I didn't agree to participate in Iron Galaxy's 24-hour stream for Extra Life until the last second, so my Shocktober reaction pieces have been thrown entirely off course in the last few weeks. It also feels good to blame everything on Dave Lang. It feels...right. The natural order of things. (Did you watch him play P.T.?)
In any case, I've still been watching some films, albeit at a slower pace than earlier in the month, both fueled by interruptions and my wife being out of town for part of October. Since we watch horror movies together, if she's not around, I'm forced to…I dunno, watch documentaries? Real movies? Jeez.
Since I'll probably watch a few more movies after the Shocktober deadline has come and gone, we'll probably do one more Shocktober post next week with some thoughts on the month's lineup, what we might change next year, and list off the movies that I wasn't able to get to.
Thanks for tuning in and sharing, y'all. I'm very sad this is almost over!
Kill List (2011) by Ben Wheatley
Five minutes into this one, my spidey senses were tingling. That tingling was my wife shoving her elbow into my stomach and remarking "We've seen this before. Remember it had the really fucked up ending with [blank] [blank] and [blank] when [blank] does [blank]?" Then, your brain does the really weird thing where it all comes rushing back. Yep, we'd seen this before. Oops! Still, it's recommended. Great movie.
The Loved Ones (2009) by Sean Bryne
Even though I'd announced Shocktober 2014 would be free of torture porn movies, one managed to sneak itself onto the list. Sorry about that. I'm not explicitly opposed to torture porn movies, but I've found the subgenre hardly has anything to say beyond grossing the hell out of you. Plus, so many torture porn films get hung up on sexually exploiting women to freak you out, when the reverse never, ever happens.
In that sense, The Loved Ones flips expectations. The monster at the center of everything is a woman, one who has never been able to find the affection she's looking for. It might have something to do with killing every man she's fallen for, but who am I to tell her what's best?
Torture porn movies tend to be about one thing: making the audience deeply uncomfortable by putting the victim through a harrowing series of attacks, all while hoping they're given a chance to fight back. Torture porn and revenge fantasies can be separate subgenres, but it's common for them to mix. Few films are truly hopeless, and torture porn operates under the idea that both the viewer and on-screen victim are surviving current events, knowing it will change.
The Loved Ones tries to give the audience a reason to breath easier by making you laugh. The Loved Ones is not Dead Snow 2 or Grabbers, leading to a confusing and inconsistent tone. One second, it's making light of the violence. The next, we're watching a slow, lingering shot of a nail being driven through a foot. It's possible to mingle tones to keep an audience surprised, but The Loved Ones doesn't pull it off. You're left wondering what kind of movie they wanted to make. There are two of them in there.
Also, this is yet another horror movie that senselessly kills a dog to make you pissed off. Argh.
Atrocious (2011) by Fernando Barreda Luna
There's something interesting about watching a foreign language film, horror or not. Besides exposure to different cultural interpretations of fear, my inability to parse the nuance of the language being spoken means the acting can be subpar, and I don't really notice. Given how poor acting tends to be in found footage films, getting a leg up in this regard is nice. Maybe the acting in Atrocious is fine? Who knows!
The Quintanilla family has decided to spend quality vacation time at an old summer home. The brother and sister we spent the most time with during Atrocious are co-hosts of a YouTube channel that investigates local horror myths, giving the narrative decent justification for cameras on all the time (though not a particularly good justification for why the cameras are so expensive looking and professional?). The duo quickly learns of a local story involving Melinda, a girl who went missing but now haunts the woods. You're not supposed to be in the woods at night (obviously), as she might find you. And you never look at her.
Not much happens in Atrocious for a while. It's how found footage films works best, as the anxiety comes from waiting for the tipping point. You know it's all about to fall apart when the family dog is found dead at the bottom of a well. (Once again, can we effin' stop it with the blatant emotional manipulation via animals?)
Lots of horror films, especially found footage ones, work in cycles. Nothing happens during the day, and everything goes wrong at night. Though nothing happens at night in Atrocious for a while, when it flips the switch, it never stops. I can't remember if Atrocious maintains a singular first-person camera shot for its entire ending sequence, but it's pretty close. Essentially, the closing 30 minutes are completely viewed through the brother's lense, as he whips around a confusing maze hiding something stalking him.
It's utterly unbearable, as Atrocious refuses to provide the viewer with any moment of relief. The camera whips back and forth over and over, but nothing's revealed. A common trick is to have the camera whip to the right, then quickly whip to the left and reveal a jump scare. That basically never happens in Atrocious, forcing the viewer to endlessly grip their couch. See, when the jump scare happens, it means you'll probably have a minute or two to calm down, as scares are scattered. Atrocious, however, says "no."
Escape From Tomorrow (2013) by Randy Moore
Escape From Tomorrow is not a good movie, but it's gutsy as hell. The acting is poor and the story is batshit insane, but Escape From Tomorrow's sheer existence is reason to check it out.
Jim White's family has decided, like many others do every year, to spend a few days at Disney World, staying overnight at one of the park's many resorts. Towards the end of the trip, he receives a call from his boss. Jim's lost his job, and this triggers a series of seemingly psychotic episodes out of his control. To the viewer, it means Disney World becomes a living nightmare.
If you're not aware, the vast majority of Escape From Tomorrow was shot, guerilla-style, inside Disney World. We're not just talking people walking around Disney World, we're talking lengthy sequences within the rides themselves. Disney didn't sign off on the film, and they probably would have every legal right to stop this movie from being distributed. It didn't.
The ballsy nature of the film's setting (and how it was shot) makes Escape From Tomorrow required viewing, and it's not until about halfway through when the magic begins to wear off and it becomes apparent the script is a mess. Escape From Tomorrow wants to tell a story about consumerism and the pretty lies places like Disney tell about life (read: nothing ever goes wrong, and everyone's happy!), but it never sticks the landing. The message is muddled by overlapping storylines that never work out.
Still, watching It's A Small World become something out of a Puppet Master film? Totally worth it.
The Borderlands (2013) by Elliot Goldner
Watching The Borderlands, I realized there might be too many found footage films in the lineup this year. Though we're on the backend of the craze, there's still lots being made, even if very few of them actually benefit from people holding the cameras. Still, like the best of them, The Borderlands concocts a decent excuse for it, as we follow a group of skeptics in the Catholic church investigating proof of miracles.
If you've seen one found footage film, you've seen 'em all. Lots of them rely on the same tricks, and while the tricks remain marginally effective, they lose impact as each new movie deploys them the same way. In that respect, The Borderlands isn't anything new, and it means being patient for a good while.
The Borderlands is probably worth watching for the ending alone. It's ridiculous. I'm not sure what happened, but it's certainly...different...than any horror ending I've seen in a long time. The implications are pretty wild, and while the plausibility is fairly out there, it left me wide-eyed.
Exists (2014) by Eduardo Sanchez
The quality of horror films is such a crapshoot, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to have high expectations for the co-director of The Blair Witch Project's return to the genre he helped define. The Blair Witch Project might be my favorite horror film of all-time. I've told the story before, but it caused me to spend an entire summer staying up until dawn, using the sun peering over the horizon as an excuse to sleep.
It's impossible to expect Eduardo Sanchez to capture lightning in a bottle a second time, but Exists commits a series of storytelling sins, making Exists Shocktober's biggest disappointment.
A group of kids head to an uncle's hunting house in the middle of the woods, a place historically known for Bigfoot sightings. The names of the characters don't matter, since the movie doesn't spend any time developing them. Exists is, above all else, about showing off the not-that-impressive Bigfoot costume they have. Hell, in the first few minutes, the movie shows us the damn creature. The reason The Blair Witch Project or any monster movie works is because it teases out the reveal. The moment a monster enters reality, it's far less scary, but Exists provides what amounts to nearly a full body image of Bigfoot as soon as things begin.
I wasn't sure what to make of this decision. It could have been a genius sleight of hand, bucking narrative expectations. That's not the case. Exists wants to show you that Bigfoot is hanging around at every available opportunity. We see him during the day. He stalks the kids at night. There's absolutely no mystery to his presence in Exists, making it impossible to figure out how he's managed to stay hidden from cameras all these years. In Exists, Bigfoot is a camera hog.
And while it's expected characters in horror movies will make stupid decisions to move the plot along, one of Exist's pieces of cannon fodder does something so inexplicably stupid halfway through I started yelling at the TV. Boneheaded decisions are one thing, boneheaded decisions without emotional merit are frustrating. It's just a way to put the characters in danger yet again.
Nothing works here. Comedian "Bobcat" Goldthwait recently directed another found footage horror film about Bigfoot, Willow Creek, and it's way more effective. Skip Exists and hangout with Goldthwait.
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