31 Days of Horror 12: Apollo 18 (2011) by Jamie

This review contains minor spoilers for Apollo 18 but honestly, were you ever going to watch Apollo 18?

During this quest to watch horror films that I haven’t seen before it’s an inevitability that, because of the nature of horror films today, I’m going to see my fair share of found footage films. It’s just the way of the world these days. Still, I’ve tried to find films that do something original with the idea and I was somewhat pleasantly surprised with both V/H/S and The Bay so it seemed as though there was some hope that it could be a filming method that could still throw up the odd gem. In this search for originality, I remembered a film which I’d heard of but not seen, one which held some promise for the originality I’d hoped for. That film was 2011’s Apollo 18. Yes, a found footage movie set on the moon. That could be cool, right?

The basic premise is that the Apollo missions officially ended after Apollo 17 but in actuality there was a secret mission, Apollo 18 that was hushed up and never known about… Until now. And boy is it crap. When I said I’d heard about this movie, I’ll admit that what I meant was I’d heard people talk about how bad it was but I’m not one just to take that  and judge it without seeing it myself. However, this is one of those instances where I kind of wish I had. There is such a great opportunity for someone to do a genuinely creepy found footage movie about the moon and these guys squandered it for cheap jump scares and a pretty uninspired “monster”. It looks like a cross between a rock and the head-crab from Half-Life.

And that’s the core problem with this movie. Wasted potential. The moon lends istelf to creepiness. It’s a giant, dark desert were the only sound you can hear is another person talking through a shoddy speaker inside your astronaut helmet and the sound of your own breath. Even movement on the moon is rendered slightly creepy because the low gravity makes it look as though everyone is bouncing in slow motion. Terrifying slow motion. What we get here instead is a bog-standard, dull found footage movie that just happens to be set on the moon. And that’s just sad for everybody.

One pint out of five because it does have a few moments that are kind of creepy, like when an astronaut goes into a crater and the only light he gets are from the occasional flash of his camera. That was kind of creative. But otherwise avoid this one because in space no one can hear your sighs of boredom. Laterz.

The reason we never went back to the Moon, it turns out, is because it's so very, very dull.

The reason we never went back to the Moon, it turns out, is because it’s so very, very dull.

31 Days of Horror 8: V/H/S 2 (2013) by Jamie

Yesterday I poked a little fun at the format known as VHS, in particular it’s tendency to have a serious decline in quality with repeated viewings. Having watched today’s movie, however, I wish to take that criticism back. I was wrong and I can admit that. Ok, I wasn’t wrong. This was indeed a genuine problem that VHS suffered from but in the movie ‘V/H/S’, these artefacts that resulted from multiple viewings managed to add to the film’s charms somewhat, though I’ll admit that at times they did seem a little like the lens flare in Abrams ‘Star Trek’ films being perhaps a little overdone. Still, they leant something of an air of authenticity, grittiness and even nostalgia on my part. Sadly, those artefacts are all but gone in the sequel ‘V/H/S 2’ and that’s one of my problems with the film.

This sequel just feels polished compared to the original, every things seems neater, tighter and cleaner and strangely enough that can be a bad thing, especially for a horror film. It’s no coincidence that one of the best segments in this film is ‘Safe Haven’ about an Indonesian cult which seems to capture some of he grunginess of the first film.

This film also managed to capture my attention at lot less than it’s predecessor. I know I complained about V/H/S’s length a little yesterday and this film was about half an hour shorter. On reflection, perhaps that extra time was necessary for building the tension and general creepy feeling that managed to keep me so interested in the first film. Let’s just say I knew that this one was gonna be less interesting when Zombies showed up. Yes, I love Zombies but the first V/H/S seemed to have some pretty interesting and original ideas. Throwing Zombies in just seemed, well, a little too simple to be honest.

Still, it’s not a terrible film and there were moments that felt like watching the first one just not as many. Overall I’d say watch the first one and if you find yourself wanting more of the same kinda stuff then you could probably get something out of the sequel. 2.5 pints out of 5.

31 Days of Horror 7: V/H/S (2012) by Jamie

Ah, the horror anthology. It’s a tradition that dates back to a time immemorial when cavemen would sit around campfires telling tales of Neanderthal ghosts, trying to scare each other before all piling into their foot-powered cars and heading to the local fast-food eatery for some giant ribs I assume. That proud tradition returns once again with ‘V/H/S’.

Ok, first I feel as though a quick history lesson is in order. VHS cassettes were large, rectangular blocks of plastic filled with tape that allowed you to view your favourite films in ever decreasing quality. They had no way to skip between chapters meaning, if you were so inclined, you’d have to fast-forward to your favourite scene which essentially involved still having to watch everything that came before it but at a slightly higher speed. Oh, and you had to rewind it all the way to the beginning once you were done. Rental shops in particular got very angry if you didn’t… Ok, rental shops were basically Netflix but you had to go outside to get the movies on the ever-decreasing quality plastic blocks and then return them, rewound of course, after a set period of time. It was a dark and barbaric time.

The premise then of V/H/S is that some twenty-something ne’er-do-wells discover a cache of old VHS tapes and discover that each one contains an horrific story filled with terror! So yes, this is another found footage movie much like yesterday’s entry The Bay. Unlike The Bay, however, V/H/S is nowhere near as well shot. In fact it has some of the shakiest shaky-cam I have ever had the misfortune to see. Seriously, I contemplated turning it off during the first segment because it was borderline unwatchable. Still, I figured that then I’d have to figure out what movie to watch instead and changing my mind after coming to a decision is difficult because I find myself paralysed by near-infinite choice, so I decided to stick with it. And I am actually kind of glad I did.

V/H/S is by no means as satisfying a film as The Bay, not by a long shot but It certainly has moments of genuine creepiness that compelled me to keep watching. One of the problem with the film is that some of these segments, whilst building quite a decent amount of tension, end rather disappointingly. On the other hand some of them work too well, leaving you feeling as though they actually might work better as a stand alone feature, given a little time for the story to breath a little better. Still “a mixed bag” is often the best way to describe any horror anthology movie and so it I with V/H/S

Over all, I would definitely say this is worth a watch. The good segments are genuinely good and the even the mediocre ones have something to keep you hooked for a while. Perhaps it’s biggest fault is it’s running time. A movie like this didn’t really need to be nearly two hours long and I can think of at least one segment that the loss of which might have improved it slightly. Still, other than that a generally enjoyable experience. Three pints out of five. Laterz.

Found Footage Friday: Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County by Jamie

After the horror that last week’s inaugural entry into this feature left me with, I decided I’d go back to a little film that I first saw in the early 2000s. It was a different time and I was a very different person. I was young, idealistic and a fucking idiot. Why do I cast such aspersions on young me? Well I used to believe in everything paranormal. Ghosts, bigfoot, chupacabra. You name it and I believed in it. Hell, the only thing that I didn’t believe in was God and it was only as I explored scepticism through the internet that I came to be the rational individual I am today. Much of this blind belief in the supernatural came from growing up in a very specific time when a cultural juggernaut dominated the air waves. That juggernaut was a show called ‘The X-Files’ and because of it an entire generation grew up to believe in all kinds of crazy bullshit. And the area that interested me the most was the subject that also made up the core of the shows over-arching major plot: alien abduction.

Because of the popularity of the X-Files, supposed “real life” aliens permeated the culture of the 90s. It seemed as though every other day there was a special about the Roswell incident or alien abduction. In 1998, a full year before the ‘Blair Witch Project’, a little show called ‘Alien Abduction: Incident In Lake County’(AKA Alien Abduction: The McPherson Tape) aired. It purported to show actual footage of a family Thanksgiving dinner interrupted and terrorised by visitors from another world. When it hit, there was major debate about whether or not the footage was actually real and apparently this discussion still goes on today in some dark corners of the internet despite the fact that it ends with credits which include a cast list and Emmanuelle Chriqui (who plays Renee) went on to some success including playing Adam Sandler’s romantic interest in ‘You Don’t Mess with the Zohan‘ and appearing in ‘Entourage‘. I will say for my own part that I never believed the tape was real even in my silly less sceptical days. Still, that didn’t mean that it didn’t creep young me the fuck out.

The film begins with a family sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner whilst Tommy (Kristian Ayre) films it all. Suddenly the family experience a power cut and so Tommy and his two elder brothers, Kurt and Brian, head out to investigate. From there, shit goes down. And that’s as much synopsis as you’re getting from this time because there’s a very special surprise for you at the end of this review. If you’re wondering if it’s the entire film, then well done, you’ve spoiled the surprise. Arsehole.

Anyway, let me just say before you go watch it that yes, the acting is bad. The special effects are awful and there’s a weird pixilation effect that comes up every time the aliens are on screen, I assume to try and obscure just how bad the costumes are. There are also these terrible talking interviews which pop up and are unintentionally hilarious such as when one guy ascertains that this is not a fake because the people are clearly not actors. It almost feels as though he’s critiquing the film for you. And then there’s this guy, the greatest guy in the history of found footage films relating to alien abduction:


My God. Amaze-Balls. So yeah, anyway, despite how bad almost every aspect of this film is, it still holds a special place in my heart. It reminds me of a simpler time when my world was full of mystery. Stupid, stupid mystery. So enjoy Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County and I’ll see you next week for more full found footage review. Not sure what it’ll be yet but I’m sure it’ll be horror related. Gives me the fear just thinking about it… D’you know what I mean?


Found Footage Friday: Cannibal Holocaust by Jamie

I recently watched ‘Paranormal Activity 4’ and went on a mini-rampage about how fucking sick I am of found footage films, going so far as to declare that if film makers can’t be bothered to hire professional camera men to make their “professional” films then I’m not going to bother watching them. After the rage subsided, I thought about some found footage films that I’d actually enjoyed and realised I probably shouldn’t tar an entire genre with the same brush.

So I decided that one way to try and come to terms with this style of film making, which is certainly not going to go away, was to watch as many of them as possible. I want to discover the gems hidden among the sea of shit that makes up the entire found footage movement. It’s going to be a long, hard slog but luckily I’m a glutton for punishment and it only seems fair to begin with the great granddaddy of the entire genre, the one that started it all. No, I’m not talking about ‘The Blair Witch Project’. Silly young people. No, to see what many consider the birth of found footage, we have to go all the way back to the year 1980 for a little film called ‘Cannibal Holocaust‘. Spoilers and possibility of drunken ramblings ahead.

Oh boy. I don’t even know where to begin. I guess Cannibal Holocaust is one of those movies which I’d always assumed I’d seen and forgotten most of. If you have any interest in film, particularly horror, then there’s a good chance that you’ll end up hearing and reading a lot about it and I guess that that’s where I’d gotten the idea that perhaps I had viewed it before. I just knew so much about it that I assumed at some point in my life I’d sat down and actually watched it. Trust me when I say that I’ve seen and forgotten more films than a lot of people have actually seen so it was an easy mistake for me to make. But as I was watching the film today, I realised that it was obvious that I’d never seen this film before because I wouldn’t be able to forget it and now I never will. Never.

So the basic story of the film is that a young documentary team from New York has gone to the Amazon rainforest in order to film the local tribes there and have gone missing. New York University anthropology professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) decides to head into the foreboding jungle to try and track them down. He and his guides come across several tribes and evidence of the crew along their travels. The tribes seem particularly wary of the men and the professor comes to the conclusion that the film crew must have done something in order to make them this way. Finally his worst fears are realized. He discovers the remains of the crew and finds that they have been cannibalised. After negotiating with a tribal chief he manages to procure the crew’s film and heads back to New York.

In New York, the Pan American Broadcast Company decides they want to air the footage but Monroe insists he take a look at the raw footage first. Ok, this is one major part of the plot that I had a problem with. Really? The TV company were just gonna broadcast the footage without reviewing it first? Footage of an expedition that they knew ended with the crew being killed and eaten? They didn’t think that there might be anything on there that they might wanna get a look at first? Really? Anyway, that’s kind of beside the point because it turns out that, surprise surprise, Monroe was right to review the footage as he uncovers that the so-called documentarians were actually staging scenarios in order to get footage for their film and they did it in pretty horrific ways. Such as rounding a tribe into a straw hut and setting said hut on fire. They also gleefully engage in a bit of the old enforced the old in-out, real savage. Oh and then they impale their rape victim on a big wooden stake and film it as if the tribe had done it to her in some kind of punishment ritual. So yes, through all the extreme violence and sexual assault there is a subtext, that subtext being who are the real savages? The tribal peoples or the fucked up Westerners? The film unfortunately decides to try and hammer this message home at the end with Monroe asking himself “I wonder who the real cannibals are?” Well professor, the word cannibal has a pretty strict definition.:

  1. A person who eats the flesh of other human beings: “cannibal tribes”.
  2. An animal that feeds on flesh of its own species.

So, yeah, given that I’m going to say that the real cannibals were the people who ate people. If you’d said savages instead of cannibals I’d have been completely on board with your point but you didn’t. Now you look like a fool. A fool professor! Anyway the last of the footage ends with the crew being killed and eaten (and in the case of the female member of the crew raped as well) which, whilst horrific, I suppose is kind of supposed to be justified by the actions of the crew earlier. Whilst I’m sure the film makers meant the film to suggest that it truly was the fucked up Westerners that were the real savages, I just came away from it thinking ‘Fuck. I guess everyone is a savage.’

Now this film is massively controversial for a number of reasons. The director, Ruggero Deodato, was even arrested and accused of murder as the courts believed that several people had actually been killed on camera for the film. Now whilst some of the staged acts of graphic violence is certainly a bit much, though incredibly realistic for the time it was filmed, that’s not exactly the stuff I have a problem with. No, it’s the actual acts of horrific violence that were done just for the camera. One of the reasons that this film remains controversial to this day is the fact that actual and unnecessarily brutal acts of animal cruelty were filmed, ostensibly for entertainment purposes. These scenes are some of the most difficult I’ve ever seen. Seven animals in total were killed during the making of the movie, six of which were included in the film. There’s a coati which is stabbed though the neck and butchered, a tarantula and a snake that are both hacked up with machetes, a pig that gets kicked around a few times before being shot in the head at close range with a shotgun. Then a squirrel monkey, squirming and screaming is held down whilst the top of its head is removed with a machete.

Please don’t chop my head off and eat my brains…
Image courtesy of Luc Viatour /

Despite how horrific that is, it’s actually one of the least egregious killings because it was eaten by the tribal cast members who consider monkey brains a delicacy and it would be pretty hypocritical of me as a meat eater to criticise a different cultures methods of killing and eating their food. Still, it’s a difficult watch.

The most difficult scene, however, is the killing and butchering of a large turtle which is dragged out of the amazon. It’s quite a long piece of the film and it’s pretty fucking sickening. The joy with which the film crew decapitate the animal, hack off its still twitching limbs and remove it’s shell is truly, truly shocking. I actually yelled at the screen in disgust a number of times and found myself wishing it would just end. At times, it felt like it never would. It’s weird because I’d always wondered what a turtle looked like without it’s shell. Now I wish I didn’t know because it turns out it’s just a mess of organs.

So… yeah. That’s film one in this ongoing series about found footage films. I honestly don’t feel that I can covey the feelings that this film brought up in me. Despite all that and as much as it pains me to say it… The film is kinda good. Completely unenjoyable and deserving of having every remaining copy of it shot into the sun forever and ever but still worth at least one watch. I honestly can’t explain why. Maybe it’s because everything that this film spawned. Maybe it’s a morbid curiosity to find out what others think of it. Maybe it’s simply because despite everything that I should hate about this film, there’s something weirdly fascinating about it. It’s a film that I can neither recommend nor fully condemn. I’ll just say that if you have any interest in the history of cinema, horror particularly, it’s a film you should watch at least once. But be warned. It is not an easy or enjoyable experience.

And now, to lighten the mood, here’s Space Unicorn.

Documental: Winnebago Man by Jamie

I’ve said it before, the internet is probably the greatest thing mankind has ever created that isn’t directly responsible for saving lives. It allows for almost instant communication, instant dissemination and sharing of news and information and, of course, mountains and mountains of pornography. So much pornography. It also unites people across borders through that most simple of pleasures, the humiliation of others.

Yes, for every internet success there is the other side. For every internet entrepenuer who has amassed billions of dollars, there are those who have become the subjects of ridicule because clips of them that they thought would never see the light of day have become viral video sensations. For every Mark Zuckerberg there is a Star Wars Kid or, indeed, a Winnebago Man. Who is the Winnebago Man? Well, hopefully this clip will clear that up. It is most certainly not safe for work…

That is the Winnebago Man. That clip of outtakes from a 1989 industrial film for the Winnebago company would become a viral video sensation thanks to copies of the original video tape being passed around and eventually reach millions more with the invention of YouTube. It would also become something of an obsession for a film maker by the name of Ben Steinbauer who became determined to find the star of the clip, a man by the name of Jack Rebney, a determination which would give rise to the documentary ‘Winnebago Man’.

He begins his search by investigating a number of avenues. He asks around people who have passed around copies of the tape in the first place and some crew members who worked on the original film. On this journey he also investigates the effect that the viral video had on individuals and on pop-culture in general, including a number of references to it in movies and TV shows. He also investigates the effect that a viral video can have on the often unwilling subjects such as the case of Aleksey Vayner whose boastful video resume ‘The Impossible is Possible’ became a viral hit much to the humiliation of Vayner himself. He apparently even received death threats via e-mail. Yes, the viral video world is not for the timid, which is a shame because often the star has no choice.

But what of the Winnebago Man? His obscenity-laced tirades certainly didn’t seem to indicate he was a timid man. Did he even know he was an internet star? Was he even still alive? After coming up with nothing but dead ends regarding Rebney’s current location, Steinbauer turned to a private investigator to hopefully shed some light on the subject. The PI found a number of post boxes in the man’s name and so the film maker decided to send a letter to each of them. Eventually, he got a response.

And so he got his chance to meet the man, the mystery, the enigma, the Winnebago Man himself, Jack Rebney. And he got to interview him and ask him what he knew about the video and all that. And he found Rebney to be an affable, charming old man, perhaps a little odd because he had become something of a hermit living alone in the mountains but other than that, a perfectly likeable older gentleman. So Steinbauer left after getting his footage, somewhat disappointed that even though Jack Rebney was still alive, it seemed as though the Winnebago Man was dead.

Then he got another message from Jack. In it he explained that he had basically put on a front for the camera and he was actually incredibly pissed off about his internet fame and the world he felt was falling into absolute disrepair. It turned out the foul-mouthed Winnebago Man was very much alive and so Steinbauer finally got his chance to meet him.

And that’s pretty much where I’ll leave the synopsis. I’ll just say that Jack is perhaps even more of the curmudgeon you’d expect him to be from the Winnebago Man clips. He’s sweary, angry and yet also strangely charming and seems able to switch between the two with the flip of a switch. His temper never really seems particularly malicious or at least not overly so. It’s just the way he reacts to the world around him. He views the fans of his outtake clips as a bunch of slack-jawed morons and can’t understand what they possibly enjoy about the video. This all comes to a head when he’s flown out to the Found Footage Festival in San Francisco and he’s brought face to face with his fans.

Now, Winnebago Man isn’t necessarily the most well made or most structured documentary in the world but I don’t think that’s really the fault of the film maker. I think it’s merely a side effect of making a film with a person like Jack Rebney, a man who seems completely unwilling to talk about himself or his past, for the most part, preferring instead to get his message about the evils in the world like Wal-Mart or Dick Cheney. He just seems like a difficult person to work with though ultimately a rewarding subject for the documentary. Throughout the whole film you can’t help but like Jack because, like I said, there doesn’t seem to be anything malicious behind his outbursts. That’s just who he is. The film also has one of the sweetest endings I’ve seen in sometime from a documentary and it honestly brought a few tears to my eyes.

If I had to compare it to another film I’d seen in recent times, I’d probably say ‘Best Worst Movie’ the documentary about the cult following of Troll 2 except kind of in reverse. In that film the main subject, George Hardy, is delighted by his fame and is eager to meet his fans. Jack Rebney, not so much. So all in all it’s an engaging documentary about an intriguing and interesting character but also a nice little study on this new world of viral video fame and how it effects their often unwilling or even unknowing stars. Four and a half pints out of five. Laterz.

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