Monday, January 7, 2013

52 Weeks of Horror Movies - V/H/S

I’d been planning to watch this back in October and ran into scheduling/budget issues. It was recently released on DVD so I put it in the Netflix queue.

It’s a found-footage horror anthology. The framing sequence involves a group of criminal douchebags whose primary means of employment seems to be assaulting random women, pulling up their tops and selling the resulting footage as ‘reality porn.’ I pretty much hated all of them from the first couple of seconds and only hung in through the initial segments because I hoped someone would murder the whole group of proto-rapists as horribly as possible.

That whole opening sequence was so awful and annoying I seriously wondered if I could stomach the whole movie. And I mean annoying in a number of ways - crap characters, jumpy editing, slow pacing and why the hell are they even shooting on VHS in the first place?

One of their number talks them into breaking into a house and stealing a VHS tape for an undisclosed third party. Of course they agree, because, as I mentioned, criminal douchebags. At the house they find the body of an old man in a chair in front of several tvs. They split up with one group going to check the basement (where they find a stack of video tapes) and one staying behind to review the handful of tapes already there (in at least on VCR).

The remaining segments are all (presumably – though the last segment takes place AFTER the framing sequence is over) from tapes that are viewed.  In between each segment we come back to the room where the tvs are and see that a) the dead man has disappeared or returned behind whichever jackass is in the room at the moment and b) a new guy comes in, finds the previous guy gone and proceeds to watch the next tape. 

I guess they all did get horribly murdered – but most of it happens off-screen.

 “Amateur Night”
The first segment follows three friends who set about trying to bed some women and tape it with some trick glasses for an amateur porn video.

This is where I really started to worry that I was going to have to sit through a couple of hours of rapey awfulness. 

This segment is pretty uneven and the female protagonist is really over the top with the creepy from minute one. None of this segment scared me or even gave me the creeps (except for the basic premise of ‘let’s lure a girl back to our hotel room and tape her’). The acting is okay and the effects are fairly good, but the pacing and atmosphere just didn’t gel. I’m easily jumped and even when things are telegraphed well ahead of time (hello Halloween II) I’ll still jump out of reflex. Not the case for this segment – I was almost bored.

“Second Honeymoon”
In general I liked this segment better and, as it didn’t feature obvious assholes doing obvious asshole things, I enjoyed watching it a bit more. It follows a young couple on a trip out West. Guy has a little douchebag in him, but compared to the guys in the previous segments he’s a sweetheart. There were some nice creepy moments, I appreciated the ‘Remember the movie Big?’ moment in the Wild West town and the first moment when you realize that neither of the protagonists is the one using the video camera in the hotel room that night.

All in all I think it falls apart in the end, though. The ‘fortune’ notwithstanding, the ending isn’t really built up to and it comes as a shock in a bad way. It feels forced and not sustained by the previous action. It completely ruined any goodwill the piece had previously built up.

“Tuesday the 17th”
Wendy brings a group of friends to serve as bait so she can confront and kill a serial murderer that took another group of her friends the previous year.  I didn’t hate this piece – and I liked some of the cinematography and ideas – but the story was bad and the acting was not very good either.

“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”
This movie is just full of guys who are terrible to women.

This was the first segment I actually liked. It’s full of pretty standard found-footage ghost fare, but the video chat aspect and acting elevated it a notch and the twist was well done. Nothing was creepier to me than when Emily raised her arm to show how she was trying to get the ‘bump’ out of it, though. Yeesh.

This was far and away my favorite of the bunch. Likeable characters, well shot, acted and edited. The house reminded me of the house in House of the Devil and I like to imagine that it’s the same edifice, just ten years later.

Four friends head to a Halloween party (the found footage is provided by the person dressed in a teddy bear costume as a ‘nanny-cam’). When they get to the house (although it’s possible they’ve got the directions messed up) they find it empty. Some strange things happen and they begin to believe that their friends have set it up as a haunted house. I loved this conceit of having none of the creepy stuff really work on them or simply engender a grudging admiration.

They stumble on a exorcism/summoning ritual (I wasn’t clear which) and join in the chanting as they think this is part of the experience.

This doesn’t go well.

For me, this was the only story firing on all cylinders and a strong finish to mixed bag of stories. 

In general I thought things didn’t work as well as they could have. I’d totally watch “10/31/98” again – but I think that’s the only segment I truly enjoyed.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

No More Video Games...

...until I've played the 24 games that I've purchased in previous Steam sales that I haven't even installed yet (never mind the ones I've installed and never finished).

The Revisions Begin

I've been participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) on and off for years. I've never gotten very far - I think the first time I did it in 2001 I wrote 20,000 words and that's been the benchmark ever since. This past year I was going to skip it - I'd tried the year before with a lot more free time and barely cracked 7,000. My brother Scott did it with me that year - 2011 - and finished early. He self-published the resulting novel (The Well of Trees - available in Print and Kindle formats from Amazon) in early 2012. That was his first year trying NaNoWriMo.

I hate him a little for that. ;)

Anyway, this year I was a LOT more busy. Behind on work projects and just generally feeling stressed. Having failed to finish every time before I thought there was no point in writing this year - I'd be even less likely to.

However another brother (Jeff) decided he'd jump in this year and he has even LESS free time than I do (what with an hour commute each way and 2 kiddos). Scott's wife Crystal joined in and another brother (Micah) also signed up, so I threw my hands in the air and said 'what the hell.'

Usually I try and start a writing project with some idea of the general plot and characters. This year I started too close to the start date and didn't feel like digging out an old idea. So I just sat down and wrote the first thing that came to my mind:

"I woke up remembering how I’d had to fight the monsters in 1997, which of course I had never done. If you’re reading this, it means things got back to normal and you’ve forgotten how it all went down. If you somehow manage to track me down to verify this, I won’t remember either. As far as reality is concerned, there are no monsters. There was no monster war. It never happened.

Until it happens again."

That was my starting point and I just went from there.

In many ways this was a really freeing experience. I started each day not knowing where things were going. I even started leaving things in the middle of scenes - kind of daring myself to figure ways for the characters to get out of the situation.

It was stressful and at times I was really just typing words with no desire or intent behind them just to hit my minimums for the deadline, however somehow it all came together. I actually finished!

I have no idea if it's any good or not - I have the feeling it's at best a fun genre adventure - but what the hell, I actually finished a novel.

Now's when the real work begins - the rewrite/revision/editing process. I'll keep you posted how it goes.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

52 Weeks of Horror Movies - Week 1

For the last couple of years I've been watching and reviewing horror movies in October and posting them in a thread on as "31 Days, 31 Horror Movies." This year I'm expanding a bit and trying to watch/write about them every week.

For those interested, here are those earlier threads:

These aren't critical reviews in the traditional sense - I don't have the background or interest in writing objective critiques of filmmaking - rather these are more subjective ramblings. I like horror movies and I like writing about them and that's about as deep as it goes.

Usually I'll be posting these on Thursdays, as Wednesday is my horror movie night (a concession to obsession that my wife has kindly bestowed). For this first installment, however, I've already got a movie written up and thought I'd post it early.


This is a movie that really sets itself up with the title. It’s a confusing mess of a found-footage horror movie that wastes a truly excellent location. I kept watching in part because I found the abandoned and overgrown hedge maze to be a visually interesting and atmospherically creepy place, but the shallow characterization, incoherent plot and long stretches of shaky night vision running made me want to murder the filmmakers and leave them in the abandoned well with the family dog.

We’ve got a Spanish family going for a vacation at the old family home in the country. They find an abandoned hedge maze to explore, play card games in front of a fire and the dog barks at nothing in the nighttime.  The two oldest kids, teens Cristian and July, are self-filming fanatics who are ostensibly shooting tape for a web show on urban legends. This flimsiest of excuses for the found footage is only mentioned a couple of times and as far as I can tell much of the footage is them filming each other because they’re bored. 

I know the feeling.

There’s a good idea for a film in there somewhere, but I think using the POV camera was too limiting. Our only POV is that of the two teens and they’re not that interesting.  Long stretches of time are spent just walking and arguing with each other. There’s little suspense and less characterization. I perked up a bit when the kids find a box of videos in the basement and watch some of The Bird With the Chrystal Plumage, thinking maybe this had something to do with the plot, but it’s just a way for the filmmakers to say “see, we love horror movies!”

It’s a slow, slow film. There’s little in the way of pacing and there are long stretches of time where nothing happens – even during midnight chase scenes. That lack of pacing just kills this movie and the filmmakers occasional use of fast-forwarding/rewinding to show us interesting bits really obliterates any immersion or suspense they might have otherwise developed.

There’s a legend about a lost girl and some postpartum psychosis nonsense, but it barely holds together and by the end I didn’t much care.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


The word apocrypha has a lot of meanings. It's based on the greek word 'apĆ³krupho', meaning 'hidden' - and that certainly seems appropriate for a blog that is just starting. Hidden from the vast majority of the world, for sure!

Another use for the word is (according to Wikipedia) 'writings of questionable value.' That also seems appropriate for this blog, consisting as it will (I hope) of my various ramblings and creative nonsense. Questionable value indeed.

Other meanings (biblical and otherwise) have only a tangential relationship to this blog and its intended use, so I'll leave them out (though perhaps I will engage in things esoteric AND spurious).

I guess only time will tell what meaning is the most reflective. Hopefully you'll hang around and see as well.