In 1980, the movie Cannibal Holocaust was released. In this film, a documentary crew had traveled to the jungle to film cannibal tribes, and then was never heard from again. The crew’s footage, however, is recovered. Then, nearly two decades later, The Blair Witch Project was released. In this movie, a documentary crew goes into the forest to document a local legend, and then is never heard from again. The crew’s footage, however, is recovered. Yeah, same thing, except The Blair Witch Project did it without style or any actual scares. But it was a surprising hit (surprising to me because it’s such an awful, pointless film), and its success basically guaranteed that we’d be subjected to a seemingly unending stream of so-called “found footage” films. These movies are characterized by shaky camera work, repetitive bare-bones scripts, and some of the worst acting imaginable. Now, don’t get me wrong, occasionally we’ll get a halfway decent found-footage film. But most of them are just fucking terrible, filled with lines like “What was that?” and “Did you just hear that?” and “What the hell is that?” and “What the hell was that?” and “What the hell happened?” Yes, all of those lines are in Chupacabra Territory, the latest offering in this tired (and tiresome) sub-genre of horror.
In Chupacabra Territory, a young documentary crew goes into the woods to document a local legend and then is never heard from again. Their footage, however, is recovered. Sound familiar? Yes, because it’s exactly the same stupid shit that all of these films give us. It opens with title cards telling us, “In 2013, the FBI released footage by four campers who went missing in the North Pinewood territory” and, of course, “Police recovered several video cameras, their bodies remain undiscovered.” Then Joe, before their trip into the woods, talks about how four experienced campers hiked into the area and three days later were reported missing. Those aren’t the four this movie is about, however. Joe and three friends go into the area, hoping to document the presence of the chupacabra, and they are the four that are the subject of this film. Joe has a strange book that is supposedly made of chupacabra skin and contains spells for contacting the creature. No word on how he obtained such a book. He is accompanied by Amber, who is completely gung-ho about the project and is clearly a little nuts; Dave, who mans the camera and is almost never seen; and Morgan, who introduces himself by saying he hates camping, dirt, cameras and chupacabras. He claims to be there because of his good looks “and of course my giant dong.”
A gas station attendant gives them information about the local legends and relates how he happened to personally see the chupacabra. He also draws a map for them, showing them the site where the other four people had camped. The map is like a child’s sketch, and it’s completely unbelievable that anyone could follow it, but that really doesn’t matter. They next encounter a park ranger, who tells them the trail is closed and that they have to go back. He says, “Trees are dying, falling all over, coyotes have been found dead, pieces of them found spread everywhere.” Great dialogue. Amber and Joe see this as evidence of a conspiracy. Amber says: “I feel like there’s a lot of mystery in this forest. I feel like people really want to help us, but they’re just too afraid to really talk.” What? They’ve met a total of two people, one of whom not only talked, but drew them a map. Not a good map, granted, but a map nonetheless.
Each of the four friends straps a camera to his or her head, ensuring plenty of shaky camera work. And they – against the warnings of the park ranger – head up the trail. I do appreciate that they point out a misspelling on a trail sign: “TRALHEAD.” I wonder if that was in the script, or if someone in the art department made a mistake and the actors decided to play with it. By the way, even though they all have cameras now, we still mainly get Dave’s perspective for some reason. (The reason is that he is the director of photography, and not really an actor.) On the trail, they meet three hikers who are looking for their friend Bobby. (So in this land, apparently people can only camp in groups of four.) They go their separate ways, promising to meet up later. And then suddenly we get footage from those three hikers, because one of them has a camera. It’s ridiculous that they are suddenly filming everything too, but they have to because this is a “found footage” film. However, there is a fun moment when they play a prank on the park ranger. There are actually some good moments in this movie. I like when a camera catches something that their eyes did not – a cool touch.
Suddenly Amber declares that the other campers are in trouble. Apparently, Amber has psychic abilities. And then the film cuts back and forth between their campsite and the campsite of those three hikers (four, once Bobby returns). So who is responsible for that sort of editing in the story of this film? The FBI? Well, those hikers have only one camera, so they’d better place it in just exactly the right spot to catch everything. Of course, I don’t believe for a second that they would leave the camera running, set at the perimeter of their camp and aimed into the camp. It’s completely ridiculous. But how else can the filmmakers show us what’s happening at that other camp? Oh, I’ve got a solution: don’t make found footage films. But hey, it’s a good thing that girl landed right in front of that one camera – not once, not twice, but three times. Another problem with these movies is that people inexplicably continue to film once things have gone really wrong, which is never believable. And yet another problem is that you know from the beginning how these movies will end. After all, no one ever comes back to tell the tale. But this movie does provide a few jolts, a few scares. The creature is pretty cool, and is used sparingly. And, rare as it is for this type of film, the cast actually isn’t bad. The film stars Sarah Nicklin as Amber, Michael Reed as Joe, and Alex Hayek as Morgan.
The DVD includes two behind-the-scenes featurettes. The first includes interviews with cast members Michael Reed, Sarah Nicklin, Elliot Book, Alex Hayek and Megan Hensley, as well as production footage. The second features interviews with some key crew members, including director Matthew McWilliams, executive producer Christopher D. Maltauro and editor Carlos Ramirez. Interestingly, the story for this movie came about from a camping trip that Matthew McWilliams took with some friends, where he shot footage of them pretending they were looking for the chupacabra.
The special features also include a photo gallery and the film’s trailer.
Chupacabra Territory was directed by Matthew McWilliams, and was released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 11, 2017.
(Note: I also posted a slightly different review of this movie on my Good Things About Bad Movies blog.)