Archive for the Haunted Houses Category

THE CONJURING (2013)

Posted in 2013, Based on a True Story, Cinema Knife Fights, Demonic Possession, Demons, ESP, Evil Spirits, Haunted Houses, LL Soares Reviews, Paranormal with tags , , , , , on July 22, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE CONJURING (2013)
By L.L. Soares

246460id1c_Conjuring_INTL_27x40_1Sheet.indd(THE SCENE: A house that has been plagued with paranormal disturbances. The doorbell rings and the family’s FATHER opens the door to see L.L. SOARES standing on the front steps)

L.L. SOARES: You called for a demon specialist?

FATHER: Yes, I did. You sure got here fast.

LS: Yes, I hopped on my broomstick, er, I mean I hurried right over.

FATHER: Don’t you have a partner you do these paranormal investigations with?

LS: Professor Arruda? He’s busy right now on the astral plane. But fear not, I will have the situation under control in no time. What happens to be the problem?

FATHER (pulls out a list): Well, there’s a whole bunch of things. People having their feet grabbed late at night; we’re hearing spooky voices; there are birds slamming themselves into the windows; ugly faces keep popping up in mirrors; mothers are being possessed by demons so that they can kill their children…

LS: Hold up! Not so fast. You sound like you’re reading off a list of haunted house clichés. Are you sure this has all happened to you?

FATHER: I swear it. This is based on a true story.

LS: Very well. Let’s deal with these things one at a time, shall we? But let me move around the house first and see if I feel the presence of any spirits.

(LS stands in the middle of the room and closes his eyes)

LS: I feel it! I feel it!

FATHER: You sense the ghosts?

LS: No, I feel my hay fever coming on (sneezes)

You know, this dilemma of yours sounds an awful lot like a movie I just saw called THE CONJURING. Have you seen it yet, by any chance.

FATHER: Err, no, I’ve never heard of it.

LS: I can tell you’re lying, but no matter. I will pretend as if I believe you and I’ll tell you a little about it.

FATHER (looks around): Okay, I guess.

LS: THE CONJURING is the latest movie about a family that moves into a house that is haunted by ghosts. Except, it’s not ghosts. It’s demons! And if they move somewhere else, the demons will follow them. We saw pretty much the same exact plot in everything from the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies (which began in 2007) to INSIDIOUS (2010) to every other recent haunted house movie.

THE CONJURING begins with an interesting scene where two women talk about a doll in their house that was possessed by a demon. The doll is actually pretty friggin weird looking, and they keep showing its face in close-up. The women’s story is pretty good, too. But then we learn this movie isn’t about them. They’re just part of a film that paranormal investigators Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) are showing a class full of eager students of the supernatural.

Instead of this cool story about a crazy-looking doll, we have to sit through yet another normal American family moving into a house where things start getting weird. One girl wakes up every night when someone grabs her foot and tries to pull her off her bed. Another girl has an imaginary friend who just might be a spooky demonic creature. The family’s mother is on the verge of being possessed by an evil spirit. This would all be interesting, if we hadn’t seen this exact same thing a hundred times before.

Sure, THE CONJURING has a few nice, original moments. I really liked the part about the clapping game, where the kids, five girls of various ages, run around their spooky new house playing a game of hide and seek, where one of them is blindfolded and can demand that the others clap their hands when she gets near. The fact that a spooky supernatural creature decides to play along is actually pretty effective.

I liked that one of the kids finds a strange music box where, if you wind it up, it plays music and a swirling hypno-wheel mirror spins around. If you stare at it long enough, you’re supposed to be able to see a spirit over your shoulder. It’s a fun prop. There’s also a very cool room in the Warrens’ house where they keep supernatural souvenirs from all of their case studies, including that creepy doll I mentioned earlier that sits on a chair in an air-tight glass case. I wanted to know more about this room, and explore its contents more. But we only get to see it a few times briefly. I was much more interested in that room than I was about what was going on in the Perron family’s house.

I also like a lot of the people in this movie. Like Lili Taylor. Over the years, she’s been in a lot ofgood movies like SAY ANYTHING (1989) and DOGFIGHT (1991) and Abel Ferrara’s THE ADDICTION (1995). She was Valerie Solanas in I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1996) and was in John Waters’ PECKER (1998). She’s been in tons of good independent movies, and it’s good to see her in this movie, too, in a role that’s more than just another supporting character. Except, despite this one having a little more meat than her usual Hollywood roles, she’s really just…another supporting character. The movie isn’t really about her. It’s about Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are supposedly real-life demonologists. This movie is “Based on a True Story” after all.

FATHER: That always scares me when a movie is “Based on a True Story.” That means it’s real, right?

LS: Actually, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a trick to scare dumb people.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are really good as the Warrens. I’ll give them that. Wilson has been in some good movies like HARD CANDY (2005). LITTLE CHILDREN (2006) and was even Nite Owl in WATCHMEN (2009). As for horror films, he was also in the previously mentioned INSIDIOUS, which a lot of people seemed to like. INSIDIOUS was also another movie about a house haunted by demons that was directed by James Wan, who also directed THE CONJURING. Wilson is also going to be in INSIDIOUS 2 later this year.

Ron Livingston is also here as the family’s father, Roger Perron; I’ve liked Livingston ever since he was in OFFICE SPACE in 1999, even though he’s not given a lot to do in this movie.

As for Farmiga, she first got noticed in dramas like THE DEPARTED (2006) and UP IN THE AIR (2009), but has been doing a lot of horror-related stuff lately as well, like ORPHAN (2009) and she’s been great as Norma Bates, Norman’s mother, in the new TV series BATES MOTEL. Farmiga, as the clairvoyant Lorraine Warren, is the best thing in this movie. Like the kid in THE SIXTH SENSE, Lorraine “sees dead people” and once she gets to the house where the Perron family lives, she starts to see spooky dead kids and witches hanging from trees and lots of other things no one else sees. I really liked her character, and wished the movie was even more about her. Why do we need this family that’s being tormented anyway? Why not have Lorraine Warren go head to head with that spooky doll from the beginning of the movie?

Well, the main reason is because if they don’t introduce the family and the haunted house, then they can’t go through the checklist of haunted house clichés that are recycled yet again in this movie. If you’ve seen any of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, you’ll know them all by heart. The ugly, ghostly creatures that pop up out of nowhere, the tons of fake scares to keep you hopping until the real ones arrive, the speech about how “it’s not ghosts that are haunting the house, it’s demons that are haunting you!” The thing is, despite the fact that there are some interesting characters here, THE CONJURING really offers nothing new to the latest paranormal troubles trend. We’ve seen it all before.

Vera Farmiga is the best thing in THE CONJURING, but even she can't save this movie from the mountain of cliches.

Vera Farmiga is the best thing in THE CONJURING, but even she can’t save this movie from the mountain of cliches.

I would have loved to see the Warrens in a story that was more original, that wasn’t so damn predictable. There was a woman behind me in the theater who screamed at the top of her lungs every time something “scary” happened in THE CONJURING, even though we all knew it was going to happen before it even did. I felt like asking her “Haven’t you ever seen a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie before, lady?” Or, better yet, “Shut the hell up, you big mouth.”

THE CONJURING is directed by James Wan, as I mentioned before. He directed the similarly-plotted INSIDIOUS, but you might also remember him as the guy who directed the first SAW movie back in 2003. Wan also directed DEAD SILENCE about creepy ventriloquist dummies and the vigilante movie DEATH SENTENCE, both in 2007. I like a lot of these movies, and I likeWan. I don’t have a problem with him, really. Except that he seems to be in a rut lately. He keeps trying to cash in with these movies that take the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and remove the “found footage” aspect and just present things in a straightforward movie way. But it seems like he’s making the same movie over and over. His next one, INSIDIOUS 2, which will be about yet another house haunted by a demonic presence, comes out later this year. Enough! Come up with something new already!

It irritated me that they couldn’t come up with a new spin on this material. Even the scene where Lili Taylor is possessed by the demon witch and has to have an exorcism, is business as usual. She spits up blood, she levitates, she throws people across the room. Ho hum. It’s just the same old thing.

So I didn’t really love this one. I felt like the script was by the numbers, even if it did have some characters that were more interesting than usual. The movie pretty much squanders any chance it has to do something new with this subgenre. Even if there is a mention of another “haunted” house in Long Island toward the end (can you say Amityville?).

THE CONJURING could have been great, but instead it’s just so-so. I give it two and a half knives.

FATHER: Well, that’s all nice. But I thought you were here to get rid my demon!

LS: Yeah, yeah. I’m done with my review, so you can stop badgering me. Just show me where the evil sucker is.

(FATHER takes them through a living room full of kids, all sitting around a TV set watching old reruns of THE BRADY BUNCH and leads LS to a door that leads down to the cellar)

LS: Yet another story where a demon is down in the basement. I bet something really bad happened down there once.

FATHER: Yup. A murder.

(CUE DRAMATIC MUSIC)

(They go down the stairs, where a demonic presence awaits them, rocking back and forth on a rocking chair, with its back toward them)

FATHER: Can’t you help us?

LS: Certainly I can.

Turn and face me, oh demon. Turn and meet your master!

(MICHAEL ARRUDA turns around in the chair, wearing a shawl)

MA: There you are! I’ve been waiting forever for you to show up. And it’s really damp down here!

LS: I thought you said you were going to practice astral projection. Who knew you were the demon haunting this house.

MA: Demon, schmemon. I’m just scaring this family because I was bored.

LS: Fair enough. And they are pretty stupid.

MA: Let’s get out of here and get a pitcher of beer. I’m buying.

LS: Sounds good to me.

FATHER: Hey, where are you going?

LS: I’m done here. Oh, and by the way, I’ll send you my bill in the mail. I guarantee, when you see my fee, it will scare the living hell out of you.

MA: Then maybe you should pay for the pitcher.

LS: Be quiet and get up those stairs!

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE CONJURING  ~two and a half knives.

 

The Distracted Critic visits HOUSE (2008)

Posted in 2013, Christian Horror, Haunted Houses, Paul McMahon Columns, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , , on May 29, 2013 by knifefighter

HOUSE (2008)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

H - dvd

I watched HOUSE by accident. It was a drab and boring night and I was flipping through Netflix Instant Watch when I saw the listing and thought, “William Katt? George Wendt? Richard Moll? That was a fun movie!” I clicked the title and saw that this one starred Reynaldo Rosales “Never heard of him.” Heidi Dippold “Who?” and J.P. Davis “I thought he died… no, that was J.T. Walsh.” Just as I was going to flip away from it, I noticed that the director’s last name was Henson “Brian Henson? I loved his NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES episode ‘Battleground’!” I clicked PLAY.

The opening was pretty cool, interspersing a tale of a woman being stalked by her husband with the names of the cast. Names like Michael Madsen, Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook and Lew Temple. With a cast like that, I decided to stick around.

We meet a couple driving through Alabama, obviously lost. Jack Singleton (Rosales), a stereotypical man, acts like if he can just drive fast enough he’ll magically arrive at someplace he knows. Stephanie Singleton (Dippold), his wife, hounds him to slow down. He screams “BE QUIET!” at her a few times, but doesn’t slow down. A cop passes them, giving a few blips of his siren as a warning. As they argue about the meaning of the cop’s actions, they come across a wreck and almost run the cop over. Jack apologizes, his wife flirts like crazy, and instead of ticketing them for speeding or reckless endangerment or failure to yield, he tells them a shortcut back to the highway.

The cop is played by Michael Madsen who has 217 actor credits on IMDb. He’s been a ton of different characters throughout his career, but I will only ever think of him as the ear-collecting Mr. Blonde in Quentin Tarrantino’s 1992 RESEVOIR DOGS.

Michael Madsen plays the cop, the chicken's role is uncredited.

Michael Madsen plays the cop. The chicken’s role is uncredited.

Jack and Stephanie head off on the shortcut but don’t get far before they hit a chunk of metal in the road that punctures two of their tires. They pass another car with tire trouble as they walk for help. No surprise, they come upon the same old house where the man hunted his wife in the opening montage of the movie.

They find a guestbook in the front hall, but Jack and Stephanie do not sign it. All they want is the use of a phone so they can be on their way… and that’s what they’d ask for if anyone was around. They call out a few times and then another couple comes down the stairs, Randy (Davis) and Leslie (Julie Ann Emery). Randy incorrectly assumes Jack owns the place. Jack correctly assumes Randy owns the disabled Beemer back on the road. They discuss what to do next, and are interrupted by a very creepy looking guy who looks at Leslie and says: “You’re purdy.”

Lightning flashes outside, and suddenly there’s a woman standing on the other side of the room. She introduces herself as Betty. She says the creepy guy is her son Pete, and her husband Stewart is fixing the fuse. She says the rates are twenty dollars a night, per person. Randy asks if that includes food and Betty says there’s enough to go around. “But you gotta clean up,” she says. “Only pigs… eat in their own muck.”

Betty is played by Leslie Easterbrook, Pete by Lew Temple and Stewart by Bill Moseley. They’ve each got dozens of acting credits, but they’ll be best remembered by readers of this site by another film they did together, Rob Zombie’s 2005 masterpiece, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS.

Mother and Otis Firefly are reunited with Adam Banjo in Robby Henson's 2008 movie HOUSE.

Mother and Otis Firefly are reunited with Adam Banjo in Robby Henson’s 2008 movie HOUSE.

As the couples dine, a commotion rises outside and the “family” panics and starts locking all the doors and windows. Betty starts yelling at the two young couples, scolding them for bringing the “Tinman” to their home. A tin can is dropped down the chimney, and upon it has been written the House Rules. “Rule number one: God came into my house, and I killed Him. Rule number two: I will kill anyone who comes into my house like I killed God. Rule number three: Give me one dead body before sunrise, and I’ll let rule number two slide.” With this reveal, their night of survival begins.

There was a lot that struck me as “off” about this film. There was no profanity that I could recognize. Though Leslie wore a dress that revealed a good amount of cleavage, at no point was there nudity. On top of that, creative cutaways kept the violence—the horror-movie money shots—off screen. Those were just the stylistic oddities. The philosophical oddities were subtle but even more disturbing.

Leslie’s childhood was terrorized by sexual abuse perpetrated by her uncle. The onus for this is placed squarely on her for being “an evil temptress,” not just by the creepy backwater family, but by everyone present. Jack and Stephanie’s marriage was shattered by the accidental death of their daughter. Again, it’s accepted by everyone present that the onus for that is entirely on Stephanie. Jack is the poor soul doomed to shoulder her failure for the rest of his life—even though we’ve seen in flashback that Jack had been present when the accident happened, but was too busy working to even speak civilly to his daughter. I began to feel irritated by this movie.

Horror films have long gotten a bad rap for being misogynistic. For every film that depicts a strong female character that tries to survive instead of relying on a man to save her, you can find dozens that treat women like baggage the male characters have to coddle, protect and lug around. While the women in HOUSE seemed stronger than your average horror movie fodder, the movie reared its misogynous head in a creepily different way. It played as if everything bad that ever happened was a woman’s fault. It’s even implied early on that Jack would never have had any trouble driving if Stephanie hadn’t been nagging him.

As the plot entered its endgame, the characters began to speak Christian-ese. That’s when I realized what was going on. Christian-ese is a language Christians use when they don’t want non-Christians to realize they’re being preached to. It wasn’t until the end credits that we were told the movie was “Based on a novel by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker.” For those unfamiliar with the culture, Peretti and Dekker are Christian novelists who sell insane amounts of books. A novel penned by them side-by-side is the Christian equivalent of Stephen King and Peter Straub’s THE TALISMAN. Had I seen that credit at the start of the film (and there was no hint of it, I went back and checked), the “Original Sin” attitude of the movie wouldn’t have taken me by surprise.

Robby Henson has directed Christian horror before, 2006’s THR3E. To many, the phrase “Christian horror” sounds as satisfying as “diet cotton candy” or “virtual hug.” It’s an interesting phrase, but it’s bound to lose something in the practical world. The vast majority of fans do not appreciate horror movies with explicit “Good wins over all” endings. POLTERGEIST III (1988) and THE DEATHS OF IAN STONE (2007) leap to mind as examples. Both of these films came across as sermons. HOUSE isn’t quite as heavy-handed as that, though the movie hopes to convince you you’re a sinner so that you’ll dedicate your life Christian ideologies. I’m not going to judge whether or not the film succeeds at that. I only have to judge its merits as a horror film.

If you want the experience of watching “Christian horror,” then I’d have to say that this is a movie to check out. Not only does it boast a fairly lucid plot (Christian sensibilities and philosophies aside), you get to enjoy Michael Madsen and horror movie cult favorites Bill Moseley and Leslie Easterbrook chewing the scenery as only they can. If, however, you’re after a really good horror movie, then I’d have to recommend you steer clear. Hunt down something better… like, say, Brian Henson’s awesome short movie “Battleground.”

I’m gonna give HOUSE two stars, which surprises me, but it’s possible I was enthralled with seeing Mr. Blonde and Otis Firefly onscreen together. I kept hoping they’d break into an Epic Rap Battle. As for timeouts, there were three– a “trinity” of them, as it were.

Reynaldo Rosales is Jack and Heidi Dippold is Stephanie, who are terrorized in the HOUSE.

Reynaldo Rosales as Jack and Heidi Dippold as Stephanie are terrorized in the HOUSE.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

Pickin’ the Carcass: THE PACT (2012)

Posted in 2013, Family Secrets, Ghosts!, Haunted Houses, Horror, Indie Horror, Michael Arruda Reviews, Pickin' the Carcass, Psychic Powers with tags , , , , , , , on May 8, 2013 by knifefighter

PICKIN’ THE CARCASS:  THE PACT (2012)
By Michael Arruda

The Pact - poster

Welcome to PICKIN’ THE CARCASS, that column where we scour the countryside looking for horror movie gems which, for one reason or other, we missed the first time around.  Sadly, there’s usually a good reason we miss these flicks during their first run, but lately I’ve had some luck as I’ve caught films that I’ve actually enjoyed.

The subject of today’s column, THE PACT (2012) ,gets off to such a strong start and features such likable performances, I found myself forgiving all the problems its plot runs into later on.

THE PACT, now available on Streaming Video, opens with a young woman, Nichole (Agnes Bruckner), on the phone trying to convince her sister that she needs to return home to attend their mother’s funeral, but her sister says no, that she hasn’t forgiven their mother for all the awful things she did to them.

Nichole is alone in her deceased mom’s home, and shortly after hearing some strange noises and feeling an unseen presence behind her, she decides to Skype her young daughter who’s with a babysitter.  In the middle of the conversation, her young daughter asks, “Mommy, who’s that standing behind you?”  Yikes!

Nichole’s sister, Annie (Caity Lotz), changes her mind about skipping her mom’s funeral, and she arrives at her mom’s house to find that her sister has disappeared.  Annie’s cousin, Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins), had been babysitting Nichole’s young daughter, and after the funeral, they all stay overnight at Annie’s mom’s house while they try to figure out what happened to Nichole.  That night, there are more eerie noises and strange going’s on, and Liz disappears.

Annie goes to the police, and since there is evidence of a struggle, she finds herself a suspect in both disappearances.  A local police officer, Bill Creek (Casper Van Dien), takes an interest in her case and offers to help her.  However, Annie suspects the real threat is a supernatural one, and so she turns to a medium, Stevie (Haley Hudson), who comes to the house with her assistant, Giles (Sam Ball).

Annie, Stevie, and Giles encounter more weird happenings inside the house and discover a secret room hidden behind the walls of the home.  Stevie is able to shed some light on the entity inside the house and provides Annie with some important clues regarding the whereabouts of Nichole and Liz.  But the biggest discovery comes later, when Annie realizes the threat against her and her family isn’t just a paranormal one.

There’s a lot to like about THE PACT, from its story, which is more than just a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY rehash, to its strong acting performances, to a bang up directorial effort by writer/director Nicholas McCarthy.

THE PACT contains a lot of cool scenes and provides some neat images, like the creepy man sobbing on the edge of a bed.  There are some violent sequences as well, including a gruesome stabbing scene, and the gore looks real.  There’s no CGI blood in sight.

The film opens in such spine-chilling fashion, the unsettling feeling it instills at the outset remained with me throughout.  When Nichole finds herself alone in her mother’s house, the film resembles the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and does so again when the sinister force inside the house abducts Liz.  But the fun part here is that there’s more to this story than just evil spirits.  On the other hand, the details don’t always make sense, and this comes back to bite the film later.

The cast is excellent.  Caity Lotz is terrific as Annie.  She’s feisty, strong, and very sexy.  She makes a formidable adversary for the threats which occupy her mom’s house.  Casper Van Dien is also very good as Bill Creek, the police officer who helps Annie investigate her sister’s disappearance.  Their scenes together are particularly enjoyable to watch as they share some nice onscreen chemistry.

Agnes Bruckner makes the most of her brief screen time as Nichole, and Kathleen Rose Perkins is also excellent as Annie’s cousin Liz.

But my favorite supporting performance belongs to Haley Hudson as the medium Stevie. The first time we meet her, she’s in this oddball household full of unceasing background noise, as TVs and rock music blare constantly.  She’s quirky yet sincere, and so she comes off as very believable.  And Sam Ball is nearly as good as Stevie’s friend and assistant Giles, who’s just as peculiar as she is.

And THE PACT packs some serious eye candy.    Caity Lotz is striking and spends much of the movie in short shorts and sexy T-shirts.   The other three actresses, Agnes Bruckner, Kathleen Rose Perkins, and Haley Hudson, are just as stunning.

And if you’re a female viewer, you’ve got Casper Van Dien and Sam Ball, two very good looking actors.  This flick is very easy on the eyes.

I liked that the story aimed high and tried to be more than just your typical paranormal entity tale.  It gets an A for effort.  Where it falters is in the details.

For instance, at one point in the movie, the ghost physically attacks Annie, which I’m not sure ghosts can do, but this raises a question about the entire premise of the movie.  If this ghost can physically attack human beings, then in light of what the film reveals later on, the question has to be asked, why didn’t the ghost simply tackle the other threat in the story on its own?  Why did it need a human being’s help?

I also didn’t like the very ending of the movie.  For it to make sense, one would have to surmise that there is yet another threat inside the house not revealed in the movie.  I found this notion difficult to swallow.  As it stands now, it plays like one of those endings where something creepy is added on simply to give the film an eerie conclusion, as opposed to a logical progression of the story.

Overall, once the movie starts putting the pieces of its puzzle together, it does so with too much obscurity, and so instead of sitting back and enjoying the ride, I found myself asking a lot of questions, which ultimately got in the way of my enjoying the movie.  What really becomes of Nichole and Liz?  You pretty much know, but you don’t really know.  What does the “pact” from the title refer to?  I can guess, but I’d rather know.  Just how abusive was Annie’s and Nichole’s mother?  What about that creepy hidden room in the middle of the house?  How come no one ever noticed it before?  And just how much did Annie’s mother know about what was going on inside her house?

I would have enjoyed the movie more if its second half provided clearer answers.

So, ultimately, the screenplay by director Nicholas McCarthy is a mixed bag.  It provides a compelling story, but it doesn’t always make good on getting the details right.  But it gets the scares right, and on that note, THE PACT delivers.

I give it two and a half knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE PACT ~ two and a half knives!

MAMA (2013)

Posted in 2013, Based on a Short Film, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Evil Spirits, Feral people, Ghosts!, Guillermo Del Toro, Haunted Houses, Horror, Indie Horror, Scares!, Supernatural with tags , , , , , , , on January 21, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: MAMA (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

mama_poster

(THE SCENE: A cabin in the woods. L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA arrive in the middle of the night. There’s no electricity, so they have to turn on flashlights)

LS: Remind me to come here when there’s daylight next time.

MA: That would be too easy, and smart.  Unlike the characters in today’s movie MAMA, who continually show up at the mysterious cabin in the film at night, and when there’s no power.  Dumb!

LS: It’s just bad writing. Why not just stay at a motel until daytime?

MA: So why don’t you save your flashlight batteries and start our review of MAMA?

LS (shuts off the flashlight): Okie doke. They’re promoting MAMA with a heavy reliance on Guillermo del Toro, but he didn’t direct it, he produced it. Andres Muschietti directed this one, based on his three-minute short film of the same name (if you’re curious, check out the short film here on Youtube) Del Toro has said that when he saw the short, he had to help Muschietti turn it into a feature, and rightly so.  The short film is just one short scene where two young girls are visited by “Mama,” but it’s spooky enough so that you want to see more.

MA: Yes, in spite of the fact that we started this column poking fun at the stupidity of characters visiting places in the dark, MAMA is quite creepy and certainly satisfies in the spooky department.

LS: Let’s go outside. It’s too dark in here, and the moon is up.

MA: Okay.

(As they go outside, LS continues talking)

LS: The expanded movie delves into more weird stuff. First off,  we see a guy named Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who also plays Jaime Lannister, one of my favorite characters on the HBO series GAME OF THRONES), who has just come home after going on a shooting spree at work (and we’re told he just killed his ex-wife as well). He grabs his two young daughters and hightails it out of town, but a car accident cuts his plans short. After crashing into a ditch, Jeffrey takes the girls into the woods, until they find a seemingly abandoned cabin. He brings them inside, intent on killing them and himself to put an end to the nightmare his life has become. But something intervenes and saves the girls from his madness.

MA:  I really liked this opening scene, and it set the stage perfectly for the rest of the movie.  Its sets up a relationship between Mama and the little girls that makes this one a more credible ghost story than most.

LS:  We then jump ahead five years. Some private detectives (they look more like hillbillies) have been searching for Jeffrey and the girls and come across the cabin. How it took five years for anyone to find the crashed car or the cabin confounds me!  You know that the police must have searched the area thoroughly when Jeffrey was originally on the run with the kids. So why did it take five years for someone to track them down?

MA:  Agreed.  While it’s incredibly difficult to locate a body in a vast expanse of woods, it makes less sense for a car to remain hidden for that long, especially when it’s in the open.  You’d think a plane or a helicopter flying overhead would have spotted it at least.

LS:  Didn’t you just get through saying this story was more credible than most?

MA:  I was talking about the actual ghost’s story.  Most of the time, I’m thinking, why does the ghost care about scaring these people?  In MAMA, I understood Mama’s motives completely, and it made her actions all the more potent.

LS:  Fair enough. So those hillbilly detectives find that the girls, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse), who have reverted to a feral state after being abandoned for so long. Victoria remembers basic skills she learned as a younger child (like she starts talking again fairly soon after their rescue), but Lilly is more feral than civilized and constantly hides behind her sister, afraid of the world.

MA:  I thought these early scenes of the girls in this feral state were particularly creepy and unnerving.

LS: Yeah, they’re pretty great. I almost wish we could have seen more of them in this state.

(Two filthy, feral little girls in clean white dresses suddenly appear near them.)

MA:  Uh-oh.  I’m getting creeped out here.

LS:  Don’t be a wuss.  They’re just little kids.

LITTLE GIRL:  Pa-pa.

MA:  No, I think you’re supposed to say “Mama.”

LITTLE GIRL (kicks MA in the knee):  Papa!

MA:  Okay, okay!  Papa it is. Ouch!  That was some kick!

LS (laughing):  I like this little kid.

Anyway, back to the movie.

The girls are taken in by their uncle Lucas (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) an artist, and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain, who we also saw in everything from THE TREE OF LIFE, 2011, to THE HELP, 2011, to ZERO DARK THIRTY, 2012), who plays bass in a punk band. They’re not exactly the most orthodox couple to take in troubled kids, but it’s either that or they go to their Aunt Jean (Jane Moffat, who also does the voice of Mama!), and Lucas obviously feels guilty about what the girls have gone through and wants to make things right.

MA:  I liked this part of the story as well, that Lucas and Annabel are such an unorthodox couple to care for a pair of kids.  They’re not cut out to care for healthy and well balanced children, let alone these kids!  In fact, in Annabel’s first scene, she’s taking a home pregnancy test and rejoices that she’s not pregnant.

This set-up was more original than most, and the movie is better for it.

LS:  But it’s not going to be easy. Victoria and Lilly regressed to a very primal state while they were left to fend for themselves, and it’s going to be a long journey back to a normal life. On top of that, there’s Mama. A supernatural creature who took care of them all those years in the cabin and who visits them frequently in Lucas’s house. The thing is, Mama is incredibly dangerous to everyone but the two girls.

LITTLE GIRL: Pa-pa.

LS:  You talking to me?

LITTLE GIRL: Pa-pa.

LS:  No, I’m not your papa, kid.  Scram, you’re starting to bother me!

(Little Girl kicks LS in knee.)

LS (howling in pain):  If you weren’t a little kid, I’d take a hatchet and—.!

MA:  Hey, kids, I think you’ll find some really yummy candy in that cabin over there.  Why don’t you check it out?

(Little girls nod, join arms and skip towards cabin, but not before the second little girl kicks MA in his other knee.)

MA (grimacing):  Son of a bitch!

(Little girls exit)

LS:  Let’s finish this review and get out of here before those brats come back.

MA:  Sounds good to me.

LS:  When Lucas has an “accident” and falls down a flight of stairs , Annabel has to care for the girls by herself. Slowly, she bonds with them, but this incurs the ire of the very jealous Mama, who doesn’t want anyone else taking care of the girls.

Throughout the movie, there are various scenes where Annabel comes very close to “meeting” Mama, but the movie holds off their meeting for a while. In fact, in one chilling scene, Annabel knows there is something in the girls’ closet, but when Victoria warns her not to go in there, she actually closes the slightly open door and walks away (finally, someone in a horror movie who’s not an idiot).

MA (Applauds):  Bravo!

LS:  Trying to help discover the truth is Dr. Dreyfus (Daniel Kash) who is the one who arranges for Lucas and Annabel to get custody of the girls, so they’ll stay close by and he can continue to get access to monitoring them on a regular basis for his research.

MAMA has some legitimate scares, and I liked it. At times, it reminded me of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY moviesthe way you need to pay attention to things going on in the background, etc. It also reminded me a bit of THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012), the way we’re constantly subjected to sudden scares by a creepy female ghost with issues about children. While I thought WOMAN  IN BLACK was okay, it could have been better. And I think MAMA works a lot better.

MA:  I’m glad you mentioned PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.  I saw MAMA in a packed theater with a very enthusiastic audience.  There was lots of loud screaming and plenty of nervous jokes, like the obvious “Why does everyone keep going to these places at night?” and “Wait till daylight, numb nuts!”, and so the experience reminded me a lot of watching a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie.  Granted, a lot of what they were screaming at, I wasn’t, but it still made for a really fun time.

LS: My audience was similar, and it did add to the fun.

MA: I liked this one a lot too.

LS:  My only issue is about the monster. As long as she’s in the background and the shadows, she’s really effective, but Mama looks a little hokey when we finally get a good look at her, up close. She’s a CGI creation (of course), and it’s funny, but she just seemed scarier to me in the “Mama” short film that preceded this one, even though the short obviously had a much smaller budget. She’s not awful in close-up in the movie– she’s still better than most CGI monsters – but I was hoping she’d be even creepier.

MA:  Really?  I liked the way Mama looked. Sure, she’s CGI, but I thought she looked more real than most CGI effects.  I thought she resembled a rotting corpse come back to life.  What I liked about it is I took her rotting self to be symbolic of the pain she felt over the loss of her child.  There was a sadness to her appearance throughout that really worked for me.  So, I can’t say that I was disappointed with Mama herself.  I thought she was an effective and very haunting spirit.

LS:  Like the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films there were a lot of scenes where things (in this case Mama or the kids) suddenly pop up in the background or jump at us. While this works in the scare department (like we were saying, a lot of people in the audience I saw this with were shouting whenever a “scare” happened), it seems to be a cheap way to get scares after a while.

MA:  Yep, that’s when my audience was screaming as well.  I agree with you about it being a cheap way to get scares, but in this case, it seemed to work.  One thing I did like about it was most of the time it wasn’t a “false” scare, like having someone other than the ghost bump into a character and spook them.  I really hate those kinds of scares.  Mama seemed to have exclusive rights scaring folks in this one, and she’s damn good at it!

Of course, the little girls did some of the frightening too, especially early on, but they were pretty darn creepy as well!

LS:  I do think the acting is very good, though. Jessica Chastain is obviously meant to be the lead here, and she does a fine job as a woman out of her element (as Michael mentioned, when we first see her, she’s relieved that she isn’t pregnant, then, suddenly, two strange children are thrust upon her). I really like her as an actress, and it’s cool to see her in a horror movie. She’s just fine here.

MA: Yes, I liked Jessica Chastain a lot. Annabel is actually a pretty well-written character, and Chastain makes her believable as hell.  I found it so refreshing in a movie like this that she wasn’t a “doting” mother type.  She wanted nothing to do with these kids, so as the movie goes on and the bond between them grows, it really works.

LS:  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is good as Lucas (and, briefly in the beginning, Jeffrey), even if he’s not given as much to do. Annabelle is clearly the more compelling character of the two, which is confirmed when Lucas is taken out of commission and she has to take care of the kids herself.

MA:  Coster-Waldau was okay, although truth be told I had difficulty recognizing when he was in a coma and when he was out of one.

LS:  Ouch!  That’s harsh!  But you’re right.

MA:  He was all right, but the character of Uncle Lucas is nothing compared to Annabelle.  He could have stayed in a coma and I wouldn’t have cared.

LS:  Agreed. Daniel Kash is also very good as the not-so-trustworthy Dr. Drefus, who has his own agenda.

But the best acting actually comes from the kids.

MA:  Agreed, although I enjoyed Jessica Chastain just as much as the two girls.

LS:  You’re right, Chastain holds her own. But we already know she’s good. The kids are a revelation.

Megan Charpentier as Victoria seems wise beyond her years and is very mature and controlled as her character. I was very impressed with her performance. Isabelle Nelisse, who plays the younger Lilly, is actually very spooky in several scenes, and downright unnerving. I was even more impressed by her, even though she doesn’t say a lot and does most of her acting with her behavior and facial expressions.

MA:  You got that right!  And she’s such cute little kid, too!  Yet she’s so creepy!  I think director Andres Muschietti deserves credit for capturing this very dark side of her.

LS:  Both girls do a remarkable job here and are way above the average kid actors we see in movies. I think they’re a big part of why MAMA works as well as it does.

The direction by Andres Muschietti is quite good, and the script by Muschietti and his sister Barbara (and Neil Cross) is pretty solid for this kind of thing. And it doesn’t completely fall apart at the end (it falters slightly, but doesn’t fall apart).

Usually January is when studios put out movies that they’re not so proud of, but there’s no reason why anyone should feel that way about MAMA. I liked this movie a lot and give it three and a half knives.

What did you think, Michael?

MA: I’m with you on this one.  I liked MAMA a lot, and I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did.

To me, it starts with the script by Neil Cross, director Andres Muschietti, and Barbara Muschietti.  Its story was more intelligent than most, and other than having people visit places in the dark when they could just as easily visit them in daylight, I didn’t find myself scratching my head at the proceedings all that much.

I liked the background story of Mama herself, felt sympathy for her, and understood where she was coming from when she was being so possessive of the little girls.  I also really enjoyed the story of the little girls.  Their lives begin so tragically I couldn’t help but feel for them as their story continued.

And Annabel and Lucas are such an unconventional couple for this kind of tale they were definitely refreshing.  I enjoyed Jessica Chastain’s performance a lot as Annabel, and she along with the two little girls really drive this movie along.

But the most satisfying part of MAMA is that it succeeds in being scary, and I think director Andres Muschietti deserves a lot of credit for crafting such an effective horror movie.

The film contains your standard “someone-appears-out-of-nowhere” jolt scenes, along with some creepy little kid scenes, and best of all, some genuinely scary supernatural ghost scenes which I thought looked better than most CGI stuff I see.

I did think the film faltered a bit towards the end, which seemed rushed.  How Annabel and Lucas end up together at the cabin in the woods (hmm, that has a nice ring to it!) is a bit of a stretch – I mean, he’s still in the hospital, and suddenly he just gets up and leaves, heads for the cabin, and just happens to be crossing the road just as Annabel approaches in her car.

Also, I wasn’t crazy about the look of the film near the end, as the woods take on a very cartoonish Tim Burton air.

However, I did like the very end of the movie, and I found it satisfying.  It also stayed true to the rest of the story.  There weren’t any “I’m an evil ghost so I’ll just kill everybody for no reason” or “The main characters have done right by me and so now my heart has just grown ten sizes bigger and now I’m going to give everyone a big hug” moments.  Mama’s behavior remains consistent throughout.

Sure, there were a few flaws here and there, most notably towards the end, but I found myself liking MAMA a lot.  I liked it just a tad less than you did, though.

I give it three knives.

LS:  Well, that wraps things up for another edition of Cinema Knife Fight.  We’ll see you next week with another review of—-.
MA:  Uh-oh.  They’re coming back.  Look!

(The little girls return.)

OLDER GIRL: There wasn’t any candy in that cabin. You lied to us.

LITTLE GIRL:  Pa-pa.  (She points to behind MA & LS)

(MA and LS look behind them to see ghostly male figure standing behind them.)

PAPA (growls):  Let’s go girls.  It’s your weekend to be with Papa.

MA:  Hmm.  Even ghosts have custody issues.  Who knew!

(Cabin door opens and MAMA steps out with her hands on her hips and begins scolding PAPA for being late.)

LS:  Let’s get out of here before things get ugly.

MA:  I hope this isn’t a set up for a sequel, PAPA.

LS:  Quiet!  Don’t give them any ideas!

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives MAMA ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives MAMA ~three and a half knives.

A HAUNTED HOUSE (2012)

Posted in 2013, Comedies, Evil Spirits, Exorcism Movies, Faux Documentaries, Fun Stuff!, Ghosts!, Haunted Houses, LL Soares Reviews, Parodies, Possessed By Demons, R-Rated Comedy, Spoofs with tags , , , , , , , on January 14, 2013 by knifefighter

A HAUNTED HOUSE (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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While Michael was seeing GANGSTER SQUAD, I opted to check out this comedy starring Marlon Wayans instead, and I’m glad I did. A HAUNTED HOUSE, despite the lame, generic title, is actually a pretty good comedy, taking aim at all of the “found footage” horror films we’ve been subjected to lately, from the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films, to THE LAST EXORCISM (2010) and last year’s THE DEVIL INSIDE.

The found footage genre is so prevalent in the movies these days, that it was only a matter of time before someone skewered them. So along comes actor/writer Marlon Wayans (who’s been in everything from the TV show IN LIVING COLOR, 1992 – 2001, to the first two SCARY MOVIEs and WHITE CHICKS, 2004), to do the skewering.

Marlon stars as Malcolm, a likeable guy who tells us early on that this is a big day, because his girlfriend, Kisha (Essence Atkins), is finally moving into his house. Like the people in those PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, Malcolm is obsessed with filming everything that goes on in his house. Things start off on a bad foot when Kisha runs over his poor little dog pulling into the driveway, and they just get worse from there. When Kisha is upset that her keys are on the floor (How did they get there?!!), she immediately deduces that the house must be haunted and calls in a psychic named Chip (Nick Swardson), who seems a little too interested in Malcolm. When things get weirder, Malcolm calls in a security guy named Dan (David Koechner) to install cameras all over the inside and outside of his house, so that he can keep track of the “ghost.” An especially funny scene involves Malcolm’s cousin Ray-Ray (Affion Crockett) and his crew, a group of thugs who are determined to get to the bottom of the haunting, but find out it’s not that easy to intimidate a supernatural being.

When Malcolm and Kisha determine that it’s not a ghost at all, but a malicious demon (!), there’s a funny flashback to Kisha’s childhood with her callous Mom (Robin Thede) and Dad (the always hilarious J.B. Smoove), that delves into the origins of Kisha’s demon problem. Malcolm and Kisha do everything they can to get rid of their unwanted visitor, including getting stoned with the invisible creep (they all get mellow and engage ins some supernatural hijinks), and even having sex with the demon (while Kisha has a good time with this, Malcolm’s experience isn’t quite so pleasant).

Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) and Kisha (Essence Atkins) find themselves in A HAUNTED HOUSE.

Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) and Kisha (Essence Atkins) find themselves in A HAUNTED HOUSE.

When Kisha finally gets possessed by the demon (and we get into EXORCISM territory), Malcolm finally has to call in the big guns, which include psychic Chip, Dan and his cameraman sidekick, Bob (Dave Sheridan), who have their own paranormal TV show (on the Internet and cable access) and the local priest (and ex-con), Father Williams (Cedric the Entertainer, who’s really good here). They chase the possessed Kisha all over the house, with funny results.

Directed by Michael Tiddes, and written by Marlon Wayans and Rick Alvarez, A HAUNTED HOUSE could easily be part of the SCARY MOVIE franchise, but those movies have been taken over by the Zucker Brothers (the guys behind the AIRPLANE and NAKED GUN movies). That said, A HAUNTED HOUSE seemed to be funnier than the usual SCARY MOVIE installment, with a higher ratio of laughs.

Marlon Wayans does a fine job as our “hero,” Malcolm. Essence Atkins is really funny as Kisha, and the entire cast is pretty solid. Other supporting players include Andrew Daly (who you might recognize from the HBO series EASTBOUND AND DOWN) and Alanna Ubach, as Steve and Jenny, a swinger couple who are friends with Malcolm and Kisha, and who are always trying to get them to swap partners (Malcolm is completely clueless to their intentions), and Marlene Forte as Malcolm’s maid, Rosa, who is up to some very surprising shenanigans when the couple is away.

If a comedy is judged by how much you laugh, then A HAUNTED HOUSE is a success. I laughed a lot, and so did the packed audience I saw it with. The gags in this one come fast and furious, and most of them work. It doesn’t hurt that the movies this one is spoofing have created their own list of clichés just waiting to be goofed on.

I give A HAUNTED HOUSE, three knives. But man, do I wish they had come up with a better title.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives A HAUNTED HOUSE ~three knives.

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Scoring Horror Presents: An Interview with CHRISTOPHER YOUNG (Part 2 of 2)

Posted in 2012, Barry Dejasu Columns, Film Scores, Haunted Houses, Horror, Music for Film, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, Supernatural with tags , , , , , , on November 13, 2012 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
An Interview with Christopher Young (Part 2 of 2)
by Barry Lee Dejasu

Part Two: Sinister

Young’s latest film score, SINISTER, is his second collaboration with director Scott Derrickson (2005’s THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE being the first).  In this film, a true-crime writer named Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) and his family have just moved into a new house; for Ellison, there is an ulterior motive to this move: the previous family had been coldly murdered…and he senses a chance to write a new hit book in which he solves their mysterious deaths.  Upon running across a box of innocuously-named home movies, Ellison soon discovers that they are in fact films of the murdered family—and others—in their final, brutal moments.  As his fascination begins to turn into obsession, Ellison soon starts realizing that these cold-blooded murders might not have been committed by human hands…and that the horrors of the past are far from over.

SINISTER has an unusual score in that the music is mostly dark ambient and/or electronic, with lots of unusual sound effects and samples throughout.  What brought about that musical direction?
Well—did you just listen to the movie or the (official film score) CD?  The reason I ask is because the CD is different than the film.

Really?  How so?
It’s essentially the same material, but it’s structured differently.  Why, you may ask?  I think when you’re dealing with industrial music or sound design-oriented score music, that generally means is one of two things: either, through some twisting, pulsing idea, or extended pads or clusters of sonorities that can hold for long periods of time.  Where they might work incredibly well in the context of the movie, if you take them away from the picture, they lessen the listening experience, because in fact, they’re not utilizing those same (elements) that a tonal film score uses when it’s made of melody and harmony.  The minute you start writing a score that’s got melody and harmony, there’s certain laws that sort of fall into place without thinking, because it’s been around for so long that you subconsciously resort to those things that you know will work.  There’s certain logic in that kind of writing that governs tonal music.  But in sound design and industrial music, that all gets flushed down the toilet, and anything goes, really.  So what I decided for the CD, I was going to rework it, and use a lot of the same material, but add new material as needed and restructure it, so I thought it would make a much more fascinating and digestible listening experience.  With a lot of these industrial sound design CDs, they don’t play well for me; after the third or fourth track, I’m kind of like, “Well, I don’t know about this anymore,” and maybe you experience the same thing.  Now what I’ll say about the CD, like it or not, I’d like to think that it’s trying to doing something a little different; it’s not your average score, it’s not even your average industrial or design-type score; it’s totally different.

Number two, in answer to your question, why did that language come about?  Because Scott Derrickson, the director, turned to me and said, “You know what?  Even if we had the money for an orchestra, I don’t think I would want you to do an orchestra soundtrack to this movie.”  He’s the one that planted the seed; he’s the one who said, “let’s go off and do something different.  Let’s do a sound-design score, an industrial-type score, or whatever we use, one that is not orchestral, one that doesn’t utilize those orchestral -isms.”

I was thrilled, because this was something I always wanted to do, but ever since HELLRAISER, really, when I get hired to do a horror score … they’re usually looking for something that’s somehow connected to HELLRAISER, and if it’s a romantic thriller, it’s somehow connected to (my score for) JENNIFER 8 (1992).  I’ve humorously said that a lot of my scores to romantic thrillers since JENNIFER 8 can be called Jennifer 9, Jennifer 10, or Jennifer 11; they’re very much like that score, but that’s what I was being asked to do; that’s okay, that’s fine.  And it’s the same thing with the horror films; they always want a big orchestra, because big orchestras sort of like improve the production value.  Film scores are a dime a dozen.  “We hire Chris to give us a big fat orchestra score, because it’ll make our film look really high-quality.”

Anyway, this was the situation: we didn’t have the money for a full orchestra, (Scott) encouraged me to go electronic and sound design and industrial in attitude, and that was something I’d been wanting to do, but I hadn’t been able to unleash that part of my musical personality.  I alluded to it many years ago in a lot of my early stuff; and there’d be instances along the way when I incorporate electronic sounds into the orchestra; I could name some of those.  I did a score many years ago for the Tobe Hooper remake of INVADERSFROM MARS(1986), which I was thrilled to be a part of, man; (I was) working with Tobe Hooper!  It got totally thrown out.  It was experimental; it was orchestral music, which was totally traditional, and there was the electronic stuff, which was pretty damn experimental.  I was pre-sampling sounds of acoustic instruments, primarily percussion instruments, creating masses of sounds by modifying through tape manipulations.  But I’ve often said humorously what they were ultimately looking for in the final analysis wasn’t music from Mars, but music about Mars.  It was pretty out there, and it got thrown out, and that sort of cooled my jets in trying to do something that hadn’t been done before.

So I’ve been dabbling with that, working in the world of sound as being the ultimate determining factor; taking dramatic sound, manipulating it in a way that only a composer can, and creating a unique score.  Flash forward to SINISTER, and I’m re-tapping into that part of my musical personality; now being encouraged, and the language is different because the technology is different, so it’s really not any different from the crazy stuff I was doing in the early days; some of the crazy stuff I still do, with electronics and more manipulations of acoustic instruments.  It’s just now, the technology’s improved, (so when) we do all-electronic stuff, it all sounds different.

Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) discovers strange home movies in the attic of the house his family is renting in SINISTER.

Just what the heck were some of the sounds used in the score?  (Namely, that low, warbling vocal track?)
That moaning sound?  That utilizes the concepts that go way back to those days; that’s a modified instrument called the duduk.  It’s a Middle Eastern wind instrument; it’s kind of popular in movie scores, but I modified it, transposed it, played around with it, and turned it into something that sounds like a banshee moan or something.  That was supposed to be that distant call, that siren’s call, from… Again, I’m talking about that black space that goes on forever, and it’s the moan, the cry, that’s coming from within that black space, and in this movie, it’s all this stuff, the invisible which will become visible in time, called Mr. Boogie, the bad guy, the bad guy that exists there somewhere.  You see his picture, his likeness in freeze frames of Super 8 film; and he’s there, he’s out there, existing in the dark somewhere.  That’s what the duduk was; I tried to capture that.  “What’s the sound for this?”  And as it turns out, that’s the duduk thing; that’s one of the predominant sounds.

There’s a number of other sounds which are used in this score; there’s a very long list, and I’m only going to point out one of them, because it involved me, it just popped into my head.  I just did a session where I screamed, you know?  It was just moaning and screams, and they were utilized backwards and stuck into the picture.  (Gibbering sounds.)  You know?  I tried to sound like the devil vomiting, or something, and then it was manipulated.  I did such a long list of sounds, I couldn’t tell you (but it would go on) for the next three days, but those two came off the top of my head.  Right at the beginning, when (Ellison) looks out that window and he sees that tree, the hanging tree, that’s the sound that kicks off the score, and it keeps reappearing, and it has that nice screaming sound a number of times in the picture.

Ellison begins to get obsessed with the disturbing films he has found, in SINISTER.

SINISTER, on its own, has such a voyeuristic quality, with Ellison watching all of these films of terrible things happening.  When you were watching the film, did you feel at all like that?
I would have to say yeah, yes; from the safety of my own room, watching a film of someone watching a film.  There was that distance that made me feel safe; having said that, indeed I tried my best to get inside his head, and imagine what that moment must have been for him, witnessing something that was so awful, so awful, that slowly but surely, he loses himself; again, parts of him are in pursuit of getting his celebrity back, but even more than that, you’ve opened a Pandora’s box thing.  It’s like, once you’ve opened the box, you want to dig deeper and find more and more, but evil things await.  I did get into that part of it; that knowing behind the curtain, there’s something terribly evil, but not being able to walk away.

Ellison can’t stop watching.

With so many horror films that you’ve worked on, have you ever gotten scared of them?
(laughs)  No.  I get scared on every movie I’ve worked on; that I’m not going to do a great job, in the time that I’ve been given, is what scares me.  I’ve seen it all; I really have.  Most of the horror films that I’ve worked on have gratuitous violence, or have some nutcase on the loose who’s going around killing people, right?  A lot of those films (like that are) not my kind of thing, and I can see someone getting ripped to smithereens, like in HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (1988), someone ripping themselves to smithereens with a razorblade; you know, that’s probably the grossest thing I’ve ever seen.  And I know (director Tony Randel)wanted me to score that “sympathetically” or something, and I’m like, you gotta… I can’t… (laughs) It doesn’t work!  You can’t score that sympathetically, you can only illuminate the insanity of this with music that is so messed-up.  Anyway, yeah, I’ve seen enough of that so that it doesn’t scare me.

But I’d say that SINISTER did, and there are some that do, and they’re the ones that deal with cerebral terror.  Those kinds of movies that, like a great ghost story, talk about the invisible world again; the things that can’t be seen, the things that can only exist as we believe they are to be seen.  I’m a great classic English ghost story enthusiast, and I’ve got tons of books, and (there’s nothing quite like) a great ghost story or a film that’s a pretty damn good telling of a good ghost story.  So, ones in which our minds are being played with—those are the kinds of films that can scare the crap out of me.  They have to be challenging, they have to have some wisdom and wit; they have to catalyze our imagination, because indeed, it’s about us imagining the invisible, as opposed to dealing with the visible.

The NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies, they’re great, they’re fantastic; how lucky I was to work on one of them (Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, 1985) that was a dream come true; that’s about the metaphysical world, about dreams, and Freddy himself is extremely visible, when he’s doing his evil deeds, he’s right on screen, right in your face, doing it. THE HAUNTING (1963), from Robert Wise and based on the book by Shirley Jackson, that’s horrifying; I still watch that every Halloween, or right around Halloween; each year I’ll watch that movie or read the book, because that is done so well; we never see these ghosts; we never see them!

So yes, I do get horrified by films, but it’s usually the types that are playing with my mind.

Mr. Boogie is watching you.

And horror is so subjective.
At the end of the day, let’s face it, who likes horror movies?  A very select few.  Enough so that. Come this time of year, the months of September through November, companies are going to make tons of money to finance their dramatic movies.  (Horror films are) the illegitimate bastard sons of Hollywood, and they like to forget about them, by November, they’re going to pretend that (all the horror movies) didn’t happen; they’ll try to sweep them under the carpet, and move on to dramatically and artistically and more meaningful stuff that gets the Academy Awards.

So, I have a feeling that most people who work in horror have a love/hate relationship.  There are certain things that a composer can do in horror films that you can’t do anywhere else.  The score I did for SINISTER—you can’t do that in any other kind of movie, not really.

Not easily.
No, not easily.  You’d have to find someone who’s really game for doing something weird in playing it against the picture.  And by doing that, all of a sudden, “Wow, this is new, this is different.”  You get to do things that you can’t do anywhere else, and that’s exciting.  Because I fell in love with that whole sound/mass way of thinking, and I was fascinated with sounds in general, and in that quest to define the voice of the darkness, so to speak, I was able in these kinds of movies to unleash that; of course I love it.  I do love it.

But at the end of the day again, there’s not many people who like to (acknowledge the genre); they’re not really remembered films.  It’s funny, every time I go to meet someone at a party or something, or a social gathering, I’m asked, “Oh, I heard you do music for movies?”  They go, “What have you done?”  Just the other day I was asked that, and I said, “There’s this new movie coming out called SINISTER.”  They said, “Oh, that sounds kind of scary!”  I said, “Well yeah, it’s a horror film.”  And I know exactly what they’re gonna say.

They sum it up with one word: “Oh.”
Exactly!  It starts with “Oh,” and I’m thinking, “Oh, I know where this is going.”

They’re distancing themselves from that yawning void of the uncanny that you’re meanwhile so fascinated with.
I am, I am.  And fortunately, there are a lot of people that see things in a similar way.  That’s why a film like SINISTER made $18 million over (its first) weekend; it only cost $3 million to make, so that’s a pretty good sign, and I’ve been very blessed, because I’ve never seen a score line get so much attention.

The nice thing is I feel like my mind is as sharp as it ever was; my musical mind, I think, after all these years, it’s got so much to say, and is still dying to try new things.  I don’t want to do another HELLRAISER; I think they’re going to do that, I think they’re doing another HELLRAISER movie, aren’t they?

They are.  There’s one in development.
I don’t see myself doing that; I mean, I don’t know.  I’m not lusting to do the next HELLRAISER.  If I’m going to continue to do horror films, it would be, after this movie, the people, the directors would go, “My god, I didn’t think Chris could do this!  We thought he only did orchestra stuff!  That’s too old-fashioned!  We don’t want any orchestra stuff in our horror film!”

Nothing made me happier (than the reception for SINISTER).  I get a chance to reinvent myself, and guess what?  I haven’t read one review (or) heard anyone say, “This score stunk!”   (There were) maybe those who didn’t like it, but certainly no one thought it was inappropriate.  And certainly anyone who knows my music in horror films would have to say, “You know, I don’t know anything about music, but this sounds different than HELLRAISER.”  And even Jason Blum, the producer on the movie, said the third question he was getting when he was doing pre-release screenings was “What the hell is… Who did this music?”

I am not going to get an Oscar for this, that’s for sure, because it’s a horror movie; it won’t even get nominated, because it’s a horror movie, but I can get another horror film because of it.  I’m all for that.

But you now have lots of fans out there drooling for more music like this.
You know, I hope it happens.  Hopefully I will still be getting calls until I topple over, and if that’s the case, then you’ll hear more in that style.

Sinister is in theaters now.  The official film score is available for download and on CD.  Give it a listen…and then just try to sleep with the lights off!

-END-

 

Interview © Copyright 2012 by Barry Lee Dejasu

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012)

Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Demons, Evil Kids!, Faux Documentaries, Haunted Houses, Paranormal, Plot Twists, Sequels with tags , , , , , , , on October 22, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(The Scene: A bedroom. MICHAEL ARRUDA lays in bed asleep.  For a long time.  The words, “3:13 AM.  Night 13” are superimposed on screen.  Still, nothing happens.  MA looks up at camera.

MA:  This is a long time for nothing to be happening.  Too long.

THE VOICE OF L.L. SOARES:  You said it.  If I were making this movie, I would have chopped your head off already.

MA:  Where are you?

(Bedroom door swings open, revealing the silhouette of a person.)

MA:  Well, that’s predictable.  Couldn’t you think of a more original place to hide?

LS:  Um, that’s not me…  I’m in here.  (Climbs out of a bureau drawer.)

MA:  That’s not so predictable.  How did you fit in there?

LS:  It’s not real.  It’s a prop.  Just like this carving knife (raises knife).  You would have been in for one helluva surprise reaching for your clothes this morning.

MA:  Lucky for me, I’m already dressed.  (Climbs out of bed, fully dressed.)

LS:  You’re an odd duck.

MA:  Quack.

(Silhouette in door steps forward, revealing that it’s a woman.  Suddenly, she stomps forward, her steps booming loud, and MA & LS scream.  She grabs LS by the head and twists it around full circle, then leaps at MA and does the same to him.)

LS (with head spinning):  Hey, this is cool!  Woo-hoo!

MA (head also spinning):  It gets the kinks out.

LS (to woman):  Thanks!  This feels great!

(WOMAN frowns, then Exits.  LS & MA’s heads stop spinning.)

MA:  That was different.  I think I’m ready to review today’s movie now.

LS:  Start us off, then.

MA:  Today we’re reviewing PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012), the fourth film in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series, a series that admittedly has grown on me, so I was actually looking forward to seeing it.  But as movies go, this one’s about as deep as—(walks to the bed and pulls a feather out of a pillow) — as this feather.  In other words, it’s a lightweight movie if I ever saw one.

Since PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 was a prequel, this movie follows the events of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, and at the end of that movie, Katie (Katie Featherston) kills her sister, her sister’s husband, and walks away with their little boy, Hunter.  That movie ended with the superimposed words on the screen stating that Katie’s and Hunter’s whereabouts remain unknown.

And that’s where the action picks up in this movie, as we meet a new family, specifically a 15-year-old girl, Alex (Kathryn Newton) who spends most of her time with her boyfriend, Ben (Matt Shively).  Alex lives with her parents and younger brother, and next door to them lives a creepy little boy named Robbie (Brady Allen) and his mom, who we assume, of course, are really Hunter and Katie.

LS: Which may or may not be the case.

MA: One night, the little boy’s mom is rushed to the hospital—supposedly, as this is what Alex’s mom says, and we don’t actually see this— and so the strange little boy temporarily moves in with Alex’s family, since he has no other family of his own.

LS: Well, we kind of do see this. We see an ambulance across the street at Robbie’s house with its siren flashing. And Alex’s mom says that she was asked to take Robbie in.  But no, we never actually see Robbie’s mother physically being carried to the ambulance.

MA: And of course, since he is a strange little boy, weird creepy things start happening in the middle of the night, including visits from the ghost or demon who’s been haunting the folks in all these movies, the spectral dude known as Toby.

You know, you’d think that Toby would pick a house without so many friggin cameras, so he could actually accomplish something without people watching him!

LS: Maybe he’s an attention hog!

MA: Of course, that’s the gimmick in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, that everything is filmed by the cameras of the characters in the movie, to give it a realistic feel. And for the most part, this gimmick works.  It’s why these movies are fun, because there are long moments of silent “in the middle of the night” footage which prompts audience members to yell out various comments, because they can’t stand the tension.

Of course, for story purposes, this gimmick made the most sense in the first movie.  I can believe some guy filming everything on his video camera.  In the second film, the family was concerned about burglars, and so they had security cameras installed, and that’s how we saw all the footage in that film.

In this one, Alex’s boyfriend Ben is a computer geek, and so he records everything with his computer camera, and so when the strange events start happening in Alex’s house, she has Ben fix all the computers in the house so they’ll be taking video footage 24/7.  Not that this is unbelievable, but like I said, what are the odds that every house Toby haunts has cameras on him all night?  I’m suspending disbelief here more than I want to.

Anyway, this is how in this movie we’re able to see all those PARANORMAL ACTIVITY scenes we’ve come to know and love, scenes of silent rooms in the middle of the night, just waiting for something scary to happen.

And of course the story in this one is about that strange little boy next door, who we assume is Hunter, and the eerie events his presence causes once he’s inside Alex’s house.  And that’s it folks.  There really isn’t much of a story here.  There is a twist, but I was unimpressed.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is easily the weakest film in the series.  I didn’t hate this movie by any means, but I was unsatisfied.  Big time.  I mean, all the signature “in the middle of the night scenes” are there, but they’re just not that scary this time around.

The ending, which is a bit scary, is quick and over WAY too fast.

I liked the main character Alex, which is a good thing, because she’s in almost every scene of the movie.  I thought Kathryn Newton did a great job, and if I’m allowed to say this about a 15 year-old, she’s stunningly beautiful in this movie.

LS: Well, maybe you should wait about three years to say that. (laughs). But you’re right, she’s quite pretty.

MA: Matt Shively is also likeable as her boyfriend Ben, so these two main characters aren’t the problem.

The problem is the story, or lack thereof.  The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies have never had strong stories, but they’ve been fun because they’ve been scary.  I didn’t find this one scary at all.  The scares just aren’t there, and in a gimmicky movie like this that doesn’t have much of a story, if you don’t have scares, what’s left?  The answer is, not much!  There just isn’t much to this movie.

Christopher Landon wrote the screenplay, and he also wrote the scripts for the second and third films in this series as well.  I think maybe he’s running out of ideas.  There are “middle of the night sequences” where nothing seems to happen, and this is the same problem I had with the previous films in the series, especially PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (2010).  You’re waiting there, watching a silent empty room in the middle of the night, and the pay-off is a little boy walking around a room.  Come on!

Plus the little boy in this one just isn’t that creepy.  I thought the kid in LOOPER (2012) was much creepier!

(The door opens and the little boy from LOOPER enters the room.  The boy grimaces, his eyes widen, and he grows red in the face.)

MA:  Easy kid!  Don’t use your telekinetic powers on us!  I was actually complimenting you!

LS: Geez, kid. Give us a break.

BOY:  Where’s the bathroom?  I have to go.  Bad!

MA:  It’s down the hall on the left.

BOY:  Thanks.  (Exits, as he runs down the hall).

LS (calling after him):  Next time don’t wait so long!

MA:  I had some questions about the story as well.  I wanted to know what was actually going on in the house next door to Alex.  At one point, she sees a bunch of cars there, and when she goes to investigate in the middle of the night— of course—she finds people there, but she’s frightened and runs away, and so we never learn what’s going on.  Now, based upon the events of the prequel, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3, I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on, but this movie might have been scarier had we seen more of those people next door, since we all know they’re not about to win any good neighbor awards!  They’re evil!  Why would you not make your scary story more about them?

LS: At the same time, it makes sense that she’d get scared and run away. So it is in character.

Most 15-year-old girls wouldn’t challenge people at a neighbor’s house and demand to know more.

MA: Then there’s good old Toby, the friendly neighborhood PARANORMAL ACIVITY demon.  He’s not much of a factor in this one.  Maybe he’s finally getting camera shy.

LS: Yeah, Toby’s a bit of a letdown this time around.

MA: Alex’s parents aren’t so bright either.  In one scene, a knife falls from the ceiling, and her dad, although spooked, doesn’t do anything about it.  It’s not like a door swings open.  Sometimes a stray draft opens or closes doors.  We’re talking about a knife falling from the ceiling.  I’d want to know what the hell a knife is doing in the ceiling in the first place!

LS: I kept expecting that knife to drop down and imbed itself in someone’s head.

MA: In an earlier scene, the mom is cutting vegetables with a knife— the same one I assume—she walks away….

LS: Of course it’s the same one. Why do you have to “assume” it?

MA: …we hear the knife swiped up and away—she returns and of course is dumbfounded and wonders where she put the knife.  She then walks away and returns with another knife and continues cutting.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a knife disappear into thin air from a kitchen counter on me.  I’d be somewhat freaked.  I wouldn’t continue cutting my vegetables like nothing had happened.

LS: So you wanted more time wasted with her just standing around, looking for the knife?

MA: No, I wanted her at the very least to ask someone in the house, “Hey, did anyone just take the knife I was using?”  Show some concern!  Jeesh!

I also have a complaint about Spooky Katie.  Does she always have to walk so slowly?  It’s like watching a store mannequin.  Someone light a firecracker under that woman!

(Outside there is an explosion and a flash of light, followed by a scream.)

I didn’t mean that literally!

VOICE OFF-CAMERA:  Sorry!

MA:  Also, the very creepy scene shown in the film’s trailer doesn’t appear in this movie.  This isn’t the first time this has happened in this series.  I remember a similar scary scene shown in the trailer for PARANORMAL ACTIVTY 2 which wasn’t in the film.

LS: This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since way too many trailers give away the complete story of a movie before you see it.

MA:  I dunno.  It bugs me.

LS: At least these scenes in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies that don’t appear in the movies are kind of like bonus scenes. But you’re right that this new movie could use all the scares it could get.

MA: This one was directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the same folks who directed PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3.  Like their screenwriter Christopher Landon, I think they’re running out of ideas.

All in all, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is weak horror movie, hardly worth your time.  I enjoyed last week’s SINISTER better, as that one disturbed me in a way that this movie doesn’t even come close to doing.  Again, I didn’t hate this film, but I sure was underwhelmed.
I give it one and a half knives.

LS: Y’know, we’re actually in complete agreement about this one. This is the Year the Sequels Died. When some of the franchises we’ve come to rely on have run out of steam. I felt the same way about RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION. That was a series I didn’t mind, although it was never rocket science, and I at least found each sequel entertaining. If you have to sit through these movies, you at least want to enjoy yourself a little bit. But the new RESIDENT EVIL movie was so cynical and such an empty example of greed, that it pissed me off. There was absolutely no reason for that sequel to get made except to cash in, and a series I had liked a little bit finally ran out of steam and lost all reason to keep going. (I should have known better when the previous one ended right in the middle of the story, demanding that it “Be Continued.”)

I don’t feel as angry and cheated by PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4.

MA:  I agree.  I’m not angry about it either.

LS:  There are some plot points that push things forward (although not all that many), and lead character Alex is very likeable and you care about her. But overall, Part 4 is pretty flimsy compared to the other movies. I liked this series a lot. They’re not amazing works of art, but they’re fun. And I’ve come to rely on that. But this one really felt like they were phoning it in. Like they were just making a new movie to keep the franchise going. And we really didn’t get enough answers by the end to satisfy us.

What you do with a franchise like this is inject some new blood once in a while. The people who started the movies do not need to keep working on each one. Like Michael said, it’s obvious that these people run out of ideas and start repeating themselves.

If you bring in fresh people and maybe let a franchise go in a new direction, then there’s more of a chance that the audiences might actually feel surprised.  It’s a risk, but it’s better than wasting our time.

With PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4, I just think the filmmakers are admitting defeat. Either let someone new take a turn, and take a chance on actually improving on the concept and the series, or just end it here.

Because otherwise you’re just jerking us around and taking our money.

I really wanted to like this one, but I give PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 a rating of one and a half out of five knives, too.

MA: Wow, we agree on something.

LS: That’s a surprise in itself.

MA:  And I don’t think we’re alone in not liking this one.  I don’t know about the audience you saw the movie with, but the theater I was in, the audience was rather subdued.  There weren’t many comments until the last 10 minutes or so.

And when it did end, the woman in the row in front of me said, “That’s it?”  My sentiments exactly!

(Suddenly, a big glass chandelier above them crashes down on the floor, just missing them by inches)

MA: Yahh! I’m out of here.

LS: I think Toby is angry with the bad review.

(They run out of the house)

-END-

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 ~ one and a half knives!

L.L. Soares also gives PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 ~ one and a half knives!

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