Good evening there watchers…. Well it looks like it’s that time of year is nearly upon us, where we seek to be scared and creeped out by things that go bump in the night. yes in a few weeks we’ll be enjoying Halloween, which means that for the next couple of weeks the Sunday Cult Film Corner will be showing some of the spookiest, gnarliest, most splatteringly gory horror treats for you all.
This week we are shining our flickering torch on the “Found footage/documentary” horror genre. Even though it’s claimed to be a new development in the horror cannon, the documentary/found footage has had many precedent in film for a long time. Films such as ‘Peeping Tom,’ or ‘Cannibal Holocaust,’ use film/found footage as a vehicle/narrative driver, either with the protagonist recording their exploits, sometimes in a first person perspective, or the discovery of footage that explains what has happened to a person or group of people, the found footage allowing the story to be told in flashback.
With the advent of video technology, along with the rise of viewing horror on VHS, the nature of the found footage genre began to ferment and take hold. Films such as ‘Henry Portrait Of A Serial Killer,’ contains scenes of VHS video playback of their killings, adding an extra voyeuristic element, while the likes of ‘Man Bites Dog,’ takes the whole documentary plot drive to new levels. Meanwhile the use of faux documentary/live TV along with the use of real T V personalities, mean that GHOSTWATCH is still one of the scariest programmes in recent history and still has not been shown on the BBC since its intiial broascast back in 1992
The film that provided the real catalyst to the “found footage” genre though was of course ‘The Blair Witch Project.’ The story of three amateur filmmakers who come a cropper in the woods shooting a documentary fo a local urban myth presents a quantum leap in the genre. With its shaky handheld camera footage, night-time scenes, excellent atmospherics and top-notch performances from the 3 starring actors gave the film a truly spooky edge. Added to this a well thought out and executed backstory with a second documentary, as well as excellent use of the internet to provide a sense of buzz, gave the whole films an extra level of realism, with many people initially believing the film and the story of the Blair Witch and the documentary of the main characters film to be actually true.
Since ‘The Blair Witch project,’ there have been a slew of “found footage” films that vary greatly in quality and actual scares. And tonight we present to you two example of the cannon.
First up is THE POUGHSKEEPIE TAPES, A 2007 horror film directed by John Erick Dowdle. The film is presented as a documentary along the lines of those serial killer docs that you get on National Geographic or The History Channel. The subject of the documentary is that of a prolific serial killer who documents his numerous killings from his earliest efforts to the.capture, torture and brainwashing of his victims. When the police raid a home they believe the killer to be at, they discover boxes of serially numbered tapes that records his various obsessions and the details of his murders. As the authorities watch and analyse the tapes they find that this is a killer unlike any they’ve seen. The tapes provide no evidence as to who he is, other than the facts of the crimes themselves, He constantly changes his MO of killing and disposal, always staying one step ahead of the authorities efforts, as it becomes apparent that the level of planning in killing his victims is disturbingly meticulous. He even manages to plant evidence of his crimes on an Innocent man who the authorities arrest, charge and sentence instead.
The film swing between the dry, bloodless, static scenes of the talking head interviewees of the police, and various people and the shaky, warped VHS footage taken by the killer. Much of this footage is fairly gruesome, displaying a grimy, queasy nature that is reminiscent of the scenes from the infamous NIN video to the ‘Broken Movie EP,’ which shows a serial killer abducting, torturing and killing a young man. The films itself is fairly nihilistic, offering no explanation of the killers intentions and motivations, beyond that of the fact that he just loves to kill and torture people.
While the film seems to revel in the elements of shock and gruesomeness, the whole premise of the film is slightly shaky and a little unbelievable. We are meant to believe that what we are dealing with here is a killer who is so meticulously organised, he almost takes on a supernatural quality to the danger he poses. He makes Hannibal Lector look like a sloppy jerk, yet he seem to take all sorts of unnecessary risks, that for me didn’t ring true. Also the quality of the films itself is actually terrible. I do understand that this is to emphasize the grimy, nasty nature of the crimes he is committing, but I would have thought that a killer who takes great delight in the crimes he does, would have used better quality film equipment.
The acting itself isn’t much to write about. Obviously this is a low-budget film, but some of the performances, specialty that of the policemen seems to be rather wooden and a little boring. The FBI profiler was especially unbelievable for me, looking more like a mafia wiseguy than someone who would be in Silence Of The Lambs.
Overall, THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES, does have a few good moments, but it’s nothing too special. The gang from Criminal Minds would have probably caught this guy in 45 minutes probably. As an aside, if this films does interest you then I would also go and see the Mr Plinkett film reviews from Red Letter Media, which brilliant parody and send up the tropes of films such as THE PLOUGHKEEPSIE TAPES brilliantly….
The second in our “found footage” horror double bill is NOROI: THE CURSE, a 2005 Japanese film directed by Kôji Shiraishi. Unlike most “found footage” films, NOROI differs from them both in its length (Nearly 2 hours running time) and the complexity of the plot. The film is a documentary that tells the story of Masafumi Kobayashi, a paranormal expert who produced a series of books and documentaries on supernatural activity around Japan. After his mysterious disappearance and the burning down of his house which causes the death of his wife, the documentary chronicles the production he was working on before the incident. The film consists of footage recorded by Kobayashi as he goes about investigating seemingly unrelated paranormal incidents connected by the legend of an ancient demon called the “kagutaba.” As the film progresses, we see him piece together clues and interview people who have been affected by these incidents, as well as compilations of other sourced footage that show strange and eerie moments linked with the legend.
the length of the film is both its strength and it’s weakness. For a long time there is a lot of exposition and build up with the story as we see Kobayashi piecing together the various clues and some people may find this lack of action boring. But if you give it time and allow yourself to be drawn into the world contained in the footage, you find that the whole atmosphere slowly but noticeably starts to build in tension. It is a film that relies as much on the complexity of the plot instead of the usual first person scare shots. the splicing together of the found footage with news reports, game shows and other TV footage, give the scenes a much more realistic edge and feel, Using such TV footage also allows the use of incidental music, that you wouldn’t normally get with other found footage films, allowing extra levels of creepiness to be built up. From what has been described, there aren’t what you would call shocks, but there is definitely a lot of genuinely creepy moments, that remind me a little of the Marble Hornets you tube video series, were nothing much seems to happen for long periods of time, but what the footage is actually doing is slowly adding pressure on your senses so that by the something does happen, you end up soiling your pants a little. I will say though that the final scene to this movie definitely made me jump a little!