Friday, September 18, 2015

Worth Mentioning - No Cure for Fear

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody welcomes the Halloween season with open arms and horror movies.


At 7pm on Halloween night back in 1987, public access station WNUF got in the holiday spirit and aired a special that found reporter Frank Stewart venturing into the infamous Webber house, which had been the site of the Spirit Board Murders twenty years earlier.

The murders of Mr. and Mrs. Webber were committed by their teenage son, who claimed to be under the influence of evil spirits he had contacted with a Ouija board he found in the house's attic. Ever since the murders, the house had been believed to be haunted. Along with a priest, married paranormal investigators, and some camera men, Frank Stewart entered the murder house with the intention of finding out once and for all whether or not the rumors of a haunting were true.

Due to the events captured on camera that night, the WNUF Halloween special was buried, meant to never to be seen again... But one viewer made a VHS recording, copies of which have been passed around ever since. In 2013, the recording of the special was finally released for the world to see.

Of course, none of this is actually true, that's just the concept filmmaker Chris LaMartina came up with for this movie, which he made on a budget of just $1500.

Aside from the fact that our viewing is being controlled by someone who will occasionally fast forward through some of the commercials, WNUF Halloween Special is presented as though we are watching a copy of a VHS recording (a few generations from pristine) made in 1987. The recording begins with the 6:30 evening news, then goes on to the special itself, and just like regular TV, this block of programming is packed with commercials, all of which LaMartina and his collaborators have successfully made to look like they were shot in 1987. There are commercials for local businesses, various products, a 900 number, and even some TV shows and movies that never really existed.

Some of these commercials are newly shot, while some of them are comprised of stock footage filmed around that time, including footage from movies. Throughout the movie there are nods to other indie genre filmmakers, including the Ohio-based J.R. Bookwalter, and I recognized some of the footage from movies Bookwalter made in the Akron area back in the early '90s.

Although what Stewart and his cohorts go through in the Webber house is interesting, the bulk of the running time consists of the commercials. If you watch WNUF Halloween Special solely with the desire to see a little horror tale play out, you may be disappointed and possibly even annoyed by the amount of commercials. What you need to have to really enjoy the movie is a strong nostalgia for the days of recording TV onto VHS and for bygone days of local commercials. I have that strong nostalgia, so WNUF was right up my alley. The tone, style, and look of late '80s TV was so perfectly captured, I wanted to live inside this movie.

Its rewatchability may be hampered by the sheer amount of fake commercials, which can get a bit tiring even despite my love of the era, but this is definitely a movie I will be revisiting often. It's for a niche audience, but being a part of that niche, I was very happy to experience WNUF Halloween Special.

The following reviews originally appeared on


Writer/director Eric England's 2013 film Contracted was a sneak attack of a zombie movie, taking a very unique approach to the concept of zombie infection. For most of the running time, it was a body horror tale, following a young woman named Samantha (Najarra Townsend) as she spends three days suffering the quick, devastating effects of an STD she received from being raped by a mysterious necrophiliac morgue attendant called B.J. It wasn't until the film's climax that things became completely clear and Samantha went full zombie.

When a sequel was first announced, there was some hope that England might return to the helm, and he did start writing a script for it. Things didn't work out, though, and England ended up having no involvement whatsoever with the sequel. Almost nothing is known about what his ideas for a follow-up were, only that the title Contracted: Phase II was already in place when he was working on it, and that his story picked up right where the first movie ended.

The final version of Contracted: Phase II may not be England's story, but the film does indeed pick up right where its predecessor cut to credits, much like Halloween II or Evil Dead II. Najarra Townsend and Caroline Williams even reprise their roles as Samantha and her mother, but so quickly that it made me wonder if these glimpses of them were actually deleted shots from Contracted. If you hoped to spend more time with Samantha in Phase II, this is not the sequel you wanted, but if you wanted to see more gore and grotesqueries seep from her body, you're in luck.

Stepping into the lead role is a supporting character from the first movie, Matt Mercer as the Samantha-smitten Riley, who was infected by the object of his affection. A substantial portion of the film deals with him suffering much of the same zombie STD symptoms viewers watched Samantha experience.

Lest you think this is simply a retread, rest assured that the story does gradually descend into utter insanity.

Director Josh Forbes and screenwriter Craig Walendziak, both of whom are making their feature debuts with Contracted: Phase II, had a tough job in trying to figure out how to continue on from England's film. You can't do the same thing all over again, but you should feature some similar moments. Once the zombie element has been established, you have to delve further into it, but Contracted shouldn't become Night of the Living Dead. There were a lot of questions left to answer, but shouldn't England have been the one to answer them? It was a tough balancing act to pull off. Unfortunately, Contracted: Phase II slips off the tightrope.

At first Forbes and Walendziak do a fine job replicating the tone and feel of what came before, but things gradually fall apart as the story expands to include more zombies and to reveal more about B.J. That "patient zero" does return, now played by Morgan Peter Brown rather than You're Next screenwriter Simon Barrett, and we learn what he's all about. I'm wishing I had been left in the dark.

By the latter half of Phase II, the movie wasn't working for me on any level. The body horror moments weren't nearly as effective as they were the first time around, some things meant to be gross-outs came off as silly, and the rules of the infection seemed to have been broken. The zombie attacks felt out of place. What was done with B.J. is horrendously cheesy. To see how far the final moments of Phase II have gone off course is stunning.

The film does have some good things going for it. The cinematography by Mike Testin looks great and Jonathan Snipes provided a strong score. The actors do well in their roles, with Marianna Palka and Anna Lore being standouts among the supporting cast. They can only elevate the material so far, though.

The first Contracted is a solid film and could have been the foundation for a franchise that went in some interesting directions, but I don't think Phase II went in the right direction..

DARK (2015)

Directed by Nick Basile from a screenplay by Gut writer/director Elias and executive produced by master of horror Joe Dante, Dark would be accurately described as a psychological thriller, but that's also a label that may hinder some viewers' enjoyment of the film. Some who go into it expecting thrills may grow impatient as they wonder, "When is something going to happen?" Dark is such a slow burn, the best way to look at it may be as a drama, a character study of a very damaged woman. A woman named Kate, played by Whitney Able.

Basile previously made a documentary called American Carny, and Dark often feels like a documentary as well. The way the film is shot, it's like we're voyeurs spying on Kate's life. We watch her make her way around New York City as she goes through mundane, everyday routines, and through it all there is a very odd quality about her. A strange detachment. The more time we spend with her, the more it becomes obvious that she is deeply troubled.

Kate is even distancing herself from her girlfriend Leah, played by Alexandra Breckenridge. Breckenridge doesn't have a lot of screen time but does great work in her scenes, and the way she handles the relationship moments feels very real.

Leah exits the picture to go on a weekend business trip, leaving Kate behind in their apartment. This film is a period piece, and the day of Leah's departure just happens to be August 14th, 2003. The day a blackout struck eight states in the Northeastern and Midwestern U.S., as well as Ontario, Canada.

Alone in a New York City without power, vulnerable and afraid, Kate has a mental breakdown.

The period setting is a selling point to those who remember the 2003 blackout, and the film does a solid job capturing the atmosphere of that particular power outage. For the most part this story could have played out during any random blackout, but that one in '03 had a heightened feeling of paranoia about it, and that paranoia surely doesn't help with Kate's condition.

Dark is largely a one woman show that's carried on the shoulders of Able. Breckenridge, Michael Eklund, and Brendan Sexton III do great work in supporting roles, but this is truly a showcase of Able's abilities. She's an actress I had never seen in anything before, and I was very impressed by what she does here, in a movie that was not what I was expecting it to be.

I thought this would be more about a woman hiding in her apartment from dangerous intruders, and while that aspect does come into play once Kate is at her lowest point, Basile and Elias have instead crafted something that's reminiscent of Roman Polanski's Repulsion and The Tenant, both films about characters going mad in their apartments. Kate's greatest enemy is her own mind.

The story and pace of Dark may be frustrating to viewers who are hoping for action and scares, but if you go along for the ride it's a viewing experience that rewards you with the chance to watch an actress deliver an incredible performance. Able is captivating, and the movie wouldn't work as well, or at all, if it didn't have a lead so flawless.

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