Archive for July 10, 2016

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When it comes to the “found footage” horror genre, there’s really not much you can realistically ask for at this point, is there? 15 years into the ever-dimming past, “scare me” seemed a reasonable enough request; a decade back, “show me something new” would have sufficed;  five years ago, most of us were willing to settle for “at least do what you’re gonna do well.”

Today? Shit, I dunno — speaking personally, I’d say that I’ve been worn down to the point where “just don’t bore me to death” will do the trick. So when something like 2015’s ultra-cheap German “shaky-cam” flick Die Prasenz (or, as you’ll see it listed on Netflix right now should you care to look for it, The Presence — oh, and it’s most likely also available on Blu-ray or DVD depending on which part of the globe you call home) comes along and actually proves to be good, well — you tend to stand up and take notice. Or, at the very least, you keep sitting down and take notice.

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Hohnau Castle, we’re told, is haunted. So of course would-be paranormal investigative couple Markus (played by Matthias Dietrich) and Rebecca (Liv Lisa Fries) are going to drag their “third-wheel” buddy Lukas (Henning Nohren) and their HD camcorder along with them and spend a night there. Because that’s what people in these sorts of movies do. And, of course, the place really is going to turn out to have its fair share of unseen entities, ghastly apparitions, and various and sundry other things that go bump in the night. Because that’s what creepy old buildings in these sorts of movies have in them. And yeah, none of this should really work anymore — but in the hands of producer/director/writer/cinematographer Daniele Grieco and his $40,000 budget, I’ll be damned if most all of it doesn’t.

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Not that it should, of course, by all rights. But there’s an undeniable “extra something” on offer here that I thought the whole played-out “found footage” game had lost a long time ago. Maybe the obvious unprofessionalism of the cast makes them seem more like real people. Maybe the genuinely microscopic amount of cash spent imparts the proceedings with an air of entirely earned authenticity. Maybe the fact that things actually get going pretty quickly here and never really let up is just what jaded audience members like myself need to distract us from the fact that we’ve seen all this a thousand and one fucking times already. Heck, maybe the stories being circulated that the production itself was purportedly beset by “real-life” inexplicable happenings at the castle-turned-hotel where it was shot somehow give everything in Die Prasenz a level of gravitas that its legion of competitors/fellow travelers just can’t fake no matter how hard they try. Who can say for sure?

Whatever the reason (or reasons), though, I’m not complaining. This flick is just the shot in the arm us desperate, pathetic, “found footage” junkies needed — even if it’s being injected into a vein already heavy with “track marks” from overuse.

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It’s probably far too late in the day for anything even remotely resembling the “new” or the “different” or even the “unexpected” to somehow sneak into this just-can’t-seem-to-die subgenre, but Die Prasenz at least goes some way toward reminding us grizzled, tired vets why we ever saw anything of value in the conceit the first place — and at its best moments even makes us feel a frisson of the old “holy shit are they gonna make it out of this or not?” dread. I admit I don’t ask for much from “hand-held horrors” anymore — but this one gave me far more than I had any reason (I’m almost tempted to say right, but I won’t — whoops!) to expect.

 

 

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Late last night my seemingly endless quest to find you, dear reader, the at-least-occasional undiscovered gem among current Netflix horror offerings brought me to a mostly-unassuming, quite-obviously-low-budget Australian indie number from 2015 entitled The Pack (which I’m guessing is probably also available on Blu-ray and DVD if you must go that route), the brainchild of director Nick Robertson and his screenwriter, one Evan Randall Green, that marks yet another entry in the “nature’s fury unleashed, subgenre : wild dogs” category that we see from time to time and that, let’s be brutally honest, probably has nothing especially new, per se, to offer audiences. But hey — that doesn’t mean that it can’t tread its patch of well-worn ground reasonably effectively, does it?

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The premise here is about as basic as you’d expect : struggling family farmer Adam Wilson (played with requisite stoicism by Jack Campbell) and his supportive-perhaps-to-a-fault wife, Carla (Anna Lise Phillips) are barely keeping the bankers at bay as they strive in quite probable vain to preserve their rural Aussie dream for themselves and their two children, semi-rebellious teen Sophie (Katie Moore) and animal lover/part-time kleptomaniac Henry (Hamish Phillips — no relation, I’m assuming, to the actress who plays his mother), when one night, out of the blue, a decidedly more immediate threat descends upon their mortgaged-to-the-hilt farmhouse in the form of a pack of vicious, bloodthirsty canines. Some people, it would seem, can just never catch a break.

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I’m not sure how great a threat “dogs gone wild” pose to isolated rural residents in this day and age, but I imagine the prospect must be a fairly frightening one no matter how statistically small, and Robertson does a pretty decent job of amping up the tension throughout here as his hapless protagonists hunker down into deep “survival mode” for the night. These mutts have a taste for flesh that obstacles like doors and windows and walls can’t seem to muster anything greater than temporarily inconvenient barriers to, and the small cast all acquit themselves reasonably well when it comes to the task of selling us on the notion that they’re well and truly pretty damn frightened out of their wits. There’s nothing like a “standout performance” on offer here from any of them, but they’re all uniformly believable, as are their quite-expertly-trained four-legged counterparts. You might never actually be scared of anything going on here yourself, but you’ll get the feeling that they are, and that’s enough to keep the average horror aficionado entertained for an hour and a half.

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Still, if you’re getting the feeling that there’s no particularly compelling reason to move this to the top of your “must-see” list, that’s undoubtedly true, as well. Waiting out the siege and trying to stay alive may have made for especially gripping drama back when movies were a relatively new addition to the cultural landscape, but competent execution, even when it’s from all parties involved, can only take things so far with something this firmly entrenched in “been there, done that” territory. Nobody here has any reason not to be proud of the work they’ve done by any stretch of the imagination, but even the most meticulously-prepared McDonald’s Big Mac is still just a McDonald’s Big Mac and, like that unfortunately venerable staple of the Western diet (which actually sounds kinda good right about now, it pains me to admit), The Pack is both generally inoffensive to the palette and depressingly familiar. There’s no reason not to like it, but no reason to remember it after it’s been digested, either.

Review : “Throwaways” #1

Posted: July 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

Another new review from yours truly for Graphic Policy website.

Graphic Policy

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I was a big fan of the late, lamented Vertigo series Coffin Hill, so when I heard that its talented scribe, Caitlin Kittredge, would be plying her trade over at Image Comics in a new ongoing (whatever that phrase even means anymore) series that was going to be well outside her usual supernatural/horror wheelhouse, I was both intrigued and excited. The artist attached to the project, Steven Sanders, was a new name to me, but the subject matter sounded right up my alley — two twenty-somethings thrust into a web of mystery well beyond their understanding but presumably tied in with the CIA’s notorious MK-ULTRA program.

At this point, I suppose, a little bit of explanation is in order for those for whom this term is unfamiliar — in short, MK-ULTRA is real-life mind control, funded by your tax dollars. “The Company” assures us that it’s long…

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