Archive for the Psychic Powers Category

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

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.


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

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



Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Bizarro Movies, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Dark Comedies, ESP, Fun Stuff!, Heightened Abilities, Highly Stylized Films, Just Plain Fun, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Monsters, Plot Twists, Psychic Powers, Something Different, Twisted, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2013 by knifefighter

By L.L. Soares (with a guest appearance by Michael Arruda)


(THE SCENE: An all-night Chinese restaurant at midnight. DAVID WONG —looking a lot like actor Chase Williamson—sits in a booth. MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES enter and sit down across from him)

WONG: I didn’t think you’d make it.

LS: We’re professionals. Of course we made it.

WONG: Did anyone follow you?

MA: No, I made sure to drive erratically to throw anyone off our trail.

LS: You drove like that on purpose?

MA: Of course I did.

LS: Yeah, sure.

WONG: Enough of your bickering. I only have a limited time to tell you all about the soy sauce and the creatures from another dimension and the remarkable Dr. Albert Marconi.

LS: No need. We just saw the movie. We’re all up to date.

WONG: Are you sure? Did you watch the right movie?

LS: Of course we did!

MA: Calm down. Why don’t you tell him what you saw?

LS: Okay, sure. The movie JOHN DIES AT THE END is the tale of David Wong, who looked just like you…

(WONG nods)

LS: Wong is in a restaurant, just like this one, telling his tale to a reporter named Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti). It’s about how he was pulled into a secret plan to save the Earth, along with his friend John (Rob Mayes), who sings in a punk rock band called Three Armed Sally.

Wong’s story begins with a chance meeting with a Jamaican guy at a party named Robert Marley, who tells David several things he should not know. Later that night, or rather the next morning at 3am, David is awoken by a call from his friend John, begging for help. He goes to help John battle some supernatural baddies and then ends up in a police station where a detective tells him that the night before, a bunch of people went to the trailer of a certain Robert Marley after a party and four are missing, the rest are dead, and John is a suspect. David has no clue what is going on, but a phone call from John (that was made the night before but just reaches him now) tells him he needs to get out of there. But he has to fight a man who appears to be a cop (but isn’t) first.

To explain beyond this (early) point would be kind of pointless. JOHN DIES AT THE END isn’t that kind of linear, straight-forward movie that caters to an easy synopsis. Suffice to say that David Wong goes on an adventure that involves a girl named Amy (Fabianne Therese) who has one prosthetic hand, her dog Bark Lee, Dave’s friend Fred (Jimmy Wong), a white rapper wannabe named Justin White (Jonny Weston), the world-famous magician Dr. Marconi (Clancy Brown), and John, who dies early on in the movie, but doesn’t exactly stay dead.

The catalyst for all this is a drug called “soy sauce” (because that’s what it looks like). When you take it, either it creates vivid hallucinations or opens your mind to realities we aren’t normally aware of. I’m not saying which. It’s also alive and when ingested it either kills you, or uses you for its own purposes. And those purposes ultimately involve a plot by people in an alternate world who worship a living machine called Korrok (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson), and their desire to enter our plane of existence and make our world like theirs—a horrible place that lives only to serve Korrok.

The movie was based on the novel by David Wong…

(WONG nods)

LS: …this is getting a little confusing.

The movie is pretty good. mainly because you’re never sure what is going to happen next. I liked the fast, witty repartee in this one, and the rapid-fire pacing. A lot of times critics compare certain movies to amusement park rides, like roller coasters, but this movie lives up to the comparison.

It was directed by the great Don Coscarelli, who also gave us the classic PHANTASM (1979), THE BEASTMASTER (1982) and BUBBA HO-TEP (2002), and he does another cracker jack job here, bringing the novel to life.

The cast is pretty solid. I liked Chase Williamson as Wong a lot, he was a strong central character here…

(WONG nods)

LS: And the great Paul Giamatti rarely gives a bad performance. He’s good here, too, but his character is mostly around so Wong can tell him his story (and in the process, tell us). Rob Mayes, who plays John, might be familiar to some people from TV shows like the new version of 90210 and THE CLIENT LIST. And Clancy Brown, as the all-powerful Marconi, has been in tons of stuff from THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BONZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984) to THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) to STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997) and lots of television shows. I thought he was especially good in the sadly short-lived HBO series CARNIVALE (2003 – 2005), where he played Brother Justin Crowe.

Other recognizable faces include Angus Scrimm (the “Tall Man” from the PHANTASM movies) as a priest named Father Shellnut. And Doug Jones—mostly known for roles where he’s not so recognizable, including Abe Sapien in the HELLBOY movies, the Faun and the Pale Man from PAN’S LABYRINTH, 2006, and the Silver Surfer in FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, 2007—plays a strange alien being named Roger North.

The cast is really good and the story gives us a good mix of thrills and laughs. The sheer unpredictable nature of the movie is what makes it so unique and enjoyable. Not everything is perfect—but for the most part I thought it worked really well. I give it three knives. People should check this one out.

WONG: Just three, huh?

LS: Errr…Tell him what you thought of it, Michael?

MA: I didn’t see it.

LS: What are you talking about? Of course you saw it. You were telling me all about it in the ride up here.

MA: Sorry. You must be mistaken.

(MA begins to make strange noises)

WONG: I think there’s something wrong with your friend.

(MA suddenly turns into a gooey monster with writhing tentacles)

LS: That wasn’t Michael at all! I’ve been tricked!

(WONG pulls out a gun and blasts the creature, which disintegrates.)

LS: Whew. That was a close call.

WONG: Your mission has been compromised. They’re on to us.

LS: I guess that means I better leave, huh?

WONG: Do what you want, but I’m out of here.

(WONG disappears)

LS: Wow. Neat trick.

(LS waves waitress over and lifts a menu)

LS: I’ll have number 4 and number 15 to go, and make it quick. Okay?

WAITRESS: Right away, sir.

LS (to audience): Well, at least this wasn’t a total loss.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives JOHN DIES AT THE END ~three knives.

Me and Lil’ Stevie Get Lost in THE DEAD ZONE (1983)

Posted in 2012, 80s Horror, David Cronenberg, ESP, Killers, Me and Lil' Stevie, Near-Death Experiences, Peter Dudar Reviews, Psychic Powers, Stephen King Movies, Supernatural, Thrillers with tags , , , , , on August 7, 2012 by knifefighter

Me And Lil’ Stevie
Get Lost In
By Peter N. Dudar

(Exterior: Night. Establishing shot of a gazebo on a lakeside park. Camera slowly zooms toward the gazebo, where a grizzly scene is taking place. We see a young girl being charmed by a stranger into thinking she’s safe, until the stranger pulls her close and produces a set of medical scissors, which he handily uses to stab the girl repeatedly. While this is occurring, there is another figure huddled in the far corner of the gazebo watching all of this take place. As the camera zooms in, we see the figure is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King).

Lil’ Stevie: This is terrible! Somebody should do something about this!

Peter: Welcome, Constant Viewer, to another episode of ME AND LIL’ STEVIE. Today, we’ll be examining the 1983 David Cronenberg film, THE DEAD ZONE.

Lil’ Stevie: Which, I’ll have you know, is based on my 1979 novel…My FIRST book to reach #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. Ka-Chow! Who’s your daddy?

Peter: It also happens to be the first Castle Rock story. Fans of Stephen King are already aware that Castle Rock is King’s signature fictional town; the Norman Rockwell-esque portrait of Everywhere, USA. Castle Rock and its characters transition over several other novels and short stories, including CUJO and NEEDFUL THINGS. But for now, let’s just focus on THE DEAD ZONE (1983), and the tragic tale of Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken, SLEEPY HOLLOW, 1999). Johnny is a school teacher in Castle Rock, living a perfect, happy life with his plans to marry his sweetheart, fellow schoolteacher Sarah Bracknell (Brooke Adams, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, 1978). The movie begins with a glimpse of the young couple finishing off their Friday at school, only to slip off on a date to a local amusement park to ride the roller coaster.

Lil’ Stevie: What the hell is going on with Walken’s hair? He looks like the goofiest nerd you ever saw. What a Poindexter! Nobody on the planet would believe a hot chick like Brooke Adams would fall for him.

Peter: No argument here. Walken, fresh from THE DEER HUNTER (1978), is geeked out to the max with his goofy hair and glasses. But he and Sarah look very happy together and very much in love, which is exactly what King and Cronenberg want to convey. That’s the essence of this tragic tale…that fate can be so cruel to one man that everything he loves will be carried away, until the only thing he can tangibly call his own is his privacy, and he can’t even have that after his accident.

Lil’ Stevie: You mean he wets his pants?

(Peter hauls off and slaps Lil’ Stevie, forcing his wooden head to spin around comically on his body).

Lil’ Stevie: What’d you do THAT for?

Peter: You know very well what I meant by “accident.” Johnny and Sarah ride the roller coaster, and in the middle of the ride, he begins to feel a terrible pain in his head. His little joyride gives a touch of foreshadowing of what is to come. The ride is quickly over, and Johnny takes Sarah home. A rainstorm comes out of nowhere, just as he is kissing Sarah goodnight. Sarah offers to let him stay the night, wants him to not go home, but the unusually prudish Johnny tells her that “some things are worth waiting for” before kissing her one last time and heading back to his car…and driving off to meet his true destiny.

Lil’ Stevie: Time-out! In my novel, Johnny’s “destiny” actually begins way back during his childhood, when he fell and bumped his head on this frozen lake we’re standing beside, and had his first bout with extra-sensory perception. If you’ll recall the whole “Wheel of Fortune” incident at the beginning of the book…

Peter: Calm yourself, Lil’ Stevie. As always, we’re not concerned with the book. Your point is duly noted, but the movie is self-sustaining as it is. For us, Johnny’s “gift” is revealed after his accident while driving home in the rainstorm. An 18-wheeler, piloted by a sleepy driver, provides all the bad luck that destiny can throw at him. Johnny’s car crashes into it, and he is consequently plunged into a five-year coma. When he awakens five years later at the Weizak Clinic, he’s lost and confused. He’s baffled over the fact that there’s not a scratch on him, until his parents and his doctor, Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom, Chief Inspector Dreyfus from THE PINK PANTHER films) break the news to him that he was asleep for all that time.

Lil’ Stevie: And that everything he had is now gone. “Sarah’s turned her back on ya…she now cleaves to another man, a husband” his rabidly Christian mother informs him.

Peter: Yeah, what the hell is up with that? Nobody talks like that. It sounds so silly it’s almost irritating. That’s one of my bugaboos about this near-perfect movie: There’s some very bad dialogue in some of the scenes that left me wishing I could rewrite the screenplay. But it’s forgivable. What King is trying to convey is that Johnny’s mother is, indeed, a stern Christian woman.

Lil’ Stevie: It doesn’t quite build the same level of conflict I was trying to create in my novel. I was going for the whole “ESP as a blessing and a curse” vibe.

Peter: Again, it’s not necessary for the movie. We already get that through the tragedy of Johnny losing his love, and the psychic episodes he’s about to begin having, that leave him feeling like a part of him is dying. His first episode comes in the form of a vision he has when one of the nurses tries to comfort him. He sees her daughter huddled in the corner of her burning bedroom. The vision is striking, with Johnny stretched out in the little girl’s bed, watching the flames quickly consuming the house as the little girl screams out in terror. Windows break. The fishbowl boils over until it, too, shatters. Even the bed Johnny is lying in has flames growing off the blankets. It’s frightening and intense, and when it ends, Johnny screams at the nurse that “It’s not too late!” And, of course, the scene continues with the nurse pulling up outside her burning house, just as the firemen carry her daughter out, alive and badly frightened.

Lil’ Stevie: See? It’s a gift!

Peter: But it’s a gift that he doesn’t want. Or understands just yet. The REAL Stephen King is fascinated with psychic phenomena. We’ve already witnessed it with CARRIE (1976), and will see it again later in FIRESTARTER (1984). I think it’s the same appeal that many folks have with superhero stories; where the average person (or the “nobody”) has their world turned upside down with supernatural powers and abilities. THE DEAD ZONE almost feels like an allegory, only the hero never preoccupies himself with using this ability to better his own lot in life. Johnny draws a parallel between himself and Ichabod Crane from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” about being “a bachelor and in debt to no one, nobody troubled their head about him.” “It’s what I want,” Johnny concludes, meaning a life of anonymity.

Lil’ Stevie: And that’s the curse. Once people hear about his psychic episode, they all want his help for their own selfish, personal reasons.

Peter: And that includes Sheriff George Bannerman (Tom Skerritt, ALIEN, 1979). Sheriff Bannerman shows up at Johnny’s home and asks for help in tracking down the Castle Rock Killer, who has been murdering young girls during the five years he was in a coma. Which is what brings us here to this gazebo.

Lil’ Stevie: I could have very easily made this the focus of my novel. The Castle Rock Killer is both frightening and intriguing.

Peter: Yes, but its Johnny’s story. If you look at how this movie is presented, it doesn’t appear to be laid out in a three-act play. Rather, it’s broken down into smaller sub-chapters that run consecutively. Each of his “episodes” plays out like a self-contained television show. The Castle Rock Killer is only one small portion of the complete story. The same with Johnny’s episode with his student, Chris Stuart (Simon Craig, CONCRETE ANGELS, 1987), where he has a vision that Chris and some of his friends will fall through the ice and drown…a fate that Johnny slowly begins to realize he has the power to change.

Lil’ Stevie: And this ability is what gives this story a title. THE DEAD ZONE is the part of the psychic visions where the outcome is not certain. It’s a blind spot, and that blind spot is that place where Johnny can alter the outcome. The whole “Wheel of Fortune” thing I mentioned earlier isn’t just a carnival game that Johnny wins thanks to his psychic ability. It’s a metaphor for life. Johnny’s gift is that he can interfere with the “Wheel of Fortune” as it spins.

Peter: Okay, that’s kind of deep. But again, we don’t need the metaphor on the big screen. Whatever exposition we need comes through in the action parts of this movie. And in the moments of dialogue between Johnny and Dr. Weizak.

(From somewhere nearby, we hear the sound of a brass band playing patriotic songs. A crowd has gathered in what looks to be a political rally).

Peter: What the hell is going on over there?

Lil’ Stevie: That’s the final piece of this puzzle. Greg Stillson is running for the US Senate. Of course, Stillson (Martin Sheen, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, 2012) is just as deranged and dangerous as the Castle Rock Killer, only in a much grander fashion. By way of a huge coincidence, Dr. Weizak had his life hugely altered by the Holocaust, where he was separated from his mother during the raid of their European town by the Nazis. We all know the historical significance of Hitler’s reign. And through a vision Johnny has while shaking Stillson’s hand, we see that Stillson will one day achieve the office of the President of the United States, and will ultimately start a nuclear war.

Peter: Yeah, Sheen is terrific as the evil Greg Stillson. And when all the pieces of this puzzle are in place, we see Johnny finally realizing that what he thought was a curse is actually a gift. The morality behind Johnny’s character and all the struggles he’s endured since his accident are what make this story so effectively compelling. John Smith isn’t a superhero, but he is a hero for the everyday man, in the struggle of good versus evil. Where Cronenberg shines as a director is utilizing the psychological portions of the story to display how Johnny evolves as a human being. There are times when his psychic gift feels more like a terminal disease, or at least a terrible weight that Johnny has to carry. The emotional blows to his life, and the permanent limp that handicaps him, begin to seem trivial compared to the weight of having to decide if he should give up his own life to save the world. It’s just excellent storytelling.

Lil’ Stevie: And in the end, this still comes across as one of the most faithful adaptations of my work, even if they DID cut back and compress everything about Johnny’s childhood.

Peter: (Rolling eyes), I keep telling you…YOU didn’t write anything.

Lil’ Stevie: I knew you were going to say that.

Peter: Would you shut up so we can wrap this up?

Lil’ Stevie: I knew you were going to say that, too.

Peter: What makes this movie stand out in terms of good, successful adaptations is both the excellent screenplay by Jeffrey Boam and Cronenberg’s fiercely unyielding vision as a director. Cronenberg’s oeuvre as a filmmaker is nothing short of impeccable. SCANNERS (1981), VIDEODROME (1983), THE FLY (1986), and A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005) are all amazing, disturbing films. What Cronenberg offers with THE DEAD ZONE really underscores the beauty beneath the tragedy. It is a story of unrequited love, and of ultimate sacrifice in the name of love. And it’s accomplished in bursts of violence and darkness and death. I loved this movie, and would put it in my Top 5 Stephen King adaptations.

Lil’ Stevie: It’s amazing what a difference a competent director can make. With no popcorn-scares and no CGI, THE DEAD ZONE is dark and disturbing and atmospheric.

Peter: What’s also amazing is how much this particular title has become a part of our pop culture. Like with cell phones, when we drop a call because we somehow wandered into a DEAD ZONE. They even use it in commercials.

Lil’ Stevie: Not to mention THE DEAD ZONE was also adapted into the cult fan-favorite television show of the same name (2002 – 2007), starring that goofy kid from SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984).

Peter: Long Duk Dong?

Lil’ Stevie: No, the other goofy kid…Anthony Michael Hall.

Peter: Of course, horror fans will also recognize the title of Bev Vincent’s column NOTES FROM THE ZONE, which runs in Cemetery Dance Magazine, and deals with the life and fiction of Stephen King. And Mainers will recognize the call-letters, WZON, the radio station OWNED by Stephen King.

Lil’ Stevie: It’s everywhere!

Peter: I knew you’d say that.

Lil’ Stevie: Cut it out!

Peter: I knew you’d say that, too.

Lil’ Stevie: You’re really annoying.

Peter: Yep…You’re almost predictable.

(Lil’ Stevie whistles over to the Castle Rock Killer, who is kneeling down next to the dead girl on the gazebo floor).

Lil’ Stevie: Hey, Frank…My friend here says you kill young girls because you’re impotent and you like dressing in your Mommy’s underwear.

(Frank stands up and turns his scissors towards Peter).

Peter: Oops…Well, folks, thanks for joining us. See you next time.

The End

© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar