Friday, May 29, 2015

The Babadook - Movie Review

The Babadook
Directed by Jennifer Kent

This is probably self-destructive for a blogger to say but: STOP READING THIS BLOG RIGHT NOW AND GO WATCH THE BABADOOK.  IT IS ON NETFLIX INSTANTVIEW, and if you don't have Netflix, I'm sure you can pay some exorbitant one-time price on some other website.

Point is: this is hands-down one of the best horror movies I've ever seen.  I have a deep, deep love for early German Expressionism and magic realism.  The Babadook scratches both of these itches in a most potent and brilliantly powerful way.  Further, I'm currently preggo, and am terrified of postpartum depression, so The Babadook hits home hard.  These two things, style and heart, are what set The Babadook apart from other scary movies (despite the fact that we're in the giddy throes of a horror renaissance).

Warning: This is not so much a review, as it is a long essay about the two things I loved the most about The Babadook.  There are far better reviews out there, and I don't think I can add to them.  Check them out if you'd like something more concise and review-y.

Synopsis: The Babadook is about a mother whose husband died in a car-wreck on the way to give birth to her son.  Seven-ish years later, the mother and son discover a children's book titled Mister Babadook, and soon the babadook is an all-too-real entity ruining their lives.  As the mother spirals into madness, both her life and her son's are in danger.

Part I:  Why the ending confuses people 

Or, Americans can't grok Magic Realism.

Let's start with the style.  The Babadook is impeccably made.  It's not merely put together well.  It doesn't just have excellent lighting and set-direction.  It isn't simply acted with a potency that reaches into your guts and rips out all your fears.  It is all these things and more.  The most thrilling thing about The Babadook (stylistically) is that it dwells deep in the land of expressionistic magic realism.  This is what leads to some of the more far-out sequences and what makes certain passages of The Babadook so unfathomably terrifying.  This is why the visual-effects are not "polished" (something Jennifer Kent did intentionally).  This is also why the ending confused so many hapless movie-goers.

I promise, I'm not about to spoil this.

Hi, Count Orlok!  I've missed you...

So what do I mean when I say expressionistic magic realism?  I'm probably going to botch this definition because I'm not a film or literary scholar, but bear with me.  In this movie, the babadook is absolutely real, but that is not what the movie is trying to say.  Kent's story is told using something magical (the babadook) to talk about something perfectly true and real in real life.  This is not the same as riding along on a premise about something supernatural that then has an undertone or subtext that is supposed to connect up to real life.  Kent is talking about mundane reality, using magic.  The point is not to walk away thinking babadooks are real, but to walk away thinking about the thing the babadook represents in an extremely real manner.

To get my point across, it might help for me to talk about the current state of horror movies and then explain how The Babadook deviates.  This movie does not come down on one side or the other in what I call "The Literalist Dilemma".  That is to say, 99% of American horror cinema falls into one category or the other in this dilemma.

One category is that GHOSTS ARE REAL.  This includes movies like Oculus that are very serious about the audience buying into the premise that supernatural stuff is real and that's just how this movie is gonna be.  Other examples are The Ring, The Exorcist, and, to reach for an uncommon example, the Friday the 13th movies.  These movies say "This is a supernatural train that will never happen in real life, so if you're not down with that- then get off now."

The other category is GHOSTS ARE NOT REAL.  These movies often end with a "twist" where the camera pans out to see the main character has been talking to themselves in an empty room the whole time.  There are no ghosts or monsters, it's all in their heads!  It has been the whole time!  Examples include Session 9, The House on Haunted Hill, and The Village  A friend of mine helpfully pointed out I could call this The Scooby-Doo, so that's its official name now.

Just wanted to share some of the best Scooby-Doo fanart by Dijonay with you. Never has Fred looked so good...

These two categories comprise the horns of The Literalist Dilemma.  In other words, the premise and the leverage of the twist of these movies are based on the audience taking the events depicted in the film literally.  There are literally ghosts or there are literally no ghosts, only madness and assholes. Put another way, these movies are CLEAR about whether they posit supernatural things or not.  By the end, the audience can be comfortable knowing which side of the dilemma the movie falls on, and process it accordingly.

Magic realism, however, throat-punches this dilemma right in its reductivist... throat.  This is why I've watched countless people tie themselves up in knots trying to "decipher" movies like Pan's Labyrinth.  The deciphering is an attempt to figure out which horn to stick the movie on, and magic realist movies staunchly resist this.  They blur the line between the reality and fantasy in such a way that it is unclear whether we are supposed to 'believe' magic actually happens in the movie.  Thus, getting obsessed with whether or not the babadook is a real monster is missing the point.

To highlight a finer point, there's a part of me that is tempted to refer to the babadook as 'metaphorical', but this leads into an easy trap laid by the Literalist Dilemma.  Oculus, for example, is ultimately about childhood trauma.  It tells a story where there are literally ghosts, but the ghosts are 'metaphorical' for traumatic memories.  The childhood trauma is a subtext that we ought to 'get' while the movie goes about its supernatural business.  This is often how value is found in horror movies at all.  We use bogeymen to address our real problems.  However, there is something distinct in magical realism that puts that metaphor up front.  The babadook is a tool, a symbol, for talking about postpartum depression, but is also real.  There are no 'two-levels' of thinking about the movie, because the babadook and the PPD exist on the same plane of reality here.

Or, the babadook is immediately representational, instead of subtextual.

This leads to confusion for people who don't have a way of processing film outside of the Literalist Binary.  Even my favorite reviewer, David Edelstein, seems to succumb to this in one of his few, tiny bits of criticism of the movie: stating that some viewers might think its metaphor too "obvious".  To rate metaphor in terms of obviousness isn't going to work for a movie like this...  It's like talking about the obviousness of an animal.  "Sorry, your cat was too obvious.  Obvious cats are just so crass."  What is that even supposed to mean?

Let's pretend with script-writing:

Is the babadook real?  Yes.  So then this is a supernatural movie?  No.  Wait... but you just said the babadook was real.  It is.  So then how is this NOT a supernatural movie?  Because there's nothing supernatural about it.  The babadook is real, and her depression is real.  In fact, they're the same thing.  Yeah... but what you mean is the babadook is a metaphor for the depression?  That depends on how you're using the word 'metaphor.'  If you're using it to mean that this is a movie about a monster that doesn't exist, that is separate from the depression but can be read metaphorically, then no- because the monster does exist, every day, in the real world we are living in right now.  But that's impossible!  I don't understand, waaaaaaaah.... I'm gonna go complain on imdb. :(

The Babadook requires the audience to be capable of parsing a reality that is NOT fantasy (i.e. realism), but that includes magical elements.  The babadook is no less real than the dog, or Mrs. Roach, but don't make the mistake of thinking that means this movie is supernatural.

I won't stop screaming until I know if it's real or not!!!!!!!!!!!

Part II: You are not your depression

Or, sometimes kids ARE terrible and that doesn't make you a bad mom...

The other glorious thing about The Babadook is how it treats the complex relationship between a parent and child.  There are so many, many movies that tell an overly simplified version of this struggle: usually where the child is sweet and only occasionally annoying, and the mom Just Goes Crazy because that's Just What Moms Do.  Because Mothering Is Hard.  I cannot even begin to express how stupid, lazy, and harmful this is to women coping with motherhood, mustless PPD.  

So many reviews on the internet harp on about how annoying the kid in this movie is.  Every time I see one, I turn into Grumpycat and go "GOOD. :(" because the kid not being a darling angel is important to understanding the cycle this movie is all about.  Sometimes kids aren't good and sometimes mom's aren't good.  The events in The Babadook are grueling, both for the mother and child.  They are both dealing with immensely heavy emotional shit, and it makes them drive each other crazy.  The mother makes the kid crazy, and the kid makes the mom crazy, until everything is just covered over in the darkness of the babadook, and they are actually trying to murder each other. 

This level of emotional complexity is not only refreshing, but makes the terror of The Babadook so much more severe.  It would be easier to dismiss a movie that worked in broad strokes.  It would be easy to say: well, that woman is deeply disturbed; I'm not deeply disturbed; therefore I'm safe from being this woman and this movie couldn't possibly happen to me.  Instead, The Babadook shows just how feasible it is to slide down that slope of grief, sleep-deprivation, and bitterness into becoming a monster yourself.  The Babadook does not turn away from the horribleness of PPD.  It doesn't give the easy out of the babadook just being a fantastical, fictional bogeyman that lives in a movie, tormenting the innocent (GHOSTS ARE REAL).  Rather, it shows how the babadook can be an all-too-real darkness festering on the inside of lonely, desperate parents.  

And yet!  The babadook is separate from the mother, Amelia.  If this were a movie that flopped over onto the GHOSTS ARE NOT REAL horn, it would quickly fall into the pathetically sexist trap of "Well, she's just a crazy, bad mother."  Think Carrie or Mommy Dearest.  Considering the monumental amount of pressure and guilt moms labor under in our society, this trap is particularly insidious.  The last thing moms need is another story telling us that when we are at our worst: weak, damaged, and struggling, that it just means we are bad.  Because if we were 'good moms' we wouldn't be having these problems, and we especially would never, ever, EVER take any of it out on our darling angel children.  Oh, you did take it out on your kids that one time?  Well, guess they're gonna need therapy later and you are a BAD MOM.  And that narrative just feeds the evil cycle of depression, further isolating hurting women and hurting families.

By making the babadook a thing that is separate from the mother's identity, it (strangely) gives a positive, hopeful, and empowering view on mental illness.  You Are Not Your Depression, The Babadook says.  Even better, it says: You Can Fight It and Be Happy Someday.  

Now, you're probably going to have to keep your babadook locked away and feed it worms for the rest of your life because you 'can't get rid of the babadook', but you know what?  That's pretty okay.

But don't get uppity and think The Babadook condones abuse.  If it's clear about one thing: it is how horrible all this is.  But it doesn't leave it there, down at the bottom of that pit.  It concludes with a message far stronger and more powerful: 

You Can Beat The Babadook.


Oh, and aside from all this lengthy rambling: The Babadook is FUCKING TERRIFYING.  So go watch it already...

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Travis Louie - Artist Review

Herman and Morris
Atmosphere and strangeness; Travis Louie displays a mastery of both in his paintings.  Rendered in acrylic over graphite, Louie's work depicts an alternate world of Victorian society littered with dreamlike touches.  Odd creatures and persons not quite human have their portraits taken.  There is a mundanity to the practice, but the subjects of the paintings are anything but mundane.

On one hand, you have the familiar.  Stern tintypes of relatives with slicked-over hairstyles and curly mustaches are things we might find in any of our family attics.  The formality of the portrait served a few purposes back in the day.  Not mere records of appearance, they were also a display of status and place in the society.  One's dress, one's posture, and the style of one's brooch are all details that indicated the larger world surrounding the subject.  One could argue that the rigid structure dictated by the technology of the time gave definition to these minute differences between a baker and a broker.

Leveraging this attention to detail, and how it can lead to the weaving of insinuated worlds, Travis Louie's portraits of imaginary persons are each deeply fascinating.  Once you get past the upfront strangeness of troll-like appearances or giant toads, you may be struck by the familiarity of the work.  They way the subjects sit and look off camera is comforting.  And then, again, upon examining the details that indicate that larger world, that strangeness comes creeping back.  For example, look into the unnatural gleam in the eyes of the man in Herman and Morris above.

Candletop Hastings

On the other hand, Louie is great because of the up-front weirdness of his work.  I mean, really, to somebody who has spent far, far too much time wallowing in descriptions of Edwardian fish-people or fantastical steampunk half-breeds, Travis Louie is like an uncomfortable dream come true.  There's monster-people, monkey-people, people holding giant goldfish, people with odd little creatures floating above their heads.

While Louie's style is undoubtably his own, I can't help but point out a few other ways to describe his style that might appeal.  His work is like looking at the great-grandparents of Toni DiTerlizzi's faeries, rendered in film noir shading.  Louie's portraits are like peeking into the fantasy world of a book not-yet-written, but that I desperately want to read.  The influence of his childhood days spent watching atomic-age sci-fi thrillers is evident in his mutants and independently-minded hairdos.

I wish I could show you everything Louie has done.  Picking examples for this post was immensely difficult, so I'll just direct you to his website:  Also, a google image search under his name will produce further wonders.  Oh, and what wonders they be.


P.S. Sorry this is late, my laptop blew up.  Grrrrr. :(

Monday, May 25, 2015

Stone Man Syndrome - Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva

In yet another Joanna-is-way-too-interested-in-weird-medical-conditions entry, I present you with an extraordinarily rare genetic disease: Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP).  For the handful of people stricken with this malady, the most casual of injuries can cause their body to transform into a prison of bone.  

A genetic mutation that affects the body's repair functions causes muscle, tendons, and other connective tissues to grow back as bone.  Something as simple as a bump on the head, a bruised knee, or merely time itself, can cause an individual with FOP to grow spurs of bone amid their flesh, or find their joints permanently locked in place.  

Of course, this is a disease which is extremely rare, only affecting 1 in every 2,000,000.  That means there are only ~4000 people on the PLANET who suffer from FOP.  Despite the fact that FOP is an autosomal dominant condition (meaning only one parent has to carry the gene for their child to get FOP), it is usually the result of a random mutation- neither parent will have the condition.  

The first warning sign that a child might be inflicted with the disease is a newborn's big toes.  They are shorter than the other toes, and curved in towards the rest of the foot in a deformation known as a valgus deviation.  

Later in life, as the child collects the usual bumps and falls of youth, the disease presents small tumor-like nodules over the back, neck, and shoulders.  They are painful, and often go unexplained for a time.  Sometimes they even retreat back into the body.  Mostly, though, they harden into bone during a process known as heterotopic ossification.  

Over time, spurs of bone grow from the child's head down, just as bones grow during fetal development.  They creep through the muscle of the back, over the shoulders and through the abdomen.  Eventually the hands and feet are frozen in place.

To make the curse even more bitter, any attempts by doctors to remove the patches of bone are met with more of the body's twisted method of healing: even more bone grows back in its place.  As such, there is no known cure for FOP, only treatment to give the people who suffer from it as much mobility and quality of life as possible.

However, the study of this disease has actually led to a variety of useful discoveries that can be applied to other bone-based diseases.  Even common problems such as fractures and aftercare for hip-replacement patients had benefited from the work done to understand this extraordinarily rare disorder.  Much of this work has been spurred on by the International FOP Association, founded by Jeannie Peeper (a sufferer of FOP herself).  To read more about Jeannie Peeper's awesome story, see the article linked below the jump.

So the next time you bash your knee into the coffee-table, amid your cursing just remember: at least your bruise won't grow back as bone.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Starry Eyes - Movie Review

Starry Eyes
Dir. Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch

Spoilers ahead

Starry Eyes is a recently released horror film and I have to say, though I had heard nothing of it before randomly running across it on Netflix and the user reviews were mixed, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked Starry Eyes.  It was a reasonable mix of gore, supernatural elements, human depravity, and uncomfortableness.  Very often horror movies start out with a big scare and then trickle deaths or scary moments throughout the film, culminating in the final epic death scene.  Starry Eyes took a bit of a different approach, starting out slow and creepily building throughout the entire film until all of the epic-ness was crammed into about the last 25 minutes.  But it wasn't in a boring or dull way.  There wasn't a ton of filler and then a bit of action.  It was consistently unsettling and curiosity-evoking throughout the entire film.

Our film focuses around Sarah, a skinny self-conscious diner waitress by day and aspiring actress by night, as so many seem to be these days.  She has an audition for a film "The Silver Scream" produced by Astraeus Pictures in which she meets two super dicky casting directors who basically blow her off and she goes to have a meltdown in the bathroom, pulling her hair out, screaming, acting generally crazy.  The female casting director catches this tantrum and brings her back to the audition room to reenact it.  Sarah falls on the ground convulsing and screaming and the casting directors are intrigued by her passion and unbridled emotions and she gets a callback.

It all goes downhill from here.  On her second callback, Sarah enters a dark room and is asked to disrobe.  The lights go out and then proceed to flash in a strobe light effect as we see shadowy figures and quick shots of Sarah with sharp teeth and bleeding from the mouth.  This whole scene is very artsy but done quite well.  Throughout the film, we are also introduced to Sarah's roommates/friends who are all douchey southern Californian "stereotypical theater kids."  They are critical of all of Sarah's attempts at acting and do nothing but condescendingly criticize her on a regular basis.  Sarah learns that the producer of the film wants to meet with her and he is a creepy older man who explains to Sarah that "The industry is a plague of shallowness" and he "Wants to capture the ugliness of the human spirit."  He offers her the role in the film but also wants a BJ, of course.  Sarah runs away, disgusted.

A bit later, Sarah and her friends take some ecstasy and have a pool party and in the midst of her high, Sarah calls the producer back and says she really wants the part.  She heads to Astraeus Pictures and basically is propositioned by the producer to kill her old life and step inside the gateway of a glorious new life as she is surrounded by men in creepy black masks and hoods.  The music builds, the tension increases, the audience is on the edge of their seats as we wonder what Sarah is going to do...
He gets the BJ he wanted, afterall.

Then the movie progresses into the second half, which I consider to be the gross but awesome half.  Sarah is at a true turning point and starts to experience oddities that both confuse and exhilarate her.  Sarah experiences intense stomach pain, drools at work at the diner and slaps her boss, gets fired, vomits, has her hair fall out and her fingernails fall off, asks her roommate if she is on period because she can smell her, and tells her best friend to F off.  Granted, I summarized all of these occurrences in one run-on sentence but this evolution of Sarah's character from a walked-all-over but quiet sweetheart to a gross, dirty, sick asshole is simultaneously intriguing and heartbreaking.  Her physical corruption alone is hard to watch and I really have to give it up to the hair and makeup team on the film as they made Sarah look repulsive in a very sad way.

Our movie reaches its highest tension point when Sarah's eyes cloud over, she bleeds from the mouth and private parts, throws up a ton of maggots in the bathtub, and starts to lose all of her hair.  She gets a call from the producer telling her she can die and be forgotten or be reborn.  "It's time to become one of us.  It's time to be remembered."  Sarah goes on an absolute rampage killing all her friends/roommates.  Several are stabbed multiple times and the goriest death is when Sarah pounds her friend's face in with a dumbbell, completely obliterating her face and head.  At the end, hooded figures come out of the shadows and bloody naked Sarah emerges from a grave, bald, muddy, and with freakishly long fingernails.  She receives a special birthday package from Astraeus with a gown and wig inside as she admires her beauty in the mirror and we see shots of various old Hollywood glamorous stars in the background, as we are led to believe perhaps they too were patrons of Astraeus Pictures.

The thing I like about Starry Eyes is even though it's gross and gory and sexual and desperate, it never spells out exactly what the leaders of Astraeus Pictures are.  Are they members of a cult?  Are they vampires?  Are they witches?  I thought they were vampires due to the various comments about blood throughout the film but Sarah isn't seen with the generic vampire teeth at the end of the film.  My husband watched it as well and he found it to be somewhat boring and he didn't pick up on the vampire theme at all, so maybe I'm crazy?  However, that's what I actually love about the movie.  It makes so little sense and leaves so many questions unanswered but not in an enraging way.  It doesn't project the annoyance of sparkly Twilight vampires but instead has the audience witness a nasty, gory, gross, and debilitating process of being reborn and the struggle that comes with choosing a new life and abandoning everything you thought you once knew.  The rebirth, the brainwashing, the ravenous side of Sarah is glamorized.  Even after she has killed all of her friends, she feels beautiful, sophisticated, and more alive than ever.  Starry Eyes is twisted.  It's complicated.  It's sad and it's gory.  More than anything, it's different.  I grow tired of the same old repetitive horror movie formula, so for that reason alone, Starry Eyes gets two thumbs up from me (but only one thumb up from my husband!)


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Woman in the Oven - Creepypasta

While I may not be the creepypasta connoisseur my sister is, I do have my favorites.  Short and sweet, The Woman in the Oven leverages some of my absolute favorite horror elements: realism, media, and ambiguity.

It's just sparse enough to be believable, detailed enough to be true.  The relationship we have with recorded media lends further credibility to the supposed facts of the story.  And yet, the ending is confusing.  It swerves left just at the last moment, and as the mind reels to make sense of all the facts, it quickly finds itself in deeply disturbing territory.

I think the rendition by Youtuber thelittlefears is BY FAR the best, so watch away.  Full text will be relayed below.

"During the summer of 1983, in a quiet town near Minneapolis, Minnesota, the charred body of a woman was found inside the kitchen stove of a small farmhouse.  A video camera was also found in the kitchen, standing on a tripod, pointing at the oven.  No tape was found inside the camera at the time.

"Although the scene was originally labeled as a homicide by police, an unmarked VHS tape was later discovered at the bottom of the farm's well, which had apparently dried up earlier that year.

"Despite its worn condition, and the fact that it contained no audio, police were still able to view the contents of the tape.  It depicted a woman recording herself in front of a video camera, seemingly using the same camera that the police found in the kitchen.  After positioning the camera to include both her and her kitchen stove in its view, she turned on the oven, opened the door, crawled inside, and then closed the door behind her.  After eight minutes into the video, the oven could be seen shaking violently.  At this point thick, black smoke emanated from it.  For the remaining forty-five minutes of video, until the batteries in the camera died, it remained in its stationary position.  

"To avoid disturbing the local community, the police never released any information about the tape, or even the fact that it was found.  Police were also not able to determine who put the tape in the well, or why the height and stature of the woman in the video did not come close to matching the body that they had found in the oven."


Monday, May 18, 2015

The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962

Still from Laughology (2009). 
You may have heard of the Tanganyika (now Tanzania) Laughter Epidemic of 1962 already.  It was the subject of an amazing episode of Radiolab, was included in the 2009 documentary Laughology, and has been featured on plenty of websites.  And with good reason: it makes a great story.

However, with the exception of Radiolab, the epidemic is usually treated as an amusing oddity, or even a positive, if silly, experience.  "Isn't laughter great!?  Can you imagine whole villages laughing for months?  Crazy, huh?  How fun!"  I bet you can see where this is headed...

Here at HoJ Horror, we strive to view things through a creepier lens, peeling back the fluffy exterior of the world and staring at its more gruesome contents.  By the time we get to the end, I hope you'll be able to see how the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic is terrifying in two ways.  Spooky in itself, and also spooky for what it means.

Let's start with the facts:  On January 30, 1962, three girls started laughing in a mission-run boarding school in the village of Kashasha.  On the western shore of Lake Victoria, near Uganda, the laughter spread through the school, afflicting another 95 students.  While the teaching staff remained immune, the girls between the ages of 12 and 18 would laugh and cry uncontrollably for hours.  The 64 children unaffected by the laughing were unable to concentrate during classes, and on March 18th of that year, the school was closed down entirely.

Once the school closed, the girls were sent home, and the laughter spread.  In the village of Nshamba, 217 children and young adults came down with the laughter in April and May.  In June, the laughing hit another girls' school in Ramashenye.

As the condition spread, it soon began to infect adults of all ages, men and women.  Entire villages would suffer from the hysterical condition for days on end.  Sometimes the laughing would ebb away, only to return days later.  This continued for 18 months throughout the north-west corner of Tanganyika until the middle of 1963.  It is said to have affected up to 1000 people.

It is important to note that the symptoms of the laughing sickness were not limited to giggling.  Pain, fainting, respiratory problems, attacks of ceaseless crying, and random screaming were all a part of the 'laughing'.

Here is an excerpt from Laughology, the aforementioned documentary.  Despite its attempt at light-heartedness, it comes off as a nightmare.

But why did these people laugh, cry, and scream for hours upon hours, stretching into days?  The first approach is to compare it to other instances of 'mass hysteria'.  Most of these episodes strike young women between the ages of 15 and 20.  Consider the Salem Witch Trials or, more appropriately, the "Strawberries with Sugar Virus" of 2006.  Indeed, the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic did start with adolescent girls, but it eventually spread to include adult men.  Besides, it's super-condescending to chalk this up to "teen girls are just hysterical."

Another point to be made is that this episode differs from other incidents of madness that can be attributed to environmental factors.  I've got some articles in the works examining the effects of Ergotism and Kuru, but the epidemics associated with these maladies are clearly traceable to biological factors.  The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic, on the other hand, shows no evidence of toxic exposure or disease.  As Christian F. Hempelmann noted in this article for the Chicago Tribune, the Epidemic qualifies as a legit Mass Psychogenic Illness (MPI).  Meaning, it was an affliction caused entirely by the minds of its victims.

However, we're still faced with the question of why?  Well, to draw on some conclusions Hempelmann has made, it was likely connected to the immense changes that Tanganyika was going through at the time.

Tanganyika declared its independence from the British on December 9th, 1961, only weeks before the epidemic began.  As the nation transitioned, the people were subject to incredible social upheaval.  When the government switched to Socialism, it not only rearranged the economy, but also outlawed many of the local tribal religions (supplanted by Christianity).  Faced with such sweeping changes, the rural villagers of Tanganyika were under significant stress.

To quote Hempelmann: "There is an underlying shared stress factor in the population.  It usually occurs in a group of people who don't have a lot of power.  MPI is a last resort for people of a low status.  It's an easy way for them to express that something is wrong.

In other words, the people caught up in the Epidemic couldn't find any other way to release their anguish.  When they failed to cope, they were left with nothing but humorless, hysterical laughter that exhausted their bodies.  Laughter that took turns with inconsolable crying and screaming.

Words failed them, so they laughed.


For more content about the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic, and a great theory about caterpillar ghosts, check out this episode of Radiolab:

Friday, May 15, 2015

13 Sins - Movie Review

13 Sins
Directed by Daniel Stamm

No ending spoilers.

Our movie begins in Perth, Australia with a Professor Edgar Sullivan at a benefit honoring his accomplishments. Sullivan stands up and delivers a speech filled with vulgar and disturbing limericks and then proceeds to cut his wife's fingers off on the podium before being shot by the police and grasping for his ringing cellphone.

The audience watching at home collectively goes "WTF?" Yes, this is the beginning of 13 Sins, a remake of the Thai film, 13: Game of Death. Most American remakes are terrible. Yep, I said it. There have been a plethora of American remakes especially of Japanese horror films with very few being able to compete with their predecessors. I cannot say I have seen the Thai version of this film but as a standalone, the American version kept me very entertained.

After this amusing opening, we meet our main character Elliot, who has been trying for a promotion at his job but instead we see him get fired. Elliot has a special needs brother, Michael, a cranky dad who just got evicted and has to live with him, and a pregnant fiancee, Shelby. Just as the future seems pretty bleak, Elliott receives a mysterious phone call about an opportunity to compete on a game show for a fantastic cash prize. Whoever the mysterious man is on the phone knows all of Elliot's personal information, life history, and current debts.

Skeptical, Elliott plays along. The first challenge seems simple enough....

Challenge #1: Elliot has to swat a fly in his car. He does and gets $1,000 credited to his bank account.

Challenge #2: Eat aforementioned fly in order to pay off a $3,622 MasterCard debt. Success.

Elliot is now alerted that if he fails to complete a challenge, he will lose everything. However, if he completes 11 more challenges, he will claim a life-changing fortune. The game also ends if you tell anyone you are playing or attempt to interfere with the game.

Challenge #3: Make a child cry. Elliott tells a small girl at the park that her mommy doesn't love her and a man from an orphanage is coming to take her away.

Challenge #4: Elliott must steal a nativity scene from church and set it on fire. He does, but the fire also spreads to a set of curtains and the whole church starts to burn.

Challenge #5: Offer to trade a homeless man an ostrich and $1,000 for his clothes and shopping cart. Success. However, the homeless man is then taken to the police station and we see the little girl from before's mother filing a police report. Elliott is now on a Wanted poster.

Challenge #6: Take Mr. Shaw to a diner and get him a cup of coffee. Elliott follows directions to a dirty old apartment and here's where the film takes the turn from dark comedy to more gruesome and uncomfortable. You see, Mr. Shaw is found dead in his bathtub, yet Elliott still must complete the task, so he puts some clothes on him and wheels him down the street in a shopping cart and orders him some coffee in the diner as a large group of cops walk in and sit at the table behind him.

Challenge #7: Avoid arrest from aforementioned cops. Success because Elliott caught one of them slipping liquor into his coffee while on duty.

Challenge #8: Some time passes and Elliott comes across a bus parked in an alley with a creepy driver in a white mask and jester costume. Elliott must take a ride on the bus.

Challenge #9: Elliott gets dropped off at a motel and enters the room to see a bully he went to middle school with. The next challenge is to amputate this guy's arm below the elbow. Bloody, nasty, gruesome, weird.

Challenge #10: The next challenge is to wreck his rehearsal dinner, shatter some glasses, and urinate upon the centerpieces while singing the communist anthem. We are witness to the beginnings of Elliott's mental unraveling.

Challenge #11: Surrender and turn himself over to the security guards that witnessed the entire rehearsal dinner fiasco.

Around this time, we also learn that other people around town are playing the game as well, including Elliott's brother, Michael who gets in trouble for exposing himself to a girl on the basketball court. The cops start listing off various crimes that have been committed around town, none of which Elliott is responsible for.

Challenge #12: Elliott escapes from the cops and comes across an elderly woman hobbling down the street. Elliott's paranoia is sinking in and he thinks she is the next challenge. She is.  The woman asks him to hang up her clothesline to her trailer. He does and wins $1 million.  However, Elliott realizes too little too late that the clotheslines stretched all the way across the street and a group of bikers are fast approaching. Elliott panics and runs to pull the stake out of the ground that's connected to the clothesline just in time to save all of their lives. Dun, dun, dun, a shadowed figure walks out of the woods and puts the clothesline back up as the bikers turn around and start to come back down the street.

Elliott is too late to save them and they all, one by one, lose their heads, their scalps, some even cut in half. This scene was the most gruesome but also the most well-done in the movie. It actaully reminded me of the beginning of Ghost Ship if anyone remembers the opening sequence of that classic film, haha. At this point, Elliott has lost his mind and "quits the game" and flees the scene. It's not too long though before he realizes that Michael is his opponent, keeping him from winning the entire game and the final challenge is a doozy.

Challenge #13: Kill a family member. Now I'm not going to spoil for you what happens here at the end, but I'll just say it is intense and you won't be disappointed.

So from my plot summary, it may not seem that 13 Sins is an outright horror. Yes, there are comedic scenes. Yes, there are intense chase scenes. Yes, there are touching family moments. However, underlying all of this is the unsettling darkness of the human pysche and the lengths to which we may go at the promise of a better future, the end of our financial struggles, a day in the sun. 13 Sins has certain classic horror elements - the amputated arm, the biker beheading, the dead man in bathtub - which are scattered throughout the film at a decent pace and will leave your creepy appetite satiated. It is only when you start to delve underneath the outward gore and violence that you realize 13 Sins is a psychological horror escapade, our sympathetic hero forced to complete challenges against his will, only wanting to create a better future for his fiancee and unborn child.  Sadly, by the end of the film, the possibility of a better future is left extremely unclear.

Does Elliott win the game? Does Michael? Do they both die? Do they both survive? Who is the family member that must be killed? Does everyone live and the game isn't won by anyone? Are we left to celebrate the winning of a game for winning's sake or simply left feeling sad and uncomfortable at the depravity of human nature and our inherent greed?  I would definitely recommend giving 13 Sins a view. It is a healthy mix of humor and darkness combined with the thrill of a game and the internal anguish and conflict our leading man, Elliott, must face. We feel sorry for him as he cuts off someone's arm. How many people can you say that about?

So, about those student loans....


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Making Friends

The short film "Making Friends" was released in 2011 and won an award for the Best Thriller/Horror Movie at the 2011 Canton Film Festival.  "Making Friends" was featured at the Dragon*Con Independent Film Festival, the Horrorfind Film Festival, and the Canton Film Fest.  Directed by Marvin Suarez and written by Greg Bartlett, "Making Friends" is based on the short story by Gary Raisor.  I will copy and paste the short story below as it is relatively short.

"Jack-o’-lanterns smile their secretive, broken-mouthed smiles as they peer out from behind darkened windows. Eight-year-old Denny Grayson hurries down the sidewalk. He is barely able to contain his excitement. Tonight is Halloween.

A hint of chill hangs in the air and the tang of woodsmoke carries. It’s a good smell. The huge yellow moon tags along, floating over his shoulder like a balloon on a string. When he glances up, he sees the man in the moon smiling broadly. Beneath his green latex Frankenstein mask, he smiles back eagerly. He has waited with much anticipation for this night.

A small group of kids pelt by, anonymous in their costumes. Only the patter of their expensive new Adidas and NIKES link them, to an exclusive club; one to which Denny will never belong. He watches enviously as they pound on the door. “Trick or treat,” they demand in high, childish voices. He turns and scurries to the next house.

A quick stab of the doorbell brings a smiling, silver-haired, woman to the door. “My, aren’t you scary looking?” she laughs merrily. “Are you going to say trick or treat? What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?”

Denny shakes his head and asks, “Ccould I hhaff a ddink of, wwatah, ppleese?” Her smile wavers and she blushes as understanding comes. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Of course you can.”

When she goes to the kitchen, Denny reaches into the candy dish sitting so invitingly by the door. He barely retracts his hand before the woman returns with a glass of water. Turning his back, he lifts the mask and takes a short sip. “Ttankk yyoou,” he mumbles thickly, holding out his plastic sack. The woman drops in extra candy. After every house on the block has been visited, he climbs on his bike and heads for home, racing the moon from streetlight to streetlight watching the shadows wheel and dart before him.

Pedaling furiously, he soon reaches the section of town where the houses aren’t so nice. He weaves the familiar route up the rutted street until the small, rundown house comes into view.

Quietly letting himself in, he tiptoes past his mom who is fast asleep on the couch. As usual, the reek of soured whiskey follows him across the creaky floor.

He barely has time to stuff the mask and candy under the bed before he hears Mom’s heavy tread. She enters the room and drunkenly embraces him. “Oh, Denny, I’m so glad you’re home. Momma just had the most awful dream. It was full of blood, and children were screaming and screaming. . .”

Denny pulls away from her and throws himself onto the rickety bed. She stares at him in helpless misery. “I dreamed you went trick or treating again,” she blubbers wetly, and Denny knows she’s going to talk about it. “I’m so sorry, baby. I know I let you down. If only I’d checked the candy. Who’d have ever thought someone would be sick enough to put razor blades in a child’s-”

Denny turns to the wall and stonily ignores her. Stiffly, she reaches a fluttering moist palm toward him that stops short. “I know the kids at school make fun of your problem. But I talked to Dr. Palmer again yesterday, and he says he might be able to help.”

“Hhee ccan’tt hhellp.”

The silence becomes a thick wall between them. For the first time, she notices he is wearing a jacket. Alarm sifts through the alcoholic haze to finally settle on her face. “Where were you tonight, Denny? You didn’t go trick or treating, did you?” She yanks him around, trying hard not to wince as the horribly disfigured mouth smiles crookedly at her.

“Nooo, I wass mmakin’ ssome neww ffriendss,” he utters cheerfully, jumping from the bed and crossing over to the window. He jams both hands into his jacket pockets. His fingers touch a small lump nestled within-it’s a candy bar. For a second, he’d almost forgotten he’d placed one in the candy dishes of all the homes he visited tonight.

As he thinks about the kids who make fun of the way he talks, his fingers curl tightly. A sharp flash of pain causes his hand to fill with sticky red wetness. After tonight, he’ll have lots of friends to talk to. He stares into the night and smiles a terrible, secret smile. The man in the moon is smiling too; only, this time, a river of blood is gushing from his mouth."

Copyright: Gary Raisor.

So am I the only one both disturbed and slightly heartbroken by this short film?  We've all heard the horror stories of "Razorblades in the Halloween candy!!!!111!11 Beware!!!111" but "Making Friends" took it to a whole new level.  You have no choice but to feel sorry for the little maniacal Denny Grayson.  He's young, he's vulnerable, and he's never fit in.  All he wants is some friends, right?  He doesn't understand the ramifications of disfiguring all of the neighborhood kids, making them bleed from the mouth and shriek in terror.  Or does he...?

My only complaint is I feel they could've done way more with Denny's makeup.  They could've made his scar look super gruesome and mangled or even not as gory but still better than what it was which basically looked like some silly putty painted pink.  They don't really explain the stutter either.  I know a stutter can be a result of emotional or physical trauma, but did Denny always have a stutter?  Is it genetic?  Was it brought on by the attack? I do especially love Mom's creepy horrified smirk at the end.  I personally am looking forward to the day when I have children and can impose the standard parental candy tax.  I'll be happy to check for razorblades as I chow down on Kit-Kats and Butterfingers.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Tiny Mummies - Part Two!

As a follow-up to my original post on Aleshenka located here, I bring you today the stories of two more small alienesque mummified creatures: Pedro the Mummy and the Atacama skeleton.

Meet Pedro.

Located in the Rocky Mountains, the Nimerigar are a race of little people characterized as aggressive, who liked to shoot poisoned arrows from tiny bows.  In October of 1932, while digging for gold in the San Pedro mountains of Wyoming, Cecil Mayne and Frank Carr came across a small room in which they found the mummy of a tiny person.  There was instant skepticism surrounding the mummy but x-rays were performed 18 years later in 1950 and it was discovered that there was a fully formed man-like skeleton inside.

Pedro was 14 inches tall, sitting with crossed arms and legs.  His cranium was flat and his eyes bulged and you could even see little fingernails on his fingers.  The x-rays on Pedro provided further enlightenment - several of his bones were broken including his spine, collarbone, and skull.  He also had some congealed blood at the top of his skull, insinuating a violent death.  Pedro was examined by Dr. Henry Shapiro, a biological anthropologist from the American Museum of Natural History, where it was determined that the man was approximately 65 years old at the time of his death.

Plot twist: There was a second mummy found, a female, in roughly the same area where Pedro was discovered.  This mummy was brought to Dr. George Gill for examination.  She was only four inches high and it was determined that she was a prematurely born baby or a child with anencephaly.  Dr. Gill also believed Pedro was an infant rather than an adult and that both mummies were a result of malnutrition of babies born to a tribe still adapting to the harsh conditions of the area. 

To give some more background on the Nimerigar, they lived in the San Pedro Mountains and fought constantly with the average sized humans in the area.  Apparently, when one of their own became sick or old, they were killed by their own people with a blow to the head.  The Nimerigar were believed to be bad luck to anyone who found them and are referred to as "tiny people eaters."  Many considered this all folklore and urban legend until Pedro was discovered.

Sadly, Pedro the Mummy's story ends in his disappearance.  He was purchased by Ivan T. Goodman for several thousand dollars after being shown as an attraction in a local drug store for several years.  Goodman died in 1950 and Pedro was passed on to Leonard Wadler.  Wadler died in the 1980s and Pedro has not been seen since.


Meet Ata.

Ata was discvoered in 2003 in a deserted Chilean town in the Atacama Desert by Oscar Munoz near an abandoned church.  Munoz sold Ata to a local pub owner for the equivalent of $51.00 USD who later sold Ata to his/her current owner, Ramon Navia-Osorio.  Ata is only six inches long, with an irregularly shaped skull and two missing ribs.  It is also believed that Ata is a prematurely born fetus suffering from oxycephaly or a combination of genetic disorders.  Immunologist Garry Nolan speculated that Ata suffered from dwarfism but no genes for dwarfism were found during genetic analysis.  Of course, conspiracy theorists/ufologists have labeled Ata an alien but this speciulation is inconsistent with the human genetic material gathered during evaluation.  The film Sirius is a 2013 documentary directed by Amardeep Kaleka based upon the book Hidden Truth, Forbidden Knowledge by Steven M. Greer.  Sirius features interviews from former government officials as well as images and a DNA analysis of Ata.

I guess my overall feeling about Aleshenka, Pedro, Ata, and likely the many other little mummy aliens out there is creeped out but also quite fascinated.  More than anything, stories like these lead me to realize how easy it is to stumble across a little creature like this, near a church, in a cemetary, while gold digging in the mountains (okay, so that one's not quite as plausible.)  What would I do if I stumbled across one of these creatures?  Scream and run away?  Put it in a box and poke holes in the top?  Nudge it with a stick?  (Does this seem insensitive?)  I mean, what would you do?  Regardless, I can't say what my response would be if I ran across my own version of Aleshenka/Pedro/Ata, but best believe if I did find one, I wouldn't sell it to a pub owner for $51.00.


Source 1
Source 2

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

ORLAN - Carnal Art

There's this extremely tired cliche in horror about killers that goes: "Blood is his paint, and flesh his canvas!  He is an artist of the body!"  That said, let me introduce you to a woman who ACTUALLY IS ONE.

Born Mireille Suzanne Francette Porte, she now goes by ORLAN.  A artist since her teens in the '60s, she is known for challenging societal conceptions of femininity in her work.  Melding media such as video broadcasting and photography with her performances, she is best known for pushing boundaries in the most gruesome, glorious ways using her own body.

While the rest of her work informs the following, in this article, I'm going to focus in on her project "The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan."  In 1990, ORLAN began a series of plastic surgeries to reconfigure her face.  She chose features from famous paintings and sculptures, informed by classical Western standards of beauty.  Surgeons gave her the chin of Boticelli's Venus, and lips like Francois Boucher's Europa. They gave her Mona Lisa's forehead.  Critics frequently reduce her art to a shock-tactic meant to garner attention for herself, or a striving to become a "beauty".  Instead, in her own words, Orlan chose these features because she was compelled by the stories of the women depicted.

However, ORLAN didn't just order the surgeries and reveal herself after years of transformation.  Rather, the surgeries themselves became her performances.  She dressed herself in flamboyant, ritualistic costumes and insisted that cameras captured all the stomach-churning realities of the operating room.  She wanted to convey everything about the process of the surgery, not merely its result.

In her Carnal Art Manifesto, a text released in tandem with the project, she exclaims "I can observe my own body cut open without suffering!... I can see myself all the way down to my viscera, a new stage of gaze."  Later, "Carnal Art transforms the body into language, reversing the biblical idea of the word made flesh; the flesh is made word."  (See footnotes for a link to the full text).

Now, this might all seem very artistic and diffuse and not very creepy at all.  Well, allow me to present for your edification: Orlan - Carnal Art.  This 2001 feature-length documentary IS BRUTAL.

TRIGGER WARNING: Unedited surgical procedures, so much blood, scalpels, needles, lots of full-frontal nudity, sacrilege, and extreme Frenchness.

Seriously, though, if you have a problem seeing blood, you need to lay down before you watch this thing.  I don't have issues with blood and gore, and yet, ORLAN's art was very effective on me (i.e. it was extremely hard to watch without squirming).

The best or worst thing about how this documentary is run is that in the process of conveying the artistic message of ORLAN, its rendering is a bit... intense.  Watching it, my rational mind kept nodding, saying "Yes, I understand art is going on." while the rest of me screamed "IS THE SCARY MUSIC REALLY SO NECESSARY?!  OH, GOD, WHY AREN'T YOU CUTTING AWAY WHEN THE THING GOES IN HER CHIN?  WHAT IS THIS?"

But, make no mistake- just because ORLAN revels in the grotesqueries of surgery, and criticizes the manner in which it's often used by women, doesn't mean she doesn't support it.  If anything, her work reinforces how plastic surgery can be an immensely powerful tool for self-realization.  She refuses to be held back by the conventions of society which still revere the body as sacred, and reforms her flesh as she sees fit in a radical act of determination.  She chooses features that have previously been determined by others and makes them her own in the most intimate of ways.  Which, I have to say, I really respect.

And just to take it a step further, ORLAN also kept relics of her experiences in the operating room, including the doctors' used surgical gloves and chunks of her own flesh.  She used them to make more art.

In conclusion, I'd like to point out that artists like ORLAN can have a lot to say with regard to the horror genre.  ORLAN is not working within horror as a genre, but rather high-brow, body-performance art.  In her performances, where her face is literally cut open, she makes statements about intimacy, identity, life, death, fear, agency, beauty, sacredness, meaning, and art itself.  As a result, work like this really highlights how shallow splatter can be.  I appreciate the technical expertise of making gore "look good" on film, but 95% of the time all that fake blood and silicone doesn't even have anything to say outside of "Look, we're made of meat!  Are you scared yet?  Be spooped!"  After watching something as fascinating and harrowing as Carnal Art, it's even harder for me to be interested in the paltry, flailings of slasher movies and torture pron.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Folktale Files: Rokurokubi

Rokurokubi by PEJIE on Deviantart

For centuries, tales of strange women have circulated throughout Japan.  They are the Rokurokubi.  It's said that at night, the heads of these perfectly normal-looking women will snake out on impossibly elongated necks or detach entirely, then stalk the night in search of blood and death.  A man who marries a rokurokubi can expect only misery and despair.

There are actually two kinds of rokurokubi (and depending on what you're reading or who you're talking to, they might be described as different spirits entirely).  There are the nukekubi, whose heads are completely detached when active.  And then there are those with "necks that extend".  These have no extra name, and are simply called rokurokubi.

The Nukekubi

The nukekubi were actually the original type of rokurokubi.  The head of the nukekubi is said to come off at night and fly through the air in search of victims.  They attack people, or sneak upon them in their sleep to drink their blood.

A nukekubi could be killed, however, if one was to locate the body and move it.  The head, missing its body and lost, would never be able to reattach.  Some stories say that at dawn, the monstrous head would be destroyed.

There are other stories that circulate around the nukekubi.  Some say that the nukekubi phenomenon is simply a metaphor for somnambulism (sleep-walking).  There are a number of stories which paint the nukekubi as less-than-terrifying, wherein the head is found wandering around at night by a lone man along the road.  The man draws his sword, and chases the head all the way home.  Inside, the nukekubi wakes up, exclaiming that she had a nightmare about being chased by a man with a sword.

Different renditions present the nukekubi as a modified form of astral projection (so to speak).  In other words, the spirit of the woman leaves her body.  When the spirit does this, it happens to take the form of her head during its ghostly jaunts.  The woman's actual head stays attached to her, but her spirit head floats free in the night.

An essay by Matsura Seizan in "Kasshi Yawa" tells my favorite nukekubi story.  (By the way, if this has somehow been made into a horror movie, even just a short, SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME.)  Once upon a time, the story goes, in Hitachi province, a woman fell ill with a dire, incurable sickness.  A travelling peddler told her husband that eating "the liver of a white dog" would heal her.  So, husband goes home and kills the family dog.  The woman eats the liver, and is cured.  But the girl she gives birth to soon after is born a nukekubi.  Later, when the head of the girl is flying around, the white dog reappears, bites the head, and they both disappear.  The end.

A final detail I particularly enjoy about the nukekubi is how one can identify the monster.  It's said that upon waking, a person can see a thin line encircling a nukekubi's neck where the head detaches.  I love this because it reminds me of one of my first favorite ghost stories: The Red Ribbon.

The Rokurokubi

Possibly a deleted still from 100 Monsters
In the Edo period (between 1603 and 1868), tales of the long-neck Rokurokubi began to surface.  The necks of these rokurokubi are often depicted in art of the era as extremely thin, sometimes drawn as a barely discernible line.  Later renditions leave the neck as a consistently long, infinitely extendable organ.  It seems that rokurokubi can elongate their necks at will, and not simply during unconsciousness.  As a result, the stories rationalizing the rokurokubi are distinct from those surrounding the nukekubi.

In another story from the "Kasshi Yawa", a teacher checks on his female student one night and sees a column of steam rising from her chest.  As he continues to look, her head disappears, and is replaced with an image of an extremely long neck rising into the air.  However, when the student turns over in bed, her neck returns to normal.  The teacher dismissed her the next morning.  This story gave rise to the notion that the rokurokubi's neck was an ectoplasmic manifestation of the soul as it leaves the body.  

Elsewhere, the rokurokubi is closely tied to karma.  Like the story of the nukekubi and the white dog, rokurokubi are said to be born as the result of karma destined to punish their parents for past crimes.  

Other stories say that the rokurokubi are simply women afflicted by a particular medical condition.  The cause or mechanism for this condition is not known, but is not believed to be a spiritual phenomenon.  Later, in side shows and magic acts, individuals with slightly longer necks than usual would be displayed to the public (or life-like dolls would be used to simulate the stretched-neck effect).      

The final explanation for the rokurokubi is that they are snakes which have shape-shifted into human form.  Not to be confused with the amphibious yokai known as the Nure-onna.  Nure-onna have snake bodies with female heads and dwell by bodies of water and are completely different.  Japan has a lot of monsters...  

In conclusion, the rokurokubi is a wonderful introduction to the broad and diverse world of Japanese spirits.  They can be creepy or silly, depending on the context, but always weird.

If you'd like more of a yokai fix, I recommend 100 Monsters (if you can manage to find it).  It's a movie that has a few very effective moments of atmospheric horror but is mostly goofy-ass ridiculousness with puppets.  Check out the trailer below.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Evidence - Movie Review

Dir. Olatunde Osunsanmi

I didn't want to do it, guys.  I know how many people out there hate spoilers and I tend to spoil movies in my reviews more often than not BUT I usually try to withhold from spoilers with twist endings and surprise killers in movies.  However, the twist ending in this movie is its ONLY SAVING GRACE.  So I kind of have to do it in order to give a complete review, but if you don't want to know who the killer is, just, um, don't read the last couple paragraphs? (Sowwy.)

That aside, Evidence started out great.  For about all of three minutes.  Our movie begins in 2012 in Kidwell, Nevada with a wide angle shot on a crime scene.  Fire ablaze, cops and coroners in mid-motion, everything and everyone frozen in time as the camera pans and zooms with ease on a disembodied arm, an incinerated body, a flipped shuttle bus, and a video camera being confiscated as evidence.  Everything is in bright vivid overly-contrasted colors with intense music playing and it is awesome.

Then we have about an hour and twenty-five minutes of crap.  Detectives Reese and Burquez are on task to review the video evidence recovered from the crime scene, on which we meet Leann, an aspiring actress, Rachel a documentary filmmaker, and Tyler, Leann's emo boyfriend who proposes to her at the beginning of the movie and gets hit with a,"No, I can't."  Ouch, it burns.  Even after the cold rejection, Tyler, Leann, and Rachel set off on a shuttle bus for a Vegas vacation they had been planning.  Their fellow passengers are Vicki, a dancer from Russia, Stephen a teenage magician, and a strange redhead middle-aged woman carrying a duffle bag full of cash.

All of this footage, by the way, is shot through Rachel's handheld camera with her as the narrator and she is annoying as balls and she never gets any less annoying throughout the movie.  She is snarky and conceited and snippy and none of it in a charming way.  Anyway, Ben, the shuttle driver ends up taking them down a back road as a shortcut to get through to Vegas when all of a sudden the bus runs over some barbed wire and flips.  Everyone is alive but shaken up and head out to the nearest abandoned dusty town full of vehicles and sheds to search for a phone.

Shut up, Rachel.
One by one, our characters drop like flies.  There is a healthy amount of tension builds, jump scares, and creepy, dark, abandoned building exploration throughout the film.  We are led to believe that our killer (who by the way is wearing a welding helmet and apron and wielding a torch) is supposed to be Gerald, a PTSD-suffering retired army sergeant married to Trina, aforementioned crazy redhead on the bus.  Gerald spent a fair amount of time in a mental institution and 90 grand was cleared out of his account two days prior.  We see Stephen, Vicki, and Ben lose their lives (allegedly) by way of stabbing, burning, and various other means of generic horror flick death. 

At this point, I'm getting a little frustrated because every time there's an intense scene and the camera falls out of someone's hands, the action taking place lands perfectly in-frame.  I sigh and yell, "C'mon, found footage film, be original!  Be realistic!  Have the camera film a wall for five minutes while someone gets flambeed in the background!"  As the film progresses, we learn that Gerald is dead and wanted Trina to take all his money and go to Vegas, but oops, Trina gets her throat slit by Mr. Welder Man.  There's also one part of the film where Mr. Welder writes "Fear Me As You Fear God" on a bathroom mirror in blood and then takes cellphone selfie footage of himself in the mirror and I cackle at the absurdity.

Gotta get my best angle.

So now our detectives realize that this whole thing was planned by the killer and that he is smart and meticulous and purposely wants them to see this footage.  Then they start to think, "Why did Ben take them down this back road on a nonstop trip to Vegas and how did he know there would conveniently be this rest stop nearby?"  Ben, the bus driver, becomes our prime suspect.  Eventually Mr. Welder attacks Rachel and sets her on fire and then the whole building blows up.  Just as the welder is taking off his mask, the footage freezes and this is the last file on the camera.  OR IS IT?  Suddely the detectives learn that all of this video footage has been leaked on the news as a snuff film after their server has been hacked.  Leann, after being brought into the police station for questioning, reveals that before Stephen died, he was choking on something.  Something like an SD card.


On this secret footage, we find out that Tyler, the emo boyfriend, killed Stephen for spying on him and Leann arguing.  Tyler is the killer!!  But wait, the detectives realize that the time codes on the footage aren't breaking with the film glitches - they're not glitches, they're EDITS.  It is revealed that Leann is the other killer and Rachel is still alive.  Yep, they were all in this together, they planned this, they finally made their masterpiece movie with miss aspiring actress Leann as the star damsel in distress.  The movie then gives us a quick flashback of all the footage that wasn't seen in the previous hour and a half, showing how they committed all the murders, all the quick costume changes into the welder gear, etcetera etcetera.  My jaw drops and I chuckle to myself because after suffering through an hour and a half of stupidity, this twist is executed quite well and now I'm sitting here wondering if I actually liked this movie afterall.

Does anyone else experience this like I do?  You sit through a movie being bored, disappointed, unimpressed, but then something so badass happens at the end, you're like "Well, crap, now I like it" but you don't want like it?  Ah, so conflicting!!  I totally appreciate the typical bait and switch setup of Ben supposedly being the killer and then I started to figure Leann might be the killer or even Tyler but I didn't put together that it was all three of them and that they had meticulously planned this from weeks before.  And then I go, "A-ha, there's actually a reason why every time the camera was dropped, they landed precisely in frame!!"  They got their footage on all the major media outlets, they're famous, mission accomplished.

However, one question remains, why did Ben take them down that back road if it was supposed to be a nonstop trip to Vegas?  Dun, dun, dun...