I always love a good found-footage horror film. However, finding a good one is not so easy these days. Since the first mainstream example in the genre–The Blair Witch Project in 1999–such a film with anything original and different to offer is about as easy as finding a new way to spell horror. Most follow the same unbelievable, overdone premise, with characters in peril documenting a movie’s worth of events, when self-preservation should be their priority. The Dark Tapes (from directors Michael McQuown and Vincent J. Guastini) is a found-footage film spilling new blood in the genre, cutting deep, with a fresh, complex story, more terrifying than anything I’ve seen. Further, characters with a purpose, never make us feel the camera is contrived. If you think this is a Blair Witch wannabe or a Paranormal Activity knockoff, think again. The Dark Tapes is perhaps, finally, the darkest and most original of all!
“Whatever is coming our way is far scarier than anything we’re dealing with right now.” ~ Professor Martin Callahan
What’s it all about? The Dark Tapes begins with two characters, Marie (Sara Castro) and Sam (David Banks), going into a room that is the aftermath something violent, bloody, and mysterious. With found-footage video, we are taken back in time, to the beginning of the scene just encountered, to the overarching tape titled “To Catch a Demon.” Here, paranormal researchers begin an experiment, planning to record evidence of supernatural entities occurring during REM sleep–evidence resulting from dream-induced synchronicity of time in the spiritual and physical world. To do this, they are using a special device–a super slow-motion camera that simultaneously records and plays back video. Wow! What a great ghost-hunting gadget!
The special ability of the camera relates to another unique detail of The Dark Tapes and its wraparound story. The paranormal researchers–Professor of Applied Physics, Martin Callahan (David Rountree), and his assistant, Nicole Folic (Cortney Palm)–theorize that “transdimensional entities” (or demons, as we know them) live in a realm where time is slowed down so much that humans rarely see them. In this realm, every 10,000 seconds of their time equals only 1,000 seconds of our time. Quite simply, entities must stay in a particular place for a very long time for us to see even a glimpse of them…and such are the fleeting images of ghosts. The slow motion camera, thus, dilates time, increasing the chances of seeing entities for longer periods of time. Complex? Yes! Original? Absolutely! Scientific and logical, in a paranormal way? For sure!
Is there more that’s fresh and different about The Dark Tapes? Yes! A lot! First, the film consists of three tapes, all very different and seemingly unrelated, connected by the wrap-around story–“To Catch a Demon.” The three connecting tapes include “The Hunters & the Hunted,” “Cam Girls,” and “Amanda’s Revenge.” All are connected in a totally unexpected way, with the events in all tapes also unpredictable to the end. Yes! I was never able to foresee the outcome of any tape, and the overall connection came as a total surprise, every time. (That’s unheard of in most movies these days!) For me, rockets started adding up on the SJR meter, the more I attempted to predict without success. In the end, we get the bonus of an ominous message as terrifying as it is fresh and different. Also nice is how the movie is a multi-genre crossover, being not only horror, but science fiction, mystery and myth as well. The twists connecting the genres serve up even more surprises, making the The Dark Tapes a spine-chilling standout of found-footage originality.
“The Hunters and the Hunted” documents the experiences of David (Stephen Zimpel) and Karen (Shawn Lockie)–a happy couple in love, just moved into a seemingly wonderful new home. However, are things ever as wonderful as they seem in horror movies? No! Such is the case here as well, with things spiraling out of control, faster than a ghost appears and disappears. What are those sounds on the roof? Who is slamming that door, when no human is there to do it? Is this a case too big for ghostbusters…and is all of the fancy paranormal gadgetry really working? The twists and turns answering these questions are as unexpected as anything I’ve seen anywhere. Just when you think you have it figured out, you don’t. Just when you think you’ve seen it before, you haven’t! Especially clever is the way clues about what is really happening in the story are apparent only in retrospect; some which, at first, seem like flaws in the story, later become intentional details you would expect for realism. (Of course, I’m being intentionally cryptic, and you’ll appreciate it all the more in the end.) Check out the chilling clip from “The Hunters and the Hunted” below! Oh, and make sure your surveillance cameras are recording!
The beautiful Emilia Ares Zoryan is Caitlin–a young woman new to the sex-cam business, but, all to eager to try it, with her new, equally beautiful girlfriend, Sindy (Anna Rose Moore). Money, partying, and a lesbian relationship, are all it takes to intrigue and transform an otherwise “good” girl like Caitlin. However, along with intrigue comes horror unlike anything she can imagine or control. Yes! “Cam Girls” is exactly what the title implies, with a whole lot more for fans of horror and gore! Do we see guys on a cam waiting for a show? Yes! However again, that’s the end of expectations leading to answers. With lustful pursuits come great horrors, where online sex is no match for fresh found footage and fear? With an ending predictable nowhere in the foreplay, the orgasm here is more sanguine than sexual, more carnivorous than lascivious. A piece of the “Cam Girls” show is below! Yes! You get a free one! But, beware! What’s free in horror is still horror (and perhaps all the more so), no matter how beautiful!
“Amanda’s Revenge” is the story of a young woman named Amanda (Brittany Underwood) who, after being molested at a party, deals with inner trauma in a most unconventional way, with the help of friends Ashley (Katherine Shaw), Josh (David Hull) and would-be boyfriend Ryan (Jake O’Connor). Yes! Amanda’s world is one where the usual coping skills are useless, with retro thinking and obsolescence offering the only hope–a world where technology of the present is no match for the past. With revenge as her goal, nothing, it seems, can stop her. Or, is there something larger than her, smarter than her, and even, perhaps, more determined and dangerous? In a horror film, is anything ever so easy for the average human? (Yes, I’m being cryptic again…but again, you’ll love me for it later!) A sample of Amanda’s vengeful terror tape is below!
Each story in The Dark Tapes, in the end, reverberates in the mind, exponentially stronger with those before it, becoming one as a synergizing anthology. Never has a found-footage film so effectively used an overarching theme, cleverly creating structure from otherwise ambiguous events. Yes! Since the arguably first POV film in cinematic history–Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, from 1980–nothing has been as original as The Dark Tapes.
“I can beat these motherf#&@er$! ~ Amanda Cortney
Acting overall is excellent, as it needs to be in movies that work harder to “suspend disbelief.” Standout performances come from Emilia Ares Zoryan (as Caitlin) in “Cam Girls,” Shawn Lockie (as Karen) and Stephen Zimpel (as David) in “The Hunters & the Hunted,” Brittany Underwood (as Amanda) in “Amanda’s Revenge,” and Cortney Palm (as Nicole Folic) in “To Catch a Demon. Courtney Palm (Zoe from Zombeavers, and Suishi Girl from Sushi Girl) is my personal favorite. While she did not have a major role in The Dark Tapes, her delivery of lines, as a paranormal researcher, explaining details of experiments, was exceptional. Coming from an actor of lesser talent could have derailed the movie early on, since Palm’s primary screen time is in the beginning. Instead, she is convincing and genuine, natural rather than acting, making stretches of theory and procedures as believable as anything routine and trusted. Her confidence, ironic as the assistant, is more effective contrasted with the more defensive nature of Professor Callahan, her superior. Yes! Making the unbelievable believable, as Palm does, is not so easy…but she does it! (I would actually follow Palm to hell, if she assured me she knew a way back.)
Also memorable, with a small role, is Jo Galloway as Susan–the enthusiastic ghost hunter in “The Hunters & the Hunted,” more concerned about looking good in a closeup than paranormal investigation. Try recording her when she’s not looking her best, and see what happens…even if it means getting the money shot! Galloway’s personality and charm shine in scenes like this (and all she appears in), developing her character efficiently, with minimal screen time–the traits of a professional, for sure! Final honorable mention for “Most Impact in a Small Scene” goes to Brittany Fisheli, as Ashen, the evil child in “The Hunters & the Hunted.” Remembering her well beyond her minute on camera will be as easy as it is horrifying!
“This is the one. This is the one we’ve been waiting for….My intuition bell’s ringing off the hook. Big time!” ~ Susan
Fans of practical-effects will love The Dark Tapes! Here, retro-style rubber-suit monsters and gore do the job better than computer-generated images ever could. With this, we are reminded how realistic such effects are, and how much more they are registered by our senses—how much more they make us feel the fear. The Dark Tapes scare us with monsters and blood that are real on screen, making them real in our minds. Never seen too much in The Dark Tapes, the monsters remain mysterious and all the more terrifying, giving us more with less. Computer-generated creatures would have actually ruined the movie; kudos to director Michael McQuown for yielding to nostalgia, taking time to make it real!
The Dark Tapes has already won more awards than any other found-footage film since 1999. Currently, it’s a twelve-time winner of “Best Film,” a four-time winner of “Best Practical or Makeup Effects,” a three-time winner of “Best Editing,” a two-time winner of “Scariest Film,” a one-time winner of “Best Screenplay” and “Best Director,” with eight acting nominations and wins, and more, for a total of 61 awards and nominations in 30 different festivals! Rue Morgue magazine gives The Dark Tapes the award for “Best Practical Effects Monster of the Year.” It’s also been nominated for a Rondo Hatton Award for “Best Independent Feature.” With so many awards even before the movie’s release date, there’s no telling what the final count will be! An awesome achievement, in this galaxy or any other, comes as no surprise to Space Jockey Reviews! Is a sequel in the works? According to director Michael McQuown, yes!
The Dark Tapes is scary as hell, with cutting-edge creativity bleeding originality from a genre cursed with cliche. It goes where found-footage hasn’t gone before, intelligently, never being predictable, never following the path we expect. In one film, made of multiple stories, horror, sci-fi, mystery, and myth converge and connect, with a chilling message. The Dark Tapes reminds us that curiosity is the greatest horror. No matter what dangers lurk among us, our humanness should be feared most, with knowledge as the death knell. Myths, legends, and religion may be all that protect us!
The release date for The Dark Tapes is April 18th, with preordering available now on iTunes. The film will also be available on Google Play, VUDU, ON Demand TV, Dish TV, Sling TV, Xbox, and Vimeo.
Check out the bloody-good trailer below…and beware! Time herein is dilated!