Hollows Grove: Movie Review

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Synopsis:
A group of charlatan ghost hunters head to a haunted orphanage to record an episode of their show, S.P.I.T. (Spirit Paranormal Investigation Team)  They allow a friend along to document their process, and end up talking about how they fake everything.  I have no idea why they do this.  Anyway, the orphanage turns out to actually be haunted and terrible things happen to this crew.

Thoughts:
The movie opens with Mykelti Williamson as director of the FBI, very seriously stating how these tapes we’re about to watch were found at a crime scene, and how watching them means we’re part of the investigation, and yada yada.  It was so sincere and ridiculous that I just had to laugh.  Having a recognizable actor open the movie in that way made it even worse.  There was no possibility of suspending disbelief.  If I’m going to watch a found footage movie, I need to buy in that the events could possibly be real.  Seeing Bubba Blue sit on a desk and tell me he’s with the FBI does not allow me to do that.

hollows-grove-timThen we get to meet our ghost hunters.  And they’re terrible people.  Just the worst.  They’re fronted by Tim, who has one of the smuggest faces I’ve ever seen (which is odd, seeing as how he is played by Heed from So I Married an Axe Murderer).  His right hand man – Roger – is a screaming ball of misogynist comments and terrible jokes, wrapped up in a man who has entirely too high an opinion of himself.  Chad is also there.  He is tall and blonde.  Their producer – Julie – somehow sticks around even though Tim and Roger can’t stop saying terrible things to her.  But I’m sure the paycheck for S.P.I.T. is more than worth it (there is no way this is true).

hollows-grove-groupHarold is following them around with a camera and seems legitimately shocked that their “hauntings” are merely tricks to make it look like things are moving.  At the helm of these tricks is Bill, played by the great Lance Henricksen.  Have you ever wanted to see Henricksen’s hind quarters and part of his balls?  Spoiler alert: you totally see all of that.

Don’t smile at me like that, Lance. I’ve seen too much.

The S.P.I.T. show itself is horrendous.  The awful script was only outdone by the awful performances.  Everything was said with a dead-serious tone, while puns flew around like hotcakes.  (Flying hotcakes, I guess?)  I tried to imagine what it would be like to actually watch the show, and I ended up throwing items at my TV.

hollows-grove-hallwayAll that said…I think I kind of liked it.

This movie was not breaking any ground.  It’s essentially the same movie as Grave Encounters, with a bit of The Last Exorcism thrown in.

I mentioned how the characters were insufferable, but that’s really just an old slasher trick.  Create a cast of unlikable characters so you don’t feel bad when they are killed.  And it worked.  (To be fair, Tim and Roger were the only two I was actively rooting for to die.)  Every time the lights flickered or there was a loud noise, I kept saying, “Please let Tim and Roger die soon.”  I was basically Rob Corddry waiting for Crispin Glover’s arm to be severed in Hot Tub Time Machine.  “This is it.  THIS IS IT!  Oh…false alarm.  Just do it already, ghosts.”

Drop the hammer, ghosts. DROP THE HAMMER.
Drop the hammer, ghosts. DROP THE HAMMER.

The set-up dragged a bit, especially since we all know exactly where this movie was heading.  The ghosts – including the ghost of a psychotic orphan known for slitting throats – were real and the crew would be trapped inside to be taunted and killed.  But not before being haunted for hours.  Soooo much haunting, you guys.

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Even though I knew where it was heading, the payoff was still fun.  Once all hell started to break loose, I had a good time.  One member of the crew got possessed in a fairly confusing manner and decided murder would be fun.  Other members of the crew ended up running aimlessly through the abandoned orphanage, saying nonsensical things like, “Let’s run to the roof to escape,” without any clear plan of what they would do if they were to actually reach the roof.  Doors that were once locked became unlocked, and they ran into them to escape the ghosts in the hallway, not thinking there may be ghosts behind the locked doors as well.  Panic and fear do terrible things to people.  For these people, it caused them to make terrible decisions.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter.  Stay in the hall.  Go into a previously locked room.  Run to the roof.  Run to the ground floor.  Their fate was sealed.  Otherwise, the very official FBI agent wouldn’t be presenting us with the tapes in the first place.

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As you can tell, this is by no means a great movie.  It’s not even a very good one.  But it can be enjoyable if you go into it with the right frame of mind.  Know that the characters are terrible people, but also know that they will die soon.  Know that the beginning is a bit slow, but also know that it will pick up.  And, again, that they will die.

Rating: 2/5

Blair Witch: Movie Review

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Synopsis:
15 years after the initial trek into the woods of Burkittsville ended in witch-related deaths, disappearances and map-kicking, a new video surfaces that shows a figure that may sorta/kinda look like Heather Donahue, but only if you squint in the right light.  The tape is sent to Heather’s younger brother, James.  He has sought answers about her disappearance for years.  And so, armed with new information, James heads out into the woods of Burkittsville with a few friends and a lot of cameras.

Thoughts:
Let’s get this out of the way early: the image of Heather in the newly surfaced video doesn’t really look much like Heather.  I know James was desperate for something to cling to, but he’s really grasping at straws.  I get it, James.  I get it.  Sisters are awesome.

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I went into this movie with high expectations.  I tried to bring them down a little, but I couldn’t help myself.  I loved the original Blair Witch Project, and the surprise unveiling of this one at Comic Con really set a high excitement level.  I even closed my eyes every time a trailer came on so nothing would be ruined for me.  I took a half day off work the day it came out just so I could see it without having any of it ruined for me.  I was all in.

I walked out of the theater thinking, “Yeah, that was a good movie,” but I didn’t love it like I hoped I would.  Part of that is on me.  It’s rare to exceed such high expectations.  It can happen (hello, Mad Max: Fury Road), but it’s rare for me.  I let the hype get away from me.

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There were entirely too many unnecessary jump scares, and most of them were of the same variety.  Namely, the old, “there was no one next to me NOW THERE IS SOMEONE NEXT TO ME LOUD NOISES,” trick.  That’s fine once or twice, but they used it a lot in this movie, which is ridiculous when you realize it’s a movie about a group of people trapped in the woods by a time-bending witch.  Being lost in the woods is an inherently scary scenario; being stalked by a witch only makes that scenario more terrifying.  There’s no need to rely on jump scares to frighten the audience, and yet that’s exactly what Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett did.  A well-executed jump scare is one thing, but a lot of these just felt lazy, and that bothered me.

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Let me get one more negative-that’s-not-really-a-negative out of the way before moving on.
The first Blair Witch came at a perfect time.  It was the infancy of the internet and, though there were found footage movies before it, The Blair Witch Project captured the attention of a ton of people and had large groups asking if the events on the screen actually happened.  I’ll admit to being drawn into that story, and I was sufficiently freaked out by the film for a long time afterwards.  (It didn’t help that I went camping a few days after seeing it for the first time.)  In this day and age, there’s not really a way to recreate that.  I know that.  Wingard & Barrett didn’t even attempt to pull a trick like that.  Still, The Blair Witch Project hit me pretty hard in my pre-horror days, and I still carry that feeling with me.  I knew this wouldn’t do the same thing, but I had hopes that it would affect me in a somewhat similar way.  It didn’t, but that’s my own problem, not a failing of the movie.

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(Fun found footage aside: Ruggero Deodato, the director of Cannibal Holocaust, was taken to court for charges of murder after that film was released.  The actors were forbidden from doing interviews after the movie was released to convince people that the footage was real.  Apparently it worked a little too well.)

I just said a bunch of kind of negative things, but I actually really enjoyed this movie.  So let’s get to that part.

The shaky cam was much less shaky in this movie than the original.  That’s a product of the updated technology.  Instead of the images coming to us via hand-held cameras while the operators stumbled through the forest, we got ear-piece cameras and cameras mounted to trees and a handful of somewhat useless drone shots.  We were guided through the woods in Burkittsville with a steadier hand.  Instead of feeling like I was being kicked around, it allowed this to feel more like a haunted house movie in the woods.  I was focusing more on the surroundings and less on blurry images of trees as they rushed past.  And, though those shots didn’t always pay off like I thought they would, it kept me on the edge of my seat.  I kept waiting for images to emerge from the darkness.  I stared into the bushes through black and white night vision looking for the slightest bit of movement.  There were a lot of shots in this movie that freaked me out without anything actually happening.

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The main four characters were likable and relatable.  I didn’t agree with James’ reasons for going into the forest, but I could see why he was doing it.  If you can understand that, the motivations of everyone else made sense.  They were a close-knit group of friends who truly seemed to care for each other.  They also seemed like actual friends in the way they interacted with each other.  I laughed out loud several times at their conversations.
Even the two outsiders – Lane and Talia – were perfectly fine characters.  We get a feel for them in roughly 30 seconds and have plenty of reasons to be a little wary of them.  Despite some warning signs – a Confederate flag in Maryland is a red flag if I’ve ever seen one – the group allows them to tag along, mainly because James will do anything if it means finding out what happened to his sister.
There were reasons not to like them and to be distrustful of them – more Lane than Talia – but they loved each other and just wanted to go home once everything started going crazy.  It’s somewhat rare to have a cast like this without one of them being unbearably annoying.
I have some questions about Lane’s ability to grow a beard, but that’s a conversation for another time.

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Like most found footage movies, we got a decent amount of slow build-up to the action.  Lots of footage of our characters trying out the cameras in fits-and-starts.  Lots of small snippets of conversations that were caught.  That’s to be expected in found footage and it didn’t bother me.  I’m in it for the payoff.  How does the movie do when things turn south?
That’s when this movie shines.  When things go south, they go south in a hurry.  We get some “separated from the group” slasher kills.  We get some Final Destination deaths.  We get plenty of “no no no no no,” moments.  We get some terrific new entries into the Blair Witch mythology.

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By the time we finally get to the house from the end of The Blair Witch Project, my nerves were already on the verge of being shot.  I begged them not to go in, knowing that the witch wouldn’t give them another choice.  The house itself was a labyrinth of horror, featuring one scene that found me covering my mouth and shaking my head.  The last 15-20 minutes of the movie are spent in the house and it is pure madness.  When I wasn’t covering my mouth I was grinning like an idiot.

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Blair Witch isn’t perfect, but the finale is superb.  If you haven’t seen it yet, lower your expectations a bit and prepare to have a good time.  I had a lot of fun with it.  The more I think about it, the more I just want to see it again.

Rating: 4/5

The Poughkeepsie Tapes: Movie Review

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Synopsis:
Authorities find over 800 VHS tapes made by an elusive killer in and around Poughkeepsie, New York.  We the viewer – most of whom are absolutely not police or FBI agents – get to watch some of these and see what terrible things this killer did.  Awful things.  Twisted things.  Why did they let us watch these?

My thoughts:
This wasn’t as much out-and-out scary as it was supremely unnerving.  I had to keep telling myself, “This isn’t real, this isn’t real.”  I believed myself for the most part, but a little part of me knew that I’m not a smart person and was probably lying.

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This movie is 86 minutes long.  There is a whole lot of life-scarring material in this movie for it being so short.  There are things in this movie I will carry with me for years.  Maybe the rest of my life.  I may pass those things down to my children.  They don’t deserve this, man.

There is a lot of stuff going on here, but a decent portion of the movie deals with the kidnapping/torture of Cheryl Dempsey.  She was a teenager when she was abducted.  She was abused physically and mentally to a terrible extent.  We see the torture.  We see her mind cracking under the strain of it all.  It’s heartbreaking.
In a particularly chilling scene, the killer videotapes himself as he approaches Cheryl’s mom, offering to help find her child.  Eventually it dawns on her mother that she is talking to the man who took her daughter.  As she is paralyzed with fear, the killer laughs and walks off.  That scene broke me down.  Of all the things I saw him do over the course of this movie, that felt like one of the worst.  It felt like someone punching me in the gut.  The torture I can take.  But that?  That’s a bridge too far, fella.

But that wasn’t the worst.  Not really.  He did some, let’s call it “creative surgery,” that was horrifying.  Just horrifying.

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Both his psychological and physical torture are next level sadistic.  If this man existed in real life and was anywhere close to my town, I would have picked up and moved a long time ago.  Maybe burned my house on my way out of town for good measure.

I feel like I’m really talking this movie up.  I liked it, but it wasn’t perfect.  There are some slow moments.  There are some scares that don’t really land.  But those are small moments and relatively easy to overlook.  Again, it’s a short movie, and those moments are in the minority.  For the most part, this is an extremely well-done movie.  It used the found footage genre to perfection.

poughkeepsie - cheryl in house
If you’re looking for an unsettling serial killer movie, this is it.  It has had a troubled release history, so it’s not the easiest movie to track down, but you can find it if you search hard enough.  That aspect makes this a little creepier: it’s a movie about hours and hours of torture and murder, and it’s not easy to track down.  That aspect makes it feel a little more real.
Turn off the lights, check to make sure all your doors and windows are locked and throw this on.  You may find yourself staring at the screen as the credits roll, wondering what you have gotten yourself into.  Then checking all the closets in your house.  Just in cases, you know?

Rating: 5/5

Notable actors: Bobbi Sue Luther, a real serial killer (probably)

Creep: Movie Review

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This is a found footage movie, and the set-up is simple: Aaron answers an ad placed by Josef, a man who is dying of cancer.  As a father-to-be, he wants someone to record a day in his life, so his son will be able to see the kind of man his father really was.  Josef even references the film My Life, in which Michael Keaton does pretty much the exact same thing.  I kind of chuckled, because I love the idea of someone taking life cues from a subpar Michael Keaton movie.  But I digress.

Listen guys, there's this movie called Game 6...
Listen guys, there’s this movie called Game 6…

We all know where this is going.  We know that someone is the titular Creep, and we’re pretty sure that someone is Josef, mainly due to his penchant for jumping out at Aaron from hidden corners and wearing a cheap werewolf mask he calls “Peachfuzz”.  The clues are subtle, but I was able to pick up on them.

Pictured: Maybe a Creep. It's hard to tell for sure.
Pictured: Maybe a Creep. It’s hard to tell for sure.

Eventually, Aaron picks up on these clues and decides to leave Josef, a grown man who thinks it’s acceptable to say “tubby time” in the presence of another human being.  I thought this would be the finale: a game of Peachfuzz and mouse in an empty house.  I was mistaken.  The movie went in a slightly different direction at that point, and I was happy that I did not have to sit through 30 minutes of seeing the camera look over a couch slowly, then run down the steps.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

For spoiler related reasons, I won’t get into where the movie went from there.  It was an interesting little twist, but it didn’t add much to the movie.  I understand that this was not an action-filled gore-fest, but there was a ton of dead time in this movie.  I feel like they thought it was creepier than it actually was.

This was an extremely small movie.  There are only two actors listed: Patrick Brice (Aaron) and Mark Duplass (Josef).  (We actually hear a female voice over a phone at one point, but we never see her and the voice is uncredited.)  To love a movie like this, you have to connect with the characters.  Or, at least, not actively loathe them.  That was a test this movie failed for me.  Mark Duplass was basically his same character from The League, only with eyes that were slightly more dead.  He still had that same smarmy look, and I couldn’t shake it.  He didn’t scare me.  He annoyed me.

* makes an Adrian Peterson joke *
*makes an Adrian Peterson joke*

Aaron wasn’t much better.  After escaping the house, he had a number of moments where he is just talking to the camera, and he came off as a vlogger talking about what kind of dinner he was going to make that night, only with worse decision-making.

Went to the store to buy parsley, but they were out. Hashtag parsley life.
Went to the store to buy parsley, but they were out. Hashtag parsley life.

I understand what is going on here.  In this era of sequels, remakes and reboots, we have a tendency to champion anything that is new.  Creep is a perfectly fine movie that grabbed a lot of hype for being small and original (or, at least, a new take on an old story).  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Had I stumbled across this myself, I probably would have enjoyed it a little more than I did.  But, even then, I don’t think it would have grabbed me as much as it seemed to grab others.  It’s worth watching, but don’t expect anything mind-blowing.

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Rating: 2/5

Willow Creek mini review

Willow Creek Poster

Lisa reviewed this back in June.  Check out that review here.

“Bobcat Goldthwait directed found footage Bigfoot movie.”
That lovely bit of word soup is all I knew about this movie going in.  Since I had just visited the International Cryptozoology Museum, my interest in Bigfoot was at an all-time high.  My relationship with found footage has been a rocky one, but I was pretty excited about this.

While I liked Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) pretty well, Jim (Bryce Johnson) really grated on my nerves.  One minute he’s admonishing Kelly for not believing in Bigfoot and making fun of the town (“You don’t believe?  You don’t believe?  How could you not believe?  Believebelievebelieve?”), the next he’s poking fun at a Bigfoot mural or jokingly interviewing a wooden Bigfoot or mocking a man who is singing a song about Bigfoot.  You can’t have it both ways, fella.

The movie was slow and riddled with plot holes/standard found footage complaints, but it was short (80 minutes) and provided a few good scares.  While it was ultimately disappointing, I thought it had enough going for it to offer a lukewarm recommendation.  Of course, that may just be my Bigfoot-mania talking.

Rating: 2.5/5