The Dark Tapes, 2017.
Directed by Vincent J. Gustini and Michael McQuown.
Starring Emilia Ares Zoryan, Danielle Baez, Katelyn Bailey, and David Banks.
Science fiction and the supernatural interchange and interlock in a dark anthology of mystery, superstition, psychopaths, demons and horror.
I’ve probably said this before but I’m not a fan of the found footage horror sub-genre. Despite the occasional few good ones, such as Creep and The Bay (both of which I reviewed in my October Horror series last year) I find most of them to be incredibly dull and repetitive haunted house door slam fests.
However, the sub-genre that I do love in my horror films is when they go down the anthology route, allowing film-makers to tell a variety of different stories, perhaps using different styles and just generally allowing for a greater degree of creativity and variety.
My love of the format has only grown thanks to the sheer number of films and TV that use this format such as the legendary The Twilight Zone, George Romero and Stephen King’s 80s cult classic Creepshow or recent anthology shows like Black Mirror, Inside No. 9 or American Horror Story. Quite simply I go crazy for the anthology format.
This brings me to the ominously titled The Dark Tapes, a film which merges the two sub-genres to create a decidedly mixed bag of door slams, demons and general weirdness that’s not quite as creative as most anthology films, but not as quite dull as most found footage films.
Now this being an anthology film, with each segment largely being a self-contained story with its own cast and conclusions, I can’t really review it in the manner in which I normally do, so instead I’ll do a quick spoiler-free review of each of the segments.
“To Catch a Demon” concerns a scientific attempt to capture evidence of the supernatural and of demons, with their efforts summoning something that appears less than friendly.
This segment is the film’s main focus with it being dished out throughout in chunks with the other segments playing in between, sort of like intermissions. Despite its extended runtime though, this story is a tad too limited to warrant multiple parts, with the first largely to set up the premise of the story, before cutting to the next segment, while much of the rest of it is people screaming in the dark while being menaced by men in monster outfits that sound oddly like Kylo Ren, or talking about how they can’t just leave the room because of time dilatations.
It’s definitely one of the weaker segments of the film, with a rather too short plot stretch out unnecessarily and featuring a bizarre climax where you can barely understand what’s going on, with it being presented in a quickly cut, flash heavy fashion that almost renders the segment unwatchable.
“The Hunters and The Hunted” focuses a married couple whose new house is seemingly afflicted with ghostly presences that wish to do them harm, seeking the help of paranormal experts to do away with the fiendish spirits.
For the most part, this segment plays like a short remake of the Paranormal Activity films featuring the standard happy couple whose evenings are distrusted by loud banging (that doesn’t involve them), slamming doors and flying cutlery. It’s all very boring and cliched stuff that we’ve seen dozens of times in other equally boring found footage films, that is until the final twist of the segment. I honestly wish I could talk about the twist because I actually think it to be a clever subversion of the usual found footage climaxes. A rather boring and cliched segment overall that’s saved by a last minute flash of brilliance that prevents it from being forgettable.
“Cam Girls” concerns the antics of a young woman who in a desire to escape her deeply conservative upbringing lives a life of partying, drinking and working as a cam girl with her new girlfriend, while also suffering from blackouts in which she cannot recall her whereabouts or actions.
This segment is the shortest of the bunch and it’s also the most creative with its limited setting. Filmed almost entirely from a webcam, we are given brief flashes of nightmarish and bizarre imagery, which the film cleverly does often does in a clever manner that makes you do a double-take to make sure you actually saw what you think you saw. Although some of the imagery is that bizarre that it veers into unintentional hilarity, made all the funnier by the characters often perplexed expressions.
It also moves into somewhat messed up territory as we have the attractive cam girl lead insisting that a poor kind-hearted guy called Jerry inflict harm upon himself, using his hope that he’ll maybe get some action against him; it’s all very gruesome and slightly unsettling with a pretty decent throat cutting effect on display.
Although this creative approach and the atmospheric story is somewhat ruined by a somewhat stupid and goofy final twist that’s pretty easy to see coming, and still feels pretty stupid and cliched regardless.
“Amanda’s Revenge” focuses on the quest of Amanda to recover from a traumatic event and herself of the mysterious forces who have been tormenting her for much of her life.
This is probably the weakest segment of the whole film, with a bonkers and potentially awesome “Carrie vs the Martians” type story being rendered slow, uneventful and really boring. Which is a shame because the acting from the cast is actually quite decent and there are story elements that are interesting but are restrained by the small budget and time constraints, and thus are glossed over by heavy dialogue dumps that go on far too long.
The acting across the film’s multiple stories is largely fine throughout, with it all feeling very much par for the course in a found footage horror film.
Props should be given to Brittany Underwood as Amanda in “Amanda’s Revenge” who gives a fine performance as the title character, full of anger and determination, with props also given to David Rountree as Professor Callahan (sadly no relation to Harry Callahan) in the “Demon” segment who manages to deliver the sometimes bizarre science heavy dialogue with an air of conviction and authority that makes it all sound plausible.
Whether you’ll like The Dark Tapes very much depends on whether or not you like found footage films and whether or not you can stomach watching what is essentially four short films stuck together. Personally, I found the film, like most anthology films, to be a mixed bag – you like some segments but you don’t others.
I’ll even admit that the weaker segments have some good qualities likes the decent acting from the cast and for at least attempting to try and tell more ambitious stories or more creative twists on familiar ones. Check it out if you’re curious – it’s not all bad, and you’re bound to find something you like about it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★