11.24.2010

In Memorium (Screener): Knocking on Death’s Door



A film that effectively delivers unique concepts in the quickly-tiring found footage format. One cannot help but immediately draw comparisons to Paranormal Activity on a surface level. Indeed, it’s about a couple living in a house with cameras capturing bizarre supernatural events. However, that’s where PA ends and In Memorium ’s plot begins. Recently diagnosed with cancer and given a couple months to live, Dennis, a filmmaker, and his devoted actress girlfriend, Lilly, decide to document their last days together with dozens of cameras and microphones wired throughout their rented house. It doesn’t take long before the cameras capture something unexplainable in the house. Is it the ghost of the home’s previous tenant? Or is it a manifestation of his impending death? The conclusion is genuinely surprising and wholly original.

The plot details themselves are what make In Memorium more interesting than your average found footage film. That said, I still wish the film explored the possibilities more. Given a unique premise and a short run time, there was definitely room to go all philosophical on us. Although I would have appreciated even more complexity in the story, I must say that I was never bored when watching this film. That is rare for a found footage movie. Whether it be Blair Witch or even Cloverfield, boredom is typically a necessary evil to gain authenticity. Having the immense variety of camera angles (detached from the hands of the actors) made the film move faster and freed the actors up to actually act as if there wasn’t a camera in the room.

This brings me to the topic of characters. In Memorium ’s cast is likeable and multidimensional. However, at times I felt like the characterization was being thrust upon us. Lilly and Denny's broish brother, Frank, provoke fights with each other for little to no reason. Some of the early scenes’ performances felt forced and showy. As the events unfolded, however, these faults began to disappear. When it mattered most, the actors were great and I was completely connected to the characters.

Now, the question everyone has been waiting for. Is In Memorium scary? At times, it is, but overall, I didn’t lose any sleep. It didn’t begin to compare to Blair Witch and PA’s scales of creepiness. Still, it succeeds in areas where these films failed. I would compare the movie to The Last Exorcism, where the film wasn’t all about the scares, but more about the characters unraveling the mystery of the situation. That’s not to say there are not some well-executed jumps and a superb tone of dread throughout the film.

This brings me to my next topic: the medium itself. A question kept re-entering my mind as I watched the film (and this is one I ask every film of this type): Would the film be more effective if it was shot in a traditional cinematic way? I still don’t know the answer to this question for In Memorium. There are so many cameras placed in non-security-camera-style angles that you wonder, why shoot with the limitation of found footage at all? Maybe it was cheaper for the filmmakers, but I’m not entirely convinced that this is the case. Despite all this, there is something to be said about the intangible creepy quality of found footage. Somewhere in the high angles and digital video characteristics, there is a voyeuristic element that tugs at us. In Memorium is effective in its existing medium, but my question still remains unanswered in my mind.

Clever, creepy, and engaging, In Memorium delivers. I may have minor quibbles here and there, but minor they are. A solid effort that doesn’t leave the viewer disappointed. For more information on In Memorium, check out the official site

11.14.2010

Knuckle Supper: For those who hate Twilight and love charity


It has been called the anti-Twilight book. However, Drew Stepek’s Knuckle Supper is more than a simple rejection of the romanticized vampire. Indeed, it is a rejection of all things vanilla. Packed with violence, drugs, and anything revolting, this book will have you scrubbing your skin in the shower. It will also have you eager to read the next book in this humorously gross vampire saga.

Knuckle Supper is a truly unique take on the vampire genre. Based in Los Angeles, the story follows RJ, the leader of a brutal vampire gang known as the Knucklers, who will stop at nothing to satisfy their drug addictions. Equally as important as blood to Stepek’s vampire are drugs. There is no glamour in this world of addiction and violence. The author spares no disgusting detail in describing the manner of dispatching human beings for their blood, nor in the decrepit day-to-day dealings of a nasty drug addict. RJ’s world is quickly interrupted by the arrival of a 12-year-old prostitute, nick-named Bait. Perturbed his conscious, he cannot bring himself to kill her or throw her out on the street, much to the dismay of his fellow gang members. As he becomes more and more attached to the girl, the more he separates himself from the vampires and the more of a target he becomes.

To describe too much of Knuckle Supper would destroy the fun of learning this world. There’s no way I can begin to explain the bizarre violence of this novel. As a seasoned horror fan, I have never read or seen anything quite like this. Still, it’s not all the violence and grime that make Stepek’s work of fiction so engaging. Rather, it’s the candid depiction of characters that you want to discover more about. The reader is equally as curious as RJ about his species’ origins. You actively seek to unravel each terrible secret Bait unveils. More than anything, you wonder how it’s all going to end for a gang leader and his newfound tweenage friend.

Admittedly, it took me a while to truly connect with the book. Pages and pages of macabre accounts had me interested on a superficial level, but I didn’t find myself turning those pages with anticipation at first. It wasn’t until about half way through the book that I found myself so eager to finish. Indeed, getting readers to relate to a slimy bunch of vampire junkies is no easy task. But give it time and the characters will inevitably grow on you.

Highly recommend for any horror fan, Knuckle Supper is a great read. Plus, the book has teamed up with one of my favorite charities: Children of the Night. This non-profit organization aims to rescue and aid child prostitutes. 10% of hardcover profits and $1 from every digital download will be donated to Children of the Night. Knuckle Supper hits shelves this Tuesday, November 16th, so pick it up and not only support original horror literature, but also a terrific cause.

11.09.2010

Because the truth is always more horrifying

In celebration of two upcoming documentary events, I thought I’d share some of my favorite documentary films with you all. Firstly, the wonderful Kristy Jett of Fright-Rags fame has decided to take her love for the 1991 film, Popcorn, to a whole new level. She is now in pre-production on a documentary all about Popcorn. Visit the production diary here to show your support. Secondly, Best Worst Movie is out on Blu-Ray and DVD on November 16th. Documenting the cult phenomena surrounding Troll 2 and its cast/filmmakers, Best Worst Movie promises to be a hilarious yet heartfelt look at an endearing film. Check out the official site here.

Now, back to the title of this post.  Here are some of my favorite documentaries ever made—some involve the horror genre and some are simply horrifying. I’ll start with the most horrifying documentaries and work my way down.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
This film tops the list because everything about it is horrific. From the documentation of the most heinous crime imaginable to the subsequent deconstruction of justice, I have never been so enraged by a viewing experience. Chronicling the sadistic rape and murder of three children in West Memphis, Arkansas, this doc censors none of the terrible details. Following the murders, three teens, who listen to metal and explore the goth scene, are arrested and the trial is documented. What follows is the destruction of more life, as stereotypes and ignorance outweigh reason. I cannot recommend this powerful film enough, and I also encourage you to visit the Free the West Memphis Three site to learn more about their ongoing struggle for justice.

Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
No film has ever made me cry like this one. I’ll admit it, I literally sobbed uncontrollably during an interview. This documentary follows the exploits of a single Catholic Priest, who was moved from congregation to congregation to cover-up his abuse of far too many children.  This film not only captures the immense suffering of the families whose trust was violated so deeply, but it exposes a sickening corruption scandal in the highest levels of the Catholic Church.

The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Another film dealing with a miscarriage in justice, acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris was so effective, his film literally saved a man’s life. How many movies can claim that? Utilizing reenactments and interviews, Morris studies the conviction of an innocent Texas man wrongfully accused of the murder of a police officer. While this movie is not as entertaining as others on the list (this was back in the day when docs were shot on film), it is most definitely an important documentary that exposes the weaknesses of our justice system and human prejudice.

This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006)
Censorship. Yup, that’s pretty frightening, especially for fans of the horror genre. Kirby Dick’s documentary aims to expose the unfair practices of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). Tackling an entity that is shrouded in secrecy, Dick hires a private investigator to find the identity of the ratings board members. Although horror fans may not appreciate the way the documentary tackles violence, it is definitely worth a watch for any cinephile or student of the First Amendment.'

American Movie (1999)
What’s so horrifying about a documentary that captures an amateur filmmaker’s attempts at completing a horror movie? To anyone that has ever tried to make a movie, you’ll understand. Fear of failure is almost as scary as death. Milwaukee native Mark Borchardt, the film’s tragic hero, is perhaps the best documentary subject ever committed to film. Full of passion and conviction, but with hardly any resources to support his dreams, we watch Mark work through a struggle that is terrifyingly familiar for any artist. Highly recommended to even those who don’t care for documentaries, American Movie glides between hilarious and moving without pause.
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