#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 29

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Almost like clockwork, as soon as any form of remake of a Horror film is announced, Horror fans rally behind the older film hailing it as a classic that should be left alone. Even if the film was a somewhat obscure proto-slasher that nobody hated, yet few loved…Suddenly it’s everyone’s favorite film once the remake wagon comes around. Upon viewing the trailer for 2014’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown, I was intrigued. This seemed more than just a remake…was it a sequel?

The end result is that the film is sort of a real-life remake…If that makes sense. The story acknowledges the existence of the 1976 Charles B Pierce film in that it was based off true events that happened in Texarkana. When the Phantom killer re-emerges, it’s unclear whether he is copy-catting the film, or if he has some connection to the original Phantom. It creates an odd parallel between fantasy becoming reality and the past repeating itself. Where is the line between the two? IS there even a line at all?

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The story is largely the same as the original, a killer wearing a burlap sack over his face terrorizes Texarkana with (seemingly) random killings while a less than competent police force struggles to keep up. While the tone of the original is an atypical amalgamation of slapstick humor and straightlaced Horror documentary. Inconsistent in its purpose, the film still has a twisted charm. The new film is a compete alteration. Hard-boiled and edgy, the film is Dark from the get-go. This is a film designed to frighten and shock.

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If there is ever a reason to relaunch a property, it should be to add something new to it…to add to the legend, as it were. This film is neither a remake, sequel or re-imagining yet accomplishes the unique goal of furthering the legend of the original crimes, as well as continuing the legacy of the 1976 film. Even as a stand alone film, this works extremely well as a eerie slasher without any over the top gimmicks. This is a film fast on it’s way to being a modern classic.

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An Overlooked Evil

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Sinister is a victim of poor timing. Released between the similarly titled Insidious, and the blockbuster The Conjuring, it was somewhat eclipsed and i was surprised that it didn’t receive more attention. Of course, I saw it on opening weekend, and was shocked to find the screening room empty aside from myself. Recently I watched the film again with some close friends, and gained a new perspective on the film. The plot concerns an infamous true crime writer who is searching for his next hit. His glory days are behind him and he has two very toxic habits, moving to the sights of Grisly murders and upsetting the community by dredging up painful memories and pissing off local law enforcement, and also dragging his family along with him and putting them under tremendous strain. Having moved into a new Murder House, Ellison Oswalt begins researching the Murder of the family who previously lived in the home. While unpacking, he stumbles across a box of Super 8 films in the attic which turn out to be films of the murders, as well as other murders from different locations. The deeper he delves into the mystery, the more he learns he may be wrapped up in something…SINISTER! (Fuck it, I had to)

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In Sinister we see a profoundly selfish man who puts his family in jeopardy for the sake of his own glory, despite telling himself and his ever-suffering wife that it is so that he can tell the stories of the dead. Vanity disguised as Nobility. When the creep factor begins to ramp up, and strange occurences happen around the house, everything seems alien and strange to Ellison…why wouldn’t it? He just moved in and isn’t familiar with his new house yet. I thought it was a nice touch, making him look lost in his own home. The use of the Super * home movies was quite possibly the best use of Found Footage I have seen in quite some time. It plays into the plot without wearing out it’s welcome.

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The film itself is more creepy than scary…but it is VERY creepy! Watching the film in an almost empty screening room was an unsettling experience. You wouldn’t believe the shadows that are cast in that setting. Watching it with friends was another unique experience, as i got to watch their fear build and grow. Watching in a group, i noticed that some of my friends felt compelled to voice some of their reaction to plot holes. “WTF? The killer has access to his house! Has been there since he’s moved in! WHY IS HE STILL THERE?!?” Admittedly some of the plot holes did become a bit of an elephant in the room. Regardless, this is still a very strong film with very enduring creep power. It might have been overlooked on it’s initial release, but i predict this film will find it’s audience by acting as a jumping on point for new horror fans. I can easily see younger kids watching this movie and it scarring them for life 🙂

Cropsey’s gonna getcha!

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“What becomes of a Legend when the truth outruns fiction?”

Everyone has their Boogeyman, and in New York, he goes by the name of Cropsey. In this 2009 documentary, Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio take a look at how the Cropsey archetype  fits into NY urban legend, then shift to how the Legends came to life in Staten Island thanks to Andre Rand.

According to on camera interviews with several Staten Island residents, “Growing up in that area, EVERYONE had heard the stories of Cropsey”. The term “Cropsey” originally was a generic term referring to a psychotically violent criminal. Factor in the presence of the infamous Willowbrook State School, at the time the largest state-run mental health facility in the country. Questionable medical practices, barbaric care conditions and rampant over crowding only contributed to the local legend. Suddenly the idea of a raving mad excaped mental patient in showing up on your doorstep becomes a very real and very frightening possibility. Stories of Cropsey would vary slightly from person to person, what drove him mad, what weapon he carried, where he currently roamed…but what remained the same is that he was insane, and he preyed on children. And then, we meet the real life Cropsey.
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In the wake of the disappearance of a young girl named Jennifer Schweiger, the Staten Island community is stunned and terrified. After a 35 day search, her mutilated body is found in a shallow grave in the shadows of the dilapitated Willowbrook  school, suspicion is quickly turned to Andre Rand. Rand is a man of disturbing demeanor who not only was seen with the missing girl around the time that she disappeared, but has a prior history of sexual assault and kidnappings, as well as heavy ties to Willowbrook.

In the midst of their retrospective, we learn that in the years since Rands conviction and imprisonment, he has become linked to the disappearances of 4 other children in the area. Our documentarians follow the events of Rands trial for the kidnapping of Holly Anne Hughes, and as we learn more about Andre Rand, we are left with even more questions and fewer answers. Possible ties to cult activity, allegations of several attempted kidnappings, odd coincidences surrounding the alleged victims, possible ties to David Berkowitz (the famous .44 caliber killer of New York, aka the Son of Sam), only add more eerie uncertainty and intrigue to this story.
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If you are a fan of true crime documentaries, such as Paradise Lost, or are fans of “The Burning” and “American Horror Story:Asylum”, and want to learn about some of the true events that influenced them, then I highly recommend checking this doc out.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from an interviewee, “Whenever people don’t want something, they throw it away, and when you throw something away, you gotta put it somewhere. That’s why we have landfills, and they seem to stick those on Staten Island. They do the same with people. We’ve got Mental hospitals, reform schools, Tuberculosis wards…a lot of them, all close together. Landfills and human landfills. Eventually every landfill is going to fester…to rot and become worse and then spill out to contaminate the surrounding area. Eventually all those things you didn’t want to deal with are going to get out of our control, and then what? I think that’s what happened here…”