January 29, 2015

Exists (2014) - How Bad Can A Movie Be And Still Score A Recommendation?

Exists (2014)      One of the leads in the new found footage movie Exists (2014) believes he's going to make himself famous by filming a really bad ass video of Bigfoot for YouTube.  Not surprisingly, he's the guy who never puts the camera down.  What is a little surprising is that he's also the most developed character in the movie.  His name escapes me at the moment, but I'm sure that's not important.  I couldn't tell you any of the other characters' names, either.  I spent nearly ninety minutes watching these five people and formed no more of an emotional attachment to them than I would to a mouth breather taking a shot to the nuts in a YouTube video.  That's okay, because Exists pretty much is the bad ass YouTube video old whats-his-name wanted to make, and Bigfoot is the shot to the nuts that we're all here for anyway.  Whose nuts is incidental.

     I'd generally have little positive to say about a movie that skimps on character development, but I just didn't care here.  Sure, Exists would be more effective if I felt empathy for its cast, but I'm just here for some good old fashioned Bigfoot action.  I suspect many who seek out Exists will feel the same way.  My profound lack of identification with any of the monster bait on display actually put me in mind of an old slasher flick.  These five cyphers only exist to be meat for the hairy grinder.  So does Exists at least deliver when we see the big guy in action?

     Even though it's essentially a found footage movie, director Eduardo Sanchez - one half of the directorial team behind The Blair Witch Project - doesn't use the conceit as an excuse to hold back on the money shots.  You see enough of the convincingly low key Mike Elizalde Bigfoot design to get the job done, but not so much that Bigfoot ceases to be the mysterious backwoods threat he's supposed to be.  There are plenty of moments when Sanchez uses the found footage conceit to good effect by providing us with fleeting glimpses of the beast reminiscent of the old 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film.  The Bigfoot in Exists, however, is not just taking a brisk stroll by the river bed.  He's pissed.

Bigfoot peers through a crack in Exists (2014)
Oh shit!  He knows we're down here!
     Sanchez makes effective use of sound design to sell the monster, as well.  It's amazing just how effective it is to only hear Bigfoot's rampage as he ransacks a cabin while the leads cower in the cellar.  The same goes for peering deeply into the darkened woods through the eye of the camera as the eerie wailing of the beast surrounds you.

     Perhaps you've noticed that I've yet to say anything about the narrative, though.  Well, that's because there really isn't one.  I suppose the lack of a compelling narrative goes a long way toward explaining the lack of characterization, but the script by Jaime Nash  (who also scripted Sanchez's superior 2006 alien abduction flick Altered) is really nothing more than a basic framework to get the viewer from one Bigfoot encounter to the next.  Once again, everything else takes a backseat to the monster action.

     Ultimately then, all Exists really has to offer is a rampaging monster and a hollow core.  Thing is, it's an unusually well rendered monster.  Sanchez uses every trick in the book to make each scene involving Bigfoot truly thrilling.  There's a bit with Bigfoot pursuing a victim fleeing on a mountain bike that recalls Sanchez's solid V/H/S/2 segment A Ride In The Park.  The conclusion of Exists, in which Bigfoot tosses an entire camper trailer off the side of a mountain, is similarly bracing.  There are just too many crackerjack scenes like these to dismiss the movie out of hand.

Bigfoot jumping from above in Exists (2014)
It's raining Sasquatch!  Seriously, how can anyone not want to see this? 

     So how bad can a movie be and still score a recommendation from the Dog Farm?  Exists is lacking almost every key component one would expect to find in a traditionally good monster movie save one.  It's got a really good monster.  Nimble editing, clever cinematography, superior sound, and a convincing costume design come together to make this the Bigfoot I always wanted to see in a movie.  It's just a shame that Exists otherwise settles for mediocrity or it could have been something really special.

     Dim the lights, crank up the surround sound, and adjust your expectations accordingly.  Exists still scores that recommendation, because sometimes a little technically proficient brain dead squatchploitation is enough.

January 24, 2015

The Info Zombie Podcast #95 - Am I The Worst Guest Ever? Probably Not, But I'm At Least Part Of The Discussion . . .

Brother Theodore and a flummoxed David Letterman
     The Info Zombie never says die.  Carl invited me back for my third guest shot on The Info Zombie Podcast, even though I forgot to plug in my mic last time.  The jury is still out as to whether or not my comments being intelligible constitutes an improvement.  I also made a conscious effort to breathe quietly, modulate the volume of my speaking voice, and form complete sentences.  It's a good thing Carl is so adept at keeping me on topic.  Does anyone remember back when Brother Theodore used to do guest shots on Late Night With David Letterman?  Just me, huh?  Check out the clip.  It's not easy to keep a grouchy old man on topic.

     We are a little all over the place this time, but it was fun to see where the conversation would take us.  Carl and I talk a bit about old horror movies, new horror movies, found footage movies, unreleased movies, and books about movies.  So...movies, I guess.  
     -- I now realize we were actually pretty focused --

     You can listen to Episode #95 of The Info Zombie Podcast right here, or download the episode on iTunes if you prefer listening on the go.  Be sure to subscribe when you  visit iTunes, and check out all the goodies on display at The Info Zombie website, as well. 

January 19, 2015

The Dog Farm Finally Creeps Up On The Creeper - Movies At Dog Farm IV Looms Ominously In The Distance...

A beaten and bound middle-aged man sitting atop a hill...

     Does the screen cap above look familiar to you?  I've been deviled by it for thirty-five years.  It doesn't look quite as I remembered it, but that's definitely it.  I was frustrated by my inability to recall the movie from which this image was taken for decades.  Then - even worse - I finally realized it was from a movie that was essentially unavailable.  This image was nothing more than a vague memory I would carry with me to the grave.  As the years passed I began to question if I'd ever even seen this image.  Perhaps it was only something I fabricated in my mind's eye, assembled from the unclassified scraps of horror movie detritus that litter my brain.

     I consider myself fortunate that I came of age during the seventies and eighties, arguably the last true golden age of genre movies.  I also consider myself fortunate that I lived through the glorious heyday of DVD in the nineties and aughts.  Almost any movie I recalled fondly from my youth was readily available to me, often in a beautifully packaged collector's edition.  Still, there were a handful of oldies that remained frustratingly out of reach. 

    I was haunted by the image above largely because it was from a movie that I could neither recall nor acquire.  I was certain it was from a movie I'd seen at the Skyline Drive-In.  I knew this because I remembered it being dark during its nighttime scenes to the point that it was almost incomprehensible.  I recalled also that it was a movie I hadn't particularly enjoyed, haunting visual notwithstanding.  My inability to remember its title and/or see it once again vexed me.

     At last I discovered that it was a Canadian movie I'd seen under the title The Creeper somewhere around 1980.  Part of the reason I could never place it was because it's better known in genre circles by its original title, Rituals (1977)The Creeper was a retitling for the American market intended to position the movie as a backwoods slasher flick.  It's not, really.  That probably explains why my ten year old self didn't care for it at the time.  I'd been duped.  As for the impenetrable darkness in those nighttime scenes - it was due to damage inflicted upon the original negative during processing by Pathe Studios.  Who knew?

     So now I had a title, but I was thwarted by the fact that Rituals had essentially become a lost film since I'd seen it so long ago.  There were still substandard public domain releases under its retitling that popped up occasionally, but they were usually from a heavily edited broadcast television version that omitted over ten minutes of footage and still suffered from the excessive darkness that marred its presentation wherever it appeared.  The only unexpurgated version seemed to be an old Canadian VHS release by Astral Bellevue Entertainment, long out of print, that was difficult to locate and exorbitantly expensive.  Later there was a German DVD release, but it had forced subtitles and reportedly did nothing to correct the dark image.

     Finally there came word of an impending DVD release from Code Red DVD.  Code Red had obtained access to director Peter Carter's personal copy that his wife found in a closet and passed along to actor/producer Lawrence Dane.  The elements were still rough, but the print was uncut and Code Red had reportedly lightened the excessively dark passages.  This was all pretty big news in genre circles.  The impending release even scored a cover story in a special VHS issue of Rue Morgue magazine in December of 2009.  Then the release was delayed and later assumed abandoned by most until it finally showed up unheralded roughly a year and a half later.  It sold out almost immediately despite the low profile release, and it quickly became almost impossible to score a copy for less than fifty bucks or so from online resellers.  I missed that brief window of opportunity, and so Rituals once again eluded me.

     I've finally convinced myself to quit being a cheap bastard though, and I've ponied up the cash for a copy of that out of print Code Red DVD release.  I'll be sharing it with others soon at the next Movies At Dog Farm live event.  I'm pretty stoked about seeing Rituals again outdoors under the moonlight just as I saw it at the Skyline Drive-In nearly thirty-five years ago.  Rituals is now the first official selection for Movies At Dog Farm IV in May.

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