Thursday, July 19, 2012

Meltdown 03: Lost & Found (Part II)


The Black Door (2001) dir. Kit Wong

While flawed to a regrettable degree, The Black Door is without question the most compelling entry in these first two installments of the marathon. Lensed as a documentary horror with several instances of found footage worked into its overall composition, it fashions a unique and engaging structure. When it pauses the main narrative in order to integrate sixteen minutes of faux-8mm found footage from a Satanic ceremony back in 1932 (which in its grainy, degraded, sepia-tone glory looks almost genuine!), I found myself riveted and pleased as it cut back and forth between the two, allowing the tale to unfurl as a genuine investigation of sorts (later on, the film also features a more typical first-person FF exploration of an unnerving abandoned house). While the film's well-developed, super-creepy back story elevates the material, it's somewhat dampened by the present day narrative, which is overly grim and laborious in its pacing, dwelling on the lackluster performances of a handful of unprofessional actors. Which leads me to the film's most distinguishing and off-putting characteristic: the numerous talking head interview segments play out more as long, unprompted monologues, with the C.O.'s infrequent dialogue exclusively (and distractingly) ADR'd in post-production. These monologues allow these amateur performers to go on at length uninterrupted, but they don't have much to add. And that's the film's major issue, at one hour and forty something minutes. But there are enough noteworthy elements for me to recommend: literal blood baths, double Un Chien Andalous, Satanic resurrections, gruesome demon stigmata. With some judicious editing, this would have been an enviable, creative flick. In closing, marvel at the wildly inappropriate trance club track that plays over the closing credits.

Blackwood Evil (2000) dir. Richard Catt

I've already pointed out that there weren't many earnest attempts to recreate the Blair Witch's Project's aesthetic and structural approach in the immediate wake of that film, and that's true; however, there were a few that bothered to try in the year or two that followed, and I've yet to see one as ill-conceived, -planned, and -executed as Blackwood Evil.  Shot on low-grade consumer video (the camera operator has one of those shoulder-mounted clunkers that records directly to VHS), the film is ostensibly the record of a nightly news reporter's hard-hitting journalistic investigation into allegations of ghosts somewhere in the area (any ghost will do). It's a bit of a stretch on verisimilitude, though, considering that the reporter and her cameraman capture approximately no useable footage (star Joanie Bannister's portrayal of a video journalist includes turning away from the camera and walking towards the distance while stumbling through the scattershot information scribbled on the note cards held down by her waist). Pretty much for the duration, nothing happens. The crew being camped out in a purportedly haunted property that stays all too quiet, the plot hinges on the increasingly aggressive banter between the crew and the property's owner, a wet blanket who for no discernible reason has agreed to let them film there in spite of the fact that he would seemingly sooner murder them. If there was any reason to track down Blackwood Evil it would be because of these spirited improvised barbs, which are difficult to fathom even as you hear them-- believe it, dialogue that actually inspires viewer doubletakes. The deaths, when the mercifully befall our crew, are all offscreen, but the aftermaths' gore effects (while lacking by most standards) are quite impressive considering every other area of the production. The FF aspects are exactly no more complex than you'd expect (the C.O. takes pains to remind on more than one occasion that he has been instructed to "film everything"). The crew's giggly, fourth-wall shaking enthusiasm signals that those involved aren't totally soulless in their attempt at filmmaking, but that's poor solace to take. This one is harder to get hold of than most FF films. As far as I can tell, it has never received a commercial release and though someone involved in the production hosted the entire feature on YouTube a few years back, it has since been removed. I don't believe this removal was fueled by shame, but perhaps it should have been. Those in the know are privy to the proper channels where one can scour for a copy, though may I recommend that those brave few simply take a long bath or nap instead. Here, check out the film's official Angelfire webpage.

June 9 (2008) dir. T. Michael Conway

Looked at one way, June 9's structure is better than that of some: a gaggle of boneheaded teens use a camera to record their middle class suburban malaise and tasteless pranks played upon a neighboring town with a cursed past as hints of menace begin to creep into frame from the peripheries. There's even a fun framing device wherein a mysterious party views the tapes after the fact, a device used to similar effect in superior FF outing Evil Things (2009). Looked at in a different way, one could call this approach a diligent producer of tedium. The film's structure is more the latter than the former because its cast of (actual!) teenagers is only as likeable as a cast of teenagers can be (not very): they film themselves attempting to smoke cigarettes through their nostrils, breaking mailboxes for kicks, and engaging in philosophical exchanges about the nature of existence ("Ezra said to take a left turn" "Yeah, well, Ezra is a fag"). Their collective sole redeeming quality is their insistence upon hanging out with their overweight, misfit pal Berty, who is suitably endearing in his headphones-strapped solitude. The film does eventually segue into a pretty effective Two Thousand Maniacs!-esque climax (softened only slightly when the cultish townspeople begin tapping the teens on their skulls with obviously rubber mallets). It's at this moment that the film pulls its only inventive FF conceit by passing off the camera to one of the villains (a little boy townie) for a ten-minute post-credits wrap-up showing us the flipside, or how the cheery murderers live. An intriguing way to conclude, even if it features the film's most knuckleheaded moment: the child, focusing the camera in on a praying mantis he's found in the grass, exclaims, "Hello, grasshopper." June 9, a day that will live in obscurity.

But wait, there's more! Next time: Zero Day (2003), Paranormal Effect (2010), and The Road to L (2005).

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