Saturday, May 30, 2015

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 51

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"The concept was a bit underutilized... but it had that old timey future look to it. That was cool."

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 50

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"Do I really have to explain how this one turned out?"

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 49

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"More delayed, awkward conversations per capita than any movie I can think of... makes it very slow for an 82 minute comedy."

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

7 Hauntings - Final Night: The Ghost Dimension + My Final Thoughts

When I first started working on this seven part special I was hoping to see The Ghost Dimension to offer a more accurate thought on the status and future of the franchise. It had said online for a while that it would be released in March. Well when I started this special in not so much as a trailer or poster was released so it gave me cause for concern. Sadly (I think) it has been delayed to later this year. Something that has me worried since it's officially been "quite a while" since the last movie in the trend these had been coming out.

But the story doesn't end there.

After doing some digging I found out this isn't the first time it was delayed. The Ghost Dimension was originally set to be released in October 2013, keeping in the annual tradition. But that made me wonder. The Marked Ones also referenced originally set for October 2013 before being delayed three months, releasing in January 2014. Does that mean The Marked Ones was pushed forward after something happened with the production of Ghost Dimensions? And these movies are cheap and don't seem that complicated to make (comparatively) so why such a long delay? Are we going to get a 2013 movie marked as a new release when 2015 is close to over?

An odd trend lately...

...releasing delayed movies...

...long after they were promised.

Regardless of what The Ghost Dimension is I highly doubt it would save the franchise or give it new life in the public eye. Like other franchises, Paranormal Activity was a fad to many people. It was a scary movie, highly overrated or not to some, that came out a while ago and hasn't been thought of much since. The box office has slowly been dropping so the numbers are there, showing the world isn't interested in this franchise anymore. And you know what... that's fine... cause the story kept getting worse and more convoluted as the movies went on. And it got bad quicker than most other horror franchises.

Story isn't as much of an issue in most horror franchises. Some of the most popular have been popular because of their entertainment value based on the excitement of kills or even the sheer fun of watching over any actual scared. Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street being the most popular examples. Two horror icons of the slasher genre that pumped out oodles of movies including at least one remake of each and a crossover. Do those movies have good stories? Sometimes... but they're stories that don't rely on every movie being connected other than "Oh shit... he's back."
Granted those movies had comical elements to them and had more freedom because of their traditional storytelling style. The filmmakers didn't have to worry about the found footage style. All they really had to worry about was kills and thrills. Which makes me sound like I'm trying to say Paranormal Activity had to hold itself up to a higher standard than other horror franchises. Not saying it had to... but it could have... and instead shat it's pants and passed out in it's own puddle of piss. Mostly because it tried to be something it didn't set out to be and tried to connect all the movies in a wild way when it didn't have to.

Now it could have been cool to connect all the movies in a different way. It had that potential of having a strong arc across multiple movies. Instead it reminded me of what Saw did only much, much worse.
Paranormal Activity started making poor choices very early on, having the "we're obviously making this shit up as we go along" element show up like in Saw. And, yes, Saw had far fetched connections and twists but it was handled so much better and kept things exciting. Part 5 has it's issues and most of part 6 and 7 were fucking stupid... but at least it got through that many before reaching that level, arguably, as opposed to Paranormal Activity that hit a super bad level by part 2.

There's not much more to say about this franchise that I haven't already said. This could have been so much better a run that could have really done something for both the found footage genre and the horror genre as a whole. Really bring subtly back to the mainstream in horror. So disappointing how it all turned out. At least I have my memories of seeing the original for the first time. A very unique experience that I partially relive every time I rewatch it.

My predictions from here are simple. The Ghost Dimensions will come out, no one will care, it won't make a lot of money, and will probably be terrible. It will likely keep things open for the potential of more movies but I don't see more coming. It won't have the foresight to call it "the final chapter" like Saw did. It'll just continue the downward spiral out of the public eye like it's been doing for the last couple years.

Rest in peace Paranormal Activity. You may have been a disappointing franchise but I'll always love what made you great in the first place.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 48

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"If you like movies about old men losing their temper and swearing a lot, this documentary is for you!"

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Friday, May 8, 2015

7 Hauntings - Night 6: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

History: Initially teased during an after credits sequence at the end of Paranormal Activity 4, a scene only shown in theatres. It hinted at taking a Latino direction in the franchise, for a lack of better terms.
This installment was different in many ways. One, it wasn't part of the main story. It was a spinoff set in the same universe but not the same characters. Also, due to longer production time it was released in January 2014, breaking the Halloween tradition the last four installments had.
It was received with mixed to negative reviews, but slightly higher than Paranormal Activity 4. With that said it was another financial success like every other installment, but was the lowest earning. Even on opening weekend it ranked #2 in the top 10 just behind Frozen, which was in it's 7th week in the top 10. Says a lot either about the insane popularity of one movie, or the depleting interest in a franchise. In the end it earned roughly $90 million.

Personal History: Skipped this one theatrically after how bad #4 was. Once again I am thankful for Netflix, so I don't have to rent it elsewhere for more money or... worse yet... buy the DVD to satisfy my curiosity.

Version I Watched: Netflix instant streaming of the unrated extended cut.

Review: UUUUGGGGGHHHHHbllleeeeeeggghhhh..... I don't want to do this... but for the sake of completion I will tackle this garbage.

First off it didn't help I didn't even want to watch this. Thinking back to even the trailer of this movie I could tell how dumb and bad it would be. And since I was hot off the disappointment of part 4 I knew I wouldn't like this. And trust me, it's not like I went in with good expectations. I just tend to know what I will like and I was predicting this would be one I would not like. But what about it was bad? Plenty. And to repeat myself from my last review... where do I begin?

To get the obvious out of the way I hated how paint by numbers this one was.
My primary complaint of the previous titles, in case you didn't fully read the last few reviews (or at all) one of my most common complaints is how the newest movie is a rehash of the old with some new ideas that don't always work, making it uninteresting. While each entry has had varied levels of success this one didn't event try.
I wouldn't be surprised if this was some separate script rolling around studios (probably called The Marked Ones) and was hastily turned into a Paranormal Activity movie to continue banking on the success of the franchise.

Every step this entry takes is so typical and so cliche of possession movies. There are the people who think it is stupid or not real, our heroes. There's a crazy person who is made fun of but is clearly the first antagonist we meet who will open a door to the insanity that follows. There's a scene when the demon CLEARLY possesses our hero. Then when they realize there's a demon they do demon research and discover it's dark history. Lastly things slowly getting worse and worse in his life until it either A) completely takes him over, or B) there's a ritual to rid him of the demon. Guess what... this one had both, technically.

Almost any other example of this I would pass off as "well that was okay at best" but when it's trying to be part of a long running franchise it will definitely have a standard to live up to. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the first movie in this franchise is hands down one of the best horror movies to come out since the turn of the century. This being the fourth sequel (or I guess spin off as they are calling it online) doesn't mean it has to live up to those standards, but they could have at least tried.

As much as I hated part four at least they TRIED. Sure a lot of it turned out to be shit but they tried. They tried new methods of getting found footage, they tried a new perspective, they tried plenty of new or different things instead of resorting to Demon Possession Script Writing 101.
The Marked Ones is as simple and safe as this whole franchise has been. Everything you expect will happen does happen and it makes for a boring experience. I can't think of a single moment when I felt scared or unsettled, something that happened in at least one or multiple moments in the previous ones (well... the jury is out on four but I digress.) Everything was laid out for you with some of the loosest, laziest, and far fetched connections to the original story as possible. Then when they introduce new elements to the "lore" of the franchise it conflicts with what we've been told, or doesn't make sense to be there. Likely all in an attempt to further "amp it up" like previous titles tried.

I don't even want to try and describe what all I didn't like in the first and second act here, I'd rather talk about the last act and the ending because those were the worst and most far fetched.
But first I'd like to talk about the elephant in the room... racial insensitivity.

While there may be truth to this considering where this franchise takes place, southern California, I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable for the Latino perspective given in this movie. Mostly in comparison to the racial perspective of the previous movies.
From the first to the fourth all the Paranormal Activity movies have taken place in large homes populated by white families. The first time around this was because in order to save money by filming in the director's home, which happened to be pretty dang nice. Then the trend continued for the following titles because, I don't know, the first movie did it?
But then we get to the Latino story in this franchise and they're in a shitty part of southern California, have a multi-generational home in a two bedroom apartment, have to deal with gangs, and any other insulting stereotype you can fit into that. The whole thing made me uncomfortable and I actually found it distracting. Not because of where it was set or the fact that it was Latino, but because it hit on so many cliches and stereotypes of the race that it distracted from the darker elements of the movie.
Also they would constantly speak like a bunch of idiot teenagers who walk, talk, and act... umm... how do I put this... ghetto? Acting like they're gangsta? You know what I mean?

Moving on...

So, spoiler alert if you care, but I want to talk about the ending of the movie.
After our hero (whose name is Jesse, by the way) becomes fully possessed, his buddy and the girl he likes (Hector and Marisol) find out about a house where big wig wiccan rituals happen and believe he went there. So they get some help from a hardcore gang leader and his buddy, who show up to this house with guns like they're about to tear the place apart with bullets (okay, okay, they each had one gun but seriously it was overkill the type of guns they brought.)
This is where the attempt to connect this story to the previous comes into play with a slap in the face and/or pander to the fans of the franchise because the house they show up at is the same house from the end of part three. Katie and Kristi's grandma's house... the grandma that turned out to be a witch, which was to clumsily explain where the demon came from... I guess?
It doesn't take long for everything to start going to hell. One after another our heroes are picked off by crazy witches who all look like they're possessed, leaving Hector all alone running from these predators, including the cameo from grandmama from part three.

What happens next was the dumbest and most pandering thing possible.

After running around the house screaming a bunch Hector finds himself cornered in an upstairs room where all the windows are sealed from the outside with wooden planks. He is being chased by his possessed friend Jesse and his only two options are out the door he came in, against Jesse, or through a mysterious door in this room. He takes the mystery door, wherein the video jolts and breaks for a moment, and when it becomes clear again he found himself in Katie and Micah's home the night Katie killed Micah in the first movie. He witnesses Katie kill Micah in a perspective we couldn't see in the first movie, runs back to the door he came from and is killed by Jesse before he can make it.
The Marked Ones takes place in 2012, the first movie in 2006. Hector fucking time traveled to a different location in a different city. It didn't entirely come out of nowhere but it doesn't make it any less dumb.

Early in the movie there's a throwaway line about creating a portal to time travel. However this portal will only time travel to an unholy place. Perfect time to throw in some fan service. Because from a context and writing perspective this just didn't make a ton of sense. More of a coincidence. Based on the events presented after the first movie it would have made just as much sense for him to wind up in Kristi's home ala part two, or the end scene of part four when there was a mob of demon witches attacking Alex.
No, not here, this was a supposed seminal moment that was important to transport to despite later event suggesting bigger things happening in later installments.

Which brings me to something that has bugged me a lot about this franchise.
It seems like since they started making sequels they've tried deflating the experience Katie and Micah went through. In part two they were in more control against the demon, actually drawing it out of Kristi very easily. In part three we get the explosive end with the witches killing Katie and Kristi's family only to take them away (and give them amnesia I guess since they NEVER talk about this.) Then in part four Katie seems to host a coven party of her own. All of which are events and elements that are bigger and seem more prominent than what happened in part one.
So why bring him to that night outside of fan service? Wouldn't it have made more sense for him to come out of the same door, same room, but during the final scenes of part three. That feels more unholy and more appropriate than the since deflated events of the first movie where he only transported there because, well, it was the first movie.

This is technically a spin off and has very few actual connections to the rest of the movies so. Unless they make future movies that have key moments connected to what happens here I can't see this as a necessary watch. It's not like the other movies where you almost had to have seen the rest of the movies to understand fully what's going on, or to get references that could be important.
There's just nothing here worth checking out for the franchise. It doesn't even feel like it lives in the same world. It feels like something made independently and claims to be part of this world, with the exception of the last couple scenes at the end.

This movie is mediocre at best as a possession movie. As a Paranormal Activity movie it is terrible. Worse than four.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

7 Hauntings - Night 5: Paranormal Activity 4

History: Despite being the fourth installment, this was the first sequel in a literal sense. Set several years after the events of the first two, this installment focuses on a teenage girl who lives across the street from the house Katie moves into years after her last appearance and is raising the one year old she abducted at the end of the second movie.
Just like the last two this was produced and released a year after the last and kept the small budget going. Saying this was a financial success is no surprise, earning roughly $140 million. But it is currently the poorest reviewed of them all. The main criticisms stating it "played it safe" and "is for diehard fans only."
Despite the negative reviews this was the most varied in the way the "found footage" was recorded. Utilizing not just home video cameras, but also smartphones, Macbook Pro, and XBox Kinect.

Personal History: Seen it only once when it was in theatres fall 2012.

Version I Watched: Netflix instant streaming of the unrated extended cut.

Review: Remember all the positives I said for part 3? How it felt like there were still good ideas coming out of this franchise despite the flimsly and inconsistent story connections with the movies that came before it? Well put any hope of that coming up here because part 4 threw anything and everything that made the last three any good and threw it out the window to make this one something devoit of any suspense, tension, subtlety, or interest at all.
I desperately wanted to like this one. Desperately. At first I was surprised how good part 2 was (not so much anymore) and really enjoyed part 3, so I wanted to keep that trend going while avoiding the inevitable that the franchise would grow stale fast. Little did I realize just how quickly it would grow not only stale but mold and deteriorate right before my eyes.
When I first saw this I didn't know what to think because I wanted to like it so much, thinking it would get better with repeat viewings. The opposite happened.

I don't even know where to begin...

Well one thing this movie does is it attempts to move the story forward instead of going back with another prequel. Also it attempts to tell the story of a seemingly unrelated family experiencing this haunting with no connection to Katie until she and her abducted child show up. The plot kicks off when Katie (who we don't realize is her until the movie is almost done... but really who are we kidding here?) checks into the hospital and the family in focus is asked to watch over her kid for the time being. A creepy ass kid who, of course, causes a ton of weird shit to start happening.

Copy + Paste and print.

No it's not that simple. This is not a copy and paste job to cash in on the franchise. This experience was even worse than that. The execution of this was so bad that you'd think it was made by people who only heard about the previous movies but never saw them. And the main problem is... teenagers.
Having a movie starring teenagers isn't necessarily a bad thing. But it is hard for people to care about them in a low effort, R rated horror movie where your core audience can't get in. Regardless we mostly follow a teenage girl (anywhere from 14-16) and her kinda sorta boyfriend walking, talking, and acting like teenagers in all the worst ways.
This may seem like an unfair complaint but it really overflows into the tone and execution.
The main problem is it feels like it was written and shot by teenagers, performed by their family and friends, and therefore meant for a very specific audience, an audience that wasn't Paranormal Activity fans. Really this felt like it was made to be a PG-13 summer horror flick for teens to get scared by cheap thrills on a Friday night while sneaking in Buffalo Wild Wings and making out with their BF/GF in the back of the theatre. Or... this is the farthest the franchise fell from it's intelligent and subtle origins.

It's hard to rack up all the things wrong with this installment. They missed the mark on almost every single aspect.

As you can imagine I didn't like the characters but for different reasons. In the past I've disliked characters because I felt they were making bad choices or were jerks and idiots. These characters are simply nothing. They're blank slates covered in cookie cut characteristics and are non-memorable. Our hero, the teenage girl, could have been anyone that age. Her pseudo-boyfriend is obnoxious. Her parents barely exists as with her little brother. The kid they're watching over, Katie's "kid" looks like a poor man's imitation of Damien from The Omen. There's just nothing memorable character-wise.
Even poor Katie, the girl whose been a part of all these movies in some way, shape, or form was given jack shit to do and didn't even need to be here. Her delivery and motivation is lackluster at best, making it easy to see that she did this for the money and nothing else.
Characters aside the biggest crime was the tone of the movie and the presence of the demon.
There is no sense of dread or terror. It would have been better if this was handled closer to part 2, which had little going for it as is. Any real attempt at scares either fall flat or are the safe bet of jump scares. Nothing imaginative, nothing well thought out, just... nothing. Which is a shame because the best part of this movie was the new use of new cameras, giving potential to new scares.
In case you skipped the History section, part 4 utilized not just a home video camera, but also smartphones, webcams, and even the then new XBox Kinect. This is creative, inventive, and makes sense considering who stars in the movie. More sense than them running around with a home video camera constantly. There are extensive scenes shot entirely on iPhone and a webcam which caused a downgrade in video quality in a good way. Makes it feel a tad more real knowing they used the actual devices kids that age would use. It's the only element of the movie that truly enhanced the experience.

That enhanced experience is quickly destroyed by the piss poor way they handled the demon this time around. Before the demon's presence was hardly made known, and when it was it built plenty of tension around it, and even then it was minimalistic. Here he shows up so much he may as well have been a floating sheet screaming "BOO!"
The worst offender in this is the use of the Kinect. At one point our hero's boytoy shows everyone via night vision on his video camera how Kinect uses thousands of little lights to pick up body movement.

As you can see here.

Well... you guessed it... there are multiple scenes when there's a body of a person we can't see formed out of those dots. It's predictable, happens multiple times, and when it does it's not even scary. It looks stupid and is uninteresting. When they first showed the Kinect trick I thought it had potential. After seeing the results I realized I was wrong.
This, among other poorly paced and poorly placed scares, all leads up to an ending I'll admit I didn't see coming. I didn't see it coming because it came out of fucking nowhere and only made me ask questions like "what the hell?" and not in the way a good storyteller would want you to ask questions.

I could sit here and talk in more detail about what makes this one so bad but... ugh... that would be exhausting and rambling. Just take my word for it that this is the worst of the lot so far. As of writing this review I haven't watched The Marked Ones but it can't possibly be this bad. Could The Marked Ones do more to make the overall story more conviluted? Likely. But will it be this bad an execution? I doubt it. Little to nothing is redeeming here outside of the fact that it starts a pretty white blonde girl... a detail that hasn't won me over on a shitty movie since I was the same age as her...

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

7 Hauntings - Night 4: Paranormal Activity 3

History: Produced and released a year after Paranormal Activity 2, making it another annual holiday tradition much like the Saw franchise which had it's final installment released around the same time as Paranormal Actity 2. This installment was another prequel rather than a sequel. But this time it went back to the late 80's when Katie was still a kid. Giving an origin story of when the demon started haunting her.
Financially it became the highest grossing in the franchise, raking in a little over $200 million worldwide. Also it broke another midnight opening record for a horror film previously set by it's own franchise a year earlier, raking in $8 million in a single night. While not as highly praised as the original, it got slightly better reviews than the last installment.

Personal History: Only saw it once before via Redbox. Skipped it in theatres since 2 was pretty much just OK so I didn't have much to get excited about for 3. However I remember really enjoying it when I rented it. A lot more than 2.

Version I Watched: Unrated extended cut DVD.

Review: Once again this franchise moves back in time with a sequel that's actually a prequel. However, unlike part 2 which was a prequel showcasing Katie's sister's family and their experience only weeks before Katie's, part 3 takes us all the way back to the 80's when Katie and her sister, Kristi (who I never mentioned by name in part 2, my bad), were kids.
A logical and smart move especially since this goes all the way back to the first movie when Katie talked about how this presence has been around since they were kids. Even the movie poster is a great reference to a previous quote, saying how when they were kids they would wake up in the middle of the night and dark presence would stand at the foot of their bed.

You can tell the writers and filmmakers realized part 2 wasn't up to snuff. So in part 3 (or part 0 I guess? Maybe?) they take a different but familiar route. Set in the 80's, the video is captured by Katie and Kristi's stepfather who shoots wedding videos for a living. So, again, having video cameras around make sense here. And of course all it takes is one odd, accidental moment that causes him to obsess over the possibility of a supernatural presence and takes a note out of Micah's book twenty years earlier by setting up cameras all over the house at night. Very convenient but... whatever.
In this version the build in tension isn't quite the same and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Yes they work with the "kids can see and interact with the supernatural stronger than the adults" cliche but better than part 2 and other demon movies. In this Kristi is the focus instead of Katie who is otherwise the major focus of the franchise. Kristi has an imaginary friend who is obviously the supernatural presence of the story. Like Danny and Tony from The Shining, but this is a demon instead of a telekinesis power. And as far as everyone except Kristi knows this friend is just imaginary. An awkward, writer's block approach but I guess it works.

The most awkward being the turning point. The mom and stepdad of the movie are recording a sex tape. A couple minutes into the foreplay their house is hit by a rough earthquake. They rush out of the room to check on their daughters, the camera falls to the ground and it captures dust covering an unseen presence. And so the rest of the movie begins.

It does clumsily go through some of the obvious steps it had to go through... like "what the fuck is this?!" and "you're crazy and being obsessive" and of course "I checked out a demon book from the library and we're fucked!" But inbetween is some of the best moments outside the original movie because they made new paranormal moments that maintained an element of subtly we wouldn't see in later installments.
The demon's presence is stronger than before but it's all off camera. Most commonly used at night in the girl's bedroom. Kristi will wake up in the middle of the night, walk up to the camera looking just behind it and softly speak to her "imaginary friend" and it's definitely creepy. Then there's the Bloody Mary scene when Kristi and her babysitter (her stepdad's assistant) play the game in the bathroom mirror only for there to be an earthquake-like attack from the demon, throwing shit everywhere. But my favorite is easily when what appears to be Kristi walking around under a bed sheet like an old fashioned ghost, then suddenly vanishes, leaving the sheet behind as if she fell right through the floor, all done very well and seemingly organic on camera. It's actually quite beautiful an effect.
While far from super scary or haunting, it's because of moments like this that make this the most unsettling of all the sequels.

It's unfortunate that despite the good this installment brought to the table it also brought a lot of convoluted details, raised more questions that will go unanswered while answering questions that didn't need to be answered in the first place, a lot like the last movie.

I think it's best to jump right to the ending.
While the girl's stepdad is researching demons he finds out about this coven that communicated with the underworld and introduced the below symbol...

...that I think they thought would be more iconic than it actually became despite appearing to have an actual, real world history behind it...

...and everything went a direction it didn't need to.

I cannot stress enough that these are questions that don't need to be answered. For some reason when it goes a direction like this, unless it was thoroughly thought out from the beginning, an attempt to make the story seeming bigger it actually makes it smaller and less interesting. It answers the questions of "why them?" and "where did this come from" simply with... witches.
It's like the writers felt the demon needed a reason or motive to be present instead of everything they told us up to this point.

To quote the first movie "Basically, they're these malevolent evil spirits that only exist to cause pain and commit evil for their own amusement. It's pretty creepy- I mean, they stalk people for years, like decades, and sometimes they're really intelligent in the way they do things to freak you out."
And that's not a good enough motive?!

No, instead what we find out is this demon is connected to this coven who called the demon. I don't know if the writers realize this but that deflates the demon quite a bit, making the coven seem like a stronger enemy than an EVIL SPIRIT that ONLY EXISTS to CAUSE PAIN! Made even worse when we find out it affects Kristi and Katie because their grandma is part of this coven. Which brings me to the ending.

Spoiler alert.

When things seem to be at their worst, after one BITCHING effect when the demon picks up and drops literally EVERYTHING in the kitchen from the ceiling, the family leaves the house to stay with gramgram.
That night Mr Stepdad can't sleep because of some noise so he goes to check it out. He can't find gramgram anywhere. It's dark, there are cars outside, and everything seems odd. He goes into the dining room and the paintings are off the wall, revealing the triangle circle and a pentagram. He looks outside and there's a circle of mysterious people around a bonfire. Eventually he goes back upstairs to get his wife and kids to leave because shit ain't right. Looking up the stairs he sees his wife held up in the air by nothing but the demon's evil powers and she's thrown right at him. They fall down the stairs and she is looking dead. Badda bing badda boom gramgram catches up with him with her witchy powers over Kristi and Katie, kills Mr Stepdad, and they walk off. Roll credits.

Now this end scene, while I don't like the direction it took, did give off some creepy imagery and shows the filmmakers had some sense of keeping it scary in all the right ways. Yeah Mr Stepdad's murder was a tad over the top but this scene is one of the best scenes in the movie. Story-wise not so much.

This last scene bugs me more than anything else in the movie for reasons I've already stated but also for inconsistencies later on in the canon. When Kristi and Katie talk about their childhood experiences it's all very vague and seems personal. Like it was there, haunted them, but never did anything to the point this prequel explains. You'd think after this experience Kristi and Katie would be more prepared than they were depicted in the later stories. Since these were written out of order that wasn't going to happen, but this is a great oversight that was made for the sake of the franchise being more exciting with a new sequel.
Also there's no mention of the fire that burned their house down. A key element brought up in the first movie. Well... outside of a blurred, single frame that pops up at the very end of the movie. The one major detail talked about in the previous movies is glossed over like it was no big deal and was replaced with a story that had no connection little to no reason to exist in this franchise.

Still this is the best of the sequels so far. If you were to ask me I'd say watch the first, skip 2, then go right to this one. But at the same time I can't help but feel this one is good only because it was a lot better than part 2. So is it good by comparison? Because it's the best of a drivel of sequels that never needed to be made? Hard to say... I still think it's worth checking out for the good bits. I only wish the writing went a different direction than it did.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

7 Hauntings - Night 3: Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Night

History: This sequel of sorts was released the year following the major success of the first Paranormal Activity. With so little information available it's hard to say how it came about or how it is connected to the original. But from what I can tell all signs point to this being an independent production with no real canon or connections to the original or it's sequels outside of using the original as a starting off point.
This is similar to when Lucio Fulci made Zombie in 1979 but it was marketed as if it were a sequel to Dawn of the Dead, even though George Romero had no involvement on the project.

Personal History: My first viewing of this unofficial sequel.

Version I Watched: The whole damn movie is on YouTube. That's where I watched it because any and all DVDs and Blu-Rays I can find online were either Italian, German, French, or the original Japanese home video release. They were either subtitled in their respective language or it wasn't clear enough if there would be English subtitles. Thankfully YouTube had me covered.

Review: Even though this review is coming up third I actually watched this entry last. The reason being I knew I would not enjoy the later entries in the franchise and I was hoping the Japanese copycat would be a better experience because of that wonderful style of terror Asian horror tends to have.
The results were... not what I hoped.

In the History section I compared this to the Italian pseudo-sequel to Dawn of the Dead, Zombi 2. For those who don't know the story, in Italy Dawn of the Dead was titled Zombi. It was so successful that Lucio Fulci's latest horror piece was named Zombi 2 despite not having any sort of connection to Dawn of the Dead with no one similar involved. But it still had a similar theme, idea, etc, but totally different.

That's really the easiest way to describe Tokyo Night. It was made by an unrelated group of people but straight up called it Paranormal Activity anyhow. And again, they took similar themes, ideas, styles, and so forth and tried to make their own movie out of it. The results are what you expect. It feels like an uncreative ripoff that's trying to cash in on a popular franchise.

Watching this did make me feel like I take some of the official canon entries for granted. While I have issues with the overall story, how it all works when placed next to one another, and so forth, one thing the canon entries have is consistency in style and execution after the first movie. They all feel like they live within the same universe and convey a certain tone each time around regardless of how effectively they pull it off from movie to movie.

Tokyo Night just felt so cheap and lazy by comparison. Makes me feel like I should stop talking now and not even compare it. But since they decided to include it as a Paranormal Activity movie I am going to use it.

When I say cheap I mean it felt so slapped together without much thought or care put into it.

The core problem is it tries way too hard to emulate Paranormal Activity with little to no original thought. It goes through many of the same motions, poorly, and straight up copies scenes and scares from the first movie so closely it may as well be plagiarism.
It would be one thing if it were a Japanese shot for shot remake of the first movie but it isn't. Especially since it doesn't convey any sort of weight or empathy. All the characters are poorly fleshed out and the acting is wooden. The male lead looks like he's making his first movie and is nervous about all his lines. The female lead is a little better but not by much, as she's given little to do besides scream a lot and react to her brother, the male lead.
What also didn't work was how the copycat scares are put in an odd order. Placing very intense moments early on that you normally wouldn't see until the second or third act of the story. It makes it feel unbalanced, especially towards the end when similar scares happen. It doesn't build up. It jumps to the top and stays there throughout.

I do have to admit there were a couple moments I enjoyed and/or the movie gave potential if implemented differently.

For one, at roughly the halfway mark the brother decides having a camera in both his room and his sister's room would be a good idea. Immediately we are shown both cameras on screen at the same time instead of cutting between the two (which happens a little but hear me out.)
I loved this idea because it has that potential of unique scares. So many times in this franchise's sequels they'll cut from camera to camera. But something that could be great are sequences where they're all running at once, giving a better sense of 'real time,' and something scary could be happening in multiple rooms at the same time, giving a stronger sense of fear and the inability to escape the threat.
This entry doesn't implement it in the way it could have been, but did show they had at least some creativity and some originality.

The other thing is actually one of the last things to happen in the movie. One thing I didn't mention until now was that the sister's legs (from foot to knee) are in casts as can be seen on the movie poster. That alone adds another terror element because of her inability to run, despite the fact you can't really run from a demon haunting your home. It simply enhances your fear because you can't resort to that natural reaction. That's not what I'm referencing, though.

In a scene very close to the end we see her slowly standing up onto her own two feet when she otherwise needed a wheelchair to get around. Once she's on her feet she shuffles out of her room and into her brother's room as if she were possessed. The way she walks was so creepy and unsettling. The shuffle and thumping of the casts against the hardwood floor... it felt like something out of Silent Hill.

Seriously, you've got to see it in motion.

That's about all I enjoyed. Two or three things out of the whole experience. And what's weird is I wouldn't necessarily call this a bad movie. It's simply boring and unimaginative. This was an independent project that loosely connects itself to the franchise it based itself on with an ending that felt more like something out of Ju-on.

Paranormal Activity 2 may have felt like the Hollywood remake of Paranormal Activity 1, but Tokyo Night feels like a video project a small group of fans made in high school. A video project where they want to make their own version of said popular movie but wind up making a worse version of said movie with all the same material and little to no new ideas.

Since this isn't canon it's not necessary to watch. If you're curious you can watch it easily on Youtube. Not the best versions as the translations are poor, with indescribable subtitles at some parts, and one of the videos I found the audio was off with the video.

I don't blame the low quality of the Youtube uploads for my experience, I blame the filmmakers. It didn't infuriate me like other entries in this franchise, it just bored me.
May be worth a watch for the curious fan. Otherwise don't feel you need to go out of your way as it only has a couple of good ideas and good moments. The rest you can see in the first movie.

Monday, May 4, 2015

7 Hauntings - Night 2: Paranormal Activity 2

History: As a surprise to no one this sequel came out a year after the original was mass released. And while it has a '2' in the title, this movie serves more as a prequel than a sequel, with events taking place before and during the events of the original but in a different home.
Peli did not return as director but did stay on as a producer, something he would do for every Paranormal Activity after this. The budget was also raised but kept at a Hollywood modest $5 million. Despite the price jump it kept a similar approach to the original, keeping the 'found footage' style instead of a traditional style.
It received mixed reviews but more positive than negative, mostly because it was very similar to the original and didn't cover much new ground. But it was nearly as successful as the original financially, bringing in $177 million. It also broke box office records at the time by holding the biggest R-rated midnight gross and the biggest horror movie weekend opening.

Personal History: Only saw this once before when it was in theatres fall of 2010.

Version I Watched: Unrated extended cut DVD.

Review: This was bound to happen. It happened with Saw, an independent horror film that got attention at festivals, and built an entire franchise around it. In time I would notice similar trends between this and the Saw franchise, while I'll discuss as they come, especially the bad, but that also means it had the potential to be a fun and creepy ride. I liked most of the Saw sequels. Even their first sequel was pretty good all things considered.
Paranormal Activity 2, however...

The last time I saw this was in theatres. My thoughts at the time were "better than I thought it would be but still not great." I didn't not like it. So going in I imagined it'd be a similar experience. Sadly that wasn't the case. Not like I had high expectations on my second viewing. It was all based on remembering I enjoyed it the last time I saw it... a little over four years ago.
I'll cut right to the chase here... I feel Paranormal Activity 2, minus the stuff that connects it to the first movie, is exactly what Hollywood would have made if they chose to remake the original.

In case you didn't read the History section in part one of this extravaganza, the original plan was for Paramount to buy up Paranormal Activity, remake it for mainstream markets, and release it that way. Until they realized the movie that played at festivals was so fucking good and they should release that one as is.
So when sequel-time came it was no more a shoestring budget indie movie and the budget was inflated. Not to absurd proportions. $5 million is very low for major studios and makes for easy success. Still it was supposed to be a sequel to a movie that had a lot of it's charm and scares by working so well within their restrictions. And now they still have to work within restrictions, but with more cushions and professional help.

The biggest problem with number 2 is it tries to replicate number 1 in too many ways. Would it be a similar experience for these new victims if haunted by the same demon? Of course. But the same experience? Especially when they act and react differently than Katie and Michah? Not a chance.

It is almost beat for beat the exact same thing that happens in the first movie. There are small signs of a presence early on but nothing that couldn't be written off by logic and reason, giving little reason to be worried or jump straight to demon. But since this family has no reason to have a camera outside of fun with the family the writers had to come up with a reason to have cameras watching at all times. What they come up with is clever, but how they get there is clunky.
One of the first big events is their house is broken into for unknown reasons by an unknown assailant. Their house is trashed but almost nothing is stolen. The only thing stolen is the mother's bracelet that was given to her by her sister Katie... see where this is going? As a reaction to this break in, the family goes completely overboard with security by installing hidden cameras throughout the house.
Clever way to keep an eye on things but unrealistic if you ask me.

It's through these cameras we see the terror begin... what little there is that's actually interesting.
I cannot stress enough how much this feels like a remake of the original rather than a sequel. And in this psuedo-remake so much of it has been neutered and streamlined to include lovely modern horror cliches such as a child/animal (both, actually) who can sense the evil presence more than the adults, the foreigner who knows more about casting out demons than any lifelong priest knows, and a ritual/seance-type attempt to drive out said demon. This along with attempting to do the same scares but bigger make the whole thing feel really unoriginal and not scary in the least.

It also doesn't help the characters are uninteresting and unlikeable.
The stars of the show are definitely the baby and the teenage daughter. The baby is a baby so there's not much to say. And the daughter is a modern teenager so obviously everything she says and does is bullshit. Teenage girls can't be trusted, right? Well that's what the dad seems to think.
Speaking of the dad... he reminds me of Micah... he's an idiot, a terrible husband... but unlike Micah... the dad is a straight up asshole. I swear, every time he's on screen he's either annoyed, pissed off, or being a jerk to his family. Like when he plays a practical joke on his poor wife after she was legitimately terrified by something that was so obviously supernatural the husband should have noticed. Yes, this idiot looks at recorded footage of very real supernatural happenings and he chooses to pass it off as the wind or some such shit. All leading up to the obvious cliche of not being concerned until it's too late when he calls their foreigner maid into the mix so she can tell them HOW TO DRIVE OUT A DEMON!

WHAT?! If a professional psychic or whatever the hell that guy was in the first movie couldn't help Katie and Micah how the hell does this lady just happen to know how to do this? AND IT WORKED! I'm sure that's something that'll be explained in The Marked Ones since that has a Spanish setting (as I'm writing I still haven't seen The Marked Ones.)

So, yeah, spoiler alert they find a way to drive out the demon but it can only transfer to a relative of the possessed. The asshole's wife is Katie's sister. They drive out the demon so it can enter Katie. Oh yeah, did I mention Katie appears multiple times in this movie? And she hasn't had her "experience" yet? Did I mention this is a fucking prequel?
Yep. Paranormal Activity 2 is a prequel that supposedly shows the events that lead up to the terror we all know and love in the first movie. I wonder who thought this was A) necessary and B) thought it would work. It has the Star Wars prequel effect of deflating the mystery of the original by explaining things that didn't need to be explained (which is even worse as these sequels go on from my memory of them.) Not to mention a lot of what happens here raises other questions that never get answered because they weren't thorough enough in their "expanding" of the universe within this franchise. Like why do they give the impression that Katie didn't experience this presence in her adulthood until they drove the demon out of her sister when in the first movie Katie clearly explains it is something that has followed her for year and years?

Wow. I have a lot more deep seeded hatred for this installment that I thought I would. That's probably because it's a sad excuse for a sequel and an even sadder excuse for a prequel. It adds little to nothing to the franchise outside of an open door for more sequels. The theatrical release of the original was open ended, and this one also ends open ended when Katie comes, kills almost the entire family the same night she kills Micah, and abducts the family's one year old baby. Roll credits.

I'm probably giving this one a harder time than it deserves. If it was it's own movie released outside this franchise it would probably just be a mediocre demon possession story. But since it's part of this franchise and doesn't just fail to comprehend the right tone and approach but falls flat on it's face in comparison to the original... kinda makes it hard to like.
I will say there were some good, creative aspects. Like I said earlier I thought the use of security cameras was a clever approach along with the traditional handheld camera. There were also a few cool tricks done by the demon that didn't exactly scare me but caught my attention. Also I liked how the demon's presence was generally speaking very subdued. Something I can't say for the rest of the franchise... of which we're yet to see the worst of.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

7 Hauntings - Night 1: Paranormal Activity

No intro comments... just been wanting to watch these movies again. So enjoy as I delve into every single Paranormal Activity movie released so far.

History: Filmed with a super small budget of $15,000, the writer and director, Oren Peli, filmed the entire movie with an HD home video camera in his own house. He did this to focus on realism over action and gore. While it was released to the world in 2009, it was filmed and toured festivals in 2007. It was a big success but still bounced around for a couple years. It wouldn't get major attention until the previously mentioned 2009 when Paramount picked it up for $350,000.
However it wasn't a Cinderella story from there. Before Paramount bought it, Dreamworks was interested in the IP, intending to remake it with Peli in the director's chair again with a bigger budget. However during one particular screening people kept leaving in the middle of it. Not because it was bombing, but because people were getting so scared. This made it clear a remake was unnecessary and a bad idea overall.
To test the waters it got very limited screenings, mostly in and around college towns. It was so successful that many later limited screenings would sell out quickly. Then, as a first of it's kind, people could go online and "Demand It!" And if their city got enough attention it would be brought to their town. Eventually it was released nationwide because it was getting so much attention. But some lucky ones got to see it before others because their city was big enough.
The version seen in theatres was not what hit the film festivals, though. Many endings were filmed, most of which weren't that different from one another, but in the end there are three endings of note. The original festival ending, the theatrical ending, and the alternate theatrical ending. The theatrical ending being the only one that leaves the franchise open to a sequel.
Paranormal Activity is one of the most well received horror films of recent time. It was critically and financially a success. It is also one of the most profitable independent films ever made. A $15,000 production that made nearly $200 million worldwide.

Personal History: I was lucky enough to be home for the holidays (I want to say Thanksgiving) when this movie was still in limited release. Meaning I saw it in a packed house and then bragged to my friends back at college before they got to see it. I loved this movie from the start and have seen it numerous times since.

Version I Watched: Watched my DVD copy but with the alternate ending, because I've seen the theatrical cut multiple times and want to talk about the different endings in the review.

Review: I am so glad I got to be there at the forefront when this phenomenon hit. So much hype and buildup that led to a packed house when it was still in limited release. I had seen things like it before but not quite like this. One of the best parts of the experience being going back to college and bragging about it, teasing that I was going to drop spoilers on them. Safe to say I was sold and this was not over hyped for me. My first viewing was in a packed house where everyone was freaking out at all the right times.

Now going back to it for this review I was a little worried it wouldn't hold up.

After it first came out I saw it multiple times, but the last time I sat down and watched it was easily over a year ago. I was worried that this most recent viewing would be a disappointment, thinking it may not have aged well or it doesn't get under my skin as it once did. Good thing I was wrong.
It did take a little time to get it revved up again for me, though, simply because I've seen it so many times. And knowing what comes next is a bit of a buzz kill in a movie like this since so much of it depends on what you don't know. It's all in the surprise of the non-jump scares that makes it so scary. Yet the experience, despite multiple viewings, is so solid and immersive that it still gave me chills during this most recent viewing.

The most notable is how well this concept was pulled off for so little money. When I first saw this I was boggled as to how they pulled off some of the effects they did with essentially no money. I can think of ways they pulled off the door trick or even the footsteps left when the demon steps in the baby power... but the Ouija board... Katie getting pulled out of bed by an invisible creature... how the hell did they pull that off on a shoestring of a shoestring budget?
That's what as a whole makes this first entry an instant classic of the horror genre. Working within a restricted budget is one thing. This on the other hand is like a modern day Slacker, El Mariachi, or Clerks kind of budget. And Peli was so damn creative with his work that he made something big studios couldn't dream of putting together. It's well paced, subtle, and damn does it deliver the scares.

I of course am a big fan of the subtle details and choices thrown in that effect the overall presentation. Like when a movie starts without a title screen. It throws you in without an overdrawn preview of what you're about to see while throwing famous names up, reminding you you're watching a movie. Not here. Paranormal Activity starts ominously with a title card against a black background that reads...

Oh shit that's creepy.

...or as the festival cut reads...

Even creepier somehow.

...and off they go. No music, no standard title, just "this is what is left of this horrible event." And I haven't seen a found footage film presented so well since The Blair Witch Project. In many ways this is done even better and that's because of the logic of the camera.

The found footage genre is tough because the filmmakers need to present all the key moments and plot points in a way that looks and feels like it was on accident. Where everything just so happened to be caught on camera instead of intentionally because this is a movie.
Now as much as I love The Blair Witch Project (personally I think it's a better found footage movie overall, but I digress) it has some shotty moments of "why is this being filmed?" If I were lost in the woods while shooting a documentary, there would come a point when I wouldn't even think to use the camera. Especially if it was the 90's and film was being used instead of digital video like we have now. Making lots of important moments taped when they realistically wouldn't be taped.
Paranormal, on the other hand, is about a couple investigating a mysterious, seemingly demonic presence in their every day lives. Going so far as to have themselves recorded while sleeping, and by extension recording everything they find out, even when they're simply discussing it. While there are a few stupid moments where you wouldn't think they'd be filming themselves it certainly has a higher consistency rate of "that makes sense" moments over "there's no way they would have thought to turn the camera on" moments.
My favorite being the stuff shot while they were sleeping.

Having only one camera to work with does add to the subtlety and creepiness because there's only one angle the audience can 100% rely on and the rest is the terror of the unknown. What is happening off camera that can't be cheated by simply cutting to another camera, or a security system (we'll talk more about that in part 2.) Making some of the simplest parts some of the scariest. Especially later in the movie when Katie gets out of bed and Micah runs out of the room without the camera and all we hear is screaming. So much better than actually seeing it.

I also have to say I like how delightfully straightforward and realistic this is... as realistic as this kind of story can be. The characters, while stupid at times, feel quite real and are well acted for this genre. You really feel their sense of terror and how they just want it to go away. There's no overdone seance scene and when a Ouija board is brought in Katie directly opposes it. It's just the people trying to survive a haunting and live their lives. Nothing more, nothing less, not much better than that.
And that simplicity, like the scares, tone, and everything else make this a more satisfying experience than most other titles. It has more weight, it has more depth, it raises questions that aren't always answered but in a good and scary way. It leaves you with mystery of what came before and what could come next.
Regardless of what came before and after in the canon of this story... this is easily the finest moments this franchise has.

Even the simplicity in the way the DVD is presented is fantastic! It doesn't have a fancy animated menu. Hell, it has trailers but it doesn't force you to watch them ahead of time. It cuts straight to a black screen with white text asking if you want to watch the theatrical version, or the version with the alternate ending. Regardless of how you watch the movie it ends when it ends but lingers on a black screen for a while before it starts rolling the credits proper.
If I'm not mistaken it didn't even have credits in theatres.
The presentation is brilliant. It all ends and lets you let it sink in. I'm so glad this wasn't changed for the DVD. I'm so glad it didn't have the standard DVD process of a million ads and a fancy-pancy menu. It kept it in tone with the raw feeling of the movie. It seriously made the experience feel more legitimate. Simple steps like that make all the difference.

Not all is great, though. There are two major problems I have with it and they sadly are pretty key elements to the movie. The theatrical ending... and Micah.
I'll save the ending for later.

Micah is a fucking dumbass and a terrible boyfriend.
So it's not just the fact that he's one of the main characters that he's a key element to the story but it's because of him the demon's power grows and eventually possesses Katie. When she tells him she's been feeling this presence he buys a camera to document the activity happening when they're not looking. A good idea to a point but then he becomes so obsessed with it he tries to get Katie to call the demon despite her not wanting to, understandably.
Any chance he gets he tries to make the scary stuff happen. Not to mention he refuses to slow down. Even as things get worse and worse he'll do stupid bullshit like scream "show yourself!" as if he's macho enough to fight a demon from Hell.
He walks and talks like the demon is no big deal and like it's something he can handle even though all the signs point to no on that front. Up to the bitter end when, spoiler alert, he's killed by Katie after she's possessed by the demon he has this mindset like he's going to somehow defeat the demon when there's been A TON of evidence proving they have no way of fighting it and that negative energy is what it feeds on.
In short, Micah is a fucking dumbass and a terrible boyfriend... but I think he meant well.

Then of course the ending.
The theatrical ending is sadly very Hollywood in an otherwise unique horror story. If you saw this in theatres than you saw that Katie kills Micah off camera, throws his dead body at the camera, walks up with a demonic smile and the movie ends for her to live another day as a scary possessed demon lady. The audience was freaking the hell out when this happened at my screening but I was less than satisfied with it. It didn't feel fitting to me.
Then I found out about the alternate endings. Both of which I like more but can't decide which I like the most. All of which are similar minus the very, very end. Meaning they all start with Katie possessed, walking off screen, Micah running after, and him being killed off camera.
The original festival ending shows Katie come back into the bedroom bloody. She sits beside the bed for at least two days. Eventually the police show up and she is gunned down.

And then this comes up which is both sad and unsettling.

The alternate ending you can watch with the rest of the movie on DVD is similar but different in execution, excuse my pun. In that ending Katie returns to the bedroom after killing Micah like in all the other endings. But here she simply walks up to the camera, slices her throat with a kitchen knife, and falls to the floor.

I prefer these endings because it makes it it's own story with no loose ends to tie up. It's simply the possession of a poor girl and this is how it all ends. The demon wins and an innocent couple die. Depressing, yes, contained, yes, keeping it from extending to unnecessary sequels, you bet.

But the ending they went with the ending I suppose is considered canon because it allows sequels with the same antagonist. There have been four sequels released since with another on the way. How were they?


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 47

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"Even with all the food documentaries flooding Netflix, this one does rise above the rest."

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.