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

1

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—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE CHANGELING (1980)

1

changeling-poster

I first saw THE CHANGELING way back when I was in high school.  It was a late night showing on HBO, and I gotta tell you, it creeped me out.  At the time, other than THE EXORCIST (1973), no other horror movie had gotten under my skin like this one.

So, I was very excited the other day to finally see THE CHANGELING again  on DVD, since I hadn’t seen it in years.  And while I have to admit that it didn’t scare me like it did back in the early 80s when I first saw it, it remains a first-rate horror movie.

It’s the type of horror movie that I love:  an A-list cast, talented director, and a sense of seriousness that lifts it above standard horror fare.  In short, it’s a high quality movie.

THE CHANGELING opens with a tragedy:  composer John Russell (George C. Scott) watches helplessly as his wife and daughter are killed in a freak car accident.  In an effort to rebuild his life, Russell moves across the country, from New York City to the suburbs of Seattle.  He moves into a mansion, a quiet home where he hopes to be able to work on his music in solitude.

He soon begins hearing strange noises at night, noises that lead him to discover a secret room, and inside this room he finds a tiny wheelchair and other items belonging to a child.  Russell soon realizes that there is a ghost in his house, a ghost of a child, and this ghost isn’t trying to frighten him away but on the contrary is trying to communicate with him.  Russell wonders if perhaps the reason this spirit is seeking him might be connected to the fact that he lost his daughter at a young age.

Russell begins to investigate the history of the house, and what he learns leads him to the wealthy U.S. Senator Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas)  who once lived in Russell’s house as a child.  Russell finds himself caught in the middle of a conflict, with supernatural forces on one side, and the power of a U.S. Senator on the other.

THE CHANGELING is a well-made, creepy and haunting horror movie that certainly belongs in the conversation when discussing the best haunted house/ghost story movies ever made.

Director Peter Medak does a wonderful job here.  The scenes in the house are creepy and atmospheric, and he makes full use of some truly memorable images.  A simple child’s wheelchair has never been so eerie.  Likewise, he uses the child’s voice to full effect and there are some shocking scenes as well, like one involving a bath tub.  The film also looks great.  It looks like something Hammer would have done had they still been in business in 1980 and had moved on to contemporary tales.

the-changeling-wheelchair

The creepy wheelchair in THE CHANGELING (1980).

Peter Medak has a ton of credits, most of them TV credits, including episodes of SPACE 1999 (1976-77), HOUSE (2004), BREAKING BAD (2009), and HANNIBAL (2013-14), among many, many others.

THE CHANGELING boasts an A-List cast, led by the great George C. Scott, who does a bang-up job here as a man still in grief over the loss of his wife and daughter.  He makes John Russell believable as he channels his grief into helping the child ghost.  You understand why Russell becomes so committed to the ghost’s plight, as he sees it as his job as a parent— especially a parent whose daughter was taken from him at a young age—  to help this child who when alive had no one to help him.

george-c-scott-the-changeling

George C. Scott as composer John Russell in THE CHANGELING.

And while George C. Scott is remembered as a star actor who worked on such powerful films as PATTON (1970), he was actually no stranger to genre films as he made several in his career, including the science fiction thriller THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973), Stephen King’s FIRESTARTER (1984), the TV movie THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1986), and the third EXORCIST movie, THE EXORCIST III (1990).

Likewise, veteran actor Melvyn Douglas adds class to the proceedings as Senator Carmichael.  THE CHANGELING was the first of back to back ghost story movies which Douglas made just before his death in 1981, as he also starred in Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY (1981), his final screen credit.

And while Douglas enjoyed a long and varied film career spanning five decades, he began and ended his career with horror films, as he also starred in THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) with Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Ernest Thesiger, and Gloria Stuart, and in THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) with Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Dwight Frye.

Scott’s real life wife and frequent co-star Trish Van Devere appears as real estate agent Claire Norman who helps John with his investigation.  She’s very good in the role.  THE CHANGELING was the eighth time Van Devere and George C. Scott starred in a movie together. Trish Van Devere is still with us, as at present, she is 75.

And in another SPACE 1999 connection, Barry Morse appears briefly as a psychologist.  Morse is probably most famous for his role as Lieutenant Philip Gerard on the TV show THE FUGITIVE (1963-1967) but genre fans remember him fondly as Professor Victor Bergman on the science fiction show SPACE 1999 (1975-76).  Morse also appeared in the Amicus anthology horror movie ASYLUM (1972) starring Peter Cushing.

William Gray and Diana Maddox wrote the screenplay, based on a story by Russell Hunter.  Gray also wrote the screenplay for the original PROM NIGHT (1980) starring Jamie Lee Curtis. The screenplay here for THE CHANGELING is far superior to the silly slasher story of PROM NIGHT.

THE CHANGELING will creep you out in the same way that the modern day PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies do but with the added bonus of also delivering a solid story, something the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies have never done.  And that’s what sets THE CHANGELING apart from a lot of other horror movies.  It does something that most horror films do not do, and that is it generates scares and creates a sense of eeriness without skimping on its story.  In fact, the story just might be the strongest part of this film.

THE CHANGELING is one of the best movies of its type.  And while I didn’t find it quite as scary as I did way back in the early 80s, it still holds up very well today. In fact, if you’ve never seen it and you’re watching it for the first time, you might not want to watch it alone.  Just sayin’.

—END—

 

 

 

 

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

1
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

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)

0

House on Haunted Hill - posterHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Vincent Price flick HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959), up now in the June 2014 edition of The Horror Writers Association Newsletter.
And just a friendly reminder: if you enjoy this column, my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT book, a collection of 115 In The Spooklight columns, is available as an EBook at http://www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.
—Michael

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
BY
MICHAEL ARRUDA

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) may have been the first Vincent Price film I ever saw.

I’m not exactly sure because as a kid, I was already a fan of Hammer Films and of the Universal monster movies, and so Vincent Price was always taking a back seat to Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr.

It took a while for Price to grow on me, but that being said, today I’m a big Vincent Price fan.

The first time I saw HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL on television I was pretty young— I don’t think I was even ten yet— and it scared the crap out of me. There’s one scene in particular, where a creepy old lady suddenly appears out of nowhere and frightens the young heroine that nearly made me scream.

Nearly.

I was barely ten, remember.

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL has always been one of my favorite Vincent Price films, mostly because Price’s performance as the enigmatic millionaire Frederick Loren is the way I most remember him in the movies: somewhat sinister with a sly sense of humor, with a deadpan delivery and an air of mystery about him which makes him difficult to read. He may be a murderer, perhaps even insane, or he may simply be a man with a colorful sense of the macabre. It’s a great performance by Price.

In HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, Vincent Price plays the eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren who throws a party for his equally eccentric wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) in which he invites five guests to a supposedly haunted house. These guests must promise to stay the night in the haunted house with Frederick and Annabelle, and if they do, Frederick promises to pay them each ten thousand dollars, a hefty sum back in 1959.

It only takes one scene for us to realize that Frederick and Annabelle are not in love. In fact, they can’t stand each other. Annabelle even confides in some of the guests that she fears Frederick is trying to kill her, having thrown this party as a cover. This way, he can kill her and make it look like she was murdered by one of the ghosts that haunts the house, and with five witnesses to attest to the supernatural’s involvement, he’d be home free.

Plenty of strange things do indeed happen in the HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, including murder, but just who killed whom and for what reason isn’t revealed until the final frame.

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL was directed by William Castle, the king of the “gimmick” horror movies from the 1950s and 60s. After the success of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, Castle would go on to direct THE TINGLER (1959), also starring Price, 13 GHOSTS (1960), MR. SARDONICUS (1961) STRAIT-JACKET (1964) and I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965).

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL has a fun screenplay by Robb White who also wrote Castle’s THE TINGLER and 13 GHOSTS. It provides Vincent Price with some memorable lines of dialogue, and its plot about a group of people trying to spend the night in a haunted house while a murder plot is being hatched is ripe for suspense and mystery. It plays like one of those murder mystery party games. It’s a hoot, and it’s scary.

However, the story doesn’t hold up all that well today. Its tale of husband vs. wife comes off as forced and contrived. There are easier ways to get rid of a spouse than by an elaborate plot involving spooks, paid guests, and haunted houses. Ever hear of a good divorce lawyer?

But when I was a kid I didn’t care, and to be honest, as an adult, I still don’t mind all that much as the film possesses an energy and a creepiness that make it highly enjoyable.

The best part of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL however is Vincent Price. It’s really the first time in a horror movie that Price displayed his sinister side, something he would do with more frequency in his later films. Sure, before HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL he played the villain in the horror films HOUSE OF WAX (1953) and THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954), but in these roles he was more of a straightforward madman. In HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, we see Price begin to hone and sharpen that devilish personality with which we’d become familiar in his roles in the 1960s and 70s.

Also in the cast of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is Richard Long, who most people know from the TV western THE BIG VALLEY which also starred Barbara Stanwyck and the future SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN Lee Majors, but when I first saw HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL in the early 1970s, I was familiar with Long from the popular show NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR, which when I was a kid was one of my favorites. Long died young, at age 47 in 1974.

Elisha Cook Jr. is also in the cast as Watson Pritchard, the man who knows all about the house and its murderous past. Pritchard is full of ominous anecdotes, and he’s responsible for generating much of the feelings of unease in the early parts of this movie. Just the guy you want to have around at a haunted house party.

Cook appeared in a gazillion movies, but I always remember him from his bit part in THE NIGHT STALKER (1972), the film that introduced Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak. And of course, who can forget Cook as the shady gunman in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), who gets his comeuppance several times over at the hands of Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade.

But HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL belongs to Vincent Price. He’s quick with the one-liner, gracious, and proper, but always with an undercurrent of deadliness about him, so you never know what to expect.

Price would go on to become famous for his appearances in the colorful Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe films from the 1960s, and he is excellent in these movies. But I actually prefer Price in this movie. His performance here is less hammy, less over the top, and more biting, more frightening. It’s Price at his best.

Looking for an all-night party this summer? Look no further than HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL.

Stay the night. Really.

It’s a scream.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

Not Haunted by THE HAUNTING (1963)

0

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—

 

 

 

 

THE CONJURING (2013) Unoriginal Scary Fun

0

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

0

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—