New Horror Release: The Dark Tapes (2017) - Reviewed

Sometimes, we watch low budget horror films with the expectation of them being mundane or too cheap to be trashy fun. An unexpected guilty pleasure is finding such an offering that not only defies these preconceived notions, but manages to deliver some genuine thrills and twists at the same time. Michael McQuown and Vincent Guastini’s found footage anthology thriller, The Dark Tapes, is not only a resounding surprise but a lethal injection to the low grade horror movie game.

Featuring three tales wrapped in a connection story, The Dark Tapes focuses on the concept of mankind trying to use science and technology to understand the supernatural, and the terrifying results of such assumptions. The stories involve a haunted house, an unusual sex camera operation, an alien abductee’s quest for revenge, and a college professor’s attempt at contacting the beyond. The premises sound simplistic and the script makes no attempt at breaking outside these expectations. However, the terror is in how each story gets you there, using shocking twists, unsettling found footage effects, and a delightful cast to create a memorable horror film that manages to stay with you long after its unsettling conclusion. 

The Dark Tapes is constructed upon the idea that control is a fabrication, an acidic byproduct of scientific knowledge when contrasted against the supernatural. Each of the four tales uses this narrative constraint effectively, but in wildly different manners. The haunted house segment plays upon the Paranormal Activity fad, subverting genre stereotypes by deliberately giving the viewer almost 20 minutes of zero surprises, only to then have the floor drop completely out in the climax. The sex camera sequence begins with a refutation of medical arrogance before delving into the common horror trope of attractive women luring men into dangerous situations before once again taking the story into an unexpected place. The acting is for the most part, perfectly cheesy when required and yet outright creepy when the story demands it. Unearthly lighting pairs perfectly with Matt Shapira’s handheld cinematography, offering just enough to entice the viewer with possibilities, waiting until the last possible second to reveal the horrors in the darkness. 

The “horrors” themselves may appear hokey to those who are used to films with actual budgets, however given the limitations, the phantasmal terrors designed by Josh Crockett are more than adequate, debuting long fingered skeletal homages to Sam Raimi’s pantheon of gore. The third story involves a woman who is being abducted on a nightly basis by unseen forces. Once she is able to prove these creatures exist, she decides to fight back. Brittany Underwood’s performance is perfect, using a minimal amount of time to create a bond with the audience. This connection melds with the story’s slow burn reveal to instill terror and a showcases unexpected problem solving through Underwood’s exhausted defiance. 

The final, wrap around story involves a college professor and his assistant as they attempt to capture a demon that exists in between realities by breaking open the doorway of REM sleep. The pseudoscience alone is enough to make any B movie aficionado cheer, but the disturbing, dizzying camera play and remarkable body work of Ryan Allan Young as the creature continue The Dark Tapes’ trend of staying within the bounds of shoestring horror and still managing to produce memorable scares with vicious ramifications. 
We are vampy vixens of the night, love and fear us

Coming soon to digital rental, The Dark Tapes is a crowd pleasing entry into both the found footage and anthology categories. Featuring some legitimate scares, unique camerawork, and an ensemble of young talent who embrace the material, this is an excellent choice for a late night feature. Embracing the forgotten tropes of mad science to create a shadowy world with arcane loopholes, this is pure handheld mayhem from start to finish, a film that other entries into the maligned found footage genres should take note of.

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-Kyle Jonathan