The Andy Baker Tape, Horror in the High Desert 2, and Tahoe Joe

The Andy Baker Tape2021, US, 70m. Director: Bret Lada.

Horror in the High Desert 2: Minerva2023, US, 74m. Director: Dutch Marich.

Tahoe Joe2022, US, 88m. Director: Dillon Brown, Michael Rock.

THE ANDY BAKER TAPE (2021) Suave video blogger Jeff Blake (Bret Lada) sets out on a road trip with Andy (Dustin Fontaine), his wrong-side-of-the-tracks half-brother. Thinking it would make a great bonding experience—while at the same time creating content for his YouTube channel—Jeff records their adventure while sampling different foods around the Jersey Shore. Andy’s personality clashes with Jeff’s strict on-camera tactics, creating an air of tension between the two brothers. Their relationship crescendos when Andy decides to make his own home movies and reveals to Jeff what really happened to their deceased father. A well-produced, nicely acted, but ultimately predictable and disappointing found footage chiller that doesn’t go far enough. C (Currently streaming on Tubi.)

HORROR IN THE HIGH DESERT 2: MINERVA (2023) A series of bizarre disappearances and deaths within a small Nevada town is seemingly connected to the unsolved vanishing of explorer Gary Hinge a year earlier, documented in the first Horror in the High Desert (2021). Focusing their attention on circumstances surrounding the demise of geology student Minerva Sound (Solveig Helene), a film crew looks into the young woman’s last days, while staying in a remote trailer in the middle of some desert wilderness known as Cypress. Much like the first film, Horror in the High Desert 2 is structured as a faux-documentary and interweaves interviews with footage shot by neighbors, search-and-rescue teams, dash cams, and content from Minerva’s phone. There’s a videocassette found within the wall paneling of Minerva’s trailer that features some impressively unnerving footage reminiscent of the movie reels found by Ethan Hawke in Sinister. Details—such as that video tape and the climactic body cam footage of a volunteer fireman searching for a missing mother in a ramshackle house—give the movie an overwhelmingly creepy aesthetic lacking in many other found footage titles. Horror in the High Desert 2 can’t distinguish itself enough to truly separate it from the bulk of similar-themed POV vehicles, but an ending leaving the door open for Horror in the High Desert 3: Oscar should tickle fans. B(Currently streaming on Tubi.)

TAHOE JOE (2022) A former Green Beret (Michael Rock) is hired to search the last known whereabouts of a missing person in the wilderness of Lake Tahoe. When it becomes known that the missing individual was searching for a Bigfoot-like figure known as Tahoe Joe, Rock is joined by skeptical filmmaker Dillon Brown to capture possible evidence of the mythical creature. The set-up of Tahoe Joe sounds like the majority of POV horror titles released in the wake of The Blair Witch Project, although many found footage fans will link this to 2013’s Willow Creek, which successfully immersed the viewer in its claustrophobic, woodsy environment. Tahoe Joe makes the mistake of spending too much time out of the woods and focusing on details that should really only have taken a few minutes of plot exposition. The movie saves face by delivering likable characters in a suspenseful final fifteen minutes. C+ (Currently streaming on Tubi.)

Found Footage: Char Man, Home Movie, and The Pyramid

Char Man – 2019, US, 85m. Director: Kurt Ela, Kip Tribble. Streaming: Tubi

Home Movie – 2008, US, 77m. Director: Christopher Denham. Streaming: Tubi

The Pyramid – 2014, Morocco/US, 88m. Director: Grégory Levasseur. Streaming: Max

CHAR MAN (2019) Looking to make a splash in the world of low-budget documentaries, three friends and wannabe filmmakers venture into the wilds of Southern California to film a semi-serious documentary on an urban legend about the so-called Ojai Vampire. The trio’s obviously amateurish skill level takes its toll when none of the men can seem to form a coherent idea about what exactly the movie should focus on. That is until they interview an Ojai historian (Jeff Kober) who informs them of an even better local legend: the Char Man, a sinister name given to a resident who decades earlier murdered his father and was savagely burned in a wildfire. The legend is if you call out for help when you’re in the Char Man’s woods, he’ll come for you. Despite this being the umpteenth movie dealing with a very similar story of woodsy supernatural vengeance, Char Man works (for the most part) thanks to likable characters and a sense of humor. The film’s unsettling aspects largely play out in the mythology surrounding the legend, but the movie as a whole is never truly scary. Still, this is a harmless bit of low-fi, found footage fun for hardcore fans. B

HOME MOVIE (2008) The lives of the parents of a pair of mischievous twins begins to come undone when the siblings dial their inappropriate behavior up a notch. The boy, Jack (Austin Williams), throws dinner plates around, while his sister, Emily (Amber Joy Williams), kills a frog in a vice. None of this is particularly interesting, or surprising, to the viewer since the two children are presented as oddballs the second the film opens. The father (Adrian Pasdar), a minster, is too busy practicing his sermons on-camera—and generally acting like a buffoon—to notice the children’s behavior, while the mother (Cady McClain), despite being a child psychologist, doesn’t seem bothered at all by her kids’ unnatural personalities. I’m not sure if this is the result of lazy writing on the filmmaker’s part, or an intentionally bad character trait. Either way, by the halfway point you won’t really care as Home Movie is utterly predictable and descends into every cliche torn from the found footage handbook. Contrived and about as scary as watching your Aunt Edna’s home movies. D

THE PYRAMID (2014) American archeologists stumble upon a buried, unexplored pyramid in the middle of the Egyptian desert. A father-daughter team of explorers are desperate to uncover an entrance into the underground monument, despite the fact the land is being engulfed in Arab Spring-like protests. They’re repeatedly told by their colleagues of impending danger—a warning confirmed when a poor Arabian porter is met with a blast of toxic gas released from the dig site and his face becomes hideously scarred—but the show must go on. Archeologist Dad (Denis O’Hare) and Daughter (Ashley Hinshaw) get their nervous team to journey to the center of the pyramid, where they’re immediately embroiled in bad air, falling debris, and eventually become a food source for some sort of ancient Bastet creature. All of this is flatly presented with no suspense or surprises, giving the viewer very little reason to care about what happens. The execution of the story can only be described as lazy as the filmmakers present a POV/found-footage setup at the beginning of the film but drop it whenever it’s convenient to the writing. The end credits are the only positive thing The Pyramid can offer its audience. F

Why “Bog” is the Best Worst Movie You’ve Never Seen

1979’s BOG is the type of movie Ed Wood would have made in the ’50s: a cheerfully inept little monster flick that’s so bad it’s heartwarmingly charming.

While on a fishing excursion in the woods of rural Wisconsin, friends Chuck (Rojay North) and Allan (Glen Voros), and their extremely unhappy wives, Kim (Lou Hunt) and May (Carol Tanner), are attacked by an unseen creature that emerges from the lake. When Kim and May disappear and are later found completely drained of blood, the local police are baffled by the mysterious crime and call in scientists, Ginny Glenn (Gloria DeHaven) and John Warren (Leo Gordon), to help.

While Ginny and John look into microscopes and hypothesize ideas – and have an awesomely corny and adorable romance on the side – Chuck and Allan take matters into their own, gun-toting hands and go back to the lake to find what killed their wives. In doing so they run into Wallace Fry (Robert Fry), a fedora and overalls-wearing hillbilly (a precursor to Crazy Ralph, perhaps?) who takes Chuck and Allan to see an old hermit named Adrianna (also DeHaven).

Adrianna informs them an ancient fish-monster has been asleep for millennia at the bottom of the lake, and now it’s awakened from fishing dynamite and needs human blood to survive. Chuck and Allan tell the authorities, who seem to have a hard time finding the creature, despite the fact it makes more noise than King Kong on steroids. But, wait – there are also eggs found at the bottom of the lake by a couple of scuba divers, who’re eventually killed and the eggs brought back to Ginny’s lab (which suspiciously looks like a high school science classroom).

I first learned about Bog back in the early ’90s when I saw a VHS of it in the $1 bin at my local video store. I was immediately mesmerized by the colorful if awkward art, and upon watching it was swept up in its amazing awfulness. But like most good bad movies, Bog has a charm to spare. The actors, mostly professionals from way back when, give it their all, especially former MGM star DeHaven, who, considering the material she’s working with, is quite good as both Ginny and Adrianna – Adrianna’s old age make-up looks like it was done with a kit bought at a drug store Halloween sale.

As for the monster itself, well… If you took a large papier-maché fish head and attached it to a lizard costume, you’ll get the picture. But, as I mentioned earlier, the movie’s dime-store aesthetics are what make it so delightful, but so does the cast, with Ann B. Davis lookalike, Tanner, a hoot as cranky May.

Best line: “Do we have a Dracula running around out there?”

Back to the woods it is for the 2014 Bigfoot chiller, EXISTS. Directed by Blair Witch Project‘s Eduardo Sanchez, Exists follows a group of twenty-something friends as they venture into the forest to spend the weekend at a – drumroll, please! – cabin.

Brothers Matt (Samuel Davis) and Brian (Chris Osborn) invite several of their friends to their uncle’s house in the Texas country for the weekend. Upon arriving, Matt hits something with his car; later they hear what sounds like animalistic cries of pain in the woods. Thinking they hit a deer, the gang continue to the house, but stoner Brian, remembering stories his uncle told them as a kid, believes it could be Bigfoot. He quickly sets up GoPro cameras around the property, hoping to capture footage of the beast.

After a night of partying, Matt and friends start to believe Brian’s Bigfoot theory when the house is attacked by a large creature walking on two legs. The group makes a hasty exit the next morning, only to find Matt’s car trashed, with a tree trunk sticking out the windshield. They all decide to fortify the house and wait for the arrive of Matt’s and Brian’s uncle.

Unable to wait, Matt rides his bike to seek help, only to come face-to-face with the massive beast who, in the film’s best scene, pursues Matt in an intense, high-speed chase reminiscent of the water skier chase sequence from Jaws 2. With no help coming, it isn’t long until the helpless group realizes it’s a fight to the death between them and the monster.

In terms of found footage monster movies, Exists isn’t one of the best, but it’s most certainly not one of the worst. While it lacks the grueling horror of Blair Witch Project (and the nail-biting suspense of Willow Creek), Exists is more of a jump-scare funhouse movie and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than that. The film delivers several fun scenes and uses the monster wisely, but keeps it in the shadows and hidden behind the shrubbery in the woods. Sanchez keeps the pace moving fast, which helps with the absence of suspense and the annoyance of its dumb, one-dimensional characters. But, as FF flicks go, Exists is a decent entry in the canon and worth a look for fans.

Concluding this week’s “Creatures in the Woods” theme is the 1979 environmental monster romp, PROPHECY. When all the members of a search-and-rescue team are brutally murdered by a mysterious beast in the wilds of Maine, lumber mill director, Bethel Isely (Richard Dysart), blames a local tribe of Native Americans for the deaths of both the searchers and for a group of missing mill employees. Unsure of how to solve a land dispute between the mill and Native Americans, the Environmental Protection Agency sends Dr. Rob Verne (Robert Foxworth), along with his wife, Maggie (Talia Shire), to Maine to write up a report on the situation.

While researching the area, Rob discovers abnormal wildlife, including oversized salmon and violently aggressive raccoons, one of which attacks Rob and Maggie in their cabin. Later on, Rob is approached by John Hawks (Armand Assante), a Native American who informs Rob that the lumber mill is poisoning the surrounding environment with pollution.

Meanwhile, on a nearby camping excursion, a father and his two children are torn to pieces by a large, mutated, blood-and-pus-dripping bear, the same animal that killed the rescuers earlier. Isely accusing Hawks and his men of the new crimes, but when Rob and Maggie find a deformed and dying bear cub in a fishing net, Rob uses the cub as evidence of Hawk’s innocence. That is until Mama Bear comes looking for her child.

An unfairly criticized film, Prophecy is a solid creature feature with some terrific scenes, including the shocking death of a boy smashed against a rock while helplessly caught inside his sleeping bag. The screenplay (by The Omen‘s David Seltzer) gets too wrapped up in its pollution-as-monster metaphor, especially during the first hour, but director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) makes up for it with brisk direction, a good use of widescreen framing (soaking in the beautiful British Columbia landscapes used as the backdrop for Maine), and an exciting last 30 minutes. A tighter script and this could have been a cult classic. | Bog: AProphecy: B Exists: B

SCI-FI/FANTASY MONTH: Altered States, Blade, Lord of Illusions, and The McPherson Tape

ALTERED STATES (1980) d: Ken Russell. c: William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban, Charles Haid. A brilliant scientist (Hurt), obsessed with accessing the brain’s unexplored subconscious, experiments with hallucinogens and taps into a metaphysical reality, eventually physically devolving back to early man and other primordial states. If you can ignore the fundamentally silly story idea you might be able to enjoy this visually arresting adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s novel, which can read as a variant of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There’s a bit too much uninteresting scientific jibber-jabber and most of the characters are cold and unsympathetic, but Dick Smith’s still-impressive makeup FX are first-rate and there’s no denying Russell’s direction is often exciting. A rushed happy ending slightly stains an otherwise good film. B

BLADE (1998) d: Stephen Norrington. c: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, N’Bushe Wright, Donal Logue, Udo Kier. Before 2000’s X-Men blew open the comic book movie floodgates, there came this solid adaptation of the supernatural Marvel character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan: Blade (Snipes), a half-vampire, half-mortal man who uses his physiology to become the perfect vampire hunter. Blade must stop a rogue vampire (Dorff) and his army of followers when they try to fulfill a prophecy that will bring an end to all humans in the form of an all-powerful vampire being. Snipes is well cast as the titular anti-superhero and he and Kristofferson, as Blade’s father figure, play well off each other. The pacing could be tighter (the movie feels too long), but this is harmless popcorn fun best enjoyed with your brain turned off. B

LORD OF ILLUSIONS (1995) d: Clive Barker. c: Scott Bakula, Famke Janssen, Kevin J. O’Conner, Daniel Von Bargen, J. Trevor Edmond, Joseph Latimore. A vastly underrated supernatural noir from Barker, based on his short story about guilt-ridden P.I. D’Amour (Bakula), who gets involved in the accidental death of famous illusionist, Swann (O’Conner). D’Amour eventually discovers Swann and his wife (Janssen) are surviving victims of a murderous cult leader known as Nix (Von Bargen), who apparently held otherworldly powers and can rise from the dead. Visually impressive, this is perhaps Barker’s best work on a technical level, with some imaginative set pieces and good use of digital FX that don’t drown the story but help move it along. The characters are complex and interesting, and the acting is good, especially O’Conner as the troubled, and magically gifted, illusionist. Ignored upon its initial release, this deserves another look. B+

THE McPHERSON TAPE (1989) d: Dean Alioto. c: Tommy Giavocchini, Patrick Kelley, Shirly McCalla, Stacey Shulman, Christine Staples. Predating The Blair Witch Project by ten years, this micro-budget yarn chronicles a small family gathering interrupted by the sudden arrival of a UFO, all captured with a VHS camcorder. A clever concept and a realistic setting helps sustain interest for most of the story, but a lot of the time is spent on the family running around and screaming at each other. There’s also too much time wasted on characters questioning the relevance of the videocamera – something found footage would later wisely skate around – and a lot of the action happens in the dark, making it difficult to see what’s going on. Inventive on many levels, lackluster on others. C+

REVIEWS: Gags the Clown, Jade, The Most Dangerous Game, and Repossessed

GAGS THE CLOWN (2018) d: Adam Krause. c: Lauren Ashley Carter, Aaron Christensen, Evan Gamble, Tracy Perez. A horror-comedy that’s neither scary nor funny, this desperately wants to be both a parody of fake news and the found footage subgenre but comes off as nothing more than an amateurish and stale wannabe for the attention-needy YouTube generation. A small town becomes the newest social media hotspot thanks to repeated sightings of a sinister clown and his mysterious intentions. Insufferable characters, bad acting, and disjointed storytelling make this a chore to sit through, even for the hardcore FF fan. F

JADE (1995) d: William Friedkin. c: David Caruso, Linda Fiorentino, Chazz Palminteri, Richard Crenna, Michael Biehn, Donna Murphy. Entertaining but empty entry in the ’90s erotic thriller sweepstakes about the murder of a high-profile millionaire, the prime suspect being his much younger psychologist lover (Fiorentino) who just happens to have a rocky romantic past with the lead detective on the case (Caruso). Essentially just rehashing the flashy elements that made Basic Instinct work, this is well directed by Friedkin and has a couple of good twists, but lacks the substance and, most importantly, the suspense – not to mention any “must see” moments – of its predecessor. C+

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) d: Ernest B. Schoedsack. c: Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks, Robert Armstrong, Noble Johnson. The only survivor (McCrea) of an island shipwreck takes shelter inside the large estate of a mysterious Count (Banks) where there are two other survivors of an earlier boat disaster. When members of their party begin to disappear McCrea discovers Banks deliberately sunk their ships and is hunting them for sport. An RKO classic, this atmospheric chiller is surprisingly gruesome for its time (don’t miss the dreaded Trophy Room!) and has the gothic look and feel of an early Universal Monster movie. The cast is good and the script suspenseful. B+

REPOSSESSED (1990) d: Bob Logan. c: Linda Blair, Leslie Nielsen, Ned Beatty, Anthony Starke, Thom Sharp. Years after she was under the influence of the Devil, a housewife (Linda Blair) again becomes possessed and requires the help of the retired priest (Leslie Nielsen) who exorcised her, but not before her demonic activities are displayed on TV by Jim and Tammy Faye wannabes. A harmless Exorcist spoof in the vein of Airplane! made legitimate by Blair’s good spirited involvement and her surprisingly good comedic timing with Nielsen. While many of the jokes fall flat a surprising amount gain serious chuckles, but be warned: if nonstop boob gags and constant split pea soup vomit isn’t your thing you’ll wanna avoid this one. B

Mini-Reviews: ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE, DARK MOUNTAIN, and THE EMPTY MAN

Are You in the House Alone? (1978) A teenage girl (Kathleen Beller) begins receiving threatening notes and phone calls from a stalker after she starts dating the popular guy in school. When her concerns are dismissed by friends and teachers her defenses are lowered and the secret admirer moves from calls to physical attacks. Not the slasher movie the title makes it sound like but more of an After School special dealing with rape and victim blaming, and while the mature themes are interesting this is too stuck in its formulaic TV-movie rhythms and fills most of the runtime with mundane family squabbles and the love lives of teenagers (who cares?). A good cast (including a young Dennis Quaid) helps, but only just. C

Dark Mountain (2013) Stop me if you’ve heard this one: three filmmakers venture into woodsy terrain to make a documentary about an apparently haunted section of land and are never heard from again. Super generic in terms of found footage story structure and character development (several scenes are lifted right out of The Blair Witch Project) and with a sloppy, inconclusive mythology that builds to a frustratingly vague climax. C

The Empty Man (2020) Terrific adaptation of the graphic novel about a retired cop (James Badge Dale) investigating the disappearance of his neighbor’s daughter (Sasha Frolova) and discovers that she may be part of a doomsday cult that worships an otherworldly entity known as the Empty Man, which can be summoned forth to destroy lives. Overlooked upon its initial release, this is a good film with a well-crafted screenplay (by director David Prior), tightly written characters, and a dark, unsettling atmosphere that gets under your skin, especially during the creepy first 20 minutes. Only its unnecessarily long 137 minutes hinders the movie of its full potential. B+

VERSUS – Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin

Welcome to a new feature on Matt’s Horror Addiction: Versus. Versus takes one film and presents two opposing opinions in head-to-head reviews with my friend and horror movie aficionado, Frank Pittarese. We’ll explain why we loved and hated the same movie, and you can decide who’s right!

Plot

Next of Kin focuses on a young woman (Emily Bader) whose quest to discover her roots brings her to a mysterious, isolated Amish-like farm community. With the help of her boyfriend and a cameraman, the team documents the strange new world, unwittingly exposing themselves to a series of supernatural events.

Frank’s Opinion

This seventh installment in the Paranormal Activity series is either a reboot or a spinoff. It’s unclear which, but there’s no connection to anything that’s come before — which makes this easily disposable because it stinks. I like found footage movies, and I’ve really enjoyed most of the PA films; even the “worst” of them is perfectly viewable. This one suffers from poor storytelling (things happen that just don’t make sense), and truly terrible cinematography, even for the sub-genre. For the bulk of the film, it seems there’s a filter over the lens, added to make things darker and more shadowed — but the vast majority of this movie takes place either by candlelight or at night. That, combined with some of the shakiest camera movements I’ve seen in one of these films creates no end of visual frustration.

Director William Eubank also can’t make up his mind about whether this even IS a found footage movie. Objective camera shots — as you would see in any normal film — are inserted from start to finish. It’s distracting and pulled me right out of the action. The script feels uninspired and lazy (and ripping off REC didn’t help). I was eager for this to end even as the finale unfolded.

On the plus side, the characters are decent. Dan Lippert as Dale, the sound guy, has a few funny moments. The setting is interesting and somewhat atmospheric. But everyone is written to be inherently stupid for the sake of advancing the plot (or serving the format). Even with low expectations, I was disappointed. It felt like a cheap, direct-to-video attempt at folk horror. The biggest letdown is that Christopher Landon wrote this. He scripted Paranormal Activity 2-4, directed both Happy Death Day movies (and wrote the second), and directed and co-wrote the delightful slasher-comedy Freaky. Everyone stumbles, sometimes, I guess. It’s time to bring back Toby. Grade: D

Matt’s Opinion

The Paranormal Activity series has seen its share of makeovers twice before. The fifth entry, The Marked Ones, brilliantly spun off from the franchise’s main plot by focusing the action on a group of inner-city Latinx teenagers as they discover their neighbor is part of a coven known as The Midwives. The Marked Ones both added to and respected the overall mythology of the series, creating a movie that felt fresh while giving fans what they expected from a PA film. The next entry, The Ghost Dimension, also tried to put a twist on a somewhat tiresome formula by showing audiences the demonic activity that has been plaguing the families in PA 1-4, the invisible Toby. Injecting energy into the action sequences surrounding Toby was the use of 3-D, and while that gimmick works it couldn’t hide the fact the PA films were starting to wear thin.

While Next of Kin isn’t exactly a return to form – I’m not sure I can use that phrase since it doesn’t have anything to do with the other films – it is, I think, I step in the right direction. The new characters are likable and there’s even a touch of Tucker from Insidious in Lippert’s smart alecky Dale. One of my biggest pet peeves in horror movies is unsympathetic characters, and luckily so far in the PA universe we haven’t seen any yet. While Next of Kin‘s characters aren’t as memorable as Katie (Katie Featherston), or the child versions of Katie and her sister, Kirsti, from PA 3, they carry the film smoothly.

The plot doesn’t always make perfect sense, but that doesn’t deter from the main objective of the story, which is to disorient the viewer. Just like the characters, the audience gets a sense of doom and nightmarish qualities in the creepy, atmosphere-heavy farm environment. And although the movie never achieves the intensity of the first movie in the series it does deliver some good scares, especially during the last 20 minutes. Plus, unlike the previous entries, Next of Kin does deliver a flesh and blood creature, and while it might not be what you expect it is far and away from anything the other PA have manifested. On that alone I commend Next of Kin for going a different route, even though the pathway leading to it feels somewhat similar, and welcoming. Grade: B

Stay tuned for another Versus comin’ at ya soon!

Frank Pittarese is a Brooklyn native. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Mini-Reviews: The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY Series

Paranormal Activity (2009) A young couple, Katie and Micah (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat), come to believe their home is haunted and set up video cameras to capture evidence. Things get progressively worse and they call on the help of a psychic, who informs them it’s most likely a demonic entity that is after Katie. Although The Blair Witch Project kick-started the modern found footage craze, it was Paranormal Activity that opened the floodgates and released a wave of imitators, many of which are still being released today. Thanks to its minuscule budget and extremely effective approach at the subject matter (showing less is indeed more), this is a terrifically fun and unsettling little scare show that reminds us of why we are naturally afraid of the dark. A

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) Taking place a few months before the events of the first film, PA 2 centers on Katie’s sister, Kristi’s (Sprague Grayden), family and the arrival of her new baby boy, Hunter, which is subsequently followed by a mysterious break-in that prompts Dad to set up security cameras. Both respecting and adding to the mythology, PA 2 is a good follow-up that doesn’t overplay the scares or abuse its power by trying to exceed the original in special FX. It smartly focuses on likable characters and builds suspense naturally. Although not as intense as the first film – more family members lessens the horror of the activities – this is still a worthy entry. B

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) Shaking things up for the series is this fantastic third entry that takes the storyline to 1988, when Katie and Kristi were kids, and shows how they became the targets of the malevolent demon that terrorized them in the previous films. When little Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) begins talking to an imaginary friend named Toby, and strange things begin to happen, her stepdad (Christopher Nicholas Smith) sets up VHS cameras around the house to find out what is going on. Ignoring the subtlety of the first two, PA 3 goes full-out funhouse with inventive, scary set pieces and a less serious approach, although the last 20 minutes will have you on the edge of your seat up until the slam-bang finish. B+

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) Returning to the present day, several years have passed after the events of the first two films. A new family is seemingly bombarded by paranormal activities after they meet their weird new neighbor, Robby (Brady Allen), whose mother is mysteriously absent. PA 4 is a misstep in the series, with dull characters and a muddled plotline that doesn’t seem to make sense or really fit in with the overall mythology. The use of modern technology (Skype/FaceTime video and Xbox Kinect) to document the action is clever, but the lack of scares and a climax that is essentially ripping off PA 3 is a bummer. C

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014) A return to form, this fifth entry in the PA series wisely spins-off from the focus of Katie, Kristi, and Hunter, and delivers a new story about teenager, Jessie (Andrew Jacobs), who believes his neighbor, Ana, is a witch. After he and his friends break into Ana’s apartment he begins experiencing bizarre mood swings and unexplained activity in his home, including levitation and a retro Simon game that communicates with him. Written and directed by Christopher Landon (Happy Death Day 2 U), The Marked Ones is injected with much-needed energy and sympathetic characters; as with PA 2, the movie both respects and adds to the mythology and introduces a plot twist that actually works. Fast-paced, funny, and scary, this is probably the best of the sequels. B+

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015) After discovering a specialty videocamera that allows you to see spirits, a father (Chris J. Murray) uses it, and other cameras, to find out what’s happening in his new house when his daughter (Ivy George) begins acting strangely. Basically just recycling the plot of PA 3, Ghost Dimension lacks the verve of Marked Ones and by now the mythology is becoming a bit convoluted, showing just how thin the filmmakers are stretching the already overused plot. There are some good scares and the use of 3-D is clever, but one can’t help have the feeling of déjà vu when a lack of surprises envelopes the already shaky foundation. C+

Mini-Reviews: Found Footage Edition – “No, sir. I didn’t like it!”

Aliens: Zone of Silence (2017) A young woman (Sarah Hester) ventures into a section of Mexican desert known as the “Zone of Silence,” a UFO hotspot where her brother was last seen before mysteriously vanishing. Written and directed by Hollywood visual FX producer Andy Fowler, Zone of Silence is essentially Blair Witch with aliens, but the end result isn’t quite worth the long, tedious build up. C 

Atrocious (2010) While on vacation in a small seaside town with their parents, two teens investigate a local urban legend of a ghost that will only appear to someone after they get lost in the nearby woods. When things start to go bump in the night, the teens dig deeper and discover the sinister truth. Coming in off the heels of REC, this Spanish POV chiller manages to create a creepy atmosphere and a few chills, but it takes way too long for anything truly interesting to happen and by the time the truth is revealed it comes off as moot. C

Dark Attachment (2017) A father and son come to believe their home is haunted and call upon the help of a kooky medium (Madam Della) to cleanse their house. A pathetic and lazy attempt at mimicking Paranormal Activity (it makes Paranormal Entity look like The Exorcist), this features zero story structure, incompetent direction – and it took four people: Hunter and Jerry Burkhead, Della, and Dennis Miller, Jr. – and rock bottom FX (watch out for that fishing line!). Ed Wood made better films than this! F

Ghoul (2015) Atmospheric but empty found footage about a small group of American filmmakers doing a documentary on a deceased Ukrainian cannibal and, as a joke, ask a medium to invoke his spirit but accidentally summon something far more sinister. Good acting and a sense of impending doom help the movie overcome its lack of any real scares and the always annoying FF trope of characters who, when in doubt, endlessly scream at each other. Only the final ten minutes has any real flare to it. C

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) A second-rate geek show of shoddy filmmaking, this Saw reject is so desperate to shock you that it forgets to tell a compelling story. The movie is essentially just a series of “disturbing” scenes of torture and violence wrapped in a weak police investigation plot, in which we’re forced to watch endless interviews with some of the hammiest actors alive – I’ve seen more convincing acting in school plays. Tacky, tasteless, and dull. D

Unknown Visitor (2021) A 50-minute short movie seen entirely through the fish lens camera of a doorbell security system, in which a couple are receiving nightly visitations from a strange woman. What could have been an interesting idea for a much shorter YouTube video is stretched thin with cardboard characters and cockamamie plot twists. C

Mini Reviews: REAL CASES OF SHADOW PEOPLE, JUNE 9, and SHOPPING TOUR

Real Cases of Shadow People: The Sarah McCormick Story (2019) Overlong found footage movie about three friends who disappeared while making a documentary on the subject of shadow people. There’s some interesting interviews with relatives of people who’re seemingly abducted by shadow people, and some creepy moments during the climax, but way too much time is spent on the three filmmakers goofing around and showing just how thin the plot of this lifeless exercise is. C

June 9 (2008) Set in 1999, this features a group of bored teens who film themselves taking numerous trips over the course of a week to a nearby town that’s supposedly cursed by a series of supernatural incidents. A surprisingly enjoyable and authentic found footage chiller with realistic characters and a genuine ’90s feel, this runs a bit long but is worth it for the bonkers, Ten Thousand Maniacs-like ending. B

Shopping Tour (2012) Russian found footage flick about a mother and her teenage son who while on a shopping trip to Finland are locked inside a giant department store and attacked by cannibals. More of a satire, this has some fun, Dawn of the Dead-like moments but uninteresting characters and a jokey focus on Russian/Finnish relations might alienate some. Also, we need to do something about these annoying, inconclusive endings. C