HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: EXISTS (2014)

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EXISTS (2014)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Blair Witch Project co-creator and director of the creepy Lovely Molly, Eduardo Sánchez, returns to familiar territory with this found footage horror about five friends who piss off the wrong Sasquatch. Deep woods horror finds brothers Matt (Samuel Davis) and camera happy Brian (Chris Osborn) taking friends Todd (Roger Edwards), Dora (Dora Madison Burge) and Liz (Denise Williamson) on a party weekend up to their uncle’s remote cabin. They neglect to tell everyone that their uncle, apparently, saw something in the woods that frightened him so much, it has kept him from returning to his own cabin for eight years. On the way there, they are having a good time and, since distracted, accidentally hit something on the dirt road leading up to the cabin. By the time they get out of the SUV, whatever it was is gone, but left hair, blood and a lot of damage to their truck. Unsettlingly, now there are also wails of pain emanating from the woods that seem to follow them as they reach their destination. Brian starts to see things in the woods, too and sets up his cameras to catch it, but soon the creature makes itself known and lays siege to the cabin with a bloodthirsty viciousness. What could they have done to enrage this normally peaceful creature of legend and will any of them escape alive?

Eduardo Sánchez, directing from Jamie Nash’s script, delivers a fun and sometimes intense monster movie. It’s not really scary, though he does return to the influences of his 1999 found footage classic and gives us some spooky night-set sequences. Most of the fun comes from the all-out viciousness with which our mythical…and quite intelligent…creature lays into our campers and the brutality of which it takes it’s anger out on them. There is a lot of intensity and ferocity to it’s attacks and the found footage format puts you in the cabin with them as they try to fight it off. Sánchez, taking his film very seriously and giving us some violent and bloody action, helps us forget that this is actually a bit silly, being about an angry Bigfoot. Unlike the phantom entity in Blair Witch Project, our creature is not at all that camera shy and once the film gets going, it shows up quite frequently to create destruction and bloody carnage. Sánchez also overcomes the usual found footage slow start by having things pretty much get moving right away and then, escalate very quickly into a survival horror as the remaining campers try to make their way out of the creature’s domain. It’s a lot of fun, if you let yourself go with it. Not everything works. Sure, you can probably, easily guess what the creature is so angry about, it’s not that hard to figure out. Seeing the creature so frequently, in the second half, also dilutes it’s effectiveness, though, the costume is very well rendered. I probably don’t have to mention that the characters also do some really stupid things to put themselves in harm’s way. Overall though, it was an entertaining 80+ minutes, especially if you just go with it and enjoy it for what it is.

The cast are all fine. They are all fairly convincing and likable, though I had issue with how Edward’s Todd was written. Not the fault of the actor, but this was another example of a Hollywood stereotypical portrayal of a black man who talks in perfect ‘ghetto’ and reacts to everything with a hair-trigger aggression. Todd’s dialog just doesn’t sound natural but forced…more like someone’s idea of how a modern black male should talk…saying things like “Where you at?” and “Wassup!” to a rampaging Sasquatch. It’s awkward and the stereotyping is uncomfortably obvious especially, since none of the other characters speak in this ‘urban’ vernacular. It comes off more as a caricature than a character and the actor deserved better. In some of the quieter moments, Edwards seems quite charming.

So, I enjoyed this found footage Bigfoot horror. There’s a few spooky scenes, but overall it’s fun is derived from watching it’s rampaging Sasquatch take it’s angst out on five campers. The film isn’t perfect, it has its flaws, bu, it’s found footage format works mostly to it’s advantage and who doesn’t enjoy some simple bloody Bigfoot carnage. Worth checking out!

3 (out of 4) Bigfoots… or is it Bigfeets?

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 (2000)

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BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 (2000)

While this Blair Witch sequel is not that good, it’s not quite as bad as it’s reputation suggests. Sequel has some good ideas, such as being about the mania caused by the movie The Blair Witch Project and not a direct sequel to the film itself and tells the story of a group of oddball characters that seek to find out if there is some truth behind the movie and if there really is a witch that inspired the film. Obviously some weird stuff starts to happen to them as they investigate and death and madness soon follow.

The biggest problem with Blair Witch 2 is simply not doing anything interesting with the ideas director Joe Berlinger and his 3 co-writers, Dick Beebe, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, have come up with. The film is a lot of talk and finger pointing as strange occurrences start to make the characters unravel and turn on each other. Video evidence changes and disappears, characters vanish and then turn up dead, but this spooky activity never comes together to form a solid story. It’s almost like a bunch or random acts that are only thinly related. By the time we find out what happened, we really aren’t that interested anymore, despite the fact that better handled, it could have been very unsettling. It also doesn’t help that the film is peppered with police interviews and scenes that occur after-the-fact and thus we know what’s coming. It neuters any suspense the film might be building. There are some mildly spooky images and sequences throughout and a few bloody moments, but not enough to make this film work completely or consistently. I appreciate the effort to do something different then a generic sequel, but the filmmakers just didn’t take their concept far enough. At least there is a spooky score by Carter Burwell and some cool songs on the soundtrack CD. (see track listing below)

The cast is fine, though the characters are stereotypical Hollywood cliche’s such as the handsome con-artist with a past (Jeffrey Donovan), the hot Wiccan (Erica Leerhsen), the attractive yuppie couple (Tristen Skyler and Stephen Barker Turner) and the hot Emo Goth chick (Kim Director). My biggest peeve cast-wise, though, is that the actor, Lanny Flaherty, playing the local sheriff, is so awful that even had the film been better he would have ruined it. Yes, he’s that bad.

Director Joe Berlinger gives the film some decent atmosphere and some creepy moments, but doesn’t seem to be able to assemble all his parts into an effective whole. Apparently the film was taken away from him and re-edited with new footage shot to make it more of a horror film, but if this is better than what he delivered, then I doubt I want to ever see a director’s cut…though, as a film geek, I’d probably watch it if it ever surfaced. Again, some cool ideas wasted without anywhere to go with them.

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) hot goth chicks.

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CD SOUNDTRACK TRACK LIST

21K4P9VVVGL

  1. The Reckoning- Godhead
  2. Lie Down- P.O.D.
  3. Goodbye Lament- Tony Iommi/Dave Grohl
  4. Dragula- Rob Zombie
  5. Mind- System Of A Down
  6. Stick It Up- Slaves On Dope
  7. Suicide Is Painless- Marilyn Manson
  8. Soul Auctioneer- Death In Vegas
  9. Ps- Project 86
  10. Old Enough- Nickleback
  11. Feel Alive- U.P.O.
  12. Tommy (Don’t Die)- Steakknife
  13. Arcarsenal- At The Drive In
  14. Human- Elastica
  15. Feel Good Hit Of The Summer- Queens Of The Stone Age
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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)

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THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)

The Blair Witch Project is now regarded as a bit of a modern horror classic and while it has it detractors, I think it’s a wonderfully spooky and clever minimalist horror. The premise is simple, in 1994 three college students travel to Burkittsville, Maryland to film a documentary on a local legend, The Blair Witch. The witch is said to haunt the woods surrounding the town that was once called Blair and may be responsible for some bizarre deaths such as the murder of seven children whose killer claims she forced him to kill. The three students disappear and a year later their footage is found and the film is an assemblage of that footage. The filmmakers cleverly promoted the film as real and at the time, did have many fooled such as the teenage girls sitting by me in the theater back in 1999. The documentary style flick follows college film student Heather (Heather Donahue), cameraman Josh (Joshua Leonard) and sound tech Mike (Michael C. Williams) as they head into the small town interviewing the locals about the legend and some of the strange deaths that go along with it. They then hike into the woods to find and document some of the locations these horrid events were said to occur. But, something supernatural may indeed haunt these woods, as soon the three are plagued by strange noises in the night, disturbing constructs of stone and stick found about their camp when they awake and the sudden inability to find their way back out to their car. The incidents become increasingly intense and the longer the three stay lost, the more afraid they become that something is following them… and the more the three unravel and turn on each other. Is this some kind of malicious prank by some of the locals?… or are these three truly destined to become part of the Blair Witch legend.

From the premise of writers and directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s film, we know the three aren’t going to make it out of these woods and the suspense is more going along for the creepy ride to find out what happens to them. Will they fall to some supernatural horror or will they be the victims of some malevolent and very human element. It’s the anticipation that makes this work along with the increasingly strange activity that follows our doomed trio. Sánchez and Myrick give us simple noises and voices along with some unsettling found objects and let’s our imagination concoct the origin. And our imaginations can come up with things far more horrifying then anything the filmmakers could give us. The fear and increasing terror our three leads feel also draws us in. The actors successfully create the illusion of three real people and by letting them improvise a good deal of their dialog, they say things real people might say in a weird situation like they are in. This helps create the illusion that we are indeed watching actual footage and it lures us in and we share their fear while creating some of our own. By the time the film climaxes in an abandoned house in the middle of the woods, we are so on edge, that it’s simple conclusion becomes very unsettling and we leave the film shaken despite it’s subtlety. And that’s the whole aspect I like about Blair Witch is that it achieves a lot on some very subtle trigger events making our imaginations work against us. Having been in the woods at night and done some  exploration of abandoned structures, I know how it feels to hear things whose origin cannot be determined and what your mind imagines as it’s cause. The film maintains an atmosphere of dread even before things start to get weird because, the premise let’s us know before the film even begins that our young protagonists are doomed and as the opening credits appear, our minds are already imagining their fates.

The film is not perfect. The acting is weak at times and the bickering can get a bit annoying and so can the characters. We do like them but, Donahue’s over confident wannabe director can be a bitch but, that is part of the character and Williams’ Mike can be a bit too much of a whiner. Leonard’s Josh is the more laid back, level headed one and the fact that he is the most likable of the three, makes it all the more effective when the unseen force seems to target him first.

All in all Blair Witch is a very spooky and effective film that gets under your skin with very little effort and while it’s not perfect, it is a damn creepy little movie if you go with it and let it convince you that what you are watching is real. It also had one of the greatest promotional campaigns in horror movie history which had you creeped out before you even bought your ticket. Sadly followed by an interesting but, very flawed sequel (click here for my review) which ditched the found footage format for a straight narrative. Another favorite of mine to watch during the Halloween season!

A solid 3 and 1/2  horrified Heathers!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: LOVELY MOLLY (2012)

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Molly (Grethchen Lodge) is a pretty young woman with a troubled past. She lost her parents, she’s had drug problems, but she’s gotten married and seems happy now. But  she and her husband, Tim (Johnny Lewis) have moved into her parents’ house and strange occurrences begin to happen, especially when her truck driver husband is away and Molly begins to exhibit strange behavior and a return to bad habits. Is there some paranormal force victimizing her, or has moving into her parents home reopened the mental wounds of past abuses?

Writer/director Eduardo Sanchez (Blair Witch Project) delivers a very spooky and disturbing tale of an emotionally damaged woman who is now being haunted from within or without. He gives the film some creepy imagery and a nice atmosphere of dread and keeps much of what’s going on a mystery until it’s all slowly revealed. And when it is, there are some surprises and quite a few shocking moments. He gets really good performances out of his cast, especially Lodge who has some rather disturbing scenes to act out as the film progresses. Not all is perfect. As Molly falls back on old habits, so does Sanchez. He gives Molly the need to document her actions and the events that happen while she’s alone at times, so there is found footage peppered about through the film and it really doesn’t seem to serve the plot except to gives us Molly’s occasional point of view. There also are times that characters make dumb decisions such as her husband and sister (Alexandra Holden) not calling the police or some professional help when it is obvious Molly is exhibiting violent and potentially dangerous behavior.

But the spooky goods far outweigh the bad and Lovely Molly is a genuinely creepy and unsettling horror film from the co-creator of the classic Blair Witch Project.

3 and 1/2 deer (watch the movie to find out why.)

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