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VH1’s Celebrity Paranormal Project (TV)

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Celebrity Paranormal Project reviewStarring a bunch of celebrities

Directed by someone with way too much time on their hands


Take MTV’s "Fear," move it to VH1, replace actual contestants vying for money with D-list celebrities and former reality show contestants that are apparently now considered celebrities in their own right for reasons unknown, and you get "Celebrity Paranormal Project".

Five celebs are assembled at a location reputed to be haunted to investigate it from sundown to sunrise. The story behind this facility and its haunting are recounted to them in both written form and via a video documentary/cheap computer effects heavy video presentation. They assemble inside a mobile home outside the facility to suit up with camera harnesses that allow them to be filmed individually in facial close-up ala Blair Witch Project. Two at a time, celebs head into the abandoned facility to reach specific paranormal hot spots within the place. Once there, they’ll be instructed via radio by the celebrity back at home base serving as task leader to say or do specific things that will supposedly entice the spirits into manifesting themselves. All throughout these proceedings we get more cheesy reenactments of supposedly true paranormal events that occurred in these places and those asides that have become all to common to reality programs where the people involved are recorded later telling us what they were thinking about at the time.

I’d be lying if I said that I had any real expectations of seeing quality entertainment going into this show, but I was willing to give it a shot anyway just based on the cornball nature of VH1 doing "Ghost Hunters" with that channel’s usual allotment of celebrity nobodies and has-beens. It’s VH1; the best you can hope for is a guilty pleasure. Well, this show is definitely guilty alright. It’s not often that I use the phrase "an affront to human intelligence" but this is a special occasion. "Celebrity Paranormal Project" is an affront to human intelligence. It’s insulting to its audience. It’s insulting to people that actually do real investigations into the paranormal. Hell, it’s even insulting to ghosts.

Hal Sparks: "Gary, take the EFM meter."
Gary Busey: "What’s an EFM meter?"

Moccara: "I heard a door slam."
Donna D’Errico: "That’s kinda scary."

Those two vapid dialogue exchanges from the first episode pretty much sum up this program in a nutshell. Every celebrity that appeared on this show needs to give their agent a serious ass kicking because all of them come across as such an uninteresting lot of vacuous personalities that you come to realize why they are so far down the totem pole of fame that appearing on a crap show like this might have seemed a good idea.

The first episode of "Celebrity Paranormal Project" takes place at the allegedly haunted Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky where 63,000 died from Tuberculosis back in 1926. Let’s meet our celebs for the premiere episode.

Paranormal Project reviewGary Busey – He tells us that he believes in the supernatural because he’s been to the other side. I don’t doubt him because its obvious part of him never came back. Busey is his normal flakey self; he will open the proceedings with a group energy blessing hug and ends the program babbling about having heard "the mechanical tiger." Even Busey’s wacko factor cannot salvage this nothing of a show.

Toccara – Since when does being the 6th runner-up on "America’s Next Top Model" qualify someone as a celebrity? You may have appeared on television but you’re not really famous. The model proves her worth in the opening minutes by requiring someone to explain to her what the word "Tuberculosis" means.

Hal Sparks – The former "Talk Soup" host describes himself as self a "professional jerk." I’d always thought that Andy Dick had that phrase copyrighted exclusively for himself. Sparks is obviously there to provide the comic relief during the proceedings. He fails.

Jenna Morasca – She was the big winner on "Survivor: The Amazon". I again question her status as a true celeb. At least she actually won the show she was on as opposed to having been the sixth runner up.

Donna D’Errico – Former "Baywatch Nights" actress, Playboy Playmate, star of Candyman 3, and soon-to-be ex-wife of Nikki Sixx. She confesses up front that she had no clue what she was getting into with this show. Before it’s over she’ll damn near have a nervous breakdown after getting badly spooked. I’m bet even watching that remake of When A Stranger Calls could terrify this poor girl.

So in a nutshell, a bunch of celebrities that barely qualify as celebrities have cameras strapped to them so they can wander around the dank, darkened rooms and corridors of the interiors of a place that look like it’d be perfect for the sets of the next installment in the Saw franchise so that they can say the most insipid stuff, experience varying degrees of being scared, a lot of obscenities get bleeped out, then they begin yelling at one another, and finally they return to home base to tell everyone how scared they were and claim to have felt the presence of someone or something otherworldly. And this is supposed to be entertaining how?

One big part of the first episode was talk of "shadow people," creepy shadows seen in the Sanatorium that are believed to be ghostly souls. Yeah, or maybe they’re just shadows? Look, if you take a person and fill their head full of ghost stories and then send them into a dark, decrepit building, you don’t even need actual ghosts to show up because a person’s imagination is going to be working overtime as it is. What these people do in terms of ghost hunting makes the average Scooby Doo investigation look like National Geographic quality analysis. But then it’s hard not to get the sense that the producers weren’t sweetening the pot so to speak. More on that in a moment.

Celebrity Paranormal Project reviewThe first episode ended with Hal Sparks declaring that "Gary is the scariest thing in this whole place." You know what would have made this episode acceptable? If Gary Busey had just gone nuts with hacksaw and dispatched with this band of saps.

But I still decided to give "Celebrity Paranormal Project" a second chance. Hey, any show can have a bad first episode and then improve from there on out, right? Okay, I admit I really wanted to see if the second episode could possibly be worse than the first. It was. Episode two proved even more boring and asinine, and this time it was completely impossible to not notice the obvious manipulation on the part of the people behind the show.

The second episode was set at someplace called the Warson Asylum for the Criminally Insane, located somewhere in New England. The place is said to have been home to a patient possessed by a spirit named Perl – a spirit that now supposedly haunts the place. This week’s celebrity rubes included model/actress Rachel Hunter, some comedian I’ve never heard of named Godfrey, hyperactive personal trainer and infomercial guru Tony Little, Baywatch babe and Playboy Playmate Traci Bingham, and another "Survivor" winner named Ethan.

How bad do things get this time? Jittery from the get-go Traci Bingham has to hold a pendulum over laughing lunatic Tony Little who is required to put on a straightjacket and sit on the floor of the once rubber room where the possessed inmate resided. We and these celebrities are supposed to believe that the combination of a guy in a straightjacket and the swinging of a pendulum will somehow entice Perl to make its presence known. Little begins sweating from wearing the straightjacket and suddenly everyone hails the temper change as proof of Perl’s presence. This would seem especially dubious as the show went on since everyone would keep claiming that it kept getting cold whenever the spirit was present. The whole episode featured crap like this. I swear if someone had farted they’d have sworn the foul odor in the air was proof positive of the spirit’s presence in the room.

Aside from a frightened Traci Bingham offering to take Perl’s spirit on a Rodeo Drive shopping spree and her uttering "Oh, my god" more times in a row than she ever has in a situation that didn’t climax with an orgasm, the highlight (or lowlight) of the show came when they actually managed to get a spirit on video with one of their thermal cameras. Think for a second about the ramifications of this. We see this footage clearly showing some humanoid shape quickly passing by the camera. Imagine how any other show about the paranormal would treat such an event. Imagine how many replays, slow motions, freeze frames, etc. we’d get of this followed by in-depth scientific analysis of the footage by experts. This show gives us one quick glimpse of the footage and when everyone realizes something just happened, we get a quick replay of the footage – and that’s the end of it. That something as amazing as capturing a ghost on film could be as quickly glossed over in favor of more facial close-ups of the quivering lips of nervous D-list celebrities sends a clear message that this was either a fraud being perpetrated by the show’s producers in a desperate attempt to liven this boring piece of crap show up or the people responsible for this boring piece of crap program are unquestionably the stupidest friggin’ people to ever walk the face of the earth. Personally, I’d guess a lot from Column A and a little from Column B.

Celebrity Paranormal Project reviewI don’t doubt for a second the fear these celebs experienced was genuine. But like I already explained, take some people that are skittish to begin with, fill their heads full of ghost stories, toss them into a scary dark place, and let the imagination run wild. Whether what precipitates these responses stems from their own imagination, the normal creaks and shadows that come with places like this, some audio/visual sweetening courtesy of the show’s producers, or even the presence of actual ghostly spirits, it still makes for extremely bad television. A variety of media outlets are going to begin releasing their lists of the best and worst TV shows of the year in just a few short weeks from now and if "Celebrity Paranormal Project" isn’t at least somewhere in the top three on every last one of those worst lists then it’s proof that these critics never bothered to watch a single episode of this show.

"Celebrity Paranormal Project" is boring, insulting, and just plain pitiful. For the life of me, I do not understand what the hell the point of this program is. It fails on a scientific front to an appalling degree yet it takes itself far too seriously to be any fun in that "Celebreality" subgenre that VH1 foolishly prides itself on. The point of the show seems to be for audiences to derive pleasure from watching these D-list celebs acting scared, but there’s nothing remotely amusing about it since even their fear feels monotonous and everything else that comes out of these people’s mouths is hopelessly vapid. I don’t know who VH1 expects this show to appeal to but whoever it is out there that derives genuine entertainment from watching this program – I honestly don’t know what to say to you other than you must either be starved for entertainment or live truly a sad existence.

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The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life

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Starring Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Paula Malcomson

Written and directed by David Freyne


Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.

Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.

The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.

Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.

Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.

Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.

The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.

  • The Cured
3.5

Summary

The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.

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Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed

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Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim

Directed by Brian Coyne


Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.

Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.

So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.

  • Film
1.5

Summary

I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.

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Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone

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Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters

Directed by Jeff Houkal


Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?

Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.

As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).

  • Film
3.5

Summary

Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”

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