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Review: “The Dark Tapes” (2017)

The sci-fi, horror, mystery, found footage anthology of the year (so far)!

Hello there fellow appreciators of the abhorrent, it’s Thakgore and today I am reviewing the upcoming found footage anthology “The Dark Tapes”. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time so to be given a chance to review it ahead of it’s wide release was pretty cool. Since this film is being heralded as the second most decorated indie horror film after “The Blair Witch Project” my expectations were pretty high. How did it measure up? Well, sit back and we’ll delve into that question together as we explore….

Wraparound Segment/To Catch a Demon (dir. Michael McQuown, Vincent J. Guastini)

While technically two different segments, I’m folding them into one since the actual “wraparound” is a rather small part of this picture. “To Catch a Demon” is the bulk of this story and is the only segment not directed by Michael McQuown but instead by veteran effects artist Vincent J. Guastini. The movie begins with two people who have been called to a remote location only to find an empty room and a mysterious camera that contains the titular “Dark Tapes”. There’s not much to say about it as it merely exists to enhance “To Catch a Demon” and nothing more.

“To Catch a Demon”, on the other hand, is the true “wraparound” portion of the film as it is what ties all the rest of the segments together. It’s also the best story of the bunch. Opposite of most wraparound segments which are there only to introduce the various other stories this one is the centerpiece all the other stories exist to support. This was a fresh approach to the proceedings I was not expecting and really enjoyed. It involves a team of paranormal researchers intent on discovering, through the use of innovative technology, the true source of the “shadow people” that are seen during sleep paralysis. By using a high tech, slow motion camera and a kind of vaguely explained radioactive device they intend to capture one of these creatures on film. What they really do is plunge themselves into direct conflict with an interdimensional monster.

This segment is a gem to be sure but one that, unfortunately, has some flaws. On the positive side the tension and desperation of the increasingly hopeless situation the researchers find themselves in is palpable. I really felt sorry for them and found myself actively rooting for them to escape their dire circumstances. The practical effects work of this segment has been praised heavily and I have to say that I absolutely concur. This is one scary monster and the more you see it the more unnerved you will be. It is truly the stuff of nightmares.

On the negative side I have to say that I found the entire thing rather confusing. There are a lot of scientific explanations thrown about that are flimsy at best and the technobabble eventually falls in upon itself creating a miasma of complexity. I’m about as good as the next guy at keeping up with technojargon in science fiction but eventually I had to admit that the movie lost me along the way. I understood the gist of what they were saying but it got far too complicated and took away from the story. Still, I had a really good time with this segment and it succeeded far more than it failed. 5 out of 5

The Hunters and The Hunted

In a familiar found footage tale with a few twists and turns, a couple moves into a new home only to discover that there is a supernatural presence already there waiting for them. They seek out a group of ghost hunters to help them with their plight but upon their arrival things go unpredictably awry.

This segment is a lesson in subverted expectations. I will admit to groaning pretty audibly when it began because I thought it was going to be a tired retread of “Paranormal Activity”. Mercifully, it’s not. First of all, since it is told in a shorter form, there is less time to build tension so the activity begins pretty quickly. There’s no beating around the bush in this one. Also, it takes a pretty hard turn toward the end that flips the entire premise on it’s head. I respect the decision to subvert the sub-genre and go a different way. I also really enjoyed the effects and sound design used in bringing the activity to life.

Unfortunately I can’t just give the underwhelming ending a pass simply because of its subversion of genre tropes. It happens way too quick with little preamble and doesn’t give the audience enough time to reorient before it is over. If you are going to pull the rug out from under us you have to play out the string for a little longer to let it fully sink in. McQuown didn’t do that here and it really pulls back a lot on the gutpunch he was going for. 3 out of 5

Cam Girls

A woman running from her rural, conservative family and town ends up partying too hard and blacking out at night with no memory of her actions. She’s also become a “cam girl” and is doing shows with her new girlfriend to raise money for said partying. This segment involves one of those shows that swerves in a positively ghoulish direction.

I really didn’t like this one at all. The acting is barely passable, the makeup and effects range from pretty good to really bad and it is kind of confusing. I mean, I understood the plot and followed it all the way through but the motivations and identity of the antagonist were muddled by an ending I felt was more complicated than it needed to be. I can see why McQuown thought the spurt of exposition at the end was necessary but it only served to dampen any enjoyment I had gotten out if the story with an explanation that created more questions while offering few satisfactory answers. 2 out of 5

Amanda’s Revenge

After being saved by her friends from a date rape at a party a woman begins to exhibit strange and erratic behavior and falls deeper and deeper into a state of fear and paranoia.

Outside of “To Catch a Demon” this segment was my favorite offering. The mystery of what is happening to Amanda is captivating and keeps you engaged right up to the end. I enjoyed the performances and the way McQuown expertly constructed the mystery in such a short time. I also liked his fresh take on found footage at the end utilizing extremely outdated technology. It was something I’d never seen before and was pretty cool.

My only complaint, yet again, is the ending. The entire story is a giant set-up for what should have been a pretty fantastic finale but I just found myself underwhelmed. It is over too quickly and doesn’t deliver on the promise of the preceding plot. I was almost angry because I loved the set-up so much only to be let down. If I had one piece of advice for McQuown it would be to work on better endings to his intriguing plots. 4 out of 5

In conclusion I have to admit that I had more fun with this movie than I didn’t. While the ending to pretty much every segment was a letdown the stories themselves were all engaging. The practical effects work was mostly laudable as were the performances. I hope this film does well because I think that writer/director Michael McQuown has a bright future ahead of him…if he can just learn to work out those endings. I give his debut outing a 4 out of 5

“The Dark Tapes” is slated for VOD on April 18th and is currently available for pre-order on iTunes with a link to a special 5th segment provided to those who email a screenshot of their pre-order to TheDarkTapesExtra@gmail.com.

Written by Thakgore

Horror fan since childhood. Also, a stay at home Dad, layabout and general rapscallion. Purveyor of all things diabolical, devious and dire as well as loquacious lover of ludicrous alliteration and bold balladeer of bellicose buffoonery. Master of the run-on sentence.