HOLLOW (2010) Review


Directed by Michael Axelgaard
Written by Matthew Holt
Starring Emily Plumtree, Sam Stockman, Jessica Ellerby, Matt Stokoe, Simon Roberts
Debuted at FanTasia International Film Festival. Find out more info on the film, when it will be released, and where you can see it here.

”Found footage” films are my guilty pleasure. I know folks may be getting sick of the genre, but I get sucked in every time. I love the way the handheld camera literally places me in the film and since I am a moviegoer who strives on being able to be transported to another time and place, the genre gets me every time. HOLLOW is a new film making its way around festivals this year and if you have a chance to catch it, please do so because it is an engrossing and effective little found footage gem.

The film follows two young couples with a complex relationship. The success of this film rides on the relationship between these two couples, which become more complicated and enmeshed as the film goes on. One couple, played by Emily Plumtree and Sam Stockman, are set to be married. The other is a more strained relationship with the male played by Matt Stockoe harboring a crush on the female in the other relationship. The four venture into Dunwich to visit Emily’s childhood home, a trip she is not all too excited about. The film starts off as most found footage flicks do–with a lot of day-to-day stuff of couples having fun, trips in the car, casual conversation, and a lot of shaky camera work. Things get ominous very quickly, though, when they pass a tree that Emily claims is haunted. Legend has it that couples have hanged themselves from the tree’s branches and that it’s haunted by a hooded figure. The tree is spooky as hell, yet the couple find themselves drawn to it throughout the film, ending in a climax that takes place in a car in the dark that is absolutely terrifying.

As with most found footage films, the limitations to what we see cause the most unease. The poor lighting and unfocused camera only intensify the frights. The couples do a convincing job acting as if they are not acting here, though at the end they do make a couple of dumb decisions to move the plot along. And though it is somewhat predictable how these couples are going to end up given the history of the haunted tree, director Axelgaard and writer Holt make the journey there a haunting one with scores of scary imagery and atmosphere to enjoy. Comparisons to THE BLAIR WITCH are inevitable, but this is more akin to the feel of THE WICKER MAN (the original) than anything else. AS I said, I’m a sucker for found footage films, so this was right up my alley, but if you’re looking for a clean resolution and a steady cam, this might not be for you.

GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011) Review


Directed by The Vicious Brothers
Written by The Vicious Brothers
Starring Sean Rogerson, Juan Riedinger, Ashleigh Gryzko, Mackenzie Gray, & Merwin Mondesir
For more info check out the film’s website here.

My guilty pleasure is GHOST HUNTERS and all reality TV like it. Give me a night vision cam wandering a dark hallway and my ass is glued to the couch and my eyes to the TV. So I’m the right audience for GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, a “found footage” film about a paranormal investigation team; one of the first, according to the producer’s intro, and the tapes found inside of a haunted sanitarium which were never released. The producer at the beginning assures the viewer that nothing has been altered in these tapes and that the only edits were for time constraints. With that set up, the film ominously starts and we are introduced to our host (Sean Rogerson), the occult specialist (Ashleigh Gryzko), the sound guy (Juan Riedinger), the cameraman (Merwin Mondesir) and the medium (Mackenzie Gray). What stars out as a routine investigation by a bunch of jaded “investigators” gets real really quick and soon this team who don’t really believe in ghosts encounter something real and scary.

And GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is really scary. Do you know those moments in GHOST HUNTERS when the camera is tracking through corridors and over the shoulders of the hosts and you’re just waiting for something to jump out or happen? Those shows live on that anticipation, since, let’s face it, nothing ever really does. In GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, shit actually happens on screen, but done so in a way that doesn’t seem staged (at least for the most part). At first, this film plays it by the book, investigating the grounds in the daylight, interviewing eyewitnesses, but soon the moments in between takes start to show up as the host is filmed giving the groundskeeper twenty bucks to make up a scary eyewitness account and talks of shots that amp up the scares for the audience are discussed. This is well paced and patient, relying on the age old set up technique for these shows which tells the backstory of each location, with the audience knowing full well that this will be the spot shit goes down later. When over-the-top medium (Mackenzie Gray) shows up to chew the scenery, you almost believe him, until the host yells cut and they laugh at how inane his “contact with the dead” is. In showing these scenes, writers/directors capture how different these characters when the camera is rolling than they are in real life, but when stuff starts moving on their own, that gap lessens.

The performances are actually pretty well done here with host Sean Rogerson playing both a convincing talking head as well as a scared as shit victim of the whole situation, often flip flopping between both in the same scene. One of the challenges in these faux reality shows is that the actors must seem natural in front of the camera and lines don’t seem scripted. The entire cast does a damn fine job of doing this throughout.

The other challenging aspect of all found footage films is finding a reason to continue filming when the shit goes down. Here, that moment is sold with Rogerson’s orders to keep rolling despite his crew rebelling against him. But when stuff starts going completely off the reservation, you soon stop questioning why the camera is rolling and just roll with it because the locale and the situations are too creepy to care.

The last half hour of GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is a funhouse ride with shit jumping out at you every other second as the crew wander around in the dark. I watched this in a dark room in the middle of the night by myself and, I’m not too ashamed to admit, I was scared shitless a few times. Yes, a lot of these scares have been used in previous films and most of the scares are due to a loud burst of volume or shit rocketing toward the camera out of the blue, but there’s a carnival haunted house feel to GRAVE ENCOUNTERS that makes it stand out from most of the GHOST HUNTERS knock offs out there. Convincingly acted and filled with jumps and jolts, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is everything you wanted to see in all of those reality shows, but never do.

DOCUMENTING THE GREY MAN (2011) Review


Directed by Wayne Capps
Written by Wayne Capps
Starring Patrick Hussion, Kelly Coulter and Jillian Walzer
Find out when and where you can check out DOCUMENTING THE GREY MAN here!

DOCUMENTING THE GREY MAN is another found footage film. I wanted to state that right out because folks tend to be polarized on these types of films. Some hate the shaky hand held camera work or write found footage films off as the cheapest subgenre of horror films. Others, like myself, love the feeling of immersion found footage films exude and dive in like a kid in a swimming pool. As a kid, I was like that too, until I dove into a pool too shallow and scuffed the top of my head up damn good. Still, despite the depth or shallowness of the found footage film, I still find myself diving in, for better or worse. DOCUMENTING THE GREY MAN is not the most perfect found footage film. Director / writer Wayne Capps cheats every now and then when he supplies shots that occur without a camera man present in order to further the narrative to the next scene, but there are enough frightening scenes throughout to recommend to folks who like this type of film.

A team of actors decide to “act” like a paranormal investigation team and investigate (exploit) a family who claims to be haunted by a ghost in an old mansion in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. They believe the house is haunted by the Grey Man, a local legend of a ghost who haunts the beaches and warns people about hurricanes before they hit. When the investigators show up, almost immediately they encounter bizarre phenomenon. The film is prefaced that everything we are seeing is footage released from actual police tapes and that what we are seeing is 100% authentic.

As I said before, there are scenes in DOCUMENTING THE GREY MAN that almost immediately make you realize that this isn’t actual footage. The film starts out with the entire crew sitting at a table. The lead “investigator” has set up cameras around the table, but the scene makes a series of cuts and close-ups that would require an additional cameraman to accomplish. Another scene occurs as the investigators are walking up to the home to meet the family for the first time that could not have been shot by anyone in the crew. These tiny blips in the logic shot me out of the film; luckily there are some extremely effective scenes that pulled me back in.

DOCUMENTING THE GREY MAN is strongest when it lets the scary events just occur. There is an especially creepy scene involving the crew happening upon a little girl levitating and another scene of a séance that goes horribly and bloodily wrong and yet another scene where one of the owners of the creepy house tearfully describes an encounter with an unknown entity. All of these scenes are the best in the film and most convincing.

Most of the performances in DOCUMENTING THE GREY MAN are pretty good. The holes in logic aside, there were scenes in this film that had my hairs raising. Though not the best in found footage horror, DOCUMENTING THE GREY MAN does have some moments of sheer horror. This is a can’t miss for fans of GHOST HUNTERS and other ghost investigator series on TV. You can find out when and where you can check out DOCUMENTING THE GREY MAN here!

TROLLHUNTER (2011) Review


AKA TROLLJEGEREN
Directed by Andre Ovredal
Written by Andre Ovredal
Starring Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Thomas Alf Larsen, Robert Stoltenberg, Knut Naerum

Out of all of the films made to look like found films in this week’s column, TROLLHUNTER is the one that is the most all-around fun. Though the concept is pretty out there–a group of students are trying to investigate a poacher and stumble onto a secret organization whose purpose is to control and dispose of trolls–everything is played straight. And that’s where the beauty of TROLLHUNTER lies.

Norwegian director/writer Andre Ovredal skates the fine line between satire and horror like a pro. Ovredal knows there are a lot of found footage films out there and smartly takes us through the motions seen in most of them. But while the other films are going out of their way to make their film realistic, Ovredal sets his filmed horror in the gorgeous Norwegian hills and valleys which look like something out of a fantasy film. The expansive forests and gigantic mountains look like they house all kinds of wondrous creatures and horrific mysteries. But in Ovredal’s film, those rocky hillsides and grassy canyons do.

Most of the charm that TROLLHUNTER exudes comes from the gruff troll hunter himself, Trolljegeren, played by straight-faced Otto Jesperson. Trolljegeren is all business, living a life of solitude, playing by his own set of rules that could mean life or death. Trolljegeren’s world is fascinating, from his extensive knowledge of troll culture and physiology to his RV which has an interior lined with troll tails to throw off his scent. The film Trolljegeren is in is deadly serious, which of course to the student filmmakers and us as viewers, is hilarious. His staunch delivery of lines concerning how to survive a troll attach and insane methods of troll hunting are what makes this film a true gem.

What I love about this film is that it plays like the best of satires, embracing all of the tropes of the found footage genre and making an original film despite of it. Much more like THIS IS SPINAL TAP and maybe a bit like one of my favorite found footage films, INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS, TROLLHUNTER never makes fun of the subject matter. Instead, it places its straight-faced lead into one insane scenario after another with a wide-eyed and disbelieving camera crew on his tail.

Though all of the films I have covered in this column are worth seeking out, TROLLHUNTER is unique in that it points out how silly the genre is while adding to it. Relatively bloodless, TROLLHUNTER is one of those films I would have loved to see as a kid; full of giant monsters, brave hunters, cool weapons, and even cooler scenes mixing all three. The effects are absolutely phenomenal. One would think this was a multi-million dollar film, but I imagine it cost a fraction of that. TROLLHUNTER proves that with some imagination and a whole lot of talent behind the camera, you don’t have to break the bank, just think outside the norm. Though I saw TROLLHUNTER on the small screen, I encourage folks to see this one in theaters. If and when it comes to my town, I am going to be first in line to see these giant monsters come to larger than life. I give this film my highest recommendation. Absolutely hilarious throughout (even right up to the last beat of the film) and utterly exciting in every way, there aren’t many films like TROLLHUNTER out there. Seek it out!

THE TUNNEL (2011) Review


Available to download free via BitTorrent’s App Studio!
Directed by Carlo Ledesma
Written by Enzo Tedeschi & Julian Harvey
Starring Bel Delia, Andy Rodoreda, Steve Davis, Luke Arnold, & Goran D. Kleut

Find out more about THE TUNNEL here!

Part BLAIR WITCH PROJECT/part 60 MINUTES style interview, THE TUNNEL is an Australian viral film which has recently released news that it’s already premiering on 100+ million screens so far and has become something of a phenomenon this week. I have to say, after taking a gander at the film, it is a pretty outstanding film which takes full advantage of the hand-held camera/found footage phenomena. It seems these days, for these found footage films to make it, there needs to be an interesting take on the film and not just an ominous blurb at the beginning stating that the film was found somewhere. With the rise in reality television and audiences’ addiction to films becoming more real, it’s no wonder films like THE TUNNEL are popping up left and right.

What separates THE TUNNEL from the herd is that it is slickly produced and looks like an interview one might see on 60 MINUTES if found footage such as this was found. From start to finish, this feels like a documentary about a camera crew who ventures into the underground waterway beneath the city of Syndey, Australia. Everything from the title sequence to the narration by the survivors feels real, which just adds to the effectiveness of this film and makes the audience believe that this could have happened.

The actors in THE TUNNEL are fantastic. Bel Delia is a headstrong reporter, in search of the truth behind why the underground waterway wasn’t being used as a source for new, fresh water for a population in a drought crisis and the sudden upsurge in missing homeless people who used the waterway as shelters. Steve Davis (who looks a bit like Hugh Jackman with spikey blonde hair) plays the fun-loving cameraman who is faced with a deadly serious situation. The only problem with staging the film in the interview format is that the audience knows who survives and who doesn’t. This takes away from some of the tension, but the actors do a good job of conveying a sense of dread while leading the audience along the narrative as the found footage is interspersed between the interview clips.

I don’t want to give too much away with THE TUNNEL. I will say that it does use the limited vision of the camera and pitch dark surroundings to its maximum effect, though the ending might leave some a bit frustrated. I was sucked into the story and couldn’t wait to see if and how the reporting team would get out of the predicament they find themselves in, lost in the unending tunnels and stalked by something with deadly intentions. THE TUNNEL is a claustrophobic treat, taking full advantage of the limited range a single camera offers and giving the viewer just enough to tease and frighten without disappointing with the intrusion of some forced narrative or resolution. Though there are many out there to choose from, THE TUNNEL is a great example of presenting the found footage motif in an absolutely thrilling way.

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) Review


Directed by Ruggero Deodato
Written by Gianfranco Clerici
Starring Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi, Salvatore Basile, Carl Gabriel Yorke

Man, this was a tough film to sit though. I knew I was going to be in for something pretty sick when I finally found the time to sit down and watch CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. I know this film has been touted as one of the most horrific films of all time and it does live up to that title. Filled with animal mutilation, rape, murder, dismemberment, torture, sex, and of course,cannibalism, once you’ve seen CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, I guarantee you’ll never forget it.

The thing that really hit me about CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is that, aside from all of the disgusting elements attached to this film, it is a damn smart film that deftly examines American culture and the role of media. The story starts out with a quartet of filmmakers getting ready to leave for Amazonia. We are then informed that the four were never seen again. Professor Harold Monroe (played by stern-faced Robert Kerman) decides to take a crew of mercenaries to Amazonia to find out what happened to them. After a lengthy travelogue featuring some pretty grisly scenes of real animal killing and some rituals that look all too real involving rape, torture, and murder, Monroe finds the film crew’s film canisters and takes them back to the US to review. While the media is pressuring Monroe to release the tapes, Monroe has an uneasy feeling about doing so. As the film is processed, he uncovers horrors unimaginable.

Ruggero Deodato directs a grisly and stark film, filled with effects both real and made up. Using real natives as actors, the director was able to get savage performances from a culture who probably had never seen a camera before. To come in and film a horror film in the middle of what might as well be an alien culture takes balls. The effects used in this film will make you think twice as to whether or not this is real or not; part of the mystique of the film lies in not knowing the authenticity of what’s going on. In one scene you have an actual beheading of a monkey; in the next, a horrific murder of a person. The effects are so real, you won’t be able to tell the difference between what’s Hollywood magic and what’s downright murder. But that’s kind of the point Deodato and writer Gianfranco Clerici were going for, I believe.
What I love about this film is that it misleads you at first. One is led to think this is going to be a film about four innocents killed by evil savages, but as the tapes are processed and we see the filmmakers manipulate the “savages” into performing for their film and going to any lengths including murder, rape, and desecration of villages and culture for the sake of cinema, you really see that the film crew are the real monsters here. Though Ruggero Deodato was accused of making a snuff film due to the all too realistic effects used in the film, the real horror lies in the devilish fascination in the eyes of the camera crew as they manipulate what we as the viewer see and violate the culture they are visiting, while playing the objective reporter.

Not exactly a found footage film, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is about a found footage film and goes where most of the new films are afraid to go by asking: does the public really want to see these tapes? Timely indeed—though CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST was made in a much simpler time, the themes of the film resonate all the way to today’s headlines. I couldn’t help but think about Osama Bin Laden’s death and the debate as to whether or not the photos of his body should be released while watching this film. And though many won’t be able to stomach all of the horror that this film has throughout its running time, it is an important film worthy of debate and much thought. Sitting through CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST was quite a chore, especially the grotesque rape scenes and the unsettlingly realistic final horrific moments of the film crew, but I was unsettled more by what CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST had to say about us as a bloodthirsty society than all of the blood and guts.

8213: GACY HOUSE (2010) Review


Directed by Anthony Fankhauser
Written by Anthony Fankhauser (uncredited)
Starring Jim Lewis, Matthew Temple, Michael Gaglio, Brett A. Newton, Diana Terranova, Sylvia Panacione, & Rachel Riley

A lot of folks roll their eyes at another found footage horror film, but I think that’s because there’s been a glut of them in recent memory. It’s not a new concept and a lot of times, in this day and age of first person shooter games and reality television, it seems to be yet another way for the audience to become that much closer to the film. In horror, it’s uncomfortable to get in this proximity to a horror film because it’s likely to pull you in close, then yell in your ear or show you something startling. Yet, I love this feeling and I’m sure those of you who read this column feel the same way about being scared. I’m not going to say that 8213: GACY HOUSE is a standout in this subgenre of found footage horrors, but it is worth a scare or two and since this column is dedicated to haunted houses, I figured if I was going to focus on a found footage film, I might as well focus on one we all haven’t seen.

I must admit, I am a sucker for GHOST HUNTERS. I love the show and have been an avid fan for years. I know most of the time, they are chasing shadows and the episodes are cut to amp up tension that most of time isn’t there. But for some reason, when the Ghost Hunters are there Scooby-ing around in the night vision filter and stop to listen to a sound they may or may not have heard, I’m riveted. Sue me. It gets to me. 8213: GACY HOUSE follows a team of fictional ghost hunters as they wander around a house once owned by infamous child molester and murderer John Wayne Gacy. Now, I acknowledge the inappropriateness of centering a fictional story on a real life murderer. It’s pretty tasteless and I’m sure there are relatives of Gacy’s victims that would probably take offense to the tale, but as a film, I kind of liked this one. Up to a point, 8213: GACY HOUSE hit all the right notes, giving the audience a slow build through the first hour of the film with just enough of the paranormal to entice the hunters deeper into the house.

To its credit, 8213: GACY HOUSE does go full on with the found footage motif. There are no credits at the beginning or end, just a disclaimer stating that John Wayne Gacy was a killer, then giving the history of the owners of his house, and finally stating that six bodies were found in the house along with this footage. The DVD views as if you did just happen upon this film pieced together from multiple hand held and stationed cameras set up by the team. The team is made up of some likable characters: the noble leader, the wizened professor, the antsy cameraman, the flighty psychic, the hot assistant (actually two of them), and a snarky cameraman who’s just in it for the money. The actors are able to pull this off as if they were just regular people and not actors, going unscripted and reacting the way most would if thrown into this situation.

The problem with all found footage films is justifying why the characters would continue filming when everything starts going to hell. I don’t know what I would do in such a situation, but my dedication to documenting these bizarre events would go out the window when the ghost or the cannibal or big monster or whatever starts attacking. In the case of 8213: GACY HOUSE, of course, even after people start disappearing and the cameraman is lifted in the air, the hand held camera is utilized. Not sure why because with a bit of creative camerawork and writing the stationary cams the team put up in the story could have told the rest of the story. Up until all hellz breaks loose, though, 8213: GACY keeps it together with some good moments of suspense.

Director Anthony Fankhauser does have a creepy movie here with enough single moments of creep that turned out to be pretty effective. Shots of a portly ghost running toward the camera in infrared, a cameraman who has his pants torn down which sounds kind of funny but is played as more of a horrific molestation, and the endless black of the crawlspace underneath the house all factor in to making 8213: GACY HOUSE one of the more effective found footage horror films that fully embrace that feeling you get when you’re walking around your house at night in search of a sound that may have been the foundation shifting or may have been something more sinister.