Tag Archives: Poltergeist

An American Werewolf in London #30DaysOfFright

A unique beast of a movie, An American Werewolf In London is something of a hybrid of a film. One moment it is laugh out loud funny and the next it is shriek out loud scary.

It’s hard to think of a film that has melded horror and comedy to better effect, although at the time of release apparently people didn’t really understand the shifts in tone.

london1

The film charts the journey of two American friends, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), who are backpacking across the Yorkshire Moors. It’s a memorable trip for all the wrong reasons as one is killed and the other is savaged by a werewolf. David lives but keeps seeing Jack, in various states of decomposition, warning him that on the next full moon he too shall become a rampaging werewolf. David’s visions get weirder until, finally, he transforms in the middle of London.

london6Jack’s scenes are even harder to watch knowing that the year after this film was released Dunne’s sister was murdered by her boyfriend, she had just completed work as the older sister in Poltergeist.

In many ways this is a love letter to classic Universal horror, Director John Landis is certainly a fan, even though – pulling something of a Jaws – we don’t get our transformation scene until an hour into the film.

london3That Universal-feel is perhaps best felt when our two wandering Americans stumble upon The Slaughtered Lamb pub and it falls silent. It’s a classic moment in a classic film with its pentagrams, missed dart boards, an on the money Brian Glover and a young Rik Mayall.

The lack of a lycanthrope for that first 60 minutes doesn’t mean we don’t get plenty of scares that still leave scars. The initial attack on the Moors – if only they had stuck to the road as warned – is swift but shocking, especially as moments earlier they were laughing and joking.

london2Then we have the dream sequences, particularly the – never explained but no need to as everyone was too busy being scared – vampiric David in his hospital bed, looking like an extra from Salem’s Lot.

And then there is the scene of David back home with his mum and dad and his younger brother and sister. They are watching The Muppet Show (big at the time and Frank Oz AKA Missy Piggy and Fozzie Bear is also in the film) when the doorbell rings. David’s dad answers the door to be blasted away by Nazi werewolf monster thugs. It’s the scene WTF would perfectly sum up had it existed in 1981.

london12Left field, unexpected and downright disturbing leaving a mark on its viewers – in their pants probably – and mentally for decades to come. What’s great about this though is that when David wakes up his nurse, Jenny Agutter, goes to the window and is promptly stabbed by one of the Nazi beasts. Nearly pulling the Carrie trick midway through the film. Waking up a second time David exclaims ‘holy shit.’ Too right!

london7When the full moon arrives we are instore for a cinematic treat. The transformation scene is still the best committed to film and was all done practically and in camera. No wonder the rumour is that the best make up Oscar category was created specially to honour this film and Rick Baker. And it doesn’t take place in some dark alley, it’s in a fully lit living room.

As well as being a technical marvel it really conveys the painfulness of it all. To all intense and purposes this is David’s death scene.

And there’s something that is still brilliant about the scene knowing that it was all done on set and not one pixel at a time in a computer (take note Van Helsing and An American Werewolf in Paris – lame dogs both).

london8Post transformation we have a flurry of attacks, including one that makes fantastic use of the tube and you can’t fail to think about it next time you find yourself in an empty tube station at night or deserted escalator.

With its similar time-frame, a group of memorable British character actors, its UK. Setting, it’s denial of what is unfolding and its tragic ending I always saw it as something of a companion piece to The Omen in many ways.

london10Agutter is a compelling and a memorable love interest, but it’s Doctor Hirsch who I love most out of the supporting characters. Especially when he is in full investigation mode and travels back to The Slaughtered Lamb. He always seemed a bit like the David Warner character in The Omen to me.

Although David was cursed unlike the supposed curse of the omen this film was not, although it’s dedication in celebrating the marriage of Charles and Diana didn’t do them any favours.

 

Advertisements

Poltergeist #30DaysOfFright

polt1A young family finds they have paranormal activity within their home, it’s a poltergeist (meaning noisy spirit in German).What starts off as something playful soon descends into terror as the children are attacked in their rooms. The daughter, Carol Anne, is taken by the spirits and makes contact via the television – in the film’s most iconic moment – can she be saved and can the family stop themselves being dragged to the afterlife?

What sets Poltergeist apart from most haunted house movies is that it is set in a nice house, in a nice neighbourhood and everything looks normal. There is no Scooby-Doo haunted mansion vibe, no evil eyes like the Amityville house. It could be our house or yours, and that is its power.

polt2We are the Freeling family and that is what Spielberg does best, take an ordinary person or family and put them in an extraordinary situation. Just look at Chief Brody from Jaws, Roy Neary from Close Encounters or David Mann from Duel.

To many Poltergeist was Spielberg’s darkness to E.T.’s light, they both came out in the same month in the US in 1982. He served as writer on this and Executive Producer, although it has oft been mooted he had a closer hand in direction as well, rather than Texas Chainsaw-helmer Tobe Hooper. But that is a whole other blog entry.

All horror films should of course be watched with the lights off but Poltergeist loves the darkness, especially when the strobing effects kick-in. Fittingly, it really drags you into the television.

polt3The good thing is that since the advent of 24 hour television, whether that be rolling news or rolling balls around a roulette wheel, you will never again wake up with a Poltergeist television. There’ll never be that snow dancing shadows madly across your walls.

So the original Poltergeist seems more nostalgic and further away than ever. The film starts on that typical Spielberg world of safety and harmony, the suburbs, and actually the first half has plenty of sunny and light moments. Even the Poltergeist activity is initially treated as a joke and something to have fun with, the moving kitchen chairs for instance. Carol Anne states it is the TV people; I certainly never had that problem with Radio Rentals!

But that is what is great about this film, haunted houses don’t have to be scary and there doesn’t have to be fork lighting. Their home could be our home and that is what makes it so effective, and it’s the same with the more recent haunted house films, such as Insidious and The Conjuring.

There are signposts aplenty though, even the remote control cars that cause the man hulking beer to come off his bike in the opening scene are a precursor of things to come with toys coming to life and causing chaos. The dead budgie, Tweetie, even in its coffin cigar box it warns us of the shape of things to come when it is unearthed by a digger for the swimming pool.

There are even clues on the television, in an early scene the old Spencer Tracey film A Guy Named Joe plays on TV, there are already ghosts in the machine as it’s about a man who dies and comes back as a ghost. It was of remade by Spielberg seven years later as Always.

polt4Robbie and Carol Anne’s room is cool, full of Star Wars posters and toys, although I’m not sure about the Alien poster. The film really taps into those childhood terrors of open closets, things under the bed, thunderstorms, clowns and ominous trees tapping on your window. Ten fold, it could also be seen as an extension of a similar scene in Close Encounters when Barry’s toys come to life as aliens – and again some glorious light, a Spielberg staple – envelop the room and also bring toys to life.

A bit like the spirits at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, at first they beautiful, the spirit from the television that dances round the room before leaving its ectoplasm all over the bedroom wall is as haunting as it is enchanting. 

This is echoed in the sublime score by Jerry Goldsmith, beautiful but creepy, magically dark, especially the haunting dips in sound.

But then the spirits turn with fearful effect. That ruddy tree outside the bedroom window though, the impending thunderstorm marching closer not further away, it still gives palpitations. Then, the tree grabs the son, it’s startling and surreal, but it’s just misdirection so that Carol Anne can be sucked into the closet and to the other side. From here on in as ludicrous as things get, by and large you go with it simply because you are wrapped up in the emotion.

polt-9Crucially, it’s the performance from the mum and dad that really ground it and their efforts to do anything to get their daughter back, it’s the little things like her mum, JoBeth Williams, thrilled to be smelling her daughter after a blast of air travels through her and Craig T. Nelson (Patrick Wilson being a great substitute in the very Poltergeist-like Insidious) forced to get angry with Carol Anne to tell her to do as she is told or he’ll be forced to spank her. Amid all this supernatural fantasy is real, heart-wrenching drama

about a family with a ‘kidnapped daughter’, it just happens to be by a ghost. They are the emotional core of the film.

polt5And when they finally get Carol Anne back it is less smoke and mirrors and more wind machines and fantastic lights displaced by fish tanks. It’s dizzying, effective and so simple. This rescue is headed up by movie-stealing Zelda Rubinstein, who played Tangina, the spirit guide who pronounces the house is clean; she isn’t in the film half as much as you think she is. It is only for about ten minutes duration, but she leaves a lasting impression on both the family and the audience.

After that rescue the Freelings prepare to move out, of course, it turning out that the whole estate had been built on a graveyard, the headstones had been moved but not the bodies and Carol Anne – a beautiful and natural performance by Heather O’Rourke – was the focus of the spirits as she had been born in the house.

After all that went before, they and we think it is all over, and as they pack and play in their rooms they discover it is not. A great ending to the film, complete with mum being dragged up her bedroom wall and ceiling Fred Astaire style and some unwelcome guests in the unfinished pool, but I don’t buy the family not just leaving, and even if I did I certainly wouldn’t be letting my kids play in the room where one of them went missing and another was attacked by a tree. It was the clown that got him this time.

polt6As the dead explode from the ground in their caskets, to great effect, the Freelings do escape; thankfully complete with dog, E Buzz, by the way is a great dog actor as well with some brilliant expressions. Checking into a motel, this time they aren’t taking any chances and leave the TV outside. It’s a wryly observed ending to a satisfying and emotionally exhausting tour de force of emotions and effects.

Whether it’s a product of the publicity machine or not, Poltergeist came with that horror film staple, the curse. They said it happened with The Omen, with The Exorcist and now this. 

polt-7Rumours were rife that actual skeletons were used in the swimming pool scene and the murder of one of its stars prior to release didn’t help matters, nor did major players dying after parts 2 and 3. The remake seems to have bucked that particular trend – unless you count its death at the box office.

You know what though; I enjoyed the updating, such as the family having little choice in moving to the once aspirational suburbs. It didn’t add anything particularly new or did anything better but I certainly found it suitably creepy if not as visually memorable as the original.

The Enfield Haunting Part 1

If Rendelsham Forest is the UK’s answer to Roswell then The Enfield Poltergeist is surely the UK’s answer to The Amityville Horror or The Exorcist?

In the 1970s, the decade that this drama is set, a pantheon of memorable horror films were produced, such as the aforementioned The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, as well as Don’t Look Now and The Omen, the latter which was largely filmed in the UK. It’s not a decade outside of those that were filmed within it that really lends itself to horror; you’ve only got to look at the fashion and décor for one for horror of a different kind.

But the first part of this effective three-part chiller intrigues and grips from the outset, opening with a girl resting on a grave, which soon banishes thoughts of it being Back In Time For Dinner with ghosts and is more East Is Exorcist.

Perhaps as a nod to all things that go bump in the night we see a TV clip of Michael Crawford on roller-skates in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, which seems a suitable question to put at the feet of the suffering mother re the daughters in this and of course Crawford is perhaps best known to us now as The Phantom.

More recent horror fare, such as The Conjuring, have been set in the 1970s, in fact the sequel is set to be based on this very case, whilst 2012 saw the cinematic release of  When The Lights Went Out, which was also set in 1970s suburbia in the UK, where lights going off could be just as much a blackout as a sign of having something more paranormal – something which is very well addressed in Enfield.

The-Enfield-Haunting-serie-anglaiseHangdog Timothy Spall does a fine job as Maurice Grosse, the paranormal investigator sent to check the story out, who is later joined by Matthew Macfadyen, ironically of Spooks fame. It’s that powercut scene that works so well to show us Spall as the believer and Fox Mulder of the piece, he has even recently lost a daughter in the past year which has given him that drive, with Mulder it was of course his sister. Grosse also has angina, which probably means ghost hunting probably isn’t his ideal vocation.

Macfadyen is our Dana Scully, both aptly representing the viewers who can’t quite make their minds up as to what is happening or if the girls aren’t making the whole thing up.

The momentum and dark foreboding build from the off, complete with misdirection aplenty from the likes of dripping taps, but it isn’t long before we have furniture moved and a dead bird, both ticks in the box for the original Poltergeist as well so it happens. But that is part of the fun, ticking off the conventions and seeing just where it is all going and the jumps and jolts are effective as the tension is truly ramped up.

It’s not long before we get sneaking glimpses of shadowy figures, where one can’t help to think of ‘Pipes’ from Ghostwatch, itself which was heavily influenced by this very case. Kerplunk will never seem the same again either after one sequence, nor will viewmaster. And for me that has been part of the success of the likes of Insidious and The Conjuring, that they have taken otherwise normal, unthreatening objects and make us see them in a different light.

And if by the time of the teapot you aren’t believing in things that go bump in this North London night then, like Matthew Macfadyen, by the time you have been thrown against the ceiling, you will do. After all his character wrote the book this adaptation is based on.

It will leave you wanting for more, which was perfect as Sky Living announced that you could download the next two parts, which is exactly what we did and watched the three parts back to back. I’ll be writing about those as well, but not until after they have actually aired.

Looking at Twitter it seemed to have the same desired effect in others that tuned in, scared to go to the loo, had to watch an episode of Friends to calm down or devoured the next two instalments. As hinted, it may add nothing new to the genre but it is an effective chiller with a higher than average jump count that shows the likes of American Horror Story: Freak Show that chilling trumps gore in the scare department.

And in that it continues a fine tradition of haunted house stories like Robert Wise’s The Haunting that never lose their ability to chill. There may have been numerous books and documentaries on the subject of The Enfield Poltergeist but this first part still kept me gripped, engaged and provided new insights I was not aware of.

Before The Enfield Haunting there was Ghostwatch

The Enfield Haunting, a dramatisation of the UK’s most infamous poltergeist case, starts its three-part run on Sky Living this evening, rather aptly the night of a full moon.

enfield hauntingThe drama boasts both a based on a true story moniker but also a heavyweight cast to give the story some weighty gravitas in the shape of Matthew Macfadyen, as paranormal assistant Guy Von Playfair, Timothy Spall as supernatural researcher Maurice Grosse and Juliet Stevenson as Betty Grosse, used to ghosts of a different kind when she starred opposite Alan Rickman in Truly, Madly, Deeply. In fact it is such a significant story that it is even being used as the basis for the sequel to horror-smash The Conjuring.

Based on Playfair’s book ‘This House is Haunted’, The Enfield Haunting is a supernatural drama based upon real supernatural events that took place at an ordinary house in Enfield, North London, around two sisters during the autumn of 1977 using extensive documentation, recordings and witness statements of the incident as its jumping off point. It’s quite apt then that The Mirror, who also had an exclusive on the original story, reported this week about the ‘real’ paranormal activity that took place on set – commonplace PR these days it seems on ghost/horror stories.

But this isn’t the first time that a project directly inspired by The Enfield Poltergeist has hit our screens, and that proved so powerful and disturbing that it has never been repeated on British television ever again. That was shown one Halloween evening over 20 years ago, that one-off drama was Ghostwatch which caused the switchboard of the BBC to practically melt.

So prior to The Enfield Haunting, creep back behind the sofa and get reacquainted with the horror and terror that it inspired in Ghostwatch…

For those that tuned into BBC1 on the evening of Saturday 31st October 1992 things would never be the same, especially for those of a nervous disposition. The events that took place that evening caused such panic and fear that they have never been repeated again…ever, anywhere…but those who watched it have never forgotten.

Early 90s Saturday night TV could normally be counted on to be a jolly diet of Noel doing his usual from his Crinkly Bottom, Cilla playing cupid and people falling off ladders in Casualty, but Halloween 23 years ago was to prove to be a very different affair.

Mike Smith, Sarah Greene and Michael Parkinson in GhostwatchGhostwatch was an ambitious BBC project that pre-dated Most Haunted by years and saw some of the most respected TV people, Sarah Greene and Michael Parkinson, lend the whole proceedings some gravitas, as they investigated Foxhill Drive, one of the most haunted houses in Britain and have it beamed live into our homes. Parkinson anchored proceedings in the TV studio whilst Greene was based at the house, alongside late hubby Mike Smith and Craig Charles.

That was the premise, I say premise as despite the presence of Parkinson it was all a fake, a rouse, something to give the audience a fright and boy did it work in that department. Written by Stephen Volk, who also latterly penned the also suitably creepy Afterlife, which starred The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln. The drama took its central idea from an actual documented poltergeist case, The Enfield Poltergeist and of course it’s all very apt timing that later this month we also have Poltergeist receive the remake treatment on the big screen.

Looking back at the BFI special edition DVD, its first appearance on any media which also has some great extra features including a commentary, thus showing it to be a seminal piece of British television the like we will probably never see the like of again, some of the acting is a tad ropey but despite this it still drags you in and still unnerves as it did all those years ago.

Certainly for inducing panic and fear, it caused numerous complaints regarding sleepless nights and even allegedly caused a number of women to go into labour and even unconfirmed reports of the suicide of a young man, it deserves to be uttered in the same breath as Orson Welles’ radio presentation of War of the Worlds in 1938, also broadcast on Halloween. And with that in mind you can certainly understand why it has never been repeated, something which almost makes it The Exorcist of the TV world.

We are of course back in traditional haunted house territory here but there are enough efficient twists and moments to make the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up, and if you are watching it on DVD, reach for your remote control in disbelief. Ghostwatch still has the ability to provoke significant chills with scratches appearing on a young girls face, tales of mutilated dogs and the building’s disturbing history and fleeting glimpses of ‘Pipes’, the evil spirit haunting the house. The climax still has the power to shock too with Sarah Greene being dragged into the cellar and the door slamming shut just as we lose contact with the house…

It’s all the more impressive as it is all done live, all done with smoke and mirrors the old fashioned way that is still ultimately highly effective all those years later.

Modern audiences may scoff at it all and wonder what all the fuss is about but you can be sure that there are still those who still cower and freeze at the very mention of ‘Pipes’ in what is one of the most-fascinating pieces of British television history and its viewing is a firmly established Halloween ritual in my house…never too far from the light switch.

Kids in horror: far from child’s play

children-of-the-dammed[1]Kids are an intergral part to horror, so here’s my list of children you’d need a little bit more than the naughty step for…

Cole from The Sixth Sense

He’s behind you!

We all want our children to make friends, er just not perhaps the dead kind. At least birthday parties wouldn’t be expensive although pass the parcel might become a little tiresome. You might also have a few issues if you have Nene’s 99 red balloons playing at any parties as well; read being the harbinger of death throughout the film.

Charlie from Firestarter

She’s a Firestarter , a twisted Firestarter. No she’s not she’s Drew Barrymore. This little moppet might get you hot under the collar as a parent down to the fact that when provoked she can quite literally have a fiery temper – I blame all those E numbers. Think Carrie on heat, so to speak!

Carol Ann from Poltergeist

To be fair she’s a sweet kid and it’s not really her fault that she is most haunted, not by Derek Acorah or anything, now that would be bad.

They say that children watching TV can have a bad affect on them and never has this been truer than with Carol Ann Freeling who speaks through the dead through the static on your TV (at least it’s better than The Zone: QVC and signed repeats of Country File I suppose).Having a graveyard in your back garden might be good for the plants but to be honest it doesn’t really help the situation. Soon to be featured on an episode of DIY SOS…probably.

Michael Myers from Halloween

Knife to see you, to see you knife. Young Michael sure did like his dressing up but clearly this was ‘masking’ other problems. Talking of which if they did the remake today would they use a Chris Pine mask?

He, that’s Myers, grew into a strapping young man and that superhuman strength would come in handy for removals and those trips to the shops. I can see him now in those overalls with his bags for life.

Esther from Orphan

There’s something wrong with Esther, so screamed the posters for Orphan, well there must have been something about her stare as it used to send our Jack Russell potty when she saw the posters. Essentially a reworking of sorts of The Omen where a well to do family adopt a child only to find out everything is not as it seems. As the body count rises so do the doubts. Comes with an interesting twist that helps stop it being a run of the mill shocker.

Malachi from Children of the Corn

If the whole Dexy’s Midnight Runners look of dungarees does it for you then Malachi might be right up your street…or strip of field.

Leader of the Children of the Corn, the original based on a novel by Stephen King short story but now a never ending stream of uneven direct to video sequels, Malachi is probably not likely to be the apple of your eye for long as he and his minions want all adults dead. Clearly they haven’t thought this through as they won’t get pocket money and end up living of all the wrong kinds of food.

The children from The Children                        

Bugs can be nasty, especially when they turn innocent children into rampaging killers. This is a nasty piece of British horror that has massively effective moments and manages to conjure up some wonderful look away now if you don’t want to see the results death scenes.

Two families spend the Christmas holidays at a remote (of course) house and after a seemingly horrific accident where one of the adults dies in a tragic sledge accident (more you’ve been maimed) it isn’t long before other adults start dropping like flys and end up being outnumbered by their butter wouldn’t melt sons and daughters…well worth a look.

Regan from The Exorcist

Shut it! No, not John Thaw in The Sweeney but shut it you potty mouthed pea-green splutter! We all hope for beautiful children that turn people’s heads but rarely one that turns its own 360 degrees.

Steer clear of pastel colours as vomit may well be a serious problem although to give her credit she does have a strong grasp of languages, mostly the dead or disgusting kind. She is undoubtedly a fast learner but could perhaps do with some sex education lessons as well, try explaining those splinters!

Village of the Damned

Most people might be rather pleased for kids for kids with blonde hair and blue eyes…but less so if it is the whole bloomin village of the little tykes. Remade to a lesser effect in 1994 by John Carpenter even Superman, Luke Skywalker and Mikey’s mum from Look Who’s Talking couldn’t even stop them! Gives a whole new meaning to ‘Are you smarter than a (collective) ten year old?’

Damian from The Omen

The original devil child, Damian comes complete with his own devil dog accessory and 666 birthmark in his hairline – at least you won’t get him mixed up with the other kids! Keep out of reach of three-wheeled trike, goldfish and he’s none too keen on churches either.

Damian shows promise and ingenuity with the way he despatches of those who come in his way, the real reason Cameron kept the toddlers milk running. Specialities include Reverend skewered by spire and decapitation by sheets of glass, oh and the Christening and visits to the zoo may also cause something of a problem.