Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Of Witches, Devils, Cannibals and Ghosts

I've always had a soft spot for the cinema verite style of film-making.  I'm not gonna lie, when The Blair Witch Project first came out, I was completely enamored.  I knew that none of it was real, but the viral marketing was just so awesome I couldn't help but completely get sucked in.  The website was fantastic, offering a full mythology and timeline of events involving Elly Kedward aka, The Blair Witch, "evidence" from Burkittsville PD found around the area that the trio of college students disappeared.  A new version of the website exists here.  In addition, there were two specials that aired.  The first of which was on The Sci-Fi Channel.  Yep.  SCI-FI....before the completely needless and quite stupid renaming of the channel to Syfy.  Friggin Syfy?  Really?  Jesus that is so stupid.  Okay anyway....the special was entitled Curse of the Blair Witch and it was a 90 minute special that went quite in depth into the mythos behind The Blair Witch, including the disappearance and murder of 7 children from Burkittsville, MD now known as The Burkittsville 7 by notorious hermit Rustin Parr.  Parr was allegedly possessed and controlled by the witch.


The Massacre of the Burkittsville 7 was the title of another special that aired on Showtime and dealt exclusively with Rustin Parr and the murdered children.  Both were absolutely fantastic mockumentaries and really helped to get you pumped up and excited to see the movie.  In October of 2000 there was a third special produced called Shadow of the Blair Witch.  This was produced as a promotion for Book of Shadows:  Blair Witch 2.  This one dealt with the killing spree that was inspired by the original movie and was depicted in BW2.  It was just as creepy as CotBW......but did not seem to get nearly as much attention.

Now there are a lot of people who think that Blair Witch was the first to use and exploit the cinema verite style.  There were many before it though...the most notorious of which is Cannibal Holocaust....which will soon have a review posted in our new MidNite CinePhile Red Room Blog.  The film depicts a group of film makers who journey into The Green Inferno to document the native tribes.  They are never seen again.  Another expedition is sent to find them and come across some of the footage they left behind.  What they see is one of the most vile and disturbing  visions of human depravity.....and I'm not even talking about the cannibals! 

In 1998 a little independent feature came out called The Last Broadcast about two cable access show hosts who, on a suggestion from a caller, decide to hunt for the Jersey Devil while broadcasting live.  Steven Avkast and Locus Wheeler are the hosts of the local access show Fact of Fiction, which is a paranormal show.  After installing a new live chat segment of the show, a viewer suggests that they investigate The Jersey Devil.  The recruit sound man Rein Clackin and self proclaimed psychic Jim Suerd in their adventure.  Rein claims to have a knack for capturing paranormal sound and the boys hope that Suerd can psychically lead them to The Devil's hiding place.  The four men go in searching for the legend, but on Suerd emerges days later.  He is charge with the murder of the three other men, though the body of Avkast is never found, but presumed dead due to the amount of blood at the crime scene.  Suerd is convicted of the murders and imprisoned.  However there is still doubt of his guilt, but before anything further can happen, Suerd allegedly commits suicide in his jail cell....though his death is also a bit bizarre.  A documentary film maker named David Leigh is investigating this case and is sent a film reel containing badly damaged film.  He hires a data retrieval expert to clean up the film and see what's on it.  Using the film that was broadcast during the hunt, the trip is recreated from the "found footage" and archived footage of the show....both murders are caught on camera and Suerd is clearly not the killer.  Was it the work of the Jersey Devil?  Ahhh....tantalizing isn't it?  Check out this film and see!

I came across The Last Broadcast a few months after watching The Blair Witch Project....I was at Suncoast Video (Yep....you know your old when you used to shop at Suncoast Video!) and a VHS tape caught my eye.  Yes....this was back in 1999, when DVD was still brand new everyplace still sold VHS.  Those were the days.  Anyway....I was still completely obsessed with The Blair Witch Project and when I saw this tape, I was immediately intrigued!  So naturally I had to check it out......I remember picking up The Clay Witch Project at the time as well.....which was (in case the title didn't tip you off) a claymation parody of Blair Witch.  Three kids go for a walk one October afternoon and soon start to run afoul of pretty much ever horror cliche you can think of.  Naturally played for laughs, it was a cute little film that I enjoyed quite a bit.  One thing of interesting note was that towards the end of the film, we're treated to a claymation fight to the death between Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees!  Now this was five years before Freddy vs Jason came out and fans of the series had been clamoring for the match up since the mid eighties....so this was awesome!

Another great low budget effort is Strawberry Estates...in which a professor leads a group of students into a haunted sanitarium that is allegedly built over a gate to hell.  Of course, as is always the case in these instances....the group goes in.....but no one comes back out.  Guess it's kinda like the Roach Motel.....anywhoo.  This film is presented as if it is now reconstructed FBI evidence that was leaked out somehow.  It may not be the most frightening of the post Blair Witch cinema verite movies, but it certainly has some great style and a terrific premise.  I love the Fulci-esque idea of the doorway to hell....much like his 1980 film The Beyond.  Check it out if you get the chance!

Again in 2000 my attention was caught by a low budget film called The St. Francisville Experiment.  Again, alleged to be true, this time four ghost hunters enter a haunted mansion in Louisiana to investigate the claims that Madame LaLaurie and her mutilated slaves still haunt the premises.  The beginning of the film is fantastic as various interviews take place including one with a local historian who runs down the story of Madame LaLaurie, which while being slightly embellished, I'm sure, is still a more or less true story.  She actually existed and was a truly sick and twisted woman.  Some of the stories that have been passed on about the torture of her slaves include "male slaves, stark naked, chained to the wall, their eyes gouged out, their fingernails pulled off by the roots; others had their joints skinned and festering, great holes in their buttocks where the flesh had been sliced away, their ears hanging by shreds, their lips sewn together ... Intestines were pulled out and knotted around naked waists. There were holes in skulls, where a rough stick had been inserted to stir the brains." and a  "victim [who] obviously had her arms amputated and her skin peeled off in a circular pattern, making her look like a human caterpillar," and another who had had her limbs broken and reset "at odd angles so she resembled a human crab."  WHAT? Oh yeah, this chick was TAPPED!  So the four enter the mansion and some odd things occur, but then things start to ramp up towards the climax, including the appearance of a mutilated slave ghost that still gives me the friggin willies when I think about it!  UGH!  The acting is pretty bad and it's slow in spots, but do check this film out, I think you'll like it!

 All of these films are well worth your time to check out if you are a fan (like myself) of cinema verite, SOV, POV, DIY type of films.  Most of them look like the have the budget of about a happy meal, but they've all got heart and imagination.  Of course for each of these films there are about 20 rip offs.  But then such is the fate of any concept that makes money.....for every great film there will be an unending deluge of rip offs, copy cats and cash ins......but then again they do say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, don't they?

1 comment:

  1. I just found The Blair Witch Project on Blu Ray for $5.99 at Best Buy!