Archive for the ‘found footage’ Tag

Grave Encounters (2011)   Leave a comment

“It’s hard to beat a derelict mental institution used in Dr. Mengele-like medical experiments for pure heart-warming joy.”
-Some guy in a straitjacket

The crew of a Ghost Hunters-esque TV show led by Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) lock themselves into an abandoned mental hospital in Maryland to look for spooks. Will they find any? Three guesses.

He seems overly cheery about this.

Lance and his team, Sasha (Ashleigh Gryzko), Matt (Juan Riedinger), and T.C. (Merwin Mondesir) investigate paranormal activity. They look for legends and local rumors about long-abandoned abattoirs, orphanages, and schools and, armed with their Scooby-Doo starter kit—Geiger counter, ectoplasm detector, special hand-held tape recorder that picks up ghost chat, a metric shit-ton of cameras, and crappy walkie-talkies, our valiant ghost spotters, hunt for things that go bump in the night.

Pose away, Matt.

The foursome and their resident mystic, Houston (Mackenzie Gray), who looks like the middle-aged love child of Eric Roberts, Robert Davi, and Willem Dafoe, get a tour of the facility from the caretaker, Ken (Bob Rathie) complete with descriptions of the horrific treatment of the former inmates, the experimental surgeries performed, and the ghastly suicides of the poor tortured souls. Every new horror has the crew licking their lips and seeing ratings nirvana.

“Eat your heart out, Zak Bagans.”

To add to the general eeriness, Lance has Ken lock them into the asylum all night and promise to return in the morning. Great plan, Lance. Matt sets up the stationary cameras and they head out with a hand-held one to prowl the long hallways in search of spirits. At first, their trip is uneventful, but they persevere, consulting with Houston and checking the readings on their ghost gizmos. When the team are manhandled by invisible forces, they decide to pack it in and wait for Ken. Unfortunately, Ken doesn’t show and they’re stuck in a creepy insane asylum with a bunch of spooks.


Directors, Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz (The Vicious Brothers), establish the appropriately sinister atmosphere early on. The dark hallways are full of doors, each leading to another filthy room bedecked in peeling paint, graffiti, and disused wheelchairs. Through subtle exposition we learn the team know little more than the terminology used in paranormal, um, science and that Houston is merely playing a part. There are quite a few jump scares and the found footage aspect comes off naturally.

“A little paint, a few throw pillows…it can work.”

I liked Grave Encounters. I’m not usually a huge fan of shaky-cam cinematography, but they pulled it off here. The cast of actors were new to me and did an effective job of making me like them and not want them to die horribly. They were also not soul-crushingly stupid. As the film progressed and emotions took over, they made some less-than-stellar decisions, but they were running away from disembodied asylum inmates with grudges, so they sort of have an excuse.

“Take your stinkin’ paws off me, you damn dirty inmates!”

I do wish these nutty ‘let’s stay overnight in the labyrinthine haunted house where police found 68 bodies skewered to the fenced-in part of the back garden’ folks would change it up just a bit. First, DRAW A FUCKING MAP! You’re in a place you’ve never seen before with a vast system of identical halls, empty rooms, staircases that go nowhere, and ghosts and it’s as dark as a coal mine at midnight. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs or something. Mark up the walls. Come on, guys, think! Second, bring a weapon. Carry a bat, a Maglite, a pointed stick, or some damn thing, and don’t, DO NOT drop the knife, bottle, or curtain rod the second after you use it to poke the evil spectral presence in the eye. You might need it again later.


The main issue I have with Grave Encounters is the prologue. In the beginning of the film, a TV executive sitting in a production booth gives us a completely unnecessary introduction to the crew’s adventure. We don’t need it. The conversation among the protagonists explains it all without the tacked-on looking start, but the segment would make sense if it were bookended by an epilogue at the end. The abrupt ending with no explanation was unsatisfying. I get that some filmmakers want to withhold closure to amp up the sense of unease, or leave room for the sequel, but it left me with the same feeling I get when I get distracted and all the water drains out of the tub. Either do a scene at both ends or, if you must choose, do one at the end explaining how you got the film. Did kids, using the hospital as a place to party, find the equipment, watch the tapes, and turn them over to the police? Did criminals run across the pricey-looking stuff while dividing their loot after a hold-up, pawn it, get busted, and lead authorities back to the asylum? Did an apparition drop it off in the TV station mail slot? Enquiring minds want to know.

“It was not delivered by the US Postal Service. I can tell you that.”

Grave Encounters was entertaining and scary. It did its job.

V/H/S: Viral (2014)   Leave a comment

vhs poster

It takes a village to ruin a movie.

Four found footage stories helmed by six different directors make up the third in the V/H/S series of anthology horror films.

“Vicious Circles” centers around a twenty-something guy who can’t stop filming everything. He has a beautiful girlfriend who really digs him for some reason, but he’d rather tape than touch her. Later he gets obsessed by a high speed chase that goes right by his house. Why do you care? You don’t. Let’s move on.

pretty boy1
What does she see in him?

In “Dante the Great”, a loser who wants to be a magician finds a cape that has demonic powers or some such nonsense. He uses the cape to propel his career to the heights of Vegas. Wow. Everyone loves him and he can attract any woman he wants despite the fact that he’s scruffy and about 5’5″. Dante is so skeevy it’s hard to believe anyone finds him all that charismatic. Also, he keeps killing people. At one point, this film becomes a poor man’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Magician’s Assistant with Dante and his co-star literally climbing the walls. Meh.

Dante looking flash.

Oh, this one. “Parallel Monsters” has two guys named Alfonso inventing portals into other dimensions at the exact same time. When they decide to visit each other’s worlds, things go predictably wrong. Weird body horror is the only surprise here.

Harpo did it better.

They save the best one for last. “Bonestorm” tells the story of skate punks who like to film themselves doing stupid things on wheels. After they’ve annoyed everyone in California, they decide to hit Tijuana to get beers and fireworks and Chiclets. They get lost and end up in a dry, paved sewer bed where they skate and film and say dude a lot. The boys disturb a pentagram and soon a satanic cult attacks them. The next six hours of the eighty-one minute film are the dudes trying to escape the hooded skeleton guys. Yawn.

He needs a berserk pack.

The “Vicious Circles” story weaves through the whole film so we are treated to Camera Guy riding a tiny bike really fast chasing a serial killer in an ice cream truck. It sounds much better than it is. Honestly, you’re better off watching one and a half episodes of House Hunters.

“I really wanted granite.”

Archivo 253 (2015)   Leave a comment


Four friends explore an abandoned insane asylum to look for ghosts.  Set in Mexico, this found footage horror film shows the four twenty-something investigators scale the wall and break into the hospital in their search for paranormal activity.  You can tell they’re serious because they bring a spookometer or some such gizmo that lights up when the spirits want to say hi.  Naturally, their neat little plan goes off the rails almost immediately and they spend the rest of the film running breathlessly from room to room looking for Diego.

diego selfie
Diego checks the spookometer.

Director Abe Rosenberg does the whole shaky-cam thing throughout the film.  He also filmed most of it at night so there’s that.  The story lacks…a story since we get almost no background on the asylum and the dialogue consists mostly of dopey non-conversations a quartet of nitwits might have.  Why do I think they’re nitwits?  They spend several days in the facility and never walk around in the daytime to make a map.  At night, someone hears a sound and runs full speed at it leaving the others running after him yelling his name.  I’m talking about you again, Diego.  Also, they have no exit plan.  Honestly, who goes into a place thinking it’s haunted or full of crazy people without knowing how to get out?  The one thing I learned from this annoying exercise is that Mexico has stupid, spoiled, rich kids, too.  Ahhh culture.

Montage of stupid.


The Houses October Built (2014)   2 comments



Five people we don’t care too much about travel around Texas and Louisiana in a camper looking for the ultimate in haunted house attractions.  This found footage film chronicles a few days in the lives of these old friends who tell us absolutely nothing about themselves.  We know one of them dropped out of film school and that they seem to have an endless supply of cameras.  We know they eat junk food and are completely unprepared to deal with the low-life weirdos they meet on the road.  We know they’re not too bright.

“Got any gum?”

Director Bobby Roe uses the shaky-cam technique and there are quite a few jump scares.  He also intersperses the story with interviews of haunted house employees and owners who describe how they’ll do anything short of murder to scare people.  Lovely.  That part was interesting, at least.

Trick or treat!

THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT did scare me.  It made me feel uncomfortable and annoyed.  I was worried that it might descend into I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE territory.  It had that vibe.  I was also bugged that the five main characters had so little sense.  Even after it became clear that they were in way over their heads, they insisted on looking for more sketchy haunts.  It’s hard to empathize with people you know so little about who compound each stupid move with another, stupider one.  I’d skip it.  Also, clowns.  Waaaaaay too many clowns.  That has to stop.

“Honey, the Welcome Wagon’s here!”


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