Thursday, August 23, 2012

Looking Through the Lens at the Director: DR. TERROR'S CONTINUUM OF FOUND FOOTAGE TERROR!!!

This whole things starts with a camera and ends with a camera no matter how you look at it. Whether you think the found footage genre/style started in 1980 or whether you think people have been doing it longer, this is the laundry list as we know it. For better or for worse we're stuck with a few of these (and few others that I didn't know well enough to have make the list). If you're reading this right now then you were recently enjoying (more like suffering through) one of two reviews, [REC]3 or V/H/S. These are the two newest of the bunch with Paranormal Activity 4 following on their coat tails come October.  This is the best time possible to discuss this genre/style. It's the best time possible to discuss it's evolution. Since you followed the damn link, well, I guess that means you care a little something about these films and the company they keep. This will NOT be a rehash of all the movies, their plots, etc. This is not a full hard on history either. It's just some thoughts I had after too much caffeine.

So it start with Cannibal Holocaust where Ruggero Deodato gets arrested for making a damn snuff picture and ends with some of the greatest outpourings of box office driven voting you can imagine. Somewhere between the first Paranormal Activity and the big CH things went mainstream.  We'll call that the Blair Witch Project for short (and if your snooty we'll call it the Last Broadcast and you can go soundly fuck yourself). It took nearly two decades to get there with quite a few unpopular films in between. I suppose what astounds me the most is that every motherfucker on the planet had a camera during the 80's. Camcorders were the iPod of the 80's... okay maybe that was Walkmen's, but everyone had a frickin' camcorder or was having a camcorder pointed at them. I guess with all the expensive cocaine habits, extreme excess and decadent 80's metal Aquanet vision, no one thought to point the damn thing at some actors and make a story with minimal post production, right?  I think that if we look at the time line between the Deodato classic and Blair Witch we need to start remembering some pioneers that are clearly left out. Those would be the Shot on Video mothers.

Horror didn't stop producing found footage movies in the 80's. Basically, the found footage genre had baby steps. People would use camcorders, shoot directly to tape and make basement movies and release them to during the home video boom. Now these things have some post production, special effects and cheesy unbelievable plots with some outlandish dialogue. Doesn't that sound like every found footage flick you've seen? The only thing these filmmakers failed to do was to put the camera in the hands of the actors. Hell, go back and think about the long camera shot at the beginning of Carpenter's Halloween. Think about watching the whole boobie murder of Myers' sister from behind the infamous clown mask. POV photography of this type that would become popular in the slasher genre are perfect examples of the precursors to found footage. Go back further... hit up Peeping Tom. The killer is filming his kills. We see the kills through the eye of the camera. It's not a stretch to think of this as a baby step toward Deodato.  What I'm trying to say is that found footage isn't as new as the time line you see listed on these VHS tapes. We've just been calling it found footage recently.

Maybe it's the "found" part that throws us off. I don't think you need to have the footage actually lost in the woods and picked up by a nosey kid to consider is kin with some of the other POV style photography that's been going on for quite some time. So if it's been around for the 80's maybe longer and maybe encompass more subgenre or other similarly shot films even with a narrative that does not involve character awareness of being filmed, what's been going on recently in film to make us think that we're seeing something new? After all, most people don't think of Cannibal Holocaust when they think of found footage and they certainly don't think back to some of the ancestors that formed visual thought processes similar to the found footage films.

As always, and just as the torture porn genre goes, comes the marketeers. Found footage started making money with Blair Witch. Not to say that Cannibal Holocaust has made back its budget and then some, the core of that film, the actual documentary style footage shot by our cannibal brunch buddies didn't strike folks in 1980 as the reason for CH's. success. Now Blair Witch brings in the bucks. You take a movie that costs nothing to make and then create a box office smash (in indy terms). It still takes seven years after that to see [REC] make a dent in the market share and in turn it's copycat Quarantine. Then in another couple of years Paranormal Activity got exactly the hype and push it needed. Just because some of these earlier endeavors didn't do the "Blair Witch Mambo" doesn't mean they weren't extremely successful. Paranormal Activity did what Blair Witch couldn't... it created sequels that didn't suck. This team kept employing the same tactics through two more movies (soon to be three) and created an audience. Then all you have to do is wait for the copycats and indy kids with good, new ideas to take back the genre and you get movies like Grave Encounters, Atrocious and Troll Hunter pushing the envelope. That's not to say our big two sequel generators haven't been inspirational in the genre. People respect [REC] and though there is a wide array of opinions in the horror community regarding Paranormal Activity, no one can deny that those filmmakers no how to make a buck and how to make a genre popular. It was marketed so well, you thought you voted to see it on the big screen. Yes, that's the reason. Public demand. Is it a wonder that it really doesn't happen all that often that public demand garners a large scale release of a film? Hasn't really happened since right? At least not with such fervor. Isn't there a rather large contingent of folks who are looking to see the Loved Ones or even a Behind the Mask sequel? None of it garners the same enthusiasm as what?  A black and white found footage flick with bad acting. Nothing happens! This movie is being shelved next to the Exorcist in terms of fear per minute and NOTHING HAPPENS!

It comes from a place long before the term "found footage" was coined, succeeds by its sequels and the fear mongering marketeers who know how to make you think your scared and need to see this movie. That's not a bad thing by the way. Horror movies in the theater is a great thing for our beloved genre. Asses in the seats people. Even if the horror picture sucks or we don't think that it qualifies as horror, anything that keeps people think blood and guts and ghosts is good. We don't need a dry period in horror cinema. With every movie that's produced we gain a chance to see another break through and you might never guess from where it will come or from what marketing campaign it might grow or what movie will allow funding to go through for the next Universal monster. With the recent critical trouncing that movies like Apollo 18 and Devil Inside have seen we see that distributors aren't nearly as keenly aware of what is going to work for an audience (despite the success of Devil Inside at the box office, the damn thing pisses people off). On the other hand we're seeing movies like Chronicle go outside the horror found footage box and impress with visual effects and high production value in a normally low production value film style.

So why does this all come up with the release of  [REC]3 and V/H/S and Paranormal Activity? It's the perfect nexus for the big two to pass the torch to a group of very smart indy filmmakers who have come up with a truly terrifying idea that allows story tellers to TELL STORIES and not simply fill up 90 minutes for the theater patrons. Just because you have 90 minutes to tell a story in a feature length movie doesn't mean we want you to fill it with piles of suspenseless shit. [REC]3 has set the stage for the end game in that series to be played out shortly in [REC]4 apocalypse. It'll be a success, and we're not even sure if it will be found footage. Half of Genesis wasn't found footage, so maybe it will take a different direction. No worries, right? The series is ending. The new Paranormal Activity, while unreleased at this time (and I couldn't fucking wait to write this for you until then because my goddamn fingers were burning to write this) stands to do quite well. It's following the Saw formula. Every Halloween we get a new found footage movie with good production value and barely any camera shake so we don' t get sick in the theater. Doesn't it feel like that story is winding down as well? There's been some prequel action in part 3. There's been a tight story in all of them that weaves its own end game. Eventually you have to run out of family members and neighbors to possess. Eventually this thing will get old and from what I've been hearing on the social network sits it seems that time is coming soon. Enter V/H/S. Son of Found Footage.

What V/H/S brings to the table is a new way to experience found footage, in manageable, bite size pieces. It's the return of the camp fire story. It's a return to the portmanteau story that made studios like Amicus famous  in the late 60's. It's gives the indy guys who can make amazing short films a chance to make short films that people can actually see. Nobody is going to give these little guys a budget, but anchor them with a big name like Ti West and they'll at least get some recognition or exposure for their no budget effort. What's more is that this genre isn't the most expensive, effects driven genre/shooting style. It's about as cost effective as zombie movies (which was the big thing during most of the 2000's thus far. The worse it looks the better which is not to say you can make a bad movie or even a bad looking movie, but you can get a whole lotta character out of this style. With the [REC] series about to turn off the lights and extending the fantasy into a place that is no longer found footage (no matter what the fourth installment brings the third one skewed into a new tangent), there's room for a scary in indy film to produce sequels. Lo and behold both [REC] and V/H/S are distro'd by Magnet Releasing too. Even better. Magnet's going to need a new cow to milk. With Paranormal Activity in it's last throws that means we have a theater spot open during the month of October. Either we get some new Friday the 13th/Halloween reboot sequels going or we're going to need something to fill that void. V/H/S has the marketeers behind it with amazing posters. Think of what they could do with a little more money (hopefully after its success this August 31st through October). We're talking about the evolution of film and the birth of a new piece of found footage history where the horror short can find an audience outside of the festival circuit.

If you want to follow the continuum rather than break off pieces of found footage then you'll see small steps toward great marketing and cinematic achievement rather than great leaps into new genres that "never existed before". There's a moment now where things will look different and people will want to see more Creepshows. They'll demand higher quality than works like Nightmare Alley or that damned Romero production Deadtime Stories. They'll want more than Creepshow 3 offered us. The oversaturation will turn separate into a curds and whey and the only spider you'll be afraid of will be the one the director wants you to see. Back before we had long movies, we had some very short movies. I was reading this amazing article in the Re-Animator special HorrorHound program from one of their weekend events. It reminded me that Edison made Frankenstein and it wasn't all that long. Before that House of the Devil or Mansion of the Devil or Castle of the Devil or whatever the fuck you wanna call it (because I think translations are strange beasties). It's the way cinema started. With Nickelodeons and silence and ideas... people wanting to tell stories and not necessarily for the end of fame. So like Mikey says in the Goonies it's, V/H/S's time. It's V/H/S's time down here and nobody's riding up Troy's bucket. It's time to find some treasure and I hope that you'll find that August 31st.

Do you want to...

Continue to the full V/H/S review which is already in progress (make sure you bought plenty of head cleaner because you're gonna need it after this one...


Continue to the [REC]3 review where you'll find that lovely young bride with the sexy garter and the even sexier chainsaw?  ...


Continue to the DIMENSION ZERO (where something completely other will be discussed and you might not make it out of your skinny jeans alive).


Choose wisely... tee hee heeee


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