In the summer of 2017, two podcasters got on Skype to record a podcast about a horror movie. Three months later, their footage was found. Join me and Michael Bailey as we look at the seminal found footage horror film The Blair Witch Project. In this episode, we talk about the movie; its marketing; the tie-in comics/books/TV specials; and its sequels, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and Blair Witch.
One of my favorite things to do on the Internet is to watch trailers for horror movies. I mean, I rarely actually watch the movies, but very often, the advertisements for even the crappiest movies are well done enough to keep me entertained for a couple of minutes.
And then there was the trailer to The Void, which io9 linked to about a year and a half ago:
Done as a bit of a throwback to 1980s creature flicks like John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Void begins in the middle of … something. A drug addict named James flees a house and a woman tries to follow but she is killed by two men, whom we later learn are Vincent (Daniel Fathers) and his son Simon (Mik Byskov). James is picked up by a local cop, Daniel (Aaron Poole), who takes him to the local hospital, which is half-abandoned due to a fire some time ago and has a skeleton crew of a staff that includes Daniel’s estranged wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe), a med student named Kim (Ellen Wong), a nurse named Beverly (Stephanie Belding), and an attending physician named Dr. Powell (Kenneth Welsh). Including Daniel and James, a young girl named Maggie (Grace Munro), who is very pregnant; and her grandfather, Ben (James Millington) are also there.
It’s hard to write a review for this without giving too much away, so I’ll offer up enough to make you consider looking at the entire film. There are some very strange things going on at this hospital. People cut their own skin off and are reborn as creatures. Members of a strange cult whose symbol is a black triangle are surrounding the hospital and attack anyone who tries to leave. In other words, something otherworldly is going on and whatever it is, it looks to claim the lives of everyone inside.
So what you have is the conceit for what could be a million low-budget horror flicks going all the way back to Night of the Living Dead, and much like that Romero classic, that particular plot contrivance works for The Void. The directors, Steven Kotsanksi and Jeremy Gillespie, put all of their major characters in the same place so that they can simply concentrate on building tension between them and build the tension surrounding them.
The former comes in the form of the strained relationship between Daniel and Allison, which came about after she lost their baby, which is played straightforward and with the right amount of emotion from the actors–they spend a lot of time trying to avoid one another even though he is also determined to protect her. And the theme of loss and coping with loss, especially that of a child, is a major one in The Void and the reason it is more than just a gory monster movie. Kotsanski and Gillespie put some serious work into practical monster effects and combining that with performances that are all-around solid despite from scenery chewing from time to time, this is well-crafted. You’re not subjected to shaky-cam or found footage, and everything is not explained to you at every turn. While the reveal of the movie’s villain makes clear what is going on ad why, they still trust their audience enough to make us fill in the blanks where it’s necessary.
At the time I watched this, it was available on Netflix, so if it is still there, watch it. If you have to rent it, go ahead. I think that if you’re a fan of 1980s horror films that deal with more supernatural/cosmic elements and monsters (instead of slashers and dead teenagers), you’ll find The Void a worthwhile viewing this or any Shocktober.
My first movie for Shocktober was the Roman Polanski classic Rosemary’s Baby, which blended psychological horror with a story about a woman unknowingly pregnant with Satan’s child. Since then, there have been a number of “demon/monster baby movies,” including Demon Seed, David Cronenberg’s The Brood, and a number of B-level direct-to-video flicks that I would have probably passed by on the video store shelves before finding something I actually wanted to watch. It’s now years later and though we have no video stores around here, I find myself doing the same thing whenever I browse Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon–passing by schlocky B-level stuff on the way to whatever I actually want to watch. Besides, how many clones of classic horror or monster movies do we really need?
That thought occurred to me when I first saw the trailer for 2012’s Delivery: The Beast Within (as few horror movies I watch, I love watching horror movie trailers on IMDb … I know, it’s weird). It looked like yet another movie in a long line of tired found footage flicks that promised something horrifying in its trailer but would ultimately be unsatisfying; furthermore, it looked too much like “It’s Paranormal Activity, but she’s pregnant!” Still, a couple of moments in the trailer intrigued me and I quickly found it on Hulu for free … aaaaaand didn’t watch it and then it left Hulu. Luckily, as I went to watch the movies for this month’s blog entries, I remembered Delivery and decided that $3.99 was an okay amount to pay to stream it on Amazon Prime (and before you say “that’s too much,” I must remind you that Blockbuster was charging around that much back in the late 1990s).
The film is a pastiche of three specific genres–the found footage horror film, the mockumentary, and the “demon spawn” horror movie. Laurel Vail and Danny Barclay play Rachel and Kyle Massy, a young couple who are expecting their first child and have decided to allow their pregnancy to be covered as part of a cable reality show called Delivery. When the film opens, the filmmakers are interviewing the show’s creator and producer, Rick (Rob Cobuizo), and we learn right away through some quick local news footage and interviews with other people (friends and doctors who knew Kyle and Rachel) that Rachel is dead and while the pilot episode of Delivery was put together, the show never aired and it’s possible that the key to Rachel’s death lies in what was left over.
The first half hour or so is the abandoned pilot, complete with peppy guitar music and fast-forward traffic footage in the interstitials, where we are introduced to Kyle and Rachel and hear about how they met and got married and how they have been having trouble conceiving and even had a miscarriage but are now finally pregnant. They tell Rachel’s mother Barbara (Rebecca Brooks) and then their friends, but the evening of the baby shower, Kyle finds Rachel in the bathroom of their apartment sobbing and bleeding and upon arrival at the hospital, it appears that she has miscarried again. However, the next morning and another ultrasound reveals a heartbeat and the couple is overjoyed that their baby has, in fact, not been lost.
This, by the way, is where the first odd things start happening. The footage of Rachel in the hospital room when they find out she has not miscarried has some minor glitches, and when they get home, Kyle’s dog Madden begins growling and barking at her. Then, when they hunt for houses, Rachel is accosted by a homeowner’s mother who screams “Devil!” at her in Armenian. She’s rightfully weirded out but things seem to be okay and they buy a house.
There’s a point at which the pilot episode ends and a title card tells us that the rest of the film we’re watching was compiled from the leftover footage of the reality show. Rick, the producer, provides some background information as to how certain moments went down or the increasing technical glitches that were occurring, especially around Rachel, even having a sound guy isolate an otherworldly scream that was recorded in one particular moment. Rachel has trouble sleeping and the artwork that she paints becomes darker and darker, and her marriage to Kyle becomes more and more strained. More and more supernatural-like things start occurring around the house and Rachel becomes fixated on the baby name Alastor, which a paranormal expert (whom she hires) says is the name of a demon.
I honestly don’t want to go very much further with a plot summary because to give more details away would spoil the film’s ending and it’s possible that those who are reading this (both of you) may not have heard of the movie and are actually interested, so I’ll just drop the trailer here and get to my spoiler-free review.
I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I honestly thought I would. I’ve gotten tired of found footage horror movies (as have so many other people), especially those with cheap jump scares and bad payoffs. Delivery: The Beast Within actually doesn’t contain very many jump scares (I think I honestly counted one Paranomral Activity-esque jump scare) and it sticks to its premise really well. If you ever watched TLC during the early 2000s (its Trading Spaces salad years), you may have come across shows such as A Wedding Story and A Baby Story. Those were reality/documentary shows where each episode followed a couple to the altar or the delivery room. It was the latter that writers Brian Netto and Adam Schindler (Netto directed) took and really ran with before giving us a look at the leftover footage, making the “found footage” part of this story plausible (and way more plausible than the “camera that can see ghosts” thing from Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension). Furthermore, as the production becomes increasingly troubled beyond the unaired pilot because of Rachel’s increasingly erratic behavior and Kyle’s increasing rage, the presence of the crew and cameras in themselves become an issue, with the production actually ceasing a couple of months before Rachel’s due date, resuming only with Rick (who says in interviews that he had come to be very close to both Rachel and Kyle) and his camera.
It would seem a little contrived to stage the film this way, going from fake reality show to unused fake reality footage to “third guy in the room” found footage, but Netto actually uses that as a way to make the film feel increasingly claustrophobic and intense until it’s ending, part of which you know is coming but part of which is very unexpected. The footage is staged in ways that feel like your average reality/documentary show, with people out of the range of the camera having what they say subtitled, the occasional shot of a boom mic or crew personnel who would have been edited out of the finished episode, and self-shot “confessional” footage done via Flip cameras that the producers gave to Rachel so she could shoot her “video diary” for the show.
Plus, unlike other horror movies of the last couple of decades, both actors are likable, so you are actually invested in what is happening to them, so when the pregnancy gets weirder and even scarier, you sympathize with Kyle, who doesn’t know what the hell is going on and doesn’t know what the hell to do (unlike, say, the protagonists you’re waiting to see killed and you hope it’s a good death). The other performances are just as good and natural, which helps Delivery: The Beast Within with its follow through. While it doesn’t break any new ground and does rehash old tropes (even including a “she’s craving some rare/raw meat” bit as a nod to Rosemary’s Baby), the film is a tight, entertaining 90 minutes and one I’d recommend checking out.
If Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby set the tone for the “psychological horror” film back in the late 1960s, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is the culmination of nearly 50 years of psychological terror along with so many other important tropes of the genre mixed in.
And speaking of tropes, we open with a mainstay–the opening death scene, which takes place in a Detroit suburb. A girl named Annie flees her house and seems to be followed by … something. She makes it as far as the beach but can’t escape whatever is terrorizing her, as her dead body is found the next day.
We then meet Jay, our college student protagonist who has a new boyfriend named Hugh. As she’s out on a date with him, he keeps seeing a mysterious little girl that nobody else can see. Later on in the film, they have sex and Hugh chloroforms her. When she wakes up, he’s tied her to a chair and tells her that he passed some sort of curse onto her–she will be followed by an entity that only she can see and it won’t stop until it kills her (where it will then go after the last person it pursued, which happened to be Hugh).
The rest of the film is basically the story of Jay and her friends trying to avoid, escape, and then ultimately fight back against whatever is following her, although we never actually know what it is except that it takes the form of various disheveled-looking people, including friends and family members. And unlike, say, Final Destination, where the characters were being killed off in increasingly ridiculous and cinematically staged ways by a “death” entity, It Follows chooses to have fun with the “audience mindscrew” by offering very few jump scares (thank God) in favor of creating a constant feeling of uneasiness. Like Rosemary’s Baby, the film has a sense of real place (although Mitchell keeps the time period of its setting deliberately ambiguous) and while this does follow the same pattern of “photogenic white kids in the suburbs getting offed after getting off” of your average slasher flick, it’s quite aware of that.
In fact, Mitchell plays with that knowingly–after all, the entire premise of the movie is the Scream-established rule that having sex in a slasher movie means you’re going to die. And he sends his characters into the seedier parts of Detroit to either try to avoid the entity (although we know they can’t do that) or confront it directly, hitting upon what Polanski does in Rosemary’s Baby by pointing out that our homes are not safe and perhaps we need to second-guess their comfort. Furthermore, he avoids the “come at me bro” self-aware final confrontation of late-1990s flicks like Final Destination and has his characters make stupid mistakes and confront the entity in a way that feels at best like a desperate attempt to save Jay’s life (and at worst a trap Fred would try to spring on Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated) instead of the machinations of a protagonist who is too smart for the film in which he’s been placed and is therefore deconstructing the rules in order to win.
It Follows is a fun horror movie. You sympathize with its main character because she spends the film going more and more crazy while her friends can’t seem to figure out how to help her or what is even going on (that is, until they start getting killed) and the ending doesn’t go for a cheap twist or any big reveal that spoils re-watches; in fact, we never get “origin” or even the true identity of the entity and that’s fine. Plus, the ending is satisfyingly ambiguous and you leave wondering if everything is okay.
While I decided to dedicate most of the entries and episodes I’ll be putting out in October to horror films, I will be the first to admit that when it comes to actually watching horror movies, I am not very well-versed in them and I, in fact, have either not watched some of the “required horror classics” in a number of years or at all. Rosemary’s Baby is a film that falls into the latter category. I had obviously heard of the film, knew of its premise, and had even seen clips of it on cable specials about horror movies, but until recently had never seen it.
Part of the reason for that, I will readily admit, is that I have a hard time separating Roman Polanski’s creative output from his personal life (this is also why I have never seen a Woody Allen movie, btw) and with the exception of his adaptation of Macbeth have never seen any of his films. But since Rosemary’s Baby was available for streaming on Hulu, I set that aside. And while I found myself perfectly able to set aside any personal feelings I have against the film’s director, I didn’t find myself particularly scared. In fact, dare I say it, I was slightly bored.
That’s not to say that Rosemary’s Baby is a boring or bad movie. It’s not. Looking at it from the “I look Intro to Film in College” lens that I can use every once in a while (because … well, I took Intro to Film in college), I can see why the film is so highly regarded. At the same time, I wonder if that since it’s so well-regarded and has become so ingrained in our popular culture, it has become a victim of its own success.
If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes play Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, a young couple who have just moved into a very nice apartment building in New York City. Rosemary is a housewife to Guy’s struggling actor and while their ability to afford said apartment is almost sitcom-like, we set aside our disbelief because what matters is that they’re in the apartment and she’s a young woman whose well-being becomes the focus of their neighbors, Minnie Castavet (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for her role). This friendship with the neighbors is fortuitous for Guy, who quickly becomes successful, and he suggests that he and Rosemary try to have a baby. On the night that they’re going to try and conceive, Minnie makes chocolate mousse for the couple, which Rosemary throws away after a few bites due to a chalky aftertaste. That aftertaste was some sort of drug and that night, she has what seems to be an odd dream where she is raped by a demonic presence.
Of course, that dream was real and anyone who has heard of the movie knows that was no dream and Rosemary is carrying the child of Satan. Her pregnancy progresses in a way that’s freakishly unusual in places (her craving raw meat at one point and having to drink what looks like a noxious smoothie at others) and after the baby is finally born, there’s the very famous scene where she sees her baby and screams, “What have you done to him? What have you done to his eyes? YOU MANIACS!” (screaming “You Maniacs!” seemed to be a popular outburst in late 1960s cinema) before being coaxed into rocking the cradle.
I said that I was bored while watching the movie even though I see why it’s an important film for the genre and I think part of that comes from more or less knowing the ending. Unlike The Exorcist (which I find much more entertaining and scarier), Rosemary’s Baby kind of relies on its big reveal at its end because while Polanski hints that there’s something really nefarious going on and in the back of your mind you think it might be related to Satan, the line “Satan is his father” is spoken only at the end. So if you know what is already coming, you wind up spending a decent portion of the movie waiting for the film to get on with it.
If you, however, go into Rosemary’s Baby knowing what’s going to happen, you spend your time looking at how the movie gets its story across and do appreciate it for its impact on the horror genre as well as its satirical elements. Polanski does an excellent job of keeping the movie’s tension just below the surface–as Rosemary’s pregnancy progresses, we’re constantly aware that something isn’t quite right and the seemingly nice Castavets are not all that they seem (and Ruth Gordon’s Oscar was well-deserved) and he doesn’t go too over the top in the film’s ending. Likewise, in an age where every decision about pregnancy and parenthood among the privilege of the white middle/upper-middle class, the “home remedies” (weird herbal roots and drinks) and specialized doctors that the Castevets provide our protagonist are almost prescient in the way that they satirize the obsession with “natural,” “organic,” and “non-commercial” pregnancy and infant lifestyles. Said satire works, in fact, because the movie probably isn’t trying to be satirical (and if it were done in that vein today, there would be too much winking at the screen).
So, the verdict here? Despite my criticisms, Rosemary’s Baby is worth seeing. Polanski does know how to build tension and have the viewer share in his protagonist’s confusion and eventual despair; plus, he never actually shows us her baby, allowing our minds to fill in the blanks of what he actually looks like (something that will come up later this month in another movie). It also deserves its place in film history as the start of a horror subgenre, one that would ramp up in the 1970s with The Omen, and gives us one of the first real movies where the horror that’s taking place is within the safety of our homes (which the aforementioned Exorcist and other movies such as The Amityville Horror and even Halloween would also make their mark) instead of a realm of the supernatural.
Since it’s October, I’m taking a quick dip in the horror pool. Over the course of the next four weeks, you’ll find reviews for a few horror movies as well as an episode of the podcast guest-starring Michael Bailey about one of the most popular and influential horror films of 1999.
Now, I should say that I’m not a horror aficionado. I’ve seen my fair share of slasher and zombie flicks, but for the most part, I steer clear of the genre, choosing to watch the occasional horror movie trailer on IMDb and then read those films’ synopses on Wikipedia. It’s not that I don’t like horror films–in fact, with the exception of the “torture” movies like Saw, I’ll try any horrror movie–it’s just that if I have a choice, I’ll often try another genre first.
Still, this is the month for horror and I do like to spend at least one night in October watching a scary movie, so I’ve lined up a few.
And to get us started, I have these two promos from WPIX-11 that aired throughout the early 1990s. During this month, channel 11 would spend its nights airing science fiction and horror movies that it had stashed in its vault, some of which weren’t exactly scary (not sure how Star Trek: The Motion Picture made its way into the rotation) while others were fairly recent classics (The Lost Boys, Phantasm) or insanely shlocky B-movie fare (Leprechaun). I rarely had the chance to sit through one of those movies, choosing to watch whatever sitcom I was addicted to at the time or maybe even the baseball playoffcs, but the promos ran endlessly throughout the afternoons when my sister and I would be watching our daily dose of Charles in Charge, Saved By the Bell, and Cheers.
So presented mostly without commentary are two Shocktober promos as a way to take us into a month of what will hopefully be some frightful film reviews.