Hello to all those faithfully reading and hopefully enjoying this effort to make even the worst horror movie more watcha... aw, screw that - I'm not that good. If a movie makes you cringe because yet another batch of unlikable teens that are pushing 30 are inching toward their deaths, having a party no one does anywhere ever, a paranormal movie is boring you to tears with unending pans of empty rooms, or thanks to CGI technology when people finally bite it, their blood squirts everywhere except on the victim, the ground, the people next to them... you're in good company and this is the right place for you.

Saturday, January 4, 2014


The Dyatlov Pass Incident aka Devil's Pass (2013) UK/Russia

Listen up faithful readers and movie makers - you both could learn something from this film. The readers learn about a real event that was actually a REAL EVENT in 1959 and movie makers learn that found footage films don't have to be about paranormal idiots running through dark forests with their night vision on. Oh and don't pay attention to the first movie poster - it has nothing to do with anything. Actual photos from the search team are included at the end of this review - they are graphic so be warned.

This was a very ambitious film because it wanted to be creative, mysterious, thoughtful, as well as entertaining. If I have a complaint (and you KNOW I always do) it would be that they took an idea and ran with it but toward the end tried to smash in a bunch of other theories and stuff and mucked it up - but the ending was really cool.

Now if you want to watch this - go do it first 'cause this is full of spoilers. It is streaming on Netflix right now though I'm sure you can find it in other places. It is based on an event that still remains unsolved to this day - the Dyatlov Pass Incident of 1959. Leave it to any government to call nine hikers mysteriously found dead an 'incident'. Dyatlov was the name of the leader of the nine, and the history is something like this (and I'm relying heavily on wiki for this, although I have heard this story before):

A group was formed for a ski trek. The group, led by Igor Dyatlov, consisted of eight men and two women. Most were students or graduates of Ural Polytechnical Institute. They were young, they were experienced, but the way they died is still considered just about impossible. They set out to reach Otorten mountain. One day into the hike, one of the members, a man named Yuri Yudin, became ill and had to return. The remaining nine were never seen alive again.

Now this happens to the best of hikers but the surroundings of the camp and the way they died continues to be hotly debated. Although diaries and cameras were found at the site, it still didn't quite explain what happened. On February 26, the searchers found the abandoned and badly damaged tent half torn down and covered with snow. It was empty, and all the group's belongings and shoes had been left behind. A chain of eight or nine sets of footprints, left by several people who were wearing only socks, a single shoe or were barefoot, could be followed. 

Under a large cedar, the searchers found the remains of a fire, along with the first two bodies, shoeless and dressed only in their underwear. Between the cedar and the camp the searchers found three more corpses, who seemed to have died in poses suggesting that they were attempting to return to the tent. Searching for the remaining four travelers took more than two months. They were finally found on May 4 under four meters of snow in a ravine 75 meters farther into the woods from the cedar tree. These four were better dressed than the others, and there were signs that those who had died first had apparently relinquished their clothes to the others.

A legal inquest started immediately after finding the first five bodies. A medical examination found no injuries which might have led to their deaths, and it was concluded that they had all died of hypothermia. One had a small crack in his skull, but it was not thought to be a fatal wound. An examination of the four bodies which were found in May changed the picture. Three of them had fatal injuries: one major skull damage, and two had major chest fractures. 

The force required to cause such damage would have been extremely high, yet the bodies had no external wounds, as if they were crippled by a high level of pressure. One was missing her tongue and eyes. The dead were only partially dressed. Some of them had only one shoe, while others had no shoes or wore only socks. Some were found wrapped in snips of ripped clothes that seemed to have been cut from those who were already dead.

Journalists reporting on the available parts of the inquest files claim that it states:

  • Six of the group members died of hypothermia and three of fatal injuries.
  • There were no indications of other people nearby apart from the nine travelers on Kholat Syakhl, nor anyone in the surrounding areas.
  • The tent had been ripped open from within.
  • The victims had died 6 to 8 hours after their last meal.
  • Traces from the camp showed that all group members left the camp of their own accord, on foot.
  • To dispel the theory of an attack by the indigenous Mansi people, Dr. Boris Vozrozhdenny stated that the fatal injuries of the three bodies could not have been caused by another human being, "because the force of the blows had been too strong and no soft tissue had been damaged".
  • Forensic radiation tests had shown high doses of radioactive contamination on the clothes of a few victims.
  • Released documents contained no information about the condition of the skiers' internal organs.
The final verdict was that the group members all died because of a "compelling natural force". The inquest ceased officially in May 1959 as a result of the "absence of a guilty party". The files were sent to a secret archive, and the photocopies of the case became available only in the 1990s, with some parts missing.

The sole survivor, Yuri Yudin, after the Dyatlov Pass Incident rose to become an administrator in the Solikamsk Perm region of Russia. He always felt that the Soviet military had probably been responsible in some way. In an interview in 2012 he recalled that he had been asked to identify the owner of everything found at the scene, but had failed to find a match for a piece of cloth that seemed to be of military origin, or for a pair of glasses, a pair of skis and a piece of a ski, leading him to suspect that the military had found the tent before the volunteer rescuers. 

Yudin recalled that the authorities had seemed more interested in why the hikers were in the area in the first place than in how they died. “If they were really killed by a natural force, then there would be no secret, and we would not be talking about this 53 years on,” he observed. But there is still no proof of what really happened. “If I had a chance to ask God just one question, it would be, 'What really happened to my friends that night?’” Yudin said. He died April 27, 2013.

That is the truth as far as can be gleaned from documents and interviews. The movie, while adding a few 'facts' to make the story better, kept most of it as it was. I was instantly interested when I started watching because the five college students were supposed to be from the University of Oregon - although when the leader of the group, Holly, said 'Oregon' I knew instantly she not only wasn't from here, she'd never been here either. Oh well. It IS a UK/Russia film...

Oh and as for 'found footage'? It's supposed to be some hacker finding it and uploading it on the internet, yet there is footage from all the cameras (including one that was destroyed) and it was impossible. If they had made it a movie INCLUDING some found footage that would have made more sense.

And it takes liberties with the story like it isn't insane enough. The movie is called Devil's Pass yet that name is never mentioned. The students said it was called 'The Mountain Of The Dead' but that wasn't true although the Mansi tribes indigenous to the place DID call it 'Dead Mountain' because there was no game there. And there was no indication that the lone survivor went insane and spent time in an asylum. They also interview a woman who was part of the original search team who claims there were eleven bodies plus a 'machine', not nine. Uh huh.

So up they go and things are boring for a while like all found footage movies that start way too early in the story. They finally start their trek. All goes as planned until one morning they find footprints - huge, bare footprints that come out of nowhere and go nowhere. Okay, now I understand why some complained of Blair Witch references - that was dumb. There are a few more duh moments I won't go into, this is getting pretty long but despite the inconsistencies, the little touches they added to make it more 'spooky' and the cramming of different ideas they did toward the end it was still pretty good. 

One sharp viewer caught an important part of the plot though - Helen Hunter remarked that the two who made the footprints can be seen popping up from behind the ridge when one of the hikers tells his friend about a bad acid trip he had in high school. His friend responds with a story of her own but if you look up left from where she's sitting, you'll see the two white figures behind the ridge. Thank you Miss Hunter! Good eye!

One girl dies in an avalanche, which was deliberately set as they heard the explosions. They shoot a flare for help and two men show up - way too fast. While trying to get away from the strangers, one climber is shot dead. The remaining three go to a steel door that two of them had conveniently found that locks from the outside but now is only frozen shut. Once they're in (one gets shot in the process) the two with guns locks them in. They find there is electricity and long tunnels. They also find ruined labs and offices with evidence that this was a military installation and...

Whew. How many conspiracy theories CAN you cram into a movie. Don't get me wrong, it was interesting, weird, sci-fi horror that is rarely made these days but you practically need a scorecard to keep everything straight. My horror movie worksheet (patent pending) was worthless for this movie. We've got the Philadelphia Experiment crammed in here too just for good measure and if you don't pay close attention it is very easy to get lost.

They find a recently killed soldier, some skeletons of people who had been executed (except their bones 'don't look right'), a video camera on one desk that is, inexplicably, the same camera they are still holding (I mean it's the SAME camera), and then out of nowhere two creatures, male and female, appear out of nowhere and attack them. They don't kill them for some reason though. There's a reason for that. They are herded into a small room where they find a long tunnel that, when they throw a rock into it, it disappears. 

They conclude this must be where the Russians had their teleportation experiments (like the Philadelphia Experiment). Stuck with nowhere to go, convinced that if they think hard enough about home, that's where they'll go (yeah and make sure you click your heels three times) they get their courage up and jump into the... whatever it is.

I figured out what comes next by now but since the movie's almost over that's no triumph for me. Their bodies are found face down in the snow by soldiers. Two searchers show up but the soldiers warn them off with guns (sound familiar?). The soldiers take the bodies into the bunker, now full of military men and in working order. One officer looks over the video camera the dead man had and sets it on his desk. They peel their clothes off and hang the bodies on hooks. We get a close up of the two - yup, it's our two last survivors, who had chased their later selves into that room. How do we know? Earlier they had revealed Holly had a tattoo behind her ear - as does the female 'mutant'. 

If they had split this movie in half, or at least made two movies so that they could fill in gaps and plot boo-boos it might have been a super cool movie, instead of just a good movie with some imagination and some good special effects.

The following are actual photos released - the first three are of the climbers themselves - those that follow were taken by the search team upon finding the remains of the climbers. These photos are graphic - please take note.