THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (2016) – Quiet Ghost Story Drama Doesn’t Stand Out

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The-Disappointments-Room-2016-poster

What if you made a stylish horror movie but forgot to make it scary?

You’d have THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (2016),  a horror movie now available on Netflix Streaming.

Dana Barrow (Kate Beckinsale), her husband David (Mel Raido), and their young son Lucas (Duncan Joiner) move into their new home, an elegant manor in the countryside.  They are looking for a fresh start in life as they recently suffered a devastating tragedy.

Dana is an architect and plans to work on the house, while David, when he’s not off on business trips, spends his days with their son Lucas.  Dana discovers a mysterious room on the top floor of the house, a room that is not in the home’s original plans.  When she starts hearing strange noises in the middle of the night, as well as catching glimpses of people inside the house, she begins to suspect the house is haunted.

She learns that the room on the upper floor of their home is most likely a “disappointments” room, a place where a century before families would hide children they deemed as “disappointments,” children suffering from either physical deformities or mental disorders.

When the spiritual and physical worlds collide, and young Lucas’ life is threatened, Dana takes matters into her own hands to save him.  But her efforts are hindered by her own psychological issues, as she struggles to distinguish between what is real and what is imagined.  Is Lucas really in danger?  Or is it all just in her head?

The biggest knock against THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM is that it is yet another haunted house/ghost story movie.  There have been so many of these movies of late, unless it’s the best I’ve ever seen, a film with this plot has a lot going against it because it’s extremely difficult to keep fresh at this point.  And THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM is not fresh.  What it has to offer in terms of ghost story plot is nothing new, and this definitely works against the movie.

Early on, there were parts of this film that reminded me of the classic chiller THE CHANGELING (1980) starring George C. Scott, but that film benefitted from some genuine scares and a shocking reveal.  THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM has neither.

What it does have are solid acting performances and a steady directorial hand by director D.J. Caruso.

Caruso, who also directed the teen adventure I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011) and the thriller DISTURBIA (2007), sets the mood early on with some creepy scenes, like the strange black dog that keeps showing up outside the home, and the eerie spectral figures which Dana sees.  And the film looks good throughout, even as the story ultimately fails to build to a satisfying climax.

The screenplay by director Caruso and Wentworth Miller [an actor known mostly for his starring role on the TV series PRISON BREAK (2005-2009) and the current mini-series PRISON BREAK: RESURRECTION (2017)] adds the disappointments room to the haunted house plot, and early on this was enough to hold my attention, but as the story evolves, and we learn more about the events which led to the haunting of this house, things become less interesting.

The potential for a nifty psychological thriller is certainly there but it doesn’t quite happen because the film only hints at the darkness inside Dana’s head.  It could be ghosts.  It could be imagined.  It could be a little bit of both.  The film never really makes up its mind, and it’s a weaker vehicle for it.

The film definitely plays like a dark drama rather than a horror movie.  As such, it’s a pretty good example of quiet horror.

But what it fails to do is reach the next level.  The climax of the film is certainly disturbing, but then what follows is a standard “I’ve got to save my son” sequence  which is ultimately a let down, and this is followed by a tepid ending which doesn’t do the movie any favors.

But as I said the acting is solid.  I really enjoyed Kate Beckinsale in the lead as Dana.It was so much more fun to watch her here than in those awful UNDERWORLD movies.  She makes Dana believable, and she seems like a woman with a tortured past who is now thrust into a ghost story conundrum.  That being said, considering what Dana believes she did in the past, her character should have been even more fragile and unhinged than she is here.

There’s a parallel between Beckinsale’s Dana and the father of the child in the disappointments room, Judge Blacker (Gerald McRaney).  But just how alike they are is never satisfactorily explored.  Like so many other things in this movie, it’s only hinted at.

Mel Raido does a nice job as Dana’s level-headed husband, David.  He’s the voice of reason who continually works to keep his wife grounded in reality.

Gerald McRaney doesn’t do much more than look menacing as the ghostly Judge Blacker, but he does it so well.

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM looks better than a lot of the other recent haunted house/ghost story movies of late, and it doesn’t suffer from the atrocious plot twists that some of those other flicks have, but ultimately it doesn’t really add anything of note to make it stand out.

And while it does provide a rather nasty revelation towards the end, what follows is a by-the-numbers conclusion.

All in all, THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM is a ghost story drama that will hold your interest for a while before it ultimately fizzles, settling gently into its quiet world of stylized mediocrity.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – Inferior Sequel All 2 Familiar

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conjuring 2

Movie Review:   THE CONJURING 2 (2016)

By Michael Arruda

I’ve got to say this right here.  I loved INSIDIOUS (2010) and THE CONJURING (2013), both by director James Wan, and I really wanted to like THE CONJURING 2, especially since Wan was back directing again, but I gotta tell you, I did not like this one at all.

The film starts off with lame prologue showing husband and wife paranormal investigators Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) dealing with the infamous Amityville haunting.  Now, in real life, Ed and Lorraine Warren became famous for investigating the Amityville situation, but this prologue serves no purpose in the movie other than to tie in with the first film which ended with their being summoned to Amityville.

The action switches to London in 1977, where another family is experiencing another haunting.  Eventually, the Warrens are called in to investigate, upon the request of the Catholic Church no less, to find out if the hautning is credible.

Now I could go into more plot details, but I don’t see the need.  And that’s one of the biggest problems I had with THE CONJURING 2:  the story bored me to tears.  Family is terrorized by a demon, or in this case a combination of ghosts and demons (and this combintation has been done before as well), there are lots of strange noises at night, loud knocks on doors, children being possessed, etc.  The Warrens arrive, they investigate, blah blah blah.

Now I’ll be the first to tell you that I was very surprised I didn’t like this movie.  As I said at the outset, I loved INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING, and I fully expected to like this sequel.  But I did not.

In terms of scares, there are a lot of them in THE CONJURING 2, and as you would expect in a James Wan movie, most of them are of the jump scare variety.  I don’t have a problem with this.  I like jump scares.  The problem I had with the jump scares in this movie was that they simply were not scary.  And they weren’t scary for me because I was bored with the story and so I knew, okay here’s the part where something creepy will happen with the child’s toy.  Okay, and here’s the part where the demon will show up in the dark corner.  Now for the young girl to start saying weird things in a deep male voice.  I mean, almost everything that happened in this movie I felt I had seen already.  Many, many times.

James Wan does a fine job constructing all these scenes, but he did the same in INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING and there just wasn’t much that was fresh here.

I liked the demon and the ghosts, but some looked better than others, which were a bit thick with CGI effects.

I like the two main actors a lot, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  I’m a huge fan of Farmiga, but I didn’t think either actor was able to rise above the material here.

I thought the script by Carey and Chad Hayes, David Leslie Johnson, and James Wan was particularly bad. I thought the dialogue at times was laughable, especially during some of the conversations between Wilson and Farmiga.  And the story is about as fresh as a loaf of stale bread.  Demon manipulates spirits to haunt a family.  Okay, I get it. Let’s do something else already.

And there are spirits and demons everywhere.  There’s so much supernatural activity going on inside this house it’s like a GHOSTBUSTERS convention.  It reaches the point of ridiculousness.  It also works against the plot, which presents us with a more skeptical Ed and Lorraine Warren.  Are you kidding me?  We’re supposed to believe that they have doubts?  After seeing everything that happens in this movie?  The only way they could have doubts after seeing this much spectral activity in one place would be if they were blind, and they’re not blind.

I did enjoy Madison Wolfe who played Janet Hodgson, the young girl who becomes the main victim of the film’s demon.  She was believable.  I also enjoyed Frances O’Connor’s performance as the single mother Peggy Hodgson raising her family.  She had a gritty feisty strength about her that was just right for the role.

But as a whole, I found THE CONJURING 2 to be a major letdown, and I’m someone who really enjoys this type of movie.  I mean, I like stories about demons and hauntings, but this story added nothing new.  If you’ve seen THE CONJURING and INSIDIOUS, you’ve seen everything that happens in this one.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973), published in the December 2015 edition of THE HWA NEWSLETTER, the Official Newsletter of the Horror Writers Association.
Enjoy!
—Michael
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
BY
MICHAEL ARRUDA
LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE
Not only is December a great time to watch a haunted house movie, but the plot of today’s movie ­ THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) ­­­ actually takes place in December. How cool is that? Okay, so I’m easily amused.
I actually saw THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE when it was first released at the drive­in as part of a double feature with THE OTHER (1972). I was nine years­old when my parents took my younger brother and me to see this double bill, and while I slept through THE OTHER, I remember enjoying HELL HOUSE. So, there was certainly some nostalgia watching this one again recently on Netflix Streaming, especially since I hadn’t seen it in years.
Its tale of an investigative team probing a haunted house, trying to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts, reminds me an awful lot of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” and the movie THE HAUNTING (1963) which is based on the Shirley Jackson story. But it’s actually based on the novel Hell House by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie.
In THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill) a physicist, leads the examination into Hell House. His team includes his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), a psychic Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), and a physical medium, Benjamin Fischer (Roddy McDowall), who has the distinction of being the only survivor from a previous investigation into the house.
legend of hell house - team
So, do ghosts exist or not? Dr. Barrett seems hell bent on proving once and for all that they do not exist, but the spirit that occupies Hell House has other ideas.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is ghostly fun from start to finish. It’s full of spooky atmosphere and contains plenty of creepy scenes.
Director John Hough, fresh off his horror hit for Hammer Films, the vampire film TWINS OF EVIL (1971) starring Peter Cushing, pretty much strikes gold again. Both of these films are excellent horror movies. Hough would go on to direct the Walt Disney classic ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1975), as well as its sequel RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1978) starring Christopher Lee. Hough would also direct Peter Cushing’s final movie, BIGGLES: ADVENTURES IN TIME (1986).
Roddy McDowall leads a fine cast. McDowall is excellent here as Benjamin Fischer, the man with the most insight into Hell House since he had been there before. I was already a Roddy McDowall fan when I saw this at the movies in 1973 because of the PLANET OF THE APES films. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE was probably the first movie where I actually got to see his face!
So that’s what Cornelius looks like!
Clive Revill is authoritative as physicist and lead investigator Dr. Barrett, and Gayle Hunnicutt is memorable as his wife Ann. Pamela Franklin makes for a beautiful and oftentimes vulnerable psychic Florence Tanner. Even Michael Gough shows up as a corpse, which is a nice way of keeping this Hammer favorite from his signature overacting!
All four of the main characters go through changes since they are all affected one way or another by the spirit occupying Hell House. McDowall’s character probably fares the best, as he seems to
be best equipped to fend off the ghost.
Clive Revill’s Dr. Barrett, on the other hand, the supposed the leader of the team, is influenced by
the Hell House spirit pretty much from the get­go, as he quickly becomes irritable, angry, and worst of all confused. Sure, these could just be personality flaws, but more likely, they’re the work of the ghost.
Barrett’s wife Ann becomes sexually aroused and continually makes advances towards Ben Fischer, while psychic Florence senses who the ghost is but no one on her team seems to believe her, probably because she too exhibits odd behavior.
Is this assembled team just a group of oddballs? Or are they all influenced and infected by the supernatural presence residing at Hell House? You know the answer to that question, and that’s what makes THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE so much fun.
The prevailing feeling throughout THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is one of uncertainty and doubt. The supernatural entity makes its presence known immediately, and the characters all become affected quickly, even if they don’t realize it.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is an excellent horror movie and is yet another quality horror film from the 1970s, a decade which is chock full of horror classics. Sure, there are the big budget  classics like THE EXORCIST (1973), JAWS (1975), THE OMEN (1976) and ALIEN (1979),  but it’s also the decade of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and HALLOWEEN (1978). It’s also the decade of films
like THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976), THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977), and KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977), low budget films that didn’t become huge hits but provided quality horror entertainment all the same. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE falls into this latter category.
As we look back today at the 1970s, a decade famous for its bad hairstyles and disco music, it’s quite clear that for horror movie fans, it’s one of the best decades ever. There are a lot of really good horror movies made in the 1970s.
If there’s one weakness regarding THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE it’s the film’s plot. Its haunted house tale is nothing I haven’t seen before, and even though the film has fun with it, and it all works, at the end of the day, it’s still just another haunted house story with all the similar
trimmings.
What makes THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE stand out among other films of its type is a talented cast, strong direction, and a decent script by Richard Matheson.
As you make the rounds this holiday season, visiting family and fiends­­­ er, friends, don’t forget  to stop by HELL HOUSE. There’s someone there who’s dying to see you.
­­­END­­­

Not Haunted by THE HAUNTING (1963)

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haunting_poster_dvdartDVD Review:  THE HAUNTING (1963)

By

Michael Arruda

 

THE HAUNTING (1963), Robert Wise’s classic ghost story movie based on the Shirley Jackson novel The Haunting of Hill House, is a film that I could never get into as a kid, as I was into monster movies and horror films that were much more in-your-face than the type of subtle scares found here.

 

But I recently caught up with this horror classic the other day on DVD and you know what?  I’m still not nuts about it.

 

Which puts me in the minority because I know a lot of folks who swear by this movie and consider it one of the best ghost story movies ever made.  Sadly, I disagree.

 

I actually enjoyed Shirley Jackson’s novel better than the movie, even though truth be told there really aren’t a whole lot of differences between the book and the movie, as the film remained mostly faithful to the book.  However, one major difference between the two is the book makes the case that it’s the house itself that is haunted, that it’s the house itself that is evil, and it actually treats the house as a major character in the story.  The movie doesn’t do this.

 

The film focuses on the psychological make-up of the main character, Eleanor, suggesting that the ghostly activities inside the house are perhaps only happening inside Eleanor’s head, since she’s the only one who the house seems to affect.

 

THE HAUNTING has a neat beginning, as a voice-over explains the history of Hill House, chronicling the tragic events which took place there over the years.  The film then jumps to present day where Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) plans to investigate the house to find out whether or not it’s truly haunted. 

 

Markway assembles a team to stay in the house with him.  This team consists of a woman, Eleanor (Julie Harris), chosen in spite of her emotional instability because she once had a spiritual encounter, Theo (Claire Bloom) a woman with psychic abilities, and a young man, Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), who stands to inherit the house. Sanderson is there to protect his investment. 

 

On cue, strange things begin to happen, most of them to Eleanor, and she soon believes the house wants her to stay there.  Eleanor is happy inside Hill House, as it provides her with an escape from her prior life, where she had spent years caring for her sick elderly mother.  After her mother passed away, Eleanor lived with her sister, her sister’s husband, and their young daughter, but things were stressful there, because Eleanor felt angry that the brunt of caring for their sick mother fell completely on her.

 

Eleanor also develops feelings for Dr. Markway, even though he’s married.  When Markway’s wife Grace (Lois Maxwell) arrives at Hill House, Eleanor sees her as a threat, and she reacts badly when Markway suggests that she leave Hill House, concerned that things at the house have grown too intense for her, and that she’s close to suffering a nervous breakdown. 

 

But Eleanor does not want to leave Hill House.  Ever.

 

In terms of quiet horror, THE HAUNTING works well.  It does possess an eerie quality that can be somewhat unnerving when watching it alone at night, even if the scares aren’t all that intense.  There’s a particular moment, for example, where Eleanor thinks she’s holding Theo’s hand, but she then sees Theo on the other side of the room, which begs the question:  whose hand has she holding?  Creepy, but not scary.

 

Robert Wise’s direction is tight and solid, and technically, the film is enjoyable to watch.  There are a lot of creepy things going on inside the house, things like characters scaring themselves by seeing their reflection in a mirror, doors that close by themselves, and a host of other things.  I was certainly intrigued by all I saw, but I was rarely frightened.

 

It’s a case where, for me, the movie didn’t go for the jugular enough.  It’s definitely a case of style over substance.

 

I definitely prefer some of Wise’s other films over this one, films like THE BODY SNATCHER (1945) starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951), WEST SIDE STORY (1961), and STAR TREK:  THE MOTION PICTURE (1979).  And although it’s not one of my personal favorites, Wise did direct the family classic THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965).  One thing is for sure:  Wise certainly enjoyed an eclectic career.

 

The screenplay by Nelson Gidding is okay but it’s a difficult one to warm up to.  The characters tend to speak peripherally, talking around things rather than getting to the heart of the matter, and while they’re somewhat interesting, they’re not all that likeable.  And in terms of creepiness and getting under one’s skin, it’s not as effective as Jackson’s novel. 

 

Gidding has also written some other suspect screenplays, including THE HINDENBURG (1975) and BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1979).

 

The cast is fine although it didn’t wow me.  Julie Harris is okay as Eleanor, but she grows increasingly annoying as the movie goes on, and I have to admit I didn’t really care what happened to her.

 

I thought Richard Johnson made a likeable Dr. Markway, and I actually wished the movie had been more about him.  Markway is very authoritative in the movie, although, ultimately, he proves to be an ineffective investigator.  I also found Claire Bloom irritating as Theo, although I did enjoy Russ Tamblyn’s performance as the laid back Luke Sanderson. 

 

And Lois Maxwell, James Bond’s MoneyPenney herself, is on hand as Markway’s wife Grace, and she’s very good in the few scenes she’s in.

 

THE HAUNTING is considered a classic of the genre, but I just have never been able to get into it. Its story is heightened by some neat visuals by director Wise, and it’s got decent acting, but the script never grabbed me, either with its story or its characters. 

 

Simply put, I wasn’t haunted by THE HAUNTING.

 

—END—

 

 

 

 

CLASSIC HORROR MOVIE DOUBLE FEATURES TO WATCH ON HALLOWEEN

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HALLOWEEN HAUNTS:  Classic Movie Double Features for Halloween Night

By

Michael Arruda

 

 Curse Frankenstein Horror Dracula

Okay.

 

I love watching horror movies, that’s a given.  And what better time to watch them than on Halloween night?  Even folks who don’t generally watch horror movies indulge on Halloween. 

 

Some watch just one.  Others do marathons long into the night.  Still others hearken back to the days of the Creature Double Feature and settle in for a twin bill.  Yep, everybody loves a good double feature. 

 

So, for Halloween 2013, here’s a look at some awesome double features for you to enjoy after all the Trick-or-Treaters have come and gone.

 

Granted, I lean heavily on classic horror, but no worries, I’ve got some new ones here as well.  The bottom line is there are simply so many horror films worthy of your time, especially on Halloween night.  You really can’t go wrong.

 

Here we go:

 

Into the Universal classics?  Excellent!  They make great viewing on Halloween night, as they’re real mood setters.

 

Look no further than the best of the best:  FRANKENSTEIN (1931) followed by its sequel THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935).  FRANKENSTEIN is my personal favorite of the Universal monster movies.  Boris Karloff’s Monster is the perfect mix of uncontrollable brutality and infant innocence.  He’s as sympathetic as he is terrifying.  Its sequel, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is considered by many to be the best horror film of all time.

 

Not into Frankenstein?  Rather watch vampires?  Then check out DRACULA (1931) and allow Bela Lugosi to mesmerize you as the king of the undead.  Follow it up with its effective sequel, DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936).

 

More into werewolves?  Then watch THE WOLF MAN (1941) followed by its exciting sequel, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1942).

 

Simply want more monsters?  Then indulge in these Universal monster parties, which include Dracula, the Wolf Man, and the Frankenstein monster, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) starring Boris Karloff as an evil mad scientist, rather than as the monster, and its companion piece HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945). 

 

Not into monsters but want a classic flavor?  Then check out this Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi double bill:  THE BLACK CAT (1934) and THE RAVEN (1935).   Other than their signature roles as the Frankenstein monster and Dracula, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi probably turn in their best performances in these two movies.  They complement each other so well.  Karloff and Lugosi made several movies together.  These are two of their best.

 

In the mood to mix frights with laughter?  Then settle in and watch ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) and Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974), two of the funniest horror movies ever made.

 

Moving onto to Hammer Films, while there are so many to choose from, it’s Halloween, so go with the best:  THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) followed by HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).  Watch Peter Cushing give the performance of his life as the relentless Baron Victor Frankenstein, creating one of the most hideous monsters ever to grace the big screen, Christopher Lee’s Creature, in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Then, watch HORROR OF DRACULA and witness Christopher Lee’s insanely frightening and sexy performance as Dracula, matching wits against Peter Cushing’s energetic and dynamic Van Helsing. 

 

Into Vincent Price?  Check out this early double bill, HOUSE OF WAX (1953) followed by this other “house” classic, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959).

 

Want later Price?  Then check out these campy classics, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971) followed by THEATER OF BLOOD (1973).  Murder has never been so much fun!

 

Into giant monsters?  Invite these behemoths into your home:  KING KONG (1933), the classic monster movie that remains one of the best movies of all time period!  It’s truly the Eighth Wonder of the movie world.  And follow it up with the campy Japanese classic bout, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962).  It’s silly, it’s goofy, and King Kong looks like a stuffed gorilla toy accidentally run through the wash, but it’s oh so fun.

 

Speaking of Godzilla, if you want to be scared by a giant monster, then kick off this frightening double bill with GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1956).  Godzilla’s first foray into the movies is his most frightening ever, a very intense film, nothing at all like the lightweight Godzilla movies from the 1960s and 70s.  Follow this with one of the best horror movies of the 21st century, J.J. Abram’s CLOVERFIELD (2008).  If you don’t think giant monsters can be scary, you haven’t seen these two movies.

 

You prefer your giant monsters silly and campy?  Then look no further than these wild rides from Japan’s Toho Studios:  FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965), featuring a giant Frankenstein Monster who battles a colossal reptile, followed by THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966) which in Japan was the sequel to FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD.  But here in the United States, all references to Frankenstein were removed from GARGANTUAS.  Still, it’s one of my favorite Toho movies, and once you’ve seen the good gargantua and the bad gargantua, you won’t forget them.

 

Looking for some 1950s science fiction to get you in the Halloween spirit?  Then kick things off with George Pal’s colorful and explosive THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953).  You’ll forever marvel at those Martian machines.  Follow this with a different kind of space invasion, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) one of the scariest science fiction movies ever made.

 

Jumping ahead to the 1970s, how about these devilishly good haunts to scare you this Halloween, THE EXORCIST (1973) followed by THE OMEN (1976).  Heads will spin, beds will rise, and 666 will be flashing on your speed dial.

 

Okay, let’s get modern and look at some more recent haunts.

 

Want brutal and intense?  Then go with 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007), a story about vampires loose in an Alaskan town just before the sun sets for a month.  Follow this with THE CRAZIES (2010) an excellent remake of George Romero’s original about a small town overrun by a disease that turns people into crazy murderous beasts.

 

Speaking of remakes, watch the better than average remake THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (2009) about parents getting the chance to avenge a brutal rape of their daughter.  If you like family tales of a different nature, follow this up with ORPHAN (2009) a story that will make you think twice about adopting.

 

Feel like spying on people in their own homes and watching them terrified by spooks and demons?  Then watch PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007) followed by PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (2010).    

 

In the mood for a modern take on classic monsters, in colorful productions that honor the Universal and Hammer styles?  Then go with ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012) and follow that up with the remake of THE WOLFMAN (2010).  Both these movies have some serious bite.

 

For me, the most fun horror film I’ve seen in the past few years has been INSIDIOUS (2010).  When I saw this in the theater, people were screaming left and right.  It was one of the most fun times I’ve had at a horror movie in years.  So, start off with INSIDIOUS, guaranteed to freak you out, and follow it up with another fun horror movie, this one very new, MAMA (2013).

 

What will I be watching this Halloween? 

 

Well, for me, it varies from year to year.  This year I’m going with a classic, an oldie-but-a-goodie double bill:  John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) followed by its sequel, HALLOWEEN II (1981).  HALLOWEEN is a classic of horror cinema, one of John Carpenter’s best movies.  Its sequel, HALLOWEEN II, is not, but it’s still an entertaining follow-up.  You’ll also have fun with John Carpenter’s memorable music score stuck in your head for the rest of the night.

 

You can’t go wrong with any of these double bills.  And of course, there are many, many more horror movies not mentioned in this column.  Feel free to come up with your own double feature.

 

This Halloween, after the Trick-or-Treaters have come and gone, sit back and relax and enjoy one of these Halloween double features.

 

Happy Halloween, everybody!

 

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CONJURING (2013) Unoriginal Scary Fun

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the-conjuring-posterMovie Review:  THE CONJURING (2013)

by

Michael Arruda

 

THE CONJURING (2013), the latest horror movie by director James Wan, the man who directed SAW (2004) and INSIDIOUS (2010), is a classic example of style over substance.

There is nothing original about the story this movie tells, and some of the plot points are downright silly, but you know what?  I liked it, mostly because it’s directed with gusto by Wan, and he gives this one an eerie edge throughout.

It’s the early 1970s, and the Perron family move into their new home, which of course is going to be haunted, in this case by a demon.  You know, for once I’d like to see a haunted house story not about a family moving into a new home.  Maybe the demon can move in for once.  You know, the family’s been living there for years, and then this demon shows up looking for a new start in its demonic life— well, I digress.

The Perrons are your typical family, led by truck driver dad Roger Perron (Ron Livingston), sporting a very 70s haircut, and stay-at-home mom Carolyn (Lili Taylor), and their five daughters, including the angst-filled teen who’s none too happy about moving into a new house, but to be fair, she stops complaining early on, so thankfully we avoid this cliché.

Strange things begin to happen in the Perron household (of course!), odd noises, foul odors, and unseen visitors, all of which eventually lead them to conclude that their home is haunted.

At the same time, the movie also introduces paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) a husband and wife team who go around the country helping people with their haunted houses and giving college lectures.

The movie tells parallel stories of both the Perron and the Warren families, until of course, Carolyn Perron contacts Ed and Lorraine and convinces them to come to her family’s house and take on the case.  And it’s here where the movie really takes off, when Ed and Lorraine arrive at the Perron home with their team, which includes another investigator Drew (Shannon Kook) and a police officer Brad (John Brotherton).

The rest of the movie follows this team’s efforts to identify the threat in the Perron household, and there are many—the house is occupied by anguished spirits and one very powerful demon— and then to protect the family and eventually exorcise the demon before it does what it wants to do, which is murder the Perron children.

I really enjoyed the cast in THE CONJURING, especially Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the husband and wife investigator team of Ed and Lorraine Warren.  They’re a very believable couple.

The Warrens have a cool room full of relics which were once haunted, including a demonic doll introduced in the film’s opening segment, where we see the Warrens handle an earlier case.  As Ed tells an interviewer, they keep all these things rather than destroy them because they believe they’re able to contain the malevolent spirits this way.  Burn the objects, and the spirits will be released.  Nice thinking, although I question why they’d store these items in a room inside their home where their young daughter lives.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to house these things somewhere else?

Patrick Wilson makes for a very heroic and likeable lead as Ed Warren.  I like Wilson more each time I see him.  He played the dad in INSIDIOUS (2010), and he was also Night Owl in WATCHMEN (2009).

As much as I liked Wilson, I liked Vera Farmiga even more as Lorraine Warren.  As Lorraine, she’s just as strong and heroic as Wilson, but with the added vulnerability of having been attacked at an earlier exorcism, the details of which she refuses to divulge to her husband.  She’s also a clairvoyant, and she provides the main conduit for communicating with the spirits in this story.  She’s an interesting character.

Farmiga is currently starring in the TV show BATES MOTEL (2013-14), and she’s been in a lot of other movies as well.  She was memorable as the police psychiatrist Madolyn in THE DEPARTED (2006), the woman who becomes involved with both Matt Damon’s crooked cop and Leonardo DiCaprio’s mob infiltrator.  She delivers the best performance in THE CONJURING.

Lili Taylor is also very good as Carolyn Perron.  She does a nice job, at first playing the concerned mother, and then later, as the demon sets its sights on her, she gets to be the frightening possessed monster.  Taylor was one of the highlights of the otherwise underwhelming thriller THE COURIER (2012) in which she played an assassin named Mrs. Capo.

The five young actresses who play the Perron daughters are also all very good.

THE CONJURING has very little to say that hasn’t been said before, but there were things about the screenplay by Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes that I liked.  I definitely enjoyed the emphasis placed on the paranormal investigative team of the Warrens.  Their presence made the story much more interesting than had it been only about the Perron family tackling the ghosts on their own.  This was done to some degree in INSIDIOUS, but the Warrens are a much more compelling team than the investigators in INSIDIOUS.

The Perron family also remains believable throughout and avoids many of the cliché pratfalls of movie haunted house families.  As soon as the Perrons learn what’s going on, Roger wisely says “we have to get out of this house,” but Ed tells him that it’s not the house that’s possessed, but his family, and the demon would only follow him.  Again, this concept is not new (see INSIDIOUS) but it’s still handled well, mostly because the movie doesn’t insult our intelligence.

But the best part by far of THE CONJURING is the energetic direction by James Wan.  This movie is not at all graphic, and yet, it includes many frightening images and some decent scares.   As a horror movie fan, you’ve got to love it.  Some of the memorable images include a gruesome hanging body, a grieving spirit anguished over the death of its daughter, a creepy toy with a mirror in which you can see the face of a ghost, and who can forget the eerie demon doll sitting inside the locked glass cabinet of the Warren household?

This movie is chock-full of fun horror elements.

But is it scary?  Well, it’s not the most frightening movie I’ve ever seen, and sure, it could be scarier, but there are enough thrills and chills to keep most horror fans satisfied.

It also gets the pacing right.  Things start off slowly, but as soon as the Warrens arrive to investigate the Perron’s home, the movie cranks it up and never looks back.  This is how a movie should be paced.  It should get more intense as it goes along, which is exactly what happens in THE CONJURING.  That being said, the ending isn’t quite as satisfying as I’d hoped, but it’s still pretty darn good.

THE CONURING also has an excellent music score by Joseph Bishara, who also did the music for INSIDIOUS.

THE CONJURING is far from perfect, and it doesn’t have an original bone in its body, but it is one very fun very satisfying horror movie.  I definitely recommend it.

—END—

THE CONJURING (2013) Unoriginal Scary Fun

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the-conjuring-posterMovie Review:  THE CONJURING (2013)

by

Michael Arruda

 

THE CONJURING (2013), the latest horror movie by director James Wan, the man who directed SAW (2004) and INSIDIOUS (2010), is a classic example of style over substance.

There is nothing original about the story this movie tells, and some of the plot points are downright silly, but you know what?  I liked it, mostly because it’s directed with gusto by Wan, and he gives this one an eerie edge throughout.

It’s the early 1970s, and the Perron family move into their new home, which of course is going to be haunted, in this case by a demon.  You know, for once I’d like to see a haunted house story not about a family moving into a new home.  Maybe the demon can move in for once.  You know, the family’s been living there for years, and then this demon shows up looking for a new start in its demonic life— well, I digress.

The Perrons are your typical family, led by truck driver dad Roger Perron (Ron Livingston), sporting a very 70s haircut, and stay-at-home mom Carolyn (Lili Taylor), and their five daughters, including the angst-filled teen who’s none too happy about moving into a new house, but to be fair, she stops complaining early on, so thankfully we avoid this cliché.

Strange things begin to happen in the Perron household (of course!), odd noises, foul odors, and unseen visitors, all of which eventually lead them to conclude that their home is haunted.

At the same time, the movie also introduces paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) a husband and wife team who go around the country helping people with their haunted houses and giving college lectures.

The movie tells parallel stories of both the Perron and the Warren families, until of course, Carolyn Perron contacts Ed and Lorraine and convinces them to come to her family’s house and take on the case.  And it’s here where the movie really takes off, when Ed and Lorraine arrive at the Perron home with their team, which includes another investigator Drew (Shannon Kook) and a police officer Brad (John Brotherton).

The rest of the movie follows this team’s efforts to identify the threat in the Perron household, and there are many—the house is occupied by anguished spirits and one very powerful demon— and then to protect the family and eventually exorcise the demon before it does what it wants to do, which is murder the Perron children.

I really enjoyed the cast in THE CONJURING, especially Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the husband and wife investigator team of Ed and Lorraine Warren.  They’re a very believable couple.

The Warrens have a cool room full of relics which were once haunted, including a demonic doll introduced in the film’s opening segment, where we see the Warrens handle an earlier case.  As Ed tells an interviewer, they keep all these things rather than destroy them because they believe they’re able to contain the malevolent spirits this way.  Burn the objects, and the spirits will be released.  Nice thinking, although I question why they’d store these items in a room inside their home where their young daughter lives.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to house these things somewhere else?

Patrick Wilson makes for a very heroic and likeable lead as Ed Warren.  I like Wilson more each time I see him.  He played the dad in INSIDIOUS (2010), and he was also Night Owl in WATCHMEN (2009).

As much as I liked Wilson, I liked Vera Farmiga even more as Lorraine Warren.  As Lorraine, she’s just as strong and heroic as Wilson, but with the added vulnerability of having been attacked at an earlier exorcism, the details of which she refuses to divulge to her husband.  She’s also a clairvoyant, and she provides the main conduit for communicating with the spirits in this story.  She’s an interesting character.

Farmiga is currently starring in the TV show BATES MOTEL (2013-14), and she’s been in a lot of other movies as well.  She was memorable as the police psychiatrist Madolyn in THE DEPARTED (2006), the woman who becomes involved with both Matt Damon’s crooked cop and Leonardo DiCaprio’s mob infiltrator.  She delivers the best performance in THE CONJURING.

Lili Taylor is also very good as Carolyn Perron.  She does a nice job, at first playing the concerned mother, and then later, as the demon sets its sights on her, she gets to be the frightening possessed monster.  Taylor was one of the highlights of the otherwise underwhelming thriller THE COURIER (2012) in which she played an assassin named Mrs. Capo.

The five young actresses who play the Perron daughters are also all very good.

THE CONJURING has very little to say that hasn’t been said before, but there were things about the screenplay by Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes that I liked.  I definitely enjoyed the emphasis placed on the paranormal investigative team of the Warrens.  Their presence made the story much more interesting than had it been only about the Perron family tackling the ghosts on their own.  This was done to some degree in INSIDIOUS, but the Warrens are a much more compelling team than the investigators in INSIDIOUS.

The Perron family also remains believable throughout and avoids many of the cliché pratfalls of movie haunted house families.  As soon as the Perrons learn what’s going on, Roger wisely says “we have to get out of this house,” but Ed tells him that it’s not the house that’s possessed, but his family, and the demon would only follow him.  Again, this concept is not new (see INSIDIOUS) but it’s still handled well, mostly because the movie doesn’t insult our intelligence.

But the best part by far of THE CONJURING is the energetic direction by James Wan.  This movie is not at all graphic, and yet, it includes many frightening images and some decent scares.   As a horror movie fan, you’ve got to love it.  Some of the memorable images include a gruesome hanging body, a grieving spirit anguished over the death of its daughter, a creepy toy with a mirror in which you can see the face of a ghost, and who can forget the eerie demon doll sitting inside the locked glass cabinet of the Warren household?

This movie is chock-full of fun horror elements.

But is it scary?  Well, it’s not the most frightening movie I’ve ever seen, and sure, it could be scarier, but there are enough thrills and chills to keep most horror fans satisfied.

It also gets the pacing right.  Things start off slowly, but as soon as the Warrens arrive to investigate the Perron’s home, the movie cranks it up and never looks back.  This is how a movie should be paced.  It should get more intense as it goes along, which is exactly what happens in THE CONJURING.  That being said, the ending isn’t quite as satisfying as I’d hoped, but it’s still pretty darn good.

THE CONURING also has an excellent music score by Joseph Bishara, who also did the music for INSIDIOUS.

THE CONJURING is far from perfect, and it doesn’t have an original bone in its body, but it is one very fun very satisfying horror movie.  I definitely recommend it.

—END—