REVIEW: Grave Encounters 2 (2012)

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Grave Encounters 2 (2012)

Grade: C+

Meta:  A term, especially in art, used to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential.

This is all Wes Craven’s fault.  First he made A New Nightmare (1994), where Robert Englund plays not only Freddy Kreuger, but also himself, haunting real-life Heather Langenkamp, best known as Nancy, the original “final girl” of the Elm Street series.  He then perfected the concept with 1996’s Scream, a horror movie where the characters allude to other horror movies and knowingly behave according to their “rules.”

“Meta” horror took off, culminating with today’s subject, Grave Encounters 2.  Why do I write “culminating”?  Because the answer to the question: “How much more meta could a horror movie get than Grave Encounters 2?” is “none.”  None more meta.

As Bloodcrypt’s resident found footage guru, I have to admit I got a little half-mast chubby during the first 10 minutes of the film, where random horror fans name drop the titans of the genre: Blair Witch, Rec, Paranormal Activity.  They do so while discussing the original Grave Encounters with varying degrees of rapture and disdain.

The protagonist, a scrawny little turd named Alex, becomes convinced that Grave Encounters (about a ghost-hunting t.v. crew who set up shop inside an abandoned mental hospital) actually happened.  Like, those were real people, and some producer acquired the footage, gave the victims “actor” names on imdb, and even created the name “The Vicious Brothers” as auteurs of the film.  Of course, the Vicious Brothers wrote the film you’re currently watching, Grave Encounters 2.

See what I mean?  No more fucking meta could this shit be.

Adding to Alex’s case is that he keeps getting comments on his YouTube posts from “DeathAwaits666” which direct him to the site of the hospital featured in the film.  If what you’re thinking right now is, “Loomis, don’t tell me a fucking demon signed up for a YouTube account and posts comments on scrawny little turds’ video blogs to lure them to their deaths,” well, I’m sorry.  I have to fucking tell you that.  Thankfully, unlike other shitshow horror flicks that have tried to make the internet a conduit of supernatural evil (FeardotCom limps lamely to mind), it’s not a central plot point.

I’m making this all sound pretty terrible, but it’s actually executed pretty well.  Anyway, Alex and his crew make it to the hospital, and I’ll be honest: It’s nice to see the ol’ girl again.  It really is a creepy fucking building.  The couple scares Grave Encounters 2has are pretty derivative of the first film, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  If it were, then fuckwits like me wouldn’t have sat through all those Friday the 13th sequels, now would we?

There’s a nice bit in the middle where you think the film’s taken a crazy turn, and an easily predictable (if you’ve seen the first one) appearance toward the end by one of original “cast” members.  Other than that, it’s only the concept that’s especially memorable.

So.  Much.  Meta.

REVIEW: Grave Encounters (2011)

 

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Grade: B

 

Don’t worry about the retarded-sounding title. It’s meant to sound retarded. It’s actually the name of the cheesy Ghotshunters-style television show that works as the very clever premise of this solid little Canadian flick.

 

What’s clever about it, you ask? Well, Dr. Loomis is your resident found footage expert around these parts. And while I dig the genre, even I must admit that it has its limitations. In basically every film from the sub-genre, there’s that shit-gets-cray moment when you say, “Ok, nobody would still be filming this.”

 

Grave Encounters has that angle pretty well covered. The characters are cynical-as-fuck documentarians who take their cameras to supposedly haunted places and look for ghosts and shit. Their latest expedition leads them to an old, closed-down mental hospital, where they have a caretaker lock them inside for the night, you know, for the extra drama that the fucktards who watch these shows like they’re National Geographic specials eat up.

 

The film starts pretty slowly, lots of backstory and “let’s get this over with” dialogue. Their incredulity turns to frustration as morning dawns (at least according to their cell phones), but all the exits they try are either blocked up or lead to other corridors. The way events commence mildly (a rolling, empty wheelchair) and get increasingly dicey (bathtubs of blood, demons) is executed well, and there’s some very cool Cukoo’s Nest shit going on. Best of all, since they’re there to record supernatural shit (even though they don’t really believe in said supernatural shit), that’s enough excuse to keep the cameras rolling, despite the fact that demons are writing “hello” on people’s backs amongst other inconsiderate demon behavior.

 

It’s not a great movie, by any means, but I’m bumping it up to a B because I’d never heard of it before seeing it recommended to me by Netlix instant, and it was a pleasant fucking surprise. You don’t encounter those often, ya feel me? Of course, this means you’ll watch it and be all like, “Loomis, that was nowhere near as good as you said it was, you fucking quack. And your lame-ass puns suck all the dicks.” Then I’ll give you your money back, you ungrateful cocksuckers.

 

REVIEW: Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

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Chernobyl Diaries (2012): D

Every horror junkie sits through his fair share of poorly-reviewed garbage hoping to find a diamond in the rough.  Since Oren Peli’s name was attached to this, and I’m such a fan of his Paranormal Activity movies, I gave it a shot, although the Dish Network info screen had it scored as 1.5 starts.  Maybe this one flew under the radar?

Nope.  It’s shit.  Worse, it’s boring shit.  Zero suspense, no sense of danger, and although it’s not a found footage movie, it’s shot in the same minimalist style.  You know the drill: It’s dark, the camera’s shaky, lots of screams then cutaways.  This approach means that even by the end of the movie, I’m still not sure what I was supposed to be scared of, other than some wild dogs that do damage in the daytime.  But I don’t find German fucking shepherds creepy.

Oh, there is a part with a bear.  That was kinda cool, I guess.

The only intriguing thing about this snoozefest is the premise: Dumb American kids (along with an Auzzie dude and Norwegian chick) sign on for an “extreme tour” of the town next to Chernobyl that was hastily evacuated after the reactor meltdown.  You would think that would make for some cool mutant shit, but you’d be wrong.  I guess the things hunting the dumbfuck Americans are mutants, but you never see them clearly enough to shit your pants about them.

The one halfway cool scene is in the trailer.  So watch that instead, and thank ol’ Dr. Loomis for saving you an hour and 25 minutes, you ungrateful fucks.

REVIEW: Sinister (2012)

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Sinister (2012): B+

The crazy thing about watching so many horror movies is that after awhile, you forget why you started watching them in the first place.  You watch for the death scenes, the gore; you hope for nudity.  The fact that the whole premise of a horror flick is supposed to be, you know, scary, is usually an afterthought.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised with Sinister, which, despite having a semi-recognizable star (Ethan Hawke) in the lead role, went pretty under-the-radar in theaters.  Yeah, it has all the usual tropes: creepy kids, late-night bumps in the night, “gotcha” moments driven by explosions of sound intended to make you jump.

This one works, though, because of a somewhat unique invention.  It combines the best elements of linear, narrative storytelling along with some genuinely horrific found footage.  Hawke’s a “true crime” writer who moves his family of four to a house where the previous family of four were all hung from a tree in the backyard.  The murder was never solved, and Hawke thinks he’s caught a break when he finds a box of Super-8 reels, along with a functioning projector, in the attic.

Sure, there are all the usual genre plot holes.  For instance, Hawke doesn’t tell his wife that the house’s last inhabitants met with a rather gruesome demise, and even though she knows what he does for a living, she doesn’t clue into this fact until their daughter starts drawing creepy pictures of the scene on the walls.  It’s an excuse to have a big, dramatic domestic altercation and for the wife to be the voice of the audience: “Get the fuck out of that house, morons!

However, the movies themselves (shot from the killer’s POV) are legitimate nightmare fuel.  The footage of the group hanging in the backyard tree (replete with bags over the victims’ heads and fruitless kicking at the air as they rise off the ground) sets the tone from the opening credits, and we’re then treated to four other similarly twisted mini-movies as Hawke reviews the evidence, whiskey in hand, eyes bulging with revulsion and terror.

The last is the most unsettling; it involves a lawnmower.  I’ll leave it at that.

As usual, the resolution isn’t as satisfying as the buildup, although it’s not bad.  The case could be made that Sinister is a mashup of other horror films that have done all of this better.

Still, there’s a test that any veteran horrorphile gives a thriller: If you’re watching late at night, and no one else is awake (the optimum way to watch, imo), and you’re even a teensy bit afraid to go into another dark room, and you jump at even the most benign noises, then the damn film has done its job.  I tensed as a stair creaked when I walked downstairs.  My heart leapt when I heard my infant daughter cry out in her sleep from the other room.  And when my wife, asleep in bed next to me, made this weird smacking sound with her mouth just at the film’s climax, I nearly squealed out loud.

Well, maybe you’re a fucking pussy, you say.

Well, maybe.  But I’ve seen lots of this shit.  I hope for a couple good “jump” scares per movie, and I’m usually let down.  This one had me unsettled from the beginning and pretty goddamn creeped out by the end.

Your scare mileage may vary, but it’s my review.  So fuck off.

REVIEW: The Ring (2002)

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The Ring: A

I love horror movies the way a fat kid loves cake. It’s my guilty pleasure genre, and I end up sitting through a lot of dreck in search of a few good scares. Most of my favorite horror films (Halloween, The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street) came out before I was alive/allowed to watch them in the theatre; thus, The Ring is the most scared I’ve ever been at the movies, narrowly edging The Blair Witch Project. When Samara crawls out of the well and through the tv at the end, I can still remember what I said aloud, squirming with the rest of the opening night crowd: “Oh my god, you’ve got to be fucking shitting me.”

It would’ve been one of the best horror films of the decade if it had ended after the harrowing scene with Naomi Watts “rescuing” Samara out of the well. That double climax just made it an instant classic. Basically, you’re on edge of your seat from the masterful opening scene with the two girls alone in the house, and it never lets up. The tape that supposedly kills you if you watch it itself is unsettling, and when you get home and realize that you’ve also seen it, you’re just hoping that the tv isn’t on static when you turn it on, or you just might wet yourself.

REVIEW: Paranormal Activity (2007)

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Paranormal Activity: B+

A phenomenal success story for the low budget horror genre, Paranormal Activity was made for $13,000 with no recognizable actors, gore, or special effects. It’s a close cousin to The Blair Witch Project, but with less mystery at the end. If you liked that one, you’ll like this.

The trajectory of the film’s hype was easy to predict. There was a huge rush of praise, followed by the inevitable backlash of people who saw it after being told how good it was, went in with their expectations too high, and proclaimed it’s overrated.

What I liked most is that I can tell you what’s good about it. Remember what that was like? Before the days of big, overwrought, CGI nonsense likeTransformers 2G.I. Joe, and the excruciatingly awful-looking 2012 took over the multiplexes? Try asking someone what he liked about those movies. You’ll get “It was hella cool” and “It had so many ‘wow’ moments” and “Megan Fox is hot.”

Here’s my breakdown, sans spoilers:

What’s great about the film is that it plays with our feeling of safety. Blair Witch took place in the woods. Those people went looking for trouble.Paranormal Activity is shot exclusively within a young couple’s San Diego house. We’re trapped inside with them, and the claustrophobia builds. Furthermore, most of the really bad stuff happens in the bedroom, while they sleep. That’s the place we all should feel the safest, but when we sleep we’re never more vulnerable. That paradox played havoc with me for 90 minutes.

As per horror movie tradition, things start innocently enough with some soft thumping and harmlessly moved personal items, and the suspense builds from there. There’s the typical macho arrogance from the alpha-male who thinks it’s all a big joke…until shit gets real. And boy, does it ever get real. There are some slow moments, but the last ten minutes are as harrowing as it gets.

I wasn’t impressed by either of the two lead actors (Micah Sloat and Katie Featherstone), but they were passable enough to keep things in the realm of believability. The film’s strength is the way the suspense keeps building with the use of very simple techniques that don’t take an army of computer programmers. The use of stop-motion photography. A light going on and off. A menacing growl.

Low-budget success stories like this show that all is not lost for filmmakers who aspire to be more than glorified video game programmers or purveyors of torture porn. If you loved Hostel because “It was hella sick, bro,” this flick’s probably not for you. But if you are able to let your imagination run wild and don’t mind being haunted when you turn off the lights, this is a pretty creepy Activity.

REVIEW: Doomsday (2008)

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Doomsday: C-

This is a loud, gory, unrelentingly stupid film. To be fair, it isn’t horrible. It has its charms (likable or interesting lead characters are not among them). However, it plays like a mishmash of three or four different 80’s apocalypse movies, with The Road Warrior being most prevalent, along with a dash of Escape from New York. What might seem fresh and edgy to today’s youth who’ve likely never seen the source material was hackneyed for me.

Doomsday straddles the line between wanting to be an big, suspenseful action thriller and laughing at itself, tongue firmly in cheek. Director Neil Marshall (who played it straight in the excellent The Descent) really needed to choose a side here and decide whether he was making an homage to those 80’s films or just ripping off their most sensational aspects. He never quite gets there, and the result is a bloody mess.

Are you waiting for me to tell you the plot? Trust me; it doesn’t really matter. The premise is that Scotland has been walled of because of a killer virus, and those left behind the wall (but immune to the virus) go all Mad Max. It’s a zombie movie without actual zombies, just the dying and the insane. There’s rape, cannibalism, and a stage show with pyrotechnics.

There is one truly unique, memorable aspect to Doomsday. If you like beheadings, this is your flick. There have got to be at least five or six different instances of decapitation. Some of them are posthumous, some of them sudden and shocking, and at least a couple are replete with the head still reacting after being detached or even shrieking as it flies through the air.

If that’s your kind of thing, you may think this is the greatest movie ever. When I was 14 years old, I’d be right there with you.

REVIEW: Sleepaway Camp 2 (1988)

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Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers: A-

This relatively unknown cult classic will appeal to you if:

1. You like horror films with creative/disgusting death sequences. My favorite is when Angela, the killer camp counselor, drowns a camper in an outhouse by using a larger branch to submerge the unlucky victim’s head beneath the muck. Classic.

2. You like gratuitous nudity. Lots and lots of it. You’re sold already, aren’t you?

3. You like the 80’s. The perms, mullets, and short shorts.

4. You like happy, yet oddly creepy camping songs that get stuck in your head for days. “Oooooohhhh, I’m a happy camper! I love the summer sun. I love the trees and forest; I’m always having fun!”

5. You like your movies to follow the plan: The promiscuous, drug-abusing teens go first, and that’s that.

6. You like sequels where seeing the original is not required. I’ve actually seen the original, and I’d advise against it. They tell you what you need to know in the beginning around the campfire, anyway.