Wicked Wednesday: Deadly Manor (1990)

Ah, summer. Days full of sunshine, camping, road trips and murderers in masks.

Is there anything more certain than death to all teenagers who dare take a road trip in a horror movie? We all know it never bodes well.

In 1990’s Deadly Manor, we get a group of kids who are on their way to a lake. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker, who tells them that they are still hours away from their destination despite already having driven all day.

They eventually decide to go off the path and stop for the night. Lucky (or rather unlucky) for them, they come across an old mansion in the woods. Outside the mansion is a totaled car on a plinth with what appears to be a shrine to a beautiful woman inside it.

Immediately, Helen begins to feel unsettled. Her friends all encourage her to calm down, but eventually the girl decides to head back through the woods alone.

And yes – this is the last of Helen.

In the meantime, the rest of the gang break into the old house. They discover fun things like coffins in the basement, walls full of photographs of that random lady, and a big crack in the wall. But most unsettling, despite the fact that the house looks certainly abandoned, the group find a copy of the newspaper from the day before.

Tony begins to have visions of the woman in the photographs. Unable to sleep after his dreams of her, he begins to explore the house again. He comes face-to-face with the hitchhiker, Jack. Though ol’ Tony has Jack sussed out – he’s an escaped con! Only this doesn’t matter much because soon both of these boys are dead.

Each of the kids are being picked off one-by-one by a lady in a white mask. Could this figure with the excellently permed hair possibly be the same woman as the one in the photographs who also has permed hair?

This is a late 80s/early 90s slasher. There isn’t much original happening here, and I could have probably dictated you the entire plot from the 10 minute mark. But the ‘twist’ is so utterly stupid, it’s almost impressive (and yes I enjoyed it).

Towards the end of the film, I was feeling rather annoyed that so many plot points seemed pointless. It wasn’t until about the list five minutes or so that we’re given explanations to anything. And I’m not necessarily talking about big reveals or plot twists here.

Deadly Manor makes the mistake of having too many characters. Sure, I guess you need someone to kill off. But we doesn’t spend enough time with any one person bar Tony who just goes and dies anyway. If no one is really likeable or even memorable; you don’t really feel anything when they do inevitably to get offed.

The actress who place Anne is good. But I was convinced the entire movie that she’d be the first to go. We barely know a thing about her. So it’s difficult to root for her at the end. It’s the actor’s likability that works more than the writing does.

So this pretty much boils down to an rather run-of-the mill slasher. Nothing truly bad about it at all, but probably one I’ll forget about in a week’s time.

Wicked Wednesday: WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

So it’s apparently 130 days until Halloween. But when you’re a horror fan, every day is Halloween, right?

Right?

I had been dying to watch WNUF Halloween Special since last Halloween, when I couldn’t get my hands on it anywhere. When I spotted it was on Shudder, I told myself to wait to watch it until Halloween season…and well, that didn’t last very long.

WNUF Halloween Special is an absolute delight, I’m happy to say. This movie is like a found footage film, only it’s done in the style of a taped recording of the news on Halloween night in 1987. There are commercials (which get increasingly saucy as the evening gets on), news segments, and promos for upcoming shows and TV movies.

But most important and hyped is channel 28’s Halloween Special, where reporter Frank Stewart plans to go into a local haunted building. The Webber House is where the “Spirit Board Murders” took place nearly 20 years earlier. In “The Devil Made Me Do It Style”, the parents are murdered by their son, who insists he was possessed.

Frank is a bit of a showman, determined to make rating on Halloween night. Invited to his life show are the paranormal experts, Louis and Claire Berger (who are here as Warren stand-ins) as well as a Catholic priest, wo is there to perform an exorcism.

Before Frank and his crew even enter the Webber House, it’s clear that not all is well. He sees a figure pass the window of the closed-up building, but the idea of catching great footage is just too much for Frank. Once inside the house, things only get worse. There is the usual ghost-y nonsense, but when the Bergers’ equipment is trashed, they become increasingly unsettled.

During the live phone-in séance (the first ever!), the group only get harassed by prank calls. The séance gets interrupted by the sound of the Bergers’ cat, which the group find mutilated. The Bergers then claim to be leaving the building.

But no matter how many times Frank cuts to commercial, the situation only increasingly gets out of control. It’s when the remainders of the group go to the basement that things really begin to take a dark turn…

WNUF Halloween Special has an oddly dark and gross ending despite it’s pleasant and fun vibe for the first 75 minutes. It’s a horrible (and successful) way of putting the audience in their place. There was a smile on my face for the entire movie up until the end, which I think is great work.

This movie was everything I wanted it to be. It completely encapsulates the feeling of late 80s/early 90s television news. It was a bit campy, but that made it all the more enjoyable to watch.

The story is fine, but it doesn’t really start until about an hour in. It’s all something we’ve seen before, but repackaged in a wholly original way. My favourite part of WNUF was definitely the little details: the repeated commercials, the unseen viewer fast-forwarding through the boring political segments, the crap SATIN graffiti.

And while Halloween might still be months away, this is already a movie I can envision myself revisiting when that time arrives.

Wicked Wednesday: House of Wax (2005)

The 2000s horror remakes have really bad reputations for many. Following the 90s slasher boom, which saw the creation of franchises like Scream and genre cornerstones like I Know What You Did Last Summer, it was almost like the creativity dried up. And suddenly, if it wasn’t Saw or Hostel it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Dawn of the Dead (2004), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), My Bloody Valentine (2009), Sorority Row (2009) – and really, the list does go on.

So to be honest, I have kept myself away from these – even though they were released at a time I was just beginning to explore the genre for myself. The way the most people talk about these remakes led me to believe that these were just dumper fires. But when I spotted the House of Wax rental on sale for £1.99, I thought it was time to dive in.

Carly and her friends are going on a road trip to a football game with her brother, who was recently released on bail. Though, as this is a horror movie, the group decide to take a shortcut. Of course a detour takes them the long way around, and they soon decide to stop in a field for the night.

They group start to party into the late hours. But their festivities are interrupted by a pick-up truck, which arrives just to sit there. Carly’s brother, Nick, throws a bottle at the headlight, and the truck leaves.

The next morning, Carly’s boyfriend, Wade, discovers that the belt on his car is spent. Meanwhile, his girlfriend and her friend Paige explore the bad smell in the woods. Carly tumbles down a steep hill and lands in roadkill carcasses. As she’s rescued, a man arrives in a pick-up truck – one that has both working headlights.

Carly and Wade agree to go with the strange man to the nearby town of Ambrose to get a new belt. The rest of the gang decide to go ahead with their plans of going to the football game.

The young couple are soon too creeped out by the man in the truck that they decide to go ahead on foot. When they arrive in Ambrose, they discover what is essentially a ghost town. When they go to a church to ask for help, the realise they’ve interrupted a funeral.

They’re met outside by a man Bo, who just happens to own the car garage. He tells them to wait until the service is done before he can help them. In the meantime, the couple explore the nearby Trudy’s House of Wax. And it’s literally a house made out of wax. Why someone thought a house made of wax was a good idea in the American south is beyond me. But hey – it looks good.

After visiting the museum, Bo invites the couple to his house so Wade can use the toilet. Carly becomes inpatient after waiting for a long time. It’s not until she spots that Bo’s truck has only one headlight that she realises something isn’t right. And it certainly isn’t.

Carly and Wade’s friends decide to give up on the game and return to pick them up in Ambrose. Only things aren’t going to turn out too well for them when they reach their destination.

Now – as this movie is nearly 20 years old, I feel like it’s not spoiling anything by saying that Wade isn’t missing because he was taking a very long dump. Instead of a final girl with her man, she ends up fighting side-by-side with her brother as they take on a pair of weird siblings obsessed with their mama.

The climax of House of Wax takes place as the building is slowly melting from a fire. This bit ox SFX is absolutely brilliant. I loved this SO much. It’s both gross and incredible to look at. You might just need to ignore the outdated CGI mixed in.

House of Wax is often called out for being unoriginal. It’s a loose remake of a remake; so there’s plenty of well-trodden path here. It depends what you like, I think. I quite enjoyed the twists; they’re soapy and a little bit silly. But what were you expecting from a movie that cast Paris Hilton at the height of her The Simple Life fame?

It’s good to have originality in storytelling, but I do think there’s something to be said about new technologies adding things to a story. Sure – this movie could have been about 20 minutes shorter to keep up the pace. But I’m someone who gets grumpy as soon as I realise a movie is over 90 minutes.

I appreciated the themes of siblinghood. It’s ultimately a movie about the bonds of siblings written by siblings (Chad and Carey Hayes). I do wish it was explored a bit more. It would be really fun to see this redone again with a pair of sisters.

And yes. I do think there could be another remake of this. While there are three movies around this story, there are also others in the genre like Waxworks, which partly inspired the great Waxwork and countless Goosebumps-esque stories involving wax museums. I want to see this done as a found footage movie a la Hell House. This movie was halfway there by including the use of cam footage. Let’s do this again!

Wax museums will never not be weird.

Wicked Wednesday: The Amusement Park (1973/2019)

God bless the people who work in film preservation. Gone to us for several decades was George A. Romero’s educational film The Amusement Park. The film was commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania. After seeing the disturbing film Romero produced, they shelved the project, seemingly lost and forgotten to the world forever.

It wasn’t until four decades later that a copy resurfaced. A print was used in a retrospective of Romero’s work in 2017. The film was restored, and released on Shudder this week. And wow… talk about a masterpiece – a work well deserving of seeing the sun again.

The film opens with an introduction from the film’s main actor, Lincoln Maazel (Martin), who explains the films purpose: to educate people about the abuse of elders and ageism. The people involved are volunteers, or the elderly themselves – all wanting to participate and spread the message.

A bloodied and abused gentleman (Maazel) finds himself in a white room when he is greeted by a pristine, white-suited version of himself. The gentleman tries to warn himself about the dangers of the outside, but the happier version of himself heads through a door and into the amusement park.

At the amusement park – it is sequence of horror and doom. Everywhere our gentleman looks, people are willing to either ignore or take advantage of the elderly. Their treasures are taken in exchange for pennies and tickets. They’re subjected to tighter rules by impatient carnies.

On one of the rides, a man dies and is (presumably) dropped into a wooden box without fanfare. An elderly woman is blamed for a bumper car crash that she didn’t cause. Our gentleman sees all of these injustices – but when he tires to help or speak up, nothing seems to help. He himself is seen as a “degenerate” and someone to avoid or not believe.

There’s an unsettling scene where a young couple visit a fortune teller to see their future. What appears in the crystal ball is an interview with a landlord who has elderly tenets kept in some abysmal conditions, blaming the tenets for the issues. The woman tries to call the doctor to see her husband, but he refuses. A future that the couple could only avoid by helping to improve situations for the elderly before they become old themselves.

Parades and chaos follows the gentleman’s visit to the fortune teller, but suddenly he finds himself in the abandoned park. He sees the grim reaper pass by, just before a gang of bikers appear to harass, beat and rob him. The gang drives away, but as the park fills again, the gentleman is left on the ground without help.

The gentleman continues to see the harassment of the elderly while being subjected to it himself. It finally comes to ahead when he is literally chased away from a show by a crowd. He ends up at a sanctuary, only to find it closed. Sanctuary, it seems, is nowhere to be found at an amusement park. A park only made for the young.

The Amusement Park is claustrophobic, heart breaking and disturbing. A movie that makes sure to remind you of its point by punching you in the gut at literally every turn. Relief? There is no relief to be found here.

I found this film to be a horrifying parallel to the pandemic. We’ve all seen situations where people heartlessly disregarded the elderly and at risk by living their lives carelessly and our governments disastrously mishandle the situation in care homes. This educational film might be nearly 50 years old, but it’s just as relevant – if not more – than when it was produced.

I’m not really sure why the Lutheran Society decided to hire Romero, who had already released Night of the Living Dead nearly five years earlier. It seems an odd fit. But a brilliant fit, to be sure. What set his work apart in the genre, was his ability to seamlessly add social commentary to his work. He wore his politics on his sleeve. It’s interesting to see him flex his muscles in a piece where the social commentary is meant to be so front and centre.

Romero was the first director I fell in love with. But growing up, most most of his non-zombie movies were difficult to find (particularly fifteen years ago in rural Wisconsin). Heather Wixton’s wonderful interview with his widow, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero (who launched the George A. Romero Foundation), in Daily Dead gives some insight into the creator’s later years – when he felt completely unwanted. A man whose work always meant so much to me, increasingly as his work becomes more accessible, is heartbreaking.

But it does remind you that everything in The Amusement Park, while done up in funfair fashion, rings true. We forget our elders, just wanting to push them aside. But they will always have something to offer. After all, “One day, YOU will be old.”

Wicked Wednesday: All Cheerleaders Die (2013)

“Somebody got fucked. Somebody got killed. I’m going to gym.”

Happy Pride Month! I wish all the queer horror lovers out there a wonderful month of celebrations!

I was a bit surprised that I had never done a post dedicated to queer horror on this blog. It probably comes down to the fact that June is usually the most hectic month of the year for me. But as my June is much more relaxed this year, I finally could get my head out of my ass! I found and read through Jordan Crucchiola’s excellent Essential Queer Horror Films list. But I was genuinely surprised at how few of the contemporary ones I had seen (or even heard of!).

One stood out to me immediately: All Cheerleaders Die. For years I had seen the movie’s poster in rental shops and online and wrote it off. At the best of times, cheerleader horror is really hit and miss. This looked like it had run-of-the-mill misogyny written all over it.

So I pleasantly surprised to learn that this movie was an excellent comedic romp. What sold me even more is the fact that was directed by Lucky McKee, whose film The Woods I really enjoyed.

All Cheerleaders Die has a pace that never gives up, throwing out a twist straight off the bat.

Maddy is making a film about her friend Alexis, the head cheerleader at her school, at the end of the school year. But when a stunt goes badly wrong, Alexis’s life is cut suddenly short.

Three months later, Maddy is vying for the spot on the team. It’s surprising to the other cheerleaders, who had her pegged as an outsider whose ex-girlfriend, Leena, is a goth witch. But she surprises them again by showing off her skills.

After making the squad, Maddy begins to befriend Tracy, who had begun to date Terry. The boy just happens to be who Alexis was dating at the time of her death. At a party, Maddy begins to put a secret plan into action when she tells Tracy that Terry had cheated on her.

Terry later spies the two girls kissing while they comfort each other. He tries to intimidate Maddy later, but she seems pretty hell-bent on completing her mission.

At a party the night before Senior year, the cheerleaders and football players have a party in the woods by the cemetery. There’s drinking. There’s canoodling. There’s even a bit of witchcraft. But when Terry shows up angry, things get bad fast.

Tracy tells him off, both drunk and angry. After belittling him in front of the crowd, he punches her and a fight breaks out. The cheerleaders all pile in a car to make their getaway, but the football players aren’t too far behind.

The girls crash off the side of the road and drown, not to be saved by the football players. Thankfully, Leena is nearby and manages to fish all four bodies out of the water. The agony at seeing her ex-girlfriend dead brings out Leena’s powers. Using her stones, she manages to resurrect all four cheerleaders.

Only, this is a horror movie. So not everything goes to plan. The girls all wake up with a hunger than can only be fed with blood. Oh and sisters Martha and Hanna managed to get stuck in the wrong bodies.

The girls all feel well after sucking Leena’s neighbour dry of his blood. But they’re still out for revenge – especially Maddy.

This has to be one of the more palatable revenge stories I’ve ever seen. It’s fun and it doesn’t ever feel exploitative. As films like Jennifer’s Body begin to be reassessed for their value, I think All Cheerleaders Die will also find it’s niche in the future. For one, it’s one of the most overtly gay movies of its time. No subtle hints or teases, these girls are in love.

There are definitely flaws. For one, the cast is mega white, casting the only Black actor as the baddie. Probably just a sign of the time it was made (amazing how long ago 2013 was), but still didn’t sit right with me. I also don’t think the tropes are subverted quite as much as the script wanted it things to go. Maybe next time have a woman writer?

I also wish there was enough time to further explore the sisterhood and friendships of the other girls. We mostly learn things about characters like Martha and Hanna through dialogue instead of actions. As the film’s pace really clips along, it might have been good to take a slow, five minutes and just learn more about these girls as the demons they are.

That all said, this was a great bit of fun. It’s camp. It’s full of fun female characters. And it’s quotable as hell!

Wicked Wednesday: Are You Afraid of the Dark? S3E7 “The Tale of the Carved Stone”

It’s difficult to believe by the dreary, rainy weather we’ve been having in Britain, but summer is inching closer and closer.

As always in the summer, I can’t get enough of spooky nostalgia. Sign me up for all the 90s horror and 80s slasher paperbacks – even if things have felt as far from summer as possible recently. And after a particularly hectic week, it was once again time to settle down with an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?

“The Tale of the Carved Stone” is campy fun, probably because it’s one of King Gary’s tales. He has his usual trick set up, this time tricking the other Midnight Society members into thinking that there’s a figure in a hat waiting for them by the fire.

It’s, of course, just a costume. But one that adds flair to his tale, as well as provides imagery for the tale’s main villain: a monk.

Alison is new in town. She’s desperate to make friends. So when she spots that a group of kids her age drop a pair of goofy glasses, she rushes to return them. But she quickly realises that the glasses are broken.

Wanting to find a new pair to replace the broken ones and impress the other kids, she goes to Sardo’s to shop. Once there, though, Sardo convinces her not to buy glasses, but to purchase a carved stone. He claims it’s an Egyptian friendship stone. He’s clearly making up nonsense, but Alison buys it anyway.

After returning home with the stone, Alison tests out the stone. When the other kids arrive at the door, they become angry that all she had was some broken glasses to return. So clearly, the stone has a much different power than promised.

Alison discovers the stone’s powers when she throws it at a mirror. She learns that the stone allows her to travel in time through mirrors. When in the past, she meets Thomas Jefferson Bradshaw, whose initials are carved on the bench in her bedroom.

The two become quick friends and agree to explore Alison’s present (TJB’s future) and go to the movies. But before you can say “It’s Sar-DOUGH!” the kids come face-to-face with a menacing monk, Brother Septimus, who demands the stone be returned to him. He’s a time traveller, and is really missing that time travel.

A chase back and forth through time ensues. But when the monk catches up to the two children, he reveals that he needs to take a life so he can travel again (I think). He pulls off his glove to show off his nasty long nail. Before he can even attack, Alison rushes at him, breaking the mirror and getting the monk stuck somewhere in time for good.

Back in her present, Alison sees her name now carved with TJB. Apparently those ten minutes together really made them besties. And somehow, for a young teenage girl this seems…swell? Glad she made a friend, but you probably want to focus on meeting someone born within at least the same decade as you.

This is one episode where I could find a few ways of improving things. For one, why couldn’t TJB be a teenager like Alison? It’s a bit weird that he’s so much younger than her. And why is Brother Septimus a monk? What sort of weird group of monks does this guy roll with? By making him an evil wizard or something, that back story is easily explained. Time travelling monks? Well, that I don’t quite get. And do kids find monks terrifying?

But this is a cool episode overall. When Are You Afraid of the Dark? captures the imagination (like with time-travel mirrors), is when it works best.

Also, Richard Dumont who plays Sardo? I hope wherever he is, he’s living his best and happiest life. That man is pure gold.

Wicked Wednesday: Thir13en Ghosts (2001)

If there’s one thing I’m really good at, it’s being late to the party.

For much of the last two decades, I had sworn off early 2000s horror movies. That means I’ve missed out on a lot of modern classics in the genre. But it’s not just the superficial things (most of these movies are really ugly), I find a lot of movies from this era really homophobic and sexist. Probably not more than any other decade before, but it’s just more glaring as these movies came out during my lifetime.

But I’ve been forcing myself to break my own rule. Hell, I watch loads of 90s horror now after avoiding that like the plague. Maybe the 2000s will be my next passion.

(Spoiler alert: probably not going to happen. Or at least it doesn’t start with this movie.)

Thir13en Ghosts (which I will be referring to from here on out as Thirteen Ghosts to save my eyes) is a remake of the 1960 William Castle movie, which I had apparently watched back in 2016. And while my write-up seems really positive, I don’t remember anything about it.

Like the original, the 2001 remake is about a man who inherits a mansion from his uncle. But that’s about where the similarities end (other than the glasses and titular ghosts, obviously).

Arthur is newly widowed after his wife died in a fire that destroyed his house. One morning, he, his two children and the nanny get news that he’s inherited a house from his estranged uncle Cyrus. The older man supposedly died while catching a ghost.

The fam pack up and go to the house. It’s a glass monstrosity that must be awful for privacy. Outside, they meet an ‘electrician’ who is really Cyrus’s psychic sidekick, Dennis, in disguise. He’s allowed into the house with the family and lawyer so he can pretend to do electrician things.

Dennis goes into the basement of the house with a pair of special glasses on. While there, he sees twelve angry ghosts ghosts in boxes. Ghosts he helped Cyrus trap. They’re all in little boxes, waiting to be unleashed.

Realising that Cyrus has dastardly things planned, he goes to warn Arthur’s family. The lawyer and Arthur bush off Dennis’s warnings. But when the lawyer sets off a trap that opens all the ghosts’ boxes. And that’s when all hell breaks loose.

The house locks itself with everyone inside. Dennis tries to get the family together, but the adults soon realise that young Bobby is missing. And from there… there’s lots of running, flashing lights, ghosties and prepping for a fun ghost machine!

I won’t spoil any of the twists here, even if it is an ‘old’ film by this point. I don’t think the twists are very well done, but they do add some fun.

Much of my dislike of early 2000s films is that they’re awful to look at. This is a prime example of that. The flashing lights physically hurt to watch. Many people say that the house is the best part of this film. It’s certainly interesting, but…sorry. Really sorry. I HATE IT SO MUCH. WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO LOOK AT?

I love Tony Shaloub. I’m not just saying that because he’s a fellow north eastern Wisconsinite. He’s an incredible actor who is really charismatic on screen. But here I found him to be flat. I think in large part it’s because his character is as interesting as puddle water. Other than some voice over, we really don’t know (or care, frankly) about his dead wife. Fire? What fire? If you came late to the cinema because of the line for popcorn, you’d be screwed!

Other than Matthew Lillard, Rah Digga and F. Murray Abraham, who are allowed to be camp, the cast is awful. The children are horribly miscast here. How old is Shannon Elizabeth meant to be? She’s clearly nearly 30 in this, but I think we’re meant to think she’s 16 or something? It really doesn’t work. And boy oh boy is that child actor who plays Bobby obnoxious. He’s cut out of much of the second half, which helps things. If anything, he carries on the legacy of boys in horror movies with weird haircuts.

There’s lots of nostalgia for this movie. But for someone who’s joined the party two decades late, it’s difficult to see why. Points for Lillard because he’s always fun to watch, but I really found little to love it in this one. Do you love this movie? Tell me why! I’d love to know what I missed and if I should give it another chance.

Wicked Wednesday: Willow Creek (2013)

Ever since watching Grave Encounters, I’ve been on a massive found-footage kick. But depending on who you ask, the genre has more titles listed as “to avoid” than supposed “must sees”. So it can be tricky figuring out what to and what not to watch.

Ever since I finished reading Max Brook’s Devolution last month, I’ve been dying to watch a good Bigfoot movie. When I spotted Willow Creek, a lesser-known movie with a fairly good reputation, I thought I had struck gold. But I think I ended up with more confusion than anything.

Willow Creek follows the found footage formula to a T: couple were making a movie (documentary…? YouTube video…?) together at Six Rivers National Forest, where the iconic Patterson–Gimlin film was made. They’re missing and seemingly all that was found was their footage.

Jim and Kelly are a likeable couple, but clearly out of their element when they arrive at the small town of Willow Creek, which is dedicated to all things Bigfoot. They interview locals. Laugh at local things like Bigfoot statues, paintings and musicians. It’s all a good time.

When they meet a local author, they’re given the directions to the location where the Patterson–Gimlin film was supposedly show. The couple head down together, but are warned away by a local. Do they listen to him? No. Did he provide any good reasoning other than being a threatening hillbilly? No.

So it’s no surprise when the couple soon find they’re being fucked with. After they go for a swim, they return to their campsite to find that their stuff has been trashed. Only not really trashed as their tent is still fine and everything.

That night, the couple begin to hear whooping and calling in the night. Kelly knows it could be anything. Jim knows it is the Bigfoot calling out to each other. Their soon ‘attacked’ in their tent, but the attacks amount to something poking at their tent.

The following day, the couple decide to pack up and get the hell out of Dodge. Though, of course, they get lost in the woods. And it’s not too long before they meet their unsurprising demise.

Willow Creek is directed by comedian Bobcat Goldthwait. Considering this isn’t his first time at the directing rodeo, you’d expect a bit more…well, just more. I’d find it more believable if you told me this was made by a 20-something who begged his friends to be in his movie and paid them in pad thai.

The plot is very run-of-the mill and surprisingly dominated by their attempts to interview locals. The movie is over halfway done when they reach the campsite. Because of this, there are very little scares to be had. I’m not sure why the movie went with the decisions it did. For one, you never see a Bigfoot (though a clump of their hair makes an appearance) and you did get a shot of a naked woman standing in the woods. Because…? Well, I’m not really sure.

I wish the movie would have made a decision: build the Bigfoot lore up to really scare us or make these big bitches really terrifying to see. If there’s a random lady in the woods, who is she? Is it meant to be implied that she’s one of the people from the missing posters? If so, why is she alive while the beasts quite clearly tore apart the couple?

Maybe I’m over-thinking a movie about cryptids. But is it really asking too much to have something that is both fun and has lore? That’s what ultimately made The Blair Witch Project so exciting. It’s nothing but shaky cameras and panicked breathing without its lore.

I wouldn’t say Willow Creek is bad. There are definitely more disappointing movies in this world. But it’s certainly something I’m going to forget I watched in about a week or two.

Wicked Wednesday: The McPherson Tape (1989)

As an adult, the horror movies that scare me the most are home invasion films. Black Christmas (my steadfast favourite) gets to me every time. The leering, the creeping – it all makes my skin crawl. Anything where someone is there that shouldn’t be. But as a child, there was one thing that scared me the most: aliens. And in The McPherson Tape, both my fears meet in the middle to shake hands.

The McPherson Tape is one of the earliest examples of the found footage style. Written, directed, produced and filmed by Dean Alioto, this movie is done a shoestring budget and is remarkably convincing for its age. The recording claims to show the last footage of the Van Heeses family before their disappearance years earlier.

In 1983, the Van Hesses gather to celebrate Michelle’s 5th birthday. The camera operator, Mike, irritates his family right off the bat. He refuses to put down the camera, insisting he capture every moment on the night. Now, as this is the 80s, this is absolutely believable. My dad had one of those VHS cameras, and it went everywhere with us. And what do we have to show for it? Hours of footage my family looking grumpy and having mundane conversations.

As the night carries on, Mike continues to film the family as they celebrate. After Michelle blows out her candles, the family discover the lights won’t turn back on. Mike and his brothers, Eric and Jason, go to examine the breaker. But even still, the lights in the house remain off.

When they see something in the woods, they go off together to find the source of the strange light. And while they expect to see the neighbours, they instead spot a group of extra terrestrials and their spaceship.

The boys all run home when they realise they’ve been spotted by the aliens. The women back at the house are utterly confused, and the family soon begins to argue, especially as to whether or not they should stay in the house or flee.

But the aliens have their own ideas. They begin to attack the house. When one of the brothers kills an alien, its corpse is brought back into the house. Why does it need to be inside? It’s not really explained. Though I guess it does make for a fun trophy…?

Eventually, the Van Heeses calm down. They decide to all head home for the night, believing the excitement to be over. But of course it’s not! These aliens aren’t going to go home quietly.

As the family begins to try to fight their for their escape, they soon discover that the aliens are both smarter and more powerful than any human could be. After all, the family are never to be seen again.

By today’s standards, the budget means there are some very basic effects (think alien masks and black leotards). But I know that if I would have seen this as a child in the 90s, I would have 100% been convinced. The technology’s lack of finesse adds to the ambience. You’re not always certain of what you’re looking at.

Movies like this are always remarkable because of what they achieve with so little. The cast are really convincing in this. While no one is related, they all bicker like they’ve spent too many days together. Though it should be noted, that for those of us who are sensitive to noise, it can be really difficult to hear what’s going on.

This movie ticked all the boxes for me: it’s convincing as hell (minus those little alien dudes), it’s pace keeps moving, and it has an ending that makes you shout “COME ON! NO!” If you’re able to look beyond dated technology and are able to appreciate achievements like this (a la Bad Ben) this is a classic found footage movie that does the trick.

Wicked Wednesday: Grave Encounters (2011)

People love ghost hunting shows. I, for one, have never seen a single episode of Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventures, but I really love the idea of them. My memory tells me that there used to even be tours of these shows, as I recall seeing promotions at venues in Milwaukee. But I honestly think that was just a really weak fever dream.

Found footage movie Grave Encounters shows us what happens when one of these ghost hunting squads finally find what they’re looking for.

Grave Encounters opens as many in the genre do, with an introduction explaining that everyone is already dead. The crew of a fictional ghost hunting show, Grave Encounters, went missing while investigating ghosts in the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. The footage shown is supposedly unaltered and raw (though that’s definitely not true as in the beginning we definitely have edits and inserts of footage).

According to legend, Collingwood had a doctor, Arthur Friedkin, who performed lobotomies and unethical experiments on his patients. It wasn’t until he was called by those very patients that his work stopped. But the hospital has been supposedly haunted since.

The hospital caretaker agrees to lock the TV show crew into the hospital. Not sure why this was necessary to actually do. But TV. Whatever. They also have steady cams set up throughout the hospital to get footage from around the hospital.

At first, the group experience nothing in particular. They hear ‘noises’ that are really there and speak to ghosts that aren’t real. It isn’t until they begin to pack up in the morning that they realise something is wrong.

When cameraman Matt goes to pickup the steady cams, he doesn’t come back. The group go together to look for him, but he’s seemingly vanished without a trace.

Once the group admit that they can’t find Matt alone, they go to the front entrance as the caretaker should have already unlocked them. Only…it’s still locked. And while it’s well past sunrise, it’s still pitch black outside.

The cast and crew of Grave Encounters soon find themselves in a living nightmare. The building changes itself. There’s guest appearances from not-so-ex-patients. And in true found-footage fashion, they’re all picked off in various supernatural fashions.

Unlike many found footage movies, you get to see everyone’s demise in detail. Everyone gets their moment of screentime unlike the Blair Witch Projects and Last Broadcasts. But that, unfortunately, really slowed down the pace for me. I love a bit of unseen terror in horror. We also get waaaay too many glitch effects. We get it. Ghosts are there. We get it. We get it.

That being said, I fairly enjoyed Grave Encounters. The set up in particular.

In many ways, the successes of Grave Encounters reminded me of Hell House LLC. Both are fun, modern takes on the found footage film. Most importantly, they both have good explanations for why they’re filming. That’s always a key element for me in this genre.

But Hell House works for me in ways that Grace Encounters doesn’t. For one, while a spooky abandoned asylum is cool setting – it did feel a bit…wrong. I didn’t think the patients should be a part of the haunting. Why not make it a full-on sadistic set of doctors. Many of them were the real villains of the era, at least more than the patients were were.

The footage at the beginning of the film reminded me of Geraldo Rivera’s now-iconic expose on Willowbrook State School. None of those poor souls should be doomed to “haunt” anyone. It feeds back into the idea that people with mental illnesses or disabilities are something to be scared of. And if that wasn’t what the film was trying to get across, it was doing a piss poor job of showing me otherwise.