FEBRUARY 3, 2014
Someone recently pointed out how few reviews there have been on the site as of late, and while I wish it wasn't the case, there's a pretty good reason for it - most of what I watch is the same sort of rubbish that I had gotten fed up with when I was still doing the site every day. Netflix assigns me about 10 movies a month (2 or 3 a week) and they're almost always bad; the sort of movie that hovers just above the "Crap" tag (though some would have earned it) and leaves me with nothing to say because it doesn't have a single original idea or interesting character worth mentioning (which is a bummer, because part of the tagging process involves describing the main characters - they're often blank slates). So with so much of my horror viewing time spent on junk like that, it leaves precious little for finding something with a little more merit, which is why I've pretty much only been reviewing Shout Factory releases and theatrical excursions. But I'm making an exception for The Black Water Vampire, because this is a truly special case.
Now, I know I've been vocal about my weariness re: the recent excess of found footage movies, and this belongs in that genre. However, this wasn't really an issue - it actually served the plot and didn't involve an abandoned hospital like many other recent ones. Instead it took place in the woods, focusing on a group of documentary filmmakers who are investigating a series of murders when they get lost, are woken up by strange noises, discover strange symbols in the woods, and eventually one of their group vanishes without a trace. Sound familiar?
Hilariously, the movie was almost over before I realized that writer/director Evan Tramel even lifted 75% of the damn INITIALS of The Blair Witch Project; their TBWP is his TBWV. Until that point, I was mostly just floored at how many things he was taking almost verbatim from that classic film - the sound guy is the last to be picked up, he doesn't like being filmed, they interview locals before setting off into the woods, they argue about a map, they express confusion as to how to put the tent together... there's even a bit where SOMETHING outside begins pushing against their tent! I mean, nearly every found footage movie is referred to as a Blair Witch ripoff by the lazy, but rarely is there much of a direct comparison (even Paranormal Activity gets labeled as such, but the two couldn't honestly be more different on a narrative level); fellow snowbound entry The Frankenstein Theory is one of the few that actually deserves the slam. But even that one looks innocent compared to this, which even has an apology scene by its bitchy female filmmaker, while wearing a knit cap!
Hell, I almost want to recommend it to others so you can see how shamelessly it copies from Blair (with some deviations I'll discuss in a bit). It's possible that Mr. Tramel (this is his first film) doesn't understand the difference between living up to certain expectations in a genre and flat out ripping them off. For example: the virginal "Final Girl" in a slasher movie more or less comes from Halloween (Black Christmas may be an earlier slasher, but since half of it revolves around the main female character's possible abortion, it's clear her virgin days are behind her), but it's just sort of expected and accepted in the ones that follow - unless the film also happens to take place on Halloween and the killer turns out to be her brother, I don't get worked up about the "theft". So it's not like "Oh it's a Blair Witch ripoff because it's about a documentary team in the woods", or that their footage was found a year later - it's copying entire scenes with nearly laughable frequency; by the time the sound guy got wet crossing a stream I had given up keeping score. Paying homage is one thing, but when you can practically guess the next scene because that's what happened in another movie, there's a problem.
So it's probably not much of a surprise that the best parts are the rare ones where Tramel cuts the Blair-bilical cord and tries his own thing (or at least rips off something else - there's a hilariously terrible copy of the Freddy Krueger nursery rhyme). Bill Oberst Jr shows up in the film's highlight, playing the accused murderer in a single scene that unfolds almost entirely in one take and momentarily made me hopeful that the movie would rise above its shameless recycling and make something memorable. Obviously he can't be the killer (or at least, not the ONLY one) if he's behind bars, because something's gotta make the movie exciting, but he's creepy enough to understand why he's the one being pegged for it all. And in the biggest departure from BWP, we actually DO see the titular monster, a bat-like vampire (sort of like the ones in From Dusk Til Dawn, but all black), which is thankfully a practical creation for the most part (one shot looked a little CGI-y, but it might just be the result of a standard def download version - he's definitely flesh/blood when it matters, at least), which paves the way for an ending that (sigh) will remind you of a certain genre classic (can't say which without spoiling, but it's currently being remade!), but is at least a better way to end one of these things than "and they all died" (though it does present a plot hole - how'd the footage get found, per the movie's introduction, if this is where the camera ended up?).
To be fair, if you're going to rip off a found footage type flick, you can't pick a better target than Blair - it's the closest thing to a perfect version of this kind of movie you can ask for, and thus it SHOULD be the one others aspire to be - just like Halloween for slashers and Night of the Living Dead (or Dawn) for zombie movies. But there's gotta be a healthier balance between their ideas and your own, and sadly Mr. Tramel leaned too heavily on the former. I've seen worse FF films, certainly - but the only way I could see myself enjoying this one is to completely forget about the best.
What say you?