Old Horror, New Fave: The Other (1972) (SPOILERS!!!)


What’s the horror: ghosts and weird kids

Does the dog die? Death toll is one rat and possibly one cat, but neither are particularly upsetting

Gore factor: None

Re-watch scale: This one is somewhere in the middle for me. I’ll watch it on occasion, but it is pretty slow, so I don’t revisit it often. Still, it’s a great hidden gem for its time.

The horror movie The Other, made in 1972 and based on the novel of the same name by the actor Tom Tryon, generated some negative feedback when it came out for taking liberties with the text. I’ve not read the novel so I can’t speak to that, but there is some interesting trivia I can offer up before we get into the film. First of all, Tryon had quite an acting career back in the day, with tons of TV and movie credits to his name, although I don’t think he was the star in most of them. He did receive a Golden Globe nomination for his leading turn in The Cardinal in 1963, but his work with the renowned asshole director Otto Preminger almost did him in, and he never could stand to watch the movie. By 1969, Tryon was disillusioned enough with acting to try his hand at being a writer and made a name for himself as a novelist and film financier.

Another interesting bit of trivia is that the twins who played Holland and Niles Perry, Chris and Martin Udvernoky, never made another movie. Seems a shame, since they do a bang-up job in this film of being creepy and crazy while also oddly innocent and sensitive. I’m not sure why they never did any more acting work; apparently, Chris Udvernoky worked as an EMT until he died in 2010 while Martin works as a massage therapist somewhere.

The only other trivia I’ll mention is that the renowned Uta Hagen played the grandmother in the film, and as far as acting goes it doesn’t get much better than Uta. She, however, also hated the film, and I’m pretty sure she called it a trash movie in an interview sometime later. She felt she was signing on for a Gothic thriller, and was shocked when the final edit changed the tone of the film to what she felt was cheap horror (Tryon, who wrote the screenplay, said basically the same thing). And oh wait! One more little bit of trivia I’ll toss out here – The Other also had a young, little-known actor in a minor role who would go on to massive fame in the 80s:

Why yes, that is John Ritter playing husband Rider to the young Jenny Sullivan, aka Torrie, who was a sister to Niles and Holland. Oh, and Victor French is in it too, for anyone who remembers him.


Set during the Great Depression, the story begins with a glowy, surreal shot of Niles kneeling in a clearing in the woods. It’s a gorgeous shot, that pushes in slowly to reveal Niles sitting stock still, and wearing a large ring on one finger. He hears the leafy crunch of footsteps and looks around warily while birds trill from the trees. A twig snaps, and Niles leaps up, runs away, and hides inside an old sewer pipe, yanking the ring off his finger and placing it inside a tin cigarette box (this box and its contents will keep the Foley director quite busy for the immediate duration; it rattles like a chandelier store during an earthquake). Soon we hear whistling, then a pounding on the old pipe, then Holland pokes his head inside and clicks his wooden toy gun in Niles’s direction and takes off.

Holland and Niles come across the property of a woman they call Old Lady Rowe, who is outside beating a rug hung over a clothesline. The actress is Portia Nelson, whom I know nothing about except for the fact that she looks MAYBE forty years old in this movie, yet they’ve stuck a bad gray wig on her and expected the audience to buy that she’s a crotchety old woman. Holland tells Niles to keep watch as he sneaks over to a cabinet in her barn that houses all sorts of canned and pickled things; he goes to retrieve one of the jars and accidentally knocks another one off the shelf, which loudly crashes to the ground. Then we’re all subjected to a quaint, 1930’s-style old-fashioned neighbor-beating, as Rowe uses the stick she was whacking the rug with to beat the crap outta Niles, who she keeps calling Holland by mistake. “I’m not Holland, I’m Niles!” the kid yells stupidly, obviously not realizing he could’ve just let Old Lady Rowe think he’s Holland so that his brother got in all the trouble, but no matter, OLR retorts with the timely “I don’t care if you’re FDR, the dirty Democrat!” and yanks him by the ear into the barn to clean up the mess, only to freak out and run away at the sight of rats eating the pickerel or whatever it is that’s been flung onto the dirty floor.

So there you go – Niles and Holland are twins who run around and basically act like kids, annoying old ladies and shooting each other with fake weapons while sweating profusely in the Connecticut summer. When OLR tells Niles she’s gonna tattle on them to his father, Holland quips “Someone needs to remind her Dad’s dead,” before dashing off into the light of day again. So, there’s that bit of exposition covered. OLR is pretty dotty, can’t tell a Holland from a Niles, and can’t even remember that her neighbor died tragically a year ago. That might matter later.

Holland seems to be the ringleader of the two; more mischievous and bold than the follower Niles, who does what Holland asks and tends to get caught while Holland manages to stay under the radar. Soon the still-running duo dashes into a barn where Winnie, who I believe is some sort of housekeeper, is also working a clothesline, looking like an absolute poster woman for the Depression era, sackcloth dress, sagging bra strap, and all:

Niles does hear her, and he runs to the front yard where his Uncle George is cranking up a car, as one does. Aunt Vee and Uncle George have a horrid son named Russell who specializes in shouting out awful rhymes based on Niles’ name – probably because both Niles and Holland have a tendency to call him Piggy Lookadoo instead of Russell. That might matter later.

We do get a lot of swell old terms throughout the film; we’re eight minutes in and have already heard repeated yowsahs and one cripes, so imagine my surprise when Holland calls Old Lady of the Rowe a bitch – that Holland, he’s so naughty! Niles dashes off to the house to fetch John Ritter, aka Rider, for his Uncle George. He confidently tells his sister Jenny that her baby is going to be a girl, then Jenny tells Rider about how Niles can successfully predict storms without the benefit of a meteorologist. Wanna know if those dark clouds mean tornadoes or hail? Ask Niles! But not before Jenny lets him “tune in” to her baby by putting his ear to her belly and proclaiming once again that yowsah, it’s gonna be a girl. “You witch,” Jenny says to him playfully, and all I can say is, watch your back Jenny.

Winnie starts to carry a tray upstairs, only to have Jenny take it from her and offer to take it up to “Alexandra” herself instead. Winnie snatches the morning paper out from under Jenny’s arm before she goes up, telling her that the news will “only upset her.” I feel you, Alexandra. The daily news has that effect on me too. Niles tells Jenny to relay to Mother that he’ll be up to read to her later, which seems like it should be the other way around, but obviously, Mom is fragile. And possibly never leaves her room.

Off goes Niles into the apple cellar, where Holland is still hiding out in the dark. Thinking, apparently, about mean Old Lady Rowe. That’s probably not good. Niles pulls the ring out of his cigarette tin and asks Holland for reassurance that it’s really his. Evidently, it’s an old family ring that belonged to their grandfather. When he died, it was passed to their father, and when he died, it was passed on to Holland, since he’s the oldest of the twins, even if it is only by twenty minutes. Anyway, Holland got it, and he gave it to Niles, and he promises he’ll never take it back from him because he doesn’t want it anyway. With that squared away, Niles pulls something else out of the tin – something small and wrapped in blue cloth, and asks who owns it. Holland tells him to put whatever it is away, and never mention it again or he’ll let Niles have it.

It’s about this time that ol’ Piggy Lookadoo comes bursting through the door, threatening to tell that the twins are hanging out in the apple cellar where they’re not supposed to be. True to form, Holland ducks under the stairs without getting caught, leaving Niles holding the ring and whatever the other thing is when Piggy catches him, tells him he’s not supposed to have the ring because it’s supposed to be buried with their dad (which definitely is not the story Holland gave to Niles) and that when Uncle George comes home, he’s gonna tell. Niles tries to give the ring and the thing back to Holland, who’s too smart for that shit, and Niles tucks the trinkets away.

Before the two leave the cellar, Niles flashes back to a scene of his father lugging a basket of apples down into the basement. We clearly see Holland’s, or maybe Niles’s, legs walk past the cellar entrance, and then, as Dad starts down the stairs, the door above him slams down hard, and Dad falls to the ground, hitting his head and, we can assume, dying. That’s – quite a flashback you had there, Niles. Wanna tell us a little more about it? No, he does not. Then, after Niles and Holland exit the cellar, Holland takes one of Russell’s pet rats out of its cage and squishes it to death (they don’t show it, and the fake dead rat we see is laughable). WTF with these two anyway? Niles is upset, and we cut to a scene of him burying the rat in a garden. He’s marked the spot with a little wooden cross, and as the camera cuts back we see way too many wooden crosses stuck in the ground. Damn, Holland’s a rat killer from way back.

And here’s Mom! Looks like Alexandra has come out to play. She steps onto a balcony and Niles goes loopy with joy. He rushes up the steps to where she stands, looking anything but comfortable to be there. She smiles and hugs Niles, who begs her to come into the garden with him, but she freezes when she sees a water well that has clearly been covered over. Soon Mom rushes back into the house, claiming she just can’t get up the courage to leave the house yet. But we know Dad died in the cellar, right? So what’s up with this defunct water well?

Troubled but STUNNING

Soon Niles is down by the lake, looking like he might go fishing, but he’s mostly just screwing around with that cigarette tin again, playing with the ring and whatever’s wrapped in that blue paper. Uta Hagen appears, in the form of Niles and Holland’s Russian grandmother, Ada. Niles is thrilled to see her, and rushes into her arms, which is kinda sweet. Where’s Holland? Ada wants to know, but Niles brushes the question off. Soon he’s asking Granny if they can play “the greatest game,” and Gran seems to know exactly what he’s talking about. So sure, let’s play.

The Game, as they call it, basically amounts to picking some living thing, in this case, a crow, and projecting your consciousness into it. It’s unclear if this is some real power Niles has, or if it’s just Ada encouraging his imagination to run wild and pretend he’s become the bird, but either way, we see Niles go into some weird trance and then start describing what it’s like to be the black crow as it flies over the farm. He doesn’t seem completely happy to be doing this, as he finds it scary and it seems to take a lot of concentration, but hey, he wanted to do it. Gran seems totally comfortable with The Game, encouraging him to become one with the bird. I mean, it’s the 1930s, so I guess kids didn’t have much else to do, but still, this is some weird shit.

Looks like fun, doesn’t it?

Niles, as the crow, flies over the crops, the farmhouse, and the barn. Then we cut to inside the barn, where Piggy Lookadoo aka Russell is shouting “I’m king of the mountain!” and preparing to jump from the barn’s loft into the hay below. Sounds awesome until he launches himself and immediately sees a huge metal rake sticking straight up out of the hay, in the exact spot where he’s about to land. Cut back to Niles, who suddenly leaves his trance while shouting in pain that he felt something sharp in his gut while we hear Russell’s screams in the background. Fast cut to a funeral, so in the Piggy Lookadoo vs. The Rake competition, The Rake won.

He’s not going to be King of the mountain for long

At the funeral, we see Victor French’s character blaming himself for Russell’s death. As the farmhand, he believes he’s probably the one who accidentally left the rake sticking straight up in the hay. This will matter later. Afterward, Niles goes up to his bedroom where Holland has already retired; they’re both wearing ties, shorts, and long socks, like little Depression-Era Lord Fauntleroys. Holland uses a slingshot to smash a mirror for no real reason and leaves, and Niles uses the opportunity to reveal what else is in that noisy-ass cigarette tin along with the peregrine ring: a human finger. So, there’s that mystery solved! It’s a very decayed, old, gray finger that looks like it’s been rattling around in that tin for some time, and the scene ends with a shot of Niles’s reflection in the shattered mirror, staring at the finger while we hear a crowd of people screaming in the background. The screaming turns out to be a crowd at a county fair, and off we go to the next scene.

Holland and Niles sneak into the freak show, and Holland in particular is obsessed with this weird-ass floating baby in a jar. We see Holland’s face through the distortion of the glass while Niles looks on; it’s a jarring juxtaposition (get it?) from the previous scene, where Niles’s shattered reflection is shown in the mirror. Going on imagery alone, I’d say we’ve got two seriously disturbed kids here. Niles decides to play “The Game” on the magician, who gives us our first 1930s-style taste of racism: it’s a white man with his eyes pulled back to look Chinese, with a fake Fu Manchu mustache and creepy eyebrows to boot. He’s doing a vanishing trick, which via The Game Niles sees is nothing but a trapdoor under the box his assistant just locked him into. What a phony, Niles says disdainfully, but again – did he really project into the magician’s mind, or did he just use his imagination to figure out the very obvious solution to the vanishing trick on his own? It’s unclear which it is, but when Niles tells Ada about it later, she’s concerned. There’s more to life than playing The Game, she tells him. She also tells him he needs other friends besides Holland, and I can’t disagree with her there, as they seem to bring out the worst in each other at the least, or are a rat-strangling, kid-impaling menace at the most. Niles blows her suggestion off and begs for Ada to sing to him. The neediness coming off this kid whenever adults are around is palpable.

Granny tells Niles that bad boys who terrorize Old Ladies Named Rowe have to apologize for the error of their ways, and they need to do it the next morning, in person. I’ll tell Holland, Niles says and leaves the room. The next morning, out Holland comes wearing a magician’s costume with a painted mustache on his face. Off we go to Old Lady Rowe’s place, where OLR is flat-out cranking the ragtime tunes on her piano. OLR’s got a wild side, y’all, I’m sure of it. Niles told me I had to come apologize, he tells her when she opens the door. She accepts, then invites him in. Bad idea, Miss Rowe. He tells her he can do magic tricks, which, given his getup, is a relief, and of course offers to perform one for OLR. She agrees, seemingly charmed by his enthusiasm.

If a kid ever does this to you after covering all your windows, run.

Then, in a twist on the ol’ watch-me-pull-a-rabbit-outta-my-hat routine, Holland takes off his hat to reveal – a rat. A big-ass rat that he waves in front of OLR’s face. He does this until she keels over in her chair. Because all women in their early forties have heart attacks when they see a rat. Oh wait, she’s supposed to be seventy. Whatever. Anyway, Rat = 1, OLR = 0.

Cut to Niles running (of course) into a church where Nana is sitting. Niles asks her why people have to die, and Ada gives him the answer you’d expect (every living thing has a time, etc etc). She tells Niles that a beautiful, smiling angel will come for him when it’s his time. She’ll fold her wings around him and carry him off to paradise forever. Hell, sign me up. This seems to placate Niles, especially after Nana points at the angel in the stained glass window of the church and tells him it’s an “angel of light.” This does the trick, I guess, because we’re out of the church and hitching a ride back to the farm, where lo and behold Alexandra herself is sitting in the garden. And, once again, bitch is STUNNING:

Niles is bringing her a copy of Anthony Adverse from the library, a collection of three stories where one of which is titled The Lonely Twin. That might matter later. Then, they discuss Holland’s favorite book from childhood: Piggy Lookadoo, about a pig that ends up getting roasted with an apple in its mouth. Guess Russell was not familiar with this tome, or he might not have spent so much time antagonizing the two. Then they talk about the story of a changeling and some elves who steal a baby. Holland loved that story, but Mom isn’t into it. Given the fact that the Piggy Lookadoo book took a real-life turn, I’m curious to see when the elves show up and whose baby they steal. Maybe they’ll take the freaky one from the jar at the carnival. Moving on.

A grocery truck stops by to make a delivery, and the driver asks Winnie if they’ve seen Old Lady Rowe. They haven’t. He wonders if she left town because she hasn’t come out for groceries lately, and there’s a bad smell coming from her house. Oh, dear. Meanwhile, Niles has changed into swimming trunks and hidden his tin in his bedroom. It’s good to know there’s at least one place Niles goes without carrying that thing. Turns out Mom’s noticed the ever-present cigarette tin, and she wants to know what’s in it too. After Niles leaves the house, she sneaks into his bedroom to find it. Meanwhile, Niles and Holland have discovered that Uncle George put a lock on the basement door, and Ada has gone over to OLR’s house and discovered that she’s dead. Niles returns home to find his mother in his room, holding the ring. She grabs it and runs out of the room without another word, which is weird. Holland runs into the room and pitches a fit, threatening retribution upon Niles if he doesn’t get that shit back from dear old Mom.

And for some reason, there’s a drawing of Bruno Hauptmann on his wall – the man who kidnapped the Limburgh baby? This might matter later.

It’s nighttime now, and Mom has wandered into the garden for a good-old late-night weep by the sealed-up well. At Holland’s insistence, Niles goes to her and helps her back up the balcony stairs to her bedroom, where he discovers she’s holding the Peregrine ring in her hand. She wants to know what he’s doing with it, as it should have been buried with her husband. Niles says Holland gave it to him. Mom looks…scared. Where was Holland when he gave it to him? They were in the parlor, Niles says. Mom looks…more scared. When was this? she wants to know. In March, Niles says, after our birthdays. After your birthdays? Mom whispers, looking – you guessed it – even more scared. Suddenly Holland appears on the balcony, demanding the ring back, and a struggle ensues. Sure enough, Alexandra ends up falling down the stairs. She’s not killed in the fall, but she is paralyzed from the waist down, and she cannot talk. Damn, this farming community has quite the accident count this summer. Dad and Russell killed, along with Old Lady Rowe, and now Mom has lost the ability to walk or speak. Which is pretty convenient for the twins, considering what Mom knows. Mom vs. Stairs, the Stairs take the gold.

Niles, upset over what’s happened to Alexandra, fights with Holland, who refuses to take responsibility, saying it was all an accident and that their mom will be fine. Niles runs off to the church to pray, and Ada follows him. Niles tells her he’s scared of Holland, and Ada responds by whipping out Holland’s harmonica, which he apparently left at OLR’s house the day she died. Ada forces the truth out of Niles – that Holland was there the day Rowe died, and it was maybe, kinda-sorta possible that the big-ass rat he waved around in her face caused the heart attack that killed her. “He doesn’t mean to be bad. He doesn’t mean to be!” Niles insists, but Ada is having none of it. She does that thing Alexandra did when discussing the ring with Niles, getting more and more horrified every time Niles says Holland’s name. Then she basically tells Niles to shut his yap and drags him out of the church and into the graveyard.

She yanks Niles over to a particular tombstone, and in our post-Sixth Sense world you’ve probably figured out by now what’s going on, but the movie drags it out a bit longer. Niles refuses to even look at the tombstone, so Ada makes him play The Game by moving into the consciousness of the corpse buried there. This seems…fucked up, to say the least, but at this point, I guess she sees no other alternative. Niles plays The Game, describing what he sees and feels, which is about what you would expect: he sees a box, it’s dark, it feels like a prison that he can’t escape. It’s a coffin. It’s about this time the film shows us what Niles and Ada are looking at – Holland’s tombstone. He died on their last birthday. Hey, that explains why Mom was so horrified hearing Niles go on about how Holland gave him that ring after their birthday!

If the movie had just stopped here, I would have been extremely disappointed, given that this is a twist we’ve all come to know by now. I have no idea how often it had been used back in 1972 when the film was made, but fortunately, the script has more up its sleeve than just relying on this device to complete the story. Personally, I had not figured Holland’s death out the first time I watched the movie until Ada dragged Niles to the cemetery, but on a re-watch, it holds up: there is, in fact, no time where Holland and Niles appear on camera together (all their conversations use panning techniques to cut between the two of them when they talk) and no other character ever speaks to or sees Holland. We do have plenty of photos around the house of the twins, to reinforce that Holland was, in fact, a real person, and there’s the trick of Old Lady Rowe confusing Niles for Holland and being so dotty she didn’t remember that Holland died. And then there’s Ada, who’s been playing along with Niles about Holland believing she was helping him heal. She was wrong.

So what did happen to Holland on their birthday? We flashback to Niles sitting in a tree, where he catches a glimpse of Holland attempting to throw a cat down a well. So OK, Holland was a little shit when he was alive, too. It’s unclear what happened exactly, except that in the contest of Holland vs. Cat, the cat won, and Holland tumbles down the well to his death. We see Niles scream and climb out of the tree, rushing over to the well and peering down to see Holland’s body at the bottom. He’s clearly dead. Damn, lots of people seem to fall around Niles, don’t they? Even though Niles’s flashback shows that he was nowhere near Holland when he fell, you have to wonder. Who really did Dad in? Did the twins do that together, or was it all Niles all along? Or, as Niles is playing it, was it always Holland who was the evil twin, and now that he’s dead Niles has taken on that aspect of his personality? It’s left open to interpretation, and I tend to think Holland really was the shitty one, but he and Niles worked together until karma came for Holland in the form of one very feisty cat and Niles had to take the lead. But who knows – maybe it was Niles all along and even his memories have convinced him otherwise.

Niles collapses from the shock of facing the truth, and he’s rushed back home in a state of delirium. When he comes to, Ada admits to him that she went along with his perception that Holland was still alive because of how badly Niles wanted it to be true. It’s not stated, but if I had to guess I’d wager that Ada also wanted to believe Holland wasn’t dead, and that played into her decision as well. But now, Ada sees how far The Game has gone for Niles, and she puts her foot down. No more playing The Game. From this point forward, we live in the real world only. Have I seen the real world yet? Niles asks, which does not bode well. Niles rightly asks if he’s going to be sent away, and Ada insists he won’t be, which leads me to believe she’s not going to tell anyone what she knows. It seems pretty messed up not to get the kid help, but I’m pretty sure this is how things were done in the 1930s. It’s also not clear exactly how much Ada has put together here, beyond the fact that Niles thinks Holland is still alive and that means Niles was at OLRs house the day she died.

It only takes about seven seconds from the time Niles promises not to play The Game and Ada leaves the room for Holland to show up again, this time in the form of a shadow on the wall. It’s more ghostly and creepy than seeing him in the flesh, especially now that the audience knows what’s really going on. He calls Niles downstairs where a coffin is set up in the parlor. It’s Holland in the coffin, and he encourages Niles to play The Game with him, which Niles does. Holland tells Niles to take the Peregrine ring from his finger, but it’s stuck. He then tells Niles to get the shears out of the garden and cut the finger off to take the ring. Niles says something interesting here – he says Ada told him the ring was cursed and needed to be buried, but we never hear them have that conversation, so I suppose that’s something that got edited out? No idea, but yeah, the ring doesn’t seem to bring much luck, cursed or not. I’d gladly bury that thing, but no one asked me.

As soon as Niles snips off the finger, the vision of the coffin disappears, and Niles is alone in the parlor. Then Holland appears, all fingers intact, acting like nothing happened, and the two sit in the parlor bickering about their fate. Niles is scared, and he doesn’t want to play The Game anymore. He didn’t like seeing Ada cry, and he feels like something bad might happen if The Game continues. But when Holland rightly points out that Niles will never see him again if he stops playing The Game, Niles flips out and begs him not to say such things. At this point, we continue to hear Niles whispering in the darkness, but Holland’s voice has disappeared, and we’re aware once again that it’s just Niles manifesting all this weird shit and none of it’s real. The camera pans over to the stairwell where Ada is listening to Niles talk to himself, and she’s clearly distraught.

Cut to the next day, when Niles is sawing a log in the barn. I’m not comfortable seeing Niles with a sharp object in his hands, but no one asked me. A horn honks, and it’s Jenny and Rider, home from the hospital with the new baby, and yep, it’s a girl. Niles doesn’t look all that happy about it, though; we see Ada take the baby in her arms and call her “my dear child” just like she does Niles, and yikes. This might not go down well with him, much less our dear dead Holland.

Cut to Niles visiting Alexandra in her room. And yes, she’s still stunning, if a wee bit worse for wear. Niles gleefully offers to feed Mom her soup, and Mom looks appropriately horrified. She may not be able to say it out loud, but Mom clearly remembers what happened to cause her tumble down the stairs, and she’s less than thrilled with Niles’s visitation. He announces the arrival of Jenny’s daughter, then sits down with a book to read to Alexandra aloud. The story he chooses is the one Holland loves, about evil elves stealing a baby and leaving an ugly changeling in its place. Mom manages to look even more horrified.

Cut to Niles approaching the apple cellar again, and pondering the lock Uncle George put on it. He hears commotion coming from around the corner, and peers around to see the farmhand (Victor French) desperately trying to get some booze out of a barrel. The spigot is stuck or something, and Vic, who seems to have imbibed plenty of devil water already, smashes the lid of the barrel open out of frustration. Just when he’s about to stick his whole head in it and go bobbing for hops, he spies Niles peeking at him, apologizes for breaking the barrel, and covers it up with a cloth, claiming it’s broken.

Cut to Jenny and Rider heading out for a night on the town, while Ada looks for Niles. She finds him in the barn, still sawing, and instead of screeching in horror at the sight of a mentally unstable child with sharp tools in his hands, she simply tells him to put them away and go back to the house. Night is falling, and the wind is picking up threateningly. It’s clear there’s a strain between Ada and Niles now, and when Ada asks if he’s been playing The Game he denies it and walks back to the house. Ada knows better, of course, but rather than go back into the barn to investigate what the hell Niles is up to out there, she just stares after him as thunder rolls in the background. Looks like there’s a storm a-comin’ to the Perry household, and given their luck lately, I doubt they’re going to survive it without casualties. Moving on.

The wind and rain have kicked up, and Niles is listening to a radio program in the parlor while Aunt Vee puts the baby to sleep upstairs. Victor French is outside removing awnings from the house in preparation for the storm, but when he reaches the window outside the nursery Vee flips out like he’s a peeping Tom. Her shouting brings Ada into the room; she was bringing a tray of tea and medication to Alexandra when she overheard Aunt Vee scream and went to check. Niles ends up bringing the tray into the baby’s room, and Ada leaves him alone with the baby so she can take the medicine to Alexandra. Just as we’re starting to think about what a terribly bad idea this was, Niles pulls the netting around the baby’s bassinet, shuts off the lights, and leaves. OK, well that seems to have gone well. Crisis averted?

The storm is coming on strong now, and we’re treated to a series of shots of the house in darkness, as shadows dance on the walls and the thunder and lightning roar outside. The camera pans through the parlor, then up the stairs, then past a hallway window where we see the rain pounding outside, then into Alexandra’s darkened room, where Ada is asleep in a chair next to Mom sleeping in her bed. It’s totally quiet except for the sounds of the rain and thunder outside, and we can clearly see the teacups and medicine bottle next to Ada on the bed. That seemed – intentional. We cut to Niles’s room, where he’s clearly asleep, and for a moment we think everything’s still OK, but then a crash of thunder prompts Niles to leap up from sleep. He rushes into the nursery, and freezes as soon as he opens the door, a look of horror on his face. We can see that the window to the room is clearly open. Niles runs to the bassinet and sure enough – no baby there. Niles rushes off, screaming for Ada.

Chaos ensues. Rider and Jenny return home, and as you can imagine, promptly freak out. Police are called. Men show up with dogs and lanterns. Men are running every which way, searching for Victor French, who they’ve already decided is the one who took the infant, especially since he was snooping around the nursery window earlier, according to Aunt Vee. The rain is pouring down. Niles wanders around the front porch, looking as if he’s in a trance, as he watches the madness unfold around him. Ada tells him to go back inside, which, really Ada? Nothing? Niles marches out to the barn instead, and Ada calls to him. He shuts the door as if he didn’t hear her, and from the look on her face it appears that she may at least be copping to what’s what in this situation. She follows him in, and hears Niles in the loft whispering for Holland. It’s then that he utters the famous line:

Oh shit

Nana looks appropriately terror-filled at hearing this, and when Niles appears at the edge of the loft and sees her, he immediately spills all the beans. Yes, Holland took the baby, because he’s a bad boy who will never get into heaven. He also used the medication to drug Nana so she’d fall asleep. Oh, and Holland also killed Russell, murdered Dad, forced Niles to cut off Dad’s finger when he was in his casket to get the ring, and threw Alexandra down the stairs. None of it was Niles’s fault – it’s all because of how evil Holland is that all this has happened. Ada clearly disagrees, and grabs Niles as he tries to run away. She tries to force him to admit that he was the one who stole the baby, but Niles isn’t having it – he pushes Ada down and runs out of the barn just as the police are arresting Victor French, who they automatically assume is the one who did the kidnapping because he’s a drunk and an immigrant.

We cut to a scene of Uncle George carrying the same barrel we saw Victor French smash open when Niles was watching, and it was at this point I realized what was about to happen.

Y’all. Y’ALL. Niles/Holland drowned that baby in the barrel! Uncle George opens it up, and we see the wee little top of its head just bobbing there for a second. Then everyone loses their shit, as you can imagine. Ada runs in, sees what’s happened, and well, I guess she finally understands the depth to which The Game has taken Niles. Next time, Nana, just teach them hopscotch or something, maybe?

Back Ada goes to the barn, where Niles is hiding in the cellar. Now, she walks right past a crowd of cops and onlookers who are all grabbing and shouting at Victor French, bellowing about how they’re going to see that he hangs for what he’s done, and she doesn’t say a damn thing. I get it, I get it, she needs to find Niles, but poor old Vic is in the process of getting the shit beat out of him, so it seems like she could have made a different choice there. But no one asked me.

Down in the cellar, we hear Niles calling for Holland. At first, there’s no answer, but then we hear Holland call out to Niles in the darkness. Who are you? he asks Niles. We can’t see him, only hear his voice. I’m me! I’m Niles Perry!, Niles answers. Are you sure? Holland asks. The look on Niles’s face makes it clear that he’s not.

Cut to Nana grabbing a gas can from outside the barn. She walks inside, then shuts the barn door. Damn, Nana’s taking the law way into her own hands, y’all! She locks the door behind her. She opens the trapdoor (or whatever you call a door in the floor) and looks down. Niles, who we can only assume has gone totally off the rails at this point, smiles blissfully at her, mistakenly thinking she is the Angel of Light come to take him away to heaven (Ada’s flowing white nightgown with bell sleeves that look like wings certainly help). Niles seems totally ready to go with her until he sees her pouring gasoline down the stairs, then he starts to shout for help. Too late, as Ada grabs a lantern, adopts her most impressive angel pose, and throws herself down the stairs. Guess she figured she’d better go down with the crazy train, all things considered. The barn cellar is engulfed in flames.

Cut to a tractor, pushing piles of burned barn debris into piles. Pan over to the house, where we see poor paralyzed Alexandra peering out the window. She’s looking rough at this point, but who can blame her? With Ada gone, she alone knows what happened, to herself and to the baby at least, and she’s most likely figured out the rest of it by now since what else does she have to do but dwell on it all? Pan over to the front porch where we see Winnie and Aunt Vee going through the front door. Pan up to a bedroom window where we see – wait, is that Niles? It’s Niles all right, staring out the window at the burned-out barn. Wha? We cut to the barn as workers tear it down, and the camera pans down to the cellar, where it zooms in on the lock that Uncle George put on the door earlier. It’s still there, on the ground, but it’s clearly been cut in two. Somehow, Holland/Niles manages to break it before all the shit went down, and somehow this allowed Niles to get out while Ada burned inside the barn. It doesn’t totally make sense to me, but I’m not going to complain. It’s the only plot point that doesn’t pan out for me in the end, as the rest of it is effectively done. I’m particularly impressed with just how powerful the scene of finding the baby in the barrel is, given the fact that the “big twist” about Holland being dead is where a lesser film would have stopped. And all of the shots leading up to it, when it’s dark and storming and the camera is just wandering around the house, is also eerily effective as a buildup to the main event, and Ada deciding to show up as Niles’s angel in order to comfort him before killing him was also very well-done, even if it didn’t work out as planned.

This movie is a slow burn, but overall I think it stands up to the test of time well. In fact, it serves as an example of what can be done via the less-is-more technique and some really good storytelling. It is damn near impossible to find at this point, but if you ever come across it, I highly recommend you give it a watch. You’ll be surprised at how it stays with you. Yowsah!

Country Codes

Well hellooooo there from Nacogdoches, Texas!

We’ve been here about two weeks now, although Doug has gone back home to collect the furniture that wouldn’t fit in the moving truck last week. Easing the cats into the new location has kept me around the house for the most part – as has the fact that I don’t have much in the way of clothes or makeup unpacked to be presentable. I’ve tried a few things, but haven’t met yet with much success-mostly because I’m realizing there are a LOT of little things about small-town living I have yet to learn. Here are a few of them:

  1. Small towns have the JANKIEST roads I’ve ever seen. I’ve been driving my big old Mercury Grand Marquis for many years, and have never had an issue with parking or driving it – not even once. But on our first day here I ran into a parked car while trying to pull into a spot, which was mortifying (no real damage to either car). The next day, I popped my car over two different curbs while trying to turn, and I accidentally ran over an old parking block today while trying to find the entrance to the Taco Bell drive-thru (don’t judge – we have no refrigerator yet). It’s like there aren’t even standards about how wide or narrow the roads or parking spaces have to be, and apparently, I was more dependent upon those city standards than I thought.
  2. It’s always been a THING with me, as a city person, to avoid crowds whenever possible. This means doing grocery shopping and other errands during the week, leaving the weekends for the nine-to-fivers to navigate. Also, it always felt imperative to get to wherever it was I wanted to go as soon as possible, preferably as soon as the doors opened, again to avoid crowds. But I’m starting to suspect that in a small town, stores only open when crowds are likely, and if you try to go visit them during “off hours” they’re just going to be closed. Either that, or they’ll be open and you’ll be the only person in the place, while the workers stare at you with a look that says, you know we don’t get customers until after lunch, what are you even doing here?
  3. Everybody waves. Maybe not on major roads, but on smaller or neighborhood ones, you best believe everyone who passes you coming from the other direction is going to wave at you.
  4. Sound travels! We have two acres, but we’re only about a mile or so from Nac’s historic downtown area, and there are a lot of restaurants and bars there that have live music on the weekends. And we can hear them from our front porch. Not only that but sometimes we can hear the SFA band practicing. I admit I thought we’d have more quiet here, but we also looked at houses farther outside of town and decided we didn’t want to be isolated, so more noise is a part of that deal, and it’s not constant. Once we get settled we’ll have to go listen to some of that music at the actual location where the show is happening. And the train sounds are heavenly.
  5. Fitting in takes time. I don’t know what I expected here – part of me thought everyone would know immediately that I’m some city chick who knows nothing about this place, and the other part thought everyone would be falling all over themselves to be our friends. The reality has been more…normal. So far I’m just another chick driving a car (and popping curbs) or buying groceries, and everyone I’ve encountered is just a person doing person stuff. There truly are a lot of things in the area I want to experience, in fact, there’s so much it’s overwhelming, but I’m starting to feel like the best thing to do over the next few weeks is just settle in at home and get used to the vibe.

And on that note, I haven’t started taking any pictures yet. Part of that is because until my house is in order I’m really not thinking about anything else, but it’s also that aforementioned feeling of not fitting in just yet. I’ve never been comfortable taking pictures in public places because it makes me feel so obvious, so doing it somewhere new is even more intimidating. But I will get there.

Found Footage Flail: Real Cases of Shadow People, The Sarah McCormick Story

What’s the horror: shadow people, or ghosts, that hang around in dark corners and scare people silly while stalking them

Does the dog die? No animal cruelty

Gore factor: None

Re-watch scale: Only when I want to torment myself, or someone else

Honestly, reading this fake news report is way more exciting than watching the movie

I don’t normally write analyses of movies that I dislike, but this one is SO SPECTACULARLY BAD it deserves some mudslinging. I normally appreciate even the worst found footage for the effort involved, but this one is so bad it’s downright offensive, and there isn’t one redeeming character in the mix. It is INSANELY awful. Let’s dig in.

Things start off normally enough – we get a few talking heads of people who’ve seen and suffered with the shadow people phenomenon, then cut to a TV news report about the disappearance of three student filmmakers, one of whom is Sarah McCormick. Why the case is consistently called the “McCormick case” when there are also two missing young men is a bit of a mystery, and until we realize this is without a doubt the most entertaining section of the film we might have questions about this. Trust me, it’s not worth discussing as there’s absolutely no reason for this film to exist at all, so who cares about the details. Moving on.

Once the media reporting section is done, we cut right to the report that footage has been found that might help with the case. Then we cut to a “memory card #1” title, and right to the footage in question. And here, friends, is the opening line of the film, which I think sums up the entire movie nicely:

Indeed, movie. Indeed.

In true form, the individuals involved in filming this documentary start off right away by filming everything that happens as if it would ever be used in a real doc. It wouldn’t. Do we care that Sarah has packed a lot of stuff in her bag? No, we do not. Do we care that Sarah appears to have prepared for being an interviewer not at all? Well yeah, actually we do, and it’s not encouraging to watch her struggle to simply tell who she is and what she and her “crew” (and it’s not encouraging that the videographer of this crew doesn’t know what frame rate to shoot in, and Sarah has no idea what a frame rate even is, and that we’ve already heard 75 fucks and shits when we’re only four minutes and eleven seconds into this ordeal – cursing is the fallback position of any FF film that doesn’t know what else to do with itself, and we’ve already arrived at that milestone) are heading out to shoot. Sarah never does manage to cough and stutter out that they’re going to interview some individuals who claim to be haunted by shadow people, and they end up deciding that it might behoove her to write down what she’s going to say in advance (ya think, movie? YA THINK?).

Strap in folks. This is as good as the dialogue gets.

A few more shots of people cursing and putting bags into a trunk, and we’re off to what will turn out to be the MAJOR SET PIECE of this movie – the car. Folks, approximately 90% of the movie takes place in this vehicle, and at no time does anyone in said car discuss shadow people. No one in this car is haunted by shadow people – at least, not that we know of. No one in this car, at any time, sees a shadow person – at least, not that we get to see. Instead, we get endless stretches of time where these three sing, burp, fart, and convince themselves they’re amusing when mugging for the camera.

We’re six minutes in, people. SIX MINUTES IN.

Once when I was in college, I went with a group of friends to a big old cattle ranch that was owned by the grandfather of one of us, I forget who, I just know it wasn’t me. This was in the nineties, and I brought a huge-ass camcorder with me to record the event for posterity. Did we mug shamelessly for the camera while pretending that was how we acted all the time? Yes, we did. Did we laugh hysterically at every joke told on camera, no matter how dumb it was? Of course we did. Did we record hours upon hours of ourselves walking through forests or riding in trucks, commenting on the cows, the lakes, the grass all around us? Yep. Did we tell tons of private jokes that made no sense to anyone else? You betchya. And did we force others to watch this drivel when we got back home, simply because WE had such a fun time acting like fools that we were convinced anyone who watched that crap would be equally amused? Heck yes we did. The difference is, we didn’t turn that shit into a movie. And these people DID. This is every single person with a camera who ever thought they were so super-entertaining in life that they didn’t need to do anything except turn the fucker on and the world would be amused.

You know what no one has ever said about Real Cases of Shadow People: The Sarah McCormick Story? This.

Sarah doesn’t know how to use her iPhone’s GPS. Hilarious. The driver – I still don’t know his name – explains to Sarah what B-roll is. Hey, guess what B-roll is, Sarah? It’s this movie. Driver makes a joke about being psychologically scarred by the death of his mother. Heh. Little kids losing their parents. Hilarious. It’s not even true, as it turns out – but I would totally believe that the parents of all three of these dipshits went out for milk and cigarettes one day and never came back. Who could blame them? I say let the shadow people have these three.

You know what’s really funny? Beans. And people who eat beans.

You might be forgiven at this point for assuming all this nonsense is just character building, showing the dynamic between the characters before the action kicks in. I assumed that the first time I saw this also, so I wasn’t super-annoyed yet. I mean, we’re only nine minutes in, so spending some time getting to know these people and how they interact with each other isn’t an unexpected development. But we’ve already been made painfully aware that these three aren’t anywhere near as funny as they think they are. And at nine minutes in, we may already be hoping none of them survive, but still. The true horror of this film is not yet evident. And shortly after they film themselves eating beans and corn (with great difficulty, I might add) we get a scene or two that actually tricks us into thinking there is going to be a real movie here, and it’s about to get started.

But first, we have to film Sarah peeing along the side of the road for some reason, when they are clearly in a populated area with an abundance of bathrooms. We listen to Sarah as she sputters out the story of the first person they’re going to interview – y’all! They’re going to do something! – with a man whose daughter disappeared months ago, a man who claims to have seen shadow people right before the disappearance. Okay, this might get good.

But first, we have to film the driver peeing on the side of the road. And Sarah tells us she peed on her sandal. Then the driver says he stepped in Sarah’s pee. Sarah wonders what will happen if an animal comes along and smells her pee. Oh, I say we wait for that to happen, movie. I’d totally watch that.

Oh hey, the driver’s name is Joe.Thanks, movie. This may be the first useful piece of dialogue we’ve gotten so far.

Dude in the back seat wants to sell something he calls “nut art,” because he thinks his ejaculate comes out in pretty cool designs. He’d like to ejaculate onto canvas and sell that shit. Of course he would. And if you’re wondering why I’m subjecting you to this stupid dialogue, well reader, I had to sit through it, twice I might add – so you get to sit through it too. The backseat nut artist makes an incest joke. Classy.

Oh sure, leave the talking to the gal with pee on her sandals.

They’re out of the car! Hooray! It looks like there is going to be an actual interview of an actual person who has something to talk about other than human excretions. But not only did Sarah NOT change shoes, she’s totally dressed for a day at the beach here, which annoys the shit out of me. I mean, can you put on a blouse with a button or something? Would it be so hard to make yourself look somewhat professional for this important interview? Although, interestingly enough, Sarah does a pretty good of convincing the man, who has decided he doesn’t want to talk to them, to let them in for a quick couple of questions. She actually sounds sympathetic to his situation here, and her voice is – dare I say it – calming. This just serves to frustrate me more, since it appears Sarah could have been a much more compelling character, had she anything to do besides laugh at fart jokes. Oh well – this is about all that actually happens in this movie, so let’s pay attention.

Credit where credit is due, Sarah does a good job with this interview. She shows genuine empathy for the father’s plight and appears to be a good listener. She simply lets him tell his story, asking guiding questions as necessary. And his story is compelling, leading me to wonder why the movie had a good idea like this and then whiffed it so completely. Because the story he tells is one I would totally watch. He’d started seeing shadow people right after the birth of his daughter. They were usually around or in her room. They were always in shadow, but they were darker than shadows, more like an absence of all light, and they could still be seen in darkness. He’d turn the light on, however, and they would disappear. Later on, her daughter started talking about seeing these shadow people also, but Dad always pretended that he wasn’t seeing them even though he was – he wanted his daughter to feel safe and protected, and since he had no way to stop these shadow people from lurking about, he didn’t want his daughter to believe they were real. Then one night she came into her parent’s bedroom in the middle of the night, saying she woke up to a bunch of shadow people holding her down in her bed and telling her to go back to sleep and never wake up. They tried to comfort her, she went back to bed, and was gone in the morning. Again, why didn’t we get to see this movie? So much more interesting.

The movie tells us via title card that we’re now on Memory Card #2 and I don’t know why it’s bothering because we then cut to the trio in the car. Again. Sarah does a decent job telling the camera that they are going to interview a woman whose husband disappeared years ago, and again I wonder how much more likeable Sarah would have been if she’d never hooked up with these bozos. But now I understand why the only person the cops ever looked for was Sarah. I mean honestly, would you worry about the disappearance of a guy who thinks this is decent casual conversation?

And by the way, no she didn’t.

Interview #2 is up – the subject this time is Mae Montgomery, who, as Sarah already mentioned, lost her husband years ago when he just up and disappeared. She seems nervous, but much more welcoming and forthcoming than the previous subject, and she appears to really want to tell her story. Sarah is, once again, a good interviewer, asking questions in a gentle voice and expressing sympathy in appropriate places. Oh Sarah, how I wish you had better friends. Mae has some interesting things to say about the shadow people, how they compel people to look at them by feeding off their energy and then refusing to allow them to avert their eyes. It’s an interesting discussion, but it’s also clear the director told the actress to play this all kooky like the woman is some nutjob (not to be confused with nut art, let’s be clear). Which is a shame, because it cheapens all of the interesting things she says. She sees the shadow people as extensions of human beings, their “shadow side” so to speak. She has advice to give, having dealt with seeing them for so long – try not to fear them, as they will feed on it. Remember that if you are seeing a shadow person, they want something from you. And although most of them are evil, there are shadow people that are kind. Then her lamps start flickering, and the trio starts hearing weird labored breathing sounds, although Mae insists she doesn’t hear anything (it’s clear she’s lying because she’s lonely, and doesn’t want the trio to leave), and Sarah flips the fuck OUT.

See that lamp behind Mae? Yeah, it flickered.

I know that a big frustration with horror movies is how dumb the characters are, how instead of doing the logical thing and getting the hell OUT of any situation where lights flicker and growling sounds are heard they stick around out of curiosity. Well folks, Sarah is EXACTLY that person we all claim we’d like to see in a horror film, because she shuts it down and practically sprints out of poor Mae’s house. And guess what – it may be the logical reaction, but it’s boring as hell on film. How could someone so fascinated with shadow people just bolt when there’s evidence occurring right in front of her, while cameras are rolling? This should be exactly what Sarah wants to capture. She should have taken Mae up on her offer to stay and moved the fuck IN. Set up cameras all around the house and waited for the magic to happen. I mean, come ON, Sarah, we all know how this works. But no, Sarah does the smart thing and leaves, and we are terribly disappointed. Because now, we’re back to this:

At least Kyle – oh hey, backseat guy has a name now! – is saying something I can actually agree with.

Yep, we’re back in the car. Sarah is dashing my hopes for her to ever become an investigative reporter when she shows ZERO interest in investigating the very thing she’s supposed to be investigating. You know it’s bad when Backseat Kyle takes a more logical approach to anything than you do.

Oh look, it’s memory card #3, and we’re – in the car again. But this time it’s raining. They’re listening to some random song that must be someone’s cousin’s band because we hear way too much of it, and without dick jokes no less. Then the camera dips into this weird slow motion mode for no reason whatsoever, and then we’re in Georgia and a clock is chiming. And hey look – they’re out of the car! And they’re walking! Backseat Kyle is filming, Sarah is carrying a backpack, and Sloppy Beans has a bug on him. They want to smoke, but no one brought a lighter. They borrow one from a passerby. Sarah is on camera again, explaining that they are going to interview another woman whose daughter disappeared. She is not wearing anywhere near as much makeup as she has been so far, and she looks so much better. Thick blue eyeliner does not a good smoky eye make, Sarah. Keep that in mind for future reference. Oh wait, you don’t have a future because you’re missing.

Backseat Kyle raves about her “fucking fantastic” performance, which is high praise for someone who simply managed to explain what they were about to do without, I don’t know, squirting? Based on their previous conversation on the subject, I take it that the boys don’t like it. And I hate it that I know this. Then we take some time to walk around downtown somewhere in Georgia, because why the hell not? You in a hurry or something? It looks very quaint, wherever it is. Old stone streets that the trio struggles to master. “It’s like hiking,” says Sloppy Beans, and no, it is not. It’s like walking on a stone street, and nothing else. There are bugs, and it is hot. And then…

oh for fuck’s sake

We’re back in the car! Someone found a cheeto that looked like Harambe the gorilla and sold it for $100,000. And it’s hot. Sarah, for no explainable reason, is tired. She wants a nap. Seriously, why? You have done two interviews over the course of I don’t know how many days they’ve been driving now because it HAS to be more than one by now. How could you possibly need a nap, Sarah? Did all that running away from a good story that might have given you actually decent footage tucker you out?

We’re then treated to a time-lapse of the trio pitching a tent, yep, a TENT because apparently we’re going to camp now. Why? This adds nothing to the story of shadow people, but we do get to see Sarah in a bikini which I suspect is the real motive here. She looks good, and we’re treated to audio of Sarah explaining why this documentary means so much to her while she wanders around on the beach. It seems she’s had similar experiences, and that’s why this movie is SO important to her. So important that you bolted at the first evidence of shadow people you caught on film, important like that, Sarah? I can’t help but think this backstory would have been much more effective had we actually watched Sarah talking, but hey, bikini.

We watch Sloppy Beans and Backseat Kyle mug for the camera, and you gotta give it to these two for consistently coming up with unique ways not to be funny. It gets dark. The sunset is impressive. Sloppy Beans plans to imitate an Australian wilderness dude for the entire night. There’s a fire. And a raccoon? It’s hard to tell, because it’s dark. Sarah thinks they got some good footage. Whatever you say, Sarah. I want to like you but you make it hard sometimes. A plane flies overhead. Sloppy Beans entertains himself by repeating the word “Albequerque” over and over again in an Australian accent.

Yes, we’re still doing this. Just wait until he farts in the tent.

Now we’re in the tent, and you guessed it – the conversation is all about farts. Who farted, how they farted, what the fart smells like. Then they discuss each other’s stinky feet. Then Backseat Kyle shushes the other two and says, wait wait wait, did you hear that? And they all fall silent. And just when you think the movie’s gonna go all Blair Witch on you, Kyle farts loudly into the silence. Hilarious. Hey, wanna know what girl farts sound like? Because this movie wants to tell you. And tell you. And tell you.

It’s morning now. Everyone gets up, ready for another busy day of interviewing people who’ve seen shadow folks hanging out on the beach. Backseat Kyle zooms in on Sarah’s rack. It’s pretty good, not gonna lie. Oh Sarah, your rack deserves to get attention from far more decent men than these two. Oh wait – now we’re back in the car again. They’re going to see a Ms. Phillips, whose daughter disappeared quite recently. Turn right here, Sarah tells Sloppy Beans, who promptly turns left. Heh.

The trio gets to the Phillips house, and the aforementioned Ms. beckons them inside. As soon as she points out her little dog and is sure to tell them all that it doesn’t bite and is super-friendly, we are certain that said dog is going to make a meal out of Sloppy Beans. The dog stares into the camera and growls. I’m with you, dog. And also, heh.

Ms. Phillips is eager and outgoing, and ready to tell her story. Backseat Kyle actually does a decent job with the B-roll here, focusing in on little house details that inform us what Ms. Phillip’s life is like – a collection of little wooden angels playing musical instruments, a photo of a volunteer fire department that most likely includes her husband, a wedding picture, and a few of those wooden signs with sayings painted on them in whatever that half-cursive, half-print font is that wooden signs with sayings painted on them always use (I’m assuming the font is called “Hobby Lobby” or “Michael’s”). It looks like a cheery, soccer-mommy kind of place, and Ms. Phillips adds to the warmth with her welcoming personality. Again I am reminded of the ways in which this could have been an interesting documentary. Hey, maybe something else supernatural will happen, and Sarah won’t cut and run this time. But no. Instead, Mr. Phillips shows up, looking a hell of a lot like Wayne Newton, by the way, and he is not down with this interview shit. He chases the kids out of the house.

Yeah, now you know how we feel

They stop at a depressing-looking gas station and complain about bad smells and bugs. Guys, if bad smells and bugs appear everywhere you go, maybe you’re the problem. Just saying. Backseat Kyle entertains himself, and no one else, by performing racist imitations of other nationalities. It’s wildly uncomfortable. Hey Kyle, got any new poop jokes for us instead? For fuck’s sake – now he’s just making gurgling noises for no damn reason while Sarah and Sloppy Beans laugh. There’s no way they actually think this is funny. Or maybe they do, because a plastic bag floats over the car and they lose their shit like it’s the most hilarious thing that’s ever happened.

And now we’re lip-syncing.
Who screws up the lyrics to Row Row Row Your Boat? Jeebus.

Now Sloppy Beans is doing a terrible Redd Foxx imitation. God I wish Redd Foxx were still alive – can you imagine? He would destroy these idiots. He’d slap the Redd Foxx right out of Sloppy Beans’ stupid mouth. Sorry, I just checked the runtime, and we’re only halfway through this mess. It’s the big one, Elizabeth. I’m coming to join you.

Now they’re on the hunt for a random guy who wouldn’t give Sarah much information, not even his real name, but he does have a video he wants to show them. Sounds like a really bad idea, guys, so by all means full steam ahead this shit. They find themselves in a desolated area – old warehouses that are rusted and overgrown with weeds, abandoned cars, et cetera. Maybe, just maybe, this is where something scary actually happens? It’s the right place for it at least – no little wooden Hobby Lobby signs here. It really does look like a location where some spooky stuff could go down. In spite of myself, I feel a bit of anticipation. In the end, all we get is a jump scare by a grouchy old man who suddenly pops into view in Sarah’s passenger-side window. And this dude is pissed. He berates and insults the team, which is pretty enjoyable, I must say, claiming that they don’t know what they’re doing (true) and that others have tried to document shadow people before, and they all end up disappearing (if only). Then he says he has video of something to do with shadow people, but he won’t show it if the camera is running. Kyle does keep it running, but makes zero effort to actually film the video grouchy dude is showing Sarah on his phone. Sarah sees something that makes her react with shock, and cut. Then we’re BACK IN THE CAR.

Dear God, just make it stop

They pull over to pee, and yeah, Backseat Kyle films himself whipping it out. Then we cut to Sarah, who sings a few bars of some bluesy song I don’t know, and she has a really nice voice. I feel bad for this actress for being involved in this mess. She has some talent, but none of that has a chance in this mess of a movie. Not that it matters in the least, but Sloppy Beans, who apparently also saw Grouchy Guy’s video, tells Backseat that it’s security camera footage of a dude walking on some ledge and then getting swallowed up by a shadow and disappearing. Would have been nice to see it, but never mind. Backseat Kyle is too busy doing that found footage thing where one character refuses to believe anything that any other character says about supernatural events. So they bat that around for a while – that didn’t happen. I swear it happened. Come on you’re lying. I’m not lying. etc. etc.

They’re in Tennessee.


They’re back in the car. Now they’re filming a stream. Back in the car again. Now Sarah is walking along the side of the road, filming scenery with her iPhone. Back in the car again. Trees and more trees. This is like some backwater Skinamarink shit now – just images with occasional sounds. And annoying background music. Siri tells them to turn left, then Sarah is standing on a bridge. Is it possible a shadow person is going to snatch her away? Now she’s under the bridge, down by the river. She almost falls. They react as if this is funny, so whatever movie. Back in the car. Then back outside. Jesus, even for this movie this is some seriously confusing footage. Are they literally driving for half a mile and then pulling over only to get back in the car and drive another half mile and pull over again? Because if that’s not what you’re doing, movie, then for fuck’s sake put the driving footage together and the outdoors footage together and stop chopping this shit up. It’s ridiculous. Although I will say this much; I’ve never been to Tennessee, and it does look beautiful.

Well said, Sarah.

More car footage. The car pulls into the parking lot of a restaurant. Then they’re driving again. Then the car pulls into the parking lot of a hotel. Thank god we’re seeing all this parking or we’d never know that they ate dinner or how they got to a hotel! They check into a room. They shower. They review the day’s footage, and no one shows any concern that it’s all garbage, so I call foul. There’s a fly on the wall and no, I do NOT want to be that fly. They sleep. They’re back in the car. Then they’re outside the car loading luggage into the trunk. Wait, what? They already left the hotel, didn’t they? The movie is completely off the rails at this point. No one has the slightest idea what’s happening.

I swear to God, they’re now hiking. They’re hiking. The movie has officially become a travelogue, and a terrible one at that. We get a shot of Sarah peering over a cliff. She looks pretty, but we can clearly see her unfortunate tramp stamp. Goddamnit, Sarah. Make better choices. I want to like you! Now they’re eating again. I’ll spare you the shot of Sloppy Beans opening his mouth while it’s full of food and waggling his tongue at the camera. True to form, we cut from that scene of them eating their food to a scene of them – no lie I swear – STANDING IN LINE TO ORDER THAT FOOD. Who edited this mess? Now they’re touring a cave. There are thirty-three minutes left in this movie. THIRTY-THREE MINUTES. Remember when they were interviewing folks about shadow people? Yeah, those were fun times.

OMG – shadow people! We found them!

Now they’re riding a tram up a mountainside and we’re treated to the recorded tape spewing information for the tourists. Did you know there’s an eight-degree difference between Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain? Or that Lookout Mountain has the steepest railway in the world? Back in the car. Tunnels. More tunnels. I expect the movie at any moment to flash back to the day Sarah was born, but it doesn’t. Bridge. Tunnel. Train. Trees. After all of this Tennessee tourism shit we’ve been watching for twenty minutes, Sarah asks Backseat Kyle if the camera is rolling – come on, Sarah, do you really have to ask the man who filmed himself peeing if he’s rolling? – then she turns to it and says, “We’re in Tennessee right now.” No shit? Wild! I thought they were in a rain forest. Anyway, they are on their way to their last interview. Let’s hope something happens. Or nothing happens. Who cares. Sarah says they’re going to interview a Stephanie Yost and she really thinks it will be an interesting story. Backseat Kyle speaks for all of us at that moment:

MOST of them, though? They’ve filmed two.

The only thing keeping me going at this point is knowing that eventually, they are going to disappear.

Sarah does not take kindly to Kyle’s negativity, and Sloppy Beans chastises him for not being civil (ie, telling the truth). Then Sarah, bless her heart, takes responsibility for the entire, shitty endeavor by blaming herself for being a bad interviewer. This is ridiculous, seeing as she’s been a fine interviewer, aside from being too scared to stick around and film the flickering lights. And honestly none of them have sucked at their jobs – the sound is fine, the camera work is fine. The problem is that they’ve interviewed two people and been iced out by two others, and are instead filming themselves eating and peeing and farting and thinking it’s interesting. Kyle continues to speak truth to power, and as much as I hate to agree with this cretin about anything, he’s totally in the right here. They should have made the most of the interviews they did have, and the fact that they didn’t makes the fact that they’re still pursuing this shitty documentary a moot point. Even if this last interview is any good, it’s not enough to make a documentary out of, and they still don’t have any documented evidence that the phenomenon is real. He really hammers the other two about this, which Sarah again interprets as him being negative, when in reality he’s the only one making any sense. Sarah is far too sensitive to her subjects’ feelings and doesn’t want to push them, and while that’s nice and all, it doesn’t exactly bode well for her journalism career. So preach, Kyle.

Ok, so now we’re in much more familiar found footage territory. Kyle and Sloppy Beans think they’re lost, and Sarah insists they aren’t. Backseat Kyle starts complaining and Sarah starts getting snappy. It may be the first time I’ve ever been happy to see bickering in a found footage movie because at least it means the movie has remembered what it’s supposed to be. Oh hey – they found it! Stephanie Yost’s house is in sight. And ol’ Steffy is standing on her porch with her hands in her pockets, looking all sorts of unhappy. She’ll give the interview, but she’s not letting them in her house. Way to keep your home smelling fresh, Stef.

Turns out Stephanie lost both her sister and her brother to what she believes are shadow people. Man, that’s a hell of a bummer. Soon after the second disappearance, Stephanie and her mom fled the house, and she’s not seen any sinister shadows since. Sarah asks what happened to the house, which seems like a weird question, but it sets up Stephanie to say it’s just a few miles away. Sarah asks if they can go film it, and Stephanie reluctantly agrees, although she doesn’t recommend it and warns them that they shouldn’t go.

We’re one hour and twenty-two minutes in, folks, and we’re entering an abandoned house. I feel like this should have happened about one hour and twenty-one minutes ago, but whatever. They peer in the windows, but it’s too dark to see anything. Sloppy Beans tries the back door (I know that sounds like one of his awful sexual encounter tales, but in this case it’s literal) and eureka! It’s open. Then Sarah inexplicably exclaims that there’s no way they’re actually going inside. What the fuck, Sarah? I still want to like you, but this is ridiculous. First off, I am sure the woman knew you would go inside, why else would you go there? And secondly, what kind of documentary filmmaker are you? Why would you pass up an opportunity to film a creepy, abandoned house where two children were taken by shadow people? What do you need, a written invitation? A cookie? A lot of vocal haranguing by two obnoxious idiots? Oh wait – that’s what she actually gets, and it works. I really hate Sarah for making me agree with Backseat Kyle and Sloppy Beans. Not really, Sarah. Against all logic and reason I still like you. And I would totally respect your desire not to encroach upon the Yost’s privacy if you weren’t making a documentary that needs exactly this type of footage.

Backseat insists they spend the night in the house – which isn’t in nearly bad enough shape to be all that scary, but is definitely in good enough shape for them to sleep there without getting tetanus or something. And as Kyle points out, this is their best shot yet to catch a shadow person on film, seeing as Stephanie was convinced that the house itself had something to do with the supernatural weirdness she experienced as a child – she never saw another shadow person again after they moved out.

Come on, Beans. You have no best judgment.

And oh my god – this movie is FINALLY acting like the movie it’s supposed to be. Backseat is talking about putting security cameras all over the house. Yes! Why did this take so damn long? Stephanie Yost and your creepy, abandoned but still totally livable house, where have you been for the past hour and twenty-eight minutes? Just think gang, something might actually happen now. The last supernatural event we got was back at Mae’s house when the lamps flickered and growled, remember that? Good times. They discuss how there’s no electric or running water, but I’m so happy they’re finally DOING something that I’m not even gonna question how they’re gonna run all these cameras with no power. Or how they’re going to catch anything in the dark. Screw it – I’m taking what I can get.

My god, somebody pinch me, because Kyle is actually acting like someone who knows what he’s doing right now. It’s the first time he’s been even remotely tolerable. He even addresses the no power issue in a fairly plausible way. And thank God, because there are only 14 minutes left in this thing. They’re all very tired, so maybe next time don’t waste a day hiking and exploring caves? Just a thought. Sarah needs to pee. She makes Backseat go with her because she’s scared. He gives her shit because of course he does. While they’re back there, Beans sees something on one of the cameras.

We haven’t heard anything so far about shadow people acting like poltergeists and moving stuff around, but whatever movie. I’ll take what I can get.

And hey, we actually see it this time! One of the stuffed animals sitting on a couch bounces around a bit on its own. Sarah immediately wants to leave because of course she does. But it is pretty creepy to see. Even though they’re trying hard to make it look like it’s night when it’s clearly still daylight outside. Sarah is scared. She feels a presence. It’s clear the guys don’t feel what she is feeling, but you can’t blame them for not wanting to leave after days of getting nothing and finally having captured something, anything, supernatural on camera. Sarah comes clean, admitting to the guys that she did see shadow people when she was a kid, that one was tormenting her father to the point that he shot himself, and that she once woke up with a shadow being hovering over her bed. She’s telling this to explain why she’s so scared, but before the guys can react a clock starts chiming. It’s a clock that was clearly not working before, but now it’s somehow working again. And while this is all kinda fun, typical haunted house stuff, I can’t help but notice how it doesn’t fit with any story of shadow people we’ve heard up to this point. Nothing about things moving around or stuff starting to work or ceasing to work in its presence. So far we’ve only heard about the shadow people being seen and making other people disappear. So, this is all a bit weird as it doesn’t fit the story so far as we know it. It’s as if the director suddenly realized he only had ten minutes to get to the scary part so he just threw every horror trope he could think of into this house, even if it made no sense.

Five minutes left, and a door slams somewhere in the house. Now Beans wants to leave, too, but Backseat is holding out. He heads back into the hallway where they heard the door slamming. We see the camera fall, and just like that, Backseat Kyle is no more. I mean, we had a decent scary moment there, but we definitely did NOT see any shadow people, and the way Kyle got got doesn’t exactly mesh with the other stories we’ve heard so far. But we’ve only got a few minutes left, so we’ll have to take what we can get.


I mean, you can kinda see it

It takes about fifteen seconds for Beans to also poof into nothingness. We don’t see anything, he’s just there one minute and gone the next, and Sarah is left alone screaming his name. Now, Sarah has never once been carrying a camera throughout this disaster of a movie, and there’s no logical reason why she would be carrying one now, but a camera whirls around and sees what is almost, kinda sorta, a shadow of some sort, and then she screams and it’s all over. So, okay, I guess. At least Sarah gives us some good screams before she disappears. Wouldn’t you know the one time Beans and Backseat decide to be quiet is the one time it would have been cool to hear their voices?

And that, my friends, is the absolute worst found footage movie I have ever seen. And now you’ve more or less seen it too. You’re welcome.

Found Footage Fave: Lake Mungo (SPOILERS!)

What’s the horror: ghosts

Does the dog die? Nope

Gore factor: None – just a few shots of a drowned body

Re-watch scale: Heavy rotation, in more ways than one

Lake Mungo is my favorite kind of found footage: mockumentary style. It follows The Palmer family – mom June, dad Russell, and brother Matthew – and the bizarre events surrounding the death of the daughter, Alice. The director, Ausstralian Joel Anderson, has not directed another motion picture since this one came out in 2008, and not much at all is known about him as he was hesitant to do interviews when it came out. Perhaps he wanted to keep the mystique of the film alive, who knows, but it’s a shame he hasn’t done anything else as this is one of the most bittersweet and sad mockumentaries I’ve ever seen. There is a lingering sadness to this one that haunts for days – which is part of what’s happening to the Palmers in the film. The extent to which we, as the audience, empathize with this family is intense, at least for those who loved the film. There are those who go into it hearing such fantastic things that they come away disappointed because the horror here is mostly of the human variety – the way the family deals with grief, and the way you can live your whole life with someone and not really know them at all. It’s got its share of creepy moments, and one humdinger of a jump scare, but this is a quiet film that deals with the silence and unanswered questions the living are left with when a loved one dies, especially one as young as Alice.

The actors are very convincing in their roles; I’ve heard it said that their acting is ‘wooden,’ but to me, it’s quite a genuine representation of how a family would act in front of a camera while discussing the death of a loved one. What some people think is wooden acting is, in my humble opinion, exactly the way a family like this would present themselves on camera; they’re keeping it together for the cameras, trying to get Alice’s story out into the world, and they’re going to do their best to stay collected and calm lest the whole thing goes off the rails. The mother and father both come across as smart, stoic, and damaged, but determined, in the end, to move on. The brother does the same, but his way of processing his sister’s death is, well, a bit problematic.


Mom, Alice, and Grandma Palmer

We first get the backstory of what happened to Alice Palmer. News footage tells the tale of the young girl who drowned in a nearby lake (but NOT Lake Mungo; that’s for later) and was found by a rescue team several hours later. The family had been on a day trip to the dam when Matthew decided to return to shore, leaving Alice swimming in the water alone. He reaches the shore, and Alice is nowhere to be seen. Police are called, and when her body is found Dad is called down to identify the body. Mom wasn’t up to seeing her daughter that way, and as Dad admits in his interview, that may have been a mistake.

Alice’s room as it was the night she died

Soon after her death, the family begins to hear strange sounds around the house. A contractor working at the dam where Alice drowned finds a figure in the shadows of one of his photos that looked mysteriously like Alice. Matthew sets up cameras around the house to try and capture what might be going on, and in several shots we see apparitions of Alice, sometimes walking past the camera, and other times hiding in corners of rooms. Things seem to be going down the same path as so many horror movies and mockumentaries that came before, but then – a twist.

A ghostly image of Alice Matthew captures on camera

Another couple discovers footage they took at the dam on the same day as the contractor, and once they realize the coincidence, they go back through their videos of the day to see if they too captured Alice’s likeness on film. And it turns out they did capture a figure in the background, just like the contractor, except from their angle, it’s clear that the figure is not Alice at all – it’s Matthew wearing her jacket.

Matty has some ‘splainin’ to do

It turns out that his mom’s growing conviction and obsession with the idea that the body Russell identified that night was not Alice, and that Alice might still be alive, prompts Matthew to run with the idea in order to convince his father to exhume the body and put his mother’s obsession to rest. At least, that’s why he says he did it. It’s really not clear that Matthew himself really understands what compelled him to pull off such a macabre scam, but it does come across that he did so without malice and was perhaps acting out some sort of desire on his part for his sister to still be alive. For whatever reason he did it, his stunt works – Russell starts to doubt that he did actually see the body of his daughter that night, and he agrees to allow the body to be exhumed and DNA tested. This is where you might expect another twist, but there is none – the body is Alice’s, after all. She’s really, truly gone.

The movie does something clever here; by having Matthew explain to the documentary crew exactly how he pulled off getting those ghostly apparitions of his sister on film, the director is essentially allowing the character to reveal his own secrets. Using old videos of Alice and strategically placing the television playing the footage opposite a mirror or other reflective surface, Matthew has made it appear that Alice’s ghost is haunting the house. It’s a pretty neat trick, and it has the audience looking out for further tricks as the story moves forward. But things aren’t that simple here. The story is just getting started.

Lake Mungo, looks creepy as hell to me

A psychic has gotten involved by this time; he runs a local radio show where people call in and ask him to help with all sorts of paranormal issues and with connecting to dead relatives and the like. June feels strangely comforted by his presence over the airwaves and asks him to come help them out. He even holds a seance wherein they try to contact Alice, but nothing happens.

As we delve into Alice’s history, it’s clear things were not quite right between her and her mother. It’s handed out in little bits and scraps, but it seems clear that June had become rather distant towards Alice as she grew into her teenage years; as if there was some deeper level of love June was unwilling to invest in her. It’s revealed that this coldness, for lack of a better word, runs deep on Mom’s side of the family, as she experienced the same distance from her own mother as a child. Alice and June, in short, were just not getting along at the time of her death, and it’s clear Mom carries the guilt of that in her heart. At one point she tells the camera that she hopes Alice knew she loved her, which is telling. She’s not at all sure Alice did know.

And in spite of Matthew’s revelation about his deception, the strange noises around the house don’t stop. June decides to go back over the old tapes he produced, wondering if she can see anything else in them that might explain whatever is going on, and sure enough she finds something in one of the videos – there’s a figure hiding out in Alice’s bedroom, all crouched down in a corner. Even weirder, Mom tells us that this figure is – their neighbor?

Meet the neighbors – on second thought, don’t

June rightly decides that if the neighbor – Brett Toohey was his name – is skulking around Alice’s room at night, there’s got to be a reason and it’s probably not a good one. Some snooping reveals the truth about Brett’s late-night visit (or visits, who knows how many times the guy snuck in there). He was looking for a tape that June found in Alice’s belongings. How does June know he was looking for this tape? Because the tape reveals that Alice had become involved in some sort of sexual “relationship” with Mr. Toohey and his wife. It’s not clear when this situation developed or how long it had gone on – Alice had babysat the creepy Toohey’s children for years – and it’s also not clear why Alice has this tape in her possession. Now, Alice can’t be more than 16 or 17 at the time of her death, which makes this nothing like an actual sexual relationship at all and much more of sexual abuse of a minor, but the movie doesn’t dwell on that, which isn’t the greatest choice in my opinion. But I hate to admit that at the same time, this revelation about Alice is oddly effective; the flat-out oddness of the revelation, and the magnitude of its effect on Alice, serve well to deepen the sadness and detachment she had from her family when she was alive. Who knows how she felt about this situation with her neighbors, but we can project plenty onto it – it’s deeply wrong, and probably scarring for Alice emotionally, and it probably caused her to feel isolated not just from her family but from everyone around her.

Dr. Slatter, the psychic

And it’s not just the tape June discovers. In Alice’s planner, June finds a business card taped to one of the pages – and it’s the same psychic the family has been consulting with recently. Why does Alice have his business card in her calendar? Because as it turns out, Alice had been going to see him for readings or sessions or whatever he calls them in the weeks before her death. Dr. Slatter claims he didn’t tell the family he knew Alice due to confidentiality issues, but June ain’t buying it, which seems reasonable. Based on his situation he never should have agreed to meet with the Palmers once he realized who their daughter was, but he did it anyway, and he doesn’t have a really great explanation as to why. He is quickly booted out of the picture, but the whole situation adds yet another layer to Alice’s secret life. Why was she going to see him anyway?

Searching for Alice’s body

June finds something else in Alice’s planner that triggers a memory; Alice had several days marked off for a trip to Lake Mungo with high school friends at the start of summer. June recalls that Alice wasn’t the same after taking that trip. A few of Alice’s friends are interviewed who reveal that they, too, noticed a change in Alice after that, and that she actually seemed upset about something while still on the trip. Several of Alice’s friends share cell phone footage they took on the night in question, when something clearly upset Alice, and through the dark and shaky video June discovers something – in the background of one shot, Alice can be seen by a small copse of trees, burying something in the ground. Off they go to Lake Mungo.

It’s easy enough for them to find the spot where Alice did her digging, and soon enough they uncover Alice’s cell phone – she’d told June when she got back from the trip that she lost it – along with some jewelry that was special to her. There’s footage on the phone, so they fire that bad boy up and get to viewing.

Alice, looking less than happy to be there

It’s shaky footage of Lake Mungo as Alice walks along, alone in the dark. In the very far distance, her camera spies movement. Then a small speck. The speck gets bigger and it’s clear that it’s a figure. It walks slowly but directly towards Alice. The closer it gets into view, it becomes clear that it’s a person. A female. And slowly it dawns on us – as it must have dawned on Alice – that this figure, this person, is her. The figure moves closer, and we recognize the odd distortion of her face matches the disfigured face of her corpse when it was lifted from the water. This is Alice seeing herself dead, drowned – the face moves right into the camera, and seems to float there for some time. Then it shrieks like a damn banshee and lunges at her. The video cuts out. And that, my friends, is the jump scare to end all jump scares. The director has been slowly tightening the tension for almost an hour at this point, and we’re all ready to spring right out of our seats from being wound so tight. It’s a horrific jolt, being so out of place in such an otherwise quiet film, and it’s wildly effective.


So this is why Alice started seeing Dr. Slatter, and this is why she was so affected by the Lake Mungo trip. She saw her own death coming for her. We see footage of Alice in one of her sessions with the psychic, and she describes to him her feelings of isolation and loneliness. She describes a dream in which she walks into her parents’ bedroom at night, soaking wet, and stands at the foot of their bed, crying and begging them to wake up. But they don’t respond. They don’t hear her. They can’t help her. And Alice realizes she is completely alone. It’s – pretty sad, actually. It’s a terrible realization for someone to have at her age, and it’s a terrible way to feel at any age. Whether or not we can believe she actually saw her own death that night, we can sympathize with her pain, and it makes her premature death all the sadder, that she had to die while carrying the burden of so much fear and loneliness.

This seems to be the missing piece in the puzzle for the family. After making this discovery, as June describes it, they actually start to move on. They don’t make any actual decisions to move on, it just sort of happens, as if they are finally able to put Alice’s memory to rest. June even visits Dr. Slatter one last time, to get some closure on the whole experience before they move out of the house where so much tragedy has happened, and try to put themselves back together again. At this point, the film cuts between a session Alice had with Slatter before she died and the session June is currently having with him. June describes walking into the now-empty house, and moving towards Alice’s room. Alice describes being in the house alone, and hearing her mother coming towards her. June sees herself entering Alice’s room and looking for her everywhere – but she can’t feel her in the house anymore. “She’s gone,” she tells Slatter, and she appears to be at peace. In Alice’s session, she describes her mother not being able to see her, even though she is in the room, and then her mother turns and walks away without saying a word. “She’s gone,” Alice says, and from her perspective, it has a completely different tone.

Matthew’s backyard photo, with the image of Alice in front of the bushes

The film moves from this scene into a replay of photos and filmed moments the crew has shown before, but this time our eyes are drawn to what we missed before – even in Matthew’s faked images, there’s a presence we’d never noticed in every single one.

The same picture, with another Alice sitting on a bench off to the right of the frame
That’s definitely NOT Matthew in Alice’s jacket
And that’s not Matthew off to the left either
Can you see her? It’s tough to make out, but she’s standing behind the cabinets

Faked apparitions or not, it appears Alice has been in the house with them since her death. And based on her session with Dr. Slatter it seems Alice was having experiences of her life after death before she died. And while the family has found the closure they were seeking, selling the house and moving elsewhere to start over, it’s not so clear that Alice has gotten the closure she needs to move on. Looking back at that first photo we saw of the family, taken on the day of their move out of the house, we can see Alice staring out at them from the window behind them.

Check again

So what does this mean for Alice? Is she trapped in the house now, doomed to haunt it for all eternity? Or does her staying behind mean she’s releasing the family and letting them go? Did she guide June to discover her secrets for some reason? Or is she simply trapped in the house, watching the family carry on without ever being able to reach them? Does she know she is dead, or is she still stuck in the house, thinking she’s alive and no one’s listening to her? There aren’t any answers to these questions, which seems fitting really. It’s like June says at one point: “Death takes everything eventually. It’s the meanest, dumbest machine there is, and it just keeps coming and it doesn’t care.” 

The movie isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s slow, and quiet, and definitely not your typical horror film. But what it definitely IS, is haunting. It’s one of the most effective portraits of being haunted by grief I’ve ever watched, really, because of how subtle and confusing it is. And the way the filmmaker managed to create a haunting that torments the dead as much as it does the living adds to the grief.

We as the audience are left feeling more like Alice at the end of it than the rest of the family. We’re stuck in that house with her, watching them leave us behind, and we don’t at all know what that means for us, and where, if anywhere, we will go. And that, my friends, is terribly, tragically sad. And scary as hell.

Out of Town Bound

Welp, we did it. We bought a house in Nacogdoches.

Welcome home

The house sits on a two-acre lot that is heavily wooded around the perimeter as you can see – there’s even a walking trail back in our woods, which is really cool. But even more awesome is that we feel like we’re in the country, but we’re actually smack in the middle of town, so anything we might want or need, including entertainment, is right up the street. This house is nestled in a tiny little neighborhood where most of the houses are just like ours; sitting on a couple of acres and set back from the street, so it’s lovely and shady and seems to be quiet.

It’s smaller than our current house, which was our goal, and it’s only one story as opposed to the two we have now. The owners are already out of the house and aside from some minor repairs it’s ready for us to move in once we close at the end of the month. So yeah, this happened fast!

Selling the house we’re in now is a whole other ordeal; we haven’t listed yet or really prepped for it in any way except for meeting with a realtor this afternoon. But we are doing our best to stay calm, take breaks from the madness, and try to stay focused on the positive end result.

It’s funny when I think about it – the life decisions I’ve made so far, the ones that felt really huge and even scary, are decisions that probably would be considered small to most people. I have friends who have changed states in their lives at least three times and friends who’ve moved to different countries, and I’m nervous as hell about moving three hours away. I’ve lived in Houston my whole life and never intended to leave until this past year. It seems like it should be an easy move at this point in my life – tons of people move after they retire, after all. But for me, this is a scary venture even while I’m super excited about all of it.

My great-grandmother had a screened-in porch and we all loved it as kids; I’m stoked to have one in the new home

Teaching was the same way for me. I know many people take up teaching when some other career doesn’t work out, or as something to hold them over until the ‘real job’ comes in. It’s considered an “oh well if it doesn’t work out I can always teach” sort of thing. But for me, it was terrifying to even consider it. I was terrified for the first five years, to be honest, and I never totally got over the fear that something would go terribly wrong. But just making it through my student teaching year, when I wanted to quit a thousand times, was a huge accomplishment for me. Hell, graduating from college was a huge accomplishment, for that matter, as it was never really emphasized to me that college was something I needed. The expectation was that I would get married and have babies, and my family never cared much about my grades or my future career. To be fair, all of my siblings, male and female, were raised this way, and I was the only one of us who was not married straight out of high school. If someone had asked, I’m sure I would have done it too, but I was terribly shy and kinda prudish so no one was knocking down my door. This turned out to be a good thing, as it forced me to think about how I would take care of myself. Hence the college degree and the teaching career – two things I never thought I would be capable of doing.

Some of the lovely trees on our street

And now I’m actually moving. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever picked out a house to live in. In my twenties I lived in other people’s apartments, and then another person’s house, and then I married Doug and moved into the house he already owned. And truth be told, I’ve never much cared for this house. I mean, it’s nice and all, it just is not at all a house I would choose had I had the opportunity. And now I’m actually going to live in a house that I chose and got to decorate myself. And it’s weird to think of this as something so momentous when most everyone I know did this shit decades ago, but I guess I’m a slow mover.

Downtown Nac at Christmas time

So things are gonna be crazy over here for a while, and after we get settled I am sure my blog will turn into non-stop pictures of Nacogdoches, but hey, I’ve been bored with everything else I could take pictures of anyway. So, stay tuned!

Horror Fave: Hellbender (SPOILERS!!)

What’s the horror: witches

Does the dog die? There are some dead forest animals; mostly we see the bones and that’s it

Gore factor: Medium – there’s lots of blood in this one, but not as much actual gore

Re-watch scale: Heavy rotation. This is a new film but I’ve already watched it many times.

First, let’s talk about the filmmakers here: The Adams Family (with one D, not two, so no nostalgic TV connection there) consists of mom, dad, and two daughters, who do all of the acting, writing, producing, directing, etc. among them. Sure, they call in resources when needed, but for the most part, this is some seriously all-in-the-family indie shit. And for the tiny budgets they work with, the two movies I’ve seen from them (they’ve made more but they are hard to find) are quite good. I much prefer their latest, Hellbender, to their previous offering, The Deeper You Dig, just because it has a more cohesive story, better pacing, and a more satisfying ending, but TDYD is also a pretty unique and creative horror film.

The Adams Family is led by actors Toby Poser and John Adams. Adams was a male model back in the 90s, and Poser was a “bad girl” on the soap opera Guiding Light. In other words, even in their fifties, these are quite beautiful people. Poser in particular is captivating on-screen, at least in my opinion – we are the same age, and she appears in her films with almost no makeup, a fair amount of wrinkles, and zero plastic surgery. She’s also a woman of normal size, although a look back at her time on GL reveals she was as slim in the 90s as I was, back when it took zero effort to stay thin. And her hair is amazing.

Toby in her soap opera days, 1995

Poser in 2019

Poser and daughter Zelda Adams in Hellbender

While John Adams played lead opposite Toby Poser in TDYD, here he is mostly off-screen, only appearing in one short scene – this is primarily Toby and Zelda’s show, with some of older sister Lulu Adams worked in for good measure.

Lulu Adams

John Adams

The story involves Poser as the mother, who never gets a name in spite of her leading role, and daughter Zelda as Izzy – true to form for this family, Zelda has quite the modeling career going as well as her writing, producing, and acting gigs. She’s signed with Elite models, which is about as, well, elite as you can get.

Zelda Adams

She’s quite good in this film, and I won’t do that thing where social media shits on her for having an in-road into Hollywood because of her parents’ relative success – I get where other actors may be overlooked because someone else has a famous last name, but it also makes a lot of sense to me that acting talent can run in families, somehow, so if the actor or actress in question is good at what they do, I’m not bothered. Everyone who’s never acted thinks it would be so easy, but being a good actor takes a certain amount of instinct not everyone has, and in my opinion, talent is talent. And Zelda Adams has it. Not to mention working with her family on a micro-budget and helping them do everything themselves.

So here’s the deal: Mom and Izzy live an isolated life in the mountains of- somewhere? – the setting isn’t stated that I can recall. Things are a little odd from the jump – Izzy is homeschooled and has some unnamed illness that requires her to remain in isolation from others, only able to socialize with Mom. To make up for that, Mom plays bass in their two-woman band, called, appropriately enough, “H6LLB6ND6R,” while Izzy plays drums. They really camp it up when they practice in their basement – donning theatrical Bowie-style makeup and performing on a makeshift stage. Hellbender’s music accompanies the film, and while it’s all rather slow and moody and not particularly complicated skill-wise, the duo can flip from a whisper to a scream on a dime, and the melodies are intriguing.

There’s an odd strain between mother and daughter in the beginning of the film – a restraint that feels like it’s about to break loose. This is ultimately a coming-of-age story; Izzie is chafing against the restrictions of her supposed illness, and it’s clear Mother is aware of this and concerned about how much longer she can keep her daughter under her thumb. Not for lack of trying though; the opening scene of Mom leaving Izzy home alone to drive into town is chock full of “keep out” imagery:

Also, Mom has a sweet car

It’s clear, however, that Mom loves Izzy deeply, and that Izzy reciprocates that love.But band practice with Mom in the basement is starting to feel a bit pointless to Izzy; she suggests that perhaps they should start to branch out a bit and play live at parties or in town. Mom is 100% against this idea, though; reminding her that it’s too dangerous for Izzy to socialize with others. You may start to wonder at this point whether or not Izzy would be in better health if Mom fed her something besides platefuls of twigs and forest berries.

Finger not included, until later that is

It’s no surprise that Izzy starts wandering farther out from their isolated home, and eventually stumbles across the other humans who are off-limits to her; a lost uncle visiting family nearby encounters her while lost in the forest, and when Mom finds out Izzy’s come in contact with someone who could harm her, she takes care of it in a decidedly not-normal fashion.

So long, Mr. Uncle; we barely knew ya

Once Mom poofs said uncle into nonexistence we’re clear on where the weirdness in their relationship comes from; Mom’s clearly some sort of witch with magical powers of the destructive kind, and daughter Izzy has no idea. In other words, Mom’s got secrets, y’all. And as Izzy wanders farther into the physical and symbolic forest with restless teenaged curiosity, the tighter Mom wants to hold onto her.

Enter Amber, whom Izzy meets when she accidentally ventures into her backyard. Amber is likeable and friendly, seemingly unphased at the appearance of a random stranger on her parent’s property – which we’ll eventually learn is because it’s not her parent’s property but a vacation home she’s ‘borrowing’ while whoever owns it is away – and invites her over for a swim and a beer. Izzy, we learn, doesn’t even own a bathing suit, so Amber promises to bring her one the next time she visits. At this, Izzy beams, clearly pleased to have made a friend, and the next day she sneaks away for another visit, which doesn’t pan out as well as she’d hoped.

This time, Amber has friends over, and after they ooh and ahh over Izzy’s musical skills, they settle down for some serious drinking. It’s pretty clear booze is new to Izzy, but she’s game to eat the tequila worm, which causes her to stare woozily into the distance as if she’s going to be sick – which would be understandable really – until she lets loose with a guttural, otherworldly howl. The other kids burst out laughing, and right then the owner of the summer house comes bursting through the fence, screaming at the kids to get the hell off his property. Off everyone goes into the forest, including Izzy, but she’s clearly under the influence of the alcohol, or the worm, or something, because she’s still acting stoned as hell and unable to speak. Unfortunately, their great escape ends with Izzy attempting to strangle poor Amber, who pushes her away and darts of deeper into the forest, understandably telling Izzy to stay away from her, so, end of friendship, I guess? Which is a bummer, because she seemed like a genuinely nice person and it was nice for Izzy to get a moment or two of bonding with someone other than Mom, but whatever is wrong with her has gotten in the way – and by now she’s figured out that what is wrong with her is not some illness that makes her susceptible to germs or whatever.

A confrontation with Mom is inevitable at this point, and when Izzy returns home Mom is waiting. She knows something’s up, and when Izzy asks her what exactly they are Mom spills the beans (or twigs I guess): they’re witches, from a long line of women who practice a very dark magic indeed: in fact, they are able to reproduce asexually, eliminating all need for male participation, and they draw their power, quite literally, from eating living things. Hence Izzy’s reaction to the tequila worm.

Mom’s kept all this from Izzy to protect her, or so she says – their power is dark and ugly, she says, and it is feared in the outside world. She believes there’s no way for Hellbenders to survive in the modern world unless they hide their power, and the only way Mom sees to keep their evil tendencies under control is to isolate. It’s clear she’s not just talking about keeping Izzy away from her own nature, here, but also herself. She’s done things in her past that agonize her, but as she tells Izzy, she did what she was taught to do. Until she reached a point of believing that what she, and all Hellbenders, were doing was wrong. Drawing power from death and destruction can only lead to one’s own D&D, in the end – at least, that’s how Mom sees it. Izzy, totally new to the idea of her own power, sees things differently. But we got a glimpse of the Hellbender in action when Mom disintegrated Sad Uncle in the first act, so we know where embracing their Hellbenders can take them.

The true face of a Hellbender

At this point, the movie becomes a bit predictable, but it’s still fun to watch. Izzy wants to know more about her powers, and Mom sets out to teach her now that the cat’s out of the bag. But she does so with hesitation; she doesn’t want Izzy’s newfound knowledge to overly influence her or change her – which is exactly what happens. Due to Mom’s deception, no matter how well-intentioned it may have been, Izzy has already destroyed the one normal friendship she’d managed to make – Amber has made it very clear that she wants nothing more to do with her, but to Izzy, the connection they made is far too important to discard. She’s never had a friend other than Mom, and it turns out Mom’s been less than forthcoming with her. It’s coming of age run amok, and Izzy lashes out at the people around her whom she sees as her betrayers – her mother, for lying to her all those years, and Amber for rejecting her friendship and refusing to give her a second chance. Mom has tried to explain to Izzy that their powers can do no good in the world and that it’s their responsibility to suppress them, but she’s coming from a place of experience in the witchy world where she was able to make that choice. Izzy has just discovered her own power at a crucial time in her development, and the reality is that her peers are always going to treat her like an outcast, like a freak – something every teenager fears, something that seems even far more likely for Izzy – and the bond she shared with her mother was based on a lie.

It doesn’t take long for Izzy to push beyond Mom’s boundaries around their history – she easily gains access to Mom’s secret sanctum and learns more about her heritage. She starts off on a discovery journey of her own, practicing the darker magic Mom is desperate for her to avoid. And when one last attempt at friendship with Amber falls flat, she takes revenge – against both Amber and her mother. All of Mom’s secrets have been spilled, and Izzy uses them against those she sees as causing her pain.

Sorry, Amber


Ultimately, Izzy spares her mother from Amber’s fate – so long Amber, we barely knew ya – but it’s clear the power has shifted. Mom is scared of Izzy now, and Izzy knows it. The final moments of the film reverse the dynamic of the first act, with Izzy telling Mom she’s going into town, while Mom is forced to stay where she is.

There are intimations throughout the unspooling of the Hellbender mythology (to which we’re given only glimpses) that these centuries of asexual reproduction include an element of violence on behalf of children against their mothers; the mother who gives the child life must eventually sacrifice her life – literally – to the daughter, who is compelled to eliminate her. I’m guessing at this because none of it is explained clearly, which I think is best. To overly explain the mystery of this world our protagonist is just beginning to explore would be incongruous with what’s happening at this moment. Izzy doesn’t know, and doesn’t care, about the darker side of her family history which might give her pause; she’s actively rejecting the perspective of her mother during this process, so it makes sense that what we learn is barely enough to grasp also. We’re only shown what Izzy wants to focus on, which is a power that’s been denied her for 16 years. At the movie’s end, Izzy’s path forward is unclear, but she’s already killed one person within weeks of learning about what she’s capable of, so it doesn’t look good for anyone. Perhaps she will eventually draw the same conclusion as her mother, who has made it clear to Izzy that she regrets her past acts of violence, but it’s also clear, based on how things turned out for Mom, that fully denying her power is a losing proposition also. We know Izzy’s fated to reproduce and grapple with a daughter of her own and how who that girl becomes determines her own future. Izzy may be feeling her witchy oats at the moment, but moving forward is going to be complicated.

Found Footage Flail: There Are Monsters (SPOILERS!!)

Reason for filming: A group of film students are sent on assignment to collect alumni interviews for their college.

What’s the horror: Aliens, zombies

Does the dog die? No animal cruelty

Gore factor: Minimal

Re-watch scale: Occasional re-watch.

There’s a cool story at the heart of There Are Monsters; I just wish it was executed differently. While this movie is labeled as a found-footage film, for at least half of its runtime none of the characters are actually doing any filming; they’re all on-screen being filmed by some other camera. Based on that, it’s baffling to me why they chose to use found-footage techniques for the entire film. It’s perfectly fine to use occasional found-footage in a movie and more traditional methods for the rest of it; plenty of films have done this to good effect. But for whatever reason, the filmmakers chose here to keep a consistent, shaky-cam style even when none of the characters are doing the filming.

This isn’t a still from the movie but it could be

To make things worse, this is actually some of the most over-the-top shaky-camera work I’ve ever seen in a found footage film, and it’s not even really a found footage film. That’s quite a feat to accomplish. There are actually entire scenes that are NOTHING but blur and movement – we cut to a scene of blurred light that is also spinning around for no reason, then just cut to another scene without any idea why we watched that madness. The camera is constantly shifting out of focus while characters are on-screen, and at times it just never focuses on any of them at all. Even scenes that are just the four characters having a conversation go by in a whir of motion; the camera constantly jump-cuts between them and goes in and out of focus to boot. It’s kind of a mess.

Why is this happening

So why would I ever write about a movie like this, or ever bother to re-watch it? Because the story, while derivative, is told quite an interesting way, and the movie is great at building tension and providing a decent payoff in the end. There are also some great jump scares and cool effects at play; I just wish the found footage conceit had been done away with altogether.

One of the better jump scares

The story is this: a group of film students set off to interview alumni that the college can use on their website. Along the way, the crew of four starts to notice people around them with some really strange behavior. They see unresponsive people standing still with their backs to them. They keep seeing twins everywhere. And every once in awhile someone gives them a creepy smile that’s just a little off – keep in mind, this movie was made in 2013, well before this year’s Smile hit theaters, so it’s not like it’s copying that particular feature.

Two of the main characters, Beth and Terry, take all of this weirdness to heart straight away, but of course we have to have that one person who just refuses to believe any of it is real until the last possible moment. That person in this movie is named Jeff, and the actor looks so much like the dude from Entourage that I had to stop and look him up to see if it was the same guy. It isn’t.

Guy Germain
Kevin Connolly from Entourage. Seriously, how is this not the same person?!

Maybe it’s my loathing for Entourage that made me hate Jeff so much, but I think it had more to do with just how long this character stayed committed to naysaying everything that happened as no big deal. I wanted to cut out his tongue if he used the word “just” one more time (It’s just the wind. She just has a cough. It’s just the flu. They’re just getting ready. You get the idea). Seriously, his refusal to take anything seriously becomes quite maddening, especially when one little glimpse at his friend Dan’s diary scribbles convince him everyone’s been right when he’s been confronted with far better evidence by his friends that he JUST refuses to believe.

Maybe it’s Maybelline?

It turns out that some sort of force, possibly alien, is taking over human bodies, creating exact replicas of them that take over their daily lives. And while these replicas look exactly like their human counterparts, they don’t know how to behave like humans, and their attempts at it often fail – like the freaky twins’ makeup applications above. This works well in the opening act of the film to keep us interested in what the hell might be going on without giving away too much – a receptionist at a school is wearing her shirt inside-out. A man in a waiting room writes random letters and scribbles all over his crossword puzzle. As previously mentioned, the group comes across random people standing with their backs to them, perfectly still and unresponsive. And occasionally, someone dazzles them with that unnerving, too-wide grin. So what exactly is going on?

The film does a good job building up all these strange occurrences, culminating in a pretty awesome scene where whatever’s going on starts to happen to everyone all around them. And once Jeff is finally convinced that people are losing their minds – or their souls, or whatever – the group takes off running. It turns out that enough humans have been taken over by that time that the strange force controlling them all decides there’s no longer any need to hide, and once that happens, it’s zombie time.

In looking up the cast for this movie, I discovered this actor died from brain cancer at 32. RIP, buddy.

From this point forward, the movie becomes your typical third-act run-from-the-monsters-and-try-to-survive fearfest, but shaky camera aside it’s well-done – although it goes on just a bit too long, and does that thing where it manages to pack in about three endings where the movie easily could have stopped, then keeps going. But the chase is fun, and there are some good jump scares thrown in for added pizzaz. Unfortunately, the damn cameras just get shakier and shakier, even though no one is filming anymore, which seriously mars the enjoyment of the film overall. It’s too bad the director went this route with it, because it’s pretty solid otherwise.

Wakeful April

Well helloooo there, friends! How the hell are ya?

I managed to grow my hair down past my shoulders, which is longer than I’ve ever had it, then I slowly started cutting it off again. It was a long bob, then a shoulder length bob, then chin-length, and now this. It was time – we’re doing a lot of running around lately and I just don’t spend as much time on my hair and makeup now that I’m not working outside of the house and am more or less retired, so I was mostly just letting my hair go and fall every which way and look like a blob on my head. I wanted something wash and go that could withstand the humidity outside, and so far this is working for me.

Say hello to Nacogdoches, Texas

I guess the biggest news right now is that we’re moving out of Houston to Nacogdoches, which is about three hours away in the Piney Woods area of East Texas. We’ve been going to East Texas for about a year straight now, although farther east than Nac is, to a tiny town called Broaddus, TX. We started going there because my husband’s grandfather built a home out there after he retired, and Doug remembers it fondly as the place he spent his summers as a kid, so when we decided to take an RV camping last year the first place he wanted to visit was Broaddus.

Cassels-Boykin State Park in Angelina County
pappy house
the house Doug’s grandfather built in the 70s. Doug hadn’t been out to see it in decades, although it’s stayed in his family since his grandparents died, and in an instance of serendipity, the house was partially torn down about two weeks after I took this photo. Apparently whoever now owns it (we’re not sure) is building a new residence on the property.
Our rented RV was white one closest to the camera.
One of the main boat ramps at Cassels-Boykin

The biggest draw to Broaddus, or Cassels-Boykin State Park, is Lake Sam Rayburn, considered by many to be the best place for bass fishing in the state. It’s a huge lake, with many small towns dotting the shorelines, each nestled in the San Angelina National Forest, which consists of pine trees, dogwoods, and other such flora and fauna I’m not familiar with, being a city girl my whole life. In spite of that I felt a real affinity for the place from our first trip – it’s a part of this huge state I’d never visited, and the beauty of the forest there really appealed to me. So much so we considered moving there many times over the past year, but the problem is that Broaddus, where we usually go so Doug can fish the lake, has a population of 184 people, and that is just WAY too small for us. Aside from fishing, there’s just about NOTHING there, not even one donut shop or fast-food restaurant – things you can usually find in a small town, even if you can find nothing else. We knew we could never tolerate life in such an isolated setting, but we did find a charming cabin right on the lake that we rented through VRBO; and we’ve since gotten to know the owners so we go up there about once a month.

The Cabin
Standing at the water, looking back at the cabin
Angelina National Forest
The view of Lake Sam Rayburn from the front porch
Evening Walk
The view on an evening walk
Evening Walk
The road to the cabin
Lake Sam Rayburn
Covered picnic table and fire pit by the water

We’ve run through all sorts of options in the past year regarding how to align our life more closely with this newfound aspect of it; Doug’s totally retired and I am halfway there, and working from home, so we know we can afford to make a move if we want to, but as I mentioned already neither one of us felt we’d be happy living in isolation or in a truly tiny town. Then Doug thought of Nacogdoches, the home of Stephen F. Austin University, where he got his undergraduate degree back in the 80s. He loved living there so much that when we first started dating, he actually took me up there to show me around one weekend, and I recalled being impressed with how pretty and quaint the town seemed to be, and how beautiful the college campus was. We’d toyed with other ideas and places to move, but nothing sounded right until he thought of it, and as soon as the words were out of his mouth I just knew it was the right place for us to be. A few weeks ago we went on a house-viewing expedition, and even though it was poring down rain the whole time, we both felt completely at home there right away.

One of the MANY parks in the Nacogdoches area
Stephen F. Austin State University

Then there’s the houses. There are some truly beautiful old homes in the area, the oldest of which we certainly cannot afford, but are lovely to look at, and due to the lack of big-city zoning, we could afford to buy a house next door to some of them.

This one’s for sale, for the insanely low price of $550K

Doug and I have both always had an affinity for those old, elongated ranch-style homes of the 60s and 70s, so we’re holding out for one of those in one of the city’s quieter areas; we’ve seen a few that almost fit the bill for us, but since this is going to be our retirement dream-home, we’re keeping cool and carrying on until the most-perfect option presents itself. But as soon as it does, we’re basically ready to pounce at this point, since everything’s in order to strike when that iron gets hot. It’s pretty exciting!

Oh, and did I mention they turn into a Hallmark Christmas movie in December? Because they do!

One thing I hope to be able to do once we’re settled is take lots of pictures of the city, the university, and the forests around Nacogdoches. I’m looking forward to injecting my photography with new life, since I’ve become bored with everything I might photograph in Houston – including myself! I’ve pretty much photographed every single thing I might want to photograph here in Houston, and I plan to take advantage of this move to re-energize my photography hobby. I didn’t take any of these photos, by the way – as I said, the one weekend we spent house-hunting there it was pouring rain the whole time.

Oh and there will be more about this later since as usual, my post has run too long, but after losing both Sprocket and Penny over the past two years, we finally adopted a new fur baby – so please say hello to Gigi!

Befriending Simon!

She’s a two-year-old chihuahua, she’s incredibly hyper, loves the sun like no dog I’ve ever known, and I am completely in love with her. She’s a spaz, and she and Simon “play” too much (they genuinely do play together, but Simon makes so much noise it sounds like he’s being massacred, which is a problem since he’s usually the one who instigates the roughhousing), but she cuddles like a fiend and is full of love and adorable charm. In spite of my love for my cats, life just isn’t complete without a dog in the picture.

Found Footage Fave: The Houses October Built (SPOILERS!)

Reason for filming: A group of life-long friends rent an RV and go on a road trip the week of Halloween, to try and discover the most extreme haunt experiences possible.

What’s the horror: haunts gone wild

Does the dog die? No animal cruelty

Gore factor: None

Re-watch scale: Heavy rotation. This is another one I can watch at any time.

The Houses October Built is an interesting found footage film with a lot going on all at once. It’s part documentary (there are real interviews with real haunt workers), part horror story (just how much of what’s happening to these characters is a part of the ‘extreme’ haunt they’re trying to track down, and how much of it is the work of true psychopaths who are out to cause them harm?), and part social commentary (the protagonists make a lot of assumptions about the ‘backwoods’ haunt workers they encounter in the small towns they pass through, and it’s at least hinted at that their privileged unawareness is part of what causes their trip to go awry; there’s also the issue of how the four male characters’ slightly toxic masculinity at times puts the one female friend in danger)This is not a universally-loved found footage film by any means, but in my opinion everything melds together in a pretty satisfactory way, even though at times it can feel scattered or even slightly out of control. It’s an interesting mix that creates a pretty unique found-footage experience.

A lot of the enjoyment of this movie hinges on how you feel about the five characters you follow through the film. It’s a road trip story, with five Texans (shout-out to Texas!) who rent an RV and film themselves going on a week-long road trip across both Texas and Louisiana, looking for off-the-beaten-path, more-scary-than-usual haunted attractions. A lot of time is spent with these characters in the RV cutting up and discussing what they want to get out of the trip, and if you don’t find them likeable or their chemistry engaging I can’t imagine you would enjoy watching this one. Personally I find them all likeable (although some are more likeable than others, but that’s necessary to move the plot along when things start getting dicey – someone has to be the asshole that keeps pushing the more cautious characters into sketchy situations) and I find their chemistry to be very natural and charming (two of the characters are real-life brothers, and several of the cast members really are friends). We spend a lot of time with these people in their journey across Texas in their rented RV, so being able to tolerate them is pretty essential to enjoying the film.

Let’s meet the team! Bobby, Jeff, Brandy, Mikey, and Zach

The film starts off with some actual news reports of haunted house tragedies that have occurred in recent years – the haunt worker who accidentally hung herself for real while working but who was already dead before it was discovered, the haunt worker who was actually an escaped murderer. And who knows how much interview footage they actually recorded during the making of this thing, but they definitely picked the more chilling segments to intersperse throughout the movie, such as the dude who described his experience as one of “getting out of my own fucked-up headspace and taking out all that aggression on someone else for a few hours.” Yikes.

Interview with a clown

Each aspect of the film – the haunts themselves, the interviews, the characters’ reactions to their surroundings – escalates over the course of the movie, and if nothing else, this is a movie that knows how to build tension. The first few haunts are impressive, but more fun than scary, yet each successive attraction grows darker and more disturbing. There’s a shift from the concept of a haunted house patrons want to enjoy to a terror experience they have to endure, and the boundaries of what is acceptable to portray and impose on people are subtly, but constantly, being pushed. Throughout this descent, there are also many warnings about the various stages of danger these people might be in, with the one female character, Brandy, being the most vulnerable. At one point, a character in a haunt starts whispering her name and telling her, “Brandy…you’re donna die.” At another point, some shady male characters who appear to be working with an extreme haunt (it’s unclear to what extent they’re involved) traps her in a bathroom and threatens her. There’s another incident where someone sneaks into the RV and films the gang while they are sleeping, and whoever is behind the camera takes a particular interest in Brandy, even reaching out and pretending to caress her sleeping cheek.

Clown confrontation

At each escalating stage, it’s unfortunate that Brandy’s friends fail to recognize not only that Brandy might be an actual target but also her growing discomfort with what’s going on. After the two men trap her in a bathroom, we hear Bobby saying to the others, “We can never leave Brandy alone again,” which is NOT a realistic solution to the problem. When the video that was taken in the RV ends up online in a haunt chat room, the dude’s response is “don’t tell Brandy, she’ll freak out and want to leave.” Perhaps the best example of the men’s inability to recognize that they are in over their heads and are actually not able to protect her, we hear Zach yelling to some haunt workers “Don’t you touch her!” while he’s got a bag over his head and his hands tied behind his back. In response to this command, the haunt worker simply kicks him to the ground, and Brandy is left to deal with the situation alone.

None of the men come across as assholes, and they genuinely care about each other as friends, including Brandy – they are just clueless about the fact that they are getting themselves into a situation they can’t control. In fact, they simply seem unable to conceive of the idea that there are situations they can’t handle, even as the evidence that indicates the opposite stacks higher and higher. There are points throughout the journey where most of them express doubt about whether or not they should continue, with the exception of Zach, who, as the organizer of the whole trip, is the most insistent that they all see it through to the end. It’s one thing to seek out extreme haunts when we know that’s what we’re going for, but it’s another thing to be surrounded by a bunch of assholes out in the woods, complains Mike at one point. It’s all part of it, Zach reassures him. We just have to go with it. But by the time the final “extreme” haunt begins. it’s clear even Zach is nervous and feigning more confidence than he actually feels.

The source of this mysterious extreme haunt experience the group hears about and eventually finds – or rather, the haunt experience finds them – is sketchy from the beginning, and the film does a good job of making the origins of this climactic event unclear. There are hints from the first haunt stop that the group has made some enemies – at one point, Mikey finds a ladder and sneaks up onto the roof of the building, shouting an Almost Famous-like “I’m a Halloween God!” into a megaphone and inspiring a chorus of raucous cheers and applause from the hundreds of haunt-goers gathered below. It’s a silly, spontaneous, frat-boy-ish move that has no ill intent, but that seriously pisses off the owners of the haunt. In fact, haunt characters/workers from that first haunt (as well as each successive one) will make appearances at later attractions, sometimes even though they have traveled hundreds of miles since then; the camera will quickly pan past a familiar clown or creepy doll-girl or deranged rabbit that we know we’ve already seen at some past stop, but the images flash past so quickly that we can’t be sure. So – are they being followed from the beginning. and if so, why? Is it merely because they’ve managed to earn the ire of some haunt owners, all of whom communicate with each other using private message boards online? Or do they simply travel around from haunt to haunt themselves? Is it possible they’re all a part of this mysterious “Blue Skeleton” group the gang keeps hearing about and pursuing, the roving haunt attraction that’s so underground and extreme, its location changes from Halloween to Halloween, and can only be found through private channels?

This is NOT a happy clown

There are other moments where the group’s journey into the seedy underbelly of haunt attractions highlights their own naivete about what they’re playing with. At one stop, the gang stops the RV for some beers before heading out to the evening’s attraction, and they encounter a haunt worker hanging out in the same area. They strike up an uneasy conversation, as the worker doesn’t appear to be all that thrilled to find them hanging out in what he clearly thinks is his camping spot, and things take a turn for the worse when Bobby starts talking about his fasciation with the haunts they’ve seen so far. He mentions how there are all these little kids working in the haunts, because out in the “backwoods” there are no rules and no one’s going to call CPS. “What you mean backwoods?” the haunt worker aggressively barks back, clearly unhappy with the label

As the haunted houses get darker and more death-oriented than your standard ghosts and ghouls (we go from aliens and evil clowns to rapists and mad scientists ripping people open on operating tables), Zach gets closer to locating the notorious Blue Skeleton, and eventually makes the connection he needs. This is when shit really gets weird. They’re given a location of some dive bar where they’re supposed to meet with a “Mr. Giggles” who will tell them how to make contact with the extreme haunt group, and this bar scene is worth the wait. The entire bar seems to exist for the sole purpose of creating a creepy atmosphere for thrill-seekers searching for extreme haunts; even on a weeknight every patron in the bar is dressed up as ghouls and behaving as if they always dress that way. A couple in rotted out clothes drags themselves slowly across the dance floor, some huge dude in a prison outfit and a face smeared with blood sucks on a brew, and two zombies sit at the bar counter smoking like it’s any other Tuesday night in the world. Everyone is in character from the moment the group walks through the front door until the moment they leave, and it’s bizarre. When the guys ask one of the zombies about Mr. Giggles, the huge prisoner-ghoul pulls up “Halloween Spooks” on the jukebox, and a demented clown – who eagle-eyed audience members may recognize as having been seen in previous haunts already – comes shuffling out onto the dance floor, bizarrely gyrating and wiggling towards their table. The look on Brandy’s face here says it all:

The guys are called outside to meet with the aforementioned Giggles, and Brandy makes the terrible decision to go to the bathroom. This is when the two zombie dudes decide to corner her in there, and she manages to push her way past them in time for Bobby and Mikey to question them. Brandy is shaken, and the guys decide they have to be more careful about leaving her alone, but sadly, they don’t decide that things have gotten out of hand and that perhaps they should quit their haunt journey while they’re ahead.

It may be too late for that, anyway; because the haunt now seems to be following them. Aside from being filmed one night while they sleep, they also find themselves surrounded by a whole host of costumed creepers a few nights later. A weird cow heart shows up in their RV fridge one morning, causing Mikey to barf into the sink clad in nothing but his hot pink boxer briefs – which is quite an image. On Halloween morning, a huge pumpkin is thrown against the side of the vehicle, with an invitation to New Orleans inside. When they throw open the blinds, they find five blue skeleton masks stuck under the windshield wipers. Mikey and Brandy are the most disturbed by this, but no one but Zach seems the least bit interested in pursuing the invitation. In spite of their obvious discomfort, all the pressure to be the one to say no way falls to Brandy, and she can’t bring herself to do it under the circumstances. She’s basically bullied into participating, and without her leading the opposition, no one else steps up to suggest they bow out. So on to New Orleans they go, blue masks in hand.

This is actually from the sequel but whatever

Halloween night in New Orleans is as insane as you might imagine, and in the chaos the man-child Jeff is the first one to pick a guy in a Blue Skeleton mask out of the crowd. Unfortunately, he thinks it’s Bobby, who is wearing the exact same blue hoodie as this guy, and he follows the dude into an alley like an idiot (sorry Jeff, but situational awareness is a skill you need to develop). Suddenly he sees someone else in the alley, and it’s the weird porcelain doll-girl from the very first haunt, along with a deranged rabbit we’ve already spied miles ago before shit got too real. Jeff turns around, and a whole host of deranged clowns and haunt workers from previous haunts are closing in on him. He gets the shit beat out of him, then he’s tied up and dragged off. And that’s the last we see of Jeff.

Oh, Jeff. These people are not your friends.

Back to the remaining four. Zach has called Jeff’s cell phone, which now has a message on it saying they need to meet someone at a random address out in the middle of nowhere if they want to see their friend again. Cut to the RV trumbling along in the darkness. Inside, the mood is grim. No one’s speaking, and everyone is some combination of pissed and terribly concerned. Mikey asks where in the hell they’re going, and Bobby stops the RV to yell at him about how he doesn’t know what to do, either. Any thought of this whole Blue Skeleton/extreme haunt thing being a game are gone now, and everyone’s starting to lose it a little. A car approaches them in the distance. It stops. For a moment nothing happens, but then Zach gets a text. Get out of the car now, it says, or your friend will die. Mikey is confused. This isn’t real, right? he asks Zach. I mean, let’s just go out there and get this over with, we know what this is. It’s the extreme experience they’ve been seeking, we the audience think, but even we are not sure. Is this a haunt, or are they all in danger? There’s no way to know.

And there’s not much time to think, because as soon as Mikey says he’s not scared because its not real anyway, Zach gets another text. You will be scared, it says. So…they can hear inside the RV now? I don’t have much nice to say about Zach about this point, but at least he takes it upon himself to be the one to get out of the RV and approach the waiting car, since this was all his idea in the first place. Shortly after he leaves, however, the RV is shaken and glass is broken; the remaining three fall to the ground and within seconds, several big skeleton-masked thugs break in and drag them all away. Oh dear.

Oh shit – Can they hear us?

There’s a bus ride with blaring music and everyone but Jeff – who really is never seen again – seated inside with black bags over their heads. Eventually the bus stops, and the three guys are taken outside, leaving Brandy in the bus alone with two skeleton-dudes. She’s weeping openly now, and begging not to be left alone. The guys shout and scream for her to come with them, but surprise surprise that no one cares. I’ve done my fair share of reading about the extreme haunt experiences, and when they are done properly, participants are give a safe word they can say at any time and their experience is immediately ended. But there are no safe words here, and it’s clear that whatever’s going to happen from here on out is definitely not going to be well-organized, safe, or possibly even legal. Thanks Zach.

To maintain the found footage conceit, Blue Skeleton is also filming the experience, and they give each person a camera to film everything that’s going on. That takes a big suspension of belief to accept, but I’m willing to allow it. We first follow Brandy into a creepy as hell dilapidated house where lights flash on and off, music blares out for a few seconds at a time before cutting off again, and doors slam at random. Zach appears to be locked in a darkened room with nothing but a blue light overhead, while Mikey and Bobby wander around in the dark looking for a way out. They are all IMMEDIATELY over it and asking if they can quit. No one answers. Eventually, they all end up getting the crap kicked out of them as their cameras cut out. It…doesn’t look good.

Cut to Brandy, unconscious and bloodied, being stuffed into the trunk of a car. She’s taken out to the middle of nowhere, where a deep hole has been dug into the ground. Simultaneously, the other three wake to find themselves locked into coffins. Cut back to Brandi, who’s laying in a wooden box. As the lid is closed on it, we see that there’s a camera inside. She comes to, but only after the lid has been closed, and we watch as she screams for help while hearing dirt being piled on top of the lid. They’re burying her alive. Likewise, we cut to the guys in their coffins, all banging and scratching, trying to get out. Then we cut to a shot of one of the Blue Skeleton guys, still wearing his mask. He looks directly into the camera, and it cuts to black. The end.

Poor Brandy really needs new friends

Some people are unhappy with this ending, calling it anticlimactic, but I think it’s perfect. To me it indicates they’re all going to be killed, and that’s the ending I still go with, even though a sequel was filmed that blows that theory all to hell (and as a sequel, it’s…not good). In my opinion everything points to this being the end of the road for the group, and the threats have seemed pretty real. So I choose to believe that’s how the story ends. It’s open to interpretation, however, which I think is what some don’t like about it. It also feels abrupt after so much skilled tension-building, but that doesn’t bother me either. Your mileage may vary, but overall I’d highly recommend this movie for something unusual that makes the most of the found-footage format in a unique way.

Found Footage Fave: Rec (SPOILERS!)

Reason for filming: A local TV show called “While You’re Asleep” is spending the night in a fire station to show what life is like for the firefighters who work there.

What’s the horror: a deadly zombie virus

Does the dog die? No animal cruelty

Gore factor: Pretty high. There’s a lot of blood and gore in this one.

Re-watch scale: HEAVY rotation. Even though I just watched this one, it was an instant fave. One of the best found footage films out there, in my humble opinion.

Zombies are usually not my thing. And since the pandemic began, neither are movies about deadly viruses that force people into quarantine. But having watched just about every found footage film I could find, I finally decided to give this one a go, since I’d heard so many great things about it. Well, not exactly – I first watched the American version, which was filmed a few years after this one, called Quarantine.

Quarantine was good, but mostly it just made me want to watch the original. And I have to say, the original is better, even for those of you who hate having to read subtitles (personally I always have the subtitles on even with English films, so I’m fine with it). While Quarantine sticks pretty close to the original with its story, it lacks some of Rec’s urgency and chaos and moves at a slightly slower pace. And most importantly, the main character, Angela – the female reporter – in Rec is just far more likeable than Quarantine’s. She comes across as much more down to earth and professional than the Quarantine version, who comes across as much too flirty and, at times, is both a sexual harasser and a victim of sexual harassment, both of which seem to be fine with everyone involved. Quarantine actually has Angela stroll into the firefighter’s showers and film dudes naked – no, seriously, she does – while they strut around bragging about the size of their dicks. This sort of nonsense continues throughout the first 10 or so minutes of the film, before the real action begins, and it’s incredibly off-putting. I found it hard to forgive any of them for their sleazinesss even when they were being face-ripped and slaughtered one by one. None of them come off well in the opening moments, and it does affect how much we care about what happens to them down the line.

Did you know firemen have dicks? Cuz I’ve seen them!

But enough about Quarantine. Rec has none of this skeeziness. The Angela in this film is way more focused on trying to get a good story than just hang with the boys and be the Cool Girl. She films the firemen at dinner, playing basketball, even their sleeping quarters when things get dull (but at no point does she follow them into any showers) and basically hopes against hope that a call will come in so they can film the men in action. Oh Angela. You are going to regret the granting of that wish. Which is a shame, because have I mentioned she’s extremely likeable? Because she is.

This is the only Angela who matters

It only takes about eight minutes from the start of the movie for a call to come in, and off they go. Angela and Pablo, the cameraman, hop a ride on a fire truck with Manu and Alex, the two men who’ve been tasked with escorting the camera crew around on this night.

This is Manu. And there’s a reason there are no pictures of Alex to be found.

As the truck arrives at the destination – an apartment building where a report has been called in about an elderly woman trapped in her flat – they see a police car that is already on the scene. “Maybe this is more serious than we thought?” Angela asks while trying not to sound too hopeful. They enter the building, where several of the tenants are milling around in the foyer area. It’s dark and cramped and very echo-y, so the various conversations they’re having among themselves make it sound like there’s a lot more people down there than there are in reality. The crew heads up the stairs where a policeman is waiting in front of an apartment door. Much ado is made of the fact that there’s a camera crew with them, but Angela sticks to her guns, insisting they have permission to film, and tells Pablo to keep the camera running as they enter the apartment. He does.

Conchita is not having a good day.

It’s clear right away that the tenant, Conchita, is in a state. Pablo briefly turns on his camera’s light to reveal that she is also covered in blood. Yikes. As one of the cops approaches her and tries to calm her down so they can get her some help, Conchita goes off. She tackles the cop and basically rips half his face off with her mouth. It’s shocking, and pretty gross. We see Angela run in the opposite direction from the melee (smart move, Angela) while Pablo, ever the professional, turns his light back on and gets right in there to film the good stuff. It’s utter chaos as everyone’s screaming and the men are trying to get Conchita off the cop and drag him to safety. Conchita’s forgotten for the moment (although Alex was instructed to stay with her, ahem) as the team rushes back down the stairs with the bitten cop bleeding profusely. And we’re off, folks.

The men try to rush the cop out of the building, but…there’s a problem. A swarm of policemen are now crowded around the front – we can see the garish flashing of their blue and red lights reflected off the concrete walls – and they refuse to let the men out. They are refusing to let anyone out, it seems, and no one inside knows why. Soon enough they’re given instructions by someone with a bullhorn. “The health authorities have decided to close off the building. Please stay calm and we will get you out as soon as possible.” Unsurprisingly, this announcement generates the opposite of what you would call calm.

Angela is NOT having it

Much chaos ensues. The firemen are shouting about needing to get the injured man to a hospital. The one remaining cop is trying to get everyone to follow the instructions of whoever’s outside calling the shots. He’s also trying to get Angela and Pablo to stop filming, but they’re having none of that. And the tenants want to know why they can’t go back to their rooms, at least, but the cop says everyone has to stay downstairs. There are sirens blaring, and lights flashing, and people bitching and shouting, and then – BLAM! Poor Alex slams onto the floor in the background, and it appears he’s been thrown over the first floor railing. It’s another huge shock, and it kicks things up another notch for everyone involved – and thanks to the found-footage POV, the audience is a part of that sad bunch. We’re trapped, and it’s clear there’s something awful going on.

Oh look! I found a picture of Alex. A few hours after this, his poor head will be cracked wide open. So long, Alex. We barely knew ya.

Back up the stairs we go, to find out what the hell Conchita’s been smoking that gave her the strength to chuck a firefighter down a stairwell. She’s not playing around, though, and immediately charges at the team when she sees them, so down Conchita goes in a blaze of bullets. She’s down folks, but I wouldn’t count her out just yet. This zombie thing’s got legs. And teeth.

Things are getting serious now, and the crew is trying to find another way out of the building. But the cops outside are one step ahead of them, and every exit they find is in the process of being blocked and covered with a huge-ass tarp, so they can’t even see out. One woman is holding a daughter, who has a fever and has been waiting for her father to bring them antibiotics, but he can’t enter the building to give them to her. Two men are in the process of bleeding to death. One old lady’s been shot. And everyone’s stuck in the foyer of what’s become a prison. It’s madness. Then there’s another announcement from the bullhorn: A “BNC protocol situation” has been declared, and they’re going to send in a health inspector to assess the situation. BNC, apparently, stands for biological/nuclear/chemical threat situation. Yikes.

But wait, there’s more! Soon everyone’s cell phones stop working. So do their televisions and radios. And the building supervisor, who also happens to be a medical intern, says the two wounded men won’t last much longer. And the little girl’s fever is getting worse. There’s more rushing about trying to find a way to escape, but every exit’s been blocked off. There’s a lull in the action here, as Angela films an update by interviewing some of the tenants about what they’ve seen and what they think is going on, and the intern tries to keep the injured men from dying. An elderly couple bickers with each other about what they think is really going on. A Chinese woman struggles with her Spanish to describe the fireman falling from upstairs. The little girl’s mother threatens to sue when this is all over. Angela interviews her daughter, who tells her she’s sick with tonsillitis, and she misses her dog Max, who’s at the vet. An older dandy who is mostly concerned about his face being shiny and that the camera films him on his good side blames the Chinese for the whole thing, as does Lawsuit Mom a little later on. Ah, racism. It’s not just for Americans.

A health inspector enters, covered by a bright yellow Hazmat suit complete with full head mask. Now that’s reassuring. Off he goes to get some blood samples or something from the wounded men. Angela and Pablo find a way to peek into the area where the injured are being held and film the proceedings. There are handcuffs, and needles, and lots of whispering. And then both of the dying men rise up off the tables and attack. The poor intern gets bitten by Alex. Somehow the health inspector manages to escape, as do Manu and the cop. They lock the intern up inside the room with the two zombies. It’s too late for him. He’s been bitten.

There’s no getting around it now for the health inspector; it’s time to spill the beans. It turns out that a day before a dog was taken to a vet. He was sick, and fell into a coma. All of a sudden the dog roared back to life and started attacking everything in sight. They had to put it down. A microchip led the health department to this very building. “Was the dog named Max?” Angela asks. Yep.

Oohhhhh I see – so the “let’s blame the Chinese” lady turns out to be the one who brought the virus into the building? Interesting.

Just as everyone starts to surround Mom and her daughter and demand – I don’t know what – answers? Retribution? – the daughter barfs blood into Mom’s face and runs screaming up the stairs, with her eyes all bugged out and her teeth grown sharp. The mother is trying to chase her daughter up the stairs, understandably, and so to stop this the cop handcuffs her to the stairwell. Then they go up to find the little girl on their own.

Not worth saving. Nope.

They find her, all right. And in trying to save her the last remaining cop gets bit, and tells the rest of the team to leave him there. They do. It’s a smart move, even if it is a futile one, because this thing is spreading fast and there’s nowhere to go. They’re trapped, and it’s clear that they’ll soon be outnumbered.

And damn, ya’ll, Conchita’s still not down for the night! Poor Manu has to sucker-punch Nana AGAIN before heading back down the stairs, where he passes the Chinese couple and the vanity man who are on their way up. “They’re getting away!” he shouts as they pass, and as Manu makes it down to the foyer we see the door where they’d locked away the intern and his newbie zombies opening. They need to run away, but whoever handcuffed Mom to the stairs has lost the key, and they can’t free her in time. As Angela, Pablo, the health inspector, and Manu run up the stairs, we see the zombie trio come rushing out of the back room and immediately making a meal of her. “I’m sorry,” Manu tells her as he rushes away, which I’m sure made her feel loads better.

Conchita AGAIN?!

They encounter vanity man in the hallway and lock themselves into an open apartment. The health inspector locks himself into a bathroom, telling them that he’s been bitten and to stay away. Unfortunately, the door doesn’t hold, and the health inspector ends up ripping off half of vanity man’s face before Manu, Angela, and Pablo run away. So long, vanity man. Here’s hoping the health inspector at least left your good side intact.

Back out in the hallway now, the quartet realizes they’re running out of options. They can hear the sounds of raging lunatics all around them, and they’re unsure where to go. Angela says they need to get into the storage room, but they need the intern’s keys since he was in charge of the building. But no one can knows where he lives, and they can’t even remember his name. Finally Angela recalls it – Guillem – and they make a mad dash for the mailboxes in the building’s foyer to find his apartment number. They quickly find it, but oops – Mama’s woken up from her nap, and it does NOT look like she accepted Manu’s apology.

Zombie Karen wants to speak with the manager

Fortunately she’s still handcuffed to the stairwell, so they manage to skate past her while she rages and reaches for them wildly. More zombie encounters ensue – the Chinese dad, then a random woman I don’t even recognize. There’s a sad little scene where Manu asks Pablo to help him take down random woman, and he puts the camera down to do so, and all the audience sees is her sad little feet in house shoes twitching away as they kill her. It’s a weird, tragic little visual. They run into a darkened room and struggle to find the light. As soon as they do, the light goes on and oops – Chinese mom is right there, zombied out and raging. Watching this scene makes me wonder how much fun it must have been to play one of these creatures – just going shit-wild and making as much ruckus as possible must have been a blast. Then Manu grabs a mallet and puts an end to that shit, and off they all go to open up the intern’s apartment and find his keys.

It’s important to note what’s going on here: we started out this disaster on the first floor of the building, where most of the tenants were gathered together to wait out the situation. The cop was trying to keep everyone in one place to control the chaos, but unfortunately, he failed. Conchita was still upstairs causing a ruckus, and then the little girl got loose and ran up there as well, and as the two injured men and the just-bitten intern busted out the back door it became a free-for-all, with everyone running off in all directions, and for the most part getting themselves infected. And now we have the last remaining three getting pushed higher and higher up the stairs towards the top of the building. And what can they do then? The chances that the cops outside have left any roof access unblocked is slim to none. They’re running out of time AND space to survive. And with every passing second there are more zombies coming to life and running amok. In short, it’s not looking so good for these three.

They make it to the intern’s apartment and Manu uses his death mallet to bash the door open. He WAITS OUTSIDE – Manu nooooooo!! – while Angela and Pablo make a desperate dash through the rooms to locate the keys. The TV is still on, with the intern’s dinner sitting on a tray in front of it, a small reminder of how quickly these people’s lives have gone from normal to nightmare. Angela and Pablo are beside themselves by now, barely holding it together as they trash the apartment looking for keys. They finally find a huge keychain full of them and grab them all, then dash out of the apartment only to find Manu gone. Noooooo not Manu! Angela clearly agrees with me as she starts crying and calling out his name. Unfortunately he answers her:

Manu noooooooooo!!!!!

I have to pour one out for Manu here. He never stopped trying to help people reach some sort of safety. I know he’s just a character in a movie, but believe me when you’re watching this thing it feels like you’ve been involved in this situation for years at this point, and losing Manu is a real heartbreaker. When you lose Manu, you know you’re out of luck entirely. It truly feels now like only a matter of time until our dear TV crew is done for, too. Plus, we know how found footage films end, and no one ever survives this shit. But just like Angela and Pablo, still we hope, although I’m not sure a world without Manu is one worth living in. But I guess we gotta try.

They end up reaching to the top of the building – the penthouse – which is a suite no one has occupied for many years. We heard this earlier in the evening when one of the cops was asking who all lived in the building. Anyway, here we are at the end of the road. It’s the top apartment, and there’s nowhere left to go. They make it inside just in time, as the rush of zombies are right on their heels. They slam they door and find themselves in total darkness. We hear the screaming zombie horde and Angela’s manic wailing as Pablo tries to turn on his camera light. When he does, they find themselves surrounded by newspaper clippings and papers and files. A quick camera zoom around the room makes it clear that some sort of – dun dun DUNNN! – lab experiments have gone on up here.

There are needles and an old tape recorder up there, too, and Angela plays it back to reveal that there was some sort of Vatican project going on up here, wherein they took a possessed girl and tried to isolate an enzyme that made her possessed, or something? Then the enzyme mutated and became contagious, I think? That’s all I can gather from it. But no matter, because while they are listening to this an attic door up above them slams open, and Pablo sticks his camera up there to see if there’s any way to escape through the attic. He finds some wicked creature up there instead, that smashes his camera light and breaks it. He resorts to using his night vision to see what’s going on in the room, which unfortunately means Angela is completely in the dark.

That’s probably for the best, because what Pablo sees through his camera is pretty terrifying. I’ll spare you a shot of it here, but I did find this picture of the actress playing Angela posing with the person who played the role of the possessed girl, who it turns out has been locked up in this penthouse for years.


Imagine seeing that through a night vision camera, lumbering about and smashing things around, trying to find out who’s in her room, and you get the idea. It’s awful. Soon enough the creature finds Pablo and smashes him to death with a hammer. Now we’re down to just Angela, the only one left in the building alive. We see her in the dark, crawling towards the camera that Pablo has dropped, and in the background we can hear all the screaming and growling in the building full of zombies. Then she screams as she is pulled backwards into the darkness, presumably by the possessed creature. The end.

Rec is considered to not only be one of the best found footage films around, but one of the best zombie movies out there as well. It was so successful that it spawned three sequels, all of which I have watched. None of them live up to the original but overall they’re not bad. I may or may not recap them at some point. Alls I can say at the end of this is that if you ever watch just one found footage film, make it this one. I have my other faves for sure, but this one tops them all. It’s that rare beast that would not have been better served without the found footage conceit; it’s actually BETTER because of it, which is really unusual. For the most part a film is made in this style because of budget constraints, but Rec without the found footage angle wouldn’t be nearly as fun of a ride.