Tag Archives: The Conjuring

Saw #30DaysOfFright

saw5The Usual Suspects meets Se7en, Saw may be known more for its torture porn tendencies – popped into the same category as the likes of Hostel – but the first is more of a taut serial killer thriller. 

There are of course horrible deaths but most of what happens is in your mind, it’s the suggestion of it that makes you balk. The sequels certainly up the blood and gore quota.

 It’s the story that drives the horror in this and the suggestion, something that has become a staple in James Wan and Leigh Whannell directed and written horror films, from Insidious to The Conjuring. The horror comes from the situation and story.

 sawTwo men who don’t know one another awake in a dark empty room shackled to the wall. In the centre of the room a dead body and a tape recorder. A mysterious voice pits them against one another, will they live or will they die? To survive they are going to have to go out on a limb. If they die they’ll simply become another victim of the twisted Jigsaw killer

 Will they work together or against one another? They are Dr. Lawrence Gordon, who has to kill Adam, or his wife and daughter will die.

 Like all good horror it drags us in and puts us in their shoes, what would we do to escape and save our family? It’s kill or be killed.

 I want to play a game is what the Jigsaw killer tells his victims through the means of his creepy puppet, and that is exactly what this film is a game, a game of wits.

For all its horror tendencies This is a cleverly crafted whodunnit.

saw2What is really interesting about Saw is that the victims aren’t exactly innocent, they may not deserve to die but they aren’t exactly nice people or innocent victims per se. 

And what is clever is that Jigsaw finds ways for victims to essentially kill themselves. Again, it’s about the clever deaths and scenarios.

Perhaps the most memorable is that of the converted bear trap on a woman’s face, obviously there is the fact that if she can’t open the device it goes off ripping her jaw apart.

Added to this the key is hidden inside the body of a man, she must dig it out within 60 seconds. Oh, and the man, whilst inanimate is still very much alive.

This trap is also notable as it was filmed as a short to help get finance for the film by Wan and Whannell. Whannell also playing Adam trapped with the good Doctor.

The only innocent people in the film are the mother and daughter who are kidnapped, for me this whole section is outstanding and where the real mounting tension lies.

Whether it is the girl telling her mummy that there is a monster in her room, which of course there is in the shape of their kidnapper. When we see that figure it is chilling.

And the tension is ramped up again when time has run out for the Doctor to save his family 

saw6They are tied up, the kidnapper takes the daughter’s heartbeat and then again when he points the gun at her mother’s head, this time it beats much faster, just like that of the audience’s.

Style wise, the dizzying edit and speeding up film I’m less of a fan of, even if it is highlighted their confusion, desperation and panic.

What does suit the film, and cunningly the series as a whole, is the non-linear timeline of the film zips about but it works in its favour and keeps us hanging on tenterhooks throughout.

saw4The ramshackle Jigsaw puppet on his bike could have so easily been laughed off the screen, but it’s creepy as hell. And is my Halloween costume of choice, complete with dictaphone as well.

He’s used sparingly in this first outing but has quickly become a horror icon alongside Freddy, Jason, Michael, Pinhead and Ghostface.

For a film set so much in the shadows it’s quite fitting most of the characters have grey areas 

saw8What elevates this from the usual low budget fair is its casting of familiar faces in key roles, such as Cary Elwes as the shackled surgeon, Danny Glover as a detective investigating the murders and Monica Potter as Elwes’s wife.

With Saw being the title the race to the climax is heavily posted, Jigsaw has hidden hacksaw blades not sharp enough to cut through chains but through flesh. What would push you to the limit to lop your own foot off? 

Nothing and no one is as they seem, this is a jigsaw of many pieces and only when the puzzle is complete is the whole picture revealed.

The end? I won’t give it away but It’s less survival of the fittest and more Saw-vival of the cleverest.

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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 Amityville Horror #30DaysOfFright

On January 13th 1976, the Lutz family moved out of their dream home, 112 Ocean Avenue, after only 28 days. 

 That dream became a nightmare best depicted in The Amityville Horror (1979).

THE-AMITYVILLE-HORROR-MOVIE-GREATSI’ll always have a soft spot for the film as it was the first horror film that I ever bought on VHS (Woolies, Mansfield, 1987 if you are interested), a striking cover from The Video Collection showing Margot Kidder facing down a ruddy great axe. A publicity shot as that scene isn’t shown from that angle in the film.

The film, based on the best-selling novel by Jay Anson, was a massive success upon its release, very much taking its horror cues from both The Omen and The Exorcist, and like the latter had the much-loved horror staple of being based on a true story.

amity4 The truth and the half-truths have long been conjecture but it is certainly undeniable that the murders at Amityville and the subsequent stay by the Lutz’s has become the stuff of horror lore, from possession to houses being built on Indian burial grounds and blood running down walls. 

 And that is still what makes it a massively accessible story, its a classic haunted house movie, hokey in places but that is part of the fun of it. 

Oft-imitated? Sure, and you’ve only got to look to the return to haunted house films of late, from Sinister to When The Lights Went Out and The Conjuring to see their enduring appeal.

 All of which are old school in their scares, like Amityville, the latter The Conjuring – also based on true events – even features two paranormal psychics who at the close of the film are heading to their next case, none other than at the house in Amityville. The house, with those unmistakable evil eyes actually features in the opening of The Conjuring 2. 

And talking of the house, that’s where we start with the opening titles over a silhouette of the building featuring a haunting Lalo Schifrin score – allegedly a rejected The Exorcist score but isn’t, however it was used to great effect on the trailer for Pet Sematary and suitably sets the tone.

The film and book would have us believe that the house is evil, it is certainly the star of the film (if not the original house or location)  and its evil eye windows can be seen staring at us throughout the titles and the poster – interestingly enough the windows or the original house were changed to normal rectangular ones to stop people finding it.

Cut to a dark and stormy night, what else. So far so typical house of horror, but amid the lightning outside we see lightning inside, created by gunfire in each of the rooms. Although the family, clearly including children, aren’t named they are the very real DeFeo family, by eldest son, Ronald DeFeo, shot in their beds as they slept on November 13th 1974.

The Lutz’s (played by James Brolin and Margot Kidder) and their children look round the house a year later, shown round by the estate agent who just so happens to be the save the clocktower woman from Back To The Future, funnily enough Strickland from BTTF also plays a coroner in the previous scene.

As the couple are shown round the house it overlaps with scenes of the murders taking place in those rooms, which is really effective. They buy the house for $80,000 and so the film unfolds, slowly burning and building to its climax of exploding windows and walls and stairs that drip blood. 

 It certainly slowly turns the screws in the minds of the characters and the audience and builds pressure cooker-style, exploding like the front door off the house. And whilst everything doesn’t work or make sense it has more than enough images and moments to linger and stay lingering to this day.

You believe Kidder and Brolin as a couple and slowly follow their decent, Rod Steiger also has a memorable turn as Father Delaney, he perhaps has one of the most memorable scenes in the film blessing a room in the house only to interrupted by flies in winter (the films answer to The Omen’s er Doberman) and a hissing malevolent voice telling him to ‘get out!’

 Even if it almost seems as if his character belongs more in The Omen at times. Added to that we have upside crucifixes, invisible friend Jodie, glowing pig eyes, self-rocking chair, dubious cellars and the we forgot the dog moment. 

The debate over whether it is a hoax or true horror rumbles on, but the truth is that this is still a memorable and creepy film.

amity3 Classic? For me it is, although that may be more to do with when I first saw it. Even if you have never seen The Amityville Horror you will have certainly seen a horror film that has taken influence from it. If you have never seen it, or not seen it in years make sure you make the rightmove and give it a viewing.

Just make sure it’s the original and not the insipid 2005 remake.

28 days later: revisiting The Amityville Horror

It’s 40 years to the day, January 13th 1976, since the Lutz family moved out of their dream home, 112 Ocean Avenue, after only 28 days. That dream became a nightmare best depicted in The Amityville Horror (1979).

I’ll always have a soft spot for the film as it was the first horror film that I ever bought on VHS (Woolies, Mansfield, 1987 if you are interested), a striking cover from The Video Collection showing Margot Kidder facing down a ruddy great axe.

THE-AMITYVILLE-HORROR-MOVIE-GREATSThe film, based on the best-selling novel by Jay Anson, was a massive success upon its release, very much taking its horror cues from both The Omen and The Exorcist, and like the latter had the much-loved horror staple of being based on a true story.

The truth and the half-truths have long been conjecture but it is certainly undeniable that the murders at Amityville and the subsequent stay by the Lutz’s has become the stuff of horror lore, from possession to houses being built on Indian burial grounds and blood running down walls. And that is still what makes it a massively accessible story, its a classic haunted house movie, hokey in places but that is part of the. Oft-imitated? Sure, and you’ve only got to look to the return to haunted house films of late, from Sinister to When The Lights Went Out and The Conjuring to see their enduring appeal.

All of which are old school in their scares, like Amityville, the latter Conjuring – also based on true events – even features two paranormal psychics who at the close of the film are heading to their next case, none other than at the house in Amityville.

And talking of the house, that’s where we start with the opening titles over a silhouette of the building featuring a haunting Lalo Schifrin score – allegedly a rejected The Exorcist score but isn’t, however it was used to great effect on the trailer for Pet Semetary.

amity3The film and book would have us believe that the house is evil, it is certainly the star of the film (if not the original house or location)  and its evil eye windows can be seen staring at us throughout titles – interestingly enough the windows or the original house were changed to normal rectangular ones to stop people finding it.

Cut to a dark and stormy night, what else.So far so typical house of horror, but amid the lightning outside we see lightning inside, created by gunfire in each of the rooms. Although the family, clearly including children, aren’t named they are the very real DeFeo family by eldest son, Ronald, shot in their beds as they slept on November 13th 1974.

The Lutz’s (played by James Brolin and Margot Kidder) and their children look round the house a year later, shown round by the estate agent who just so happens to be the save the clocktower woman from Back To The Future, funnily enough Strickland from BTTF also plays a coroner in the previous scene.

As the couple are shown round the house it overlaps with scenes of the murders taking place in those rooms, which is really effective. They buy the house for $80,000 and so the film unfolds, slowly burning and building to its climax of exploding windows and walls and stairs that drip blood. It certainly slowly turns the screws in the minds of the characters and the audience and slowly builds pressure cooker-style, exploding like the front door off the house. And whilst everything doesn’t work or make sense it has more than enough images and moments to linger and stay lingering to this day.

You believe Kidder and Brolin as a couple and slowly follow their decent, Rod Steiger also has a memorable turn as Father Delaney, he perhaps has one of the most memorable scenes in the film blessing a room in the house only to interrupted by flies in winter (the films answer to The Omen’s er Doberman) and a hissing malevolent voice telling him to ‘get out!’Even if it almost seems as if his character belongs more in The Omen at times.

amity4Added to that we have upside crucifixes, invisible friend Jody, glowing pig eyes, self-rocking chair, dubious cellars and the we forgot the dog moment. Classic, not quite, much-loved and much-copied though. Even if you have never seen The Amityville Horror you will have certainly seen a horror film that has taken influence from it. If you have never seen it, or not seen it in years make sure you make the right move and give it a viewing.

Just make sure it’s the original and not the insipid 2005 remake.

 

 

 

 

 

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.