Horror 365, Movie(s) 143: Found Footage

Found footage is surprisingly polarizing. Most of the horror nerds I know either laud it as one of the greatest cinematic developments to come along in the 20th century or condemn it as stupid and gimmicky. Others come down just as decidedly on specific films, The Blair Witch Project possibly being the best example. Everyone I know who has seen it either loved it (which I don’t get) or hated it (my people–hugs, kisses).

But I’m not here to rant about The Blair Witch Project and its countless shortcomings. Instead, I thought I’d put together a list of 50 Fairly Forgotten Found Footage Flicks. How’s that for alliteration? These are films that flew under the radar and haven’t been talked about much (admittedly for good reason in some cases).

  1. Afflicted
  2. Apocalyptic (aka Apocalypse Cult)
  3. Bay, The
  4. Blackwood Evil
  5. Borderlands, The (aka The Final Prayer)
  6. Classroom 6
  7. Dark Flower
  8. Dark Mountain
  9. Delivery: The Beast Within
  10. Devil’s Pass (aka The Dyatlov Pass Incident)
  11. Devil’s Doorway, The
  12. Digging Up The Marrow
  13. Dirties, The
  14. Fear Footage, The
  16. Found Footage 3D
  17. Frazier Park Recut
  18. Gracefield Incident, The
  19. Grave Encounters
  20. Grave Encounters 2
  21. Heidi
  22. Hell House LLC
  23. Hell House II: The Abaddon Hotel
  24. Hell House III: Lake Of Fire
  25. Hide The Monster
  26. Houses October Built, The
  27. Houses October Built II, The
  28. Incident At Loch Ness
  29. Investigation: A Haunting In Sherwood, The
  30. Jeruzalem
  31. KAOS Brief, The
  32. Lake Mungo
  33. Landing, The
  34. Last Broadcast, The
  35. Last Exorcism, The
  36. Leaving D.C.
  37. Levenger Tapes, The
  38. Man Vs.
  39. Monster Project, The
  40. Nietzermann
  41. Ouija Experiment, The
  42. Phoenix Tapes ’97, The
  43. Quarry, The
  44. Rorschach
  45. Sacrament, The
  46. Scare Campaign
  47. She Walks The Woods
  48. Turtle Island
  49. Willow Creek
  50. YellowBrickRoad

I’m giving no indications here about quality one way or the other although I have seen all of these and they are all on The Neverending Move List if you have an unyielding and irresolute need to see what I thought. I’m always on the lookout for more along these lines as well, so definitely leave me suggestions in the Comments. And if you’re seriously into found footage, it’s also well worth checking out Found Footage Critic.

Horror 365, Movie 142: Willy’s Wonderland

As I’ve mentioned on any number of occasions, I generally try to eschew (no dad jokes about sneezes or nuts please and thank you) reviewing current features, but now and then something comes along that I’m just dyin’ to write about. It happened with Ratched and I Care A Lot for instance. And now, I just gotta deal with Willy’s Wonderland.

I originally started a review of it not too long ago, but it morphed into 5 Games That Should Be Horror Movies. But it was still Willy’s Wonderland that got the ball rolling, or if y’all will allow me a wee callback, started up the ol’ pinball machine. Plus I will always slap down some green to watch Nicholas Cage be unhinged. Plus plus Willy’s Wonderland was Just. So. Damn. Fun.

Premise is simple. A character referred to only as The Janitor (Cage) is hired for a one-time gig to clean up an old family pizza place that the owner intends to restore to its original glory and reopen. The place is complete with a stage full of animatronics. If you can hearken back to the pre-Chuck E. Cheese days of ShowBiz Pizza, you’re gettin’ the right vibe. Oh, and this is a swell time to mention a 2018 short called The Hug. Some brat named Aden at a third-rate pizza joint starts up the animatronic show with dire consequences.

So perhaps think of Willy’s Wonderland as kinda like Five Nights At Freddy’s which I’ve mentioned should already be a movie anyway, mixed with The Banana Splits Movie, and directed by, I dunno, Rob Zombie or Eli Roth. It’s worth pointing out that, like Bingo’s Jungle and Fleegle’s Magic Shop in The Banana Splits Movie, Willy’s Wonderland has some special features as well. There’s Siren Sara’s fairy-themed area and The Super Happy Fun Room which already sounds like a circle of hell or a kinky torture chamber from Rob Zombie’s 31.

There is, of course, a catch, and it’s not much of a spoiler to just come right out and say that the animatronics are homicidal. You can pick that up from the trailers and, come on, as a writer or director what the hell else would you do? Why that is I’ll let you discover for yourself, but it’s handled if not elegantly, at least sufficiently. However, it does suggest to me that there should be a hybrid/corollary to the Rules Of Horror #5 Dolls Are Evil. Always. and #11 Technology Is Not Your Friend. That rule should be The Robots Will Rise Up, and it includes animatronics.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right, Willy’s Wonderland. It’s just such an over the top self-aware riot, and Cage seems like he’s havin’ a blast. The Janitor also has a singularly weird little quirk: every time his watch alarm goes off, he literally stops whatever he’s doing and drinks a can of Punch–some kind of apparently super-caffeinated soda. The reason for this is never made clear. Naturally I have a theory which we’ll get to soon enough. Incidentally, whilst looking for an image of the Punch can, I came across a Reddit post from Njjeppson:

“Punch” seems to be a reference to “Bang” which, wouldn’t you know, is one of the most powerful energy drinks on the market, so it looks like we have our real-life counterpart. This means that each Punch can contains 300 milligrams of caffeine which, even on its own, is a pretty excessive amount. However, The Janitor seems to drink an entire can every hour…If you factor in the three empty cans shown at the beginning, that’s 10 downed cans of Punch in total. How much caffiene [sic] does he have flowing through his veins by the time he fights Willy, then? 3. Milligrams? No. GRAMS. 3 GRAMS. 3000 MILLIGRAMS.

Da-aaaannng. According to an NIH article I read, 3 grams could in fact kill you (5-10 being more likely but still). Yes, I read an NIH article in support of writing this. That’s my level of nerdliness dedication. We are, after all, total geeks professionals.

And now, my spoiler-laden theory. Whatever Punch is, it somehow serves as The Janitor’s fuel. Fuel for what? My theory is that The Janitor is himself animatronic. Note the cut on his cheek at the end. It’s black. Watch how he turns to the girl in the car to hand her a Punch. But hey why stop there? Let’s take this jolly little conspiracy completely off the deep end.

Maybe The Janitor drives from place to place clearing out possessed animatronics–a kind of mechanized Sam and Dean Winchester. And maybe Warren Mears created more than one Buffybot or went through some prototypes. And maybe they got disposed of but picked up by someone else. And maybe they got possessed by being near hellmouths. Which means that maybe, just maybe, Willy’s Wonderland and Supernatural are part of the–wait for it–Buffyverse! Whew. I’m exhausted.

So, here’s my suggestion. Make an afternoon and evening of it. Start with The Hug, move on to The Banana Splits Movie, and finish up with Willy’s Wonderland. Then grab a mask and an energy drink or two and head your nearest “barcade” and play some pinball. Come to think of it, I’m all up to date on shots for The Covids and don’t think I have much goin’ on next week…

BODIES- A whoppin’ 41, only 7 of which are animatronics
For rent on  Apple TV, Google Play, Prime, Vudu, YouTube

Gonna need one o’these

Horror 365, Movie 141: Heavy Metal

Okay rivet-heads, here’s one especially for you because holy shit Heavy Metal has been around for 40 years. I read my first issue back in 1979. A friend of mine swiped a few from his dirtbag older brother and gave me one. I was hooked, but I wasn’t able to buy them on my own. You had to be 18.

Fortunately I had this uncle, my mother’s sister’s husband, who A) had one of the greatest comic book collections in the history of ever which is where I got hooked on Tales From The Crypt much to the anguish and dismay of my mother and even worse my grandmother who thought I was going to hell for reading Son Of Satan and listening to Led Zeppelin, B) would take me with him to Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh and let me wander around aimlessly while he did grad school shit, and C) subscribed to Heavy Metal so he could read it then give it to me.

Sidebar: You just read a 99-word sentence. Personal best for me. But I digress.

Jump ahead to the summer of 1981. No doubt you can imagine my excitement when Heavy Metal hit the big screen. I couldn’t wait. Tricky though. It was rated R and I was only 16. And hadn’t gotten my driver’s license yet. And had no access to a car during the day anyway. Now normally, my friends and I would ride our bikes to Showcase Cinemas and watch a couple matinees.

Weirdly (well, perhaps not) I was the only one interested in Heavy Metal, so off I went, bought a ticket for another movie with the same showtime (I believe it was a Disney flick called Condorman), waited for the previews to start, went to the bathroom, then snuck into Heavy Metal since nobody was around to pay attention at the early shows. Dunno if you could get away with this today. Cameras and shit. I figured I shelled out my filthy lucre to see a movie. Which one I see should be my decision, not the MPAA’s. It’s an ethical position I stand by to this day.

So, what was this phantasmagoric extravaganza all about? Well, the mag itself was billed as science fiction/dark fantasy/erotica, and combining those elements often yielded some top tier horror results. Think EC Comics, H.P. Lovecraft, and Rob Zombie meet Douglas Adams, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Gene Roddenberry. The movie was pretty much an anthology of graphic novel type stories from the magazine. It was heaven.

The framing device centers on the Loc-Nar, a green sphere that constitutes “the sum of all evils.” Through a number of vignettes the Loc-Nar reveals its history to a terrified girl whose astronaut father has brought it from space. Highlights from those segments include:
-Reanimated dead attacking a plane crew (“B-17”)
-A noir-style cabbie narrator with a secret disintegrating ray in his cab (“Harry Canyon”)
-A teenage geek who is transported to Neverwhere and is transformed into a super-buff warrior (“Den,” pictured above)
-A bosom-forward showdown between the Loc-Nar and the Taarakians (“Taarna”)

And that’s just a-scratchin’ the surface. Dig a little deeper and you find tons of visual gags and hear soooooooo many familiar voices: John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, Richard Romanus, John Vernon. Wowzers. Ultimately though, the brightest star in the Heavy Metal universe is the soundtrack. Hole. Lee. Fuck. Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, Cheap Trick, DEVO, Donald Fagen, Don Felder, Grand Funk Railroad, Journey, Sammy Hagar, Nazareth, Stevie Nicks, Riggs, Trust. In fact I’ve got it on right now. I might be chair dancing.

So I mean, imagine all this at 16. Gasp and swoon but it was a visual, auditory, hormonal tsunami after which I staggered out into the daylight to catch my breath then marched back right back in and did the same thing all over again. Now then, in retrospect, are there aspects of Heavy Metal that didn’t age well? Oh hell yes.

In what was at the time probably a stroke of marketing genius, both magazine and movie had a definite white adolescent male demographic in mind. This was given further appeal by being so-called adults only. What’s the best way to get a hormone-addled teenage boy to part with some disposable income? Make it forbidden fruit.

Sadly this also relied on much over the top objectification of women, some other depictions of sexuality that could be improved on, and enough drug use and graphic violence to send today’s nanny state into fits of apoplexy. But damn the visuals and the music still hold up. Might even make these creaky ol’ bones feel just a wee bit younger.

BODIES- Way too many to count. A plane full of zombies, sacrifices, murders, at least one war
Hulu, Philo, Sling, Starz, and for rent on Prime, Vudu