SNEAK PEEK: STRANGE TALES ABOUND IN FOUND FOOTAGE
The Dark Tapes
Review by Ray Schillaci
Michael McQuown sets out to deliver a “found footage” anthology that harkens back to the good old days of the 1960s anthology shows (i.e. The Twilight Zone) with The Dark Tapes. And, with a limited budget and the hurdles faced with found footage movies, he manages to pull off some creepy and surprising moments that are worth viewing with the lights out and the sound turned up. As with many anthology films, some stories are stronger than others. This is not to say skip some, for even the stories that may not deliver have their moments.
I was fortunate enough to have the chance to view a screener. I’ve been told effects were still being worked on along with some other technical aspects. With this in mind, one cannot dismiss the debut of this writer/director/producer who meets the challenge of not only found footage films but also anthologies as well.
In To Catch a Demon, writer/director McQuown (with Vincent J Guastini listed as director of post production) weaves a very interesting running story akin to the 60s classic TV show, The Outer Limits. Perhaps the one weak spot for the structure of the entire film is that this main story does nothing to weave the other stories together other than being a useful cliffhanger after each segment. This is usually the weakest part of anthology films, because the tie in is rarely as interesting as the short stories. But in this case, McQuown’s Demon is the most fascinating of the bunch which makes this critic almost wish it was a standalone.
A couple walks into a weird setting at a warehouse. A door suddenly appears opened, objects also seem to appear, and once inside, the ominous place is in disarray furnished with a hospital bed and machines. An unusual experiment had taken place regarding inter-dimensional travel. Through a series of fascinating flashbacks that are interspersed amongst the other stories, we are privy to this exercise into the unknown. The idea of capturing what haunts people in their sleep is a compelling idea, and for the most part well executed.
The first time we witness this sleep demon is a jolt. My only qualm with the story is I strongly feel that less would have been more. As the tale builds, the glimpses we catch of this thing is surprisingly edgy. But as in the shark from Jaws, it loses some of its bite for this critic. Some may argue this and enjoy the well executed makeup effects. But the first and second encounters with this thing are far creepier. But, this could all change once all the effects are in place, so it is hard to judge the unfinished product.
Hunter & Hunted is a sick and twisted tale complete with haunted house scares, and is quite possibly the strongest of the anthology. McQuown and company make great use of mood, their actors and the setting. A couple experiences unsettling paranormal happenings in their new home and enlists the aid of some real life ghost hunters. What transpires is one helluva twist, and is more in the line with a good episode of the classic anthology series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Cam Girls is reminiscent of a recently popular hit, Unfriended, only in style. Actually, the concept is better and so is the pay off. In this gruesome tale, we heed the warnings of loneliness and the lure of online sex chat. McQuown’s lurid vignette has a young woman suffering from blackouts, eventually coaxing a customer into endangering themselves. Props have to be given to Afton A. Adams and Jill Fogel of the make-up department for their realistic graphic depiction of what transpires.
Unfortunately, the weakest of the bunch is about as bland as the title itself, Amanda’s Revenge. Sure, there are some eerie moments, but overall the story feels too much like Whitley Strieber’s Communion and a bargain basement version of 2009’s The Fourth Kind (and I wasn’t a fan of that one either). A young woman, after being assaulted at a party, has now found herself the victim of beings (either inter-dimensional or extraterrestrial – it’s never established) who experiment on her. She is determined to prove it, and enlists the aid of a good friend after displaying proof of her findings.
Unlike the other stories, Amanda’s Revenge feels underwritten, and the production just does not come across on par with the other stories. And on a second look, even the acting is not as tight as the rest of the cast. Not that the actors are bad, there is just something that feels very uneven about this segment as a whole. And the ending (for me) was practically telegraphed way ahead and unsatisfying. The whole affair may be tightened up once the film is finished, but I cannot help but have my doubts on this one.
For fans of “found footage”, the “first person” and anthology fright flicks, Michael McQuown’s The Dark Tapes titillates the horror hound’s fix. It is a little gruesome bag of dark delicacies that for the most part overcomes its limited budget. Whether it gets a theatrical and/or VOD release, it has enough macabre moments to whet the genre fan’s ravenous appetite. So, when TDT comes your way, grab your bloody knife and fork, and dig in. Currently, Michael McQuown’s The Dark Tapes will be playing at the Requiem FearFest in Montreal, Canada at the end of October 2016 and is looking at wider release in 2017.
Directed by: Michael McQuown & Vincent J. Guastini
Release Date: TBA
Run Time: 98 Minutes
Distributor: Thunder Road Incorporated