Saturday, June 18, 2016
Stomping Ground is about a young couple, Ben and Annie, who go on a weekend trip to Annie's hometown in North Carolina. After meeting one of Annie's old friends, the couple get more than they bargained for when they agree to an impromptu Bigfoot hunt that turns their weekend trip into a living nightmare that threatens their lives.
I was impressed with the writing and use of character that was used to bring about the Bigfoot aspect of the story. City boy Ben is clearly a fish out of water in the South, thankfully not in an over the top way that makes him look foolish, but rather just awkwardly out of place. When he brings up a Bigfoot article posted in the men's room while at a bar with Annie's old “friend” Paul, it comes across as a simple attempt to fit in. The whole set up is sudden and spontaneous yet believable and conversational. Stomping Ground is character driven as we see relationships form through different regional personalities and ways of life in an authentic way that doesn't rely on blatant stereotypes. The humor also comes out of these observations which makes the comedy in the film a natural result from this clash of cultures.
John Bobek as Ben is good at playing the hesitant, try to avoid confrontation city guy while Jeramy Blackford as Paul is good at the blunt, doesn't hold back country boy and their relationship makes for strong conflict and high stakes for Ben and Annie's relationship. It also creates tension regarding the Bigfoot hunt: are the strange little happenings really something in the woods or is Paul playing a joke on Ben?
The pacing of Stomping Ground gets a bit slow throughout the films second act as the focus centers on the conflict in Ben and Annie's relationship with random moments that hint at something is in the woods following the group. While it never becomes boring, I can see some viewers becoming restless through the long stretches of conversation and walking through the woods.
The strength of any Bigfoot movie hinges on the appearance of the creature with fears that it simply looks like a man in hairy suit. Stomping Ground does it's best with a low budget to avoid this and I'd say it was successful. While the Bigfoot does have a man like appearance, the practical effect look of the Bigfoot is effective with a lot of detail put into the face making for great shots of the couple close ups we get of the monster. I can just imagine the CG mess that a big budget film would have turned in and I appreciated the effort here.
Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Six of the worlds most notorious psychopaths escape from an asylum and proceed to wreak havoc on a local Halloween Funhouse whose attractions are based on each psychopaths reign of terror while the unsuspecting patrons believe the chaos to all be part of the show.
The Funhouse Massacre opens on a bit of a shaky note. We get Robert Englund for the opening segment as the warden of the asylum and while he doesn't have much to do, it's always fun to see the legend himself on screen. The introduction of the inmates and their prison break left me pretty underwhelmed with most of their back stories and violent crimes being pretty run of the mill and not creative...like at all. We have a chef who feeds people to people, a dentist who kills with drills, a crazy religious leader, etc. Not very imaginative or gripping. We also get a bumbling deputy who becomes increasingly annoying and unfunny as the film goes on.
The film picks up and starts gathering a little steam when we're introduced to the group of friends going to the Funhouse that night before Halloween. There isn't really a standout performance amongst the group but they're a pretty likeable and funny ensemble with good chemistry. The killers set up in the Funhouse and kill a pretty funny Courtney Gains with lots of smokey fog setting the Halloween atmosphere nicely. At this point I was ready for the fun to begin!
Unfortunately again over the next 30 minutes the film loses steam quickly. We get to see people walking through the Funhouse and glimpses of the psychopaths killing people while the customers think it's fake. We get more of the bumbling deputy, some cutesy talk between 2 characters in the group of friends who like each other, and a weird sex scene. The whole middle of the film doesn't have much going on but the practical effects are pretty damn impressive and the gore should satisfy gore hounds.
A lot of the comedy seems forced and just not funny. And the worst part is it's in pretty much every scene leaving the escaped psychopaths surrounded by awkward, lazy humor and draining any fear we're supposed to feel from them and rendering the whole premise of the film useless. One could argue that The Funhouse Massacre is a horror-comedy so there isn't meant to be real fear from the psychopaths per se, but when their characters are played straight and devoid of humor, that doesn't seem to be the case. Even during the final act, the 'massacre' part where all hell should be breaking lose, the script is too focused on trying to make seemingly every single line of dialogue into some kind of joke.
The weakest element of The Funhouse Massacre is that it didn't utilize the Funhouse itself and use the themed attractions to demonstrate the true evil of the six villains. The whole set up felt pointless and like one giant missed opportunity.
Ultimately the humor didn't work, the premise felt wasted, and fantastic practical effects weren't backed up by any sense of fear or dread or evil. I was very disappointed in The Funhouse Massacre, and I usually like movies like this! It just felt all wrong with weak humor and lazy characters. I can't recommend it.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
The set up for The Black Tape mixes the home invasion and found footage sub-genres. It tells the story of an intruder that breaks into a family's home to terrorize and kill them while making a home made murder video. The premise of the film is that you are watching the killer film his own work.
The creepiest part of the whole movie is that the killer is so thorough and focused and obsessed with the chosen family that he set up cameras to film them at home when he isn't even there and sometimes enters the house just to secretly film them. So we see the family going about their everyday lives...and thinking they're safe. There's something deeply disturbing about knowing people are close to being killed and also knowing they have no idea. And the killer here isn't content with just killing them, he secretly drags his plans out over a period of several months in order to torment and completely tear the family apart. It's a clever and complex script that I was pretty impressed with from first time writer/director Ramone Menon.
Unlike some very low budget films, The Black Tape doesn't suffer from lack of a soundtrack. It has plenty of original music that has a dizzying and threatening sound to it that I thought fit the film very nicely and added to the sense of dread. The distorted voice of the killer and the masked look as well were also very well conceived.
Each scene has a date on the bottom right corner of the screen to copy the look of a camcorder. Keep an eye on these dates as the sequence of events play somewhat out of order, but the editing always goes back to show how things happened or what led to what. It's a smart plot device because it demonstrates the silent and sizable role the killer plays in the life and events of the family without them even knowing.
On the technical side of things, the film looks very clean and sharp and the sound is clear, loud, and understandable. The editing is also done in an organized and skillful way that is meant to mimic messy, amateur cuts from a camcorder. Nothing about the film looks or feels cheap and that's a giant credit to the filmmakers given the reported budget of the film.
If there are any weaknesses in the film I would say it was the acting. Don't get me too wrong here, the acting is serviceable and by no means bad, I just felt that the range of emotions didn't always match up with the extreme situations shown on screen.
In the end, I was thoroughly impressed with The Black Tape. It's a disturbing and creepy portrayal of the unexplainable evil that men can possess and a very well made film with a script that gives credit to the audience instead of playing stupid for them. And patience with the film more than pays off. Check out this indie horror flick if you're looking for something that mixes two popular sub-genres and surprisingly creates a fresh take on both.