Blair Witch (DVD Review)

15 – 86mins – 2016



“Someone’s died everywhere at some point, doesn’t mean every square foot of this planet is haunted!”

Coming across a video on YouTube he believes contains footage of his sister, presumed dead twenty years earlier after going missing while investigating the legend of the Blair Witch, James Donahue (James Allen McCune) heads into Black Hills Forest near Burkittsville, hoping against hope that Heather is still alive. He his ‘assisted’ by a couple of wary locals he communicated with online, and trailed by a group of his closest friends, including one who conveniently wishes to document the missing person search.

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Paranormal Activity 4 (Archive Cinema Review)

Image result for happy blogday clipartThe (digital) doors to the CR@Bpendium have now been open for ten months, and since last November I have posted all manner of reviews, from raving about films I have adored to ranting about live performances which haven’t quite cut the mustard. On the passing of Prince, I even took an ill-advised foray into poetry. For my first “blog-day” milestone – my 100th post – I dived back into my archive to bring you an unpublished cinema review of the latest Step Up film, All In, from my “between-blogs” period where I was still writing, but to no audience. Dark days!

… Keep Scuttling!

The Gallows (Blu-ray Review)

15 – 81mins – 2015



“You’re choking worse than Charlie did.”

20 years after a tragic mid-show prop malfunction sees student Charlie Grimille hanged in front of a horrified auditorium of pupils and parents, a Nebraska High School makes the dubiously macabre decision to restage their production of the eponymous theatrical work – complete with “replica playbills!”

After a rambling horror-free opening half hour which achieves little more than establishing some horrendously clichéd jocks and nerds (“You’re a cheerleader who likes to do other girl-dance stuff.” Urgh) excitedly preparing the set and rehearsing their lines, detestable dick videographer Ryan (Ryan Shoos) persuades the nervous leading man – and his best bud – Reese (Reese Mishler) to break into the school the night before curtains up to sabotage the set, thus postponing the play and saving his less-than-competent friend’s blushes.

Roping in Ryan’s girlfriend, Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford), the vandalisation gets off to a routine start, until they run into the goody-goody leading lady – and Reese’s secret crush – Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown) and things take a turn for the inexplicable. The frightened foursome discover they are trapped in the school with no means of contacting the outside world and in the company of a seemingly vengeful spirit who puts the dram in am-dram…

A multitude of convenient stock contrivances are established so to isolate the terrified teens (unlockable doors suddenly being locked, reliable mobile phones suddenly can’t find a signal, lights go out thus necessitating the use of a nightvision app), while you seriously question why even someone as thoughtless, shortsighted and arrogant as Ryan would so dutifully capture their crime and subsequent supernatural stalking on film – especially on the camera the school provided him!

The region 2 cover blurb boasts The Gallows as a “revolution” of the horror genre, but this is simply another formulaic found-footage compilation of police-confiscated evidence in the vein of Cloverfield, [REC] and – most iconically – The Blair Witch Project. Like the renowned 1999 docu-horror trailblazer, auteur duo Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing’s debut feature also favours psychological tension and the power of what you don’t see, and the film is all the better when that is the case.

Sadly, as the nightmare wears on and the cam gets ever-more shaky, in an effort to up-the-ante they perhaps show a little too much spectral shenanigans. The effectively creepy twist ending would have been masterful if presented as the sole rationale for the madness, but when coupled with the supernatural aspect, it makes for a confusing hodgepodge of elements as if the makers didn’t have complete confidence in the effectiveness of a more believable explanation and feared they needed to give the horror hounds more bang for their buck.

Speaking of bang for your buck, the blu-ray edition comes complete with what is in essence a second feature – The Gallows: Original Version – which is the complete film the indie makers originally shot, guerrilla-style, to tempt Hollywood production companies to invest in their vision. I am extremely interested in checking out how this budget rough cut ‘first draft’ compares to the Blumhouse-backed final product, and will give it a spin when the twists, turns and jump-scares aren’t quite so fresh in my memory.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

V/H/S Viral (DVD Review)

15 – 77mins – 2014



“Make sure you’re in focus!”

This stunted second sequel to the Bloody Disgusting-championed horror anthology from “The Collective” of emerging genre directors features another three found footage short films interlaced with a fourth wrap-around story which attempts to tie them all together. According to Wikipedia, a fifth was apparently commissioned but ultimately didn’t make the cut.

Sadly, this try-hard threequel diverts from the more cleanly-structured set-up of its predecessors in favour of a narratively-uncoordinated mash-up of found footage video nasties seemingly condemning the phone-obsessed mentality of the very audience the series is striving to appeal to.

With the police chasing down an errant ice cream truck, generation YouTube-r Kevin (Patrick Lawrie) is desperate to film the scandal for his five minutes of online fame, but just as the action is heating up, we are thrown – via some truly intrusive and painfully overused “retro” tracking effects – into Gregg Bishop’s completely unrelated story about “Dante the Great”, a modern stage magician (Justin Welborn) who uses Houdini’s infamous cloak for his nefarious gain.

A headache-inducing deluge of shaky-cam sources (all of which post-date the beloved eponymous medium and some of which seem to defy the laws of the found footage genre) are compiled into this schizophrenically-edited treasury of tasteless vulgarity. A random cut away during Marcel Sarmiento’s framing narrative “Vicious Circles” sees a Mexican house party descend into a forking bloodbath – but yet-more tracking issues and oh-so-convenient white noise mean we miss all but the aftermath!

Nacho Vigalondo’s mirror universe-exploring “Parallel Monsters” begins to subtlety uncover divergent religious beliefs with snuff films and bizarre sexual ceremonies panicking intruding inventor Alfonso (Gustavo Salmeron). Despite initially appearing to be the most sedate story, it disappointingly jumps the shark into outlandish alien territory just to flash some muppet-like demonic genitalia! Pity.

Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead’s “Bonestorm” segment sees skateboarding teens come under siege from a satanic cult in Tijuana. It is possibly the most effective strand due to the creepiness of seemingly insignificant robed figures cropping up in the background before the extremity of the battle explodes into life, however it takes forever to set up the main event with expendable Jackass japery, and it finishes before the promised ‘big bad’ is even shown.

So disorientating and wildly incohesive is V/H/S Viral’s slapdash patchwork that it really should come with an epilepsy warning! If the bloodthirsty audience aren’t already put off by this or the anti-climactic conclusions to the promising story concepts, then the lazy climactic jab at big brother culture will surely have people reaching for the eject button, condemning this once innovative horror series to the same demise as its outdated namesake.

CR@B Verdict: 1 star