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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Camera Obscura

June 14, 2017 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #414: Camera Obscura

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never had to cut off a person’s head with any sort of saw, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number four hundred and fourteen, I take a look at the new horror thriller from Chiller Films, Camera Obscura, which is currently in the midst of a theatrical release (it’s playing at the Cinema Village in New York City) and is now available on Video On Demand Digital HD (I’m going to assume there will eventually be some sort of DVD release, or some kind of streaming thing).

Camera Obscura

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Camera Obscura, directed and co-written by Aaron B. Koontz, stars Christopher Denham as Jack Zeller, a former war photographer suffering from shell shock (you know, post-traumatic stress disorder). Jack has also been out of work since coming home from the war zone, but at the same time his life seems to be getting better. He isn’t suffering from weird blackouts as much as he did when he got back, he has multiple job opportunities lined up, and his girlfriend/wife Claire (Nadja Bobyleva) is there to support him through it all. In fact, Jack probably wouldn’t be in the state he’s in at the beginning of the movie without Claire’s support. And most of this is confirmed by Jack’s therapist, who really thinks he’s making major progress. So Claire, as part of their upcoming anniversary, buys Jack an old camera (Jack collects old cameras or something like that. And that would make sense since he is a professional photographer. A photographer would likely be into that kind of thing). It’s a reconstructed camera from around World War II and looks pretty cool. It’s also the thing that completely messes up Jack’s life.

Completely messes up Jack’s life? How the hell could a camera mess up a person’s life? Because the camera is not just a camera. As Jack finds out after using the camera and getting the film developed, the camera has the ability to sort of tell the future. It takes “photos” of horrible deaths, deaths that Jack doesn’t actually witness because all he’s doing is taking pictures of buildings and landscapes and whatnot. But there are dead people in those photos. How the hell is that possible? Because the camera is possessed. Or it’s just plain evil. Perhaps demonic? The camera is bad goddamn news.
And to make matters even worse, the dead people in Jack’s photos are all Claire. Claire is going to die? Not if Jack can help it. So Jack does some research, finds out that the camera was once owned by a local serial killer, and that he can manipulate the “future” by making sure other people die in the locations Claire is expected to die. If he can get through all of the photos without Claire dying, Jack can then move on with his life. Or something like that. Jack’s actual goal, beyond making sure that Claire doesn’t die, is a little unclear.

So how is Jack going to make sure someone else dies in Claire’s place? He’s going to have to kill people himself in those places. It’s a messed up solution to a messed up situation, but then what the hell else is Jack supposed to do? The goddamn camera is demonic!

Claire, of course, is completely unaware of what the hell Jack is going on her behalf. She does notice that Jack seems to be more off than usual, but she has no idea that her fiancé/husband is killing people. She thinks he’s nervous about his various job interviews he has lined up, and the healing process is full of ups and downs. Perhaps Jack is just having a minor setback? It happens.

Now, Jack isn’t exactly the world’s most adept murderer. He gets by, sure, and is able to kill as many people as he needs to in order to keep Claire alive, but he isn’t what you would call good at it. He’s constantly nervous about what he has to do. When he kills a local pervert (a guy who tried to rape Claire) he really doesn’t know what he’s doing. And while he sets up future murders and tries to cover his tracks and whatnot, he doesn’t really get any better at it. Jack wears rubber gloves most of the time when he’s killing people, but he’s still leaving his DNA all over the place. But then it’s not like the cops know anything.

Well, one cop is sort of on Jack’s trail. A Detective Dawson (Catherine Curtin) is suspicious of Jack the first time she meets him, and she thinks that Jack is up to something because he keeps showing up near or around the various killings and other crimes she investigates. Her superiors aren’t on board with her suspicions, but that doesn’t deter Dawson from continuing her investigation. She knows that he’s responsible for something.

What’s great about Camera Obscura is how you’re never quite sure if any of what you’re seeing is really happening. The world that Jack lives in is weird as hell because there’s a mix of technologies everywhere. The evil camera is obviously old. Jack and Claire both use smart phones. But every television in the movie is a “square” one (there are no flat screens in this movie). Jack goes to the local library to do research on the camera and has to use a microfiche machine. When was the last time you saw anyone in a movie or real life do that (you know, besides college students or something like that)? There’s also a box of VHS tapes that Jack finds in an underground hideout of the local serial killer, The tapes hold the key to understanding what, exactly, the evil camera is and how to possibly defeat it.

Jack also experiences multiple daymares, nightmares, and hallucinations that freak you out because you don’t know they’re not real until Jack figures out they’re not real. And then there are the bugs that keep showing up. They’re millipedes that look like snakes with tiny legs. I’m still uneasy thinking about them.

The movie starts to lose a bit of steam towards the end because, instead of just keeping the “what the hell is going on here?” tone right until the end, the movie tries to offer up a satisfying conclusion/sort of explanation of what the camera is really all about. That conclusion really doesn’t work and is confusing. The movie isn’t necessarily ruined by that conclusion, but the movie probably would have been more successful if it remained unsettling until the end and didn’t try to explain anything.

The movie’s best sequence involves Jack fighting a hardware store owner he decides to kill because he asks too many questions about all of the stuff he’s buying (I think this is Tad, as played by Jeremy King). Jack brings the guy to a house and engages in one of the most brutal brawls you’re likely to see. The stunt work, the actual fighting, and the way the fight is put together is something to behold. The scene is also a testament to the idea that, sometimes, it’s really hard to kill someone. Some people just won’t stay down.

There are several moments of blood and gore that work (the great Robert Kurtzman did the make-up effects). There’s a very messy decapitation scene, the murder of the local pervert is nasty, and there’s a sex scene/hallucination that will make you uneasy as hell. The scene is just gross as hell. Very cool stuff.

And then there’s the musical score by Steve Moore. Creepy, unnerving, and weird as hell at times, it’s one of the best modern synth based movie scores I’ve heard. There are times in the movie where the score is actually overwhelming and ups the suspense level so much that you will literally be on the edge of your seat. According to the end credits, the score is presently available on iTunes. After watching Camera Obscura you will definitely want to pick it up. Well, if you’re into movie scores, that is. I plan on doing it.

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The cast is generally good. Christopher Denham does a fine job as Jack. While it’s hard at times to believe that this terrified, obviously damaged man could pull off a string of murders without being arrested immediately, Denham makes you root for his success despite the fact he’s murdering people. His last scene, which doubles as the actual opening scene of the movie, is heinous as hell, but you still sort of root for him anyway. Denham knows how to play timid well.

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Nadja Bobyleva does a good job as the understanding fiancé Claire. She’s so into Jack it’s heartwarming that she cares so much for him. Although, would she be as into him if she knew what he was doing to “save” her? It’s something you’ll likely wonder about when the movie is over. I know I did. You’ll also wonder why she seems to have a real aversion to wearing shoes. I did that, too. Bobyleva must also be given mega kudos for the sex scene she engages in with Denham. She’s very brave.

Catherine Curtin is okay as Detective Dawson. She’s earnest and, in some ways, a badass, but she isn’t in the movie long enough. Her best scene involves a small argument over the use of the word “retarded” and her hatred of millennials. You could easily see her character as the lead in a sequel of some sort. I know I could.

Camera Obscura was made in Louisiana, although I didn’t know that until I saw it mentioned in the credits. I thought the movie was made in Canada. It has that “modern Canadian low budget genre movie that appears on TV” vibe going for it, but, amazingly, it was made in Louisiana. Watch the movie and see if you make the same mistake that I did.

And, yes, you should watch Camera Obscura. It’s a pretty good horror flick. And check out that score. Awesome stuff.

See Camera Obscura. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: At least 10.

Explosions: Two

Nudity?: Yes. The events surrounding it are disturbing, though. Just be aware of that.

Doobage: Attempted murder, unemployment, an old camera, photography, a depressed/jerky photomat manager, jogging, a creepy fat guy, a TV report on a dead kid, a bloody white towel, photo burning, a bloody kid, skin removal, on screen text messaging, a burning building, library research, a dead kid foaming at the mouth, a tabletop frame that has cracked glass in it, a creepy bed discussion, hair burling, car window punching, a very gross neck wound hallucination, a mugging, a dead hobo, an old, creepy house, a decaying corpse, basement tapes, barfing, vehicular assault, kidnapping, bondage, gut stabbing, head smashing, evidence burning, bleeding gums, bloody tooth removal, a mild shopping spree, more head smashing, vase to the head, a brutal brawl, attempted drowning, attempted choking, more gut stabbing, a wicked balcony fall, wood stake through the gut, lying, a strange kid, gun buying, hooker buying, decapitation, choking, bloody sex, a bloody bathtub that somehow sets itself on fire, an unsettling video, a sort of war flashback, and a weird ending.

Kim Richards?: Yes.

Gratuitous: Therapy, a reconstructed film camera from the 1930’s, an old combat jacket, club soda, TV election coverage, talk of infomercial knives that show up in real life later on, a barefoot girlfriend, an old small TV, internet CPR directions, microfiche research, multiple creepy bugs, talk of “Hedgehog Day,” a TV/VCR, how to use a hammer, asking for ether, a pitcher of water with cucumber slices in it, a kid eating an ice cream cone, finger sucking, mismatched bra and panties, “lame,” “This is retarded,” and a weird ending.

Best lines: “Hello! Hello! Pizza man’s here!,” “What thirty year old delivers pizzas?,” “I have a surprise for you. Uh oh,” “Hello. Just needed some film… developed,” “You know, we could be someone’s favorite couple,” “Olive Street has hookers now?,” “Okay, I will not touch your prostitute,” “Oh, what the fuck?,” “People usually come to the pool to relax,” “Want some valium? I’ll pass on the valium, thanks,” “Hey, did you hear what I said?,” “Jack, last call was twenty minutes ago,” “This is so depressing,” “Good morning, beautiful,” “Where the fuck is she? Language,” “It wasn’t a very romantic anniversary,” “Hey, mister, you need some help?,” “My name’s Boone,” “Okay, this is crazy. This is… really crazy,” “Next time we’re watching a romantic comedy, that’s for sure,” “Did you have another nightmare?,” “That, my friend, is one high quality hammer,” “It looks like your bad day is turning into a bad week,” “I’m not lying to you. I just don’t know what the truth is anymore,” “God bless America,” “Jack, what the hell? This is really weird,” “This is not what it looks like,” “You shouldn’t have done all of this,” “Do you want to jump in the tub with me?,” “Jack, what’s going on?,” “He’s not going anywhere. On what grounds? My grounds,” “This is retarded,” “Fucking millennials,” and “Look, I’ve been here all day.”

Rating: 8.0/10.0

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Things to Watch Out For This Week

JohnWickChapter2DVD

John Wick: Chapter 2: This terrific sequel kicked so much ass on the big screen, I’m curious to see how well it translates to the small screen. I’m also stoked to see it again because, well, it’s just so damn awesome. Can’t wait for Chapter 3. Where the heck is the story going next? How is our hero John Wick going to get out of the predicament he finds himself in at the end of the movie? Check out my full review of the movie here and then go out and buy John Wick: Chapter 2.

AaronsBloodDVD

Aaron’s Blood: This low budget vampire flick played at this past year’s Scareacon Film Festival, but I missed it (it played at the same time as something else. I don’t remember what). It looks pretty good, and the story sounds intriguing. I’ll be doing a full review of the movie soon, so be on the lookout for that.

HeadshotDVD

Headshot: Iko Uwais, star of the badass The Raid movies, stars in this action flick about a guy who wakes up one morning with amnesia. Then, apparently, some stuff happens, Uwais is nursed back to health, and then he beats up and kills a bunch of people. Or something. The description I saw for it actually says that “violence ensues.” Beating people up and killing them is violence, right?

NavySEALSvDemons

Navy SEALS v Demons: Okay, so, this movie is not a sequel to Navy SEALS vs. Zombies, although I’m assuming that’s what the distributor wants you to think (the movie’s original title was Demons of Jack County). The DVD case claims that one of the producers of Navy SEALS vs. Demons is involved, but I really don’t know what that means. It looks like an okay low budget action horror flick. There’s gunplay, fighting, people in gross makeup and blood and whatnot. And there are bikers, so that’s kind of cool, too. Anyone out there see this movie as Demons of Jack County, maybe at a film festival or something?

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B-Movie News

BruceWillis

Death Wish remake with Bruce Willis coming this fall: I can’t say that I’m all that enthused with this remake, mostly because Bruce Willis tends to look bored as hell in most of his recent movies, and director Eli Roth hasn’t exactly made a good movie yet. But I’m willing to give it a shot just to see if it’s any good. And what the hell is a modern Death Wish going to be about? We don’t have the rampant big city crime like we did in the 1970’s, when the original movie and book were set. What the hell is this new one going to “comment” on, if anything? Is it just going to be a revenge movie? I can get down with that, but, when you have the Death Wish title and the Paul Kersey character, you have to be as good as the original, or as good as one of the sequels.

Now, this new Death Wish is set to premiere in November, November 22nd to be exact. That’s a Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. The article I saw over at The Action Elite dealing with the release announcement didn’t say if this was a wide release, one of those “prestige” releases because someone thinks they’re getting major awards consideration, or if it’s just one of those “five city” releases to help its DVD release. Hopefully it’s an actual theatrical release because, yeah, I’d go see this in a theatre.

When will we get a trailer for this new Death Wish? No info on that yet. I’d imagine, by the end of the summer, we’ll see something.

Man, I hope this doesn’t blow. The world doesn’t need a bad Death Wish movie.

Boyka

Boyka, the latest Undisputed sequel, set to hit home video in August: The next Undisputed sequel, Boyka, featuring, once again, the great Scott Adkins, is set to hit home video this coming August. My pal Caliber Winfield of The Man Movie Encyclopedia recently reviewed the flick and, man, it sounds pretty awesome. It’s interesting to see just how the Undisputed franchise has evolved since the first movie, which was a boxing in prison movie directed by Walter Hill. That movie starred Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames and was actually give a major theatrical release. The second movie starred Michael Jai White as the Ving Rhames character and was all about underground fighting inside of a Russian prison. The third movie was all about the Boyka/Scott Adkins character, which had its debut in part 2, and is considered to be one of the greatest direct-to-video action movies ever made (the great Isaac Florentine made part 2 and 3). This fourth one is directed by Todor Chapkanov, a guy who has done all kinds of second unit directing/assisting and has directed movies like Asylum and Viking Quest.

After this fourth one comes out, perhaps it will be time to do a full on Undisputed marathon. That could be cool, right?

Anyone else out there besides Caliber see Boyka yet?

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Coming this August: The Marine Marathon!

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Who is the Douchebag of the Week? Go here and find out!

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Next Issue: Pound of Flesh starring Jean-Claude Van Damme!

And it will happen this time.

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Check out my interview with david j. moore here!

Check out my interview with the great Jino Kang here!

Check out my interview with character actor Vladimir Kulich here!

Check out my interview with martial artist and actor Paul Mormando here!

Check out my interview with writer/actor/director Shahin Sean Solimon here!

Check out my interview with director Michael Matteo Rossi here!

Check out my interview with actor Tyrone Magnus here!

Check out my interview with Hector Barron here!

Check out my interview with Jeffrey Orgill here!

Check out my interview with director Michael Baumgarten here!

Check out my interview with actor and stuntman R. Marcos Taylor here!

Check out my interview with action movie legend Don “The Dragon” Wilson here!

Check out my interview with Paul Kyriazi, the director of Ninja Busters and Death Machines, here!

Check out my interview with martial artist and actor Eric Jacobus here!

Check out my interview with martial artist and actor Juju Chan here!

Check out my interview with noted stunt performer and stunt coordinator Luke LaFontaine here!
Check out my interview with film journalist Marco Siedlemann here!

Check out my interview with Revenge of the Ninja and American Ninja director Sam Firstenberg here!

Check out my interview with Amariah Olson, co-director of The Shadow Effect here!

Check out my interview with action star Alexander Nevsky here!

Check out my interview with action movie badass Mathias Hues here!

Check out my interview with actress and action star Kristanna Loken here!

Check out my interview with King Cohen: The Wild Film World of Larry Cohen director Steve Mitchell here!

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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.

Camera Obscura

Christopher Denham– Jack Zeller
Nadja Bobyleva– Claire
Catherine Curtin– Detective Dawson
Chase Williamson– Detective Ford
Noah Segan– Walt
Andrew Sensenig– Charlie Hibbert
Gretchen Lodge– Shannon
Jeremy King– Tad Buckley

Directed by Aaron B. Koontz
Screenplay by Cameron Burns and Aaron B. Koontz

Distributed by Chiller Films

Not Rated
Runtime– 94 minutes