Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Dark Tapes (2017)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that low budget horror films can pretty easily scare the bejesus out of you.

There's a certain charm and ingrained creepiness to something that looks like your imaginative mate could have made it, and these lower branches of the horror tree really have the capacity to capture that feeling horror hounds are constantly chasing. 

Yeah, we want to be "scared", but the emotions are more complex than that. Speaking for myself, some of my favourite horror experiences have been less outright "fright" and more deep discomfort, helplessness and hopelessness. 

Without the gloss of Hollywood, you're one step closer to the dirt.

The Dark Tapes adopts the format which in some ways re-energised the genre. Found-footage movies have been around for years of course - as have horror anthologies - but together they created a beautiful little monster of a sub-genre (a sub-sub-genre?).

With V/H/S (and to a lesser extent, The ABC's of Death) viewers had the same feature-length runtime, but inside it were several stories to enjoy, usually with a wrap-around narrative to tie it all together.

And this too, is a series of found-footage, short spooky tales with a bookend narrative. Although the difference here is that all of the stories are from the same twisted mind, that of writer/director Michael McQuown.

First impressions were favourable, as viewing the trailer was enough to tell me that I probably couldn't comfortably watch this film in the house on my own. The POV's of dark domestic hallways alone ruled that out.

Tension is my absolutely favourite thing about horror, and I think it's one of, if not the most important weapon in this genre's arsenal. Even those cheap jump scares from the throwaway summer blockbuster horror movies wouldn't work if the audience wasn't nervous in the first place.

When The Dark Tapes lets itself breathe enough to build tension, it does so very well. The tape entitled "The Hunters & The Hunted" involves a couple in a new home experiencing ghostly activity, and the group brought in to investigate.

The Hunters & The Hunted

Of all the tapes this one is the most grounded in reality, and it benefits greatly from that. If the test for a decent horror sequence is whether or not you find yourself trying to escape into the back of the sofa with your hands over your eyes, then this segment passes.

The thing is, there's a blessing and a curse with film shorts. The makers must find that sweet spot of a strong idea, plus a no-frills, tight delivery of it. With little time to waste, the set-up and tear-down of these stories has to be confident and to the point.

The Dark Tapes felt in places - particularly the wrap-around narrative - that this was a draft or two away from that sweet spot. There's a LOT of exposition at the beginning, delivered in a pretty dry way, so it's easy to become lost (and the danger with being lost, is being bored).

The weakest link in the chain here is "Cam Girls". It asks us to take huge leaps with it, narratively, with a pay-off that will make you scrunch up your face in a "wha? is that it?" rather than an "oh shit!".

Cam Girls

Webcam/skype-centred movies are a real double-edged sword, too. It's so gimmicky that unless you fucking nail it, it doesn't work. 

All of the stories came from an interesting idea though, and "Amanda's Revenge" was another I enjoyed, due to the creative use of film and Brittany Underwood as Amanda. 

Amanda's Revenge

Underwood is the best actor in the entire movie, if playing it a tiny bit too earnest and peppy at times, given what she's apparently going through. With a faint smack of the It Follows about it, the "Amanda's Revenge" tape shows the most imagination and flair, with some creepily stunning shots towards its conclusion.

For a budget of $65,000 this film definitely gave it the old college try, and there are some genuinely imaginative and suspenseful moments here... you just have to wait through some scenes of questionable, unnatural dialogue and an overuse of "scary static". But I've done more for less :)

McQuown and this team are worth keeping on your radar though; apparently there's a sequel in the works, so it'll be interesting to see what a second movie from the same stable is like. Hopefully they'll have sanded down some of the rougher edges and polished the points from their debut that shone through, because they're undoubtedly there... they just need a little work.

The Dark Tapes is available on iTunes here, and a tonne of other places if you want to check it out: Google Play, Vudu, iNDemand (Comcast- Xfinity, Time Warner, Cox, Bright House & more), Dish TV, Amazon, Vubiquity (Verizon Fios, Charter, Sudden Link, Media Com &more), Xbox, Playstation, Sling TV & Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


So it's here. I think it looks pretty good!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Let Us Prey (2014)

There are few things I like more than a nice satanic film on a Sunday night, especially one where the fallen angel in question is an actor I like (and er, fancy) and especially when it ends exactly the way I wanted it to ๐Ÿ‘

Let Us Prey has been on my Netflix peripheral vision for a while - mainly for the striking cover art of a hanged little girl.

Starring Liam Cunningham and Pollyanna McIntosh (she's currently the cool leader of that new group in The Walking Dead) this is one of those films I immediately got a strong sense of "YES" about, due to the opening sequence of crashing dark waves, crows and desolate suburbia all to the beat of a nice thick electro score.

This is more end than opening credits, but it's also a gem of a tune. Slow, drowsy, and dark:

The plot takes place over three hours, from around 9pm to midnight, and largely in one location: a small police station in Scotland. PC Rachel Heggie (McIntosh) has her first shift tonight, and it's going to take her places she has tried her whole life to forget.

Rachel is a survivor and fairly obviously the final girl - though not all that sympathetic a character, for the most part. She's hard and tough because she's had to be.

Also all of her new coworkers are twats.

Bonus points also, for this:
Several scenes were rewritten at McIntosh's behest. She saw her character as strong and did not want Heggie to be viewed as a victim or in a sexualised way. The filmmakers were also careful not depict Heggie's background of abuse exploitatively. (from Wiki)

To be honest, no one is particularly likeable in this film, apart from maybe "6" (Cunningham), carrying himself with that sinister ease and who, shortly after he's brought into the building, begins to expose everyone's sins via telepathy and grim flashback. Death and impressive gore flows steadily, once it's introduced, with demises ranging from the absurd to the marvelous... until only the new girl remains.

And man, is there a high concentration of crazy in this place! Douglas Russell is immediately repulsive as a self-hating homosexual/psychotically christian Dahmer-like chap, keeping severed heads in his 'fridge and oh, one more thing: he's the police sergeant. 

Are you all right sir? ...Sir?!

With a climax that initially feels too bombastic for such a low-key film, it soon comes into focus why. To have "6" and Rachel standing toe-to-toe on the front steps as the building burns behind them is such a great image, especially knowing at this point who he is.

He doesn't just want to save Rachel, he wants to make her his partner in vengeance and the soul collection of those condemned to Hell. He is offering her a life punishing those who deserve it, with him by her side.

*dreamy sigh*

Call me a heathen, but I found this so romantic and beautiful ❤ She's a final girl who survives the horror film, but chooses to turn her back on the light.

With a basic concept we've heard a million times before - the old "underestimated newcomer slowly infects the minds and souls of a group of people" - this film could have easily been something unremarkable. But the atmosphere, gore and that twisted kind of romance at the end elevate it to something that really stuck in my mind.

Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday night.

(I'll be in my bunk).