Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – The Dark Tapes

My notes on the found footage anthology movie, out now on US VOD.

In the way that Death Race 2000, Devil Within Her and Carnosaur are the drive-in versions of Rollerball, The Exorcist and Jurassic Park, this found footage anthology picture stands as the lower-case footnote to the V/H/S franchise.  Given that found footage horror is already rough and ready and off-mainstream as a format, there’s not that much difference in tone – though the filmmakers here aren’t quite as far ahead in their careers as the average V/H/Ser and the individual segments feel (even) more like unrelated shorts spliced together or even cut-down features.  The wraparound story, ‘To Catch a Demon’, is the simplest, if most muddled as a professor (David Rountree) and associates (Cortney Palm is pretty good as the pretty girl teaching assistant) investigate time dilation effects and night terrors – and get trapped with a (well-realised physical effects) demon creature.  Doled out in segments between the other stories, it’s not really a frame – there is a tiny, framier top and tail element – and doesn’t benefit from the mood shifts in and out of the other trio, which have different approaches to the tape-everything-for-the-record format and seem to take place in differing fictional universes (this is true of the V/H/S films too, which offer irreconcilable competing apocalypses).


‘The Hunters and the Hunted’ – which might just conceivably be a sly allusion to Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s classic story ‘The Haunters and the Haunted’ (if so, kudos) – is a problem to write about without spoiling, but it’s also annoying to watch since it only really gets good in a finish that justifies all that’s come before but doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s seemed to be as imitative as an Asylum picture.  For a whole chunk of time, we seem to be in a total ripoff of Paranormal Activity as a couple (Shawn Lockie, Stephen Zimpel) are pestered in their new, impressive-looking home by a poltergeist which seems to be two distinct entities.  They send their documentation to a three-person team of slightly exploitative ghost-hunters – ‘this is the one we’ve been waiting for’ whines an Australian blonde (Jo Galloway), showing no concern for the tormented homeowners – who show up and investigate, digging out a backstory element (a dead daughter they don’t want to talk about) which is among the most tiresome clichés of horror (a longstanding hangover from Don’t Look Now, it has been overused in the likes of Vacancy) … but all this we’ve-been-here-before stuff is misdirection, and the finale goes in a fresh direction (I was slightly reminded of the Hammer House of Horror episode ‘The House That Bled to Death’, though the twist is different) that could have done with more time to breathe, and perhaps even a recap of what seemed familiar to underline the stranger thing going on behind the scenes.  Oh, the little girl spook Ashen (Brittany Fisheli) is good too – and actually gets scarier when she turns out to be something else.  This was too clever not to put in the film, but also strictly disqualifies itself from its place as a dark tape.


‘Cam Girls’ is all skype windows – as video cam siren Caitlin (Emilia Zores Zoryan) engages with customers, and a poor feeb (Aral Gribble) gets more than he bargained for from a private session.  It’s the shortest of the segments, but also the thinnest – so it seems slightly padded.  However, it has flashes of creative horror and grue and works hard to hint at a net-based redo of a horror movie staple.  ‘Amanda’s Revenge’ is another long short which feels like a subbed-down feature – following Amanda (Brittany Underwood) as she copes with the aftermath of a sexual assault at a graduation party but also suffers what might be repeated alien abduction experiences and develops telekinetic powers.  Dragging along devoted friends, just so someone can hold the camera, she tries various stratagems to get back at her tormentors – rigging up a Coyote-style trap (balloons filled with sulphuric acid?) for the danged probers.  As in ‘To Catch a Demon’, the creature design work has a pleasing, ‘80s-ish look but gets a bit of an assist from video glitchery.  The whole show is consistently better-acted than most found footage improv-a-thons, which helps a lot – even seeming throwaway characters like Amanda’s would-be boyfriend (Jake O’Connor) have a bit of life.


In all, worth a watch.  It was written, produced,co-photographed, edited and mostly directed by Michael McQuown.  Effects man Vincent J. Guastini directed ‘To Catch a Demon’.


Here’s a trailer.




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