For a change, today I'd like to discuss something that relates back to some of my own published writing. As readers of previous posts may know, one of my ebooks, "Dead Reckoning," concerns a team of low budget filmmakers shooting a zombie movie in an isolated wooded state park. Unbeknownst to them, a group of Luddite campers are also in the area. Due to some coincidences, misunderstandings, and bad decisions, mayhem and murder ensue.
The movies listed below have a similar type of thing happening. Some are pseudo-documentaries, or "found footage" movies, or they have movies shown within them as a significant part of the story. Some minor spoilers ahead.
1) "Cannibal Holocaust" (1980), Ruggero Deodato, director. This is the granddaddy of all "found footage" movies. A documentary team investigating possible cannibals has disappeared. The first half or so follows an anthropologist's search for them, and his finding of their film canisters. The second half is the footage itself. We learn along the way that the missing team (leader Alan, his script girl/lover Faye, and his cameramen Jack and Mark) is horribly unethical and immoral, and completely unsympathetic. The audience relates to the cannibals, as they suffer various abuses before they take their bloody revenge. I'm a huge horror movie fan, and this remains one of the most powerfully disturbing films I've seen. You don't "enjoy" it in the normal sense, you endure it. As a marketing ploy, Deodato had his principal actors agree to stay out of the public eye, to fool people into thinking that the movie was real. Eventually he had to produce them to avoid being arrested for filming actual murders! Alas, he went overboard in another way, too. Be forewarned, he stupidly and needlessly (since he did have special effects artists) killed real animals in the movie.
2) "Videodrome" (1983), David Cronenberg, director. An executive of a small television station looking to push the envelope on edgy programming gets embroiled in possible snuff films, a TV feed which may cause hallucinations and brain tumors, and general bizarreness. I can't go into much more detail about the plot, because I can't say I fully understand what goes on! It's one of those movies where you're not always sure what's really happening, and what's being imagined by the characters. Still worth watching, in my opinion. Star James Woods gives a great performance, as usual The found footage scenes are very disturbing, as are some of the weird, imagined? occurrences--a TV/VCR starts coming to life, men start growing vagina-like slits in their bellies, etc. Few filmmakers do "body horror" as well as Cronenberg.
3) "Demons" (1985), Lamberto Bava, director, Dario Argento producer/cowriter. Passersby are invited to a free screening of a mysterious movie shown in a Berlin theater. The movie shown is about a bunch of young people who disturb Nostradamus's grave, resulting in one becoming possessed by (of course) a demon. Meanwhile, in the theater, life imitates art, as a person is possessed in a similar way, from some objects evidently shown in the movie itself. Disaster strikes as the moviegoers learn that they're trapped inside, and that the demons infect everyone that they claw. This movie is gratuitously violent and gory, but energetic and a lot of fun to watch. The acting and plotting are typical low budget horror fare--mediocre at best, inept at worst, but it's still claustrophobic and frightening. One of the highlights is an infected woman giving birth to a vicious ugly monster out of her back.
4) "Demons 2" (1986), Bava and Argento again. Decent sequel. In this one, residents in a high-rise apartment building are watching a documentary concerning the demon outbreak in "Demons." As before, the situation is transported from the screen into real life, resulting in another outbreak. In this film, though, this happens in a more literal way--a demon somehow senses it's being watched, and it claws its way through a TV screen into our reality. Like the previous entry, the story is deliriously paced, wildly violent/gory, and compulsively entertaining.
5) "The Blair Witch Project" (1999), Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick, directors. I'm guessing most people have heard of this one--like in "Cannibal Holocaust," a group of documentary filmmakers have disappeared on their project, an investigation in a woods that supposedly has an evil witch haunting it. We the audience are purportedly seeing the lost and then found footage. This movie seems to be polarizing--people seem to either find it boring and the characters annoying, or they think it's incredibly scary. I myself enjoyed it. Clearly, I like over the top, grossly violent horror a lot, but I also can appreciate more subtle, psychological horror, too. I thought this movie worked effectively, and I admired the filmmakers' creative, ad-lib approach in filming it. And the marketing was near-genius, since many people actually believed that the story was true for a time.
6) "REC" (2007), Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, directors. Spanish movie that has seen several sequels and a Hollywood remake. A documentary crew following firefighters joins them as they're called to an apartment building. Once inside, they discover that the inhabitants have become rabid(?), and are attacking everyone in sight. Through various reasons the crew and some firefighters/police are trapped inside with them. Towards the end we discover a nasty surprise about why this is happening. This movie was a tad overrated, I thought, but still worth a look. The filmmakers made good use of the hand-held cameras, generally poor lighting, etc., to increase the tension. Haven't seen the remake or sequels as of yet.
7) "Cloverfield" (2008), Matt Reeves, director, J.J. Abrams producer. Like "Blair Witch" this movie seems to inspire either love or hate. A giant sea monster runs amok in Manhattan, and a group of 20-somethings are filming the entire thing live. I guess I'm in the minority, as I thought it was decent but not great. They wisely keep the monster mostly unseen until the end, which works well for the story. The confusion and feeling that you're in the action is compelling, too. I especially liked the smaller, parasites of the monster that disturbingly attack some of the characters, and the footage with the partially collapsed skyscrapers (I have some fear of heights). But, as with all pseudo-documentaries, there is the plot hole of, "Why do these people keep filming, instead of running away from the monster/demons/danger?"
8) "District 9" (2009), Neill Blomkamp, director, Peter Jackson producer. I thought this film was a bit overrated, too, but still okay. It's about aliens who have come to Earth, and are now forced to live in poverty-stricken internment camps. A government official is filmed partially documentary-style interacting with the weird, insectoid looking E.T.'s, and then gets involved in a weapons and gene splicing conspiracy. It doesn't take a film expert to recognize the obvious "aliens equal oppressed racial minority" subtext, especially since it takes place in South Africa. I did appreciate the grittiness of the whole affair, which made it seem more realistic.
9) "The Last Exorcism" (2010), Daniel Stamm, director, Eli Roth producer. A cynical minister agrees to be filmed by a documentary team as he performs his titular last exorcism, of a young woman who lives in backwoods Louisiana. Throughout most of the film we're not sure whether the girl (Nell), is actually possessed, or simply exhibiting mental problems, which seem to be made worse by the family's stifling religious atmosphere. The ending does offer a conclusive answer to this, and some viewers have criticized this. (Personally, I didn't mind the ending.) I thought the acting and writing were a cut above the normal low budget horror outing. Ashley Bell (Nell) and Patrick Fabian (Rev. Marcus) were especially good. And although most of the uneasy scenes are of the subtle variety, I still found the film to be quite disturbing and scary.
10) "Trollhunter" (2010), Andre Ovredal, director. Norwegian found-footager about a documentary crew who come to investigate, obviously, a troll hunter. I really loved this movie. In particular, I liked the way they presented trolls as a real animal, with scientifically-plausible explanations for some of their attributes--multiple heads, aversion to sunlight, etc. Given the sometimes gargantuan sizes of the trolls, much of the effects are necessarily CGI (which I sometimes am not a fan of). However, these are well done, and with rare exceptions were very convincing.
Finally, for any new readers of this blog, if you're interested, you can find short descriptions and excerpts of both my ebooks--"Dead Reckoning" and "Kaishaku," either in this blog (August 2012 posts) or at the Musa Publishing website (www.musapublishing.com)