The first thing that attracted me to this project is that it is, to my mind, pretty brilliant at the conceptual level, making the medium itself (in this case, the L.A. Macabre Youtube channel) a part of the story. It’s designed not just to one-up the immersive “real-life” feel that all found-footage stories strive for, but also to reward subscribing to the channel and watching the episodes as they’re released in real time.
a Kogwheal written review
Greetings, filth fans! Kogwheal here to share with you something a bit less raunchy and bloody than our usual fare but plenty twisted and entertaining in its own right: webseries “L.A. Macabre”. It’s a found footage thriller, full of questionable decisions by characters that I quickly came to actually care about enough to almost wish they wouldn’t make questionable decisions. Almost. If they quit, there’d be no show, so, on with it!
There are no credits in sight for producing, writing, directing, editing, cinematography, or cast. You can get all that on their IMDB page, but their channel represents an almost entirely in-character experience, careful on the whole not to openly acknowledge its fictional nature.’
Friends Colin (Aidan Bristow) and Ryan (Ryan Hellquist) are making a sensationalist documentary webseries about the dark history of Los Angeles, complete with an intro sequence worthy of what has become of the History Channel. They enlist Ryan’s sister Jamie (Ryan Bartley) to run the camera and generally assist the production. They shoot and post lots of behind-the-scenes footage, which may have been a sizable overestimation of their audience’s interest if the show were to go as planned. But then they meet Callie (Corsica Wilson), a former member of a Manson Family-inspired cult, talk her into an on-camera interview, and things cease abruptly to go as planned.
As their show changes focus and then starts to invade their lives, the medium is put to increasingly good use. Jamie, initially inexperienced and uncomfortable on both sides of the camera, takes to being behind it quickly and also begins video blogging between the main episodes, expanding on the story. She also develops a bit of a voyeuristic side, changing from a normal, unassuming personality to an absolute creeper when she’s got a camera in her hands. Then again, she makes a valid point – the further they all get down the crazy cult rabbit hole, the more important it becomes to document everything they do, as a “constant alibi”. It’s a better excuse for the found footage style than you usually get. The Youtube channel format is further exploited when videos pop up that our plucky band of docuventurers didn’t make, adding to the mystery, and it’s exploited to a breathless limit when all the stops are pulled out for a slam-bang finale that’s as thrilling as it is meta.
Full disclosure: Several of the people involved in this project are friends of mine. Be assured that I plug them here only because their work is solid and this is a project that I believe the Collective will enjoy. It’s lots of fun, funny without being a parody, and slowly crafts a sense of intrigue with more than one extended sequence of what I regard as true master-level suspense building. A beautiful, nail-biting long take of a “creepy crawl” into an occupied home at night, and the aforementioned climax in which our heroes confront some seriously harrowing circumstances with impressive but plausible ingenuity (and a reasonable amount of panic) are high points that really got my blood pumping.
The solid script is in good hands, with the small cast of capable and charismatic actors bringing true life and personality to these realistically silly and flawed characters. The cinematography is excellent, and I think it only escapes being too good because the characters allegedly shooting all of it are setting out to make a professional-grade series and know what they’re doing. The editing ties it all together brilliantly. No surprise that it was edited by the writer-director, who knew going in what was going to come out the other end. That said, there’s one primary place where, to my mind, the illusion breaks down, and that’s the editing of the ending. I imagine that if this were real, the final episode would either contain less, or more. Unless, that is… well, watch it yourself. Seriously. It’s well worth the look.
If you’re interested, a word of advice on navigating the series:
Their channel contains, under the “Playlists” heading, a list of 15 videos titled “L.A. Macabre Episodes” and a list of 39 videos titled “L.A. Macabre Episodes – Chronological”. This latter list is everything, and was really meant to be viewed piecemeal as the videos were released. As director Dan Ast put it to me, watching everything is a pretty long and repetitive slog if you’re going to marathon it. Many of Jamie’s video blogs are not essential to following the story, though it’s recommended that you go back and watch them later if you enjoy the series. Actress Ryan Bartley is a pleasure to watch, and she gets more and more natural and convincing the more disturbed her character becomes. There’s also a cross-promotional podcast with Truly Disturbing Video.
The former list is a streamlined experience of the central cult-related plot. It times out to roughly 110 minutes, and omits the first three episodes, which are brief looks at the cases of the Black Dahlia, Peg Entwhistle and the Manson Family. I, personally, believe these should be viewed at the beginning even if you’re going to marathon the show, so you can see the show these crazy kids were trying to make before it all went to shit. Each of the first 3 episodes also has a follow up behind the scenes bit. These are entertaining in their own right, and they lay the groundwork for what you would otherwise be thrust into blind on the first episode in the shorter playlist.
If you start with these 6 videos it’ll add about 21 minutes to the runtime, but here’s how I think the series is best viewed if you’re a fan of the slow burn:
That’s all for now. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and as our fearless leader always says, stay trashy.