Castlevania (2017) Review


If you review media long enough there will inevitably come a point where your opinion will drastically differ from the general critical consensus. Well, after watching Castlevania I found myself in this exact predicament. Upon finishing Castlevania’s measly four episodes I was livid at how poorly made it was, at how stunningly mediocre the whole “season” ended up being. To my surprise, or maybe dismay, a cursory look on the internet revealed I was in the minority. It wasn’t hailed as a masterpiece, but it was generally received with positivity.

For background, Castlevania is based off a video game series of the same name (many entries of which I’ve played) and more specifically Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. The show, like the game, follows Trevor Belmont, a descendent of the heroic monster-hunting Belmont family who in recent years have been exiled from the church and society. He teams up with a mystic named Sypha and Dracula’s rogue vampire son Alucard to defeat Dracula and his demon hordes. Where the show deviates is in its explanation why: that the Christian Church burned Dracula’s doctor (and human) wife Lisa for “witchcraft.” With nothing left to make him happy, Dracula decides to burn it all to the ground, giving the people of Wallachia one year before he summons his armies from Hell and kills every last one of them. Not surprisingly, they waste their year and the country is slowly overrun by horrifying demons.

Now there are many ways to read this series: as an anime-influenced Western cartoon, as a gory horror fantasy show, as the latest Netflix original series, or (perhaps least interestingly, but most importantly) as a video game adaptation. In its favor as a horror fantasy show, it does have a somewhat interesting premise even if the story that follows is riddled with cliches. As a Netflix original series, it had really strong subdued performances by actors who do a good job with material that is only occasionally witty or engaging. As an anime-influenced Western cartoon, its character designs and background art are adequate and its fight scenes have really interesting stunts (mostly thanks to the whip combat, an underused weapon in media), but its animation is severely lacking. As a video game adaptation, it’s not a complete dumpster fire which immediately makes it one of the best adaptations of all time.

It’s easy to see why people enjoy Castlevania. Expectations were low going in, it does just enough things well that it’s not obviously bad, and it utilizes a few easy hooks, like gore and fight scenes, for people to latch on to. As a Castlevania fan, I’m well aware that it could have been way worse. As a film junkie and animation nerd, I can’t ignore that this does not mean that it’s very good. Looking back on my experience though, I can soundly point to one factor that absolutely ruined it for me and, if you read the rest of this review, may ruin it for you as well.

So let’s get this out of the way: don’t watch Castlevania… yet. It’s a very mediocre show all around, but it has a lot of promise. Unfortunately, at only four episodes it’s barely the first act in a larger story and doesn’t end in a remotely satisfying way. Once season two comes out in an ungodly amount of time, give the whole thing a watch. Until then? Don’t bother teasing yourself.

Alright now on to the no-fun part. So in the second episode of Castlevania, there’s a bar fight and it was during this scene that I noticed something. The rhythm of the fight was… off. The action would pause and then rush through a flurry of movement, an exchange of punches would be a tad too slow, the characters would react with just a half second more time than what felt natural. I tried to ignore it, assuming that this was because the characters were drunk, but even after that fight, this poor rhythm continued. It was noticeable in every sequence, be it the establishing shots, demons terrorizing the town, what should be standard dialogue, and, worst of all, every single fight scene. There would be a handful of times where I could ignore it, where I could buy back into the verisimilitude, but for the most part, this nagging thought consumed me: Castlevania is slowwwwww.

I mean “slow” in every single cinematic sense of the word. It’s infuriating. Every establishing or non-character centric shot is held a second too long, making it abundantly clear when those spaces are empty. The demons feel more like a few stragglers than an army, the citizens feel like a smattering of extras rather than a city, the scenery feels less like a world and more like a backdrop. These are all understandable limitations of the budget, but you’re supposed to cut fast enough that people don’t notice the details and Castlevania‘s uncomfortably long shots only highlighted them.

In dialogue scenes there’s an extra beat before characters react or in between lines, making those aforementioned subdued performances just boring to listen to. Which alone is a shame, but it also reveals how cyclical the dialogue can be, with the characters discussing the same things over and over again.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a big kung fu fan, but this pacing issue is the worst during fight scenes. The fights generally play out as clumsy exchanges of blows, with pauses for characters to react or retaliate that last for a beat or two longer than they should and even a few instances of the attacks themselves being slow. Now, I should emphasize that the whip combat is genuinely really cool, and the stunts that Belmont pulls are clever. Unfortunately, they often pass by so fast that you can barely enjoy them. It’s hard to tell if it actually is edited too quickly or if it’s edited at a normal pace and the rest is so slow that it causes a kind of whiplash (no pun intended).

Now as a disclaimer, this could all be on me. I could have a particular mindset or have watched some media recently that clashes in timing with how Castlevania was made. If I were to speculate though, I would say there are two possibilities as to how Castlevania ended up this way, the most probable being inexperience. It’s hard, especially in animation, to get a sense of how individual shots will tie together until you’re editing a near complete cut and by then it might be too late. The main animation studios responsible for Castlevania have been around since the early 2000s, so this doesn’t seem likely. I can’t really judge the crew individually because a lot of smaller indy projects don’t end up on imdb, so who knows how experienced most of them are.

The other time I’ve seen this is in really cheap older anime that are trying to make the most out of their limited budget and pad out their run time. I’d prefer to think that is not what is happening here. I’d really like to think that Netflix was fine with the run time being whatever it needed to be, as they are with most of their shows, but it’s possible they weren’t. It’s possible they whoever had the money in this instance wanted a standard 20-minute show and wanted at least four episodes. Who knows?

Regardless of why, this is an enjoyment-breaking factor for me. It distracts from the writing and the acting, plus it ruins the action and general pacing. It makes a mediocre show insufferable. Hopefully, season two improves. In fact, I’d be surprised if it didn’t. As I said before, once more episodes come out then give it a chance, but skip Castlevania for now. It’s just not worth it.

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Japanese Horror: Film vs Anime – CAD Edition

Here’s a good chunk of the titles mentioned, if you want more check out my article HERE.
The ones with asterisks actually had a clip shown:
Gojira*
Onibaba
House*
Entrails of a Virgin
Evil Dead Trap*
Guinea Pig 4: Mermaid in a Manhole
Tetsuo the Iron Man
Ring
Ju-On: The Grudge*
The Grudge
Dark Water
Pulse
One Missed Call*
Audition
Ichi the Killer
Suicide Club*
Tokyo Gore Police
Exte: Hair Extensions
Attack on Titan
Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Night*
Devilman
Legend of the Overfiend*
Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freakshow
Perfect Blue
Wicked City
Demon City Shinjuku
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
Pet Shop of Horrors
Higurasji: When They Cry
Hellsing: Ultimate*
Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack!
Ghost Hunt
Highschool of the Dead
Tokyo Ghoul

The final film shown, Present, doesn’t have a wikipedia page. However, I did find it by reading “Flowers from Hell” by Jim Harper

Don’t forget to tell the convention how much you liked this panel!
Did I forget to address your questions, comments, or concerns? Email me at jwiderski@gmail.com
If you could, like Mental Multiverse on facebook!
If you’d like me to appear at your favorite convention, let them know by linking them to my site!

J-Horror: Film vs Anime Notes (2016)

Here’s a good chunk of the titles mentioned, if you want more check out my article HERE.
The ones with asterisks actually had a clip shown:
Gojira*
Onibaba
House*
Entrails of a Virgin
Evil Dead Trap*
Guinea Pig 4: Mermaid in a Manhole
Tetsuo the Iron Man
Ring
Ju-On: The Grudge*
The Grudge
Dark Water
Pulse
One Missed Call
Audition*
Ichi the Killer
Suicide Club*
Tokyo Gore Police
Attack on Titan*
Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Night
Devilman*
Legend of the Overfiend*
Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freakshow
Perfect Blue
Wicked City
Demon City Shinjuku
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
Pet Shop of Horrors
Higurasji: When They Cry
Hellsing: Ultimate*
Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack!
Ghost Hunt
Highschool of the Dead
Tokyo Ghoul

Don’t forget to tell Anime Midwest how much you liked this panel by filling out their feedback form!
Did I forget to address your questions, comments, or concerns? Email me at jwiderski@gmail.com
Don’t forget to like Mental Multiverse on facebook!
If you’d like me to appear at your favorite convention, let them know by linking them to my site!

Japanese Horror: What to Watch Next?

ichi
Let’s say you saw The Ring and The Grudge and you thought they were alright, but upon checking out Ring and Ju-On you found them way more interesting. Well, now that you’ve seen the two J-horror films everyone knows, where do you go from here? Well young J-Horror neophyte, let me draw you a road map of twelve films to continue your journey.

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Audition, 1999, Dir. Takashi Miike
A widower and father, Aoyama, is lonely, and in an attempt to solve this problem, his director friend and him hold an audition. For a film, yes, but mostly so that he can scout out a girlfriend. He succeeds, becoming fascinated by one quiet young woman clad in white. The two quickly fall in love, but her dark secrets threaten to ruin this fairy tale romance. A slow build, but with an unforgettable climax.

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Battle Royale, 2000, Dir. Kinji Fukasaku
A delinquent class is chosen by their abused teacher to participate in the yearly Battle Royale, a government program in which they’re stranded on an island and have three days to kill each other until there’s one student left. Alliances are formed and friendships are broken, but the return of previous winners leads to even more chaos. Fascinating premise with a solid execution.

Dark-Water-2002
Dark Water, 2002, Dir. Hideo Nakata
By the director of Ring, a single mother in the midst of a nasty divorce moves into a run-down apartment building with her daughter. They’re plagued by constant dripping water and the recurring presence of a mysterious handbag. Is there more to this than meets the eye or is the mother herself coming undone? Quiet and atmospheric, Dark Water may not deliver scares, but it lurk in your darkest thoughts for days.

house-american-poster-by-sam-smith
Hausu, 1977, Dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi
A favorite of mine. Six girls travel to one of their aunt’s house for vacation. But after decades of living alone, is the aunt still the same woman she was? Psychedelic, hilarious, and fascinating all at the same time, Hausu is well worth your time.

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Ichi the Killer, 2001, Dir. Takashi Miike
Depraved hitman Kakihara is out for revenge when his mob’s boss is taken out by a mysterious assassin. Slipping between darkly humorous and deeply depraved, Ichi is a hard film to watch, at the very least for how extreme it is. If you can get through it though, it’s quite the memorable experience.

ONIBABA - American Poster
Onibaba, 1964, Dir. Kaneto Shindo
Japanese horror for the longest time were more supernatural dramas than horror films. Onibaba is one of the best of these entries. Two women are forced to survive in the wake of a terrible war, but they come at odds when the younger one starts sleeping with a returned warrior. The older takes revenge by donning the horrific mask of a fallen samurai and terrorizing the couple. Atmospheric and stylized like a Noir film, it leaves you with the same satisfaction a good campfire ghost story does.

pulse
Pulse, 2001, Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
A poltergeist sent through the internet? That’s what seems to be happening to the friends of two college students, but as the disappearances escalate, it becomes clear that a far more sinister force is pushing itself into our world. It spirals out of control at the end, but it is an unique and interesting spiral nonetheless.

korei_972
Seance, 2000, Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
A psychic trying to get recognition gets pulled into a kidnapping investigation, only to discover her husband may have accidentally become involved himself. More Hitchcock-ian than anything, Seance delivers little scares and all suspense.

Suicide_Circle
Suicide Club, 2001, Dir. Sion Sono
After 54 school girls kill themselves by jumping in front of a subway train, an investigation is launched into the website that seems to be predicting these suicides and the large rolls of skin found at the scene of the crime. Chaotic and messy, but weirdly engaging, Suicide Club doesn’t quite get its message across, but the subtext is does have will keep you thinking.

tetsuo-the-ironman-movie-poster-1988-1020260389
Tetsuo: The Iron Man, 1989, Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto
Perhaps the only film that Tetsuo can be compared to is David Lynch’s Eraserhead, which is either an extremely good thing or incredibly bad thing, depending on who you are. The plot is nonsensical, but seems to be about some weird machine alien virus thing taking over a businessman. As the narrative becomes more clear, it also becomes equally more horrifying. Surreal to a fault, this film is not for the weak of temperament, or heart.

1dJpaT
Tomie, 1999, Dir. Ataru Oikawa
Tsukiko’s old classmates keep dying. Ever since the death of Tomie, nine of them have died or gone insane. Tsukiko herself is recovering from amnesia, but that isn’t helped by the interrogating or her increasingly distant boyfriend. For a dead girl, Tomie sure is causing a lot of trouble. More art film than horror film, Tomie still nails a fantastic atmosphere, even if it favors imagery over logic.

Uzumakiposter
Uzumaki, 2000, Dir. Higuchinsky
Based on Tomie author Junji Ito’s manga, Uzumaki is a condensed telling of the downfall of a small town. A small town that is taken over not by killers, zombies, or even ghosts, but by spirals. A Lovecraft-ian concept, but executed in a multitude of ways that are sure to raise both eyebrows and heart rates.

Any titles you think should be on this list? Seen these films and want to exclaim how amazing and/or terrible they are? Sound off in the comments below!

“Japanese Horror: Film vs Anime” Notes

My computer has crashed so apologies if I forget any titles. The ones with asterisks actually had a clip shown:
Gojira*
Onibaba
House*
Entrails of a Virgin
Evil Dead Trap*
Guinea Pig 4: Mermaid in a Manhole*
Tetsuo the Iron Man*
Ring*
Ju-On: The Grudge*
The Grudge*
Dark Water
Pulse
One Missed Call
Audition
Ichi the Killer
Suicide Club*
Tokyo Gore Police*
Devilman*
Legend of the Overfiend*
Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freakshow*
Perfect Blue
Wicked City
Demon City Shinjuku
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
Pet Shop of Horrors
Higurasji: When They Cry
Hellsing: Ultimate
Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack!
Ghost Hunt
Highschool of the Dead

Don’t forget to tell Anime Midwest how much you liked this panel by filling out their feedback form!
Questions, comments, or concerns? Email me at jwiderski@gmail.com
Don’t forget to like Mental Multiverse on facebook!
If you’d like me to appear at your favorite convention, let them know by linking them to my site!

Fear Itself: The Next Generation of Horror

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Fear Itself is the feature length debut of Aaron Mirtes, budding independent director. Based off his award-winning horror short “The Clown Statue,” the film’s kickstarter page cites the plot as:

“Emma, a college student with a crippling fear of clowns, must come face to face with her worst fear when a clown that has been terrorizing the town promises to kill her. This clown gives a balloon to each his victims with the exact time and date he’s going to kill them written on it. After receiving one herself, Emma realizes that she has two days left to live, and must fight against the clock to find a way to survive.”

With a trailer already up on the page, one’s sure to ask why they need money at all? As with many productions, anything can go wrong. A large fire forced one of their locations to be unaccessible, which means everyone had to pack up and go home. In order to go back and finish the remaining 10% and add in new scenes, the Fear Itself crew needs your help.

So why, of all indy films asking for money, am I spotlighting this film? Why, of all indy films, should you fund this one? Besides the fact I think we need more killer clown movies, Aaron is an acquaintance of mine. At school together, he demonstrated a certain vision and intelligence when it came to filmmaking I’ve yet to see in someone I’ve worked with since. Listening to the interview I did with him for Cinema Cynique, you can pick up on this as well. With The Babadook and It Follows ushering in a new era of putting the art back in horror, it’s not hard to see Aaron Mirtes and Fear Itself fitting comfortably into the new generation of horror films and filmmakers.

I’ve gone on record several times condemning the horror genre and its filmmakers for recycling and regurgitating the same stories, tropes, and characters. To me, it’s a no brainer to support an original and fresh project. To invest in Fear Itself is not just to invest in the film, but in the future career of Mirtes and all the interesting and entertaining films he is sure to bring us.

Check out Fear Itself‘s Twitter, facebook, instagram, and Kickstarter

Found Footage or How Youtube Helped Kill Horror

paranormal-activity1
Cultural Studies essay I did a while back and totally forgot about. It’s a topic I’d like to go back to.

It’s hard to ignore horror movies, particularly around October, but nowadays there aren’t classic franchises in theaters we’ve all heard of, like Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street. There have been only two large horror franchises in the past decade: Saw and Paranormal Activity. Saw is very much a progression of the natural trends of the horror genre and isn’t that appealing to a mainstream audience, but Paranormal Activity is widely known by most and is completely different then most horror before it. It’s what’s called a “found footage” movie, or a movie that is compiled from “discovered footage” supposedly recorded by our protagonists. It’s a relatively new format and one completely different from most horror. Why is it that this format emerged and why is it so popular? Looking at the society we live in today, it’s clear that found footage emerged to compete with the “hyper-realism” of events like 9/11 and the amateur, but still authentic, internet videos we’ve become used to.

To understand why trends in horror occur, one must look at the society in which they were created to see what fears the people had. In the 1950s we were still reflecting on World War II and the use of the atomic bomb. We in America were terrified of the destructive power we had harnessed and feared the potential of science because of it. Thus the science fiction monster movies were born. Through miracles of science some creature would be created, unearthed, or mutated into some giant monster that would destroy a few cities before we could stop it. At the same time the McCarthy trials were going on and the country was in the midst of the Red Scare. While this fear of outsiders is epitomized in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it can also be seen in any alien invasion film like The Day the Earth Stood Still or War of the Worlds (Wilson).

The 1960s were a time of rapidly changing values due to sexual, social, and drug liberation. We began to fear ourselves, uncertain of where the future would lead us and the War in Vietnam only added to the pressure. We saw films like Psycho, which was shockingly violent for the time, that showed us that the kind Mama’s boy Norman Bates was actually an insane killer. Night of the Living Dead is a film thats had many interpretations but it’s radically new story in a way reflects many of the tensions at the time by cooping up a variety of people (including a black man) inside a house with a deadly alien force trying to get in (Wilson). Sound like quite the metaphor of America to me.

night_of_the_living_dead_3

If we flash forward to the 1990s we see that our culture’s fascination with serial killers reaching a climax through films like Silence of the Lambs and Se7en. The ‘90s were unusual in that there was (relatively) little going on in the world for us to be afraid of. The economy was sound and we weren’t wrapped up in a big war since the fall of the Soviet Union. Of course social issues were still there, but they were extensions of previous issues so there was little new to make horror out of. Thus we saw a rise in high concept horror and meta-horror, which played on the horror genre itself to get a reaction out of us. While there were successful entries like scream, the increasing pandering toward the teenage audience left horror dull and lifeless.

In the 2000s horror got its punch back, coinciding with one incredibly horrific event. 9/11 made everyone in America essentially wake up and realize that any day the world could come to an end. Horror films since then have struggled to have the impact that a real life horror like that had. It’s tried to do this in several ways, one being found footage, which can recreate “realism” unlike any horror film and in a film like Cloverfield or Chronicle can even play on our society’s memories of that day. Playing off a more broad feeling of “the end of the world,” zombie films like 28 Days Later exploded in popularity(Wilson). Another way horror tried to be more effective is through increased violence. Filmmakers felt they needed greater violence to make an impact and they succeeded, sparking a debate that only recently has died down.

The other landmark event that occurred in the ‘00s was the popularization of the internet and more relevantly, Youtube. The debut of Youtube in 2005 has had an obvious effect on the current generation. Now you can find clips of anything and everything. From crazy stunts, to “hauntings,” to actual murder. Thanks to the internet our generation has seen it all. However, due to the spread of information, everyone has seen the same things and this has given us a weird fascination with finding rare things in the corners of the internet that nobody has heard about. Creepypastas and other internet urban legends are a manifestation of this, punishing digital explorers the same way classic legends abuse those who venture into the woods.

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Found footage as a genre has its origins in documentary filmmaking, as that is the format it’s trying to mimic. Some of the earliest found footage movies stirred up major controversy because they created situations that one couldn’t get with a normal documentary. The most notable early found footage movie was Cannibal Holocaust (1980), which had many people convinced it was real. An Italian film about documentary crew who go to the amazon to research cannibal tribes before getting eaten themselves, Cannibal Holocaust was banned in over 50 countries. After an article in a magazine accused the movie of being a “snuff film” where the actors actually died, Ruggero Deodato, the director, was forced to appear in Italian court with the actors to prove that they weren’t in fact dead and explain how he pulled off certain effects. Every found footage film since then has to varying extents tried to mimic the realism that Cannibal Holocaust pulled off a little too well (Jensen).

Found footage remained relatively unused until in 1999 when a small independent film called The Blair Witch Project was released by Artisan pictures to an unsuspecting public. One of the first movies to be marketed using the internet, the Blair Witch website featured fake interviews and police reports, playing off the aforementioned internet exploration to attract audiences. People were still convinced that it was real walking out of the theaters, despite actors being listed in the credits (Jensen). Found footage became widely used in independent film after this, but nothing ever hit the mainstream the same way that Blair Witch did, until 2007’s Paranormal Activity. Unlike Blair Witch there were no false claims that Paranormal Activity was a real movie outside of the typical confusion from misinformed people, however Paranormal Activity did bring massive success to found footage and was one of the first rental hits at a new service called Redbox. The ability for mass distribution through the internet and services like Netflix and Redbox has allowed for the flood of independent movies inspired by Paranormal Activity to get attention from audiences and keep the genre going.

blair-witch

Found footage films are unique by definition, defying standard cinematic conventions for the sake of realism. How close they are to real life or to a “real” documentary actually varies, as most documentaries are usually more carefully shot and edited then the typical found footage movie (Frappier). There are more similarities to home videos and youtube vlogs then actual documentaries, by nature of us following the protagonists around be they running or not. We’re so used to seeing amateurly shot videos thanks to these formats that we now interpret that as “real” over essentially anything else, making the way most found footage films are shot actually more effective.

We have a growing obsession with movies being “real.” This can be seen through many trends in culture but mostly in our media, which strives for immersion in order to be effective. One of the most popular comedy franchises of the past decade was Jack-ass, which had not plot or story, but was rather just footage of guys doing stupid stunts. The audience can find it funnier than the average comedy because we “know” it’s real.

In action movies there’s been the rise of “Chaos Cinema” where the film tries to disorient and over-stimulate the audience to get them excited. In a film like Transformers the action scenes are characterized by an overactive soundtrack, quick cuts and angles that limit your point of view. While one might think that limiting point-of-view would be counter-intuitive to film, our tolerance to online videos where we can’t see everything allows us to accept that we can’t understand what’s going on. I’d also argue that we’re increasingly becoming literate in amateur video, allowing us to interpret what’s going on in more chaotically shot movies better.

There are almost no movies that come out these days without some form of CGI to them. This is partially because CGI and special effects in general are heavily emphasized in society. With superhero movies you’ll hear about how good the CGI was, or at least you’ll hear how bad it was if it was poor quality. Cinema has become more of a spectacle as of late and that’s partially because we like things to look good and realistic. There are nominees to the Best Picture category of The Academy Awards almost every year solely because a film’s effects were really good.

Reality TV, while its rise can be traced to several other influences, is as effective as it is because it feels “real.” The characters on the show are supposedly real people and since it’s shot poorly, we believe it. There are several shows like The Office and Modern Family that try to mimic this, creating a documentary-like feel to their show that’s never actually acknowledged by the characters, but makes us feel like the show is more real nonetheless.

Another extension of Reality TV is the “Ghost-hunting show” which has become extremely popular over the past couple years. It’s a safer, but even more realistic form of the found footage movie, where the viewer can genuinely believe in what they see because so little happens in the shows. The use of handheld cameras to capture the small little unexplainable events feels real and intrigues us. Our own struggle with mortality post-9/11 has lead to a fascination with the afterlife and by extension ghosts.

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By limiting our perspective as a viewer to just the camera/main character, instead of the omniscient third person camera, we become completely immersed in the events unfolding. Cinema has been trying to achieve this immersion since its inception and is now succeeding thanks to the proliferation of point-of-view shots, tracking shots that follow the character, and a closely related technique of what’s called “Shaky-cam” or using handheld cameras to film simple dialogue or action scenes so it feels (again) more like a documentary (Frappier).

Found footage horror is extremely appealing to both studios and independent filmmakers. The Blair Witch Project was made for about $500,000-$700,000 and grossed $248 million. Paranormal Activity was purchased by Paramount Pictures for $350,000 and made $193 million (Jensen). Studios have always used horror movies as big money makers, but found footage allows for even less cost with similar or greater returns. Since Paranormal Activity there have been releases of found footage movies every year, with varying degrees of success, but few bombs. Like most trends in movies, the studios will milk it until it dies.

Before the studio fixed up the film, Blair Witch only cost around $20,000 to $25,000 to make and Paranormal Activity only cost around $15,000 even with re-shoots. They were both small independent films that were then picked up by studios and made enormous amounts of money. The idea of using so little to get so much is incredibly appealing to independent filmmakers and so the flood of found footage films were born. With the advent of digital technologies, not only can anyone make a found footage movie, but the premise is more logical. In a world where everyone has a phone or camera for taking pictures and news shows use whatever footage people have shot, it makes sense now for found footage movies to exist over even two decades ago when this technology was a lot more expensive and uncommon (Frappier).

Computers and smartphones have put our entire world behind a screen. All of our interactions with friends, our jobs, our bank accounts, our calendar, and even the world around us are in the context of a screen. So for us to be frightened by something behind that screen, like an average horror movie, is challenging. It can be done, but it won’t have that punch because we all know it isn’t real. Jaws wouldn’t scare people into never going swimming if it came out today, and the story of a few kids in the woods being chased by a ghost would never either. That is until you make that screen one with the audience, so they’re not watching a bunch of characters like a god, they are one of the characters. That’s what found footage has to offer if done right and why people are so enamoured with it. It allows us an experience beyond the screen, despite being nothing more than the same shadows of reality any movie is.

Found footage is a format that has limits, butcan be done incredibly well. It’s become quite popular in recent years and isn’t going anywhere any time soon. It’s cheap to produce and makes high profits for studios, it’s an immersive and realistic form of cinema, and it’s both an expression of our fears and a way to stimulate us properly in modern society. While audiences may get sick of it, there will occasionally come along a movie like Chronicle that will breath life into the genre. However, I believe that the real innovations will come in the very medium that helped create this sub-genre: online video. Video series like Marble Hornets are sure to terrify people in new and interesting ways, but engaging us more by being hidden in the depths of Youtube, which forces us to seek out the horror and, ultimately, reap what we sow.

Bibliography
Frappier, Rob. “Interview: Why Are Found Footage Movies So Popular?”Screen Rant. Screen Rant LLC, 2012. Web. 1 May 2014.
Jensen, Thor. “Found Footage Film History.” UGO.com. IGN Entertainment, 21 Oct. 2011. Web. 1 May 2014.
Tudor, Andrew. “WHY HORROR? THE PECULIAR PLEASURES OF A POPULAR GENRE.” (n.d.): n. pag. Kapti College Database. Routledge, 17 Aug. 2010. Web. 1 May 2014.
Wilson, Karina. “Horror Film History.” Horror Film History. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2014.

American Mary (2012) Review

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As some of you may know, I frequently attend anime conventions, spreading the Gospel of Geek Juice through the handful of panels I do. One of my more popular ones panels is “Japanese Horror: Anime vs Film” where, as the title suggests, I discuss horror anime, or the lack thereof, and the tropes and history of J-horror in general. Inevitably I’m asked questions about my thoughts on Movie A or if I’ve seen Movie B, but there’s one question in particular I love to get asked: “What are your thoughts on modern horror and the state of the industry?” It always provokes great discussion, but no matter the path that discussion takes the conclusion is usually “Indy horror is where it’s at.” However, if you asked me to name a handful of great Indy horror films from the last few years I’d be hard-pressed to think of many. It’s partially because I haven’t seen much, partially because the majority of what’s out there is low quality and derivative, and partially because I rarely even hear names of good horror movies thrown around for me to blindly recommend. In complete contrast to this, American Mary is a title I’ve heard about since its release, and many people I respect have called it an amazing film. Directed by the Soska sisters, American Mary shines brightly as a great example of what Indy horror can and should be, giving me hope for the future of horror.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 6.44.45 PMAmerican Mary‘s titular Mary Mason is a med student who is severely lacking in funds. In desperation she turns to stripping, but doesn’t even get the chance to do that before her would-be boss Billy whisks her off to save the life of a friend of theirs, of course compensating her $5,000 dollars. Beatress, a… shall we say “unique” individual obsessed with looking like Betty Boop, hears about Mary’s skills and commissions her to perform some body modification on a friend. From here on Mary finds herself teetering on the edge of the wild world of extreme body modification, but isn’t pushed in until she’s drugged and raped by her professor, Dr. Grant. Mary and her world are now forever changed as she sets out to be a successful surgeon in a drastically different way then she had planned.

Ignoring all eloquence on my part, let me simply put that American Mary just works. The premise works. The characters work. The film itself works. The Soskas clearly have an understanding of the technicals of cinema and use various techniques to create effective and unique scenes. At the beginning of the film when Mary saves the life of the criminal, she rushes home, pausing when she enters. After the chaos and fast editing of the surgery sequence, the Soskas give both Mary and the audience a second to take in everything that just happened and in that moment we understand every thought and emotion running through Mary’s head. They take the very weird surgeries that make up body modification and pull them into the realm of horror, not through gore as most would, but by concentrating on the violation done to a body in the process.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 6.45.42 PMMary herself is the crowning achievement of the film, easily being one of the finest horror protagonists I’ve ever seen. She’s not only more human than almost every character I see in horror films these days, but also far more likeable and realistic than most modern protagonists in Hollywood films. Katherine Isabella brilliantly brings Mary to life, but unfortunately she’s not in good company because while the other actors play their roles just fine, they lack the certain energy that Isabella/Mary have.

The film is fairly well paced, cutting off the fat and showing us the essentials of Mary’s descent. Like in a Scorsese film the scenes feel like episodes that all add up together to create a completed story. Unfortunately, American Mary doesn’t hold up its pacing forever and in its second half stumbles, leaving you with an anti-climatic ending. For some this would ruin the film, but if you keep in mind the Japanese philosophy (going back to the beginning) that the journey is more important than the destination, then you’ll most certainly find the rest of the film worth it.

OScreen Shot 2014-07-14 at 7.01.49 PMne may want to push a feminist agenda onto this film due to the creators behind it and its content, but I never once thought about examining this film through that lens while I was watching it. Plot wise it feels like a standard, albeit improved, rape/revenge film and there are few scenes that provoke further analysis. There has been a notable lack of female directors in horror, but the solution to this problem is not to make feminist horror movies or prove that female directors are better. Rather, we need more movies like this one. Movies that prove nothing more then that the director, who happens to be a woman, can make a damn fine movie.

I may not have seen the largest number of Indy horror films, but I’d wager that American Mary stands out not just from all indy horror, but from all film. It’s cold without losing emotion, clinical without losing passion, and sophisticated without losing the rawness we expect from horror. There has come to be a large difference between the standards we judge modern Indy horror by and the horror classics by, but American Mary holds up against all standards. It’s one of the finest modern horror movies I’ve seen and one I’ll be returning to even when it’s considered a classic. It’s the kind of film I’m proud to bring up in discussion and I hope that inspires more directors to create films in its spirit, eventually leading us into a world where indy horror can stand tall and proclaim that it really is where good horror’s at.

What are your thoughts on American Mary or modern horror, Indy or otherwise? Sound off in the comments below!
This review and others like it can be found over at the ever amazing Geek Juice Media, for more movie and TV talk head on over to Buck On Stuff, and for more horror go to Hidden Horrors!
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Rubber (2010) Review

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A couple of years ago (2012), when I knew very little about film outside having seen a lot of horror movies and watched some reviews online, I was on a podcast initially titled “The Forumcast.” I say initially because it was such a disaster that my co-hosts and I renamed it “Podwreck.” On an episode of that show we reviewed an indy 2010 film called “Rubber,” directed by Quentin Dupieux. I absolutely hated it for numerous reasons: its promising premise of a rampaging tire that was so poorly handled; its “no reason” philosophy that was used to explain away any plot holes and inconsistencies; its addressing of both Hollywood and the audience in such a “clever” manner. I couldn’t stand it and proclaimed it to be one of the most disappointing and pretentious films I’d ever seen. I was shocked to find out that not only did one of my co-hosts love it, but so did several of my classmates. It took me two years to force myself to re-examine this movie, and with an accumulated arsenal of critical and filmic knowledge behind me what are my conclusions? That “Rubber” is a rather ambitious, but ultimately mediocre film. Not exactly a drastic revelation worthy of a two year build-up.

3The film has a “narrative” in the story of the killer tire and a “meta narrative” in the story of the audience and those staging the film. Through the first two-thirds of the movie the narrative part is simple enough. It’s the tale of a tire that for no reason becomes sentient and has “psycho-kinetic” powers. It roams the desert roads with little purpose except to blow up any creature it finds. There we have it. A truly interesting and unique premise that promises to not only be amusing, but also horrifying. While yes the tire’s antics do occasionally earn a chuckle, particularly in one scene where it watches NASCAR, it rarely is actually horrifying. If you’ve seen the head explosion from “Scanners” you’ve seen everything horrific about this film, and you’ve seen it eight times less than someone who has watched “Rubber.” The tire unfortunately has only one method of killing, and thus we are treated to the same sequence of events with every kill. The tire vibrates, the victim sits there, 5,4, 3, 2, 1, Boom! It’s the same thing every time and while yes the effects are fairly well done, it gets very boring after a while. It’s hard to build up tension when the audience knows exactly what’s going to happen.

gu3wmifkWatching these events unfold is an audience. A literal one who through binoculars observe the movie the same way we do, except stranded in the desert and watching it in real time. They complain and speculate about the events unfolding over the course of a couple days, but ultimately succumb to the poisoned food planted by the “filmmakers” so that they can end the movie and go home. Unfortunately one wheelchair bound man remains, stubbornly refusing to stop watching, which puts a kink in the the omniscient sheriff’s plans and eventually leads to the meta-narrative completely taking over and becoming the narrative.

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 1.52.29 PMThe sheriff’s opening monologue introduces the concept of “no reason” through several examples: why is the alien brown in “ET”; why do the characters fall in love in “Love Story”; and why do we never see the characters go to the bathroom in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”? The answer to these and questions like “Why can’t we see the air?” and “Why do only some people like sausages?” is NO REASON. While theoretically I should like this, the movie concentrates on too wide a variety of “no reason” examples xto really make clear what it’s talking about. Is it talking about poor writing? Is it talking about unexplained production decisions? Is it talking about the things the writers leave out because they aren’t relevant? Either way, the movie uses this as a launching point to turn “Rubber” into an absurdist film, which by all rights a sentient tire movie should be. The only problem is the film isn’t absurd enough. The plot makes sense, very rarely do things actually happen randomly, and once the world is established nothing abnormal happens that defies the rules. It’s actually an astonishingly straightforward movie, which is quite a shame.

While I may have put my theories of pretentiousness onto the film, interviews with the director show that this was truly a “no reason” movie. It’s a blank slate of “random” events that leave you asking questions and making theories. In this way it is a success, but the filmmakers ultimately fail at fulfilling the ambitions they had. It’s neither the “no reason” film it wished to be, nor an interesting sentient tire film, perhaps because it tried to do both at the same time. However, its blank slate nature also implies that I can’t possibly recommend nor condone this film, because each person will react to it differently, more so than with most other films. If we just examine its quality though, then it’s quite clear that “Rubber” is mediocre, unfulfilled, and not worth most people’s time.

What’s your take on Rubber? What are some other ridiculous film concepts have you enjoyed? Sound off in the comments below!


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Hello!

To all Animinneapolis and Anime Central attendees who have stopped by my site post-panel!
Thanks again for attending and I hope to see you at other panels I do at future conventions!
Hinthint I’m working on a panel about being a critic on the internet right now
Anyways if you want to check out more of my stuff in the upcoming weeks, not to mention the great work of my coworkers then by all means please head on over to Geek Juice Media!