Despite having previously established my feelings about this weekend's Quarantine, I must confess a new willingness to give it a fair shot later tonight. Regardless, this week's Cinematical Seven is all about first-person horror movies, with a couple of oh-so-subjective stipulations:
- We're leaving The Blair Witch Project (1999) out of this. It might not have been the first of these movies, but it was undeniably the most successful and influential. There are only seven slots here, and I feel like everyone has already made clear whether they find this scary or just stupid (I fall in the former grouping, though I say this having not seen the flick since my teens). If you still feel the need to take BWP to task, comment away.
- Also omitted will be The Last Broadcast (1998), which drew mild controversy at the time of its release for its similarity to Blair Witch. I'm only not writing about it because the copy of it sitting just over on my shelf here has remained unwatched. My bad.
- The previous film by the guys behind Quarantine is The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007), which -- being in the hands of the Weinsteins -- has not yet seen the light of day beyond a couple of festivals. Having not attended any of said festivals myself, I'll just sit here and guess that it'll get dumped to DVD (probably under the Dimension Extreme label), and not any earlier than next year at that.
Now, on with the list...
1. [REC] (2007) - When the trailers for Quarantine began making the rounds, many people swiftly wrote it off as "Cloverfield with zombies," as if this were merely cashing in on the trend (well, it is). However, the original Spanish film on which Quarantine is based came out overseas last November, so let's put all that to rest. It's a quick and nasty piece of work (seventy-something minutes by my count), all shot on location as a TV reporter (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman tag along with local firefighters on a call, only to find themselves trapped in an apartment building with some sort of sickness that's turning the tenants into fiends. It's nothing if not visceral -- in this scenario, there simply isn't room for good old characterization -- but none of that matters so long as the frights keep coming. And they do. (If you still don't believe me here, Scott and Peter and the almighty Tomatometer might help change your mind.)*
2. Cloverfield (2008) - Look, I don't care that the battery couldn't last that long, or that any sensible person would just drop the camera (or girlfriend, for that matter), or that navigating Manhattan by foot as shown here is geographically suspect. What I do care is that J.J. Abrams' pet project -- the Godzilla-from-the-ground-level curio that raked in $80 million this past January -- is an efficient and effective thrill ride (yes, I mean that, with extra emphasis on 'ride') that is impressively seamless from a purely visual standpoint and impressively ambitious for any studio project. Some people didn't care for it, writing it off for much the same reasons they didn't care for Blair Witch, but even on home video, this still works like gangbusters for me. (Oh, and don't even get me started on how geeky-awesome Michael Giacchino's closing credits overture is.)
3. Diary of the Dead (2008) - Film buffs the world over will be eternally grateful for George Romero's Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead (those willing to defend Day can make full use of the comments below), but with this other "Cloverfield with zombies, but completed before that film" entry, he all but amounts to the creaky old man yelling at the undead to get off his lawn. Combine the (authentically?) amateurish behavior of a bunch of film students with the arrival of a zombie apocalypse, and you have one very trying effort to keep the subtext of crawling cannibal hordes alive and relevant. (And so Romero keeps it up. It's like these things just won't die...)
4. The Zombie Diaires (2006) - A low-budget British effort to capture the life of survivors in a world overrun with those still walking, this faux anthology of home movies is a little more creepy and a lot less annoying than Diary, even if it slips into familiar and somewhat shameless 'aren't we the real monsters' territory for its climax. After two years, this one is being realized Stateside next month through (surprise!) Dimension Extreme. Don't let the misleading cover art trick you into thinking this is some wild zombie shoot-'em-up, but also don't let that keep you away.
5. Welcome to the Jungle (2007) - Two young couples -- each armed with their own handheld camera -- head off into the jungles of New Guinea on a search for the Rockefeller fortune, only to run afoul of a tribe of cannibals. This one gets the most flack for allegedly ripping off the infamous Cannibal Holocaust (which I've yet to see for myself - I know! I'm sorry! It would totally get a spot!), which is itself soon to be remade. Something tells me that the remake will stray away from actual animal slaughter; the audience for that's only so big.
6. Alone with Her (2007) - To date, Colin Hanks has displayed the nice-guy chops that served his father so well, but something tells me that he starred in this film -- shot entirely from the perspective of his stalker's well-hidden cameras -- in order to mix up his filmography a little. (Oh, and by the way: he's pretty convincingly creepy in this.) I'm not as hot on 2002's similar My Little Eye, which takes a web-cam reality show and goes all "Ten Little Indians" with it, but it does have its fans.
7. Paranormal Activity (2008) and Home Movie (2008) - The former tale of a haunting caught on camera went over well enough at this year's Slamdance Film Festival that a remake's already in the works. The latter tale of twins toying with their parents and getting it on tape didn't do too shabby itself after its Fantasia premiere this summer; it's been picked up by IFC Films. I haven't seen either myself, but I've heard enough good things from enough good people to suggest that these will each come to stand (and scare) on their own merits, and not just as Blair-Cloverfield-of-the-month fodder. And wouldn't you know it: we have reason to think that Activity won't get released from Dreamworks until its remake does. (Sound familiar?)
UPDATE: Since it's been brought to my attention, I felt it'd only be a shame to continue leaving off 2006's very clever, very fun horror-comedy Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, about a fledgling serial killer looking to establish his own legacy on film. (Okay, now I can't leave out the somewhat harsher but still worthwhile Man Bites Dog (1992), to which Behind the Mask and a couple of other films are undoubtedly indebted.)
Seven, schmeven. Got any others that we've left off that take place through a first-person perspective and/or a found-footage conceit? I mean, besides Lady in the Lake, Scott?