Tag Archives: mockumentary




Pros: Not terribly bad as a mockumentary horror flick

Cons: Story covers familiar territory and the ending is a letdown

“Dr. Henry West founded the Atticus Institute to study telekinesis, clairvoyance, and other psi-related phenomena. Thousands of subjects were tested using the scientific method, many of whom expressed supernatural abilities that defied explanation by known physical laws. The small parapsychology lab operated for nearly a decade until it was mysteriously shut down in November 1976 by the US government.”


So reads the introduction to 2015’s The Atticus Institute, which plays out in the manner of a documentary examining the history of the titular establishment. We’re initially introduced to Dr. West, whose goal it is to prove once and for all that wild and bizarre psychic powers are indeed real. To this end, West opens his facility in Pennsylvania and begins to screen various unique individuals to determine their level of extra-sensory abilities. Though there are some promising findings, the credibility of the lab is thrown into doubt when members of the scientific community uncover a gimmick used by one supposedly psychically-gifted experimental subject. Just when it seems that any further research is futile, Dr. West and his team are introduced to a middle-aged woman named Judith Winstead whose psychic abilities are far beyond what any of the researchers had encountered before. When it becomes clear that the facility is unprepared to handle such a person, government officials are called in, eventually becoming interested in using Winstead’s powers for military purposes. As everyone involved soon discovers however, messing around with supernatural powers has its consequences…

the-atticus-institute-official-trailer-640x360Appropriately washed out images make the archival footage appear to have been filmed in the mid-70s.

To a large extent, The Atticus Institute resembles a found footage movie since the story is told mostly through “archival footage” which depicts events that happened in the 1970s. This material is complimented by interviews with various personnel involved in the events, including the researchers who worked at the facility as well as various family members and even government officials. The finished film then winds up not be so dissimilar to those Discovery Channel faux-documentaries that have been popping up over the past few years. I’ve often said that if things like the Megalodon or Russian Yeti program were marketed as B-horror movies, they’d find an audience who was willing to be entertained by them. The Atticus Institute establishes the fact that there is indeed a market for these types of films, but broadcasting them on “educational” cable channels just doesn’t seem to be the proper way to get them out there.

11228_1Unsurprisingly, the experiments depicted in the film start to get out of control once the government gets involved.

Consistent with the aforementioned mockumentaries, The Atticus Institute actually does a pretty solid job of selling the authenticity of its content – at least for a while. Archival footage and photographs seen in the film look appropriately washed out and sometimes shows evidence of deterioration – this is exactly what I would expect from materials produced some forty years ago. Viewers unaccustomed to really analyzing the images they’re seeing from a filmmaking standpoint might have a hard time distinguishing that this footage was actually staged, and it’s only fairly late in the going that a viewer’s suspension of disbelief is pushed to the breaking point. Eventually, one becomes aware that it would be highly unlikely that seemingly inconsequential personnel meetings and each and every detail about the ongoing experiments would be recorded – to say nothing of the fact that the camera operators seem to know things about to happen before they actually do (hell, maybe the researchers should have focused attention on their camera crew). Additionally, while the main story being told here takes place in the mid ‘70s, the Atticus Institute is virtually blanketed in CCTV coverage – this despite the fact that we’re told the lab was woefully underfunded.

atticus-1Well there’s something ya don’t see everyday – a priest in a gas mask.

In a way, it’s mostly beside the point to criticize this film strictly on the grounds that it doesn’t quite maintain authenticity: most viewers would know very well going into this film that it’s entirely fictional. What is more problematic in my book is the fact that, while the film does cover some interesting topics – namely, US government experiments related to supernatural abilities (research that actually took place) – it gets caught up in the usual type of paranormal movie content, becoming increasingly tiresome once it starts to do so.


Rya Kihlstedt as Judith gets to act like a crazy woman, but she actually seems strangely underutilized.

Early on, it’s kind of neat to watch as Winstead’s astonishing abilities start to manifest themselves in somewhat small-scale, subtle ways – there are several nicely-executed sequences in which objects are manipulated through telekinesis in the background of shots while more pressing action occurs in the foreground. As the film drags on however, The Atticus Institute becomes a sort of poor-man’s Exorcist, with Winstead now being declared to be “possessed” by some unknown force that the government seems quite interested in not only controlling but also exploiting. This “possession” tag of course means that Winstead now proceeds to speak in “animal-like” voices, vomit a black tar-like substance, and generally contort wildly while growling at anyone who comes close to her. This is the sort of ho-hum material seen in just about every demonic possession film ever made, and even the slight variation in how this particular film operates can’t excuse the fact that most everything in director/writer Chris Sparling’s script has been seen before.

Scary moments here are few and far between.

A further problem with the film is that, although it’s occasionally loud and flashy, with glitchy camerawork that seems designed to amp up a viewer, it frankly isn’t very scary. As might be expected, Atticus Institute has a few jump scares achieved by having something pop up suddenly in front of the camera, and I actually really did like a sequence in which the viewer watches as a series of CCTV camera perspectives are cycled through, waiting with building suspense to see what’s happening in one of the rooms being monitored. Still, partially because of the predictability of the script and partially due to the lousy execution of various sequences, there’s never a prolonged buildup of tension – I’ve seen numerous TV shows filmed in “haunted” abandoned locations that are much more creepy than anything here. A minor subplot in the picture deals with Dr. West’s increasingly fragile mental condition, a situation made worse by his dealings with the ever-more erratic Winstead, but there’s never any point to this story arc and it comes across as being pure filler. Furthermore, the film’s “big climax” is especially lackadaisical and disappointing, with an ambiguous ending taken directly out of the Paranormal Activity playbook. Ultimately, even if the film isn’t dull, it never quite satisfies on the level viewers would want it to.

The somewhat spotty CGI effects make it fairly obvious that The Atticus Institute was put together on a relatively low budget; that being considered, I have to give director Sparling some credit for turning in a film that’s fairly entertaining despite its imperfections and limitations. As mentioned, the faux-documentary structuring works out pretty well, and I thought the cast for this film (particularly the actors portraying the interview subjects) were much better than is the norm for this type of production. It’s nevertheless curious that Rya Kihlstedt playing the (one would think) pivotal role of Judith Winstead is actually given precious little to do most of the time: I’d almost say that she’s wasted in the part. When all is said and done, The Atticus Institute doesn’t wind up as a classic of the genre – even in the undeniably iffy genre of found footage-type movies – but a viewer is left with a watchable and perfectly tolerable time waster. I probably wouldn’t flat-out recommend this movie, but those who enjoy found footage horror flicks will probably get a kick out of it.


5/10: Not so much gory as somewhat disturbing in its imagery and story.

1/10: Maybe one or two instances of minor profanity.

0/10: Documentary-like format doesn’t allow for any salacious content.

6/10: It doesn’t break new ground, but The Atticus Institute is actually kind of fun for what it is.

“You don’t get to play games with the devil, and if you do, you damn sure don’t get to make the rules…”

Hobbits on the Rampage: THE CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE


on Animal Planet


Pros: Seems to be the product of more talented cast and crew than is normal for this type of program

Cons: Context. It’s all about context.

In 1977, ornithologist (i.e. bird expert) Dr. Timothy Darrow, fellow scientist Dr. Gary Ward and jungle guide Drajat “Reggie” Saputra explored the island of Flores in Indonesia in search of the presumed extinct Flores Scops Owl. All the while, the team conducted research on the local eagle population…but also happened upon something dark and maybe even evil while deep in the jungle. Only Darrow managed to emerge alive, and after the mutilated corpse of Saputra was found in a makeshift grave, Darrow was charged with two counts of murder and accused of cannibalizing the bodies of his friends. Incarcerated in a decrepit Indonesian prison to serve two life sentences after being found guilty, Darrow nevertheless maintained that creatures from the jungle had killed his friends. More than 25 years after the incident, remains of a previously unknown humanoid – , the so-called “Hobbit” – was discovered on Flores island. Presumably, this species co-existed alongside modern man, but only stood around one meter tall when fully grown. Some in the scientific community questioned whether it was possible that living specimens of this species had actually been responsible for the deaths of Saputra and Ward…

group-3 “Dr. Timothy Darrow” (center), surrounded by Gary Ward (left) and Reggie Suputra

It sounds like a great story, and it certainly is the stuff that B-horror movies are all about…but the above, blatantly fictional story forms the basis of the yet another faux-documentary presented as the real deal on one of the Discovery Channel Networks. Aired as part of Animal Planet’s 2015 Monster Week, The Cannibal in the Jungle is a made-for-cable mockumentary that follows (fictional) anthropologist Dr. Richard Hoernboeck as he attempts to convince authorities that Darrow was falsely convicted of murder in 1977 – by proving that living specimens of Homo floresiensis were actually to blame for the deaths of Reggie Saputra and Dr. Gary Ward. Coming across as a mixture of investigative report and jungle adventure, Cannibal alternates between flashbacks revealing Darrow’s story straight from the horse’s mouth (his narration is taken from “the only taped interview ever allowed by the Indonesian authorities”) and a sort of documentary made by and from the perspective of Hoernboeck.

maxresdefaultDr. Richard Hoernboeck, who sets out to prove Darrow’s story that “little men of the forest” ate his compatriots

Interviewing Indonesian police officials, American envoys, and even Darrow’s sister, Hoernboeck attempts to piece together Darrow’s story as he believes it actually happened – which is to say, his rendition of the story includes murderous three and a half-foot tall hominids. After gathering “evidence,” Hoernboeck conducts his own expedition into the Indonesian jungle, which produces (wait for it…) ambiguous results. Just when one thinks that this faux-documentary isn’t going to deliver a definitive A-HA moment, Hoernboeck is able to locate Darrow’s original Nagra (i.e. audio recorder) and Super-8 camera, footage from which may exonerate Darrow once and for all.


Flores Island, just below center on this map of Indonesia, is certainly remote – and dangerous

While the context in which it was presented is sketchy (“inspired by actual scientific discovery!”), The Cannibal in the Jungle is probably one of the better made-for-cable mockumentaries, slickly edited to the point that gullible viewers might be convinced that it does in fact portray real events. The acting here is somewhat better than has been seen in similar programs and amazingly, this production actually acknowledges its cast in the credits – quite possibly a first for this genre of television. Ominous music is used to great effect throughout the film, and the program certainly benefits from the fact that many of the action-oriented sequences are filmed in foreboding, seemingly authentic jungles. Since most viewers would have precisely no idea what to expect in these remote, exotic locations, it’s relatively easy for the production to crank up the tension and deliver a few genuinely creepy moments. A scene in which a group of characters awaken from a night’s sleep in the bush to find small, human-like footprints throughout their camp has the potential to give the viewer the chills, and the obligatory pursuit through the jungle scene is also plenty intense.

1fa288…so this film may have been “inspired by actual scientific discovery,” but so was Star Wars.  Does anyone think that’s a documentary?

On the other hand, director Simon George probably should have spent some more time studying Jaws because once the FX and CGI team flex their muscles by showing the “hobbits” in plain view, Cannibal starts to lose steam. As Spielberg proved by keeping his shark, a painfully rubber-looking behemoth, offscreen, a viewer’s imagination is capable of coming up with much worse things than even the best FX team can create. When the curtain is pulled back and an audience can gaze upon the shark (or in this case, the “hobbits”), much of the inherent scariness vanishes since the FX don’t ever live up to what a viewer had in his mind. Hell, one moment in Cannibal which finds a whole gang of miniaturized primitive humans acting aggressively towards a pair of scientists is more laughable than frightening (we represent…the Lollipop Guild…), due primarily to the somewhat goofy effects.



I can’t get on George’s case too much though: his film does have some pretty cool moments, but there’s no denying that the script (written by Charlie Foley and Vaiblav Dhatt) owes a little too much to Italian director Ruggero Deodato’s notorious Cannibal Holocaust, a film which was brutally effective at perfecting the “found footage” format. Numerous aspects of Cannibal in the Jungle are pulled straight out of Deodato’s film, and by the time (in the last ten minutes) where Darrow’s original super-8 footage is being screened “FOR THE FIRST TIME ON TELEVISION,” I was yawning in my seat. Granted, the vast majority of the viewers of Animal Planet wouldn’t have (nor want) any part of Cannibal Holocaust – the authentic scenes of animal slaughter would ensure that – but it still struck me as being pretty low that Foley and Dhatt would shamelessly rip-off a pre-existing work, even one that most people wouldn’t be familiar with. To put it simply, Cannibal in the Jungle isn’t as clever as it thinks it is.

CFz8b2mWIAIZ-zLHuman compared to so-called “hobbit” skull.

Even if it’s not bringing much of anything new to a now well-established formula, at the end of the day, Cannibal in the Jungle is a compelling found footage B-picture, which leads to the inevitable question: what exactly is such a thing doing on the supposedly educational Animal Planet Channel? Ultimately, it’s context that makes this film (and all the other recent fake documentaries) seem, to some degree or another, reprehensible. Throw any of these programs on the Syfy Channel and audiences would be transfixed – situate one on a video store shelf and people would be intrigued – air them alongside legit documentaries while shying away from acknowledging that they are made up and people get infuriated. I fully realize that these types of shows do generate interest in Animal Planet’s programming that probably wouldn’t otherwise exist – in the eyes of the many, learning about the African Savannah or coral reefs just doesn’t have the same appeal that watching the celebrity of the moment skank it up does, for whatever inexplicable reason – but I also do find it a bit irresponsible to present this type of thing to the uninformed public as a “real deal” documentary. On some level though, I’ve got to admit that Cannibal in the Jungle is pretty clever and pretty darn entertaining – I think it would be worthwhile for those who know what they’re getting into.


“…and we wish to welcome you to Munchkin Land…”

Contamination of the Redneck Zombies: I WAS BITTEN – THE WALKER COUNTY INCIDENT



Pros: Not bad as a sketchy found-footage film

Cons: …it’s getting to be that you can’t trust nothing on the “educational” channels…

After several days of redundant River Monsters specials and some decent legitimate documentaries relating to , , , and , Animal Planet’s Monster Week 2015 finally got around to unleashing yet another test of audience gullibility. First airing on May 22, I Was Bitten: The Walker County Incident follows the story of a young man named Daniel who claims to have been bitten by an unknown creature in the Alabama woods. In typical pseudo-documentary fashion, a film crew quickly arrives to document the man’s inevitable hunt for the creature that attacked him, one which eventually uncovers a particularly ambiguous (and thoroughly unexplained) conspiracy relating to the local nuclear plants. Just when a viewer thinks this program will end without shedding light on anything, The Walker County Incident unleashes one of the worst endings ever seen in this already suspect genre of television. One is left wondering how such a thing wound up airing on a supposedly “educational” channel in the first place: this is virtually tailor-made for the Syfy Channel.

No…it can’t be…not another phony documentary passing itself off as the real thing…

Circa 2015, the basic formula for the made-for-cable mockumentary has been well-established – we’ve had multiple seasons of Mountain Monsters after all, along with a host of even more reprehensible imitations. While its main story arc is woefully familiar, what separates The Walker County Incident from its kin is that this program mainly revolves around a single main character as opposed to a team of buffoons. Daniel comes across as the prototypical redneck, albeit one who’s become increasingly paranoid and maybe even delusional since he was attacked near his home by an unknown creature that he speculates may in fact be a zombie. The guy’s main goal is to identify and eliminate his attacker, but he also has to take the safety of his family – namely, a concerned wife along with his gun-toting mother and her Elvis impersonator husband – into account. To that end, Daniel installs a series of CCTV cameras on the property, which he insists on monitoring at all hours of the day. Ultimately, Daniel’s obsession with the beast that attacked him results in an inevitable showdown between the increasingly lethargic and glassy-eyed hunter and his fed-up wife.

if only
If only there was some sort of attack at any point…

Par for the course in a show like this, The Walker County Incident tries its damnedest to pass itself off as a legit documentary. The majority of the show is filmed from the perspective of a camera crew who are (inexplicably) right alongside Daniel as he tracks down his attacker and goes about his daily business. In my opinion, the show looks a little too flashy in terms of its image quality and editing, seeming to capture all-too-convenient angles on various, supposedly live events to be authentic (do you think the camera crew…like…knew what was going to happen before it happened???), but the show does seem to maintain a decent amount of semi-credibility up to its thoroughly ridiculous ending. I could see someone almost …almost… buying into this account prior to the ending, which is jaw-droppingly goofy, making a mockery of everything that came before it. I’ve seen most every one of these faux-documentaries that’s out there and have suffered through some mightily lousy conclusions in my day, but the climax of this program (replete with a “hand over the camera lens” final shot) takes the cake. It really seals the deal on the fact that a viewer has just wasted two hours of life.

show might
Program might have been better had it combined balt salt cannibals with backwoods hunters.

Considering the number of painfully similar programs out there, I hope that most viewers would watch this not because of its supposed verisimilitude, but rather because it’s a somewhat entertaining time waster. If nothing else, this show does make fine use of location shooting: along with the story elements, the director includes numerous montages which help nail down the setting in which the events depicted occur. These sequences are somewhat reminiscent of certain moments captured in the first season of HBO’s True Detective, and they go a long way in establishing Walker County, Alabama as a sort of decaying hell on Earth, ripe with pollution and plenty of tall tales. As is the case with many of today’s found footage-type productions, The Walker County Incident also utilizes different types of cameras, including cellphone videos and nightvision footage in the finished film along with the more professional-looking narrative camerawork. Interviews conducted with locals unaffiliated with the production itself are thrown in to add flavor to the proceedings, and the overall editing of the show is quite slick, with appropriate music cues and over-emphasized sound added at key moments.

One has to wonder what sort of edubucation folks get in the Walker County School System…

Even if the production would be somewhat compelling for those who thrive on monster-related programming however, there’s really no denying that The Walker County Incident is sluggish in terms of how it plays out. There are very few genuinely exciting sequences in this ninety-odd minute show (two hours with commercials), and a vast majority of its running time is dedicated to documenting Daniel’s increasingly eccentric everyday life. We see the belligerent young man going to several doctors who attempt to analyze the strange injuries Daniel sustained during the attack and he even tries hypnosis to recall details about the incident that he had forgotten over time. These sequences do add dramatic tension to the piece, most of which relates to Daniel’s deteriorating relationship with his wife Krystal. Unfortunately, not only would most viewers have seen this sort of material before (it’s exactly what one would expect, with minimal imagination applied in an effort to spice things up), but the story also gets plain dumb at times, hitting a lowpoint when Krystal blows her top after Daniel skips out in the middle of one of his stepfather’s Elvis-inspired performances. Combine the predictability and absurdity of the story elements with the fact that there are so few moments of genuine tension or suspense and one is left with a program that’s not only genuinely ludicrous but also plain dull for most of its duration. The writers make absolutely no effort to explain a damn thing with regard to the creature/entity/force being investigated, and a viewer is left to stare perplexed and googly-eyed at the screen by the time this thing is over.

Hell, this story sounds as reasonable as anything put forth in this “documentary.”

Relying almost entirely on smoke and mirrors to sustain viewer interest, The Walker County Incident never quite compensates for the fact that it’s heavy on dialogue and speculation but contains nary a smidgen of actual “evidence.” Of all the recent phony documentaries dealing with unexplained phenomena (The Devil’s Graveyard), mysterious events (Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives), or unknown creatures (Wrath of Submarine), The Walker County Incident is probably among the more disappointing of the bunch – primarily because it doesn’t solve a damn thing, unveiling a cop-out ending right when the audience should be getting the veritable money shot. Capably shot and well-assembled but essentially a semi-ripoff of History Channel’s Cryptid: The Swamp Beast, I Was Bitten: The Walker County Incident offers nothing new to the savvy viewer. It might be acceptable as a C-grade found-footage thriller, but I’d call it rainy day entertainment at best.





Pros: Some thought-provoking moments

Cons: Poor acting, bad script, predictable conclusion, and precisely no scientific credibility

Produced by the same company responsible for such glorious bunk as Discovery Channel’s Megalodon specials, The Devil’s Graveyards: Vile Vortices Revealed is easily the worst of the recent slate of phony cable television documentaries which have been passed off as the real deal. Premiering in late 2014 on The History Channel, this program revolves around “investigate journalist” and apparent moron Don Murphy, who sets out to document the rather esoteric experiments being conducted in the Algerian desert by one Dr. Joseph Spencer. A biologist by trade, Spencer is investigating the reasons why his young son was murdered by the family dog two years prior, and has come to the conclusion that disruptions in the earth’s magnetic field have not only led to various instances of unusual animal behavior (including the unprovoked attack that took his son’s life) but also are threatening the whole of human existence. If a series of twelve magnetic anomalies located around the world known as , the “devil’s graveyards” of the film’s title, are not neutralized, Spencer believes that intense solar radiation will be allowed to seep into Earth’s atmosphere, thus transforming the planet into a lifeless wasteland like Venus or Mars. In an attempt to find a way to neutralize these areas, Spencer and his hapless crew attempt to bombard the Algerian vortex with a powerful electromagnetic pulse. Will this have any significant effect…and more importantly, will any single viewer care?

camera coverage
Good thing there just happens to be twelve cameras situated around the research area so a viewer gets to see everything as it happens…

Based largely on the rather sketchy theories of zoologist Dr. Ivan Sanderson who, while investigating disappearances in the , initially came up with the idea of the so-called “vile vortices,” The Devil’s Graveyard starts off with a disclaimer which states that “this dramatization is based on an actual 1972 document entitled ‘The Twelve Devil’s Graveyards Around the World.” This notice goes on to reveal that the network airing the program does not in any way endorse the claims made in it, thus one can at least say the program makes some attempt to inform an attentive viewer that not everything here can be taken entirely (or at all) seriously. That a similar warning appearing during the end titles flashes on screen for a split second speaks to the fact that the producers are more probably trying to pull a fast one on the viewer. On some level, this is (yet another) obvious extension of History Channel programming of the Ancient Aliens variety; Devil’s Graveyards goes so far as to suggest with a straight face that extraterrestrials were in fact responsible for creating the vile vortices in the first place, a suggestion that’s more idiotic than half of the alien theories presented by the likes of Giorgio Tsoukalos. It also heaps on the conspiracy theories, referencing bizarre Nazi experiments and even the controversial while blaming everything from massive bird die-offs to Hurricane Katrina on the vortex phenomenon. Needless to say, when it comes to actual hard proof and scientific evidence, Graveyard comes up short.

and here he is...
And here he is ladies and gentleman…a random actor…I mean Dr. Joseph Spencer.

Even if director Douglas Glover goes to great lengths to make Devil’s Graveyards look and play like a legit documentary however, it more seemed to me like the people responsible for this program had watched a few too many classic sci-fi movies – the show has many aspects reminiscent of the outstanding 1985 film and even has a “don’t flip that switch” moment ripped right from the playbook of the classic Ghostbusters. Furthermore, the general premise of the program isn’t entirely dissimilar from the plot of the 1953 low-budget genre flick since a radioactive isotope, not a flesh and blood monster, is the “villain” of the piece. This, of course, makes Graveyards noticeably uninteresting and plain dull when compared to the likes of Wrath of Submarine or Russian Yeti since the main “threat” presented herein is theoretical rather than something one can see.

periodic table
Sure, aliens might be readying for an invasion, but THIS IS THE REAL ENEMY!

To be honest, the vile vortex theory is simply too scientifically complex (and maybe, too ridiculous) for the average viewer to comprehend: the program does its best to explain things, but this only makes for a very talky and awkward program since the characters literally have to spell everything out for viewers who wouldn’t otherwise understand anything being discussed. I suppose the door for this kind of programming has been left open by the numerous recent television series dealing with unexplained phenomena, but I still have to question the decision to produce a feature length mockumentary about vile vortices in the first place. Could it be that the these fake documentaries have already exhausted the pool of topics to draw from?


Acting throughout the program is frankly awful: we’re supposed to believe that we’re watching real people dealing with real situations, but this notion is simply impossible to swallow. Witness the laughable scene where the actor portraying Joseph Spencer recalls the death of his son, then has an “emotional” breakdown moment. This actor doesn’t do much better of a job portraying the excitement of the scientist when a breakthrough in his experiment seems evident, and it’s similarly amusing to watch the actress portraying the research team’s electrical engineer try to keep a straight face when conducting high school chem lab level experiments and demonstrations. Special attention must be paid to the actor portraying the team’s “conspiracy expert:” why this guy would be needed as part of a scientific team is unclear, but he always seems to provide definitive “A-HA” moments when the scientific gobbledygook gets a little thick. Clearly the worst actor of the bunch is the one portraying reporter Don Murphy: this guy’s “investigative reporting” is atrocious and he gives the most forced performance on display in the program – especially when he’s seen on-camera narrating his own story.

ominous music playing...
…ominous music playing…

Combine the bad acting with the lousy scripting and absurd, utterly outlandish theories the show puts forward and you’ve got the most abominable of the recent, made-for-cable faux-documentaries. The Devil’s Graveyard not only looks cheap and hastily-made, but is extremely clunky in terms of its construction. The prime example of how this production is simply incompetent is the use of “actual cell phone footage” of Dr. Spencer’s son being attacked by his dog: I would assume this sequence was supposed to be dramatic, but it’s downright humorous after being repeated for about the fifteenth time. Compounding the problem is a sense of story development that is overall too tidy and convenient to be a convincing portrayal of reality. Finally, the film leans heavily on explanations that most viewers wouldn’t even remotely be able to decipher: there’s simply too much scientific nonsense presented as absolute fact here, and I suspect the bullshit detecters of most viewers would be sounding throughout the film. Does this program propose some intriguing ideas and offer up some food for thought? Sure: it’s compelling in the same way that most programs dealing with mysterious phenomena are. At the end of the day however, why would one waste his time with a completely illogical and mind-numbingly phony program like this – especially one that’s undeniably this poorly made? (Interesting note: the studio responsible for this program doesn’t even list it among its credits; perhaps they too realized what hogwash they had brought onto the world.) Predictable and ultimately, a complete waste of time, The Devil’s Graveyards is best avoided.

wtf science

This Youtube Video is about as quality as the “documentary:”

Lunar Conspiracies Revealed! ALIENS ON THE MOON: THE TRUTH EXPOSED



Pros: Cool images of the lunar surface; compelling information…

Cons: …unfortunately, I just can’t buy all of the arguments made by this program

Continuing in much the same way as History Channel’s much-discussed (and derided) Ancient Aliens, the slickly-made and rather compelling original Syfy Channel “documentary” Aliens on the Moon: The Truth Exposed (which premiered on July 20,2014) mainly examines a series of NASA photographs of the lunar surface that may just show anomalous structures built by unknown beings for unknown purposes. Various “experts” of one type or another – from astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Edgar Mitchell to imaging expert Marc D’Antonio, to former government researcher Dr. John Brandenberg and even Ancient Aliens veterans Nick Redfern and Mike Bara (among others – I was expecting Giorgio A. Tsoukalos to turn up at any moment) turn up to offer their own perspective on the images, and analyze the notion that extraterrestrials have visited (or indeed still inhabit) the moon. As its goofy (DUN DUN!) title suggests, Aliens on the Moon is one more in a ongoing (endless?) string of at best speculative, at worst downright phony supposed feature “documentaries” that have played on TV in the last few years. In the end, the program might be interesting and is certainly thought-provoking, but I’m not sure I’d honestly believe everything (or maybe anything) it has to say.


Undoubtedly, the best element of the two-hour special (produced in commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing) is the wealth of actual NASA images compiled from both the classic lunar expeditions and more modern flyovers showing various unexplained (or perhaps unexplainable) lunar anomalies. It would almost be worth it for many viewers (particularly those with some interest in astronomy in particular or science in general) to watch this program just to see these stunning, fascinating images while ignoring the somewhat suspect context surrounding their presentation. While I’ve seen some of the images and video footage projected here (even footage taken from Earth’s orbit that appears to show a sort of space battle going on between an unknown craft and missiles that seem to be fired from the planet below), this program does showcase some visual materials that I was previously unfamiliar with, and certainly examines the lunar surface with a more critical eye than some other programs dealing with astronomy.


Unfortunately, the scientific value of the program comes with plenty of baggage: as a straight-faced documentary, Aliens on the Moon is (surprise!) highly suspect. Writer/producer/director Robert C. Kiviat clearly has no intention of making this a well-rounded examination of its subject since there’s virtually no opposing opinion progressed during the course of the piece. This program doesn’t so much make a convincing argument as just pile on supposed evidence, proposing and advancing it’s own theories suggesting that aliens inhabit the moon while “leaving it up to a viewer to decide.” Really, this is all fine and good for the seasoned viewer who’s willing to take this program with the healthy dose of salt that it very much deserves, but things could be more problematic than that. For a more typical viewing public that now believes that mermaids are real, yeti’s are dangerous, and fifty-foot sharks prowl the South African coast (after Animal Planet and Discovery Channel aired “mockumentaries” suggestive of those ideas), Aliens on the Moon could be taken as absolute truth – which it quite obviously is not.


Don’t get me wrong: I love pure edutainment programs like Aliens on the Moon on some level because they do get people talking about and interested in science and the world we live in, but taking this show’s assortment of really iffy “evidence” at face value is not only ill-advised, it’s just plain ludicrous. It’s ironic that one of the program’s main points is to direct questions at NASA regarding their possible doctoring of various photographs taken on space missions in order to cover up evidence of UFO’s and alien structures – what would this show be without a good ol’ government coverup after all – given that many (and very nearly all) of the images presented in AotM as evidence have very clearly been manipulated and toyed with by the show’s producers.


It’s VERY DIFFICULT if not impossible to locate or identify any one of the supposed “alien structures” that we’re led to believe exist in the full-sized photographs of the lunar surface that are the centerpiece of this program – until the producers choose to colorize key portions of said photographs, thus making the program play similarly to a black and white game of Where’s Waldo where Waldo is still wearing his trademark red and white outfit and stocking cap. OBVIOUSLY we as viewers are going to see whatever the producers what us to see when they come close to pointing a huge, flashing neon arrow at various points of the moon’s surface while providing us with a (sometimes preposterous) potential explanation of what we’re looking at. It also helps that the producers decide to virtually beat a viewer over the head with their analysis – we’re almost brainwashed into submitting to the producer’s assertions due to constant repetition of the program’s main points. Whether any viewer believes wholeheartedly what this program is attempting to convince him of largely comes down to said viewer’s natural skepticism and level of gullibility – the actual scientific process going on here is almost nonexistent, and the program honestly seems more like propaganda than honest-to-goodness documentary.


I should also point out that the program’s tendency to be extremely critical of on-camera statements made by Apollo 11 astronaut (and second man on the moon ) Buzz Aldrin – who it should be pointed out, had the balls to appear in a program like this knowing full well that his credibility would likely suffer as a result of the appearance – is none too classy and actually pretty low, even for a show of this nature. Aldrin actually does make a few statements relating to the insinuations of this producers, but when he (perhaps rightfully) refuses to directly speak about or address specific photos of the lunar surface that supposedly show a satellite dish, nuclear plant with some sort of huge weapon pointing out as a defense mechanism, or a landed spacecraft near the moon landing site, suddenly (duh!) Aldrin’s in on the conspiracy that’s taking place. As much of a conspiracy buff as I am myself having watched just about as many alien coverup shows as I can stomach, there comes a point when shows like this that direct all sorts of blame in the direction of NASA and the US government as a whole push credibility beyond the breaking point – and come close to simply be making their assertions in plain bad taste.


At the end of the day, as I hinted at previously, I would want a program like this to prompt discussion and serious thought, and Aliens on the Moon, questionable as it is, certainly does this. Though the constant speculation about what various extremely grainy and difficult-to-interpret photos of the moon’s surface actually show is obnoxious and borderline redundant, the program does pose some intriguing questions and examine some perplexing possibilities. I was pretty intrigued, for example, by the story of a needle-like anomaly photographed surrounding the Martian moon of Phobos in 1989. This unknown object supposedly was responsible for the disappearance of a pair of Russian space probes examining the Martian atmosphere in the late 1980s and was photographed again by NASA’s Curiosity rover that’s currently exploring the Red Planet, suggesting that whatever the thing is, it still patrols the Martian sky. The major talking point of the program for those who watch it will no doubt be footage supposedly taken during a hypothetical (and officially, completely fictional) Apollo 20 mission which appears to show astronauts recovering a female alien body from one of the unknown lunar structures. This footage (which turned up in the internet in recent years along with a pretty bizarre story from supposed astronaut ) is certainly enigmatic; easily the most provocative contained in the documentary, though one would have to accept A LOT of conspiracy notions to believe that it is indeed authentic. If the footage is faked though, it’s ….

YIKES! Female alien supposedly recovered during Apollo 20.

At the end of the day, Aliens on the Moon: The Truth Exposed barely sits above its contemporaries like Mermaids: The Body Found, Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives, or Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives as a purported documentary designed not necessarily to tell the truth but instead, to get people talking. Considering that the public is increasingly fascinated with all things UFO and alien-related (hence why Ancient Aliens’ Giorgio Tsoukalos has his own new UFO-related show In Search of Aliens starting up on History Channel on July 25th), it’s not entirely surprising that Syfy Channel would produce a thing like this and frankly, I’d rather see more programming of this nature on the channel instead of the endless Monster Coelacanth versus Mecha Salmon type of made-for-cable trash the channel is known for these days. Aliens on the Moon certainly isn’t the best, most well-rounded and believable documentary I’ve ever seen – the narration has an inappropriate, semi-pompous tone and the program sometimes seems little more than a lengthy advertisement for a handful of books written about the subject.  Nevertheless, the show does what it’s supposed to: any viewer would be talking about it afterward, and that’s about the best that could be hoped for. Don’t necessarily take every one of its claims seriously, but if you’re bored and this thing happens to be playing on TV, it’d be worth checking out.




Pros: Parts relating to real life Dyatlov Pass Incident

Cons: Parts relating to existence of unknown hominid

As if it’s not bad enough that educational channels like History, Discovery, The Learning Channel, and Animal Planet constantly air low-grade reality TV, producers on these channels now seem to have come to believe that the pseudo-documentary or “mockumentary” if you will, is the way to increase viewership. First, we had Animal Planet’s Mermaids: The Body Found, which based its argument that mermaids are real on a unexplained marine sound which was recorded on a US Navy hydrophone. Then came Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, a program that presented a case for the existence of an enormous prehistoric shark, using stories about a 30-foot long “submarine shark” in South Africa as its inspiration. Compared to these somewhat entertaining but iffy time-wastes, 2014’s Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives has the most basis in actual, hard facts since it revolves around an incident which undoubtedly happened and is plenty bizarre. From this foundation in reality however, the program veers into fantasy land, eventually winding up being yet another typically goofy first-person suspense film and more proof that public fascination with all things “monster-related” continues.

Search and rescue party finds the missing students’ tent.

As a starting point, Russian Yeti tells the tale of the so-called Dyatlov Pass Incident that occurred in the remote Ural Mountains of the (then) Soviet Union in 1959, in which nine college students (two women and seven men) on an expedition deep into the wilderness were killed under mysterious circumstances. After an extensive search and rescue operation, the group’s tent (which showed signs of being ripped apart from inside) was discovered, and shortly afterward, the nine bodies were found. At this point, considering the bodies of the missing students had been found, one might think the cause of their death would be obvious, but instead, the discovery of the bodies only added to the mystery surrounding the case. Many of the dead students bore horrific and almost unexplainable injuries: some of their bodies had been crushed by incredible force, and a few were mutilated in strange ways. One woman not only had her eyes gouged out but also her tongue had been removed. Soviet authorities listed the cause of death as being due to a “compelling natural force,” whatever the hell that means, and plenty of speculation over the years hasn’t provided a satisfactory explanation as to what really happened.

After reviewing the basic information surrounding this incident, the supposed documentary Russian Yeti begins to promote the claim that the nine students were attacked and killed by an unknown hominid (Bigfoot if you like) that stalks the remote regions of Russia. The program follows an “investigation” conducted by American researcher Mike Libecki who, along with a Russian translator/fellow investigator named Maria Klenokova, journeys deep into the Russian tundra in search of the creature. Along the way, various “evidence” is presented which seems to support the existence of the Yeti. Be prepared for shadowy videos, footprint casts, and “expert testimony,” culminating (like the Megalodon show before it) in a showdown between the investigators and an apparent Yeti lurking just off camera….

I’ll just leave this here.

Material relating to the Yeti (or “Menk” as its called in the wilds of Russia) seems to have been lifted straight out of National Geographic’s Hunt for the Abominable Snowman which aired last year. Much of the same video evidence from that straight-faced documentary (which concluded that the Yeti may be a species of prehistoric polar bear previously though to have been extinct) is seen here, and Russian Yeti goes so far as to include interviews with many of the same people as seen in the National Geographic special. Video evidence supporting the Yeti’s existence is (as expected) a bit shaky, with grainy home video images showing something dark looming in the background of footage shot in the Russian wilderness; it’s exactly the type of sketchy “proof” that features at the center of every argument related to Bigfoot. Worth noting that the almost obligatory appearance by American scientist Dr. Jeff Meldrum, a Bigfoot researcher who without doubt appears in EVERY show related to unknown, large hominids, doesn’t occur until around the half hour mark – remarkable restraint for a program of this nature; I was expecting him to show up within five minutes.

This article wouldn’t be complete without Dr. Jeff Meldrum…America’s finest Bigfoot researcher?

Considering the ho-hum array of Yeti evidence, the highlight of the show for me then (and the reason why I believe that this may be the most downright intriguing of these recent pseudo-documentary films) was the part of the program relating directly to the Dyatlov Pass Incident. I had been aware of this story prior to seeing this show and admittedly find most all information related to it to be fascinating. In my mind, the story of the Dyatlov Pass expedition is probably one of the most downright strange of the twentieth century – it’s really no wonder why it’s become a sort of hotbed topic for mystery buffs lately, even inspiring a Hollywood film – and I thought Russian Yeti did a nice job of explaining it. Presented here are some fascinating photographs chronicling the doomed expedition itself (the students had at least one camera with them, which was recovered from their demolished tent), the subsequent search and rescue operation, and the examination of the bodies. This last element means that Russian Yeti may not be appropriate for the squeamish, since we get several gruesome black and white images of the students’ mangled corpses. This program also briefly explains some of the many theories relating to the deaths of the students – with everything from avalanches to secret missile tests to UFO’s being blamed for the deaths. What would one of these shows be without some type of government conspiracy?

The mysterious last photograph taken by the expedition’s camera. What does it show?

Though this program does present some factual information however, one can’t ignore the fact that it is by no means an honest documentary. It’s likely that some gullible viewers would take this film at face value since it does play in an identical manner to many legitimate documentaries that air on The Discovery Channel. The more savvy crowd though won’t be at all convinced by the hurried conclusions made by the program, slick camera work and editing that make this show look a little too cinematic, or by the recreated footage that attempts to envision what actually happened to the Dyatlov expedition by showing nondescript, shaky and grainy, black and white film footage that appears to have been shot by the expedition members themselves. Obviously, this material wasn’t filmed in 1959, but no declaration is ever made to point out the fact that it isn’t authentic. The idea of fabricated footage being presented as real-deal document is bad enough and in my mind, represents a strike against the production, but the program loses all credibility when, after the discovery of a (conveniently, previously unseen) photo from the Dyatlov expedition which shows a dark, humanoid figure prowling the nearby woods, the narrative shifts its focus onto Libecki and Klenokova’s search of the Russian wilderness for the Yeti. Resorting to the usual mixture of obvious sound effects representing an unknown creature screaming and hollering in the distance, dark shaky-cam cinematography that purposely doesn’t show the viewer much of anything, and lousy, strained acting performances during the moments of suspense, Russian Yeti eventually becomes downright pathetic and almost laughable.

Directed by Leon Rawlski and playing in a manner that’s strikingly similar to the influential 1997 film The Last Broadcast that inspired The Blair Witch Project and in turn, the entire “found footage” genre, Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives is another phony documentary that is certainly likely to get people talking. It also undoubtedly will convince a few folks – which only speaks to the fact that some people will not only believe anything they see on TV but assume that a+b automatically equals C. While I can’t in any capacity say that I support the decision to make programs like this and air them on “educational channels,” Russian Yeti is entertaining enough even though I would have much preferred it to be a straight documentary about the Dyatlov Pass Incident instead of a made-up story about oversized Russian ape men. As is the case with the similar mermaid and shark programs, this is enjoyable provided one doesn’t take it all that seriously.

Though it may eventually wind up on DVD, this made-for-TV program will probably see many repeat airings over the next couple months on either Discovery or Animal Planet.

6/10 : Actual images of the mutilated bodies recovered from the Russian wilderness, some quite graphic.

1/10 : Pretty sanitary, with maybe a minor cuss word or two.

0/10 : Not a thing.

8/10 : The Finding Bigfoot crowd will eat this one up.

Some advice from Igor Bourtsev, expert on the Russian Yeti: “If you go into the woods, don’t whistle, or the Yeti may come and punish you.”


“We’re Going to Need a Much, Much Bigger…Decoy…” MEGALODON: THE MONSTER SHARK LIVES




Pros: Fairly convincing presentation; nature footage; sharks

Cons: Um, it ain’t real. Yep, that’s the kicker.

“In April 2013, Discovery Channel crews were granted exclusive access to document the investigation of a downed fishing vessel off the coast of South Africa. The footage captured during this investigation is now being shown on television for the first time…”

So begins the 2013 made-for-cable special Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives. This program, originally run during 2013’s Shark Week, chronicles the process by which marine biologist Collin Drake, with the help of fellow scientist Madelyn Joubert and shark expert Mike Bhana, came to believe that a giant marine predator was stalking the world’s oceans. After the mysterious sinking of a fishing boat, an examination of the wreck reveals the vessel was torn to shreds, with video evidence recovered in the debris seeming to suggest that something hit the boat from underneath. Subsequently, a local eyewitness reveals a startling photograph that seems to show a giant shark attacking a stricken whale, prompting Drake and his colleagues to being a full on examination of giant sharks. During this time they uncover various other stories and images that seem to collaborate the idea that the Megalodon shark, a 100 foot long relative of the Great White that was thought to go extinct some 10,000 years ago or more, is still alive and well. With this knowledge in hand, Drake, Joubert, and Bhana take the investigation to its logical(?) conclusion by attempting to hunt down and tag a Megalodon in the wild. Dealing with such a massive creature however may be more dangerous than any of the scientists had imagined….

If Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives sounds like a bad Syfy Channel movie, that’s because it may as well be. Though this “Monster Shark Meets The Blair Witch Project” was originally broadcast on a channel known for its (supposed) educational programming, Megalodon, much like a 2012 Animal Planet special that had viewers wondering if mermaids were real, is a completely fictional program. Sure, it looks like any number of legitimate documentary specials, going so far as to have extensive talking head interviews and “cliffhanger” hooks that turn up just before any commercial break, but I’d shudder to think that much of anyone would be convinced by the not-so-hot acting and bargain-basement CGI animation that’s used to depict the monster sharks. Any of the “evidence” brought forth by this program looks incredibly hokey – I’ve never been a fan of CGI in the first place, but much of the footage presented here looks to be (at best) late 1990s-era animation. A photoshopped image of a giant pectoral fin planted onto an image that supposedly shows a whale being attacked or a “vintage photograph” of German U-boats patrolling the African coast that reveals a large shark cruising in the background are bad enough, but when a straight-up fabricated image of a beached whale that’s been bitten in half appears in the program, I suspect most viewers would be ready to say that enough is enough. The actual Megalodon here looks only slightly more convincing than the rubbery mechanical effects that featured in the enjoyably terrible Jaws 3-D that was made in 1983.

“WHOA LOOK AT THA…wah…wait a second…”

The fact that this program was a hoax led to an incredible backlash against the Discovery Channel: after all, aren’t the things on this channel supposed to be “real?” The ironic thing about this discussion is that it only takes a brief perusal of the types of programming seen on this channel to realize that viewers are constantly being manipulated and or straight lied to. This just in: there is nothing real about most so-called “reality TV;” the filming and editing process alone ensures manipulation. Thus Amish Mafia, Deadliest Catch, and (dozens of) other reality shows on the channel all contain material that’s at the very least, not entirely accurate. The only honest difference then between any of these programs and the Megalodon special is that people may have actually believed that Megalodon was in fact accurate, which ultimately says more about the viewers themselves than about anything Discovery Channel was doing. In an era where shows about monsters or the unknown capture the viewers imagination no matter how ridiculous they really are from any logical perspective, the viewing public seems all to willing to buy what they’re seeing on TV as being as least partially credible. This explains the popularity of thought-provoking but generally absurd (and scientifically suspect) programs like Ancient Aliens, flagrantly dishonest and ludicrous things like Mountain Monsters, and also hints at why some people legitimately believed that mermaids exist following Animal Planet’s Mermaids: The Body Found. Seems you can fool some of the people all the time.

Animal Planet’s Mermaid mockumentary is the obvious blueprint that inspired Megalodon, and an unsuspecting viewer in all likelihood could have taken it as being authentic. The show is presented in exactly the same manner of most of the legitimate documentaries that are out there, with a narrator explaining the situations as we see Drake and his crew examining evidence and forming opinions. Much of the program plays almost in the manner of a mystery and is rather talky – it’s only late in the game where Megalodon starts to pretty obviously rip a page out of the Jaws playbook and feature the inevitable hunting sequence finale. Similar to numerous faux-documentaries over the years (the ghoulishly convincing 1980 shocker Cannibal Holocaust in my estimation being the best of the best), Megalodon makes great use of the fact that viewers of these types of programs equate shaky and shoddy camerawork with verisimilitude. Thus, the moments in which something exciting is happening onscreen are typically precisely the moment when the camera starts to fail, providing only fleeting glimpses of the action. The “big finale” moment is, as expected, nearly all smoke and mirrors.

Looks almost as bad as this….

As much as I could trash some of the CGI here and, frankly, got tired of seeing the same (admittedly) animated footage of a giant shark attacking a whale, some of the computer effects are pretty decent. During the final quarter of the program where a tremendous bait slick and a full-size mock whale are utilized in order to lure in the beast, aerial photography enhanced with convincing graphics complete the illusion that this is actually happening. The film also contains some decent nature footage (including footage of white sharks swimming around a shark cage and performing aerial feeding maneuvers) and it was fascinating to see real images of so-called “Lazarus species” (animals previously thought to be extinct) like the giant squid, narwhal, megamouth shark and coelacanth that were presented in order to show that it’s possible a Megalodon could go unnoticed in the world’s ocean. It’s typically when computers are used to render living animals that problems arise in the show: I was none too impressed with underwater shots of (normal-sized) great whites circling a shark cage. Additionally, the acting among the humans in the piece feels stiff and forced, especially true for Darron Meyer who appears as Drake. Eventually, it simply becomes difficult to believe the events in this story are occurring spontaneously, which may ultimately be why the film doesn’t quite achieve a genuinely authentic feel.

Say what you want about it, but Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives (directed by Douglas Glover from a script by John McLaughlin) undoubtedly achieved exactly what it set out to do. It certainly got people talking about the possibility that this creature did exist, and probably got people to tune into the Discovery Channel in droves. It’s worth noting at this point that, not only does the human race have almost no idea of what exactly exists in the world’s oceans, but that there have been worldwide reports of giant sharks (including the 30-foot “submarine” reported in South Africa that’s mentioned in this program). In many ways, to learn that large sharks prowl the world’s oceans wouldn’t be all that surprising, so I’d be inclined to say that this program isn’t as far-fetched as some people might believe.

I think the main problem people had with the show was that it was presented as factual from the beginning, thus the show convinced gullible viewers that it indeed was authentic. One has to (gasp!) READ in order to know for certain this program was “dramatized,” and even then, these declarations are brief and ambiguous. Knowing then, that people were furious when they learned the program was fake says to me that this program was entirely successful. Had this been a made-for-video movie not at all connected to an educational TV channel, it likely would have just been taken as the worthwhile time-waster that it is and forgotten. It’s fortunate then that Discovery did take a chance with a program of this nature since it did get people talking about and interested in this subject. In the end, though it’s incurred plenty of wrath since it was first broadcast, if a viewer enters this program knowing full well the entire thing is a hoax and just goes along for the ride, it would be an entertaining way to spend two hours or so. After all, this can’t be any worse than half the stuff that plays on Syfy….

I don’t believe this has been released on DVD; it is available streaming and does play fairly regular-like on Animal Planet and/or Discovery.

4/10 : Some gore and violence related to shark attacks; really, the original Jaws is ten times worse than this.

2/10 : Maybe a few minor curse words; nothing major.

0/10 : Not a damn thing.

8/10 : Maligned by many, appreciated by few; it may take a special type to appreciate this.

“If we chum, it’ll come…”