Posts Tagged ‘dvd’

The name Richard Mansfield is not, I would assume, one known to very many, but I’d been hearing a little bit here and there over the past few years about this UK-based “micro-budget” writer/director and his production outfit, Mansfield Dark Productions, from fellow aficionados of cash-strapped filmmaking,  so when I noticed that a number of his flicks were available for streaming on Amazon Prime, I thought I’d give at least one of ’em a go and see what the less-than-buzz was all about. As it turns out, I ended up watching two, but we’ll get to the other one in our next review. First up : 2014’s The Mothman Curse.

Looking every bit like the one-thousand-pound (reportedly) production it is, this “supernatural thriller” certainly bases its entire shtick on the tropes one is used to from the “found footage” sub-genre, but can’t be fairly said to fit into said “family” of films in and of itself — it just looks, feels, sounds, and essentially plays out like one.

Cue lots of hand-held “shaky cam,” wildly varying sound levels, grainy-ass “night vision,” and wooden, amateurish acting. And yet Mansfield, no doubt forced to go with a “low-fi” vibe by dint of sheer necessity, doesn’t for one minute sell this as being a “mockumentary” of any sort. The story of overnight museum workers Rachel (played by Rachel Dale) and Katy (brought to “life” by Katy Vans) even, and obviously, plays the old “give characters the same name as the actors portraying them” card, but at no point are we told that they went missing and these tapes are all that was found to provide clues as to their disappearance, etc. In fact, the plot is pretty straight-line-from-A-to-B stuff. Purportedly living in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, they’ve heard tell of the so-called “Mothman,” of course — as have we all by this point — but when they begin to notice a strange and enigmatic shape out of the corners of their eyes with greater and greater frequency, they decide to to do a good and proper “deep dive” of research into the phenomenon, which apparently raises their would-be antagonist’s hackles, because he starts to make his presence more directly felt (and eventually seen) by means of crawling quickly across the ground, knocking on doors and then promptly running away, all that good stuff. He’s onto them, goddamnit, but he’s going to take his time and drive them crazy with paranoia and fear before moving in for the kill, ‘cuz that’s what spooky creatures like him do.

Shot almost entirely in black and white (with a bit of green here and there to denote when the lights have gone out), Mansfield seems to want to convince you that he’s making some kind of “art-house” flick here rather than just a cheap one, but he doesn’t strike a very convincing stylistic pose as far as that goes — I don’t know if the DVD iteration of this film available from Wild Eye Releasing features a commentary track or not, but if it does, I’d be curious to see how far he goes toward explaining/justifying this aesthetic. To me, it just looks like what we’ve got here is a guy doing some on-the-job-training when it comes to  getting the hang of using decade-old technology — which doesn’t preclude him from accidentally nailing a handful of legitimately effective shots — but who knows? Maybe I’m not giving him enough credit for trying to be a stylish visionary with next to nothing at his disposal.

Or, hell, maybe I’m giving him too much by even entertaining the “hey, this is all one purpose” possibility. After all, Mansfield doesn’t seem all that concerned with eliciting decent performances from his two principal leads — or, for that matter, from his small handful of supporting players. The Mothman him/itself is considerably more effectively realized, and the fuzzy image quality helps to no end in that regard given that seeing him clearly would probably show he’s just some dude in a cheap costume, but seriously — nothing else on offer here in terms of production values/quality gives any sort of hint that our cost-conscious autuer has any ambition to punch above his low weight class. The film seems very much resigned to its fate rather than one that looks for creative ways to seem like more than it is.

Pacing is another big problem here — I’m all for a slow burn, absolutely, but is more like a glacial fizz-out. Tectonic plates move more quickly than The Mothman Curse, and deliver considerably more “bang” when they do, finally, shift after millennia. Shit, the actors even speak slowly much of the time, essentially padding out what by all rights should be about a sixty-minute short (-ish) film to a seemingly-interminable 80 minutes, which is barely above the minimum a production can clock in at and still call itself “feature-length” with a straight face.Sure, it seems a lot longer, but this flick wastes time and stretches shit out to a degree that would make even master hustlers like Nick Millard envious.

So, yeah, getting to the end of this one was a rough slog. Watching the flagpole rust is probably a more involving endeavor. But hey — what the hell do I know? Somebody, somewhere, must have liked this, because Mansfield is still at it, presumably — hell, hopefully — honing his craft as he goes along, building a mini-“empire” that, as we’ve already established, at least enough folks are paying attention to in order to keep it going as a viable concern. Our guy Richard may even be pursuing his movie-making career on something resembling a full-time basis by now, in which case more power to ‘im.

Still, from all evidence on offer in The Mothman Curse, I don’t think a sane individual would invest another hour-plus of their existence in another Mansfield production. But a “sane individual” is something no one’s ever accused me of being —

Right off the bat, let me just make clear that writer/director Daniel Ray’s 2014 ultra-low-budget “mockumentary”-style indie horror Heidi isn’t about a little pig-tailed girl living in the Swiss Alps. As a matter of fact, it was filmed (in 2014, although it’s only somewhat recently been added to Amazon Prime’s streaming queue — it’s also apparently available on DVD) in Las Vegas (well away from The Strip or Fremont Street, mind you), and our titular Heidi is a creepy fucking doll.

Hell, I’d even go so far as to say she’s damn creepy, and while Annabelle, Chucky, and others hit the scene years — even decades — before Heidi did, she can proudly take her place in the “haunted doll” pantheon right beside them. In other words, dear reader, this flick is actually surprisingly good.

Here’s the rundown : semi-annoying high school kids Ryan (played by Samuel Brian) and Jack (Joey Bell) are would-be filmmakers who run a typically asinine YouTube prank show called “Booya,” which seems to revolve around catching Ryan’s older sister, Rachel (Eva Falana) unawares with various harmless-but-grating Punk’d-esque set-ups, but when being aspiring Alan Funts doesn’t prove to be too terribly lucrative an enterprise, Ryan takes a gig helping out an elderly neighbor by feeding her pet bird and cleaning up around the house. Teenagers being teenagers and all that, he and Jack take to rummaging around the place when its geriatric owner is away, and it’s in the attic where they first encounter the real star of the show. Jack’s the one who decides to get a scare out of his compatriot by kicking Heidi (“her” name is attached to her via a hand-written note), and it’s at this point that, wouldn’t ya know it, all their troubles begin —

Story-wise, Ray does a lot of things right here : he provides a solid reason for these kids to have cameras of all types everywhere (seriously, these guys make use of standard hand-held “shaky cams,” iPhones, webcams, head-mounted “GoPro” cams — even a teddy bear “nanny cam”), he establishes broad-stroke but effective backstories for everybody, and he writes engaging and realistic dialogue. It’s on the purely technical side of things, though, that Heidi manages to stand head and shoulders above its numerous counterparts in the “homemade horror” game.

The million-and-one different cameras employed allow Ray to keep his film visually interesting, and he’s obviously had plenty of practice using all of them given that he finds ways to compose effective and arresting shots with each. He’s got a really solid handle on lighting for a first-time director, gets admirably competent , at the least, performances out of his entire principle cast (as well as some of the bit players — special “props” go to Joei Fulco, who plays Ryan’s friend/semi-sweetheart Amanda), and has clearly watched enough horror movies to know what sort of scares he can get away with given the money he’s got on hand and finds ways to to execute what by all rights should be pretty typical “gotcha!” tropes in unique, unexpected, and highly interesting ways. In short, this movie both looks and plays out far better than we probably have any right to expect it to considering its numerous — though amazingly well-hidden — limitations.

My one small gripe is that Ray, for reasons I can’t really explain, sets much of his purportedly “found” footage against a standard — and not terribly good — musical score, which seems a curious choice to say the least, but you know what? After awhile you notice it less and less as both the film’s technical acumen and uncharacteristically rich and , dare I say it, “deep” story reel you in with a kind of quietly inexorable force. Sure, the ground that Heidi treads by means of plastic feet is fairly well-worn, but this is a borderline-ridiculously impressive effort for an amateur production, and if, like me, you’re the kind of person who gets shit from your friends for still holding out hope for micro-budget horror, and “found footage” micro-budget horror in particular, this is the kind of flick you can show those squares to shut them up.

Even among connoisseurs of “this sort of thing,” director Donald M. (not to be confused with Donald S. of The Forest and Schoolgirls In Chains fame) Jones’ low-rent straight-to-video slasher Muderlust has something of a checkered reputation for being nastier than the norm. Shot in California in 1985 for next to nothing, it was released straight to VHS in 1987 and quickly managed to raise a few eyebrows — among the few who were paying attention — for its downright gleeful misogyny, which reminded one youthful viewer (okay, me) of, say, what you’d end up with if Maniac didn’t take itself very seriously. But does that make this film less disturbing than others of its ilk — or more?

I gotta admit, having recently watched it for the first time since I was a teenager thanks to its recent addition to Amazon Prime’s streaming line-up (although Severin Films’ “cult” Intervision label has also recently released it on DVD paired with another Jones quickie, the almost-unfathomably bizarre Project Nightmare), I still don’t know the answer to that question. On the one hand, “star” Eli Rich is so clearly hamming it up as uber-woman-hating killer Steve Belmont that you can’t take much of anything on offer here too seriously, but on the other, if you have a conscience, then shit — shouldn’t this stuff bug you at least a little bit?

The character of Steve is clearly based on notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, a smooth-talking creep who pulled off a fairly successful pose as an upstanding member of society for many years until his nocturnal proclivities finally landed him in hot water. Steve’s not provided with anything by way of motivation of anything here — no troubled past, no fucked-up home life, nothing of the sort — so don’t bother looking for “reasons why” : he just hates women and kills ’em whenever he can. He’s not averse to fucking ’em, too, of course, but he doesn’t necessarily seem to need to in order to get his rocks off — it’s their dispatching and disposal that really turns his crank, and he’s gotten so prolific about it that his Mojave Desert dumping ground gets discovered by the authorities in fairly short order here. Not that he has any intention of stopping, mind you. He’s gotten a taste for it, and he seems to enjoy taunting both the cops and the community at large with his brazen what-by-all-rights-should-be recklessness.

The damn thing is, though, Steve’s such a fuck-up that he really oughtta get caught. He doesn’t seem to care about holding onto his shit security guard gig (and doesn’t for long once he starts threatening to kill a female customer right under the nose of his boss), he lives in a dump, he’s constantly borrowing money off his effete cousin, Neil (played by Dennis Gannon), he’s in heavy debt to his landlord (curiously referred to in producer/screenwriter James Lane’s script as his “realtor”), and he drinks like a fish. How this guy manages to get through the day without getting killed himself, much less being the one doing the killing, is downright dumbfounding. With extra emphasis on the “dumb.”

Still, they love him down at the church. Despite having no background in any relevant field, being a half-assed Sunday school teacher, and even being accused of molesting one of his students (a charge that Steve is, believe it or not, innocent of), he’s chosen by the church fathers to run their new so-called “Youth Crisis Center,” thanks in no small part to some very glowing recommendations from his quasi-love interest, Cheryl (Rochelle Taylor), and her mother, who are both completely fooled by his painfully transparent charm. Yessir, things are definitely looking up for ol’ Steve — until, in a rather delicious moment of irony, his extracurricular habits end up scuttling his plans to use the center as a means to find, sorry to use the term, fresh meat. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no direct connection made between Steve and the ever-growing pile of dead female bodies (yet), but the moneyed interests bankrolling the new outreach venture decide that it might be better to start helping young people out after they’re all done getting killed, and that’s when our “hero” well and truly loses his shit — okay, fair enough, that’s when he loses it even more.

It’s probably a heck of a reach to say that losing out on his dream job causes Steve to get sloppy, ‘cuz let’s face it,  he’s been damn sloppy from the outset, but he certainly cans all that “nice guy” pretext and starts letting it all hang out, and once he does that, it’s only a matter of time. Again, if you can see the “humor” in watching a madman murder women just because, well, they’re women, then you’re gonna be in much better shape here as events careen toward their one and only inevitable conclusion, but even then you might be forgiven for feeling that Murderlust‘s admittedly fleeting “je ne sais quoi” has already fled. Rich naturally radiates a kind of dime-store lothario sleaze for the first 3/4 or so of this flick, but he’s markedly less convincing in “out of control psycho” mode, and there’s a very distinct sense in the film’s final act that everybody’s running out the clock as surely as the clock is running out for our protagonist. As a result, Jones’ little opus essentially flips the switch from “guilty pleasure” to “just plain guilty” without even bothering to pass “go” and collect its $200.

Which may not be too far off the mark from the actual budget of this production, come to think of it. Shot in just a few locations, with a clearly amateur cast, and displaying nothing like an actual sense of style, this is straight-up, no-frills, point-and-shoot stuff that has no other choice than to feel hopelessly dated at this point because, hey, a moldy relic is all it could ever afford to become. And yet the modern world had probably already left this one pretty far behind even as it was being made — I doubt, for instance, that you could still beat a child molestation rap by simply telling the girl’s father that his daughter is a filthy little liar, as Steve does here (albeit politely, of course) in 1985. Probably not even in 1958. So if this really is the “throwback to another time” that many view it as, trust me when I say it’s a throwback to a time that (hopefully, at any rate) never even existed.

And maybe that’s the one nearest thing to a “redeeming quality” that Murderlust has to offer. There’s certainly no blood or guts here to make the gorehounds happy. There’s very little nudity apart from the quick bit provided by the always-game-to-get-naked-for-a-paycheck Ashley St. Jon. And there’s no particular indication from Jones that he has any concerns as a filmmaker apart from getting this thing in the can on time and under its obviously ultra- low budget. As a result, then — and an entirely accidental result, at that — what we have here is a flick that is completely divorced from actual, demonstrable reality, yet just as completely devoid of both the resources and the talent it would take to sell you on a false one. It can’t be bothered to attempt to suspend your disbelief, and so takes the easy (and only available) road, settling instead for admitting it’s total bullshit from the start. That’s not what you’d call a recipe for cinematic success by any stretch, but it’s been more than enough to ensure that this film has remained a morbid curiosity for three decades now, and will probably continue to be seen as such for many more to come. After all, not only do they not make ’em like this anymore — truth be told, they never really did.

It’s probably not a great sign when a film sits on the shelf for six years, unreleased and undistributed, but such is the case with The Haunting Of Ellie Rose, a modest little low-budget number out of the UK from first-time director Tristan Versluis (who also co-wrote the script with Tim Major and Andy Thompson), a guy who’s apparently has made a name for himself as one of the top makeup artists in the British film and television industry — and has subsequently returned to that line of work. Again, probably not a great sign.

So, anyway,  yeah — this flick was actually filmed back in 2009, but hung around collecting dust until 2015, when it was finally released on DVD as well as onto various home viewing platforms, including Amazon Prime, which is how I caught it. I certainly wasn’t expecting much given what little I knew of the production’s backstory, it’s true, but hey — I’ve found celluloid diamonds in considerably rougher spots than this in the past. Would this then prove to be another pleasant, unexpected surprise?

The short answer to that, I’m sorry to say,  is “no,” but it’s not for lack of trying on Versluis’ part. His script here is paper-thin, to be sure — beaten down (emotionally, mentally, physically) by an abusive marriage, our protagonist (played by Eastenders star Lucy Benjamin), whose name you already know, splits from asshole husband Frank (Bill Ward) and returns to her disused family cabin, ostensibly on the US east coast, where flashbacks to her troubled childhood soon threaten to overtake her waking life and go some way toward amping up the apprehension she feels toward either splitting the scene, or staying where she is and awaiting the arrival of — someone. Honestly, it’s tough to pinpoint exactly what is coming, if anything, but that’s a secondary concern for Versluis, since he spends most of his time piecing together where his central character has been.

In fact,in a very real sense, the present-day scenes in this film are just stage-setters for the flashbacks — Ellie stares out to sea a lot and pours herself one drink after another, and we do learn that an impending reunion with her younger sister, Chloe (Alexandra Moen), is what’s she’s so stressed about, but the real “action,” to the extent that it even exists, happens in the past, where we meet younger versions of Ellie and Chloe, as well as their emotionally distant mother, Rose (Kika Mirylees), whose supposed “transformation” from warm and loving parent to ice queen is still having reverberations in her daughters’ lives to this day. Although, ya know, stumbling across her dead body probably traumatized them a lot more —

I give Versluis credit for eschewing typical horror movie visual tropes in favor of a more “art house” look to his proceedings, but his disjointed time-jumps and rapid-fire editing do start to grate before too long. And by the fourth time we’re treated to a black-and-white flashback of the girls discovering their mother’s mutilated corpse, you’re more than ready to say “enough is enough.” The scenes look uniformly good, I’ll grant you that, but damn — they also looked good the first time, and once was plenty. Padding out a film is a necessary fact of life sometimes, sure, but when you go over the same ground over and over again and still only end up with an 80-minute feature,well, you’re in Nick Millard territory at that point.

The cast does a pretty decent job across the board here, particularly Benjamin (although all of them struggle with their American accents from time to time), but it’s not so much the quality of the material they’re given that holds them back as its sheer paucity. At the end of the day, The Haunting Of Ellie Rose feels like nothing so much as a 20-minute short extended far beyond its carrying capacity, and hoping desperately that some well-executed atmospherics can establish a pleasing enough “vibe” to distract you from the fact that there’s just not much happening here. It comes far short of pulling off that hustle, no question, but in strange way I do sort of admire Versluis and company for the earnestness with which they try to convince you that the appetizer they’re serving is actually a full meal.

 

 

Sometimes, friends, I just don’t even know where to begin.

I like to consider myself a fairly seasoned veteran when it comes to all things cinematically bad (I don’t call myself “Trash Film Guru” for nothing), but once in awhile something comes along that defies even my ground-down-over-time ability to adequately process. I’ve seen plenty of films that make no sense whatsoever — some good, some decidedly less so — but one thing even the most inexplicably bizarre servings of celluloid sewage have in common is that they were all trying to do something. Maybe it wasn’t something worth trying. Maybe it was something they flat-out shouldn’t have tried. But right or wrong, they all see it through to the end and sink or swim based on whatever fucking idea or premise they started out with.

Such is not the case with director John Hijiri’s 2009 zero-budget mega-turkey Jaws In Japan, which I caught earlier today streaming on Amazon Prime under its alternate international DVD (and whatever you do, I wouldn’t recommend sinking your hard-earned money into that) release title, Psycho Shark. This flick is like nothing I’ve ever seen simply because it seems to change its mind not once, but twice, about why it even exists. And as its thankfully brief 70-minute runtime drew to a close, all I could think is that it probably shouldn’t even exist at all.

Initially, Hijiri and screenwriter Yasutoshi Murakawa seem to be happy to simply dish out yet another Japanese bikini-romp, which makes sense given that its supposed “stars,” Nonami Takizawa and Airi Nakajima (as fun-loving college girls Miki and Mai, respectively) are what’s known as “gravure idols,” and neither of them can act worth a damn. Pretty early on, though, the decision is made that watching two admittedly quite pretty young ladies run around half-naked isn’t enough in and of itself to keep viewers interested if they’re not gonna get completely naked at some point, and so, while the “wear a swimsuit at all times” trope doesn’t go away, by any means, it’s simply steered into service of something that has the makings of an ostensible plot. Cue abrupt change number one.

This is the point at which our nubile co-eds find themselves completely lost on the island paradise they’re vacationing at and end up meeting a skeevy local who guides them to a hotel owned by a creep with blood under his fingernails who’s probably killing off tourists but, like an idiot, leaves their camcorders around for people like Miki and Mai to find. So, yeah, what we’re apparently looking at now is some sort of “found footage” serial killer flick.  And a damn boring one at that.

Unless, of course, roughly 45 mish-mashed minutes of watching shit “shaky-cam” footage, watching girls watching shit shaky-cam footage, and watching those same girls sleep, go to the beach, and take bikini-clad showers sounds gripping to you. There’s honestly more attention paid to — and more dialogue focused on — those ever-present bikinis than there is to the “killer on the loose” storyline, which is fair enough given that bikinis are more interesting than said storyline, but seriously — why not just make a “gravure” feature and leave it at that?

Evidently, Hijiri and Murakawa decided their “mockumentary”-style movie-within-a-movie wasn’t working out too well, either, so with approximately ten minutes to go, they abandon that conceit in favor of abrupt change number two : a giant CGI shark. Earlier scenes in this film borrowed obviously (and ineptly) from both Psycho and The Ring, but seriously, even though the film’s title gives it away, the sudden and hard pull into Jaws territory makes no sense whatsoever and feels very much like the last-second addition that it is (which makes me wonder what they were gonna call it before tacking this shit on at the end, but whatever). If you’ve got whiplash at this point, rest assured, you’re not alone.

Or maybe you are, because chances are that nobody else is awake at this point. Seriously, unlike other rankly amateur cut-rate CGI abominations like Birdemic, there’s just nothing weird or interesting going on here to maintain your interest until that shark shows up at the end, and by then it’s all far too little, far too late. It seems really strange that a film with pretty young women running around in next to nothing capped at the end with a laughably absurd CG monster could be boring, but that’s exactly what Jaws in Japan is. In fact, it’s downright interminably dull. And while I can certainly forgive (heck, more often than not I love) ultra-low budgets, cheesy FX, and absurd stories, one thing I can’t forgive is dullness. And no matter how many times Hijiri tries for a “do-over” with this thing, he never figures out how to turn it into anything you’re going to give a shit about.

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If I had the energy, ambition, or desire, I would begin this review with a lengthy preamble about the reasons why Charles Manson and his so-called “family” continue to hold such a grim fascination for so many of us, but you know what? The internet is chock full of thoughtful and articulate (as well as a number of hopelessly dull and derivative) essays on that very subject already,to the point where there’s literally nothing I can say about it all that hasn’t been said already. Suffice to say that even now, nearly a half-century after the Tate-LaBianca murders sent shock waves through the nation (and, indeed, the world), those waves continue to reverberate in ways both expected and unexpected and the very word “Manson” has become firmly ensconced as the brand name of choice for murder, madness, and mayhem. No amount of haughty proclamations about the killings associated with him marking the end of the so-called “flower power generation” or the supposed death of American innocence (there’s any oxymoron for you) changes that fact. These are the most notorious crimes in our country’s history, and even though there have been more horrifying incidents both before and since, for some reason odds are good that they always will be, and Manson himself will always be America’s “go-to” bogeyman of choice.

And while I’m being lazy, let me just say that we won’t be delving into the richly sordid history of Manson (or his numerous marginally-fictionalized stand-ins) on film here, either. The heyday of “Mansploitation” is obviously long over, sure, but every now and then we still get a new “Manson-centric” cinematic production and I don’t see that ending anytime soon, either. The most recent entry into this loose canon (sorry for the lame pun) is writer/director (and fellow Minnesotan) Brandon Slagle’s House Of Manson, a decidedly low-budget indie effort filmed in 2014 in and around the Los Angeles environs that has spent the last 18 months or so making the rounds on the film festival circuit and is now available for streaming on any number of so-called “home viewing platforms” (I caught it on Hulu) as well as on DVD. Its most recent corollary is probably Jim Van Bebber’s equal-parts admired and reviled 1997 effort The Manson Family, but beyond a similar DIY-ish ethos, the two films probably don’t actually have that much in common beyond their lurid subject matter. Where Van Bebber embraced a mish-mash of experimental filming styles, Slagle plays it fairly straight, for instance, and ditto for the narrative through-lines followed by each flick, with Van Bebber slyly calling into question various aspects of the established version of events largely extrapolated from Vincent Bugliosi’s hopelessly blinkered best-seller Helter Skelter, while Slagle hews to a pretty tight “party line,” with most of his take matching up almost disturbingly closely with the self-serving view  offered by principal- killer-turned-Christian-con-man Charles “Tex” Watson.

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And therein, I think, lies the problem. For all we supposedly know about the “Mason murders,” I would contend that our “information” all comes from either prosecutors, cops, or people with a distinct motivation for making themselves look less guilty. I think it’s entirely reasonable to have more questions than answers about the whole thing even after all these years, but if you’re looking for anything other than the same sort of standard-issue reiteration of events that you’d find in any number of, say, Lifetime movies about “Charlie and his girls,” you’re not gonna find ’em here. There are some fine performances, to be sure — Ryan Kiser, in particular, is borderline superb as the most relatably human Manson since Steve Railsback (a take that was considered to be “too sympathetic” at the time and basically derailed the actor’s then-quite-promising career), but he can still flip on the “trippy guru” and “homicidal madman” switches fairly effortlessly at the drop of a hat, and special mention should also go to Devanny Pinn as Susan Atkins, Reid Warner as Tex, Serena Lorien as Patricia Krenwinkel, and fellow Daily Grindhouse contributor Tristan Risk as murder victim Abigail Folger, as well. Honestly, there’s a lot of good acting on display here, and some of it’s even great.

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Is that enough in and of itself to make a film worth watching, though? Sometimes, sure, what the hell — but not when you already know everything you’re gonna see, and furthermore pretty much know it all by heart. When you’re treading territory this depressingly and horrifyingly familiar, it can be tough to find something new to say, no question about that, but again — there are so many lesser-explored tributaries coursing out of these tragic occurrences, not to mention competing theories as to why things happened the way they did and what the true motivations behind them were, that you would  think it wouldn’t be all that difficult to, at the very least, give audiences something new or different to think about in relation to the Manson, for lack of a better term, phenomenon.

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That’s not on the agenda here, though, which means that for all its laudable elements, House Of Manson is a rote and thoroughly unimaginative affair, a remake of no specific film, but rather of any number of them. It’s not without artistic merit, by any means, but it also seems to have no particular purpose. If you want to see what the Manson story looks like when it’s done with less money and lower production values than you’re used to seeing, fair enough, this is the movie for you. But if you’re looking for new insight or details or even just some semi-surprising little wrinkle you won’t find in a thousand other places, no such luck.

I know a lot of effort went into this production — behind-the-scenes stories about its truncated filming schedule and the grueling work that necessitated as a result of it make it clear to me that it was most definitely a labor of love. I just wish that I could love it back.

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One of these days, I’ll learn to resist new micro-budget “found footage” horror flicks added to the Amazon Prime streaming queue, but today wasn’t that day, and you know what? I’m kind of glad for that fact, because the latest one that I watched — Irish writer/director Peter Bergin’s 2015 offering, Territorial Behavior (which is apparently also available on Blu-ray and DVD, if you’re so inclined)  — turned out to be, while admittedly wholly unoriginal, pretty fun, well-executed, suspenseful stuff.

What Bergin is aiming for here is the classic bait-and-switch : outdoor survival instructor Bailey Rhodes (played with something more than competence but less than actual charisma by Ronan Murphy) heads out to the Montana (by way of Ireland) wilderness to film a tutorial video for prospective students/clients, but he soon finds himself squarely in the cross-hairs of a group of violent poachers who seem, shall we say, overly protective of the area. In fairly short order our guy Bailey is plunged into a real struggle for survival that he’s only marginally (at best) prepared for, but when he begins to piece together various clues he finds in the wild, he comes to the conclusion that there’s likely something far more dangerous after him than his human antagonists, and guess what? That means this would-be rugged outdoorsman is way out of his depth —

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It has to be said that the Irish scenery in this flick is absolutely beautiful and not altogether ineffective as a stand-in for Montana, and that the actors (special props to Bridget O’Connor as Amber, Corey Macri as local sheriff Marvin Krantz, and Aaron Lee Reed as sleazebag poacher Todd) sound more or less quasi-authentically American, so while the illusion isn’t complete, it’s complete enough, especially for a shoestring production of this nature, to be considered as convincing as possible. Ditto for the “shaky-cam” footage, which never becomes grating and manages to avoid some of the obvious logical contradictions (how can he be standing in front of the camera if he’s holding it, etc.) that too often plague this budget-conscious subgenre. These probably qualify as low-grade compliments to those pre-disposed to write off anything and everything “found footage,” sure, but they belie a level of care and attempted professionalism that those of us who do still spend a fair amount of time watching these things will certainly appreciate.

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What’s a little less easy to be kind towards is the fact that the plot for Territorial Behavior is about as by-the-numbers as it gets, to the point where you pretty much know exactly what is going to happen and when, but at least Bergin is skilled enough with the atmospherics to maintain your interest throughout. He has a pretty good grasp on what he can successfully pull off and what would be ridiculous to even try, and his strategy of keeping the fight well within his weight class actually allows him to land some fairly solid punches on occasion, even if you see all of ’em coming from a mile away. Too many other newbie directors in his position let their ambitions get the better of their abilities, resources, or both, but if you can do simple and straightforward better than you can do artsy and experimental, trust me — stick with the simple and straightforward. I’m pleased to report that’s precisely the philosophy this film adheres to.

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Still, there’s no doubt your enjoyment of Territorial Behavior is going to be entirely dependent on how sick of the “mockumentary” conceit you happen to be personally. If you can’t stomach it for any reason, then nothing here’s going to change your mind. And if you’re looking for at least something of a new take on a very shop-worn trope, you’re not gonna find that here, either. If you’re still a fan of “found footage” in a general sense, though, and merely need to see it done with an admirable level of care, concern, and attention to details both large and small, then this admittedly modest production should prove to be right up your alley. It’s nothing you’re going to want to rush to see ASAP by any means, but if you do decide to give it a go, you’ll be happy that you did.

So does that mean this was a subdued but positive review, or a politely negative one?