About a month or so ago now, I was passed along a free screener copy of 2013’s THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL on DVD by former Daily Grindhouse head honcho Paul Freitag-Fey, and I promised to review it but, alas, never did. And when I say “never” I don’t actually mean, ya know, never — I mean “never until now.” I got a bit wrapped up in my ongoing “Netflix Halloween” series, and just didn’t set aside the 90 minutes or so it takes to watch this thing until last night, which is kind of a shame — not because this is a completely awesome freaking movie or anything, but because I wasted my time on far worse efforts than (and, okay, admittedly a few better ones, as well) while this sat on the back burner.
Still, all things come to an end (even procrastination) and I gotta say this one wasn’t too bad, even if it’s a complete rehash of things we’ve been through many times —unless, of course, any of this sounds at all new to you : a couple of supposed “documentary” filmmakers (Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates of THE ZOMBIE DIARIES and ZOMBIE DIARIES 2 “fame”) assemble a paranormal investigation team (consisting of actors Craig Stovin, Criselda Cabitac, Mark Jeavons, and Rob Whitaker, among others — all playing “themselves, of course) to spend the night in the supposedly haunted ruins of the Clphill church in Befordshire, UK, where weird shit has supposedly been going down ever since a coven of witches performed a “Black Mass” there back in 1963.
Items to check off your list of standard “found footage” horror movie tropes : empty tombs, animal sacrifices, bones laid out in ritualistic fashion, cattle mutilations in nearby fields, strange noises, and things that go bump in the night. Yup, you really have seen this all before.
On the plus side, though, it’s not too often these days that we see them done this well. There really is nothing new under the sun (or , in this case, the moon) as far as “mockumentary” horrors go, but if you’re looking for absolute originality, how likely are you to even be watching this in the first place? If you’re like me, though, all you really want at this point from this sort of thing is reasonably competent execution, and at least we get that much here.
Admittedly, the scares take awhile to get going here, as Bartlett and Gates play things very close to the vest and adhere quite strictly to the formula laid down by all those Ghost Hunters-type TV shows , but when they begin interspersing their numerous staged “interviews” with purportedly “real” footage from their Clophill excursion, they do manage to snare your interest back just when they seem most in danger of losing it — and the lengthy, detlailed set-up manages to pay off later by providing some actual context for the freaky shit that goes down once it does, in fact, start to go down, and context is something that’s sorely lacking in a lot of films in this obviously-never-gonna-die subgenre.
Even so, a word of warning is probably in order here : if you judge THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL by the same standards you hold an actual film to (not an entirely unreasonably proposition given that this is, after all, a movie) you’ll probably find that it comes up lacking in many key respects : the characterization is minimal, the premise is old news, the performances are uneven, and the direction is fairly straight -forward. It all might have seemed terribly original, say, 20 years ago, but obviously not today.
How best to gauge its merits, then? I humbly suggest looking at it as what it’s trying to pretend to be — one of those dime-a-dozen paranormal “reality” shows, only in this one, thankfully, some genuinely spooky stuff finally does happen. Looked at that way, this flick is a blockbuster success.
A more unquestionable success any way you choose to view it is Image Entertainment/RLJ Entertainment’s DVD, which features not only superb picture quality and 5.1 sound, but a well-done short composed of deleted scenes called Tales From The Graveyard : The Clophill Archives, which lends a bit more credence to the “hey, this is all actually real!” scenario the filmmakers are trying so hard to convey, and a full-length commentary track with the cast and directors that, believe it or not, manages to keep the average viewer engaged all the way to the end. All told, it’s a nice package for a film that probably won’t knock your socks off, but that you’ll more than likely find outshines most of its similar contemporaries.