The Blair Witch Project paved the way for found footage horror back in 1999, with it’s slick ad campaign and it’s unseen level of tension brought on by unknown actors. Fast forward to 2007, Oren Peli creates his own terrifying vision. Two years later, Paramount Pictures sees the potential and starts a campaign to get people interested. It worked, and what followed became one of the most successful horror franchises of all time. With the release of Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension today (Which isn’t playing in my town, so I can’t review it), I thought we’d look back and see what made this first film so special.
The night before a woman gives birth to her child is an exciting and nerve wrecking time. Now imagine, if someone broke into your house and was trying to steal the baby from your womb. Inside tackles this fear head on.
Well, this is an interesting one, for lack of a better word. Jess Weixler plays Dawn O’Keefe, an active member of a Christian abstinence group with… ahem, teeth in her vagina. Being relatively sheltered and seemingly innocent, she has not discovered this at the beginning of the movie, save for a small foreshadowing involving an incident between herself and her brother when they were very young (yeah, you can see where this is going). As the movie progresses, Dawn discovers her abnormality, falls into denial, proceeds to acceptance, and then turns her abomination of genitalia into a murderous weapon. If you’d like to stop here, you can. This film, despite being a “comedy horror”, was quite disturbing (if not simply for the severed penises shown on screen) and the only reason I have written this review is due to the pressure of my fellow Film Freaks.
I apologize in advance if this section is a bit dull. There wasn’t too much I enjoyed about this viewing experience. I suppose it is an interesting concept that hasn’t really been touched on in film before, but I’m not sure if it is a concept that can ever be done successfully. Also, the main actress isn’t terrible looking? There was a disgusting but perhaps mildly satisfying conclusion? I don’t know, I’m really trying here guys!
What doesn’t work:
Teeth has grown infamous in pop culture simply due to the concept of toothed vagina. It has been mentioned, usually with cringes, throughout my group of friends multiple times, and I decided I’d try to give it a chance. It was ultimately a bad idea and I feel like my life would be better if I had not seen this movie. The acting is quite bland and multiple characters are completely stereotypical (most of the men that fall victim to the toothed vagina). It is incredibly predictable and boring up until the point where a bloodied, severed penis appears on screen (which occurs multiple times), resulting in gags among viewers. In addition, themes of incest are typically not conducive to humor and thus I really have no idea where the “comedy” portion of the film is supposed to come from. Perhaps we are meant to laugh at the misfortune of the de-penising victims. Eventually, our protagonist goes from sheltered church-goer to murderous temptress, and even feeds a penis to a dog! Gross, huh?
If you are into stupid, disgusting films, this could be the one for you. However, for a horror comedy, I did not find this film funny nor scary. Really, it just wasn’t enjoyable under any circumstances. It’s biggest redeeming factor is that is isn’t based on a true story. Three severed penises out of ten.
Some of the heaviest hitters of the horror genre today come from overseas. Films like Audition and Oldboy (both from Asia) are some of the ones that come to mind. But now we look to Europe, more precisely Spain for the next breakout scare fest, and one that should be on everyone’s Halloween viewing list.
[REC] follows the story of Angela Vidal, a late night reporter who follows different groups of workers and sees what their nightly routines are like. This particular evening, she is following the fire department around, seeing how they live, what their schedules look like. When a call comes in for an apartment complex situation, she gets to ride along to record them in action. When they arrive and all hell breaks loose, herself, the cameraman and everyone else in the apartment complex get locked inside until the outbreak is contained completely.
What Works: This film works on so many levels, I don’t know where to start! The characters and acting are fantastic, everyone feels believable, and Angela Vidal is a wonderful protagonist; she’s strong, energetic and her performance is incredibly emotional that you’d have a hard time not wanting for her to survive. That rarely happens in Found-Footage films; most of the time, the characters are incredibly obnoxious.
Speaking of the found footage element here, its not a distraction, it’s an enhancement, which you don’t normally get to say about these types of films. The movie is incredibly tense and scary. Yes, I said scary, and I don’t call movies scary very often. It has a great balance of jump and atmospheric scares, and they are all done in an effective and necessary way. I was on edge the entire time we’re in the apartment complex, and don’t get me started about the ending, that is the stuff nightmares are made of.
The zombies, infected, whatever you want to call them, are absolutely terrifying; they’re fast, strong, and unpredictable, which is a recipe for success. Especially trapped in such a confined building, as the infected numbers grow, the film just keeps getting more and more intense, and it’s wonderful.
What Didn’t Work: A few characters, some of the other apartment residences, are a little too over the top at times, but not as bad as most recent George Romero flicks. Also, this is found footage, so at times the camera shakes quite a bit as the cameraman is running, it gets dropped, kicked around, blood spattered, and if you have a hard time dealing with your motion sickness with these kinds of films, this one may need to be avoided.
You probably know by now that there is a remake of this film called Quarantine starring Jennifer Carpenter, and while it’s pretty much a shot for shot remake, it did one thing better: a lot of the scenes are much darker in composition, which made it slightly more effective in that aspect.
With fantastic characters, realistic acting, and with intense and frightening execution, [REC] is a gem, it’s one hell of a thrill ride that you’ll want to revisit many times, and every time I’ve viewed the film, it has still managed to grab me and throttle my nerves. 8.5 out of 10.
Ever since the release of The Blair Witch Project, the rise of found footage horror as been a rather steep climb. Typically it’s a much cheaper film to make, but can also be quite removing from the experience because everything has to look that much more real to pull off the situations on what appears to be home video. In 2007, The Dowdle Brothers (Who did the remake of REC later, called Quarantine) brought to life a fake documentary about a serial killer in upstate New York who would film the atrocities he would commit. When the police raid the house, they find hundreds of VHS tapes, which would begin the real investigation on who was responsible for creating, The Poughkeepsie Tapes.
What Works: The found footage aspect of the film in conjunction with the documentary pieces with the fake interviews with FBI agents, and the families of those effected by the atrocious acts of this killer, are incredibly put together. The performances of the characters feel real, which makes the acts you see happen on the tapes when you watch them that much more difficult to watch. The flickering of the footage, the warped tapes, the discoloration, everything about these tapes feel legitimate which definitely aids in the terror.
The tapes themselves, I should also mention, are incredibly disturbing and if you have a nervous disposition, or are easily traumatized, you should probably avoid this flick at all costs. Even for a horror freak like me, I was always sitting with baited breath, no matter how many times I’ve seen this film, it makes me feel almost a deep pitted sickness in my stomach which is hard to pull off. That’s a positive by the way, horror films need to hit hard in order to be effective, and this one knocks that ball out of the park.
What Doesn’t Work: While I could talk about how effective this movie is for quite a while, there are some pretty large flaws that definitely effect this experience as a whole. I mention that the performances are strong, but the dialogue and script needed some help. During the interviews, FBI agents say things that would never come out of an actual agents mouth, some of the victims you see, as hard as they work, sometimes don’t lose themselves in their performances and thus, not appearing as if their lives are in danger at times.
The pacing of the film towards the middle, drives off course and slows down a bit too much, and as a viewer you hit this wall that many can’t recover from, because you’re so used to this steady pace of information, then tape, more interviews, then tape, and it’s when the interviews start getting too long, is when sometimes one may lose interest.
It’s a shame that MGM has no intentions on releasing this film at all, because it’s quite exceptional at keeping up with the mythos of the killer. The images are disturbing, the performances are pretty damn good, and the look and feel of the film is spot on. I only wish it was more tightly edited and the performances felt more genuine. If you’re interested in seeing The Poughkeepsie Tapes, you can find it usually on Youtube or if you’d like, I have a copy if you’re in Missoula. But be warned, it is a difficult viewing and I’m not responsible for any nightmares you have. 7.5 out of 10.