Movie Review: 21 DAYS

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21-daysGravitas Ventures
2014
TV-MA

Three filmmakers embark on a paranormal challenge by barricading themselves in a house so haunted, no family has been able to live in more than 21 days, in order to film the supernatural phenomena which presumably occurs. But nothing can prepare them for the evil that lies in wait. There are some places so dark, so evil, where no human–no living thing–should dwell.

Oh, goodie. Another Paranormal Activity-style found footage horror movie. Well, okay, there’s a generous sprinkling of The Blair Witch Project thrown in, with the inclusion of the interviewed locals at the beginning.

One has to think, given the plethora of low-budget found footage horror flicks floating around out there, why another one? Well, as it turns out, according to writer / director / producer Kathleen Behun, 21 Day was born out of a frustrated attempt to produce something commercially viable. Fair enough.

I do have to admit that, although 21 Days manages to hit most, if not almost all of the given tropes and cliches, you would expect from this kind of horror flick (house built on an old Native American burial ground, furniture and other items move around on their own, the characters freak out over every bump, etc.), and the pacing is pretty decent, focusing on a handful of days rather than having us sit through all twenty-one days they were at the house. However, I should point out that there are some stretches in character motivation logic, like near the end, when the paranormal stuff hits the proverbial fan, after calling 911, the surviving bodies call…the lady who initially refused to be interviewed at the beginning of the flick. Mind you, this is merely used as a means of shoehorning in some exposition, but it made no sense.

Overall, though, 21 Days won’t be blowing anyone’s mind, at least the film maker admitted to not having delusions of grandeur when making this movie. At least it’s edited in a way that cuts out a lot of fat. Otherwise, you’re not missing much if you pass this one up.

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Movie Review: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY The Ghost Dimension

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Movie Review PARANORMAL ACTIVITY The Ghost DimensionParamount Pictures
2015
R

“Ryan, your daughter was born on June sixth, two-thousand five. Right? It’s the sixth day of the sixth month of the sixth year, two-thousand five. Six six six. I believe this is no coincidence. She’s part of the prophecy.”

So, here we are. Paranormal Activity, subtitle The Ghost Dimension. AKA Paranormal Activity 5. Paranormal Activity 6, if you count that spin-off The Marked Ones. Which I don’t. And because I’m a masochist when it comes to these movies, let’s see if this is a case of the same-old, same-old, or if the Paranormal Activity franchise still has something new to give at this point.

The Ghost Dimension follows a new family, the Fleeges–father Ryan, mother Emily, and their young daughter Leila–who move into a house and discover a video camera and a box of tapes in the garage. When they look through the camera’s lens, they begin to see the paranormal activity happening around them–including the re-emergence of young Kristi and Katie.

At this point, it should come as no surprise that the Paranormal Activity movies hold nothing new and innovative for the series. While the attempt to spice things up with the whole 3D aspect was decently done, I believe that franchise fatigue has set in, and a sense of treading the same ground as the previous movies seriously diminishes any kind of visceral thrills. Which is a pity, because the visual effects are fantastic, and the third act really goes all-out. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make up for the weakness in the script and story.

Overall, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is a passable horror movie at best. It does not deliver in the whole all questions will be answered! the promotional material promised, and ends the series with kind of a wet splat. Worth it if you have nothing better to watch.

Movie Review: HELL HOUSE LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel

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hell house llc 2Terror Films
2018
NR

Last year around this time, I stumbled across a little horror flick entitled Hell House LLC on the streaming service I utilize. I went in not expecting much, and came out of it far more impressed with the movie than I had expected. It was rather effective for squeezing as much quality horror out of the small budget it had, and became one of my favorites in the found footage category of horror movies.

As it turns out, while I would have been satisfied with just a one-and-done movie, the creator of Hell House LLC envisioned a trilogy, and has just released the second installment in September of 2018 (this year, as of the time of this writing). I was unaware of this, and found out about it when Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel was a featured review on the Who Goes There? Podcast. This sequel is available for streaming exclusively on the Shudder TV site, and will become available in a wider market come January of next year, but I had to check this out on the Greatest Season of the Year just because. Let’s take a look, shall we?

It’s been eight years since the opening night tragedy of Hell House, LLC and still many unanswered questions remain. Thanks to an anonymous tip, investigative journalist Jessica Fox is convinced that key evidence is hidden inside the abandoned Abaddon Hotel–evidence that will shed light on the hotel’s mysteries. She assembles a team equally hungry for answers with one goal: break into the hotel and discover the truth.

When compared to the first Hell House LLC movie, The Abaddon Hotel feels a bit weaker in execution. It doesn’t seem as focused in the plot, and seems to rely a bit too much on trying to answer all the questions that were raised with the first one. The movie managed to create the thick atmospheric tension and dread of the first movie; indeed, the inter-splicing of footage from other outside victims of the hotel helped to build the stakes for what the main characters are up against. Two come from a couple of kids who venture into the hotel on a challenge or dare, and seemed to me to punctuate how entirely stupid the kids these days are. A little tip, boys and girls: When you go up to a run-down, purportedly haunted place that others have rumored to never returned from after going in, and the door opens right up for you by itself, like it wants you to come right in, that’s the signal to TURN AROUND AND RUN AWAY.. I don’t care if there’s a visible plate of cookies right there. To quote a certain Mon Calamarian Fleet Admiral, “ITS A TRAP!”

That little geeky rant aside, I do have to admit that the character building here is pretty good. With the exception of the psychic guy (which, just by the way he was played here, was my default favorite character, regardless of how everything about him was a cliche’d trope, right down to his demise), I found myself surprisingly caring for the film crew that ventured into the hotel looking for answers. Mind you, once inside the hotel, the movie tended to rely a bit too much on the mannequins moving positions when you look away and look back. Still a bit effective, yes, but I found myself splitting my attention between the scene going on in the foreground and keeping an eye on the background for the inevitable Jack-In-The-Box scare to walk by. I have to admit, though, that at least the movie didn’t use any music stingers to insult your intelligence, and let us use our imaginations for a lot of the horror here.

Sadly, the weakest part of the movie is at the final ten, fifteen minutes. This is where the actions stop and become a full-on exposition dump, possibly in an effort to explain and answer the questions everyone had after watching the first movie. This, in my not-so-humble opinion, sucks away a good chunk of the mystery surrounding the hotel itself. It doesn’t completely ruin the movie, by any means; it just would have been a much more satisfying middle part of a trilogy had it just cut out that exposition part at the end and left us with another disappearance of another film crew, like at the end of the first movie. In other words, the twist fell flat and needed some pruning.

Overall, Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel was a decent follow-up to the surprisingly good first movie. It managed to maintain a level of spooky atmosphere and genuine tension, all the while, like with actual haunted house attractions this time of year, the intensity isn’t as great the second go-round, simply because of familiarity. Still, highly recommended, this one.

Movie Review: The DARK TAPES

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dark tapes, theEpic Pictures Group
2016
NR

Oh, hey, look: a found footage anthology movie. On the Amazon Prime streaming. Who’da thunk it? Well, I chose to watch this due to the cover art itself, so let’s get this review over with.

If you’re new to this blog of mine, you may have noticed that I have kind of a low expectation upon found footage movies. I watch ’em because sometimes I’ve been surprised before, like with the V/H/S series, or with the first Cloverfield movie. But more often than not, they’ve turned out to be formulaic and stale, mostly involving invisible ghosts and such, always at some haunted location. Or family curse. I’m looking at you, Paranormal Activity series. I do very much enjoy the anthology style of horror movie, so at least there’s that going for The Dark Tapes. So, does this anthology flick stand up, or does it fall flat? Let’s see…

The first segment is kind of the wrap-around short, the one that is shown in segments between the segments, acting as a lose glue to hold the films together. It’s called “To Catch A Demon”, and starts kind of weak, but then gets a bit more interesting as the segments go on. It does have a Lovecraftian sci-fi feel to it, and works on a certain level, with the low point being when the trans-dimensional creature speaks. Kind of unintentionally funny, there. Anyway, the first proper short is “The Hunters And The Hunted”, which comes off as a cheap Ghost Hunters/Paranormal Activity knock-off, for the most part losing me in the “been there, done that” feeling, when suddenly there’s a twist at the end that made me nod and smile in approval. Good save, there. Up next was “Cam Girls”, and is pretty much the weakest short in this, more or less an excuse in girl-on-girl titillation and gore, all on web cams. The end “twist” is the biggest middle finger to those watching. I do give them props for not featuring any nudity in this one, just letting the story stand on its on unmitigated suckiness. And finally, “Amanda’s Revenge” centers on the titular young lady who finds herself constantly visited and tormented by otherworldly beings, frightened at first but then figuring out a way to turn the tables and chase away these ETs for good.

Overall, there’s a lot of really good ideas featured here in The Dark Tapes that suffer greatly from the execution. The strongest point here, I thought, was the wrap-around “To Catch A Demon”, which reminds me of the Lovecraft story “From Beyond”. Second best is “Amanda’s Revenge”, with “The Hunters And The Hunted” saved from a strong ending but still doesn’t justify the weak first part. “Cam Girls” is just pointless. The low-budget effects can be off-putting at times, as well as some of the acting.

In the end, The Dark Tapes doesn’t do anything to justify the continued production of found footage movies, other than they’re cheep to crank out and make money on. Check out the three V/H/S anthologies for a much better example of doing the style right.

Movie Review: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3

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paranormal activity 3Paramount Pictures
2011
R

“You’re not gonna see anybody play Bloody Mary like I’m about to play Bloody Mary.”

And the oddly popular set of found footage movies in the Paranormal Activities franchise continues with the third installment. This time around, it’s a prequel! Yippy Skippy.

So, the year is 1988. I was a Freshman in High School at the time, but that’s not really important to the story. A young Katie and Kristi are living with their mother and her boyfriend. After an incedent involving an earthquake while the mom and boyfriend are trying to make a sex tape (what’s up with that, anyway?), the boyfriend decides to set up cameras all over the house to capture anything else that’s weird. This includes a setup in the girls’ bedroom–which should have resulted in the mother kicking him out of the house and filing a restraining order. But no, she agrees to this not-at-all creepy idea. But then, all sorts of weird stuff starts getting captured on video: Kristi seems to have an invisible friend named Toby (who doesn’t seem to be all that imaginary), a babysitter gets freaked out by a couple of things, all sorts of occult symbols are popping up in the oddest places, wacky Poultergeist-y stuff start happening. And then Grandma shows up, and the proverbial poo-poo hits the fan.

So, on the plus side of things, we get a bit more backstory filled in with the two ill-fated sisters Katie and Kristi, giving us an idea that this wasn’t just some random thing that just happened arbirtrarily. Which…kind of takes the mystery out of things a bit, admitedly. Otherwise, the movie sticks with the same tricks and tropes as the previous two entries–albeit set in a different time period–with a small handful of somewhat effective creep-out bits, but mostly, again, the tension comes from watching closely waiting for something to happen.

Overall, I found Paranormal Activity 3 to be interesting, but mostly retread ideas from the other movies.

Movie Review: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2

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paranormal activity 2Paramount Pictures
2010
R

When the first Paranormal Activity movie was released, it made gobs of monies. Inevitably, a sequel was eminent. And so, one did get released in 2010, cleverly titled Paranormal Activity 2. Except, it wasn’t a sequel so much as a parallel companion piece to the first Paranormal Activity movie. Well, except for the very last part, which does take place after the events of the first movie.

Confused yet? Let me explain…

Paranormal Activity focuses on Kristi, the sister of the main character from the first movie, and her family. After a burglary occurs at their home, an elaborate security camera system is installed, and thus introduced our method of “found footage” in this installment. All kinds of weird stuff gets captured by the cameras, which leads to Kristi believing the house is haunted. Of course, her husband disagrees, while her stepdaughter begins investigating paranormal goings on–activities of some sort–and the infant son Hunter finds himself with a friend no one else can see. The dog gets attacked, Kristi gets possessed, and her husband decides to exorcise the demon by sending it to Kristi’s sister, Katie from the first movie, because he’s kind of a jerk. Yeah, that works out well. And in case you’re wondering what happened after the end of the first movie, Paranormal Activity 2 lets you in on that bit of information.

As I mentioned, Paranormal Activity 2 doesn’t stick to the general conventions of a traditional sequel. It does answer a few questions raised by the first movie. Admittedly, much of the tension comes by watching intently, waiting for something to happen, not willing to blink lest even a small clue may be missed. Otherwise, it’s pretty much your standard found footage boo-scare flick that didn’t resonate with me as much as the first film. And that’s not saying much, really. It did manage to flesh out the overall story. Otherwise, meh.

Movie Review: HELL HOUSE LLC

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Hell House LLCTerror Films
2016
NR

At this point, I don’t think I would need to explain again my thoughts on the “found footage” style of horror movies, but just in case this is your first time here let me give you the condensed version: I don’t really mind them, if they’re made well and offer something more than the standard same-old, same-old. In other words, pretty much how I view other sub-genres within the horror umbrella. There are good ones, and many many bad ones. It’s just that I find it easier to get burned out on found footage movies than on other genres, mainly because there’s not much going for it past the typical haunting or odd exorcism plot.

Which brings us to this movie, here, Hell House LLC. I came across this title while perusing what movies I could watch during my free trial of Amazon Prime (which I opted for to same some money on 2-day shipping of something I needed), and while I instantly knew by the quick blurb description that this was another one of those found footage movies, the premise really kind of intrigued me enough to stick it on my watch list. Because while Hell House LLC is technically one of those Found Footage From Inside A Haunted House movies, the haunted house in question is actually a haunted house attraction that turned out to be haunted for realsies. Not the most imaginative of twists, but to put things in context, in Omaha where I live there is a long-running Haunted House attraction that is run in an old building that is also purported to be actually haunted as well. It’s enough to arouse the imagination in someone like myself, who never really lost his sense of wonderment with things like this.

Anyway, Hell House LLC involves a handful of young entrepreneurs of the titular Hell House LLC, a professional haunted house attraction that originally was centered in New York city. In 2009, they decided to move things to a more atmospheric rural community setting, and set up shop in the long-abandoned Abadon Hotel. Go-Pro footage, along with some smart phone video as well as professionally shot film show the progression of the team setting up the old hotel leading up to the big opening night in October, putting up the decorations and effects, working out the kinks and making things just so, hiring the actors…and also all the weird things that start happening that aren’t part of the setup. Like the clown mannequins wandering off by themselves. Or one of the team members beginning to sleep walk. Or figures in black hooded robes popping up in the oddest places. But, despite the setbacks and stress, they all manage to make to to opening night…which ends in a bloody disaster that left several dead and even more injured and visibly shaken, some of the survivors committing suicide days later. Five years later, afer massive cover-ups and speculation, a documentary crew tries to piece things together…and you can probably guess how things turn out.

Overall, Hell House LLC was actually pretty good. It didn’t bore me, there was some genuine atmosphere and sense of dread built up, and I can attest that the clown bits actually creeped me out, and I’m not creeped out by clowns whatsoever. So, well done in that aspect. The characters manage to not be just a bunch of irritating cannon fodder, which made the impact of the events even more…um, impactful, I guess. The filmmakers really managed to squeeze as much effectiveness with this, with both the editing, cinematography styles and general effects uses, managing to mess with your head a bit.

I had a lot of fun with Hell House LLC. I would say it’s very much worth a watch some night.

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