found footage

Wicked Wednesday: Cold Ground (2017)

Making a good found-footage movie is hard. I often wonder if it’s one of the most difficult of genres to get right. To be wholly convincing while being captivating takes a lot of imagination.

Alas, most found footage just comes off as recycled stories. This was very much the case with the French film Cold Ground.

As with seemingly all found-footage movies, it opens with a title card telling us that the footage being presented was made 40 years earlier in 1976. The footage was found and restored in 2016, then revealed to the public the following year.

A pair of journalists are making a documentary. They head out to the Alps on the French-Swiss border to meet with a group of scientists. Everyone involved in intrigued by a series of animal mutilations that have been happening in the area. The scientists believe it’s due to a new bacteria that has emerged due to the rising temperatures in the area.

The journalists meet up with several scientists and an American agent to travel up the mountain where they were meet more scientists at an encampment. Of course, the scientists at the camp haven’t been heard from in some time.

Over the course of their journey, the group are harassed in their tents at night, find strange things in the morning and continue blindly despite all signs pointing to “TURN THE HELL BACK”. Sound familiar? It is, of course, very much the path that The Blair Witch Project took. And if you’re recycling ideas from 1999 without adding anything to it…please ask yourself “why”?

It’s not nice to sound so negative and cynical. But it’s difficult when you’ve watched so many of the same movies over and over again. I think I’m particularly harsh on found-footage movies in particular, of course. Don’t ask me why, as I clearly need to do some self-reflection.

As the group is attacked, we do learn that they are the target of some sort of beast. This could have been a very fun idea, only we’re never given much more than that. No story. No folklore or mythology. Just accept your place of reheated beans and smile.

But it’s very strange to have landed on “killer beast thing” without further explanation. It’s entirely likely that I missed something, but it does seem unlikely. Why build up about killer bacteria? Are the scientists so dumb that they can’t tell what’s been mauled by a beast? Do the bacteria turn things into these beasts?

If we were going down the killer bacteria route, I really was hoping for something down the route of The Thing. We never get convinced of any of the relationships between people. It would have been so fun to see them turn on each other!

I was not at all convinced that this movie was made in 1976. Showing old cameras and slapping on a filter does not an old movie make. Though, I do love the poster art for this (the one with the drawn frozen figure in the ground). I couldn’t track down the artist, but it’s very eye-catching, and I would love it in my home. So as far as aesthetics and style of the 1970s goes, the poster 100% nails it.

The cast is also very solid for the most part. Actor Doug Rand stood out to me in particular. I was even more pleased to learn that he not only wrote the story for Blood Hook but is a fellow Wisconsinite. I knew I had to be biased for a reason!

Wicked Wednesday: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)

My “to watch” list of movies always gets longer and never shorter. And there are some movies that sit there for years as I grow increasingly nervous to watch them. It might be because there’s too much hype around it or I’m afraid I’ll like it too much. (Yes this is a genuine fear I have.)

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is a movie I have both wanted to watch but avoided for years. This movie has a Reputation for being awful. But it finally came to a point where I was so intrigued by the mystery that I clicked play before I could stop myself.

And what unfolded before me was…surprisingly just ok?

Unlike most horror series, Book of Shadows takes a vastly different approach than the first installment. While the original is an icon of the found-footage subgenre, Book of Shadows returns to a more commercial, standard style. Though it does open with a variety of footage at the beginning showing the hype following the success of the first film.

Book of Shadows is a study into the blurring of fiction and reality. Obsessed with the debate around it is the group of kids this film follows. Some are ardent that it is mass hysteria. Others believe that the mystery must be founded in some sort of truth.

The group take a Witch Hunt Tour led by former psych-patient and Blair Witch-obsessive Jeff. He tells them that they will be camping at the ruins of Rustin Parr’s house, where children were murdered decades earlier.

They set up their cameras and soon get to partying. Though they’re soon interrupted by a rival tour group, who are quickly sent packing to Coffin Rock.

That morning, the group wake up without having any memories of most of the night. They discover that Jeff’s cameras are ruined and Tristen and Stephen’s work for their book is torn to unsalvageble scraps. When Jeff finds his footage in the hole where Heather’s was the year before, Tristen has a miscarriage.

The group pack up after a hospital visit and head to Jeff’s. Once there, the group realise they might be descending into madness. As bits of the night are remembered and the found footage is reviewed, the group become increasingly disconscerted.

As things get more intense, the group become more accusatory and aggressive towards each other. But is it the Blair Witch? Is it mass hysteria? Or is it something else entirely?

When the credits began to roll, I felt genuinely confused and worried that I had also gone crazy. This movie is hated in the horror community and the film world at large. But why?

There are genuinely great moments here. Certainly enough to warrant a watch. Yes, it slowly declines into a slow, boring mush but good god, have I watched worse. A lot worse. Call it whatever you want, but there are movies with a lot less style and vision that have a significantly higher acceptance among both viewers and critics.

I had to frantically search articles about the movie. Was it possible that my tastes were so off? Thankfully, I found a number of articles from the likes of Bloody Disguisting and Dread Central re-evaluating the movie decades following its release. Maybe we can all start a support group.

Like it’s predecessor, Book of Shadows had a lot happening behind the scenes. Only this time, it wasn’t a positive creative force and brilliant marketing. Director Joe Berlinger had a lot of studio interference with this movie. There was pressure after the success of the first film to make this another hit. Apparently, the studio wanted a more straight-forward film instead of Berlinger’s vision of a “descent into madness”.

There’s a supposedly a huge demand for a Berlinger Cut of the film. I’d gladly watch it if it ever was released. There are so many nuggets of interesting bits here, it would be great to explore it again.

I honestly think Book of Shadows is going to get Season of the Witch treatment in the coming years. We can already see it in the articles I linked above. If both films had been standalones, I highly doubt either would have ever received the overwhelming criticism. Neither as iconic as their originals but not nearly bad enough to be as hated as they are.

Now I’ve also heard whisperings that the third film, Blair Witch (2016) is not as bad as everyone says. Count me in. I’m in the mood to be forgiving some sins.