natural consequence, books have been written by alleged UFO experts and movies have been made to exploit one of the few inexplicable happenings that triggered Sci-Fi fans.

Among those low-quality and low-budget films, Phoenix Forgotten was meant to be the exception. Produced by the master of Sci-Fi, Ridley Scott – and directed by novice filmmaker Justin Barber – this is the latest attempt to a successful found-footage movie.

Instead, it might just as well be buried in anonymity alongside with tons of other mocumentaries of the same stock.

What started promising in the first 10-15 minutes became mediocre and already-seen as the movie progressed.

The footage looks, indeed, very realistic, being accompanied by glitches and lacking background music. Although the background voice takes the viewer slightly out of the experience, this part of Phoenix Forgotten is highly entertaining because creates interest and hype around the story.

Phoenix Forgotten 2When three teenagers (Josh, Ashley and Marc) disappear a few days after the lights were seen in the sky, town folk and local police go desperately in search of them. However, after some government agency and the army seemingly bury the evidences and push for all the story to be forgotten, the search stops all of the sudden.

A few years later, Josh’s sister starts to dig into the story and finds a camera with a miraculously intact tape, which is shown in the last 20-25 minutes of the film.

Phoenix.ForgottenThe actual footage, which constitutes the third act of the film, is – in my opinion – the most climactic, intriguing and even startling part of Phoenix Forgotten. Reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project (1999), the climax of the movie is well executed because it hints to things without showing them.

Unfortunately, the rest of the flick – from the first 10-15 minutes up to the last 20-25 – is only a boring, dragging stream of bureaucratic discussions, pointless dialogues and endless series of fillers who serve no purpose other than increase the pending display of the footage.

Thus, the character development is extremely disappointing. While I was watching Phoenix Forgotten I kept questioning myself whether this kind of movies need strong characters or if the characterisation would weaken the meaning of mocumentary itself.

I might be wrong, but personally I lose interest when a flick doesn’t feature compelling characters.

Phoenix Forgotten 1In the case of Phoenix Forgotten, the acting didn’t help. Formulaic, generic and bland, the only cast member who stands out is Chelsea Lopez (who portraits a terrified Ashley towards the end).

Phoenix Forgotten is not a bad movie – it’s not a good one either though. It’s just boring, and I struggle to find another adjective to describe it.

I’d say: check it out if you’re into the all alien abduction sub-genre or if you’re particularly obsessed by the lights over Phoenix. If you don’t fit this description, do yourself a favour and shy away from it. Cheers!

A shameless Annabelle and Paranormal Activity rip-off. Heidi – movie review

Released straight for DVD, Heidi has lately made a name for itself among a niche of horror fans.

The found-footage film (as if we needed more of this type of movies) features a creepy doll, not unlike Annabelle, that haunts two high school pranksters who found it, obviously, in a neighbour’s attic.

Consequently, hell breaks loose and our main characters get surrounded by mysterious deaths and inexplicable events. Which, of course, are documented by high quality cameras by our protagonists, although they come from needy families and are not supposed to afford such an expensive equipment.

heide-horror-movie-news-5Furthermore, as if the plot wasn’t dumb enough, there is no character development whatsoever: our main guys are only voices behind a camera, therefore impossible to side with. Similarly, every other character is insipid and dull, a device utilised purely to carry the plot along.

Due to its lack of interesting character and reasonable plot, some may expect Heidi to have good jump-scares and tense moments, at least.

Unfortunately, this is a boring ass flick in which nothing of any interest happens. The jump-scares are all false: a bird hits a window, a car horn honks, a sudden noise from upstairs just happens.

And the atmosphere is everything but unsettling. Most of the time, it’s so dark that the viewer can’t see anything and the only hint to tension comes from the main guy’s heavy breath. Which, by the way, is never followed by an action but only by a dull moment where not a single thing occurs.

This movie is joke. Or, I’d better say, a hoax. Not because of the film itself, which is still painful to watch, but since it was made purely to milk money out of people’s pockets off a ridiculous budget.

Indeed, my main issue with Heidi consists of the lack of passion and love for making a movie behind it. The marketing campaign clearly aimed to an audience particularly down for flicks like Annabelle and Paranormal Activity – which, despite being quite awful films, have made a humongous profit.

But even the target audience must have been disappointed by the result. Heidi is, in fact, a soulless movie that has no purpose whatsoever other than making money with the minimum effort. Don’t watch it, please. Cheers!

One of the better horror anthologies in recent times. The Dark Tapes – movie review

The Dark Tapes is a horror anthology split in three chapters, each one of them bond to the other by a fourth story that intercuts between them, also establishing an overall frame.

First time feature filmmakers Michael McQuown and Vincent J. Guastini directed and co-produced the flick – a genre-defying, found-footage combination of supernatural elements, Sci-Fi and thriller.

You can imagine my reaction when I sat down to watch a found-footage anthology, since I’m not the biggest fan of anthologies nor of found-footage.

Nevertheless, The Dark Tapes highly surprised me, being one of the genuinely scariest movies I’ve seen in 2017. If not the scariest.

Above all, I wasn’t frightened by jump-scares – which are almost non-existent in the film. Instead, I was sincerely creeped out by the dreadful colours, the dark and threatening atmosphere and the amazing sounds’ design. Yet, the performances, provided by a cast of unknown actors, range from a decent to a very convincing level, the pinacols being the first and the third chapters.

The.Dark_.Tapes_.2016-fanart10The first story (The Hunters and The Hunted), the first tape if you will, is the one I’ve been more impressed by. It tells the story of a young couple that moves to a new house which might eventually turn out to be haunted. Very reminiscent of Paranormal Activity (which is one of the reasons why I strongly dislike found-footage films), this segment concentrates all the tension within the short runtime of 25 minutes, demonstrating that a short film is where this kind of plots belongs. Despite an excellent build-up, the aspect I loved about it the most is the twist, a very clever one, which spoofs and enriches at the same time the whole paranormal activity horror sub-genre.

Dark TapesCam Girls instead tells the story of two lesbian lovers, that make a living performing sexual activities online (for paying customers). Their online chats are filled with terrifying glitches that hint – in a quite evident way – to something dark and devilish. Although the overall atmosphere and the lack of music make for an unnerving experience, the mediocre acting and the obvious ending scale this segment down, making it the less powerful in the entire anthology, in my opinion.

118147Amanda’s Revenge is the following tale that revolves around a young student drugged and raped in a party who, then, becomes obsessed with stopping persistent unwanted paranormal intruders. Enriched by strong symbolism and carried along by a resourceful female character, this story about alien abductions benefitted from good cast choices, believable turns of events and dreadful look and feel. The ‘ending-ending’ is quite cliché and meaningless, but it doesn’t ruin the segment either.

The.Dark_.Tapes_.2016-fanart32The frame which interlinks these three stories together is represented by To Catch a Demon, where we follow three paranormal investigators that take their investigations into an uncharted new dangerous territory. Not particularly original nor unseen before, this tape is still able to scare me shitless, due to its highly earie score, slumber and threatening tone and, above all, terrifying creature realised entirely with practical effects.

Overall, I found The Dark Tapes surprisingly enjoyable and entertaining. On IMDb I came across this comment which sums up my opinion on the movie: “For an indie film made on just a $65,000 budget though, I think [the result] is mostly impressive”. I also believe this flick shows the talent of McQuown who wrote the script, directed two segments, served as film’s editor and cinematographer all by himself.

Strongly recommended guys, don’t let this film fly under your radars. Cheers!

Top underrated horror ‘gems’ – #8 The Bay

*The general premise to the list is available in my previous posts, go check it out*

The Bay (2012) is a mockumentary horror movie in found footage style, directed by Barry Levinson who previously brought on screen great films such as Good morning Vietnam (1987), Rain Man (1988) – winning the Award both for best direction and best pictures – and Wag the Dog (1997). The Bay was indeed a shot in the dark for Levinson, who, however, nailed it once again.

Before diving right into the movie, I need to say that the next three films on this ‘top ten of most underrated horror flicks’ – The Bay itself and the next two – have been welcomed enthusiastically by critics and reviewers, whereas being disapproved by the public. I feel relieved not being the only one who sees potential and goodness in them.

Let’s now talk about The Bay, which plot consists of a little town on the Maryland shore where an infection of some kind starts infecting people, causing them to have their body covered by warts and boils. As the disease progresses, the symptoms get worse and worse, up to the death of the infected.

This film is not your average contagion flick, though. To be clear, none turns into a famished zombie. Without spoiling anything, The Bay looks more like a documented viral contagion that spreads the virus unstoppably.

thebay_02

Levinson’s most ‘out of place’ work has numerous qualities. First of all, the found footage is always believable. It does make sense even in the minute details, where the exposition is left to the scientists who are documenting their studies in order to figure out what is going on in the town.

Secondly, the atmosphere is unsettling and dreadful throughout the entire runtime – 85 mins of edge-of-your-seat type of deal – even in the first scene, when the location seems paradisiac and the people look cheerful. As the movie progresses, the whole look and feel drag the viewers into a very credible nightmare with the sensation of no possible escape.

Yet, the acting is surprisingly good and the cast – composed by not even decent actors, in my opinion – did a great job in this movie. The camera work, the lightening and the performances make the story look more like a real documentary rather than a cheap mockumentary. I think the one who should be praised the most is Barry Levinson, who did a great job out of an average script and a mediocre cast.

Plus, The Bay is way more disgusting and disturbing than your usual found footage. It’s not scary, though, in the traditional way – jump scares and all that tiring stuff – but it’s unsettling. Therefore, there are few jaws dropping scenes, when the viewers literally jump on their seats, which you don’t see them coming. Something quite rare in the horror cinema nowadays.

All in all, The Bay is an intense, dreadful and disturbing movie with an actual social commentary that should make people think and reflect on the way we treat our environment. It’s a shame this movie is so overlooked. If you guys read this review, please check out the movie and tell your friends to do the same. You won’t regret it. Cheers.