by Craig Thomas
Since the success of the low-budget “found footage” phenomenon, The Blair Witch Project, such films have been a pound a penny. And since the technology to actually make a film has become much cheaper and far less unwieldy, they seem to have become even more popular. And even though most of them are terrible, they, like far too many terrible horror movies, make enough money to keep the cameras rolling. Some even spawn sequels. In fact, the Paranormal Activity franchise is currently up to four and number five is out later this year. There is even rumors of some kind of spin-off. The question must be then, why do those people keep filming if such dreadful things continually keep happening? It is that question that will forever remain a mystery.
Yet not all such films are terrible. [Rec], a Spanish take on the genre offers genuinely scary moments and is pretty unpredictable. So, obviously this unexpected hit now has two (and probably three) sequels, along with the obligatory awful American remake and even worse sequel. As a sub-genre it has about as much credibility as the rom-com whose protagonist is fascinated by clothes and shoes, of which there are also far too many.
So it is difficult to accurately judge the quality of films in the genre. On the one hand you have the knowledge that these films are almost universally terrible, therefore preparing you with the mindset that it is going to be terrible and you pick up on every little problem. On the other hand, you have the knowledge that these films are almost universally terrible, therefore you are overly-generous to any film in the genre which isn’t mind-numbingly dull, in one or both senses of the word.
And so it is with what is now the Grave Encounters franchise. The first, which is not particularly well known, is an ok, if sub-par, film in which a small TV crew are making a show about supposedly haunted buildings. They are not totally serious, nor are they total skeptics. They go around looking for paranormal activity, whilst hyping up non-events and bribing people to tell scary stories to maintain ratings. They then go into an old mental hospital which, surprise surprise, is actually haunted and find themselves locked in a Blair Witch-esque maze from which they are unable to escape. In the end it was a decent little film with the premise being the most interesting part, even if it didn’t live up to its potential.
What it didn’t need, and what no-one was crying out for, was a sequel.
But this is the 21st century, a century in which cinema cannot help but eat itself. Sequels, prequels, spin-offs, remakes and reboots are the order of the day. If it was a successful book, it will be a successful movie (and vice-versa with movies such as Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy getting the novelization treatment, so bitterly condemned by Woody Allen all the way back in Annie Hall). So when there is an opportunity to make money off a sure thing, rest assured, that opportunity will not be overlooked.
Which brings me to the utterly unnecessary Grave Encounters 2, which, in a list of films people didn’t want to be made, ranks only below Transformers 4 and Ghostbusters 3, (though for completely different reasons).
So what of the film?
The premise is similar to Human Centipede 2, or so I’m told. In the latter, a man becomes obsessed with the first Human Centipede film and duly sets out to recreate it, but on an even bigger scale. In Grave Encounters 2 a similar thing happens. A man becomes obsessed with the original Grave Encounters and sets out to reproduce it. I’m not seen either of the Human Centipede films, but I’m pretty sure that’s where the similarities end.
Grave Encounters 2 takes the first film as its starting point and adds another layer of meta onto it. The main characters are all in film school and are making their own horror movie. The protagonist also does video reviews to boost his profile, one of which is of Grave Encounters. He receives a message about the film and they start investigating whether or not it was “just a film”, which includes recording their investigations supposedly for his thesis, whilst another guy is recording everything for a documentary he is making about himself. It’s a bit silly, but from the outset this film clearly does not take itself too seriously, which makes the mostly horror-free exposition actually entertaining, which is a rarity in modern horror films.
The biggest problem with this film is the structure. It works on the premise that the audience has seen the original, which let’s face it, most people haven’t. If you are one of the few that did, then there will be no shocks or surprises for you, outside of the occasional jumpy bits. It is set in the same place, with the same ghosts and the characters set up the same cameras in exactly the same places. Once inside the building, the plot is basically the same, though a lot sillier and all the attempts to create unease fail spectacularly, instead generating a fair amount of laughter. Once you’ve seen a giant killer ghost thing running about, a floating camera (or even a fleet of floating cameras) is not particularly scary. In fact, it just falls into the category of overkill, as all sequels tend to do in order to one-up the predecessor.
In that case, you might think it would be better not to have seen the first film (which you probably haven’t) and delve straight into this one. Well, you would be wrong. Due to the fact it works on the assumption that you’ve seen the first one, it gives away all of the secrets and potentially scary twists that made the first one at least interesting. It shows a number of clips from the first film and exposes (and mocks) the biggest demons in the cold light of day, meaning that once they’re in the hospital, nothing is particularly surprising as you’ve seen it all in the build-up.
The best part of the film is the first 40 minutes, which is before they enter the hospital and it becomes a bigger, sillier rehash of the original.
But for all that it isn’t a bad film. It certainly isn’t good, but by the standards of the genre, it is at least entertaining, if not particularly scary. It is amusing, sometimes unintentionally so, but even when it is at its most ridiculous, at least you aren’t bored to tears.
What is most irritating about the film is that they hand themselves a perfect opportunity to shake things up and genuinely surprise the entire audience and they choose not to do it. That might have very well have made it an interesting film, which this is most certainly not.
The only thing this adds to the original is that it is more entertaining, though it does mean a proportionate level of scares are removed, though that didn’t necessarily need to be the case. If you want to see a silly movie with a couple of jumpy parts then this is the film for you.
As to the original conundrum of evaluating this sort of movie, what I have to say is this. If you go in expecting a good film then you will be sorely disappointed, if you go in expecting a terrible film you be pleasantly surprised. It generates enough goodwill in the 40-50 minutes that it will carry you through the rest of the ridiculous plot. It is around this time that a plot twist is revealed and if you can accept that for what it is then the rest of the movie will be nice enough. If you balk at it and find it too stupid for words then I’d recommend you stop watching at that point because it doesn’t get any less silly.
It is not essential watching and is little more than a cash-in on the apparent success of the original, though it is not without its charms. If you have to watch one of them then personally I would recommend the original because at least it has some creepy moments and surprises, both of which are lacking in the follow-up.
This original was an interesting, if flawed take, on the genre and this is an interesting, if flawed take on the original. The core idea at the heart of both films is interesting, though the execution leaves something to be desired.
Grave Encounters 2 is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Of all the shock films, exploitation movies that bathe in depravity, and hardcore cinema I have seen in my life, no film has been as extreme as Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 Italian shocker Cannibal Holocaust. It is, in many respects, the best exploitation film I have ever seen because it is the one that goes all the way. In school, many people talked about Faces of Death, a staged exploitation film that supposedly features footage of real death scenes clipped together. Clearly, no one had ever heard of Cannibal Holocaust. This film features it all from authentic animal slayings, some of the most graphic sex scenes I have seen in a motion picture, rape, castration with a barely visible cut in the film, gruesome dismemberment, cannibalism, intimidation, and decadence. What is most shocking is the display of tainted ethics from the individuals who should be the cultured. Instead, the civilized are the savage monsters, the ones looking to draw blood, destroy, and exploit. I will warn you that after you watch Cannibal Holocaust, you will not ever be the same.
A film you will never find just tossed on the shelf of your local Best Buy or Barnes & Noble, Cannibal Holocaust is not exactly the easiest film to see, but it is out there and you can find it, but be prepared to do a little digging. I saw the film a couple of years ago on DVD and I never shook seeing it. I was disgusted by the real footage of animal killings, done in such cruelty it almost made me loose my lunch. When I stumbled upon the film on DVD and out on the shelf for purchase at FYE, I happily shelled out the money to own what is one of the most notorious films in the history of cinema. When the clerk saw what I was buying, she looked at me in disbelief and asked, “Are you sure you want this?”
“Yes”, I replied taken aback.
“Have you ever seen it?” She flipped it over and examined the back. Her face was contorted in repulsion at the fact she was touching it.
“Yes, I saw it a few years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. I collect films like this and it is a must own for my collection. I am a huge fan of grind house cinema, gore flicks, and hardcore exploitation movies.”
“You have an iron stomach and a strange hobby!”
I am very proud of my copy of Cannibal Holocaust. Call me sick, twisted, in need of a shrink, whatever you want, but it is one of my most prized DVDs I own and I will NEVER loan it out. I don’t want the awesome insert that folds out into a print of the original Italian poster to be ripped, torn, or desecrated. I don’t want either of the two discs in the set to be scratched, ruined, or exposed to dust. I don’t want the awesome slipcover that declares it is the “The Most Controversial Movie Ever Made” dinged up in any way. My copy of this horrific film is pristine. Truth is, there is actually one documentary I saw that topples Cannibal Holocaust called Death Scenes, a newsreel of real death footage spanning from World War II to the early 90s. Death Scenes should never be sold to the open public due to some of the footage included in it. That was a film I almost turned off, especially when the film showed us (with haunting sound) a horrific car wreck from the 1950s, the body horribly mutilated as what I am assuming is a surviving passenger or perhaps family member (?) screams and cries as the body is pulled from the twisted fist of steel. Be comforted that there is one film out there that can out shock Cannibal Holocaust.
Cannibal Holocaust follows a group of documentary filmmakers as they set out to film indigenous tribes in the Amazon Basin. These tribes, it turns out, happen to be cannibals. The documentary crew consists of Alan Yates (Played by Carl Gabriel Yorke), Faye Daniels (Played by Francesca Ciardi), Jack Anders (Played by Perry Pirkanen), and Mark Tomasco (Played by Luca Barbareschi). After no word from the crew, New York University anthropologist Harold Monroe (Played by Robert Kerman) sets out to find and rescue the crew. All that he returns with is their film canisters, which the media is anxiously waiting to air. After a screening of the footage, the film depicts horrors that no one could have imagined.
The film’s unblinking and alarmingly real violence caused quite a stir throughout the world when Cannibal Holocaust began its theatrical run. The film premiered in Milan and shortly after its debut, the courts seized copies of the film and had Deodato arrested for murder. He avoided a life sentence by presenting his actors in court and proving his innocence. The film has been banned in multiple countries since its release, further adding to the hype around it. Yet Deodato has not made a brainless ode to gore. No, he has offered up a critique on the violence lurking in what appears to be the most civilized of human beings. It also attacks the media for their relentless hunger to slap violence on television and make a spectacle out of it. The film also acts as a found footage film, one of the first films to inspire copies like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and more. The way the cameraman refuses to put down his camera and help his crewmembers being pulled apart right in front of him is so authentic, it will scare the ever-living hell right out of you. It has been said that Deodato was inspired to make the film one day while his son watched the news and he noticed the way the journalists focused on violence and carnage.
The film also equates sex with violence, suggesting that we get sexual pleasure out of the violence. One graphic scene finds two of the crew members having sex on the ashes of a burned hut, which the crewmembers are responsible for. This is a sequence in motion picture history that I personally was never able to quite shake from my brain. It made me sick, squirm while seeing it, and actually cover my eyes. The worst part is the crew makes the tribe watch as they act out this vile display. The film also wields a bizarre hypnotic effect on the viewer, partly from some dreamlike camerawork and the swirling synths that compose the memorable soundtrack. Credit should be given to Deodato who pushes the boundaries of repulsive imagery while keeping your eyes on the screen. You will want to look away but you won’t be able to. It has been said that spaghetti western director Sergio Leone sent Deodato a letter praising the realism of the film.
While I hail Cannibal Holocaust to be a rhythmic film that still resonates to this day, this is not a film for everyone. Know your limits, your sensitivity, and understand that this film should not be approached as just another ordinary horror film. It is the furthest thing from ordinary or simple. It never pulls a punch and I laud it for never even batting an eye at what it chooses to show you. If animal cruelty upsets you (I have a dog of my own and I have to say some of the violence towards animals really upset me.), stay far, far away from Cannibal Holocaust. Ranking as the second most upsetting film I have ever laid eyes on and chosen to subject myself to, I have to say it wins as a classic among exploitation pictures. The special effects crew has pulled off a mesmerizing bit of trickery with the violence, sometimes lacking no cut whatsoever. One of my film professors once told me, “If the film sparks any kind of intellectual conversation or debate, the film is not a bad one.” This statement stuck with me as I watched this film. Cannibal Holocaust should and does spark discussion, debate, and lures out emotions you never thought a motion picture would make you tackle.
Grade: A- (Be aware that just because I gave this an A-, you should still approach with extreme caution)