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Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Brief Guide To Shaky Cam Horror

In the vast amount of time I have not been blogging, I have managed to catch up on many, many horror movies. While on they way, I rewatched Paranormal Activity in anticipation of of the sequel, and regretfully (because it was free and easy to click on) watched Paranormal Entity.

In my review of Activity, I hoped that shaky cam would become more of a genre in it's own right. And when you get a mockbuster made of your picture, I think maybe that's arrived. So in preparation for a Halloween weekend, let's go through the shortlist of the shaky cam spookers.

The Last Broadcast
One of the earlier, if not the earliest, movies of this type - The Last Broadcast is also one of the least formulaic of the bunch. While you'll see many of the same trappings - first person confessions, running through the woods, people wandering off into isolation, there's more of a whodunit storyline being followed at the core. Not the scariest, or best produced, by far - but worth watching for those who found Blair Witch at least interesting.

Back in 1992, the BBC released this little known gem. It actually caused some hysteria upon its release and was named in one suicide (no joke). I haven't seen it as of yet because it's nearly impossible to find, it has only aired twice and while it hit DVD in 2002, doesn't look like it's been made available for import anywhere.

Blair Witch Project
BWP remains the epicenter of the shaky cam films, having gathered a lot of attention, making lots of money and distilling the basics of the concept: low budget, handy cam directing, and possibly most importantly ... a plot which centers just as much about how relationships take a downward spiral in a crisis as it does about ghosts and creepy moments. It's a hallmark, actually, of what works and doesn't work for these kinds of films ... if the actors can't sell you on the fact that they're in crisis mode, you're probably not going to be in crisis mode either.

Not nearly as much of a copycat as it could have been guilty of, Quarantine uses the shaky cam concept on a twist of the zombie genre with somewhat mixed, but usually decent results. There's a level of predictability, partially because we've all seen the same kind of zombie film a dozen times before ... and also because this is one of those movies that oddly features one of the final scenes as its cover. Can't strongly recommend, but did find it somewhat entertaining.

The reason why Cloverfield is something of a landmark film in that it combines the general formula: a small group of people armed with a handycam in a desperate and bizarre situation, with Hollywood special effects and a big budget. Most interesting is that the former seems to work much better than the latter, though the level of destruction that the budget provides offers a great deal of value. Somewhere along the way, the movie starts to feel more like a standard monster flick - but it offers a lot of new moments along the path.

Paranormal Activity
The genre took something of a breather for a few years, but a great awakening with this 2007 title. The movie nails precisely what works - focusing on sounds more than visuals, keeping a tight lens on the two leads while document the strain on their relationship the spookhouse moments have on them night after night. I wasn't sure what would hold up during a late night rewatch, but really the only diminished effect is that lack of theater speakers to really catch the mostly invisible action during the film.

The Fourth Kind
A victim of overselling the premise by repeatedly trying explain why Milla Jovovich is on the screen, The Fourth Kind moves the concept over to alien abductions while also trying to provide a backdrop for better produced "re-enactments" than the normal handycam directing provides. There's some very good bits in the midst of it all, though the sum doesn't quite live up to the parts.

Paranormal Entity
A pretty hideous copycat of Paranormal Activity, courtesy of mockbuster producers The Asylum - Entity plays out like a poor student that couldn't pay attention during class. Lacking nearly all of the elements that made Activity work, Entity manages a couple of shock moments but in the long run will mostly scare you for the fact that you bothered to watched the thing in the first place.

Paranormal Activity 2
Have not seen it, but the reviews have been good and fully plan to either by or shortly after Halloween.

Paranormal Entity

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