Horrorfest 2021 Presents: WNUF Halloween Special (2013, Chris LaMartina, James Branscome, Shawn Jones, Scott Maccubbin, Lonnie Martin, Matthew Menter,Andy Schoeb)

Despite being low budget and taking its sweet time for anything to really happen, WNUF Halloween Special is a solid found footage movie that captures the spirit of the 1980s really well. The funny fake commercials spiced into a supposedly live broadcast on Halloween night make this a fun movie to watch. Plus it’s nice to see a horror movie that’s set on Halloween, as not too many of those seem to exist.

Frank (Paul Fahrenkopf) and his camera crew have set up shop in a supposedly haunted house. For ratings, of course. Oh the ratings! However they get more than they bargained for in the process. The footage by the way is very authentic looking since the film’s creators shot this movie in that fuzzy, old school VHS format that everyone loves to wax nostalgia about.

My favorite bit is the carpet commercials, especially since those don’t seem to have changed very much since the 1980s. Check this movie out on Shudder for its goofy charm, nicely creepy final act and to witness a decent homage to a decade long gone. I wouldn’t mind a sequel to this, either.

Horrorfest 2019 Presents: One Cut of the Dead (2017, Shinichirou Ueda)

Every once in a while there comes along a movie that is equal parts clever and unique. Sometimes that is rarer in the horror genre, but when you encounter that type of movie you feel the need to celebrate it, particularly when the movie is both fun and delightful as well. The current gem I discovered while going through Shudder recommendations was the 2017 cult film One Cut of the Dead, a marvelous zombie movie that everyone should watch and enjoy. I thought it was funny, at times rather creepy, and a tribute to the efforts of low budget cinema.

Without giving away too much I will say that I also liked the entire cast, particularly Takayuki Hamatsu as the way over energetic director and Harumi Shuhama as the film’s main actress, who takes things a bit too far. The special effects reflect such B-movie classics as George A. Romero’s Dead films and the work of Lucio Fulci as well, and I was left pleasantly surprised by what happens later on in the movie. One Cut of the Dead is an example of a great foreign horror movie, and also reminds me that every time I think I have seen it all with horror films, something new comes along and inspires me to continue with the genre.

Horrorfest 2018 Presents: Ghostwatch (1992, Lesley Manning)

Imagine a movie like Ghostwatch in today’s world of social media. Not only would the secret be ruined, even more people would argue that it was real. After watching the BBC’s mock style documentary horror film, I don’t blame them: Ghostwatch looks and feels quite real. What helps is that it was shown on Halloween night, and features actual famous UK personalities such as Craig Charles, Michael Parkinson, and Sarah Greene. Oh and it is framed in a startingly realistic manner, as found footage movies that are well made are good at doing.

Also Pipes, the ghost, is pure nightmare fuel. Basing him off of the infamous Enfield Poltergeist was an excellent choice, and adds to the movie’s creepy factor. While the finale goes a bit off the rails, the majority of Ghostwatch is fantastic, and is one of the best haunted house movies I have seen in a while. I liked the back and forth arguments about the existence of ghosts, and what I discovered is that being in a studio does not prevent one from showing up. They also have a bad habit of arriving uninvited, as the BBC crew find out all too well.

Horrorfest 2018 Presents: Willow Creek (2013, Bobcat Goldthwait)

After seeing Willow Creek, I wasn’t completely sure what to think of Bobcat Goldthwait’s largely comedic horror found footage movie. I did like the two characters the film is centered around, and after I saw The Legend of Boggy Creek a year later I understood more what he was really going for, even if it is a tad underdeveloped at times. Jim and Kelly are both really likable and this is the main thing that Willow Creek has going for it the entire time. I do wish the movie had done a bit more to further explore the side effects of the Bigfoot legend on the local town, although there are scenes that sort of do that. I was amused by the one local who made a song about Bigfoot. Of course the locals also warn the couple to turn back, and it would not be a horror movie if the male lead did not dismiss those concerns.

When the couple gets on site to look for Bigfoot the movie cribs a bit too heavily from The Blair Witch Project, yet I found several moments to be really intense and creepy. I did like that this movie wisely stays within its limits, yet Willow Creek should have been more scary and memorable. Poor Jim and Kelly learned the hard way that searching for a legend can turn ugly, and that warnings exist for a reason. You couldn’t pay me to look for a giant potentially angry fur man wandering around in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, even if it could be friendly.  Most likely, it’s not friendly in the least.

Horrorfest 2018 Presents: Cannibal Holocaust (1980, Ruggero Deodato)

Do not, I repeat, do not watch this movie while eating if you cannot handle disturbing gore and really messed up images. Even though Cannibal Holocaust is slow at times those casual moments help build up tension, leading up to sickening moments. Also the group that a small team consisting of a select few goes looking for do everything possible to bring about their fate. The two groups stand in vivid contrast to one another. Its almost as if ignoring the rules of the jungle and behaving in an imperialistic, savage manner can result in horrible things happening to you. That seems obvious to everyone but the film makers who decided to make a documentary and in the process inserted themselves into their own film.

Ruggero Deodato’s film may be sketchy on character development, and the fact that the movie features actual animals being killed is rather unnecessary and brutal. At the same time, the film is so incredibly real looking that even by today’s standards it remains horrifying and shocking. It is not surprising that the film was banned, not to mention the director himself was accused of showing actual death scenes. The part where the professor and his two guides encounter and deal with the natives are both suspenseful and later very dramatic.

Oh and Riz Ortolani’s score is exceptional, adding more to the film and giving it an added boost. Cannibal Holocaust proved to be controversial, gory, and inspired multiple later horror films. If one is able to hande Deodato’s classic tale of savagery and man’s indifference to their fellow man, then this is right up your alley. Whenever upon hearing that a film was banned in countries and is controversial, I for one desire to seek it out. For better, or for worse.

Horrorfest 2016 Presents: They’re Watching (2016, Jay Lender, Micah Wright)

This movie sucked and it was made by two directors. It’s not funny save for a few parts, not scary at all and it’s populated by annoying characters. I don’t mind unlikable people as long as they are interesting. The saving grace is Vladimir, who is a thinly sketched Eastern European stereotype and is still funny anyways. He has the few quality lines in the film. This is that rare found footage movie that I don’t like, and I was disappointed because it seemed decent. The last couple of witch movies I watched I also did not care for, so maybe this particular sub genre is not my thing. Imagine Hostel without the extreme moments or the quality social and political commentary. That is They’re Watching. Don’t bother to tune in.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Almost Human (2013, Joe Begos)

These days low budget is no excuse for weak or bad horror films. Why George A. Romero made a career out of low budget horror films. So Almost Human is disappointing, a film that could have been good or at least passable and yet falls short. I’m not sure if they were going for found footage or realistic style filmmaking, either. It doesn’t really matter. Every year I watch at least one or two horror films that I don’t care for and they trick me with promising storylines.

Seth is this douche bag who loses his friend Mark to a big flash of blue light. Years later Mark-wait no, a being inhabiting Mark-returns to slaughter people because why not, I guess? Things spiral from there. The gore at least makes events less boring, and the film rips off fascinating and better horror films in the process. Also I hated the ending. Stupid movie is stupid.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Creep (2014, Patrick Kack-Brice)

This is one horror film where jump scares are used to hide the real freaky parts. Creep hides it’s terrors, luring the viewer into a sense of calm and then unleashing moments that are quite scary. There is one scene that I cannot reveal more about that made the film live up to its title in a big way. This is a film that despite the usual limitations of found footage style filmmaking is still a really good, maybe even near great, horror film. I like ones that dig under your skin and linger on after the end credits. Those types are usually more scary than ones that are either too obvious or are trying too hard.

Patrick Kack-Brice also benefits from his main star, Mark Duplass, who is great in other material and shines here. Without Duplass continuing to lead on the audience and make you wonder the level of crazy hidden beneath those warm grins of his, the film would never have worked. He gives a performance that is chilling, effective and unnerving. I was surprised by how good Creep was, and I recommend this film as an example of how to create something that makes a normal walk in the woods so damn nervous and unsettling.


Horrorfest 2015 Presents: What We Do In The Shadows (2015, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement)

Just when you think the found footage/fake documentary style horror film has run its course there comes along another film that proves the doubters wrong. What We Do In The Shadows is one such film, and it is a hilarious entry in the sub genre that has recently been overwhelmed by Parnamormal Activity and it’s endless sequels. Lately Twilight has caused a good response in terms of some great vampire moves, so that’s good, I guess.

Living in an old house, hidden from society are a bunch of old vampires. What I love about this movie is that the jokes are well executed and range from slapstick to witty, often all in the same moment. The cast is top notch and each member adds to the funny proceedings. One of my favorite jokes is the bat fight scene, which is as amusing as it sounds. Although the last act wears a bit thin you have to laugh at Vlad going on and on about “The Beast.” Not to mention smile at the idea of werewolves and vampires talking smack to one another. Based on this and Housebound New Zealand horror has a very bright future indeed.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986, John McNaughton)

Made before found footage movies became standard, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is almost a found footage film. It has some of the characteristics: a first person look at the characters, acting rather biographical and up front and personal. Henry is a mass murdering psychopath who happens to hook up with Otis and his sister, two people who really have no idea who he is or what he is doing. Slowly though Otis uncovers the truth, and instead of running away chooses to become Henry’s disciple and engage in killing and mayhem.

Few horror films have ever been, to quote the great horror critic Bleeding Critic, “Damaging,” not to mention absolutely brutal and unrelenting. In fact my one criticism of this film is that by the end you so numb to what happened that the damage has already been done, that the film is spinning its wheels by the final shot. That’s rather disturbing, although that criticism was my same issue with another cult horror film/drama classic, Man Bites Dog, which came along later and was probably in many ways influenced by Henry. In the case of Henry the film is helped greatly by Michael Rooker’s disturbing and stark, brilliant and unflinching performance which is the dark heart of this film.

Still there are plenty of nasty and brutal scenes to be found, chief among them the murder of a family that Otis chooses to document, a moment that is defiantly found footage style material. The worst part about that entire scene though is that Otis not only captured every horrible detail, but that he chooses to rewind and watch all of what him and Henry did all over again. That is beyond the pale-two men who have no conscience, no remorse for what they have done. Since both Henry and Otis were real people its quite chilling to think about if your next door neighbor is really a homicidal manic who will kill you and those you love without even thinking twice.

Could elements of this movie have been pure fiction? Sure, as Hollywood has a legacy of bending facts for dramatic impact. What cannot be denied though is that Henry did murder endless numbers of people, and that Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a window into his black soul. Henry can be seen as a shark, a creature of habit that killed for no reason, moving from place to place, staying ahead of the authorities hunting him. Films like this one cover real life monsters that get the viewer too close, like being able to wander into the lion cage at the zoo or being in a shark cage in the shark tank as a great white circles past.

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