Archive for the Paranormal 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.

 

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Cinema Knife Fight: COMING ATTRACTIONS for JULY 2013

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on Comic Book, Based on TV Show, Coming Attractions, Ghosts!, Giant Monsters, Guillermo Del Toro, Johnny Depp Movies, Paranormal, ROBOTS!, Samurais, Superheroes, Supernatural, Westerns with tags , , , , on July 5, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – COMING ATTRACTIONS:
JULY 2013
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  The wild west.  A group of masked OUTLAWS on horseback wait by a train track.  A train whistle shrieks in the distance.)

OUTLAW #1:  Here she comes.  Right on time.

OUTLAW #2:  I can’t wait to see the look on the conductor’s face when our man Willoughby guts him like a pig!  (snorts and spits tobacco).

(Train approaches.)

OUTLAW #2: Here she comes.  Look fast for Willoughby!

(The outlaws hoot and holler as they see Willoughby with a knife to the conductor’s throat. 

OUTLAW #2:  Stick him, Willoughby!  Stick him!

OUTLAW #3 (points):  Wait a minute.  Who the hell is that?

(A man in black appears behind Willoughby and pummels the outlaw over the head with a sledge hammer.  The man in black faces the camera— it is L.L. SOARES.  He continues to pummel Willoughby with the sledgehammer, stopping only to give the outlaws on horseback the finger.)

OUTLAW #1:  What the—?

OUTLAW #2 (points):  Lookee there

(MICHAEL ARRUDA, dressed in white with a white 10 gallon hat, walks on the roof of the train.  He smiles for the camera and lifts a submachine gun which he uses to blow away the outlaws on horseback in one swift sweep.)

(Dissolve to the train station)

CONDUCTOR:  That was friggin amazing!!!  Thank you, gentlemen, for stopping the Whippersnapper gang.  That was terrific!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Shucks, it was nothing.  What we’re really good at is reviewing movies.

CONDUCTOR:  You don’t say?

L.L. SOARES:  He does say!

MA: In fact, right now, we’re about to do our COMING ATTRACTIONS column for July, where we preview the movies we’ll be seeing in the month ahead; in this case, July!

CONDUCTOR:  You guys are better than the Lone Ranger and Tonto!

MA:  That remains to be seen, but wouldn’t you know it, our first movie in July, opening on July 3, is THE LONE RANGER (2013), Disney’s big budget production, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto.

Lone-Ranger-PosterNow, as much as I’m a fan of the Lone Ranger character, going back to my days as a kid when I used to watch reruns of the old LONE RANGER TV show from the 1950s starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto— I even had a Lone Ranger toy— I simply wasn’t all that excited about this movie.

LS: Hey, I remember that old TV show, too!

MA: I used to be a big fan of Johnny Depp, and I really enjoyed his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, but lately I just haven’t been into his roles as much.  His Barnabas Collins in the recent DARK SHADOWS (2012) disaster may have been the last straw.  So, the idea of seeing Depp play Tonto does nothing for me.

Now, all this being said, I have to admit that I’ve actually enjoyed the trailers for this one, and although I won’t go so far to say that I’m looking forward to it, I will say that I’m not dreading seeing THE LONE RANGER as much as I was a few months ago.

It’s directed by Gore Verbinski, by the way, the guy who directed the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, as well as American remake of THE RING (2002).

LS:  Yeah, I’m pretty much in the same boat. I’m a Johnny Depp fan from way back, in the days when he mostly appeared in independent movies. I understand him going for the big bucks now that the first PIRATES movie made him a bankable star, but I haven’t been excited to see a movie starring him in a long time. And yeah, DARK SHADOWS was pretty horrible.

The trailers for LONE RANGER don’t look completely awful. I’ll certainly go in hoping it’s a decent movie. But I don’t have a lot of hope.

On July 12 we’ll be reviewing PACIFIC RIM (2013).  This is one of the movies I’ve been wanting to see most this year. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the guy who gave us PAN’S LABYRINTH and the HELLBOY movies, among others, this one has real potential. And what a cool cast. Idris Elba, Ron Perlman, even Charlie Day from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA!

Pacific-Rim-movie-bannerPACIFIC RIM looks like a cross between TRANSFORMERS and CLOVERFIELD, as giant monsters rise up from the Pacific ocean to terrorize mankind, so the humans build giant robots to fight them. If anyone else made this movie, I’d think it was a pretty goofy idea, but with del Toro involved, I think it has a real shot at being an enjoyable flick, and smarter than it sounds. At least I hope so. Like CLOVERFIELD, it looks like it’s trying to make giant monsters scary again.

MA:  You have more faith in this one than I do, and you know what?  I hope you’re right!  Because I would be really into a cool giant monster movie!

But for me, the problem is the trailers just remind me too much of the TRANSFORMERS movies, and that’s not a good thing.  But like you said, del Toro’s involvement should lift this one to a higher level, and I certainly like that Idris Elba and Ron Perlman are in the cast, but I’m guessing in a movie like this, they probably don’t have large roles.

I just think this one’s going to be a monstrous flop.

LS:  Oh, give it a chance! It might surprise you.

MA:  I hope so.  I certainly would be happy if this one turned out to be more like CLOVERFIELD than TRANSFORMERS, but I won’t be holding my breath.

LS:  The horror movie THE CONJURING opens on July 19, and I’ll be reviewing this one solo.  This could be interesting, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as a pair of paranormal experts who investigate a haunted house where Lili Taylor lives with her kids.

The-ConjuringMA:  I’m sorry I’m going to miss this one.  The trailers look really creepy, and it’s directed by James Wan, who directed one of my favorite horror movies of the past few years, INSIDIOUS (2010), a movie that I like even more now than when I first saw it a couple of years ago.

I also like the cast, led by Patrick Wilson, who played the dad in INSIDIOUS, and Vera Farmiga, who’s currently starring as Norman Bates’s mother on the TV show BATES MOTEL.

LS: Yeah, I enjoyed the first season of BATES MOTEL, and I’m a big Farmiga fan.

MA: We finish July with THE WOLVERINE (2013), which opens on July 26.  Now, I’m a huge fan of the Marvel superhero movies, and I like the character of the Wolverine a lot, and I especially enjoy Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the Wolverine character in the X-MEN movies, so why aren’t I all that excited about this one?

X-Men-Origins-Wolverine-2-For one thing, the title is about as blah as you can get:  THE WOLVERINE, especially considering the title of the last Wolverine movie, X-MEN ORIGINS:  WOLVERINE (2009).  Here’s a look at some future titles as the series continues:  THIS WOLVERINE, THAT WOLVERINE, WTF WOLVERINE, and THE MICHIGAN WOLVERINE

There you go.

It’s directed by James Mangold, who directed the western 3:10 TO YUMA (2009), a movie I liked a lot. 

I’m not all that excited about THE WOLVERINE, but strangely, I am looking forward to seeing it.

LS:  Yeah, I’m a Wolverine fan from way back when Chris Claremont and John Byrne were the creative team on The Uncanny X-Men comic books. So it’s cool to see the character doing so well in movies. However, while he’s been good in the X-MEN movies, I wasn’t a big fan of his last solo outing in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, which I felt was kind of a misfire.

MA:  I actually liked X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. 

LS:  You would!

Hopefully James Mangold can get the character back on track. This adventure takes him to Japan, where the character had a lot of storylines in the comics. There’s been a kind of “modern samurai” take on Wolverine for a long time, and I’ll be curious to see how this translates to film.

But man, you’re right, that title is incredibly lame.

MA:  And that wraps things up for July.  (turns to Train Conductor)  So, how did we do?

TRAIN CONDUCTOR:  A very entertaining column.  But I still wish you’d consider catching outlaws on a full time basis.

MA: Sorry.  No can do.   We have too many movies to review.

LS:  And I have a new novel to write.

MA:  Me, too.

LS:  A writer’s job is never done.

(MA & LS ride off into the sunset).

(SHERIFF approaches the TRAIN CONDUCTOR.)

SHERIFF:  Who were those masked men?

CONDUCTOR:  Sheriff, those men were Cinema Knife Fighters, the toughest, meanest, sons of bitches this side of the Mississippi.  And when they’re not hunting down outlaws, they review movies.

SHERIFF:  What’s a movie?

—-END—-

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

Screaming Streaming Movie Review: THE GIFT (2000)

Posted in 2013, ESP, Ghosts!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Paranormal, Sam Raimi with tags , , , , , , on March 8, 2013 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Streaming Video Movie Review:  THE GIFT (2000)
By Michael Arruda

The Gift poster

With Sam Raimi’s OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) coming to theaters this weekend, I decided to check out one of his earlier movies, THE GIFT (2000), currently available on Streaming Video.

THE GIFT is a tale of psychic phenomena, murder and the supernatural, set in the Deep South.

Annie (Cate Blanchett), a widow who’s raising her young boys on her own, is a psychic working out of her home in the back woods of rural Georgia.  She treats various clients who are looking for answers regarding their future and their past.

Buddy Cole (Giovanni Ribisi), for example, is a disturbed young man who is searching for clues to his troubled past, as he’s haunted by an image of a sinister blue diamond.  Annie also treats Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank) who is stuck in a dead end relationship with her violently abusive husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves), and Donnie is none too happy about his wife seeking Annie’s services, and as a result he threatens both Annie and her children.

When a woman named Jessica King (Katie Holmes) disappears under mysterious circumstances, the woman’s fiancé Wayne Collins (Greg Kinnear), the principal where Annie’s children attend school, turns to Annie for help when the local sheriff (J.K. Simmons) fails to find any leads.  Annie’s visions lead her to suspect Donnie, and the evidence supports her visions.  Donnie is arrested, charged with murder, and brought to trial by the district attorney David Duncan (Gary Cole), who it turns out has secrets of his own regarding young Jessica King.

As the trial goes on, Annie begins to doubt her initial visions regarding Donnie’s guilt and soon finds her life threatened by those who can’t afford to allow her to use her gift to uncover the truth.

I liked THE GIFT a lot, and my favorite part of this thriller was its first-rate cast.  Leading the way is Cate Blanchett as Annie.  Blanchett comes off as softer and more vulnerable here than in most of the roles I associate with her, in movies such as THE AVIATOR (2004), INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008) and, more recently, HANNA (2011).

As the psychologically disturbed Buddy, Giovanni Ribisi delivers the best performance in the film.  I like Ribisi a lot, enjoying him most recently in GANGSTER SQUAD (2013).  Here, he plays a very troubled guy who values his relationship with Annie, as she’s the only person who is willing to listen to him and lift a finger to help him.

The rest of the cast is also excellent.  Hilary Swank is perfect as the young wife who should take Annie’s advice and leave her abusive husband, but as she tells Annie, she can’t leave Donnie because she has nowhere else to go and feels as if she’s nothing without him.

Keanu Reeves comes on very strong as the impulsive and overly violent Donnie, perhaps too strong.  He plays things over the top throughout, making Donnie completely unsympathetic, a total jerk, and in the process one-dimensional.

On the other hand, Greg Kinnear is sufficiently sympathetic as the grieving fiancé, while Katie Holmes shines as the volatile young vixen, Jessica, who doesn’t think twice about cheating on her man or laughing in his face.  Ouch!

Both J.K. Simmons as the sheriff and Gary Cole as the district attorney add fine support to the proceedings.

THE GIFT was Sam Raimi’s last film before he ventured into the SPIDERMAN trilogy with Tobey Maguire.  It’s a fine thriller and a completely different animal from the campy and over the top EVIL DEAD movies, but a compelling drama all the same.  There’s a chilling subtlety to it that reminded me a lot of Raimi’s A SIMPLE PLAN (1998).

Interestingly enough, the screenplay to THE GIFT was written by Tom Epperson and Billy Bob Thornton.  Thornton, of course, starred in Raimi’s A SIMPLE PLAN.  For the most part, the story works.  I did have a problem with the ending for a couple of reasons.  For starters, I saw the conclusion coming ahead of time, and secondly I’m not sure I completely buy the story as it plays out.  It involves a ghost, and this ghost does something I’m not completely sure ghosts should be able to do.

But I liked the characters in the movie, and I especially cared for Annie and Buddy.  I would have preferred it had Keanu Reeves’ Donnie been a little less one-dimensional.  He’s not sympathetic in the least, and the local authorities would be fools if they didn’t suspect Donnie of the crime.

The main murder mystery is okay, although it really isn’t much of mystery.  If you pay attention, you can figure things out ahead of time.

I did like the scene where Donnie threatens Annie’s son, and Buddy arrives to intervene and save the boy.  I found Buddy’s storyline particularly disturbing, especially when he finally solves the mystery from his past regarding the meaning of the blue diamond. This revelation takes place in a very sad, chilling scene.

I did struggle to believe that Katie Holmes’s hot and sexy Jessica would be at all interested in Greg Kinnear’s quiet, conservative school principal, Wayne Collins.  Of course, Jessica explains in one of her tirades that she’s only interested in Wayne because of her father, but why her father wants her to marry a school principal is beyond me.  It’s not like Wayne is wealthy or politically connected.  This plot point seemed forced to me, an obvious set-up to the “surprise” conclusion which, as I said, you can pretty much figure out ahead of time.

But overall I really liked THE GIFT.  It would be hard not to like this one, given that it has such a solid cast.

So, to wrap things up— heh heh—THE GIFT is a better-than-average mystery thriller with a very strong cast, a decent story with characters I liked and cared for, and a talented director, Sam Raimi, at the helm, pretty much doing his thing.

I give it three knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE GIFT ~ three knives!

DARK SKIES (2013)

Posted in 2013, Aliens, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Enigmatic Films, Medical Experiments!, Paranormal, Scares!, UFOs with tags , , , , , , , on February 25, 2013 by knifefighter

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

dark_skies_0

(THE SCENE: The back yard of a small, unassuming house in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. MICHAEL ARRUDA is standing in front of a grill, with an apron that says “Kiss the Chef!” He is flipping burgers, while L.L. SOARES is drinking a beer and talking to some of the guys. We realize they are the only two humans at the cookout, as the rest of the guests are tall, gray alien beings. Oh yeah, and it’s the middle of winter, and there’s snow on the ground.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA (his teeth chattering): This cookout idea really seems to be a success.

L.L. SOARES: I hardly notice the snow at all.

MA: And there’s another big storm coming.

LS: When is winter going to be over already?

ALIEN 1: Hi guys, we’re having a lot of fun. Can I have another hot dog?

MA: Sure! (puts a hot dog in a bun and hands the paper plate to the alien). Here you go.

LS: So I guess we should get started on the review?

MA: I need to get more burgers to cook, and throw on another winter coat. Can you start this one?

LS: Sure.

(MA goes back into the house. LS looks around at all the creepy aliens, who have suddenly turned in his direction)

LS: The movie this week is DARK SKIES.

ALIEN 1: I was wondering if that was any good.

ALIEN 2: Yeah, my kids really want to see that one. How was it?

ALIEN 1: Yeah, tell us more.

LS: Well, this one is brought to us by some of the same producers who gave us the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and INSIDIOUS (2010), so right off the bat, you can kind of tell what you’re in for. Yet another movie where people in suburbia are tormented by unseen forces. Except this time, instead of the house being haunted by ghosts or demons, the creatures involved are…aliens from outer space!

(ALIENS hoot and holler, pumping their fists in the air)

MA (returns from house and puts more burgers on the grill.): And that’s one of the bigger drawbacks of this one, that we’ve seen this all before The style of filmmaking, quiet scenes in a dark house in the middle of the night, where the audience is just waiting for something unexpected or creepy to happen, is already getting old and repetitive.

LS: The family this time around consists of dad Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton, who was previously in the TV series THIRD WATCH and was in Clint Eastwood’s film, J. EDGAR, 2011), an architect who has been out of work for a while, and the pressure is starting to build. He’s gone on a few job interviews, but hasn’t had any luck so far, and the bills keep coming in (but he hides them from his wife). His wife, Lacy (Keri Russell, who most people will remember from the TV series FELICITY, from 1998 to 2002, which pretty much made her a star, and she’s currently on the new and interesting Cold War drama THE AMERICANS on the FX Channel, where’s she’s been really good), is a real estate agent. She tries to remain cheery and supportive throughout this crisis. They have two kids, Jesse (Dakota Goyo), who is 13, feels completely misunderstood, and is discovering girls, and Sam (Kadan Rockett), who is half his brother’s age, and very sensitive to everything going on around him.

MA: Dakota Goyo is the same kid that was in REAL STEEL (2011), the silly robot movie starring Hugh Jackman, which played like ROCKY meets the TRANSFORMERS.

LS: I thought he looked familiar! But I seriously didn’t remember him from REAL STEEL while I was watching DARK SKIES, which might be a good thing, because I thought Goyo played it wincingly, overly cute in that one. Nice to see him turn in a more low-key, believable performance here. Maybe the kid is actually growing as an actor.

Anyway, when things start getting weird, it’s Lacy who finds the signs. First, when she wakes up in the middle of the night to find the kitchen a mess, food strewn all over the floor.

(MA looks down at the ground to see discarded burgers, hot dogs, paper plates, and napkins all over the place.)

MA:  It’s easy to see how that happened.   I guess these gray aliens never heard of garbage cans.

Dark-Skies

LS: A few nights later, she wakes up, goes downstairs, and finds the kitchen in some kind of “ritualistic” state, with all of the appliances and other objects stacked in huge, intricate columns, forming geometric shadows on the ceiling. It appears that someone is breaking into their house late at night to do these things.

They try several different ways to solve what’s happening. First, they call the police, but the cop (Josh Stamberg) who arrives seems dead set on the idea that the kids must be behind it, acting out any “issues” they might have with their parents. He suggests they reactivate their burglar alarm (which they let lapse, due to the bills), and they do, but it just adds to the confusion, going off at all hours of the night, with no clear reason. Daniel eventually installs some video cameras throughout the house. And that’s when the movie really gets into PARANORMAL ACTVITY mode. Every day he checks the film, and he starts noticing that certain times at night, around 3:00AM to be exact, the cameras start to malfunction for a few minutes. He’s finally able to get some kind of handle on what’s going on, and it looks like someone might be getting into the house (although the images are blurry and hard to decipher).

MA: I had to laugh during these scenes because he camps out in front of the computer monitor to watch the footage.  Why? He falls asleep anyway and plays back the footage in the morning Why not just go to bed? Why does he have to sit in front of the computer? It’s not like he’s standing guard.

LS: You’re right! It’s just an excuse for him to sit there, in front of a bank of video screens, all night. What’s the point, when he falls asleep anyway?

But there are other manifestations as well. Members of the family are found in weird trances. They have blackouts where they don’t know what happened for large chunks of time. The kids have weird bruises on their bodies (which other people assume the parents are responsible for). Birds fly into the windows of their house, killing themselves for no apparent reason. Lacy does some research online and they find a supposed expert on the subject, Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons who was so great as Schillinger on the HBO series OZ, and has since appeared in tons of things, most notably as J. Jonah Jameson in the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN movies). Pollard tells them he knows exactly what they’re going through, because it happened to him as well….

For some inexplicable reason, aliens have randomly chosen them, and they are making their lives a living hell. The Barrett family decides to take matters into their own hands and fight back.

ALIEN 1: Tell us that the aliens win!

ALIEN 2: Yeah, I bet we kick those humans’ butts!

(ALIENS shout and pump their fists again)

LS: While DARK SKIES did seem to follow a similar pattern to the multiple “ghost/demon in the house” kinds of movies we’ve been seeing lately, it was still pretty engrossing, and the pacing for this one is pretty good.

MA (laughing): I often wonder if we see the same movies some times. While I generally enjoyed this movie, I didn’t enjoy the pacing. I thought it dragged towards the end, when it should have been building up steam towards an exciting conclusion I thought the ending was blah.

LS: I didn’t think the ending was that bad. DARK SKIES grabs you pretty early on and you’re in suspense throughout, wondering what is going to happen next.

MA: I was interested throughout, but I didn’t find it all that suspenseful. I rarely felt on the edge of my seat.

LS: Director Scott Stewart, who also wrote the screenplay, was also responsible for the movies LEGION (2009), which I thought had an interesting idea, but which kind of fell apart as it went along; and PRIEST (2011), which seemed like just another UNDERWORLD rehash, and which I didn’t like at all; two films I really didn’t enjoy all that much. Stewart acquits himself nicely in DARK SKIES. I thought this one was a big improvement.

MA: I’ll agree with you there. I liked DARK SKIES better than LEGION and PRIEST.

LS: The family is fleshed out nicely. Because of the tensions within the family, mostly due to unemployment, I was able to sympathize with them right away, and grow to care about what happens to them.

MA: I’ll agree with you here, too. I thought the family was fleshed out nicely too, and I definitely bought into their tensions over money and over the dad being out of work. I loved the brief scene where his job interview goes sour. You can just see the pain in his face.

LS: I think most people these days can relate.

MA: The set up to this story works, because as you said, you find yourself caring for these people.

LS: I’ve always been a fan of Keri Russell (she was also great in a little indie movie called WAITRESS, 2007), and it was great to see her in a movie again (while it feels like she dropped off the map for a while after FELICITY was canceled, IMBD.com shows that she’s been working pretty steadily since, mostly in smaller roles, but it’s nice to have her back as a lead.

MA: Yep, Russell is very good here.

Dark-skies-a23426534

LS: The kids are believable as well, and while Kadan Rockett as Sam was bit too “cutesy” for my tastes, with his lisp and big eyes, I thought Dakota Goyo was really good as teenager Jesse. In this kind of the movies, the casting of the kids is very important, and for the most part, it works here.

The script progression is believable. The family takes an understandable amount of time to come to grips with what they are dealing with (something most people would have a hard time believing for a while, before finally breaking down). There’s some good suspense. I also liked the score by Joseph Bishara, who was recently interviewed in Barry Dejasu’s SCORING HORROR column.

MA:  Yes, there were some scary bits in the soundtrack, a low undercurrent of menacing notes in just the right places.

LS:  And the acting by everyone involved, including those who play friends and neighbors, is pretty good.

MA: I dunno. That’s one problem I had with the story. I thought the dad took forever to buy into what was going on. There’s one key scene where he and his wife are arguing about it, and she’s telling him what she believes, and he tells her he refuses to go there, because the idea that aliens are involved is crazy, and I was just waiting for her to ask him the obvious question: if not aliens, what? What’s your take on all this? And of course, she doesn’t ask.

I also found the scenes with the police officer frustrating. He tells them it’s their kids, and again, I was waiting for some obvious questions, like after the scene where all their photographs disappear, and the officer again blames their kids. The frames are all still in perfect order, none of them askew, none of them looking as if they’ve even been touched- what kid is that particular when removing pictures? Wouldn’t you expect some of them to be moved this way or that, or knocked over? I just expected the parents to push a little harder with their concerns. I mean, there’s some pretty freakish stuff going on, and they let a police officer tell them it’s just their kids. I didn’t buy it.

LS: There are some good creepy moments here. And we really feel what this family is up against. Even when they get a guard dog and some guns, determined to defend their home, we know it’s not going to be an easy fight.

I give DARK SKIES, three knives. What did you think of it, Michael?

(ALIENS cheer)

ALIEN 1: Well, you could have given it a better score, but glad you didn’t trash it.

ALIEN 2: I was a creative consultant on this one!

MA: I liked it slightly less than you. In terms of characterization and set up, it worked for me. I was definitely on board with these folks.

But that’s about it. I didn’t find this one that creepy or suspenseful at all. I think part of it is what I said at the beginning of the column, that this style of filmmaking is already becoming repetitive. It didn’t do anything with the material I hadn’t seen before. To me, it played like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY “lite.”

That’s not to say I didn’t find a lot of what was going on interesting, because I did. There’s a lot going on in this story, and most of it I liked. The strange goings on at night, the birds flying into the house, the weird behaviors and marks on the family’s bodies, all of it caught my attention and held my interest. It just didn’t blow me away, mostly because it never really jumped to the next level, where I was on the edge of my seat or truly scared.

And I thought the ending was kind of dumb, the whole bit where they’re going to defend their family against the aliens, so they buy a gun, a dog, and board up their home. Who does that?

LS: How about people who are being hounded by aliens!

But really, the neighbors must think they’re bonkers!

MA:  I thought they were bonkers at this point!

LS:  Which makes me wonder about something. These people are not living in the middle of nowhere. They live in a densely populated neighborhood. Yet no one else sees these aliens attacking their house? You’d think someone would be curious about what’s going on over there, or someone would at least have insomnia and look at their house late at night. All these crazy things are happening to them, inside and outside their house, and NO ONE ELSE NOTICES?

MA: Especially after that bird scene.  I mean, it’s like a scene out of THE BIRDS (1963), and there are bird carcasses all over the place, and yet, we never see any neighbors come over and ask what’s going on or even offer words of concern or support!  What a tough neighborhood!

LS: Yeah, the neighbors only seem interested when the hazmat crew comes to collect the carcasses. They don’t even seem to be aware towards the end when aliens force their way into the house and shotguns start firing.

It’s kind of laughable, if you think about it too much. Somehow, despite this, I still enjoyed the movie.

MA: It just didn’t ring true to me.  And getting back to my point about the ending, this family has already seen what the aliens can do, and they think a gun is going to make a difference? A dog? I half expected a dark ending where their efforts would backfire and they would inadvertently hurt each other, but DARK SKIES, in spite of its title, isn’t that dark.

And could J.K. Simmons’s alien expert Edwin Pollard have been any more relaxed? He nearly put me to sleep! It’s one of the most important scenes in the movie, when they finally seek out the help of an expert, and Pollard speaks to them in such a soothing laid back voice I felt my eyelids drooping.

LS: I thought he played a guy who was just tired of fighting all the time. Someone who was weary and defeated and felt like there wasn’t a lot he could do anymore. I liked Simmons here.

MA: Don’t get me wrong.  I always like Simmons, but in this case he’s in his tiny low lit apartment sipping tea, I half expected him to start singing a lullaby.

And his help was about as effective as putting a band aid on a bullet wound!  “Aliens are studying you. Beware!” Whatever, dude. I mean, he doesn’t even offer to go to their house with them.

DARK SKIES grabbed me on an intellectual level, but it didn’t win me over on an emotional level. While I was interested throughout, I never felt all that into it. I felt like I was watching a drama about alien possession, not a thriller.

Maybe this one will play on Lifetime. I’m joking. It has more teeth than that, but barely.

I give it two and a half knives.

ALIENS: BOOOO!

MA: Quit complaining!  Two and a half knives is not much different from the rating LL gave it!

ALIEN 1: You clearly didn’t like it. You’re a jerk.

MA: I come out here in the middle of winter and cook you all up some burgers and hot dogs, and you call me a jerk?

ALIEN 2: Jerky jerk!

(The rest of the aliens start chanting “Jerky jerk” over and over)

MA: SHUT UP! That’s it. We’re done here And now that the aliens have had their fill of burgers and hot dogs, maybe we can finally eat something.

LS: Good luck with that There’s nothing left.

MA: Yeah, it’s all over the yard (turning to aliens) What’s up with you folks? Don’t you know how to eat?

ALIEN 1: Oh, we don’t eat burgers and hot dogs We just like to throw them around.

ALIEN 2: Yeah, for us, food is like toys.

ALIEN 1: Look I made a replica of the Death Star from STAR WARS out of buns!

ALIEN 2: Cool!

MA: Thanks for telling us! What a waste of food!

ALIEN 2: But it’s so much fun!

ALIEN 1: And you know what’s even more fun than throwing food around? Stomping on it!

(Aliens jump and down, stomping, hooting, and howling, as MA & LS walk away shaking their heads.)

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares

Michael Arruda gives DARK SKIES ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives DARK SKIES ~three knives.

Scoring Horror Presents: An Interview with JOSEPH BISHARA

Posted in 2013, 70s Horror, Aliens, Barry Dejasu Columns, Compelling Cinema, Demons, Evil Spirits, Indie Horror, Music for Film, Occult, Outer Space, Paranormal, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks with tags , , , , , , on February 13, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
AN INTERVIEW WITH JOSEPH BISHARA
By Barry Lee Dejasu

There’s a sound for everything, including fear.  Not everyone can hear those sounds, but for musical composers such as Joseph Bishara, it’s the very realm of inspiration.

Joseph Bishara

Joseph Bishara

A veteran of genre films since the late 1990s, Mr. Bishara’s work includes the scores to The Gravedancers (2006), the Night of the Demons remake (2009), and Darren Lynn Bousman’s 11-11-11 (2011).  He also served as producer on the soundtrack to REPO! The Genetic Opera (2008).

Mr. Bishara also made a bit of a splash in the horror scene with 2010’s Insidious, a tale of creeping menace from director James Wan (Saw, 2004 and Dead Silence, 2007).  With appropriately eerie musical touches, Mr. Bishara’s presence was heard—but he also took on another responsibility, namely acting, on-screen, as a scarlet-faced demon lurking in the shadows.

InsidiousUKPoster

Something unique for you amongst other composers is that you’ve appeared on-screen in the very movie you were scoring.  How did that come about?

Basically, James just asked me to do it one day, hanging out on a friend’s film set.  For some reason, he seemed to think it’d be a good thing.  It was a good experience.  It definitely was a fun thing to do.

Joseph Bishara as the INSIDIOUS demon.

Joseph Bishara as the INSIDIOUS demon.

Will you be involved in the recently-announced sequel to Insidous?

Yes, I’ll be involved.

What do you think was the most influential film upon your work?

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) was an early influence on me; I first saw it on Super 8 film; I was probably eight years old.  That really stuck in my head, that imagery always really got to me.  The visual and sonic and whatever (other) creative stuff bleeds together into something that can affect things musically.

What was your first instance of noticing sound and music in movies?

Hmm.  I don’t know if I can recall the first, but I can definitely think of some early instances where my mind was pretty blown.  Some of the first sounds that really compelled me were the early synth sounds; Tangerine Dream, that kind of stuff.  I remember seeing Liquid Sky (1982), and thinking that one really stood out as like, “Holy shit, this is different, this is…wow.”  (laughs)  It’s this kind of off-beat little… New-York-alien-drugs-synth-heroin movie.  It’s worth a look (if you haven’t seen it).  Some really interesting synth work in that.  It’s a really unique electronic sound.

LiquidSkyPosterWould you say there’s a sort of “signature” to your sound?

It’s probably more audible to others than myself; I don’t really think about it too much.  It’s more of a feeling-response for these kinds of things.  It’s not really a… I’m sure something comes up that someone else might be able to point to; you could probably tell that better than I could.

What are some older/classic movie scores you’re into, or were influenced by?

I love the Howard Shore score to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983); I think it’s fantastic, I love that, and Scanners (1981).  I loved that whole wave of Cronenberg films.  It’s just such a rich collaboration.

When you’re watching a movie that you’re working on, how does the score come to you?

I think I’m fortunate enough to get started on projects pretty early.  I’m usually thinking about projects from just talking about it or at script stage; it’s been pretty cool to work that way.  It can start anywhere.  Instrumentation is what seems to come to me first.  It can come off of anything in there; even a frequency range or a pitch; maybe it’s a way of the light that everything’ll grow out of.  The first exposure to the material you’ll get these splinters that stick (and) they grow into tumors, I guess, or something (laughs).

In a film like Insidious, so much silence is used to help set the mood or create tension.  How much input do you have about using silence?

That does come up, and I voice my opinion there with James; but we’re on the same page when it comes to being okay with a lot of quiet.  I like extreme dynamics; it sounds right to me.  I kind of like hearing things that are barely there.  It’s the kind of thing that the tendency is when something is quiet, (someone will want) to turn it up—but it’s like, “No-no-no, it’s quiet like that for a reason.”  It’s the finding attention to these little things that— It’s part of the palette, I guess, having the full range from barely-there to extremely loud.

This year also sees the release of Dark Skies, from director Scott Stewart (Priest, 2011 & Legion, 2009).  When you were watching the early cuts of Dark Skies, which musical/thematic approach did you have in mind, and what did you wind up creating? 

From the script, one overall idea that stood out was that of a stripping away of familiar context.  It became a fast process of getting into the energies and finding it, taking in the concepts and talking with Scott.  He was looking for a motivic, rather than thematic, approach, and that informed the composition process.

Unrecognizable sets of sounds comprise the palette, along with crystal bowls and an ensemble of viola, cello, and bassoon.

DarkSkiesPosterAnd how about with The Conjuring?

For whatever reason, I was hearing a brass clustering pretty early in response to the stuff.  Somehow, I just really wanted to hear this really quiet shimmering flutter-tongue brass effect.  For some reason, that’s what I was hearing; it started with that, and kind of grew from that.  It won’t be until (this) summer, but it’ll be out there soon.

Patrick Wilson, Vera Farminga, Lili Taylor, & Ron Livingston in THE CONJURING.

Patrick Wilson, Vera Farminga, Lili Taylor, & Ron Livingston in THE CONJURING.

What are some other projects in the works for you?

(I’ll be) starting up Chapter 2 of The Devil’s Carnival (2012).  I’m not scoring, but I produce the music.  I did REPO! The Genetic Opera, and The Devil’s Carnival, so now there’s the second part of that.  I’m starting that very shortly here, so that’s going to probably (take up) the next little while.

What are some movies you’ve enjoyed recently?
Off the top of my head… There’s the Maniac remake (2012), A Serbian Film (2010), and Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present (2012).

With any number of movies in various stages of production, if you had dibs on them all, which ones would you “jump at” the most?  For instance, there’s the new Star Wars movie…

I probably wouldn’t be a very good choice for that.  (laughs) I would make time for anything Lars von Trier was involved with, same for Gaspar Noé.  The Funhouse (1981) is a film I’ve always enjoyed, (and so) if a remake happens, I would be interested to see where it goes.

Would you use any unusual instruments or other approaches, if you had free range to do whatever you wanted, musically?

Probably.   I don’t think about it (in terms of) unusual instruments; there’s nothing really unusual in there to me, it’s just kind of whatever it is.  That said, I do enjoy experimenting with things, in finding the sounds that things make, whether (it’s their) intended purpose or not, or even with some more experimental art instruments.  There are some pretty radical electronics engineers out there with pretty neat art instruments that generate some pretty neat sounds.

If you had full freedom to do so, what are some already-existing movies you would want to newly score?
Wow, um…  Hmm.  That’s such an exercise to even think about.  As far as what I would bring to something, it would more be purely for enjoyment, I would think. It would be (less of) a creative thing, it would be more for fun.

I’ve been drawn to making a Cabinet of Dr. Caligari score; that wouldn’t really be replacing a score, since it was silent.  That was something I always wanted to do one day.

Nosferatu (1922), that would be cool. Any of the striking-visual stuff, just because that’s fun stuff. Santa Sangre (1989) definitely. How could you look at something like that and not have something to throw out (musically)? Häxan (1922) I could get into. Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) definitely.

What music is out there now, be it popular or underground, that you enjoy (and may or may not influence your work)?

I like constantly listening to new stuff.  It really kind of comes and goes in waves.  It can be an electronic wave, which’ll go into a black metal wave, which’ll go into…some other weird genre metal stuff wave, and then back into ambient, and there’ll be a lot of variety.  These days, there’s a band called Crossover, they do some pretty cool stuff.  This guy Daniel Knox, a singer-songwriter, amazing.  I did just pick up this thing recently called Botanist; it’s basically black metal with a hammered dulcimer; pretty interesting sound.

What is it about horror, and genre films in general, that you’re so drawn to?

I don’t know if I can really answer that.  It’s just kind of…  It’s where I’m drawn, it’s what feels right.  It holds my interest.  I’m generally drawn to darker material.  It’s what I like.  I’ve always enjoyed horror and more extreme cinemas; that’s just what I like to watch.  That’s kind of the world I like to live in.

Mr. Bishara was very much into his INSIDIOUS character during the interview.

Mr. Bishara was very much into his INSIDIOUS character during the interview.

Dark Skies opens February 22nd.

The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter Two open this summer.

And to learn more about Joseph Bishara, go to his site.

Interview © Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou looks into THE HYPNOTIC EYE (1960)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1960s Horror, 2012, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Hypnotic Horror, Kinky Killers, Mutilation, Paranormal, Sexy Stars with tags , , , , on December 6, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

THE HYPNOTIC EYE (1960)

hypnoticposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Oh, Allison Hayes, how I adore thee.  I sang your praises earlier this year in the gloriously campy voodoo-fest, THE DISEMBODIED (1957), and I am compelled to return to your side with 1960’s exploitation / trash classic THE HYPNOTIC EYE.  You are not the main attraction in this gruesome-for-its-time sickie, but your performance as Justine stands out among the others like a rose in a cesspool.

Actually, THE HYPNOTIC EYE is a fun little drive-in feature with a twisted plot that probably stunned audiences right out of their rumble seats.  Directed by television vet George Blair (who directed hundreds of episodes of such fare as THE GENE AUTRY SHOW, RACKET SQUAD, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, CASEY JONES, and WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE), the film zips along swiftly with bursts of yucky violence and real live hypnotism demonstrations.  In fact, many of the actresses who performed in the film were actually mesmerized by an off-stage hypnotist and told what to do by the director using trigger words.  Thus, a feeling of real trances and surrealism suffuses the film, although I’m not certain the poor actresses couldn’t have performed just as well using actual acting skillsThe movie was even advertised as being filmed in Hypnomagic, a gimmick to get more seats filled in theaters, in which you – the audience—would actually be hypnotized while watching THE HYPNOTIC EYE.  It didn’t work on me, but perhaps the population was more susceptible back then.

The film starts on a shockingly sick note, when a black lingerie-wearing woman drying her hair over an open burner on a stove shoves her head down until her hair catches fire.  Instead of putting it out, she stands in her kitchen, screaming, unable to move while the hair on her head burns like Nic Cage in GHOST RIDER(2007).  This whole scene is witnessed through the burner, the flames dancing around the edges of the screen, the camera lurking within the stove.  Her entire head is wrapped in bandages and detective Dave Kennedy (played by Joe Partridge of many of George Blair’s TV shows) walks in and asks the doc, “Another self-inflicted mutilation?”  Under questioning, the woman admits she put her hair in the flame on purpose and then promptly dies.  Det. Kennedy expositions that eleven women have mutilated themselves with straight razors they thought were lipsticks or by sticking their heads into fans they thought were vibrators (what?).  So far, it’s all been unexplained.

This lady's got a hot new hairdo in the opening scene of THE HYPNOTIC EYE!

This lady’s got a hot new hairdo in the opening scene of THE HYPNOTIC EYE!

But life isn’t all mutilation and death for Kennedy.  That evening, he takes his girlfriend Marcia (played by Marcia Henderson of RIOT IN JUVENILE PRISON, 1959 and THE WAYWARD GIRL, 1957) on a date to see a popular hypnotist, Desmond (played by Jacques Bergerac of GIGI, 1958 and LES GIRLS, 1957; he was also the fourth husband of Ginger Rogers).  He makes a subject hot, then cold, then turns him into a very bad, mean dog!  There’s nothing like humiliating volunteers in front of a wildly applauding audience.  For his final demonstration, he gets three lovely women volunteers…and there is his assistant, Justine, played by the wonderful Allison Hayes in a hot sequenced outfit!  She helps him pick out the three prettiest women in the audience.  Dodie, a girl who came with the detective and his girlfriend, is one of the volunteers.  Dodie is played by the lovely Merry Anders (TICKLE ME, 1965, THE TIME TRAVELERS, 1964), and she is hypnotized by Desmond, and she actually levitates on stage under his French-accented instructions.  “Ladies and gentlemen…gravity defied!”  Det. Kennedy insists it’s all a trick of misdirection, although his girlfriend Marcia is thrilled.

The hypnotic Jacques Bergerac as Desmond.

The hypnotic Jacques Bergerac as Desmond.

Dodie doesn’t remember anything that happened onstage, and she rushes off after the show to the back entrance.  In a hypnotic state, she stares at a poster of Desmond then goes home where she fills a sink with boiling water and sulfuric acid and washes her face in it, melting away her skin and becoming the twelfth victim.  She survives, but is hospitalized and must be covered in paraffin, since her skin is burned away.  Det. Kennedy and Marcia visit her, and she admits that she remembered going home and washing her face but nothing else.  She knows she did it to herself, but she didn’t feel any pain at the time.

Det. Kennedy goes to a call and drops Marcia off at the theater where Desmond is performing, since she wants to see the show again.  Under Justine’s subtle direction, Desmond chooses, of course, Marcia.  She is the new subject for the levitation trick!  After the show, she tells Kennedy that Desmond is no fake, but that she faked being hypnotized and Desmond whispered in her ear that she wouldn’t remember anything except that she was to go back to his dressing room at midnight.  So, accompanied by Kennedy and his friend, a psychiatrist, she goes back to Desmond’s lair and plays along.

Once in his dressing room, she really is put under his spell by a blinking electronic eye thingie.  He tells her to get up and go to dinner with him.  He asks her address, and she tells him, while Allison Hayes lurks behind the corners, obviously bitter about the situation.  Desmond escorts Marcia to a nice restaurant, and her bodyguards sit at another table in case Desmond tries anything.  Then, they go to a way-crazy-man beat club for coffee and jazz.  So far, it’s a pretty great date.  Then, an old man in a beret screams “I have just written a poem.  Confessions Of A Movie Addict Or The Holy Barbarian Blues.  I was a teenaged movie monster.  I cut my teeth on Clara Bow…”  He goes on to recite the entire damn poem to bongo accompaniment.  He should’ve just called the poem “We Need Padding.  So Here Is Filler.”  Groovy, man, groovy.  Desmond dances with Marcia amongst the beat cats and chicks, which gets Kennedy all hot and bothered.  While dancing, Desmond whispers in Marcia’s ear, then he escorts her home and the detective waits outside while old Desmond makes out with his girl.  After a few minutes, the door opens, and Justine steps into the room.  She tells Desmond, “There isn’t much time.”  Justine makes Marcia go further down under.  Desmond asks, “How many more?”  Justine replies, “As long as there are faces like this.”  She then instructs Marcia to get ready for bed and she turns on the shower for her, making the water scalding hot.  What kind of plumbing does she have that the water is boiling hot in the shower?  Marcia strips while Justine orders her into the “cool, cool shower”.  At that moment, Dave Kennedy knocks on her door, interrupting the mutilation.

Allison Hayes as the mysterious Justine.

Allison Hayes as the mysterious Justine.

At the door, Justine informs Dave she’s a friend from school, visiting Marcia, but Marcia went to public school, and that just throws a monkey wrench into Justine’s plans.  But Marcia remains in a hypnotic state that can be triggered at any time.  It does make her act like a sex kitten, however.  Of course, big dumb lunkhead Dave still doesn’t get the connection between Desmond and the mutilated girls and Justine.  With cops like him, it’s a wonder any case ever gets solved in the city.  Justine, certainly a suspicious character, disappears out the fire escape.  Whoops!  Lost another suspect.

The psychiatrist friend is found in the morning playing classical piano in a smoking jacket with a white dog lying atop the piano!  He tries to explain the whole thing to dim-bulb Dave, but Dave is still in the dark.  They go to visit the first victim, the woman who stuck her face into an electric fan.  She says she has never been hypnotized.  Other victims confirm they were never hypnotized or saw the stage show.  However, it is soon discovered they are all lying (under post-hypnotic suggestion).  They have all been to see the show.

What is the strange relationship between Desmond and Justine?  Why is Justine causing the hypnotized ladies to mutilate themselves?  The answer is right out of a twist ending in a Scooby Doo cartoon.  It’s both ridiculous and horrifying at the same time, and it provides the lovely Ms. Hayes to really strut her stuff and chew the scenery.

THE HYPNOTIC EYE barrels along at a clipped pace for a brief 79 minutes, giving the viewer no time to discredit its hole-filled plot.  It’s hard to dislike the movie; it really pulls out all the stops to entertain.  It even contains a whole scene where Desmond looks right into the camera and hypnotizes the viewer in the movie audience!  There are beautiful women who are turned into monsters in various terrible ways through very good make-up effects created by Emile LaVigne, who created make-up for such great films as WEST SIDE STORY (1961), SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) and THE DISEMBODIED (1957).  I wonder if Allison Hayes had him as her favorite make-up artist?    There are the dumbest cops of all time and damsels in distress.  The acting is good enough for this sort of thing, but the crisp photography by Archie Dalzell, who photographed LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS the same year, and also shot THE TRIP (1967), FIVE DESPERATE WOMEN (1971) and EBONY, IVORY, AND JADE (1979), makes it all pop.

Plus, where else will you hear the great line, “If you like my beautiful face so much, you can have it!”

I command you to see THE HYPNOTIC EYE!  I command you to get the restored copy from Warner Archive!  I command it!

I give THE HYPNOTIC EYE three burning heads out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

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!