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.

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.

Helloween Day Five: Ghostwatch

Bizarro author Jeff Burk mentioned Ghostwatch in a blog post he wrote about horror movies you probably haven’t seen. The post  has a bunch of interesting choices and is worth reading. I chose Ghostwatch, a 1992 British made-for-TV faux-documentary (PG or PG-13), and watched it for free on YouTube (update: it might not be available anymore).

The plot: the BBC investigates a claimed haunting. To heighten the atmosphere, they do the investigation on Halloween night, splitting time between their studios and a housing project. The show starts slowly. Host Michael Parkinson (played by himself) and parapsychologist Dr. Lin Pascoe (played by an actress) take phone calls from people who claim to see a shadowy figure in early footage of the girls’ bedroom. Craig Charles of Red Dwarf fame plays himself, interviewing people outside the house. Reporter Sarah Greene (playing herself) enters the house to talk to the mother and her daughters.

Pamela Early and her two daughters claim they’ve been tormented by poltergeist activity for months. The name of the ghost in question is Pipes, who got his name because that’s what the mother said when her daughters asked what was making the awful sounds. Starting with thumps and bumps, the ghostly activity quickly escalates to spooky voices and physical phenomena, with unexplained scratches appearing on the older daughter’s face.

More people call in, claiming the figure in the bedroom is an old man or woman wearing a black dress. The mother tells a spooky story about getting stuck in the glory hole, the little room beneath the staircase. I’m not sure if Ghostwatch’s writers knew what a glory hole is, but from what we learn about Pipes later on I’d say they did. The plot chugs along the way you’d expect, before veering off course.

Loosely based on the Enfield hauntings, Ghostwatch is utter fiction but apparently a number of viewers didn’t know that when it aired. The BBC reporters  play themselves, but everyone else is an actor. Despite being made-for-TV, Ghostwatch is a scary movie. We only catch glimpses of the really disturbing stuff– the half-seen pictures Pipes drew in the older daughter’s school notebooks, the ghost’s guttural voice and of course Pipes himself. We never see the elusive spirit clearly, but he’s around. You can do a Google search to find out where he appears.

Recommended!