WNUF Halloween Special

I grew up during the 1980’s, a very special decade. We had Ronald Reagan, big hair, Satanic Panic, video arcades, Bruce Springsteen, heavy metal, Freddy Krueger, petting zoos, VHS tapes, monster truck tournaments, Beautiful Mount Airy Lodge, help-a-child foundations (all that’s needed is a desire to help and a clean criminal record!) and cheesy commercials for hot dog joints, to name just a few.

The WNUF Halloween Special starts with a news broadcast, where we hear all the local news – dirty attack ads in governor races, a local dentist giving money for Halloween candy, a Christian group claiming that Halloween is evil. The Halloween Special itself, which takes place in a supposedly haunted house where a young man killed his family and claimed the Devil made him do it, doesn’t start until about twenty minutes into the movie.

As is fitting, the WNUF Halloween Special comes complete with commercials for carpet joints, local dentists, bad TV shows and petting zoos. I watched a lot of TV in the 80’s, and can tell you the commercials are spot-on. As the night progresses and the kiddies go to bed, the commercials get weirder and more risqué. The special has been recorded on VCR, and the watcher fast-forwards through the duplicates.

The actors and actresses of this movie look like real people, not airbrushed gods and goddesses. Frank Stewart, the narrator of the Halloween Special, has messy hair and the sleazy appeal of a used car salesman. His guests include a pair of fake psychics and their pet cat, along with a priest who becomes increasingly terrified as the night goes on. They have a call-in séance where a caller tells us that Iron Maiden rules and White Lion sucks. It’s amateur hour, but Frank soldiers on, even though it becomes obvious that something’s in the house.

I wouldn’t call the WNUF Halloween Special found-footage because technically the footage isn’t found. But it has links to that genre; other influences include The Amityville Horror and the BBC mockumentary Ghostwatch, which I reviewed last year. The commercials get a bit annoying, but this is a movie worth seeing, if only because it takes us back to the 80’s, that magical decade!

Bad Ben

Bad Ben

Why are there so many found footage movies out there, and why are most of them so awful? The answer to the first question is money; they’re cheap to make. Of course, the plot usually consists of four or five bad actors walking around the abandoned hospital/lunatic asylum/haunted house in Technicolor GoatGreen light, waiting for the evil spirits/demons/ghosts to kill them all. I’ve reviewed a number of movies like this in the past year, and most of them are bad. Grave Encounters is the exception to the rule, but much to my surprise Bad Ben – contradicting its own title – is pretty good also.

Made with security cameras and an iPhone, Bad Ben cost $300 to make (according to IMDB). Compared to most low budget found-footage, this is a masterpiece. The main character has agency and does more than wander around the abandoned house/hospital/mental institution for an hour and twenty minutes. There is actual suspense, thanks to a few jump scares.

Tom Riley buys a house cheap at a sheriff’s auction. His plan to resell it and make tons of money hits a speedbump when it turns out the house is haunted. Doors open and close, furniture moves around and a shadowy figure stalks the grounds. Using the security cameras installed in every room of the house, Tom tries and fails to catch the culprits in the act. Undeterred by the locked room in the basement, the satanic altar in the attic and the creepy kid’s drawings in the living room Tom soldiers on, deadpan, a middle-aged guy with a habit of filming himself in his boxer shorts.

Tom has a dilemma. As he tells us, he can’t leave because he’s sunk every penny into buying the house. So he tries to deal with the escalating craziness, with mixed results. Nothing works but luckily not much seems to phase Tom, who apparently has aspirations to be a vlogger. Why else record yourself? Tom – the only person to appear in Bad Ben – talks to the camera as if it’s another person (‘why are the lights off? I left them on.’) and generally underreacts when most people would run screaming for the door.

If you like found-footage movies, give Bad Ben a try. It’s better than 90% of the found footage movies out there, a number I just made up. Bad Ben’s success (???) spawned a prequel and a sequel, neither of which I’ve seen. Warning: if you want to see Bad Ben, don’t watch the trailer.

Archivo 253

Archivo 253 is a movie that slavishly follows the found-footage formula. Group of paranormal hunters? Check. Group makeup: two or three guys and one woman? Check. Abandoned hospital/mental institute/house? Check. Demonic presence haunting the premises that we hardly see because no budget? Check. Lots of night-vision footage in that puke green light we’ve all come to know and love? Check!

Archivo 253 takes place in an abandoned lunatic asylum, just like Grave Encounters. Like most found-footage movies, the best part is the beginning as we watch interviews with people who bullshit about the legends behind the place that will soon kill our hapless heroes. An ex-patient mentions they used to hold exorcisms in the mental hospital, one of several interesting elements never followed up on.

Our amateur ghost hunters – three guys and a girl – break in. I think they are supposed to be students, but one of them is going bald. The place is falling apart, as usual. Our heroes wander around the premises in the dark (night vision footage, yay!) while we wait for something to happen, and that sums up the plot.

Archivo 253 looks like it was filmed on a micro-budget, so one expects the effects to be cruddy to nonexistent. Unfortunately, the writing is bad also. Nobody has a personality. I forgot everyone’s name but Diego, and the only reason I remembered his name is because the other characters spend the last twenty minutes of the movie screaming it.

On the plus side, Archivo 253 has a few good jump scares and one eye-opener when everyone’s sleeping. This movie also has the single greatest gadget in the history of found-footage films, beating out the lost map in The Blair Witch Project.

The Ghost Detector is a handheld device that looks like something you can buy at Radio Shack, which is probably where the filmmakers bought it. When ghosts are nearby, the Ghost Detector’s buttons flash. So our heroes get to say things like – ‘if you can see us flash two buttons.’ When you don’t have any money, creative touches like that go a long ways.

Unfortunately, even the Ghost Detector isn’t enough to save Archivo 253. This movie is for lovers of found-footage films only. Since I watch one of these movies every month, I guess I qualify…


V/H/S is a horror anthology that consists of a framing story and five different segments, each directed by a different person. V/H/S is long for a horror film, two hours. The format is found-footage, which means the movie looks grainy and amateurish. This feels like the type of cheap horror flick you’d pick up at your local video store back when video stores still existed.

The framing story is about a bunch of fuck-ups stealing a VHS tape from an old man’s house. When they break in they find the old man sitting in his armchair before a bunch of VHS tapes and TV sets. The old man’s dead, except sometimes he gets up and walks around. The F-Us need to find the correct tape, so they start watching them all, and that’s when the fun starts.

The first segment, Amateur Night, involves a bunch of drunk dudes on the prowl who end up bringing home more woman than they can handle. I’m not sure if the director realized that the dude-bros are about a thousand times scarier than the monster, but since the dude-bros in question seem to be V/H/S’ target audience, I’m guessing not.

Second Honeymoon, about a vacationing couple, is directed by Ti West (House of the Devil fame), which means the story meanders along until something totally fucked up happens. The foreshadowing in this segment is so well-hidden it kills any suspense. You could watch it again to catch everything you missed, but is that a fair trade-off for the twenty minutes of life you’d lose?

Tuesday the 17th is about a killer in the woods who can only be seen through a video camera. It’s pretty typical hack/slash stuff. The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger is the best of the bunch. It’s about a guy’s long distance relationship via webcam with his girlfriend, who’s having unwanted night visitors. 10/31/98 features a bunch of stupid drunk guys who go to a Halloween party at the wrong house that seems to be empty but isn’t.

I’d heard mixed reviews about V/H/S before I watched it. Some people thought this movie was too long and dragged, but I’m not one of them. V/H/S held my interest. I thought the look and feel of all the segments was pretty consistent, and the use of found-footage was creative and interesting. That’s the good.

The bad: the lack of respect for women in this movie borders on misogyny. V/H/S has a sleazy vibe that is really off-putting (to me, anyway). I’m not sure if they were going for a grindhouse vibe, but it really backfired. The movie feels like it was made by a bunch of frat boys. There are way too many shots of leering guys and bare breasts. The directors are all men. There are good female directors in the horror community. Why not invite a few of them to the party?

Pyega, aka The Haunted House Project

Question: what kind of horror movie do you make if you have no money? Answer: found-footage! Filmed on a budget of $300,00 (according to IMDB), the South Korean horror movie Pyega (aka The Haunted House Project) is yet another entry in the found-footage file bin. This is a case where I’d suggest viewing the trailer; if you do, there’s no reason to watch this movie.

Pyega does get a few things right. The haunted house/factory is falling apart and looks like a genuine health hazard. I like grit in my movies, so that’s good. The ghost story isn’t bad, either: a man opens a cookie factory, has an affair with his secretary, kills his secretary and dumps her body in a big puddle. Soon afterwards, her vengeful spirit slaughters him and his family.

With the help of a film crew, a paranormal club investigates! Let me say that I love the idea of a paranormal club; if my high school had a paranormal club back in the day I would have joined in a minute. The cast is your usual mix of nobodies, which befits cannon fodder. One of the female cast members falls or is pushed into the big puddle, which must have been fun for her.

Unfortunately, since the filmmakers don’t have any money for special effects nothing happens, and we’re reduced to sitting around waiting for the ghost to kill them. The makers of The Blair Witch Project solved that problem by arguing over the map, but Pyega drags. If you want to see all the jump-scares watch the trailer. We do catch a glimpse of the ghost contorting her body into impossible angles, so apparently this evil spirit does yoga!

I am not sure why I watched Pyega. Sometimes I’m just in the mood for a bad movie, and Pyega scratched that itch. And how.

General Cemetery

General Cemetery is the second Peruvian horror movie I’ve seen in the past week; the first was Secret of Evil. I watched both flicks courtesy of Netflix Streaming and will say that General Cemetery is a better movie than Secret of Evil, which is not the same thing as saying it’s a good movie. General Cemetery is a hard movie to classify, part found-footage, part young-girl-possessed-by-Satan and part evil-demon-wreaks-bloody-vengeance-on-a-gang-of-dumb-teenagers.

The plot: Andrea is a fifteen-year old girl whose father dies. Luckily, she has her friends and schoolmates to support her: Gabriel, who we know is a jock because his hat’s turned backwards; Julito, who everyone calls ‘Fatso’ and whose only personality trait is that he’s heavy; and Pablo, who films everything. Finally there’s Andrea’s best friend Mayra, whose aunt has given her a Very Special Ouija Board. Pablo is our main character. I’m not sure if he’s supposed to come across as sympathetic. At the movie’s start he tries to film up a girl’s skirt, so to me he seemed creepy rather than likable.

Andrea and her friends attempt to contact her father with a homemade Ouija board. It doesn’t work. They then decide to take a road trip to the cemetery where he’s buried and try again, this time with the Very Special Ouija Board. For some reason Andrea brings her little sister Evita along. Unless Andrea read the script, there’s no sane reason for her to do this. The ritual at the cemetery produces results, if you call Evita becoming possessed by Satan results.

The possession scenes are hilarious. The Scooby Crew chases after the possessed Evita. When they catch her she hisses and they turn tail and run away. This chase sequence is repeated three or four times and you can clearly see a few of the characters laughing. We soon learn that everything that’s happened is the result of a revenge plot, which I will not reveal because spoilers.

Besides a few jump scares, General Cemetery isn’t scary. The cemetery itself is certainly large and impressive, but I didn’t think it was scary. That might be because I don’t believe in ghosts. The plot is fairly complex but falls apart at the end. As one of the characters says – ‘but I didn’t do anything!’

Too bad life’s not fair.

Grave Encounters

You know you’ve watched a special movie when there’s a disclaimer at the end saying: no rats were eaten during the course of this film. Grave Encounters isn’t the best haunted insane asylum movie I’ve seen – that would be Session 9 – but it is fun, especially if you like found-footage.

Grave Encounters does not break any new ground. The cast and crew of paranormal reality show Grave Encounters spend the night in the Collingswood Psychiatric Hospital. They set up cameras to record spooky footage and talk to people about how the abandoned hospital is haunted. When the groundskeeper locks them in for the evening they are never seen again…until the footage of their Night From Hell ™ is found by the authorities.

One of the best things about Grave Encounters is how the characters are in on the joke. The Fourth Wall stays intact, but the cast and crew are engaged in the act of creating fiction. Lance and co-host Sasha don’t believe in the supernatural, so they’re just making shit up as they go. Lance slips the landscaper a twenty to say he’s seen a ghost. His actor friend Houston Gray does a schmaltzy psychic act. T.C. and Matt are the crew.

The problem is that Collingswood really is haunted. Wheelchairs move. An invisible entity pushes T.C. down the stairs. Invisible fingers play with Sasha’s hair. Matt the camera guy vanishes. When the groundskeeper doesn’t let our heroes out in the morning they break open the door and find endless miles of corridors. Soon afterwards, the ghosts start to manifest physically, and that’s when the real jump scares start.

Grave Encounters does a fine job of poking fun at found-footage tropes. None of the characters believe in the supernatural. The interviewees are awkward, with one guy asking where he should look while another curses on-camera. A bored Matt and T.C. toss a football back and forth. The words Death Awaits are spray-painted on the entranceway and instead of being scared, everyone laughs and thinks it’s hokey.

Recommended for found-footage fans.

Secret of Evil

Set in Lima, Peru, Secret of Evil is found footage. The plot: four idiots vanish after spending the evening in a haunted house; afterwards, the authorities find the footage of their night from Hell. There are about a million of these types of movies out there. Sometimes it’s an insane asylum, sometimes it’s an abandoned prison, in this case it’s a haunted house. The IMDB entry for Secret of Evil says that the movie cost $300,000 (est.) to make, which might explain the popularity of this subgenre.

The story begins with a dude in a lunatic asylum. Lunatic asylum dude stares at the camera, babbles nonsense and then starts throwing stuff around. We then cut to our youthful (college age?) heroes, who interview a bunch of actors playing historians and folklorists. They learn three stories about the evil infecting the house. The stories are garbled and I had trouble telling them apart, but that might have been the subtitles. Or maybe I was tired. Or I might have been playing Chess on my phone because parts of this movie are really dull. Anyhow, we learn the house is a Bad Place.

To be honest, I’m not even sure why our youthful heroes want to go into the house. One of them mentions a school project, while the other makes it seem like they are budding reality stars. They  bribe the guard to get in. That didn’t make much sense until we learn that the house is across the street from the American Embassy, so I’m guessing the Americans pay the guard to ensure nobody sneaks into the house (like they’re doing) to spy on them? The house is a piece of crap in the middle of a modern city, so I don’t even know why it’s still standing. One of Secret of Evil’s many unanswered questions.

The usual hijinks ensue. If you watch found footage movies, you know the routine.  They set up the cameras, which shows us things the kids don’t see. Check. The characters have very basic personalities; they’re mostly annoying, so that we’ll root for them to die. Check. There’s the woman who yells at everybody, the surly camera guy, the quack psychic. I kept expecting the psychic – who is twice the age of our youthful heroes – to say ‘Come into the light, Carol Anne.’

Our heroes wander aimlessly around the house. The quack psychic opines. There are some good jump scares, but a few of the effects made me laugh rather than shriek – not a good sign. The scariest part of Secret of Evil is the creepy nursery, because ghost kids. The last ten minutes dragged, because who cares? The Boss Ghost looks like the malevolent spirit from The Woman in Black.

Secret of Evil is available on Netflix Streaming. If you enjoy found footage movies, there are worst ways to spend an hour and twenty minutes of your life. Otherwise, don’t bother.

The Blair Witch


The original Blair Witch Project is the most famous movie ever made about three people arguing over a map. I rewatched it a few months ago and had trouble staying awake, but the first time I saw the movie it was scary as hell. The footage was so amateurish it looked real. The camera shook. I couldn’t hear a damn thing. I didn’t know what was going on, just like the actors.

There is no element of the supernatural in the original Blair Witch Project. Everything that happens has an explanation. People who get lost in the woods become disoriented, losing track of time and traveling in circles. Yes, someone was messing with them, but that could have been anyone. Ghosts don’t pull out people’s teeth or hang stick figures on trees, but lunatics sure do.

Love it or hate it, The Blair Witch Project was a game-changer in the horror industry, triggering a flood of found-footage movies. It was only a matter of time before someone made a direct sequel. Unfortunately, the new Blair Witch is found-footage in name only. It looks professional. Sometimes the camera gets fuzzy and that’s it.

The plot: six attractive young people go into the woods. By doing so they are reenacting an ancient ritual, the stupid young sacrifices venturing into the unknown and dying horrible deaths, a la Cabin in the Woods. Our hero James sees a video of a frantic young woman racing through a deserted house on YouTube and thinks he recognizes his long lost sister Heather. Reasoning that maybe she’s been wandering around the woods for sixteen years, James decides to lead a rescue party consisting of his friends to find her.

Jim’s joined by best buds Peter and Ashley, along with a woman named Lisa who’s doing a documentary (déjà vu!). They equip themselves with GPS trackers and a drone. To me, the drone is the best thing in The Blair Witch; it’s an original touch, and when I saw it I held out hope for the movie.

Hope dwindled as our heroes visit the folks who put up the YouTube video. I’m not sure if Lane and Talia are brother and sister, boyfriend and girlfriend, or whatever. It doesn’t really matter. They display a huge Confederate flag in their living room, which creates some tension as Peter and Ashley are African American. Still, when Lane and Talia insist on joining the rescue party James agrees, another in a series of increasingly stupid decisions.

When our youthful heroes enter the woods the filmmakers break all the rules that made the first Blair Witch successful. There is a force and it is supernatural. James and his compadres grow much, much dumber. It would be interesting if this were another effect of the Blair Witch’s godlike powers, such as her ability to disable GPS trackers and control time. But I don’t think so.

A bug bites Ashley. Maybe it escaped from a Dave Cronenberg movie, because it sure doesn’t belong in this movie. Lane and Talia turn out to be frauds, hanging fake stick people from trees. They’re doing this because – I don’t know why. Does it really matter? In this movie plot points don’t pay off, scenes are cut and people’s actions are never explained. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the trees. Trees are deadly in The Blair Witch. A tree falls on one of our heroes and another decides to climb a tree – in the middle of the night, with an injured foot – which goes about as well as you’d expect.

The plot lurches onwards. We catch a few glimpses of the Blair Witch, and she looks like just another CGI movie monster. The Final Girl enters the Blair Witch Bed & Breakfast and ends up crawling through a mud pit, which is as close to a sex scene as we get in this movie. And then it’s all over.

I am not going to claim to be a fan of the original Blair Witch Project, which I saw in the theater, but there’s no denying it broke new ground. The Blair Witch is just another in a long line of horror movies about dumb kids getting themselves killed.

Not recommended.

Helloween Day Twenty-Four: REC

I heard about REC, a Spanish-language movie, when it first came out in 2007. There are zombie movies, and there are found-footage movies, but as far as I know REC is the first found-footage zombie movie (it’s that or Diary of the Dead, also released in 2007). Or are they zombies? Hmmm…Anyway, I borrowed REC through my local library.

The plot: Angela and Pablo are doing a feature on firemen for a show called While You’re Asleep. As one of the firemen says (paraphrasing), ‘if everyone’s sleeping who’s watching your show?’ They settle in for a long, dull night, and then the alarm goes off, and they’re racing to an apartment complex where an old lady is supposedly trapped in her apartment. The old lady is there, all right, screaming and covered in blood. She shows her gratitude at being rescued by biting one of the firemen.

Pretty soon the Barcelona authorities quarantine the building and nobody can leave. Not realizing they’re in a horror movie, the residents naturally want to know what’s going on. Besides Angela and Pablo, we have a fireman, a cop, a family of four, a bachelor, the super (they call him the intern) and a mom and little girl with tonsillitis. Or is it tonsillitis? The fact that she tries to bite her mother’s face off clues us in that maybe it’s not. Hmmm…

REC came out in 2007 when the zombie movie wave was starting to crest. Nothing much happens in the first forty-five minutes, and then things happen very quickly indeed. The virus – the movie calls it an enzyme, but that just might be the translation – messes up your eyes and makes you act like you have rabies. The disease seems to have started with a sick dog, so that makes sense.

As you don’t know (because I didn’t tell you), I waited until the final week of Helloween to watch the movies I thought would really scare me. REC didn’t. Maybe it’s because of the lack of scary music cues? This movie has a ton of jump scares, and some of the violence is really disturbing, but it’s not much more than your run-of-the-mill zombie movie. At this point the market’s oversaturated. The source of the ‘plague’ is original, but the movie never fully explores the idea it raises. Still: the ending is scary as hell, and I was entertained. I even shrieked!

Recommended, especially for found-footage fans and zombie lovers.