Found Footage still works.

While Devil’s Due was a letdown, I was caught off guard by the reviews.  Not that I expected favorable reviews, but a lot of them focused on how tired they are of the found footage sub genre.  How found footage is just a gimmick.  I actually felt bad for Devil’s Due.  Radio Silence put in a lot of effort to make the camera use plausible, so why are we focusing on the one aspect of the film that wasn’t broken?  Why are the critics focusing their ire toward an entire sub genre solely on one film instead of breaking down what really didn’t work with it?  Oh, like perhaps a complete lack of emotional attachment to the two leads we’re meant to sympathize with?  With no scares and no attachment to the story it was difficult to stay invested in Devil’s Due.  Grumblings about how bored everyone is of found footage isn’t new, but for me at least, it was new to find an editorial masquerading as an honest review.

It got me thinking.  As with all genres, when a film unexpectedly strikes a strong chord with audiences you’ll find studios scrambling to recapture that magic.  You see trends come and go; when the current movement fizzles at the box office the next shiny new thing ushers in a new trend. Repeat.  It seems to be more recognizable in horror.  Asian horror, torture porn, slashers, etc.  They all have spent time in the spotlight until mainstream audiences get overexposed and then step back for the next sub genre.  But here’s the thing: they don’t go away.  Just because the box office tired of the Saw franchise doesn’t mean that similar films ceased being made.

So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t blame an entire genre or sub-genre for being the current fad.  They were likely around before and will still be long after Hollywood forgets their existence.  Blair Witch wasn’t the first Found Footage film; you can give that credit to Cannibal Holocaust in 1980.  Yup.  Nearly 20 years before Blair Witch made Found Footage a household name it’d been done numerous times before.  And when people groan and whine at the trailers for Paranormal Activity sequel # 6, rest assured that there will still be more to come.  Really, if the idea of watching a found footage film bothers you that much…then don’t go.  Simple.  There’s no clearer message to studios than that.

But for me, I’m not tired of them.  I know I’m not alone in this.  Found Footage still works.  Not always, but often.  I think what studios are discovering, much to the dismay of critics and audiences, is that found footage is hard.  It’s difficult to explain to audiences why that camera is still in hand when shit hits the fan and that character still hasn’t put it down.  It’s difficult to keep things fresh for audiences, to set the film apart from its predecessors.  But it’s still being done and done well.

I think when it comes to film and media, memory is extremely short.  It was just last year that people went nuts over V/H/S/2.  Guess what?  That’s found footage.  Europa Report currently holds a 79% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Also found footage.  The Bay in 2012?  Also fresh at 77%.  What about Chronicle, also released in 2012? 85% on Rotten Tomatoes.  There’s also critical darlings like [REC], Trollhunter, and Lake Mungo released in recent years.  So, clearly found footage films isn’t a washed up sub-genre incapable of putting out great stuff.  Are we basing the criticisms on a couple of bombs and a franchise that’s a bit tired?

Perhaps its technicalities.  Maybe what Found Footage needs is a name change.  More often lately, you’re watching a first person narrative, rather than found footage.  I’ve read complaints about the lack of “finding footage.”  So if we’re nitpicking, maybe this would put minds at ease.  It’s a fine line, really.

Nothing gets you as deep into the experience as Found Footage.  You’re right there with the characters, experiencing their journey as if you’re there.  You see what they see, which amps up the atmosphere when that line of sight is limited.  I commend filmmakers who can pull this genre off.  It’s not an easy feat to accomplish, and I sincerely hope people keep trying.  There are innovative people out there still full of surprises, and I support you.

Houston Haunts in January

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Thanks to HauntCon, you can visit some of Houston’s favorite haunted attractions in January.  Screamworld is selling tickets to the public for Friday night only, but you can also purchase Haunt tour tickets through HauntCon’s site.  The tour continues Sunday night with visits to Houston’s Heart Stopper Fright and Terrordome, and concludes on Monday with visits to Creepy Hollow and my personal fave: Fearshire Farms.  Creepy Hollow’s owner has promised Haunt Tour guests a preview of two new, never before seen attractions.  With unique access to these attractions so far out from their regular operating season, these tours are not to be missed.  Please note that as far as I can tell, only ScreamWorld is selling passes direct to the public.  If you’re interested in any other attraction/tour, you must go through the conventions website.  Tour options also include transportation options.

HauntCon, or Haunted Attraction National Tradeshow and Conference, is a travelling convention for lovers of haunted houses and Halloween.  The goal is to allow everyone to get a chance when it rolls through a city near them, and for owners to see other attractions throughout the country as they’re unable to during peak operating season.  How cool is that?  The convention also offers a tradeshow, hands on workshops of all levels, and so much more.  Expect to see many celebs of the industry, including many previous veterans from Syfy’s FaceOff.  If you’re in the Houston area, definitely grab the opportunity to attend as the convention will have relocated to a new city next year.  Check out their website for more information and tickets.

But maybe you are low on funds this weekend and can’t afford to attend.  Or maybe crowds just aren’t your thing.  Then hop over to Alamo Drafthouse’s Vintage Park location this Friday to catch a double feature of Raze and Death Proof with Zoe Bell live in attendance.  Though Raze, a film about women who are abducted and forced to fight each other to the death, seems more action than horror rest assured.  The gore alone sends it into happy horror territory.  If you haven’t seen Death Proof, one half of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse I recommend you rectify that this Friday.

Tickets  for each film much be purchased separately, but are available here.

So many horror options this weekend, Houston! What will you do?

 

Clowns are creepy.

Remember that fake trailer that hit in 2012?  The one that had Eli Roth’s name attached though it had nothing to do with him?  Well, Roth liked what he saw and signed on as producer.  Flash forward to 2014, we have an official trailer.  And it looks awesome.  You can view the trailer here.

There’s a reason coulrophobia is so common; there’s something seemingly deranged and ominous behind the make-up and cheer.  The trailer got me thinking about all of the other nightmare inducing clowns in horror.  I’ve narrowed it down to the top five:

5. Killer Klowns From Outer Space

KillerKlowns
So the movie itself is a cheesy 80s flick about killer clowns from space.  It’s hard to take seriously.  But you guys, these clowns eat people.  And despite how cheaply made this film is, those faces are creepy.  If you’ve seen Killer Klowns From Outer Space, then you probably were a little leery about popcorn for a while.  Klown Larvae..ick.


4. Amusement

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Amusement follows three women being stalked by a killer with a grudge, but the story is broken down into sections as the killer stalks them individually.  The middle section revolves around Tabitha, who goes over to her Aunt’s one night to find her two young cousins in bed and the babysitter gone.  The guest bedroom is filled with clowns, with one rather large clown sitting in a rocking chair.  When her aunt calls, Tabitha answers the phone in the hallway with her back to the room.  She tells her aunt how creepy the large one is her aunt’s confused reply is, “We don’t own anything like that.”  By that time the clown is up and out of the chair, creeping toward Tabitha.  Yup. Creepy.

3. Gacy

Gacy
This movie is terrible.  So why is it number 3 on my list?  Because it’s based on a true story.  The real John Wayne Gacy did have an alter ego known as Pogo the Clown.  He designed the look himself and performed at many fundraising events as part of the community’s “Jolly Joker” club.  This was after he’d served time for sexual assault of a young boy, but before the murders began.  Makes you think twice about the clowns performing at parties, doesn’t it?  So Pogo the Clown deserved to be on this list for the sole purpose of being reality based.

2. Poltergeist- the clown doll

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Though the entire movie is an amazing classic, this clown forever embedded itself into memory.  Poltergeist effectively built tension when early on Robbie threw a blanket over the doll to hide it from sight.  Well played, foreshadowing.  But when Robbie is trying to sleep and notices the clown missing?  The tension was palpable.  Robbie had more bravery than I would in his situation, daring to check under the bed.  I think I may have curled into fetal position when the doll dragged him under the bed.  This clown freaked me out so bad he was nearly number one, but….

1. IT- Pennywise

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Remember this guy?  Yeah.  He wins hands down.  Tim Curry made Pennywise the Dancing Clown the stuff of nightmares.  I imagine Pennywise gave many a complex about storm drains; I know I give them wide berth.   What makes Pennywise more terrifying is his intelligence.  The clown isn’t his true form, but it’s his favorite one as many children are lured to their deaths by it.  He knows what your deepest fear is, and he will exploit it to trap you.  What’s scarier than a demonic pointy-tooth clown that hunts you using your weaknesses?

Contracted (2013) Review

ImageFeatured on so many top ten lists of 2013, Contracted also has one of the most intriguing premises of any recent horror film.  The story follows Samantha as she attends a friend’s house party after a fight with her girlfriend.  While inebriated, a stranger slips something into Sam’s drink and she contracts the nastiest sexually-transmitted disease after they have sex.  I do mean nasty.  This movie is not for those with weak stomachs.

On that front, this movie succeeds as a body horror film.  Samantha’s symptoms grow more disgusting and more serious over the course of three days and by the climax you’re screaming at the screen.  Samantha’s disease alone makes it easy to understand why Contracted made so many top ten lists.  Beyond that, this film failed for me on many levels.

There are no fully developed characters in this film.  With the exception of the lead, all other characters feel more like one note stereotypes.  Though Najarra Townsend’s performance as Samantha was strong enough, and she had a bit more depth to her than any other character, I lost all sympathy for her fairly early on when she continued to make the most asinine decisions that seemed to go against human nature.

Any scenes with Samantha seeing her doctor are excruciating to watch, as the level of incompetence is mind boggling.  Day one, Samantha experiences an alarming amount of vaginal bleeding so she makes an appointment with her doctor.  He starts to examine, stops when he sees a rash on her abdomen, and just chalks it all up to a STD.  What?  That’s it?  Samantha seems as interested in getting answers as her doctor is; which is not at all.  And sadly, this sums up how most scenes play out; something utterly horrific happens with Samantha’s body and she just tries to go about her day.  The climax manages to simultaneously thrill with the level of gore while confuse as none of the character’s choices make any sense whatsoever.

This movie will delight gore-hounds and most will love the twist at the end. This movie will also make you never want to have unprotected sex.  Ever.  But it is also likely to make you want to throw the remote thanks to the ineptitude of the entire cast of characters.  If you’re the type that likes to have everything answered, then be prepared for disappointment as well.

Haunted New Year

Happy New Year!

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad 2013 is dead.  I’m very excited for 2014 to unfold and have set a few “haunted” resolutions for myself:

  • Tour Waverly Hills Sanatorium
  • Check out a few local oddities from Weird Texas
  • Conquer cake pops.  Seriously.  I really want to figure out how to make Freddy Krueger cake pops.
  • Grow my own pumpkins
  • Attend my first horror convention

Waverly Hills Sanatorium is just a historically creepy place, and I’ve wanted to step into the “death chute” for a long time now.  So maybe this is the year I make that happen.  The odd thing is, despite ghost stories creeping me out, I’m actually a bit of a skeptic.  I don’t really expect to discover anything, but I will make an adventure out of it regardless.

What are your resolutions?