Monday, April 28, 2014

Banshee Chapter (2013) Modern Lovecraftian Hijincks

A couple things that creep me out are Lovecraftian-style stories and number stations.  You know, number stations...those mysterious shortwave signals of people talking or reciting numbers or other repeated gibberish?  Creepy.

And stories in the vein of H. P. Lovecraft, in which unspeakable horrors always lay just on the outskirts of perception, waiting to scrap through into our world and drive us mad?  Also creepy.

In the sort-of found footage flick Banshee Chapter, you get all that and more.  Like Ted Levine as a Hunter S. Thompson pastiche.

Written and directed by Blair Erickson, this part found footage, part regular point-of-view movie takes both of those tropes above and tries out a new spin on the Lovecraft story From Beyond (also a fun 80's cult film).  Author James and his pal Renny are in the midst of researching for a book that will delve into the mind-altering drug experiments that the U.S. Government allegedly inflicted on citizens.  James claims that he has a sample of the drug they were given and gets on with his own experiment.  The moment he drinks the sample, strange things start happening, including shadows outside the windows and a mysterious broadcast emanating from the radio.  Renny follows James to investigate, but is suddenly faced by a horrifically-changed James before his camera blacks out.  James' girlfriend, investigative reporter Anne (Katia Winter), makes it her mission to find out what happened to James and Renny, who even though he survived his encounter has now disappeared.  Anne tracks down eccentric author Thomas Blackburn (Levine), who says he has evidence and proof that could lead her to James' whereabouts.  At his desert getaway, Thomas and chemist Callie, take the drug and insist that Anne has taken it as well.  Strange noises and shadows fall over the house and Callie is changed in a similar way to James before she disappears.  Anne and Thomas track down Callie, which eventually leads them to a remote outpost in the desert - seemingly the source of the strange broadcasts.  Of course, what they find in there isn't exactly the truth they wanted.  And that's where I'll stop the synopsis because, you know, spoilers.

Balancing creepiness with occasional jump scares, Banshee Chapter finds itself in the upper echelon of found footage movies, in my opinion.  It features a compelling story with incredibly tense moments and fine acting from Winter and Levine.  There are moments where the scares are right in your face, and others where they're on the outskirts of your perception - much like a Lovecraft story.  Moments like Renny running into James and Thomas' disturbing seizure in the car added to the mystery and urgency of the story.

I've always been a little fascinated with strange signals coming through on shortwave radio, but after seeing this movie, I'm not so sure I want to uncover more about these number stations.  Unless they're broadcasting winning lotto numbers, then hey, I'm all ears.

Until next time, here's this movie's trailer:

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014) Weird Neighbors and Eye Hairs

Yep, the Paranormal Activity train just keeps rolling along.

Usually when sequels go on and on, the quality of a product lessens.  I suppose that's true of the Paranormal Activity series, as I honestly found this installment to be the least scary.  That's not to say it was bad.  It held my interest and added some new wrinkles to the mythology.  It relied less on the atmospheric build to jump scares and more on strengthening the underlying story.

In this story written and directed by Christopher B. Landon, the action takes place in 2012 as bright young high school student Jesse and his friends Marisol and Hector get into all sorts of summer mischief with a camcorder in the urban Los Angeles neighborhood of Oxnard.  Jesse and Hector live in a nice little apartment complex where everyone knows everyone, except for one woman named Anna, whom they all label as being a witch.  When Jesse and Hector catch some weird goings-on in Anna's apartment on tape, they're even more sure - the woman paints some strange symbol on a young woman's torso.  Not only that, one of their esteemed classmates was seen storming out of Anna's apartment.

One night, after seeing their classmate fleeing in the night, Jesse and his friends discover that Anna was murdered.  Of course, they don't leave well enough alone and figure it would be a good idea to check out her apartment.  Surely nothing bad will happen.  They find a run-down, messy apartment but nothing too far out of the ordinary.  But then strange things begin happening to Jesse:  bad dreams, bite marks on his arm, occasional bouts of invulnerability, EYE HAIRS. After discovering a basement in Anna's apartment, the weird meter gets turned up to 11 as Jesse encounters ghostly women (including young versions of previous movies' characters) and a mysterious figure that charges him.  When he finally emerges, he's just a little...different.  Darker.  Meaner.  More likely to laugh at people falling down.  It's now up to Hector and Marisol to cleanse their friend, but you know that's not going to go as planned.  No sitcom freeze-frame laugh as the credits roll.  They seek the diverse help of the survivor of the second film, and the gangbanger brother of the kid who killed Anna as they travel to a house that should be familiar to those who have seen every installment.  From there, it boils down to a confrontation with the residents of the house...sort of.  There's also a run-in with poor, doomed Jesse and a bit of a visit to the early days of the franchise.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones didn't have the creeping threat that the other movies had.  It expanded the mythology by showing there's a wider conspiracy, and the viewer is privy to some actual supernatural methods employed by the coven that we all know.  Nothing about the movie is really bad, but nothing really jumped out at me.  The ending was interesting, and of course, there are more questions to answer - which leads to more movies.  Although this installment was the least successful, this franchise is a consistent money-maker so there are sure to be more movies and more layers to the story.

And I'm sure I'll watch them.

Meanwhile, take a peek at the trailer:


Friday, April 11, 2014

The Bay (2012) That'll Put Me Off Swimming

If you look back at the early, rock-n-roll days of this blog, you'll find an entry in which I wrote a list of things that skeeve me out.  One of those things that skeeve me out is an object just under the surface of the water (boats, old buildings, skeletons) as well as things you know are there, but can't see (sharks, bigger boats, Cthulhu).

Well, you might was well add sea bugs to that list because The Bay did its share to do it for me.

The Bay is an interesting film even before you start watching it.  Released to little fanfare, it's made in the found footage style and it's an eco-horror film directed by none other than Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man, Avalon).  It doesn't seem like the type of movie one would expect from Levinson, but good directors often take chances.  For the most part, he scored quite well with this increasingly creepy movie with a message.

In a small, idyllic Maryland town, a celebration of its history on Chesapeake Bay brings the town together.  But there's a bit of a dark underside.  There's high levels of toxicity in the water thanks to a huge chicken processing plant and a cutting-corners filtration plant installed by the mayor to give the illusion of safety.  Two researchers know this, but are dead from a mysterious malady before they can turn in the proper proof.  Slowly, through the eyes of several security cameras, phones, news cameras, and video conferences, it's obvious that something is happening in the town.  People are getting violently sick, developing ugly sores on their bodies.  They begin to react violently or irrationally.  Then it all just goes downhill from there.  Our various emotions are toyed with as we see this horrifying epidemic unfold through a young reporter's tapes, town security cams, a young girl's iPhone, police dash cams, and the one that builds the most tension:  the video camera of a young family oblivious of what's happening taking a boat to the town.

Using a cast of talented unknowns, Levinson adds some meat to the bones of the found footage genre.  He uses some good jump scares here and there, but it's the creepy atmosphere that slowly builds over time that really made the film something good.  The town at the beginning is the town you want to live in, and the town at the end looks like something out of a Romero film.  This all happens in such a short amount of time, you wonder how anyone can get out of it or how they could possibly survive.  The tension and atmosphere are on display here.

Some viewers may applaud or bemoan the message of pollution and pollution regulation that sits behind the main face of horror here.  Keep in mind:  this is just a story.  It's fiction.  It's the fictional story of a fictional situation happening to fictional people because of some other fictional situation.  Relax.  Personally, I think pollution is pretty much bad all around.  I don't want to go swimming in unfiltered chicken poop, and I certainly don't want mutant sea bugs burrowing into my skin and giving me boils the size of dinner plates.

Enjoy the trailer:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Babysitter Wanted (2008) Depends On Whose Baby

I was lucky working in college.  The highlight of my employment then was working in a video store (VHS, baby!), with the worst scenario being that some Lothario maybe got pissed because he couldn't impress his date since all of the copies of 9 1/2 Weeks were rented out.  I never had to babysit.  And after watching Babysitter Wanted, I count myself fairly lucky.

It was also that bygone decade, the crazy 80s that all the kids are talking about these days, when I attended my first college.  Long story.  In recent years, I've noticed a trend:  some horror movies are trying to reflect the look and ambiance of the 70s and 80s.  There's been a widespread return to the grindhouse and VHS days of old, and I gotta say that I really like it.  Sure, there are going to be some misses among the hits.  Law of averages.  But many of the recent ones I've seen have been on the "hit" side.

Babysitter Wanted falls on the "hit" side, but it did take me a minute to warm up to it.  Written by Jonas Barnes, and directed by Barnes along with Michael Manasseri, it tells the story of sweet, wholesome Angie (Sarah Thompson) and her first foray into college life.  Angie is devoutly religious and completely innocent of the underbelly of college.  Heading to Adams College (sorry, no nerds seen taking revenge), she moves in with a hard-partying but not unkind roommate and is forced to sleep on the crusty couch, since the previous tenant had sold the bed.  Looking for work, Angie grabs one of those phone number strips advertising a babysitting job.  She secures an interview, but becomes skittish when she realizes someone is following her around campus.  The sheriff (the always-great Bill Moseley) can't do much without more proof, but assures her that he'll come if called.  On the bright side, she meets nice guy Rick (Matt Dallas), whose intentions seem as pure as Angie's own heart.  Angie meets the Stanton couple (Bruce Thomas and Kristen Dalton) and their little tyke, Sam (Kai Caster).  Sam's a shy kid who always wears a cowboy outfit that his parents claim he never takes off.  Once the friendly Stantons leave, that's when the fun begins.  The mysterious figure stalking Angie shows up, and interrupts Sam's meal of meat and sauce to break into the house.

And that's when it takes a left turn I honestly didn't see coming.

Of course, you know I'm not going to spoil it here.  Nothing is what it seems, and Angie is seriously in for the fight of her life as her faith and sense of reality are shaken to the core.

The movie is good fun, filmed in the vein of early- to mid-80s slasher movies with an over-the-top secret.  It looks like something you might find on VHS, and that's a compliment.  I enjoyed how it looked.  The acting is solid throughout, especially by Thompson as Angie.  She plays innocent, scared, and determined all in one, even if she is a slight (intentional) caricature.  Kyle XY alums Dallas and Thomas are also good as well as Dalton as the mother.  I'm a Bill Moseley fan, so obviously I'll say he was good, too.  Oddly enough, he didn't play a villain, but rather a kindly, concerned sheriff.

It was definitely a fun little movie, sure to please the gore fans as well.  There were a lot of bloody shots, and they carefully didn't show what was surely the most wince-inducing "cuts."

So be careful about that babysitting job.  Not everyone can have an adventure like Elizabeth Shue.

Here's the trailer: