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John’s Horror Corner: Episode 50 (2011)

August 10, 2012

MY CALL:  Not worth my time.  Sadly, this film used a great model— one that I’ve seen before and hope to see redone again—but it failed in all forms of delivery other than a few of the earliest introductory points.  WHAT TO WATCH INSTEADWhite Noise (2005), Poltergeist (1982), Paranormal Activity (2007-2011), Grave Encounters (2011), and maybe The Last Exorcism (2010) or Insidious (2010).  Also Session 9 (2001), although there are no “investigators” in it.

Episode 50 opens with what I consider an effective strategy.  With hardly any background noise you are presented a taxonomy of paranormal activity increasingly ordered from least to most dangerous—naturally, you’re saying to yourself, oh it’s gonna’ be the that last one.  Already I’m reminded of movies like White Noise (2005), Poltergeist (1982), Paranormal Activity (2007-2011) and Insidious (2010).

      Paranormal investigators recognize four classes of hauntings:
1.  Residual—unaware of the living; no interaction or physical contact; not dangerous.
2.  Intelligent—possible physical contact and interactions with objects and people; generally not dangerous.
3.  Poltergeist—trickster spirits with objectives; deceiver; possible physical contact and interactions with objects and people; moderately dangerous.
4.  Inhuman—a spirit that was never human; makes physical contact with objects and people for the purposes of possession, mental manipulation or bodily harm; extremely dangerous.

In the style of Grave Encounters (2011), The Devil Inside (2012) and The Last Exorcism (2010), our story within the movie is being filmed for TV show or documentarian purposes.  It’s presented much like an actual episode of the show.  We are introduced to our team of skeptical paranormal investigators who are young, sharp, and are trying to comfort a couple that was hustled by a previous team of people.

Hilarious sidebar:  In some surveillance footage the husband, when spooked, hits his wife in the face with a hammer.  The injury make-up is somehow hilarious and really quite good at the same time (until seen up close). 

Anyway, their routine and delivery is one part hokey, one part cute, one part well-done. What do I mean by that? Well, if you hate Ghost Hunters you’ll probably be reminded of that and dislike this for the same reason—that’s the “hokey” that I don’t like. Thankfully this is a movie, so even you aren’t a believer you shouldn’t be too bothered.

“Hmmmm. Well, unless our middle school science class has taught us nothing, this can’t be a ghost.”

Our skeptics meet some terminally ill, rich ex-con.  He’s played by a terrible character and, along with his two attorneys, will likely diminish this movie’s credibility with their deadpan acting.  Their playing lawyers, but I doubt they could argue their way out of a parking ticket—really, like special-ed jocks taking pre-algebra in 12th grade stupid.  Anyway, our team is offered two days of unfettered access to a previously inaccessible location: “The Gates to Hell,” the West Virginia State Lunatic Asylum considered the most haunted locale.  Why does a rich, dying ex-con care about this?  Because if they can debunk “Hell,” then maybe he won’t spend eternity burning there.

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“Hmmmm. Could there be ghosts?”

At first, I thought that most of the bad reviews of this film were due to random actors with little screen time (e.g., the rich guy’s lawyers).  But I found additional legitimate complaints.

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“I’m stickin’ to the no ghosts policy.”

We see expert testimonials from doctors and computer analysts delivering realistic fact-based explanations for paranormal phenomena and pointing out the things we can’t solve.  This montage felt very effective if, and only if, I ignored the clips with these twin psychology students who—despite delivering good information—had completely hamstrung the credibility of the whole scene.  Really, they were awful and clearly the result of a small casting pool or hiring a friend as a favor.  Bad call!

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Our team meets a rival team.  Our apparent protagonist team of skeptics (the “Paranormal Inspectors”) expects to debunk the landmark haunting of this most haunted site whereas the other team (amateurs of the Academia Spirit Searchers Club, the ASSC or “Ask”) hopes to confirm the presence of a demonic spirit—that was stage 4 on the paranormal danger scale that opens the movie.  The leader of ASSC is an over-enthusiastic zealot and is a character of questionable credibility.

Now the screen cuts to black and the following caption is presented:
“During the shoot, something went wrong.  In an unexpected move, the parent network of the show cancelled the series before airing episode 50.  Nobody knew what actually happened during the filming.  Until now.”

They arrive on the scene.  I was hoping for a little more Session 9 (2001) in terms of site eeriness.  The “show” footage scenes earlier in the film were quite good, but the “behind the scenes” acting involving real interactions (i.e., not using Paranormal Investigator TV show personas) degenerates rapidly.  Then there’s a slapstick Scottish dude who, like so many other additions to this flick, further cripples whatever credibility the film had left—if any.

Top shelf production quality.  This film had a great model, but simply too many flaws in its execution to be passable, or even forgivable.

I really don’t mean to belittle the intelligence of youth, but this movie would be better suited for middle and high schoolers.  Having generally less life experience and, more importantly, having seen considerably fewer movies, it will be harder for them to catch the outlandish tactics used in this movie.  Like how quickly the two teams go from hating each other to getting along, the ridiculousness of the rich guy who got them access, the first “odd encounter” at the site involving the mysterious movement of some duct tape.  There’s no slow build-up or increasing tension, but rather the team members immediately encounter numerous unsubtle sounds, voices, slamming doors and objects moving about.  There’s really no sense of tone as was done so well in Session 9, Grave Encounters, White Noise and the Paranormal Activity movies.  The storytelling feels like an adult version of a campfire ghost story told immaturely.

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I won’t give away “what” they encounter, but I will say that some Japanese-style horror tactics are used, and not done as well as the Japanese.  The sightings are always caught on camera, often seen by the team members, and far too frequent to be at all effective.

SO WHO WAS THIS MOVIE MADE FOR?  Sometime after graduating to pull-up diapers and training wheels horror hound pups should have “baby’s first haunting flick.”  I think this is it.  It’s way in-your-face, plot and points are blatantly drilled to a nub, the characters are immature and never really develop, and you don’t have to look too hard to “catch” anything.  Most horror relies on observant viewers to “catch” the quick, unsettling glance of something.  Here anything that happens, even if briefly, is accompanied by sound and then washed, rinsed and repeated seconds later.  Like any such movie, the characters get killed.  But the deaths aren’t very intense—nothing is hard to watch.  Also, the images may be scary to some, but I would consider them hardly disturbing compared to so much other material out there even from PG-13 flicks.  Lastly, all mysteries and questions are answered within minutes of their inception.

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