Sunday, June 7, 2020

Savageland (2017).

There is a kind of minor debate going on, here and there, in the community of Horror fandom.  It all started with The Blair Witch Project.  Ever since making its initial splash back in the last year of the 20th century, it seems to have sparked an ongoing, off-again-on-again, debate.  The whole thing kind of hinges on whether the modern method of the Found Footage, or Mockumentary style of filmmaking is useful as narrative tool for telling a story on film.  The style itself seems to have attracted an equal amount of praise and criticism from the very moment it got launched out of the starting gate.  Those who like it claim that it's able to give cinema a new form of realistic storytelling, while others just claim it's an excuse for poor cameramen to show all their faults without having to take the blame.

My own response has been forever on the fence.  I seem to have found a neat enough place that works out for me.  For the longest time, it has become ever clearer that what counts for me has nothing to with the visual quality of a film.  My approach to it just isn't tactile enough to be interested in how realistic any of it is.  I have no real idea why this should be, except to say that it is the ideas, themes, or concepts underlying a story that really interest me more than how it all looks in the mirror.  The upshot for my film and book intake is that my focus automatically seems to zero in on the narrative itself, rather than on questions of realism in either appearance or acting.  This seems to work out for me, more often than not, for some reason.  It can sometimes be an added bonus for those moments when I'm able to come away saying I was able to find some sort of merit in films or books that don't hold a favorable view with others.  On the converse side, certain artistic products that hold a popular appeal often just leave me puzzled or unsatisfied.  It's a natural circumstance which has sort of left me sliding back and forth among audiences with every turn of the see-saw.  It can be either amusing or disconcerting, depending on how you look t it.

All I know is I don't really need or ask for a certain amount or dosage of realism in anything I watch or read.  I'd also argue that most fiction in general is never, in the strictest sense, all that real to begin with.  This hang-up with whether or not the final artistic product can consider realistic in any shape or form seems to amount to a kind of collective chimera, rather than any objective value.  Besides, in back of all the arguments for realism lies the question, not of reality, so much as the ability to gain a sense of respect.  The real question doesn't amount to "is it natural", but rather, "is it respectable in the eyes of the neighbors"?  This may sound a like a surprising idea to some.  Why should anyone worry about whether a work of fiction is respectable?  It's just make-believe, after all.

I think the answer can be found somewhere in the very statement of the question.  It posits art as a fundamentally second-class citizen.  The kind of element that always takes a backseat to the more essential aspects of living.  The inescapable fact is that most civilizations have regarded the Arts as something of a trifle.  It's there whenever one's spirits need amusing, nothing more.  Stephen King seems to have been on-target when he observed the kind of social status and function that artists like him have in a modern society.

"America has turned the people who entertain it into weird high-class whores, and the media jeers at any "celeb" who dares complain about his or her treatment.  "Quitcha bitchin!" cry the newspapers and the TV gossip shows (the tone is one of mingled triumph and indignation).  "Didja really think we paid ya the big bucks just to sing a song or swing a Louisville Slugger?  Wrong, asshole!  We pay you so we can be amazed when you do it well - whatever 'it' happens to be in your particular case - and also because it's gratifying when you fuck up.  The truth is you're supplies.  If you cease to be amusing, we can always kill you and eat you (422-23)". 

When you have to operate under this kind of social handicap, is it really any wonder that so many artists, and even a good chunk of the audience, is obsessed with making the art look as respectable as possible?  It's a setup that would give even Shakespeare an inferiority complex.  The trouble is I can't get rid of the idea that it all amounts to a form of artistic prostitution.  When the artist lets concerns with respectability override the task of making sure the story gets told right, regardless of form and format, then I don't see how it's any better than caving to a form of prejudice.  Granted, this in itself is a topic that any half-way decent work of art can explore to good symbolist (not literal) effect.

That seems to be the case with Savageland, a 2017 mockumentary co-directed by Phil Giudry, Simon Herbert, and David Whelan.  Like its predecessors in the sub-genre, the format is used to document an event that never happened, all the while filming it in such a way as to lead the audience into believing it did.  In doing so, it tries to raise a number of important topics.  Whether it is any good at delivering these ideas in an entertaining fashion remains to be seen.

The Story.  

It all happened a long time ago.  So much has gone on since then.  Can you really blame anyone if history has a way of getting swept under the rug?  I don't know if there's a soul alive who remembers Francisco Salazar.  It's hard know if there's any reason we should.  He wasn't anybody, not in the strictest  sense, anyway.  He was a handy-man; did odd jobs around his hometown.  Other than that, he wasn't about nothing.  The single reason to bring him up at all is 'cause of what happened to him.  It was a big deal when it occurred.  It is just possible it was as big as the O.J. Trial.  What happened out in that arid strip of desert, however, makes the other guy look like a piker by comparison.

There was a time, way back in 2011 it must have been, when the Sangre de Cristo Massacre was just about the only topic on everyone's mind.  It all happened in one horrible night.  An entire small-town community of no more than 57 people vanished, just like that.  Almost as if they weren't real in the first place.  If there'd been nothing left behind, then perhaps this conversation wouldn't be happening.  The whole thing could just be dismissed as another example of myriad local communities that just dry up and fade away as the residents uproot and move elsewhere.  Instead, what the police found in that place looked like something out of a sadistic meat market.  Pieces of mortal remains lay scattered and contained within the folds of torn jeans or a tennis shoe lying ripped and discarded on a bit of pavement.  As it was later described, in more official sounding language: "On June 2, 2011, the third largest mass murder in American history took place in Sangre de Cristo, AZ, near the Mexican border".

The police had next to nothing to go on.  As reporter Lawrence Ross describes it, Arizona is "the vanishing capitol of the world".  The fact the cops even managed to get their lucky break just makes the whole thing seem even more remarkable.  Anyway, a face able to go with the tragedy.  They picked up Salazar as he was fleeing from the crime scene.  The rest is most of the same that everybody else has picked up from news reports, or coverage of the trial itself.  It all went about as you'd expect.  There was a guilty sentence.  An appeal was made and rejected.  The defendant was executed soon thereafter.  He seemed catatonic throughout, never offering an ounce of resistance on his own behalf.  Most people thought he deserved it.

There's just one element that makes this case stand out.  It was never entered as evidence, either by the judge or Francisco's lawyer.  It was a bunch of pictures.  Turns out the defendant was something of an amateur photographer.  It was just something he would do every now and then.  Whether it was during odd jobs about town, or in his spare time, Franco would sometimes cart around an old fashioned camera with him and snap photos of whatever caught his eye.  This could have been anything, the natural landscape of the Arizona desert, roadkill (for some reason), or it could be as innocuous as the daughter of the local neighborhood pastor (VaLynn Rain).  Under other circumstances, it might have been possible that, given enough time, Francisco could have turned this minor hobby into an actual profession.  It is just possible that he could have built something of an actual life for himself out of it.

All that changed when, according to his later testimony, one of the local kids staggered into his trailer bloodied and raving like a madman.  After that came the photos.  They are important for one single reason.  The official court records all try and make the case that the slaughter and disappearance of an entire town was the work of one, single, deranged madman.  The pictures Francisco took of that night, however,  tell a different story.  It's the kind of story that's very difficult to believe in an age of wi-fi and electric lights.  Somehow we let the presence of gadgets act as a shield or buffer between us and reality.  Some claimed the photos are a fake.  Others are not so sure.  One thing is certain, if the photos are genuine, then whatever happened that night in Sangre de Cristo wasn't normal.  It might not even be natural.  What's shown in the last pictures Francisco Salazar ever took is like something out of a nightmare.  The worst part is, it might not be over.

A Format Perfected?

In his book-length genre study, Danse Macabre, Stephen King makes a number of comments on the functions of the Horror film that might be relevant to a picture like Savageland.  He starts out with the observation that, "If we say "art" is any piece of creative work from which an audience receives more than it gives (a liberal definition of art, sure, but in this field it doesn't pay to be too picky), then I believe that the artistic value the horror movie most frequently offers is its ability to form a liaison between our fantasy fears and our real fears.  I've said and will reemphasize here that few horror movies are conceived with "art" in mind; most are conceived with "profit" in mind.  The art is not consciously created but rather thrown off, as an atomic pile throws off radiation (137)".

As a basic statement, I'd have to argue King is correct.  The one criticism I have is with the question of audience reception.  I've said it more than once before, yet it's an idea that bears repeating.  What a long time of close study has taught me is that no work of art is ever just a two way street.  If the viewer or reader ever wants to get anything out of a work of fiction, even if the final product is nothing more than a still life painting, then the basic fundamental rule is you got to give back a little in return.  That means all art requires a certain level of imaginative attention if any of it is to be effective.  It's the reason guys like Dickens urged readers to keep in mind that Jacob Marley was six feet under in the Christmas Carol.  If they didn't keep that multiple level of dramatic awareness in mind, then no matter how talented a writer he was, the story would fall on deaf ears.  The good news is this is really just a minor caveat that does no real harm to King's overall argument.  In fact, the whole thing is more or less still left intact.

If any reader wonders why a Horror film would need any kind of defense, then consider yourself a lucky one.  The dirty secret of the genre is that it always occupies a lower spot on the ladder than sci-fi/fantasy, which traditionally occupies a lower ground than naturalistic drama.  At least that's how the old maxim used to go.  The fact is Horror always has an edgy reputation that keeps it from getting the entire respect it deserves.  It's a situation that's made worse whenever some dull wit is given a camera and a chance to shoot the worst kind of dreck that gives the genre a bad name.  This is what happened, I'm convinced, with a lot of the Horror boom in the 80s.  People like to look back on it all as a wall-to-wall party, yet the reality is over-saturation and a reliance on shock and gore robbed the genre of a lot of its imagination.  There were a few gems from that era (films such as the second and third Evil Dead movies, The Gate, Gremlins, Night of the Creeps, and The Monster Squad are just a few that come to mind).  However, by and large the genre got saddled with the reputation of being the home of Freddy and Jason when the truth is its so much more.  It's also the truth that it's a reputation Horror has been trying to shake off for a long time now.

It is just possible that, for better or worse, the advent of the found footage picture might have been a help in what amounted to a shift back towards more serious ground.  The makers of Blair Witch claimed that part of the inspiration for that flick was to try and bring back a sense of a more old-fashioned, almost classical approach to making Horror fiction.  They even cited the lazy reliance on over-the-top gore effects as a template to try and work against.  Whatever complaints you want to lodge against those guys, I can't help thinking it was that film's success that sort of helped everyone reorient and get things on a more stable track.  Ever since Blair Witch hit theaters a noticeable yet unremarked fact is that Horror filmmakers seem to have regained a sense of proportion in how to tell their stories.  We're seeing less of the 80s splatter punk aesthetic, and more subtle and nuanced approaches to how the scares are crafted.  We're starting to remember that sometimes all it takes is a minor daub of red paint on a wall in a poor -it hallway to get the chills you want.  Perhaps that's another reason I tend to go easy on films like the Witch.  It helps remind some us of a certain level of sophistication the genre can still be famous for on occasion

It's this same low-key approach that is utilized to a surprising amount of effect in Savageland.  The filmmakers have made a number of creative choices that work to their film's credit, and each of them in turn has something to say about the format of the Found Footage approach to storytelling.  Rather than straight up copying the techniques of guys like Sanchez and Myrick, Whelan and company instead opt for an almost 60 Minutes approach.  The film's entire narrative is formatted like its one those true crime documentaries you might run across while channel surfing late a night.  It's a ubiquitous format with enough familiarity under its belt by now that it's easy to lull the viewer into mistaking the whole thing for the real deal.  This would be a creative misstep on the audiences part, however.  The whole thing is a work of fiction from start to finish.  What singles this Found Footage outing from all the others is the relative restraint and ingenuity it uses in telling its story.

Let's take the titular footage itself, for instance.  However long it takes, the viewer begins to realize at some point that, in the strictest sense, there is no footage to be found.  Instead, the way the film utilizes its defining trope is by reducing it to a literal series of photographic snapshots.  At the heart of the story is what happened the main character one night when an entire town vanished off the map.  As the lone survivor, Salazar is the one with all the evidence, and it amounts to a trope.  The real bit of inspiration that Whelan seems to have hit on is to both recognize the criticisms of the sub-genre, and tinker with the format to create something different out of it.  This makes the horror at the story's heart rely on a series of documentary photographs, rather than just some amateur deliberately mishandling the camera frame to hide the movie's budget, or lack thereof.

Instead, what we're given is a unique on a very old problem.  One of the crucial factors that King observes about the Horror genre is the question of how does the artist handle the horrors that define it?  In other words, how to do you bring the bogeyman shambling out of the closet in such a way to generate the maximum fear effect?  It's a question that's more complex than it sounds.  The crux of it is that the very emotion that gives the genre its name relies on what amounts to fantastical special effects.  Every monster, every, ghoul, ghost, goblin, or whatever terror you choose to hang your story on is little more than a gimmick, and never a very believable one to begin with.  In the last resort, no matter how much effort is put into the horror at the center of a tale of terror, sooner or later its always easy to spot the zipper running down the monster's back.  Perhaps that's why the genre requires a lot more effort on the part of both artists and audiences.  It's not so much a question of believing the unbelievable as asking yourself how far are you willing to go in terms utter make-believe.  You have to learn to set realism aside if you want to enjoy a work of Horror.

Whelan and his collaborators seem to be aware of this natural handicap.  Whether the solution they applied to this problem is any good will depend on how the viewer's imaginative mileage varies.  We are allowed to view the shapes under sheet, yet they are opaque, more or less at second hand.  The Found Footage consists of a series of photographs the main character takes his world collapses all around him.  They show a series of dark, shambling shapes making their way into town from the foothills.  They are a type of horror we've seen before.  The movie isn't going to win any points in the originality of concept department.  Instead, what makes it unique is the way it presents the monsters.  The are captured in a flash instant, and then just left on-screen to linger in the minds of the viewers. This is something of an audacious move.  In a medium that has prided itself from the beginning with the ability to dazzle with moving images, it is always interesting when an artist can come along and turn the medium either on its head or back on itself.

The way Whelan does this is by dressing his actors up in standard haunted house make up, and then draining color from the images while blurring them.  The result is an intriguing mixture of horrors old and new.  While the film's monsters aren't new, they may not be quite as old as trolls under a bridge, either.  If this is true, then Whelan's framing of his creatures is unique in the way it makes the relatively new look older than the hills.  That's a very specific compliment, by the way.  As framed by Whelan's distorted telephoto lens, he's able to make his monsters stop being a bunch of extra covered in stage blood.  Instead, the smudged lens is able to mold and reshape a normal groups of actors into twisted and gnarled beings that sometimes resemble the dybuks and goblins that haunt the pages of the Brothers Grimm.

It lends the film an unintentional fairy tale quality that works in it's favor. The fact that none of these images is ever allowed to move provides an added bonus that might catch most of today's audience off guard.  I said a moment ago that one of the headaches even the most talented horror authors have to face is how to bring out the rubber monster costume and still get a scream instead of yawn.  The one value that Whelan's approach has going for him is that it shows and withholds at the same time.

The entire film is framed like a talking heads documentary with the photos interjected here and there as dramatic punctuation.  The director shows us a fleeting glimspe of the horror before deliberately refusing to go any further.  Instead, we are told by the talking heads what happened, or else what the characters believe may have transpired as the image is left in front of our eyes to contemplate.  It is precisely this enforced demand to imagine that makes the film so special in my eyes.  It's a perfect example of the less is more approach to scaring the crap out of the audience at its finest.  At certain points, Whelan makes the deliberate and very clever choice of leaving us alone with the horrors in such a way that it forces our own imaginations to take over and fill in the grisly details.

There are at least several effective moments when this technique is worked almost to perfection.  The first is the inciting incident, where the horror lands on the main character's doorstep.  Perhaps the second best example is what happens to the local town preacher.  It's one of the few times where the director allows a bit of extra media to ratchet up the tension on the viewers.  We're shown family photos and home movie footage of the preacher and his family life.  Then we hear the voice of this character as he gasps out his final moments on earth.  It's chilling, to say the least, especially when he keeps insisting to the unseen listener, "Do not judge meYou have no right to judge me!!!"  The best part is that this is one of those moments that Whelan leaves ambiguous.  The authorities tell us what they believe happened.  And yet, when you turn the scenario over in your head, you realize that a great chunk of information doesn't exist.  This means you, the viewer, get to fill in the blanks as you see fit.  Depending on how you read the scene, the preacher is either as big a monster as whatever is stalking the streets, or else he's one of more tragic heroes in the film.  All we are given is a parting image as the character is shown being dragged backwards out a window by the monsters, a bloodied ax falling useless from his hand.

There was one final moment near the film's end that was kind of surprising.  I don't know whether or not it is the explicit prerogative of the Horror story to tug on your heartstrings.  I know many workers in the field tend to eschew it.  It's the kind of creative choice that doesn't have to be a deal breaker as far as I'm concerned.  However, I'd be lying if I said I didn't think that a lot of the best tales of terror have at least some kind of identifiable empathetic sentiment in them tucked away among the shadows.  It may be a minor touch, yet it could also be what separates the great from either the merely competent or outright disposable.  It involves the main character and the preacher's family.  The setup itself may not be original, yet if it's a cliche, then Whelan is an apparent master at dusting it off and giving things a fine new coat of paint.  I won't spoil a damn thing.  All I'll say is that what made it work for me is how the film was able wrench minor well of tears somewhere at the back of my eyes.  It was an unexpected and far from usual reaction for me where my experience with the Gothic genre itself is concerned.  It was also far from unwelcome looking back on it.  

Conclusion: A Satisfying Fable. 

So far I've been discussing the film's techniques.  However I'd argue that's just half the story.  If any book or film doesn't have a well made narrative in back of it, then it really isn't worth all the celluloid or dead pulp it gets printed on.  The good news is Whelan is a capable storyteller.  He's also a narrator with a lot on his mind.  Savageland is a film that will most likely speak to a lot of what's going on in the world right now.  Whether this is intentional on the part of the directors is something that's very much up in the air, as far as I'm concerned.  The story itself was conceived as possibly as far back as 2014, yet it's a safe bet that few audiences aren't going to watch this and come away thinking the film is talking about right now.

It's another facet about the film that helps it stand out in some ways from a lot of its contemporaries in the field.  The most notable element of the Horror story, aside from its reliance on blood and guts, is that its the one genre where you can more or less get away with being a moralist.  The reason for this seems to be that its been a feature and not a bug for such a long time that even the most reluctant audience member tends to expect something like it once the lights go down.  This goes back to an observation Stephen King made about the genre.

"In many cases - particularly in the fifties and then again in the early seventies - the fears expressed are sociopolitical in nature, a fact that gives such disparate pictures as Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers and William Friedkin's The Exorcist a crazily convincing documentary feel.  When the horror movies wear their various sociopolitical hats - the B-picture as editorial - they often serve as an extraordinarily accurate barometer of those things which trouble the night thoughts of a whole society.  But horror movies don't always wear a hat which identifies them as disguised comments on the social or political scene...More often the horror movie points even further inward, looking for those deep-seated personal fears - those pressure points - we all must cope with.  This adds an element of universality to the proceedings, and may produce an even truer sort of art (138-9)".

I think Savageland sets itself somewhere in between these two related poles.  I can't tell if this was all intentional on the part of the filmmakers or not.  I'm sure there will be some who will be eager to argue that there's no way they couldn't have known what kind of story they were telling when they set out to make the picture.  I can kind of see where that line of argument is coming from.  What holds me back and keeps me from endorsing it all the way is statements by the crew that the whole thing was dreamt up some time before our current times arrived on the scene.  If that's the case, then what we've got here amounts to an incredible level of serendipity, or else just plain dumb luck.  However there's no absolute reason this has to be a problem, not even to the audiences ability to enjoy the film. As King has observed, "Once more, these things happen only rarely because directors, writers, and producers want them to happen; they happen on their own (164)".

In much the same ways as the makers of Blair Witch didn't set out with a conscious intention to reshape the nature of the horror film, so Whelan and his crew were able to create an accidental, yet effective capsule moment of a specific point in time.  The fact Whelan's technique matches up and shares traits with those of Sanchez and Myrick is a neat sort of icing on the cake.  It's also relevant to one final element King brought up.  In his introduction to the 2010 reissue of Danse Macabre, King has a few choice words for the both the nature of Blair Witch as a film, and the aftereffects it can sometimes spawn.  King considers the film a work of genius.  As for what it leads to, the author considers these aspects in terms of a refining process that can lead either to greater achievements that can sometimes perfect to form of the Found Footage film, or else they just lead to a place where all artistic effort terminates.

"The squeezing results in clear cycles that fans of the genre have seen again and again: Genius gives birth to genius perfected; genius perfect gives birth to unenlightened imitation (think of any direct-to-video haunted-house flick or made-for-TV demon-kid flick that ever bored you to death); unenlightened imitation gives birth to comedy, after which the basic idea lies still for a time before coming back to life again (like a vampire in his coffin (xv)".  King goes on to cite one of George Romero's zombie apocalypse flicks as a decent example of the Found Footage film perfected.  "The mainstream faux docs I can think of - Cloverfield, Quarantine (the remake of the Spanish Rec), Diary of the Dead - are all pretty good, but only...Romero's Diary approaches the purity of Blair Witch (xviii)".

I think I'd like to go a bit further and claim that Savageland is one of those rare specimens that is able to perfect on perfection (in a manner of speaking).  I've seen Romero's take on the Found Footage genre.  I can say that I liked it.  However, while its not a bad film, it is also perhaps not the end-all-be-all King is hoping for.  I'm willing to go with a riff on his statement.  I'm willing to allow that Romero was perhaps able to show filmmakers, especially a sample of the next generation, how it is possible to further improve the sub-genre, however it still remained for someone to come along and either take his advice, or else just validate his ideas in an altogether accidental, yet genuine fashion.  That, I believe, is what we get with Whelan's film.

It's a neat little parable with a nice nugget of terror at its center that manages to perfect the Found Footage format as part of the story's bells and whistles.  The narrative is allowed to tell itself in a straightforward manner that is also fragmented and piecemeal.  That's a very complex approach to story structure, and its to the crew's credit that they never allowed their story to get lost in the technique.  Instead, Whelan and company seem to have found a way to let the narrative itself be the boss while also finding ways to perfect the Found Footage approach that really does amount to a genuine progression of the format.  Here we see the Mockumentary approach in a state that is perhaps as close to perfection as it is ever likely to get.  What provides a neat form of symmetry to the whole proceedings is that they do sort of copy the work of their predecessors.

I wonder if people have forgotten nowadays that Blair Witch really was one of the first examples of an actual multimedia approach to storytelling.  The movie came equipped with websites, interviews, archival materials.  All of it was fake, yet what has to be admired is just how much dedication went into all of it.  The filmmakers were willing to go that extra mile to convince their audiences that what they were seeing and hearing "looked" authentic.  They even went so far as to create a mockumentary within a mockumentary, lending an extra layer of meta-textuality to their approach.  It was called The Curse of the Blair Witch, and it aired as a TV special, as opposed to the standard making-of, behind-the-scenes framing audiences were and still are used to.  It was all part of the game, and I'll confess I came away wondering (for a while at least) if it could be real.

I think it is this aspect of Blair Witch that Whelan has taken and run with as part of his inspiration.  It's a creative idea that almost explains itself when you think about it.  All you have to do is take the mockumentary approach of Curse and expand it to feature-length format.  How do you avoid any of the criticisms that keep getting lobbed at your earlier peers?  You might be able to understand and "get" the use of shaky-cam.  However, you're in the minority, and probably always will be.  Then it hits you.  All you need to do to fix the one thing that audiences get hung up on is to take the camera frame and still it.  How can you do this without losing the sense of verisimilitude, though?  It sounds like all is lost until another light bulb goes off.  Reduce the horror to a series of photographic images, and let that be the face of your monster.

It can be argued that the approach the filmmakers took in their course of action amounts to little more than a gimmick.  If that's the case then all I can say is that it all payed off for me.  What we have on our hands is a neat little fright flick told with skill, ingenuity, and a lot of dedication and craft.  It's to the filmmakers credit that not only were they able to find ways of perfecting a highly criticized style of telling a story, they were also able to make the narrative itself pretty darn entertaining.     

4 comments:

  1. I need to see this.

    I love those early days (and Blair Witch would be my guess, too, for first out of the gate in this) of multimedia film experiences. (With website, fake documentaries about the fake documentary, etc., everything you cite). Although I guess you could count any movie with a videogame and/or fast food marketing/ merchandise as a multimedia film experience, too.

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    1. Yeah, I just never minded, or wasn't bothered by this stuff as much as others were. There seems to be at least few angles that allow people to get creative with this kind of thing. Ever heard of Alan Resnick and Wham City Comedy? They've taken the concept and expanded it into a term known as an A.R.G. (Alternate Reality Game).

      The gimmick is you take a fictional concept and try to play it out as much as possible on the streets of the real world. It's kind of like conceptual street theater where the audience sometimes has to play a part to move the action forward.

      ChrisC

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  2. This sounds like something I should check out.

    (1) My personal take on the found-footage approach is that it's like any other. There are good examples, and lots of bad ones. I'd have a hard time trusting the opinion of anyone who writes a movie off based purely on the fact that it was told in found-footage or mockumentary style. Sure, there are bad ones. So what? Writing the entire approach off strikes me as being the move of older people who aren't interested in most newer movies at all, and have seized upon this subgenre as being a bad thing simply because it came after their time. In some cases, that's heavily their loss.

    (2) "The Blair Witch Project" is one of my favorite movies, so I'll happily sing its praises. And "The Curse of the Blair Witch" is, to me, an indispensable part of it; I think of them as being the same thing. For me, it conjures up the one thing horror movies need in order to really work: it makes one believe in the situation for long enough to be scared of being in it oneself.

    However, it was not the first horror movie to work in that format. That distinction seemingly goes to "The Last Broadcast," which came out a year before. The "Blair Witch" filmmakers were already at work on their own film, though, so it's not a case of one influencing the other; they just happened around the same time. I saw "The Last Broadcast" years ago and remember liking it reasonably well; but it's not the masterclass "Blair Witch" is.

    (3) I like "Diary of the Dead" fairly well, but methinks King is being a bit overeffusive in his praise for it. I do like it, though; it feels like it's still generally underrated. My own pick for the next best use of the subgenre apart from "Blair Witch," though, would be "Paranormal Activity." That movie is scary as hell.

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    1. (1) I don't think (at least I hope) age has nothing to do with it. Like I say, it's a much more simple question of the lack of imagination.

      (2) I think I heard somewhere that the original concept was for both the movie and the mockumentary to be like that just this one whole thing. Like they were going to pass off this fake documentary with all the snippets of the movie forming just a part of the overall thing. Somewhere along the way, they had the brilliant idea to split the mockumentary and the footage into two separate, yet related, entities. It was a gamble that paid off quite well in my opinion.

      (3) Yeah, I agree. It's not bad by any means. It just doesn't grab me in the way this one did. I never got the sense that Romero (a master in every sense of the word) was firing on as many cylinders as could have. For instance, I'm not sure the film has a real ending, and it was a problem that never quite got resolved. Still, you can tell his strengths are on display here and there.

      (4) I should mention, "Savageland" is available for free viewing on Amazon Prime Movies. It seems like a kind free temporary service deal. That's how I watched it. So I'd urge any who wants to head over and give it a free check out while the offer lasts. I know I wasn't disappointed.

      ChrisC.

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