Devil’s Pass, Ignore the Box Art

Devil's Pass

There are no naked brunettes buried waist-deep in snow. You should know better than to think that.

Devil’s Pass was one of those few shockumentaries that I was was better. It had a good premise and an excellent buildup, but fumbled the big reveal. It’s one of the few movies of its kind that is neither horrendous nor outright amazing, which is an achievement all in itself. I imagine it would have been on-par with the Blair Witch Project if it hadn’t been so eager to explain the supernatural goings-on within. I lost interest at the halfway point, when the team discovers a mysterious something in the snow and eventually decides to investigate it. I’m sur eyou’ll agree with me when I say that the ambiguous unknown is a greater spook factor in horror movies than being chased around by some creature. That in mind, let’s begin.

Devil's PassDevil’s Pass follows a group of students who are researching the disappearance of nine Russian skiers who vanished mysteriously in the Dyatlov Mountain Pass of Russia in 1959. Some initial news reports and illegally acquired video footage suggest that the students vanished just as the skiers had, which isn’t much of a spoiler, because we all know how horror movies like to repeat past tragedies. Introductory spookfest noted, I feel the real tension begins to build when the crew first has drinks at the base of the Ural mountain range. They tell the bartender about their project, and he offers them the very same drinks the Russians had on their way up. Blatant foreshadowing, perhaps? Oh yes. On top of that, the hints at a government conspiracy certainly amplify the viewer’s sense of “just what the crap went on up there?”

Once they’re up in the mountains, eerie things start happening, and their technology begins to malfunction. Can’t have a good sense of isolation with all these communicating gadgets and gizmos in the way! It’s moments like these that make me ask myself if I really want an explanation. After receiving one, my immediate response was no, but that’s the trouble with magic tricks. Once you know how they’re done, the wonder is gone. Anyway, one of the greater lines is dropped during a nighttime camping sequence, not minutes before the discovery of the mysterious thing in the snow. That was the highest point for me.

Devil's PassNow, despite the fact that the big reveal was disappointing, I’d rather avoid spoiling it. If you end up watching the movie, please leave a comment and tell me what you thought of the buildup and the latter half. I’m aware of the fact that I compare absolutely every found footage movie to the Blair Witch, but that sets a high bar, damnit. Part of the charm was that the characters and plot were so down-to-earth you could imagine yourself there with them, shivering in a tent, afraid of the fucking baby out there. With Devil’s Pass? Not so much. I can’t envision myself running away from Russian soldiers or being haunted by a yeti.

Scott Foundas of Variety wound up getting the same mediocre-positive impression; they could have done MORE with the film. More in this case means less, because explaining everything isn’t a very good idea when you’re trying to scare people. Unless the explanation is scary. But it wasn’t. Bit of an image-spoiler in the coming link, but it doesn’t give anything critical away! http://variety.com/2013/film/reviews/devils-pass-review-1200586363/

V/H/S/2, Mega Murder Mayhem

VHS2

V/H/S/2 was alright.

What, you want more from me? It’s a sequel of a compilation of horror shorts filmed by people who sometimes don’t know what they’re doing. This time around, the quality fluctuates rather noticeably. I’ll run through each short independently for the sake of keeping things clean and orderly, okay? Okay. Oh, and yeah, beware of boobs. There are plenty. Maybe? Nah, just two sets. Four total. On two different people though.

The overlying story. It revolves around two people trying to blackmail a guy and find some lady’s son. Also boobs at the very start. Best chest forward, right? They end up watching a bunch of home movies. Everyone dies. 4/10 for tying things together but doing so very plainly. A guy shoots his jaw off, which is pretty cool.

VHS2Robot eyeball story. A man has a synthetic eye installed into his brain, and it has a camera because the company that gave it to him decided that they want to test it that way. Privacy is overrated. The guy starts seeing ghosts, a girl comes over and says that spontaneous sex will scare ghosts away, but then it doesn’t. Everyone dies. 5/10 for an interesting camera concept, but icky mirror gimmicks and arbitrary boobs.

Cyclist zombies. They don’t actually ride bikes. A cyclist puts a bunch of cameras on his helmet and bike, and then stops to save a woman who is actually a zombie. She bites his neck-meat and they go around eating people. Main zombie guys blows his face off with a found shotgun after getting a call from his girlfriend that reminds him of his humanity. The girlfriend is only ever on the phone, so she doesn’t die. 5/10 for zombie 1st person perspective, but generic enough that the magic fades quickly.


VHS2Indonesian pedophile cult
. This one’s pretty neat. A film crew explores a cult of the aforementioned nature, which is led by a character titled Father. They learn about the unusual practices that occur within, and then the only female crewmember turns out to be pregnant. Things quickly spin out of control as Satan explodes out of her uterus. 7/10 for being interesting despite crappy effects and an obnoxious, Blair Witch-Beelzebub hybrid ending. Oh, also, almost everyone dies.

Naked beige alien invasion. I hate everyone in/everything about this short. It’s about a bunch of annoying kid-friends interrupting people having sex and then being caught masturbating. And then naked beige aliens come in and eat everyone. -255/1 (you didn’t think the numbers actually measured anything tangible, did you?) for being the worst possible cinematographic amalgamation of kitschy horror clichés I’ve ever detected with my ocular accoutrements. That last sentence gets 10/10. And yes, everyone dies. Including the kid that got abducted.


VHS2V/H/S/2. It’s alright
. Skip the zombie and alien bits, alright? VHS the first had it goin’ on, what with its glitchy serial killer, naked harpy lady, lesbian neck-slasher, and- well, the generic screaming ghost girl was yuck, but the ratio of good minis to bad is superior to its descendant. You should watch both right now, one after the other. Do it. You’ll love it.

OH. Well, ex-CUSE me Kofi Outlaw of ScreenRant. I guess the SECOND one is better! It sure is all STREAMLINED and EFFICIENT! Nah, I’m just being facetious. Comparing them two movies is basically weighing two lard-filled balloons on a scale to see which one is heavier. I mean, even if you found out… they’re still just lard-filled balloons. You can probably blow it up for a laugh, but it’s only good for one go. Terrible allegory aside, here’s the link for the review by Professor Cinematograph: http://screenrant.com/vhs-2-reviews/


Paranormal Activity 4 Gave Up

Paranormal Activity 4

Paranormal Activity 4; proof that found footage films can fight to reach double digits in sequels. Now, this one is neither good nor bad, instead falling into the worst possible category, known as uninspired-mediocre. Due to a quality paradox, that makes it the most terrible thing ever. Uninspired-mediocre is the essence of sequels, especially crippling to horror movies since plot comes second to spooks. While the rudimentary plot with Tobi the Demon does carry the slightest bit of weight, mediocre-uninspired sucks this flick in like a singularity.

So, what’s new? Hunter, who Katie kidnapped, has been adopted. He now goes by Wyatt and is the little brother of some girl who has a god-awful annoying boyfriend who is good with computer cameras. Why couldn’t they break the meta and have a cute gay couple or something? Geeze Louise. Anyway, Katie movies in next door to his family with a creepy little smudge named Robbie, who speaks with Tobi. Tobi is barely mentioned, by the way.

Paranormal Activity 4Katie has an unspecified accident which forces Wyatt’s family to put up Robbie until she’s better. Then, to nobody’s surprise, creepy things start happening. Objects start to move around. Technology begins to behave strangely. Ghostly figures appear in the Xbox Kinect motion detection field at night. Oh, right, that’s one of the movie’s primary gimmicks. If you use nightvision to observe your Xbox Kinect in a dark room, you’ll see the light nodes it uses to detect motion. Pretty neat looking if you ask me, but not a saving grace of this sequel of sequels.

Everyone dies. Nobody comes close to figuring out what’s going on with the cult. The protagonists are just punching bags for startles until the movie decides to bump ‘em off. I want- no, need explanations or at the very least some legitimate resistance to the demon shenanigans. Without any twists, secrets, or creativity, all you have is uninspired-mediocre mush that wouldn’t shock a paranoid schizophrenic. At this point in the Paranormal Activity franchise, the directors can’t afford to dig up dead scares and serve them with barely fresh garnish. That isn’t new or exciting.

Paranormal Activity 4Predictability is a murderer of stories, no matter the genre. Telegraph what is going to happen too clearly and predictability will jet through your work like weeds in an unkempt garden. Paranormal Activity 4 is basically planting weeds in that regard because there are no new scares, no new plot, and no surprises. Out of context, 4 might receive a passing grade. As the fourth installment of an until-now quality shockumentary franchise, it’s a blight.

Angie Han of SlashFilm feels the same way about Paranormal Activity 4, describing it as a sequel that feels like a ripoff of a beloved series. While it’s a shame that this might mean the end of Paranormal Activity, it’s good to know that “creative” resources will be aimed in a different direction. Sequels aren’t meant to be vaguely different copies of the original work. They need new perspective, direction, and sincere effort. If those three aspects aren’t readily available, it could very well be time to start on something new. Here’s the link: http://www.slashfilm.com/paranormal-activity-4-review-the-horror-franchise-finally-loses-its-way/

V/H/S, Who Likes Short Shorts?

V/H/S

V/H/S. I’m pretty sure I’d have never stumbled across this movie if I hadn’t been fatally bored while skimming through Netflix’s selection of god-awful horror movies. You see, V/H/S is a testament to horror movie stereotypes. All the female characters have to be sexy, all the male characters have to be horny assholes, and fucking everybody has to fucking say fucking fuck as fucking much as fucking possible. Also, if this movie was a swimming pool, you’d be absolutely drowning in boobs. It’s too much.

V/H/SV/H/S is a compilation of horror shorts done by various directors. There’s no consolidated theme aside from the “tie it all together” main story. A bunch of crooks are hired by an anonymous person to burgle someone’s house and make off with a single VHS cassette. While they’re searching, they discover a dead body sitting in front of a bunch of TVs, which are surrounded by dozens of VHS cassettes. While they search through them, you get to see the shorts.

The acting is on par with B-horror movie shockumentaries. I can personally guarantee that you won’t like anyone, and that everyone you see will probably die or kill someone or be involved in killing someone. Sometimes it’s predictable, sometimes it isn’t. That’s the benefit of having a bunch of shorts as opposed to one long movie.

V/H/SAt this point, you’re probably thinking either, “I’d watch this because it sounds so bad it must be bad-good,” or, “I have better things to do with my life.” I won’t say V/H/S is a good movie, but it’s both interesting and scary. It feels like you’re watching a compilation of urban legends in the making. The effects, which are consolidated into one “camera visual glitch” category, do what they’re meant to do and don’t overshoot their bounds. The video quality’s going to be low and shaky, but that’s the shockumentary genre for you.

Speaking of genre, the shorts are quite varied, each encompassing a different malevolent entity. In one, a cult. In another, a monster disguised as a human. In yet another, just a person. It keeps you guessing, though the first view will be highly disorienting because of the lack of continuity and forgettable characters.

I’ll toss you some cliff notes before stapling on the alternate review. V/H/S is interesting and scary, enough so that you won’t feel like you’re wading through tits and f-bombs and excessive gore. You will be, but you’ll be distracted, so it all works out in the end. Hopefully I’m not setting you up for disappointment. I don’t think I am.

V/H/SStacey Buchanan of Horror-Movies.ca spoke highly of V/H/S, which is actually kinda throwing me for a loop. I couldn’t tell you if it deserved the 4.5/5 stars she gave it, but I can say that the dull parts of the movie don’t last very long. Hell, if you like it for one short, then the movie’s done its job. Here’s the review link: http://www.horror-movies.ca/2012/05/vhs-review/

The Blair Witch Project versus Satan

Blair Witch ProjectSatan made a bunch of devils that do really nasty things to humanity. Blair Witch Project spawned a series of god-awful (pardon the pun) shit shockumentaries that do even worse things to humanity. So which is worse? You be the judge.

In all seriousness, The Blair Witch Project was actually a very good movie, using cinematic gambits uncommon to most films at the time. The movie was meant to seem real; everything that happened in the movie could happen in real life. The cameras bounced and bobbled, the characters were crude and informal, and the film student scenes were overly dramatic and ironically funny. It really did seem like the whole thing was the result of a film project gone horribly wrong.

The premise of the movie is exceedingly simple, the effects are primitive, but the overall impact the movie has on its watchers is strong. It scares you, because it looks like you’re watching a home movie. Three students, Heather, Mike, and Josh, go into the woods looking for a graveyard so they can shoot a scene for their documentary about folklore. They hear about the Blair Witch a bit in town, but not enough to deter them from carrying on. As the days in the woods progress, they begin to notice strange occurrences, such as piles of rocks placed around their tent, little wooden stickmen hanging from trees, and eventually… Things get much worse.

Blair Witch ProjectSomething attacks them in their tent. Josh goes missing. They find a derelict house in the middle of the woods, and the horrific conclusion is reached. What was it? What had audiences tense in their seats, goosebumped and staring? Was the legend of the Blair Witch true? You can’t know until you see the movie. And just so you know, a disturbing number of viewers didn’t know if the movie was real or not for the longest time. It started the shockumentary craze for a reason.

There really isn’t a lot to say about the movie itself, what with it being modeled after real life from a horror perspective, so I’ll reveal a little bit of the movie’s making. The three actors were placed in the town of Blair with money and instructions on how to do their documentary. They didn’t know the people they interviewed, they didn’t have an exact plan. True to the basic nature of the shockumentary, they were only there to wing it and react when the horror aspects kicked in.

Blair Witch ProjectDuring the “lost in the woods” portion of the movie, the actors were only given a water bottle, an energy bar, and an apple each day. What the director was going for was realistic fear that could only be seen through systematically wearing down the actors through eerie events and slight starvation. All of it was true to the movie, and in the conclusion, Heather actually wound up hyperventilating for a solid half hour after the final scene was filmed. That’s not something every movie can say of itself, that its actors legitimately experienced the emotions that they were meant to portray. That’s what made it so frightening the first time it was shown. It’s easy to recognize cinema fear from real fear, and any moviegoer who went to the first showing would recognize that in an instant in the Blair Witch Project.

Now, I’m not saying this movie will appeal to everyone. It is a different take on the cinema. I’m just saying that it’s a unique and creative movie with charm and a sense of sincerity. If you feel like giving it a try, go for the DVD version. That way you can listen to the commentary and see how everything worked. It’s fascinating how they went about the making of the Blair Witch Project; it gives you a better perspective on the first shockumentary, and really helps you appreciate just how much work went into production. Do enjoy yourself, and try not to be bothered by how many times the fuck word is used. It’s realistic. Don’t hate.