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The horror found footage film As Above, So Below (2014) received quite a bit of attention two years ago while in theaters, and it’s oft been recommended to me since. I’m a fan of found footage, despite the usual infuriating nature of the genre, so I’d been interested in seeing this for a while. The premise of the film is intriguing, especially considering the set is actually the Catacombs, which also then means that many of the bones and skeletons are probably real. Pretty darn spooky, right? If dusty calcium scares you.

In the end, I can’t say that this is a good horror movie, but I was engaged. The beginning of the film is incredibly slow, however once it picks up it did keep my attention. The main character Scarlett is an academic wizard who thankfully is an expert in… symbology, which I suppose is the justification for how she’s able to interpret the hieroglyphics on the Catacomb walls to mean some pretty absurd things. She rattles off her interpretations in rapid-fire whispers that barely make sense, and the viewer must just accept that she is right because otherwise they’re fucked and the plot must go on, afterall. There is a moment where she attributes the phrase “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” to mythology, and as a massive literature nerd, I cringed pretty hard. I imagine most of what she says is similarly cringe-worthy. But it is a horror movie, so I accepted Scarlett’s rants and hoped for scary imagery.

The movie provided. The Catacombs look amazing, and while I didn’t find the jump scares effective and grew tired of them, the creatures are eerie-looking and the shadows and CGI worked well (meaning it was not particularly excessive). Many of the scenes are framed nicely and the overall aesthetics and appearance of everything works. I would say this is the strongest aspect of the whole movie—the visuals and setting.

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Someone’s family, once

Eventually I began to believe the movie was self-aware and purposefully loading itself up with tropes for sheer amusement. This is not art. Some of the scenes are so ridiculous that they are laughable. A particular scene features Scarlett essentially getting a star in Mario and going back through the tunnels they just spent 45 minutes of film time traveling through, then Mario-starring it back again.

Also, the film doesn’t really try to make the camera situation make sense. Some may find this irritating.  Many found footage films attempt to explain where the footage is coming from, how they were able to get certain angles and shots, but that doesn’t really happen here in a convincing manner. I wasn’t really bothered much by this, as in the end the whole premise is ridiculous and I just wanted to see spooky things.

If you want your movies to make sense, then this isn’t really the film for you. There’s a long list of nonsensical, bad moments in this movie. But if you enjoy found footage irregardless and want to see a horror film shot in an interesting setting with some cool scenes, then this will surely entertain you—enough.

 

 

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Every October, I try to watch a horror movie every single day, like many people seem to be doing nowadays. I really like spooky, creepy, disturbing things (if you’ve been reading this blog a while, then yeah, well, that’s obvious). This makes October the perfect month for my obsession, as I can justify watching endless horror movies for no other reason than to make my life creepier. 

To be honest, after years of doing this I don’t think I’ve ever actually managed to watch thirty one movies during this month before—I think the best I’ve managed is perhaps 20, or 21. Which is still impressive! The thing is, I usually end up just going out to events like Prom of the Dead and getting sickeningly shit-faced while covered in fake blood, thus failing to watch horror movies near the end of the month. So this is my first installment of quick reviews of these movies, with a total of nine reviews on this list. I probably should have made it to ten for this, but I doubt I’ll make it to thirty one reviews, so I’ll just post what I have now and you can cross your fingers and cheer me on to waste my life some more.

October 1st: I’m Not Scared (2003) 

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Uh, so, I thought this was a horror movie because it has the word “scared” in the title. This turned out to be faulty reasoning. This is not a horror film. It turns out there was some time in Italy called the “Years of Lead,” in the 1970s, when terrorism and kidnapping were fairly common. This movie is set during that time, and deals with a young boy’s handling of a crime that he stumbles upon. Michele finds a boy chained in a hole in his village, and it turns out there’s nothing spooky forthcoming, just lots of disturbing plot, concepts, acting and history. The whole thing is actually pretty touching near the end. Even though this ended up not being a scary movie, it is disturbing so I’m going to let it count because I don’t want to have lost a day. My psyche was scarred. It counts.

October 2nd: Entity (2012)

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Although this was a horror movie this time, once again I was wrong with my assumptions. I guess I didn’t look closely at the cover and what I thought were grey-ish aliens were just Russian ghosts in potato sacks. Entity sounds like it might be referring to something science fiction, right? Eh, whatever. If you like ghosts…. you probably still wouldn’t like this movie. This was an awkward combination of found footage and actual 3rd person omniscient footage, which didn’t really make sense, and there were just endless scenes of the characters staring in abject horror at—something. I don’t know what really. The cameras never turned around to show what they were gaping at. At one point in the movie I finally concluded they were just gaping at scary sounds. This movie just made me angry most of time. And the guy who played Yuri, I guess he won some British award for Best International Actor—for this movie! Between him staring in horror and stuttering in fear/grief, I really don’t see it. The ending was okay…. I guess.

October 3rd: Inner Demons (2014)

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Okay. Okay, we’re getting better here. This movie was very entertaining—not a good movie per se, but definitely fun and amusing. I enjoy the Intervention style to the found footage, and it was fun to see the lead girl be possessed. Not entirely scary, unless you have a low threshold, but entertaining. The knight in shining armor character is a little annoying, but the ending definitely took me by surprise. I thought for a moment things were going to be romantic or something—yeesh—but then out of nowhere disturbing violence came and saved the day. Some of the characters are stupid and annoying enough to be highly entertaining, and it feels like this is done purposefully. So I recommend this movie as a lighter horror film.

October 4th: We Are Still Here (2015)

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This is a brand new horror movie, and I’ve been hearing the title alongside other 2015 horror names like It Follows and The Babadook. It’s an interesting film, with a rustic, cold setting and 70s vibe (I believe it is set in 1979). I wasn’t expecting the movie to have as much humor as it did—there were moments that were very amusing. Some of the acting of the townspeople is so typical of B-movie villagers giving exposition that I feel it must have been purposeful, thus making it funny. The movie is also surprisingly, and satisfyingly, gory. Not in a realistic way, but a fun Evil Dead bright red splatter-fest where you get to see some… interesting explosions. The plot has some confusing muddled parts however, and the ending left with me a lot of questions that I don’t think there are answers for. If you like a solid conclusion, which sometimes I want, then that can be annoying. However, an amusing, bloody horror film. Good for October!

October 5th: Spring (2014)

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This one was surprisingly different. Out of the five I’ve seen, I would say this has been the best thus far. I don’t want to say too much about the actual plot, because I went in knowing nothing and ended up being pleasantly shocked about what was going on. I think knowing little about this movie does help the viewing experience. I will say the whole movie has a dream-like atmosphere that’s actually touching, with appealing hazy, dream visuals. It’s written and directed by the same two that did Resolution (2012), a movie which I also enjoyed and had a similar different, grainy vibe to it. Ultimately, this film reminded me of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Midnight (2014) except a lot gorier with ten times the dialogue. Not a traditional horror movie by any means, but an actual good solid movie.

October 6th: Digging Up the Marrow (2014)

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This film seems to get a lot more flack than I think it deserves. When reading about it online, a lot of people expressed that they didn’t like it. I was intrigued by the concept (a man who insists there’s a world of monsters living under ours) so I planned to watch it anyway. The film is mostly made by the presence of the wonderful Ray Wise (of Twin Peaks fame) who plays the man who claims the monsters live under us. His insistent insanity and straight-facedness through it is humorous and off-putting. The interplay between him and the main douche is entertaining, and I enjoy that while it’s a bit cheesy, the scares do come as a surprise and get the heart racing. I saw comparisons of this movie to Creep, and I assume this is because they both are found footage horror movies that take a different approach with the genre. Of the two, I enjoyed Digging Up the Marrow much more. Also, the look of the monsters makes for a very Halloween vibe, making this a great movie to watch this month.

October 7th: Possession (1981)

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Well, I certainly didn’t mean to emotionally scar myself this month any more than I do normally, but turning on this movie today has forever ruined my psyche just a little bit. Especially for every time in the future when I reflect on it. This film really warrants an actual full review, but I’ll stick with brevity anyway, as this was viewed as part of my October horror movie marathon, and maybe I’ll touch on it again in the future. The reason I chose to watch this one today is because I’ve heard it spoken about as a horror movie classic, and up to this point I’ve viewed exclusively newer horror movies. This 1981 flick filmed in Berlin was a needed mix. This movie is on a whole other level compared to the movies viewed thus far, however. In Possession, Sam Niell hires the worst private detective ever to track his constantly screaming wife who wants to divorce him, while a coked out Slavoj Zizek stumbles around him and Niell’s poor son plays victim in the middle. There are scenes in this movie that made me cringe and plead for reason and sanity. My stomach sank. My brain recoiled. Actress Isabelle Adjani screamed her soul out, and then when her soul was gone she still somehow kept screaming. The scene with her in the subway, screaming and just…. whatever that was… truly horrifying stuff. Easily one of the most disturbing movies I’ve seen yet, especially since the allegory is clear and something that affects many people.

Also, I messaged my favorite horror movie reviewer (HorribleReviews) about this movie, and he replied with some comments on it and a link to a segment of his Video Nasties series that reviews this movie.

October 8th: Mercy (2014)

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And things just go down the shitter after that last one. I really did not like this movie at all. It’s based off a Stephen King short story, Gramma, not saying that’s why it sucked because I actually really do like Stephen King, but that’s where the story came from. The plot is corny, as King is want to do, and I just couldn’t stand either of the kid actors. The main kid’s attachment to his grandma didn’t make sense to me, as it only showed her protecting him from a rattlesnake—barely—at the beginning to establish their closeness, and then for the rest of the movie all he does is freak out about his grandmother and snap at his own family for not caring enough about his mean, crazy, evil grandma. I could barely even pay attention to the ending of this one.

October 9th: Kairo (Pulse) (2001)

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After yesterday, I wanted to watch a quality horror movie. I recalled this movie, having seen it countless times on lists of must-see Japanese horror films, alongside movies like Ju-OnRingu, Noroi: the Curse, and Shutter (which I’ve reviewed on here before). Having loved those movies, I was excited to watch this one. Getting into it, I was a little bored, but I tried to keep an open mind and wait for everything to hit me. But… that just never happened. There are hundreds of raving reviews from huge horror fans about this movie, so this left me puzzled. What the hell? Many claim this movie has one of the most well-executed scary ghost scenes of all time (the “wobbly ghost”), but even that barely caught my attention. This movie is a slow-burn, but unlike movies such as Noroi: the Curse, that burn never actually ignites into anything creepy or horrifying. The movie is very metaphorical, yes, and the metaphor is easy to understand, but the profundity of it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Back in 2001? Maybe. Perhaps. But the ghosts look cheesy, the leads act incredibly stupid and slow-witted, and the post-apocalyptic twist has poor build up and makes the movie strange, not creepy. This movie was a huge disappointment for me, and I enjoyed Shutter much, much more, and found that ghost movie to be far scarier. The concept behind this movie is somewhat interesting, but with the strange lead with his unbuttoned shirt covered in marijuana-looking plants, and the multiple bland characters who fade away, the whole thing falls flat. And never fails to be incredibly boring.


Well, that’s what I’ve watched so far. Only 22 more to go! Typing that out makes me realize that this is far too many movies. Jesus Christ. Stay tuned for Part Two.

The 2013 film The Den, directed by Zachary Donohue, has been sitting in my Netflix list for a while now. Found footage films usually appeal to me, but the premise and look of the movie reminded me too much of Feardotcom, so it stirred up some traumatic flashbacks of a horrible fucking movie. Also, there’s a creepypasta vibe to the plot as well, and that’s not exactly a great sign. A woman named Elizabeth is doing a project involving a social media website called, of course, “The Den” (which has such a creepy connotation, no one would ever name their site that), so she’s chatting constantly with strangers at random via webcam. Cue: Snuff! Torture! Hacking! This is the kind of stuff Reddit users are squirming excitedly over when they’re writing about the “deep web.”

And yet, despite these damning details, this horror movie is actually good.

To deflect all protests of, “Nobody uses videochat this much!” I give you this: Imagine a world where…. people did. This is a fictional movie, after all, and the idea is not really that unbelievable. Also, the frequent use of Snapchat is comparable, so combine that with Omegle and Skype, and voila, you have “The Den.” Yeah, people don’t actually do what the characters in the movie do, but just pretend this is happening 10 years in the future or something.

The format of the movie is really interesting, and almost identically resembles the clips I’ve seen from the film Unfriended (2014). Since I haven’t actually seen Unfriended, I can’t say which movie did it better. The Den does a pretty damn good job of it though, all of the events of the film being shown via desktop and phone cam. There is a combination of text and video alongside each other as well. The whole format made my brain feel like I wasn’t watching a movie. The familiar image of the mouse moving across the screen, scrolling through email, all of that had this effect of making me feel as if I was just perusing the internet—and coming across some fucked up stuff. A different feel than the average movie experience.

Aww! Look, how about you come over to my place, and you can kill me. Sound good? 😉

The thing that I found really made it a good horror movie was the timing and pacing. There is some humor that really helps you relax (THERE’S A PENIS HOLY SHIT THERE’S AN ACTUAL PENIS, IT’S JUST LIKE IRL) before fucking with you again, ever so briefly, then returning back to normal. For veterans of the interwebs, this is a day in the life. Horrifying fucked up shit—a meme. Whatever. The escalation of the conflict is well-paced and unnerving, subtle but effective.

Then there’s what nobody ever comes across (well, aside from things like the Dnepropetrovsk maniacs video and the unfortunate like), an oddly exciting topic for us sick millenials—a snuff video. The way the movie goes about doing this was actually pretty scary; particularly, I enjoyed the coupling of sound and still images, or mismatched sound with video. The photo of the smiling girl creeped me out more than any of the stuff at the end of the movie, and when that suddenly shifted to video, I was surprisingly disturbed.

And then we hit our peak of realism for this movie, something extremely rare when it comes to horror movies….

Elizabeth immediately goes to the police.

Well, thank god. This didn’t make the movie go from zero to stupid fantasy world immediately, thus I remained into the movie. And it makes some sense the police can’t do much about a vague video online. It’s hard to say if the police reaction is realistic at first. By the end of the movie I was like, “Okay, these guys are just fucking idiots.” But cops do suck, so I suppose that common knowledge is enough to allow it to make some sense. However, the presence of cops still ends up defusing any possible realistic quality by the end of the movie. This is one of the big issues with horror movies. When they don’t call the cops, it’s like. “What the fuck?” But then when they do, the response and outcomes also don’t make sense.

…. That’s a really defined nose for a head in a burlap sack.

The ending was a bit drawn out, but I actually liked it. Yeah, obviously that would never happen, blah blah blah, but I still think the final scene was a nice end to the movie, and I also wasn’t quite expecting it.

Despite the fact that I thought this was a great horror movie, I must complain about two things: God! The video static and glitches! Cutting in and out! Is there no way to escape this? Even on a webcam? Why does every found footage movie have to contain this?! I didn’t mind it before, but I’m beginning to grow irritated at its presence in movies. Also, putting GoPros on the victims heads? I think this could have been thought out a little differently, but whatever, I took it in stride.

The idea of hacking and people outcomputering you has been topical for a while. Everyone’s Uncle Bobby is terrified of viruses and hackers, and with the whole NSA business, the film strikes a nerve involving webcams and the internet. Truly, there is a lot of potential for fucked up shit on the internet. This we can all agree on. Mix all that in with well-timed scares and plot pacing, effectively constructed format, and you have a movie worth watching.

The Den is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

I’m not entirely sure if I liked the movie Creep (2014). I didn’t hate it, at least, that’s a definite. That probably doesn’t sound very reassuring, however.

Hmmm. I’d trust him.

This found footage horror movie has an impressive Rotten Tomatoes score for the genre—92%! This is also impressive when one realizes that this film has a whopping two actors in it, plus a voice over the phone, if you want to count that. So here we have a found footage movie with two actors and tons of dialogue. Horror movies usually don’t go over well with critics, so what’s the deal here?

Well, this movie is probably the least “horrific” found footage that I’ve watched. The whole thing is more similar to the movie Exhibit A—both are arguably not horror movies, though I personally say that they are—but Exhibit A only gets a 52% on Rotten Tomatoes, a pretty big difference. I would say that Creep is more of a horror movie than Exhibit A, even. Why is one more successful than the other, then? They’re both unsettling movies told with handhelds and limited actors. They’re both about disturbed individuals.

I think it ends up coming down to the endings here. The biggest strong-point of the film Creep—so big that many probably forgive it of its weakness because of this—is its ending. The ending contains an incredible scene, both horrific and hilarious. The whole movie is a black comedy, but funny in a bleak, morbid, awkward way. All of this awkward humor and nervous laughter adds up to a great conclusion that sort of turns everything on its head and pokes fun at itself. That’s something Exhibit A definitely lacks, with its seriousness and hit or miss ending, even though the whole situation is far more believable. Endings are pretty important, and most horror films, honestly, don’t have very great endings. A good ending can make a lot of difference with the reviews. And it’s not even the most original ending; it’s pretty predictable. But the execution of the whole thing, and Mark Duplass’s acting in the role of Josef really makes it far more entertaining than it would have been otherwise.

And that’s the positive part of this review. Now, let’s get a bit more critical.

Creep is technically a mumblegore movie, a genre I wasn’t really familiar with until recently. Honestly, it all just seems synonymous with cheap, and to get literal, yes, there is indeed mumbling. The audio was poor enough that I had to put on sub-titles to understand what the characters were saying. As for the gore, there really isn’t any here. I don’t think there is a drop of blood in this movie, actually.

What there is a lot of is jump scares. And I mean a lot—of the same variety, from the same source, and incredibly cheap. Literally the equivalent of jumping out from behind a corner and going, “BAH!” The jumps are so bad and cheesy that I can imagine it would draw a lot of people out of this movie immediately (so the 92% on Rotten Tomatoes…?). Really, these cheap scares end up having a lot to do with the psychology behind Josef’s character, so when you look back at them they are actually more complex than they initially appear, but that still doesn’t make them good.

Honestly, how I felt throughout the majority of the film

At first, it’s pretty easy to suspend your disbelief with the plot. Aaron is hired from a Craigslist ad by a man named Josef, who is dying of cancer and whose wife is pregnant, so he wants someone to record his life for a little while to make a little movie for his son, so one day his son can see the kind of man he was. Okay, I buy it. Right off the bat, Josef seems a little weird, and that gradually builds up until the inevitable happens and you find out what you already knew, really—that he’s batshit crazy. As this craziness progresses, the film loses a lot of it’s believability. This is covered up somewhat by humor, and eventually lampshaded completely. It doesn’t make sense that Aaron wouldn’t contact someone and let them know where he is and what he’s doing. He waits way too long to call the cops, and by the time he does call the cops they don’t take him seriously or do anything. But of course, in reality, he would have gone to the police station and actually given them the footage. But whatever. It’s a movie, blah blah blah. If it wasn’t for the well-done lampshading scene at the end, I probably would have thrown my hands up and written off the whole thing, so the director clearly knew what he was doing by adding that in.

The movie is very different from others of its kind. It’s a slow-burner and the what the fuck level is very high, but its honestly funny in such an uncomfortable way. It’s definitely not a good movie, but I would say it’s worth watching, as long as you’re prepared to see a black, awkward, disheartening comedy and not a typical horror movie.

When it comes to the disturbing factor—because of course, I’m a horror fan, I want to be disturbed—I suggest you would be better off watching Exhibit A. Or you could just watch both! Have a creepy hand-held camera back-to-back movie night. Hell, I’d attend. If you do end up doing this, of course, please let me know, as I would love to hear someone else’s input on this.

Creep can currently be found on Netflix.

“Let’s just stop and ask her for directions. It’ll be fine!”

Not everyone enjoys the found footage genre, but it’s one of my favorites and I’ve been trying to watch them all. The genre definitely has its annoying tropes—Shaky cam! Glitchy footage! Where did the tape come from anyway?—though as long as you don’t find those absolutely unbearable, it’s better to embrace them as a means to an end. Horror movies don’t really work without tropes that glue shit together. There’s a lot of things that need to be ignored in order for certain plots to unfold, most notably common sense. Found footage films often require the viewer to grant more allowances, and I can understand why that would be a problem for some people, particularly those that suck at suspending their disbelief. I think it’s the creativity often employed in making found footage somehow work that draws me to these movies.

The film Grave Encounters (2011) is a popular mention and a personal favorite within the genre. The reasons I enjoy the movie so much are 1) the concept is simple but fun, and 2) the characters are for the most part so unlikable that it’s entertaining to watch them gradually lose their minds. Unlikable characters sound like a bad thing, but when you put them in a certain setting then some fun can result, and setting is a strongpoint in this movie. I’m going to go so far as to say that there is even a theme (oh god, my English teacher is showing). The characters are unimpressed with the paranormal activity they witness near the beginning, and they try to find bigger and better scares for their television show. They yell into the darkness and huff and complain. Appreciate what you get! Don’t ask for too much! Because they all certainly get more.

The plot of the film involves a paranormal reality show crew exploring an abandoned hospital (in reality, the Riverview Hospital, a really beautiful building). The host is Lance Preston, a whiny douche bag, who is accompanied by a faux psychic who is equally as whiny, a tiny whiny woman who is an occult specialist, a derpy surveillance guy, and then the only reasonable person in the whole group, cameraman T.C. This leaves us with a group of pretty aggravating people and one sensible person who needs to be there because we need to feel bad for somebody. This is the type of horror movie that operates on the idea that the viewer is going to want horrible things to happen to some of these people—they deserve it for whatever reason—and they will have to face the consequences for the mistakes they make, the mistakes that are causing you to scream at your television, “What are you doing? Don’t do that!”

The biggest “Don’t Do That” being that they lock themselves inside the vast haunted mental asylum. Don’t do that! And don’t trust the suspiciously clueless Kenny the Caretaker with the keys!

The whole affair starts off with a rather lame preface where a guy tells the viewer that they received a tape in the mail, and what you are about to watch are the contents of that tape. Thanks, demonic entities, for editing the footage! It’s amazing what ghosts can do with technology nowadays.

Once the crew is locked in, there are shots of grainy greenish dark camera footage as they film various spots throughout the hospital, looking for paranormal signs. They are seeking something out, and we wait for them to find it. When they finally breach the point of no return through their own stupidity, despite faking competence during the ghost hunt, the crew can’t even handle the tiniest unexplained thing. When things do get real, the film becomes similar to The Blair Witch Project in that there are a lot of arguments, and people arguing over what to do.

The twist is surprisingly unsettling in its simplicity, and the ensuing chaos produces a lot of good jump scares. The deaths in this movie are not great, the ending draws itself out unnecessarily, and the surveillance guy’s craziness is too much, but when it comes to how scary and unnerving I find the movie, I am very content with how I felt throughout. The setting in the movie makes a huge difference, because the building is really just perfect for a haunting, and scenic to boot. The overall aesthetic and atmosphere make the contents work very well for their purposes. I wish the movie hadn’t thrown away its “less is more” card at the end, but this is still one of the most enjoyable horror movies that I’ve yet seen.

I don’t really believe that there is such a thing as a horror movie masterpiece, because I haven’t yet watched a horror movie that didn’t have obvious flaws. I really only ever want to know, will it make me nervous, and scared, or jumpy? Will I not be incredibly angry at the end? Perhaps my expectations are low, but you have to look at a genre for what it is, and horror is not drama. When it comes to my litmus test, Grave Encounters passes.

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