Posts Tagged ‘Documentary

10
Jan
09

The Poughkeepsie Tapes Review

That's a lot of tapes.  Guy must of had a reward zone card for Best Buy.

That's a lot of tapes. Guy must of had a reward zone card for Best Buy.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (or simply Tapes, as I will refer to it from here on out) is not a movie.

I’ll let that sink in.

“When hundreds of videotapes showing torture, murder and dismemberment are found in an abandoned house, they reveal a serial killer’s decade-long reign of terror and become the most disturbing collection of evidence homicide detectives have ever seen.” -Tribeca Film Festival Synopsis.

It’s a mockumentary, minus the comedy and satire.  It’s a mockumentary that houses a two-pronged attack of brutally accurate portrayals of torture, murder and dismemberment seamlessly interwoven with expert analysis and the thoughts and memories of those who were affected by the killers rampage, and those who were hunting him down.

In fact, it’s not too far removed from what the Discovery channel and TLC show on a daily basis.  All those shows about FBI profilers and how they catch these seriously deranged serial killers all seemed to be influential to the Dowdle Brothers, who both penned and directed Tapes.

And  writing may actually be Tapes strongest assets, although I’m sure it will get lost amidst all the chatter about the lengthy, suspenseful, and downright shocking film the killer shoots himself that is shown at certain intervals throughout.  The writing leaps off the screen, as the Dowdle brothers concoct a credible, highly intelligent, innovative killer and sets him loose in the “Anywhere, USA” suburbs of Poughkeepsie, New York.  The killer taunts his pursuers and gives cryptic clues for investigators to find, knowing far in advance where exactly the authorities will look to find them.  It’s this depth to a nameless, faceless character that brings us closer to him than is comfortable for most audiences.  Instead of being bogged down with trite, rationalizing back story about how the killer was beaten as a child or not hugged enough as a baby, we instead get an uncompromising and genius killer, who has found a way to elude the authorities all while documenting his spree.

A brief glimpse of the killer's throrough work.

A brief glimpse of the killer's thorough work.

Direction is also key, not so much in the static look of the interview pieces, (with the exception of the interview with Cheryl which actually made me lose sleep, it’s that fucking clever and disturbing) but in the low-fi, slow burn masterwork of the killers tapes.  The camera is almost always in the right position, whether it’s showing you everything that’s going on, or whether it’s showing you nothing, such as the inside of a car door, or an empty room.  There are times where the camera will be haphazardly placed, seemingly by accident, and we are left with just the screams and pleads of the victim and the orders of the killer to clue us in of what going on.  It’s a time-tested approach that works flawlessly here.  Show some gore in full view to screw with audience equilibrium, and then deprive them seeing something later on.  It works in two ways.  Once you don’t show the audience a scene straight on, it gets their minds working.  They create in their head horrible visions of what must be going on.  It also works to create a sickening feeling in the viewers, because they have to realize that they WANT to see whats happening, so much so they are willing to create the images in their own heads to replace the ones that aren’t on the screen.  It’s a lost art, but it’s a tactic employed by the Dowdle Bros. in exemplary fashion.

Eyes Without A Face reference in the movie.  Who would've thought?

Eyes Without A Face reference in the movie. Who would've thought?

With the audio and visual facets of the film firmly in and place grounded in reality, the one area where horror, or should I say terror in this case, goes awry is usually the acting.  You can have all your ducks in a row as far as directing and writing are concerned, but if your actors don’t come through in creating these characters in the physical form, than everything is lost.  Thankfully, the Dowdle Bros. must have been keen on this, and not only hired no names, but no names who looked liked everyday people.  I’m not sure how involved with the casting they were, but from what I’ve read and inferred through the piece itself, it seems fairly obvious they were pivotal in every decision made.  The most all inclusive and flattering thing I can say is, and this goes for the whole endeavor, not JUST the acting, if this were played one TV on night, and no one was told it wasn’t real, there would be a legitimate fear and uproar in many communities around the U.S.  It’s that believable.  So believable that even though I knew coming in it wasn’t real, I still lost sleep over it, and was looking over my shoulder while watching it.  It’s orchestrated with the sole intention of, if nothing else, to stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

Tapes has a long, uphill battle ahead it.  Still having no official release date for theatrical or dvd release, it is caught in release purgatory.  And once it is released, it will undoubtedly be met with serious backlash from angry mothers and politicians who won’t even bother to see the flick, but instead just berate both those who created it, and its fans.  It will be labeled as the next sick evolutionary step in the Torture Porn sub genre, when it really has a lot less to do with the fantasy world that movies like SAW occupy, and a lot more to do with the gritty, unfair, demented world we live in everyday.  There’s no sense of morals, right and wrong, or justification that other horror flicks try to implore.  It is just cruel, relentless, remorseless and always 10 steps ahead of you.  Just like the killer.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes has, buried underneath it’s tough outer shell, an insane amount of creativity and artistic ingenuity.  If an opportunity to see this bound-to-be-lost gem arises, don’t hesitate.  Just don’t plan on going to bed immediately afterward.

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26
Sep
08

Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film

Much better than the dvd cover.  Simple and to the point. (he he)

With the horror in general seeing a major revival in the new millennium, horror fans have seen their fair share of documentaries on the subject pop up both on TV and on DVD.  Most are around to cash in on either the Halloween season, or plug their own horror related ventures by recapping all the movies and characters that came before it that it will ultimately rip ideas from.  Going to pieces isn’t some shameless ploy to get you to watch something else though.  What it is is a entertaining, informative and passionate look back at how we got to where we are in the slasher sub-category today, while simultaneously showing us a portion of the history of the horror genre as a whole as well.

It opens by introducing us to some of the humble beginnings of horror in the theater, and then rockets us to Psycho, shows us a bit from that time period (the 60’s) as a foundation for what’s to come.  It really picks up when they begin to discuss the immense success of Halloween, and really champions it as THE slasher movie to see, not only as a perfect example of everything a slasher can be, but as the ignition of societies relationship with killers in film.

The whole gangs here, from Nicotero, Savini, Carpenter, Cunningham, Craven, Winston, Rob Zombie, and more.  Familiar faces talk about their work and contributions to the genre, and talk about how and why they came upon the ideas that wound up shaping the face of horror forever.  The special effects guys run us through some of their favorite and more notable kills, and touch on why people seem to enjoy watching people getting killed in horrible ways.  Coming from the elders of not only the slasher set, but horror in general, this is somewhat of the gospel to us fan boys, and i suspect many of you out there will enjoy just hearing your heroes talk, let alone actually listening to exactly what they are saying.

They also go into the political and social controversy that plagued these films in the 80’s, and show clips of Siskel and Ebert claiming that the slasher film is anti-women, misogynistic, and so on and so forth.  Going to Pieces fights back however, standing up for our beloved serial killers by providing some nice commentary on the subject that isn’t just your typical “HEY…leave us alone” rhetoric.  It acknowledges the fact that horror films are the easiest to go after, and that many critics have made a name for themselves slamming them and standing up for morality.  Rob Zombie then chimes in with an interesting point.  If you were to show a prison full of criminals Disney movies non-stop, would they turn into good people?  I thought that was a fairly astute observation, and a convincing argument from someone very passionate about our beloved movies.

My major complaint is that in examining some better known movies, they reveal the twist endings to many of them.  So if you haven’t yet seen Prom Night, Sleepaway Camp, Friday the 13th, and some others, you may want to watch these first, as the whole surprise will be ruined and you’ll never get to experience the thrill of not seeing these fantastic finishes coming.

If you love the masked murderer sub-genre, this is a must see.  Rarely do you see this much care and accuracy in a documentary, and while there are some mistakes, most notably that Halloween wasn’t truly the FIRST slasher the American audience had been subjected to as many predated it, it still comes off as an in-depth, and more importantly, highly entertaining look into what has been, what is, and what will be in one of the most extreme types of scary flicks around.

16
Sep
08

Snuff – A Documentary About Killing On Camera

A Documentary About Killing On Camera

Snuff : A Documentary About Killing On Camera

Ah the age old question: snuff, is it real?

This documentary starts off by giving a clear definition on Snuff, it’s a movie of an actual murder which is made solely for the purpose of selling and making money. Several movie directors and producers give their thoughts on the subject throughout the documentary, one FBI agent and one police woman give their thoughts an prior experiences.

Next, it moves on to American movies and snuff which tells the story of the movie called Snuff which supposedly started this whole actual-murder-on-tape mess and, of course, mentions Faces of Death and such like, but they also don’t meet the criteria for being true snuff.

For part three it discusses an MI5 case where a Russian selling kiddie porn was heard saying to an Italian ‘client’ that, yes, the child does die in the movie. According to this documentary – the case did happen, the freak did get 11 years as did his two cohorts, although it seems, unfortunately, most of them are free now. This story is told by Mark L Rosen, who was involved with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, more from him later.

Part four discusses serial killers. The fact that some record their murders is discussed too, but again, this doesn’t qualify as snuff, they didn’t record it for profit. They discuss Charles Ing and Henry Lee Lucas (and, briefly, the movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer). So again, we need to look elsewhere for snuff, where now?

War. It show’s death and people being murdered, but again, it’s not for profit. And this one section is where I think the documentary got too political by quickly mentioning Vietnam then dwelling on various Iraq video tapes (the killing of civilians and torture of prisoners, ironically not mentioning the hanging of Saddam, maybe that happened after the documentary was made) then bringing on some anti-war guy who contributed nothing to the discussion, other than big numbers.

Finally we get to hear the never before recorded story from Producer, Mark L Rosen. He claims that he was approached by a man who wanted him, and his associates, to look at a film with the possibility of distributing it. Mark claims that the movie started off as a kinky bondage affair which then showed the man suffocating the woman with a plastic bag over head and slitting her throat. ‘Special effects!’ I hear you yell. As Mark, a man who’s been in the movie business for over 30 years, says himself: that kind of special effect just wasn’t possible in the early seventies when he saw the film. Was this real snuff? He says so. But we only have his word on it, no verifiable evidence.

Mark L Rosen - he says he actually saw a snuff movie...

Mark L Rosen - he says he actually saw a snuff movie which was up for sale...

So what is the definitive answer? Well, the documentary doesn’t give one. It merely presents the facts and lets you make up your own mind, which is good. As I said previously, it’s only flaw – in my opinion – was including the Iraq war clips as they contribute nothing, it was mentioned in the previous section of the film that filming death doesn’t count, so why include the war clips? I’ve no idea. All in all, it’s a good documentary, but it does include some gruesome footage (sometimes unnecessarily) from Cannibal Holocaust (the actual animal killings) and Faces of Death, so if your squeamish, but curious, look away!