Tuesday, 28 March 2017

15 Second Review: The Dark Tapes



The Dark Tapes is a horror anthology film, and as with any compendium, the segments that comprise the whole are somewhat hit-and-miss. “The Hunters and the Hunted” is the most complete story, and certainly boasts some of the best performances; “Amanda’s Revenge” has a neat structure that initially misdirects the viewer in a highly effective way; “Cam Girls” is the weakest section, featuring some unconvincing acting and the least satisfying plot overall. Nevertheless, each section is efficient, which will surely please viewers who are bored by the protracted establishing sequences that bog down so many full-length found-footage movies. The Dark Tapes has been edited with care, giving enough information to guide the viewer, but refraining from bloating the script with needless exposition. My main problem with the film is that the stories include various plot holes and logical inconsistencies (which I cannot explain here without spoiling each segment), which detracts from the realism that found-footage relies upon. Still, the film is ambitious, and although the wrap-around story does not connect the others together in a literal fashion, it does offer a set of conceptual, thematic links that are intriguing. The opening declaration that ‘humanity is getting closer to the truth’ frames the film’s events as if they are genuine, or at least as if the footage reveals some kind of authenticity. Yet, the film also wears its artifice on its sleeve, flagging that its apparent veracity is entirely fabricated. In that sense, it could be argued that the logical inconsistencies buried within the individual stories enhance the film’s dualistic approach to found-footage. On one hand, The Dark Tapes typifies the found-footage subgenre, replicating the visual tropes – such as ‘digital glitches’ – that have become synonymous with such movies (even though these glitches are unrealistic, inasmuch as they are incredibly rare outside of the subgenre). The film also recalls established found-footage touchstones, including overt nods to V/H/S (in terms of its multiple story structure), and echoing Paranormal Activity in the segment “The Hunters and the Hunted”. However, not only is that parallel to Paranormal Activity undercut in the story itself (I will not say any more so as not to spoil), but it is notable that the makers of The Dark Tapes are just as comfortable citing other horror influences, including Poltergeist (in the “The Hunters and the Hunted”), and even A Nightmare on Elm Street (in the segment “Amanda’s Revenge” via the refrain ‘Don’t fall asleep’). These references root the movie in a broader canon of horror history that extends beyond the recent trend for found-footage indie-flicks. In sum, although The Dark Tapes has its flaws, it is an intriguing film that seeks to rise above the crowd, and I would much rather watch an imperfect movie that attempts to do something interesting than a technically exquisite but banal one.  

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Offscreen 2017: Stephen Sayadian


I have just returned from Offscreen (Brussels) where I had the opportunity to speak with Stephen Sayadian about his career in film-making (Cafe Flesh, Dr Caligari, Nightdreams) and as Art Director for Hustler.

During the Q&A/Masterclass session with Stephen, I got the opportunity to ask him a question that I have been wondering about since 2004 (when I was researching about HIV, sex, and horror fiction in the early stages of my PhD...which ended up having nothing to do with HIV). Cafe Flesh is based within a post-apocalyptic landscape where half of the populace becomes deathly ill if they engage in sex. Given that the movie was shot in 1981/released in 1982, and (what would eventually become known as) AIDS was first clinically observed in 1981, I have always wondered whether Cafe Flesh was an immediate response to the medical context, or whether the film's language of 'sex positives', 'sex negatives', and sickness was coincidental. For anyone who is curious, Stephen confirmed that the former is the case. It was also interesting to hear Stephen refer to Cafe Flesh as 'anti-erotic'; I have always described it as one of the least titillating "porn" films I have seen (which is one of the reasons I was initially intrigued by it). Stephen told me that the film was originally supposed to depict a castration and was meant to end with Max being hanged. Those additions would have further augmented the horror embedded in the film's tone.  
I was also unaware that many of the images from Hustler magazine (particularly the parody adverts), which I have used countless times in lectures about porn, were created by Stephen. Given how thematically dark some of that material is, I am now considering writing a piece about the coalescence of sex and horror in his work. 
The Offscreen festival continues until 26th March. For more information, please visit http://www.offscreen.be/en/offscreen-film-festival-2017