Tag Archives: The Exorcist

The Omen #30DaysOfFright

An American diplomat’s wife loses her baby in childbirth; he is replaced by an orphan baby. A series of strange and deadly accidents occur around the family, could the spoutings of a mad clergyman be correct, can five year old Damien Thorn really be the son of the devil? Having initiated the switch at birth his father now teams up with a photographer to discover the horrific truth. Can they stop the forces of evil before they become another accident?

o16The devil had already become something of a movie star in Hollywood, thanks to Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, The Omen saw him reach a box office high. I’ve always had a fascination with The Omen since I bought the trilogy as part of the Fox All Time Greats collection in 1987 from Woolworths in York.

We were on holiday there over Easter (irony) and what made that trip all the more memorable is that we also visited Fountains Abbey in Ripley, Yorkshire, which is where the finale of The Final Conflict takes place. Those VHS tapes took a serious hammering and I read the original books and the two further book sequels that followed.

These continue directly after the ending on the third film and were entitled Omen IV: Armageddon 2000 and Omen V: Abomination, both penned by Gordon McGill, who also wrote the adaptation of The Final Conflict.

The Omen has been a part of my life since I was at least 11 and, save for Jaws, is my favourite horror-related film. Like Jaws you could say that it taps into the disaster movie genre that was so big at the time with the likes of The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno.

omen10Post-Watergate it’s also akin to the conspiracy thrillers of the period such as All the Presidents Men, Klute, Three Days of the Condor, Capricorn One and The Marathon Man. It probably shares most of all with The Parallax View as Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) uncovers something so vast it is almost hard to comprehend, and like Warren Beatty’s character in Parallax, everyone he comes into contact with comes to a sticky end. You could even say that in many ways the endings are very similar.

It is a fantastical idea and one that is writ large. The Exorcist was about a girl in her bedroom and set in one house, this is about the man who could be the next President of the United States. It’s something referenced by Kathy Thorn when she hears her husband has got the job of US Ambassador to Great Britain, a position once held by none other than JFK.

The Omen is set in the heart of the world of politics and takes place in London, Rome, Israel and er Windsor Zoo. It’s practically the James Bond of horror with its globetrotting. I guess The Da Vinci Code and their sequels do the same sort of magical mystery tour thing today.

omen4Whether you believe the story that 2000 years after the birth of Christ a comet that shines in the opposite place in the sky to that of the star of Bethlehem heralds the birth of the anti-Christ is one thing but the one thing you do believe is the performance of Gregory Peck. We follow it because he does, we share his idea that it is preposterous and then the slow realisation that this is all true.

The discovery in an abandoned graveyard that his son was murdered at birth and that the mother of the child he is raising is a jackal is compelling and heart wrenching. It’s all the more poignant as the year prior to filming Peck had lost one of his own son’s to suicide, something which he blamed himself for not being able to stop. Peck is of course an incredibly gifted actor and carries a huge amount of gravitas and that amazing voice. He is Abe Lincoln, he is Atticus Fitch, we will believe in him. With an actor of less stature it simply would not have worked.

The key moment where he receives a call to say that his wife has died, that phonecall he receives after she has gone out the window is crippling. He really has nothing to lose. All is lost.

And then there is that cold, numbed reciting of the “when the Jews return to Zion” poem as he lays motionless on the bed.

o15Peck is ably supported with former Dr Who, Patrick Troughton, in a fantastically memorable part as Father Brennan, David Warner as the photographer was something of a hero when I was younger and he’s great in this. And then there’s Mrs Baylock, if Damien is the anti—Christ then she is the anti-Poppins, no one had arranged for her to arrive either. She exudes quiet menace and malevolence at first; her final scenes raise the shock level to their peak.

o14The film also looks amazing in its widescreen which is used to brilliant effect utilising it to its full advantage and creating some mesmerising imagery that really set it apart. As well as the frame impressing so does the action taking place within in.

Director Richard Donner constructs some still impressive set pieces; it must have surely secured him directorial duties on Superman: The Movie two years later, in fact the Daily Planet helicopter incident could have come straight from The Omen.

omen2First there is the nanny, played by Jack Palance’s daughter, taking a rope-assisted dive from the Thorn mansion during Damien’s fifth birthday party, the way she falls and snaps back into that glass is horrible.

A suddenly windy day will always evoke thoughts of Patrick Troughton prior to getting spiked by a church spire; this was probably the only decent scene in the 2006 remake, Troughton’s role played with vigour by Pete Postlethwaite.

o12Kathy Thorn’s fall from the balcony whilst pregnant is also fantastically taut, and the scene is brilliantly executed, along with the goldfish. The effect of the camera following on the way down is still amazing. It’s my favourite single shot after the reverse zoom and simultaneous dolly shot on Chief Brody in Jaws.

And of course the decapitation by sheet of glass, with David Warner doing his own version of the head spin. You think you see more than you do the blood you think you see is pots of paint. For such a film with so many nasty deaths it’s surprisingly devoid of any real blood.

o11I also really love the set for the cemetery, it’s like a grandiose set from a classic universal horror film, it looks fantastic, gothic and moody. And then the devil dogs attack, as a scene it is relentless, as is the Goldsmith score which kicks into high gear. It’s Hound of the Baskervilles turned up to 11, is dripping with menace and quite frankly is absolutely knackering. Not that there is much time to get our breath back for the remainder of the film.

omen5Like Jerry Goldsmith’s score, the only one he won an Oscar for, the film just continues to build into a crescendo, become more frenetic and consuming. That’s what it does to Thorn and us; it needs to do that to convince us that he should kill a child.

Would we be able to do the same if we knew he was the son of the devil, even Peck hesitates as the child pleads “please, daddy, no!” It was always a difficult watch, even more so having a daughter around Damien’s age.

Peck is armed with the daggers of Megiddo, which have to be the coolest weapons of all time, I’d so pay to see Indiana Jones and the Daggers of Megiddo. But they do him no good, he is stopped with a policeman’s bullet, it’s downbeat but masterful.

omen1 We can hardly believe that Gregory Peck has failed. Or has he? We then see two coffins, one for Robert Thorn and his son, Damien? No, the camera slowly pulls back to reveal a small boy is holding the hand of the president. The little boy turns with a smile that breaks across his face, it is Damien.

The film may have dated a little but there is still no denying the power of The Omen, even after all these years, it’s still devilishly good.

And the story goes that if The Omen had not been the success it had been for Fox then they wouldn’t have been able to spend extra money on bailing Star Wars out. That’s what you call the real power of the dark side.

 

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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 Appointment #30DaysOfFright

ed2In horror terms Edward Woodward shall forever be associated with The Wicker Man, and quite rightly so. But the Croydon-born classically trained actor, who at 16 was the youngest ever person to gain a place at RADA, also featured in another, lesser known British horror film that deserves to be discovered by an audience anew, The Appointment (1981).

It’s a film full of striking visuals that perhaps best evokes ‘Don’t Look Now’ and fantastic camera work that reminds one of the steadicam shots in ‘The Shining’. The film leans more to the arty side of horror and teases out each plot point, which might be regarded as too slow for some people.

ed4It might take its time but it is certainly intriguing and by its very slow nature feels oddly unnerving. What the film does have from the outset though is a scene that hooks you straight away, a schoolgirl snatched sideways into the woods by an unseen force, which is immensely unnerving and stays with you for a long time.

Like many British horror films it is based more around the horror that you don’t see than the one that you do and with that in mind echoes the Hammer House of Horror or The Twilight Zone and perhaps would have benefitted from being slightly shorter than its 90 minute running time. Oddly, with the parallel of a man driving his car across an unpopulated area it did remind me a little of a quasi-quaint British version of Duel, albeit with supernatural undertones.

ed3Like Dennis Weaver in the Spielberg classic Woodward’s character, Ian Fowler, is in pretty much every shot of the film. After the nerve-jangling opening Fowler breaks the news to his fourteen year-old daughter that he cannot attend the concert she is playing in the next day because he must drive to a conference in London, much to her chagrin. That night he has a dream of dogs leaping onto the hood of his car on the road and causing him to crash – and as he sleeps dogs gather outside the house. The next day as he sets out on the journey, all the elements of the dream start to come true.

It’s a shame that this was Director Lindsay Vickers only foray behind the camera as there really are some wonderful shots and sequences. None is more impressive than the actual car crash which is shot, inside and out, from every conceivable angle. The crash occurs on the winding, desolate roads of Snowdonia when a lorry, with familiar dogs painted on the side follows Woodward and causes him to crash – the attacking dogs of his dream coming true.

ed7We are then met with the extraordinary image of the car teetering up in the air balanced on its front tip, on the very edge of the cliff for a long moment before falling over. It’s certainly not something you’d find in your usual episode of Casualty and on paper I know sounds closer to Wile Coyote, but it really does have to be seen to be believed. All of this is accompanied by an unworldly atonal score. It is a remarkably well sustained piece of atmosphere that hovers uneasily between dream and waking and leaves one never sure where they are.

Does it all make sense? of course it doesn’t but it is all so beautifully done that it doesn’t really matter. The visual/audio effects are incredible with some very Hitchcockian touches throughout that even Brian DePalma would be proud of with the aforementioned car crash scene a masterpiece of surrealism.

ed6The film still has that wonderful cache about it as did The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist did before it, both of which did the rounds on chunky pirate videos, as The Appointment is not available on DVD and has to be sought out in dark and musty corners on good old VHS, which I think adds a certain something to it and is the way horror should be seen.

Of course I’ve managed to snag myself a copy, after years of searching, breathing a sigh of relief when the tape did not snap in the video recorder and those images once seen on late night TV some 25 years earlier were brought once again to life. Once seen it is never forgotten, often for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on, but this really is one appointment that shouldn’t be missed.

Scream #30DaysOfFright

ghost2Scream didn’t just reinvigorate the horror genre back in 1996 – can it really be 20 years old – it took it to another level. From its shock opening this seminal shocker mixed knowing titters and terror to triumphant effect.

Horror director, Wes Craven, had previously scared us witless The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street and he had already dipped his toe in post-modern horror with Freddy’s New Nightmare, but Scream wouldn’t just rewrite the rule book, it would eat it and spit it all out, defining much of Hollywood’s horror output for the next decade.

scream3Although everyone now knows how the opening sequence of that first film turns out, no one can deny its power and shock seeing it for the first time on the big screen, surely the modern day equivalent of Janet Leigh meeting her maker in Psycho some 36 years earlier.

Shock endings have long been a staple of horror but shock beginnings with such a well-known name and so early on in proceedings, which was a humdinger and justifiably secured its place high in the history of highs in the genre.

It was visceral and I vividly remember the murmurs of uncomfortableness and hushed ‘did that just happen?’ as the smash cut frames of Drew Barrymore could be seen hanging from her parents tree as I sat in that Odeon cinema in Luton. Jesus, they had just killed the little girl from E.T.!

This was the end of the innocence and the birth of a new horror icon, and if that wasn’t enough he went onto slay The Fonze as well.

ghost1With that opening it set its stall out early that this is a horror with a whole new set of horror-savvy rules. Boasting assured direction and writing it was the perfect meeting of minds with the director of A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left, meets the writer of Dawson’s Creek, Kevin Williamson.

The Scream films, all four were helmed by Craven, are essentially like the main character, lean, mean, pull no punches and list anyone and everyone as a possible victim (and suspect for that matter).Was it the dad, the boyfriend, the cop?

There were red herrings aplenty and everyone is a suspect, like a teen Agatha Christie movie, even going so far to use the double killer device from Murder on the Orient Express.

Even after 20 years it is still really fresh and sharp, the dialogue and scenes canter along. As well as expertly crafted in its own right Scream is a bloody love letter to the genre.

There are film references galore throughout, which makes it all the more fun to watch. It covers everything from Psycho to Carrie, a Wes Craven cameo in a Freddy sweater, Halloween on the TV, Friday the 13th, and a cameo by The Exorcist’s Linda Blair as a news reporter to name but a few.

Like those films, Scream has a memorable bogeyman in the form of Ghostface, who quickly established himself as part of the pantheon of iconic horror ghouls.

ghost4These kids aren’t stupid either and they know the rules of horror films, are self-aware. Knowing and clever it doesn’t insult the audience, instead it – like the characters themselves – it outfoxes them. Craven had stepped one foot in that arena with his previous film, Freddy’s New Nightmare where Freddy Krueger stepped into the real world.

The only difference being that Scream takes place in our world also, a world where previous horror films such as Halloween and Friday the 13th exist. All of this is delivered with effective jumps throughout, that teeter between comedy elements and pure frights.

ghost5As Matthew Lillard’s character touted, “These days, you’ve got to have a sequel.” And Scream did, three, all directed by Craven. Scream now lives on rebooted for the new MTV generation, on where else, MTV, where it is currently enjoying its second series.

Like Freddy, Norman and Hannibal before it Scream has joined TV. And it’s in good company with the likes of the continuing American Horror Story, The Walking Dead and the newly launched The Exorcist TV series.

I loved the original Scream trilogy, but was less impressed with the fourth chapter which returned after an 11 year break. It also turned out to be the last film of Wes Craven, who sadly passed away in 2015.

ghost3It’s doubtful we’ll see Scream back on the big screen anytime soon but as Craven showed with Freddy – returning to write Part 3 and direct Part 7 – you can’t keep a good horror franchise down and with horror resetting itself anew every few years and Scream being at its best, a celebration of horror films and trends, you can be sure of a back from the dead ending for this franchise on the big screen.

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.