THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is a cross between existentialism, science, and religion, all mixed up in one of the eeriest haunted houses you'll ever walk inside.
What happens after Karen Black & Oliver Reed get stuck living in a haunted house?
The House by the Cemetery. 1981. Directed by Lucio Fulci. Screenplay by Lucio Fulci/Giorgio Mariuzzo/Dardano Sacchetti, from a story by Elisa Livia Briganti.
Starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Anioa Pieroni, Giovannia Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Giovanni De Nava, Daniela Dora, Gianpaolo Saccarola and Carlo De Mejo. Fulvia Film. Rated R. 87 minutes.
I came to Lucio Fulci about ten years ago, after seeing City of the Living Dead. His classic look, the effects, an insanely nasty sense of style – how could I not enjoy his films? After that one, I found The Beyond, which is tied with A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin as my favourite of his work. So I made my way through everything by him I could find. Though his movies aren’t perfect, I find them perfect for me, for horror. They’re not full of grand metaphor, they aren’t even particularly complex in plot. What Fulci offers is a visually pleasing aesthetic, crossed with the brutal qualities of his own personal horror movie madness.
The House by the Cemetery isn’t his best, though, it’s nowhere near his worst. While many might have you believe it’s overrated, or that it’s “typical Fulci”, I say that’s nonsense. Especially those who think it’s “typical” of him – what’s wrong with typical Fulci? He’s a classic horror filmmaker, his style is all his own. Added to that, there are always solid gore effects, you can count on that. This film has all the earmarks of Fulci with a bit of inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft and other sources.
Essentially, this is Fulci’s version of the haunted house horror.
Norman and Lucy Boyle (Paolo Malco/Catriona MacColl), along with their young boy Bob (Giovanni Frezza), move into a home belonging to a colleague of Norman’s who committed suicide; he plans on researching the house itself, as well as the other previous owners. Soon enough, Bob sees a young girl named Mae (Silvia Collatina), but only he can see her. She tries to warn him of the danger in the house. No one will believe him, certainly not his mother. Eventually a woman comes to take the position of babysitter for Bob – Ann (Ania Pieroni) shows up out of nowhere for the job.
Things slowly get scarier in the old house, as Norma and Lucy discover a Dr. Freudstein once lived in their new home, around the turn of the century. He was a Victorian era doctor who performed illegal surgeries and experiments. This leads to more gruesome discoveries around the property, as the past comes alive and tears its way into the present.
When the movie’s filmed in English, yet still dubbed in post-production for some odd reason, you can’t expect it to be an outright masterpiece. Can you? No. So, when you watch The House by the Cemetery I’m not saying you’ll be blown away by all the technical aspects. Nor am I saying the story makes perfect and complete sense. Not in the slightest. What I am saying is that Fulci manages to do excitingly eerie things with atmosphere, as well as the fact he does his best to include some proper gore to wet the whistle of all those gore hounds out there.
My favourite part of this film is that atmosphere. The overall tone is grim. There’s something common to Fulci, I think. Every movie feels hopeless, not an ounce of actual happiness and figurative light manages to make its way into these stories he tells. Which is perfect for horror, and why I’m always inclined to enjoy so many of his films. The House by the Cemetery has the pretense of having those happier moments in the beginning, but the immediacy in Fulci’s presentation of the horror going on inside the house sets the tone quickly. It reminds me of how George Romero starts Day of the Dead with that neat, brief little dream sequence; sets us on edge from the start, almost like a visual manifesto. From there, Fulci works on us with his imagery alongside an unusual and exciting score from Walter Rizzati. The aesthetic of the film is, again, very Fulci.
I mean, even the scene where Norman (Paolo Malco) gets attacked by a bat becomes something intensely horrific. It latches onto his hand for what seems like ages. Finally, after a tough wrestle with it as everyone watches in horror, Norman stabs the things, blood pumping everywhere. The mark it leaves is savage. Such a normal event like finding a bat in the basement – something which happens plenty to people around the world – transforms into the stuff of nightmares. Such is the power of Fulci. He doesn’t have to be doing anything extraordinary in terms of plot or story in order to make things interesting, or in this case pretty nasty.
I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the story, like the plot is completely nonsensical. Not sure why so many complaints. There’s not much going on here to really need to comprehend. It’s a haunted house style horror movie, there are reanimated corpses in the house – chaos and supernatural terror ensue. What’s so tough to get? Not saying that everything is tied up into neat little packages and the screenplay rounds off every edge it fashions. But seriously – I don’t get the labels of incoherent other reviews have put out there. Does not make sense. There’s a surreal nature to this creepy house of Fulci’s, I feel The House by the Cemetery is like a fever dream full of haunting images. As I said earlier, this is like the past meets the present. The visceral entities of the house’s past come alive to keep taking lives, to keep Dr. Freudstein in business and corpses for experimentation, surely. Is that not the whole point? Just can’t get my head around why people feel the need to criticize Fulci here when the movie isn’t trying to be anything more than it is: a creepfest with nasty kills and a grim tone.
Despite all my love for this Lucio Fulci film, I do find a lot of the acting – aside from Catriona MacColl who is always fabulous – pretty damn bothersome, and tiring most of the time. Regardless, I still say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror movie. It’s got a nice dose of gore, the typically awesome and gnarly horror expected of Fulci. Not only that, the story is creepy enough to keep things going; no matter what people say about its supposed incoherence. Mainly, it’s just not an overly complex plot or anything. It has the goods to satisfy a haunted house movie craving, on top of that the blood and vicious bits will keep the hounds at bay. Not Fulci’s top horror, but like I said it’s light years away from being the worst. This is a good flick for Halloween and it’s a generally good one to take in if you’re getting into Fulci, or if you’re into him and have yet to see it because of Negative Nancies and Davie Downers saying this is overrated, or yadda yadda whatever else they say. Judge for yourself! Let me know what you think in the comments, I’d love to hear other perspectives, as long as you’re civil – then this Dude abides.
The Sentinel. 1977. Directed & Written by Michael Winner; based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz.
Starring Chris Sarandon, Cristina Raines, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Arthur Kennedy, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, and Beverly D’Angelo.
Universal Pictures/Jeffrey Konvitz Productions.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
When I really started to become a horror hound years ago, The Sentinel is a haunted house horror movie I’d heard about yet could never get the chance to see. Years later, finally, I was able to and it blew me away. Personally, it’s my favourite haunted house-style film. There’s an intimacy to its depiction of haunting that really gets to me and lingers; sort of how I feel about Robert Wise’s The Haunting, another haunted house movie I feel is built on an intimate feel of perspective. Even more than that, Michael Winner’s movie is such a creepy, slow burn style horror, as well as the fact it draws on religious elements to achieve its supernatural thrill.
Haunted house movies are incredibly common. It’s hard to set a movie aside from the pack and say “This is the best.” So many are actually good, too. In my mind. You’ve got the aforementioned Wise film, The Legend of Hell House, The Shining (even if it’s not as good as King’s book), The Changeling, and the list goes on. What makes The Sentinel special for me is its pacing, the interesting and slow building screenplay Winner adapted from the Jeffrey Konvitz novel is tight. Then there’s all the imagery.
Trust me, this is a hellish ride.
Model Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) and boyfriend Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) are on the verge of marriage. However, Alison would rather be independent and have a place of her own instead of moving in with Michael. Just in case. So she rents an apartment in a seemingly ancient New York brownstone, where the landlady gives her a nice price and all the eccentric neighbours come out for a visit. Though, after a little time in her new home, Alison starts to feel strangely. First, her own motor skills start to cease functioning correctly causing bedlam all over the place from home to work on photo shoots. Then she begins to witness eerie happenings throughout the apartment, the apparition of dead people from her past, and it only begins to get worse.
Eventually after some investigation Michael starts figuring out what’s been going on at the apartment building. By the time Alison clues in it may or may not be too late for her to do anything about it.
The brownstone may have its new Sentinel yet.
Immediately the score from Gil Mellé is noticeable. Such a lush sounding composition from the start, as we’re introduced to Alison (Raines). Then suddenly Mellé spins everything down in this strangely appropriate dark twist. You’re almost jarred out of place by the music, explicitly made aware there’ll be spookiness to follow. A required element for any proper haunted house horror is a chilling score. I mean, okay, it’s not required, but I think they benefit greatly from having a refined sound behind it.
The score works so well at other times because it isn’t just a bunch of single pieces linked together. Mellé incorporates his compositions into the sound design – shrill strings whittle away at your nerves in certain moments of suspense, other scenes have an ambient swell surrounding them and an electronic feel, then he also brings out the church bells and other ominous sounds to mix their presence with everything else into magic. This is one horror score I could easily sit and listen to, completely out of context; not many of those out there aside from John Carpenter’s scores and maybe a handful of others. The music here becomes its own entity, and without it the tension and suspense of many scenes wouldn’t be as effective.
When Alison first comes across the ghost, or zombified ghost, of her father it’s full-on terror. Some impressively executed practical effects here, as she hacks at his face with a knife, slicing him and cutting off a chunk of his nose; it’s vicious stuff! You don’t expect it to happen, really. Nice surprise. These macabre aspects continue throughout, though, that’s probably the most outwardly violent thing to happen.
Except for later, once things get worse and worse for Alison, her mental state deteriorating almost exponentially day to day. At one point we get a glimpse of the two strange lesbian women apparently feasting off the dead corpse of a man, bloody leaking out, some on their faces and mouths. So, I suppose the cannibalism would be even more violent. Still, I think probably the best moment is the previous one between Alison and her dead father. Just such a visual jolt I’d not been expecting; always the best kind. And the way her father sort of shambles out of the shadows at her, his face revealing in the bit of light, it’s a subtly effective horror technique instead of going for a ridiculously nervous jump scare.
Overall, Winner does such a nice job crafting the screenplay with intense visuals, from the look of how its shot to the actual horrific elements. I love the beautiful, vibrant colour in this movie; particularly I find the scenes in the church stick out, with the heavy burgundies, the wood tones of the pews, and so on. Cinematographer and director of photography Dick Kratina does the film justice by capturing it so well. Not is there just nice looking visuals on a surface level, some of those spooky bits throughout are all due to the way Kratina manages to frame the scenes – his use of shadow at various points, from Alison’s first walk around the apartment at night to when Michael (Sarandon) explores the entire building alone, is very good and casts everything in an unsettling light.
Once the final ten minutes begin, especially after Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith) calls out to the other ghosts, The Sentinel evolves into pure terror. There are deformities, burn victims, rotting dead corpses, the lesbians cannibalizing Michael’s body, and more. It’s an intensely visceral sequence, which again pits Alison against her dead father; his makeup is scary, he creeps the hell out of me whenever I see him. Just the whole finale, it works on you and it does my head in every single time I watch this movie. Winner paces this scene so perfectly, too. He could have had a very frantic set of shots, typical modern styled horror we see too often nowadays. Rather, instead of going for the adrenaline he makes your pulse pound, he makes the suspense ramp up in your gut and the tension tickle your veins, and by the time we hit the finish Winner has the audience in the palm of his hand. Again, Mellé’s ominous sounding score comes out in an amazing wave that builds up to a crash, really putting the cherry on top. Couldn’t ask for a better finale. It’s weird, it has a bit of blood and unnerving shocks, there’s pure emotional terror at work, and the plot’s conclusion kept me wanting more in the right sort of sense.
5 stars for Michael Winner and The Sentinel. This one has all the greatness of the best haunted house horror, as well as the fact it’s got plenty of unique charm. We get a heavy dose of classic horror, plus Winner brings innovation to his adaptation of the source material and gives us an odd, quirky piece of terrifying cinema. There are lots of practical effects to gorge on – something of which I’m a massive fan – and then the spooky moments will genuinely make you uncomfortable and scare you proper. You’ve got to see this soon because it’s an underrated and lesser known gem from 1977, before some of the best known haunted house pictures.
The Inhabitants. 2015. Directed/Written by Michael & Shawn Rasmussen.
Starring Elise Couture, Michael Reed, India Pearl, Vasilios Asimakos, Danny Bryck, Judith Chaffee, Erica Derrickson, Edmund Donovan, Victoria Nugent, and Rebecca Whitehurst. Lascaux Media/Sinister Siblings Films. Unrated. 90 minutes.
A few weeks back, one half of the filmmaker duo the Rasmussen Brothers (writers of John Carpenter’s The Ward) contacted me in regards to their new film The Inhabitants. Now available on VOD, the Rasmussen Bros were kind enough to give me the Vimeo link and password to watch the movie ahead of time. Only now getting around to it – busy man here – I must say, the depressingly low rating on IMDB is exactly that: depressing. Now, to start, I don’t go by what IMDB tells me; it’s a site I use, I rate things on my own scale to try and balance so many of the unfair ratings of decent to good (sometimes to great) films. However, it’s not something I gauge films by, as I leave that to my own sensibilities and taste. There are, yes, certain aspects of film you can objectively look at and say “This is well done” or “This is bad”, yet so much of how we experience any art, film included, is entirely subjective. You’ll never separate yourself entirely from the subjective part of your mind because in all your opinions you’re coming from some place, a location. I always keep that in mind with my reviews and ratings, so should you if you’re reading mine or anyone else’s opinion on a film – I recognize my reviews are from a subjective place.
That being said, The Inhabitants is not a great film. Though, it has some really great aspects. Not breaking any fresh ground particularly, the Rasmussen Bros do create a pretty decent aesthetic from their use of the camera itself to the nice spooky sound design. Perhaps a meatier plot would’ve done the film well – it feels a lot like the skeleton is there, the story itself, just not enough actual plot points other than vague elements through which the characters allowed to walk. Still, I found this indie haunted house-style movie effective in terms of its mood and the generally solid atmosphere of creepiness the filmmakers were able to build from start to finish.
When Jessica (Elise Couture) and Dan (Michael Reed) purchase a quaint little bed and breakfast in the New England countryside, it seems like the American Dream – idyllic forest and sprawling landscapes. Then they start to find problems, such as the nagging legend of a witch and the strange occurrences happening throughout the old house.
In the beginning, even the weird moments Jessica experiences aren’t too threatening. Slowly as the couple get acclimated to the bed and breakfast, its surroundings, the nearby Witch Museum, it is painfully clear the house’s own history is much darker, more terrible than any real estate agent would ever be willing to admit.
What I do enjoy about The Inhabitants is the aesthetic overall. The sound design itself adds a wonderful layer of spookiness. There’s no score so much as there are a few small pieces, plus a ton of the sound design in terms of very dark, brooding and destabilizing sounds; it puts you on an edge, even if there’s nothing exactly threatening or sinister happening the at times dark ambient noise in the background makes everything feel uneasy.
Something which makes the sound design better and more effective is how the Rasmussen Bros don’t opt for a bunch of jump scares in order to spook us. Yes, there are some in there, but it’s not a relied upon method the director-writer pair are interested in exploiting. I love a good jump scare, if it’s properly done and doesn’t become a trope within one movie itself; nothing worse than a technique overdone, regardless of what it is in the end. So most of what the Rasmussens are able to create here is a genuinely unnerving mood, with the visuals shot pretty beautifully alongside the sound design’s low, creepy swell.
One of my favourite moments come just barely past the 1-hour mark – Dan has this dream, a terrifying image of Jessica comes to him: she’s breastfeeding a small child, then when he gets closer it appears as some dead corpse-like thing, a skull for a face. It’s so brief that it works wonders for the scare factor! Not even a jump scare so much as it’s a quick little WHOA. Very cool and grim stuff.
My only big legitimate problem with The Inhabitants is the plot, as I mentioned earlier. Not that I feel the plot is bad, there just isn’t enough. The bones of the story exist – it isn’t innovative or new, but at least there’s a story in place which could be used to flesh out a scary plot and some decent characterization. Even further, we get bits and pieces of the main characters, who they are, their personalities. Though, I don’t feel as if there’s enough of Jessica or Dan to truly care and become involved in their personal plight. Ultimately, issue being, in all the wandering of the characters – through the darkness of the house, et cetera – the screenplay wanders about a great deal.
The actors do a fairly decent job with their characters – Couture and Reed do a solid job for the most part with the two leads. It’s simply a problem of character. Sure, we get lots of nice stuff happening as the house sort of takes hold over Jessica in particular. There’s even a part earlier when she finds a sonogram, a few little clever lines thrown in without too much overt and talky exposition. However, none of it pays off in the right sense. The characters aren’t dull, I just wish we could’ve gotten more of a sense about who these two were before the plot of the film begins. As it stands, they’re just two people in a haunted house being affected by all its eeriness, like there’s no way to gauge how the effects are running wild on them because all we get really is a look at the post-haunting couple. But I’ve got to make it clear, I think the Rasmussen Bros do well with the characterization and plot present by at least not going hard on the exposition. Too many films, horror specifically, try to heavy hand the dialogue in and let you know EVERY LITTLE THING THAT IS HAPPENING/HAS HAPPENED, and then there’s absolutely no mystery left. At the very least, the screenplay keeps an air of intrigue instead of hamfisting the plot and story down our esophagus. There are pieces which go nowhere, there are also no pieces where I felt a few morsels ought to bed. Overall, I’m just glad that – while too overly vague at times – the writing isn’t completely spoon fed to the viewer, and the writer-director brothers still try to leave some of the legwork to their audio/visual aesthetic.
I’m not going to be a pessimist about this film and say it’s no good at all; it is good. There are some excellent things happening and I feel, as directors, the Rasmussen Brothers know how to properly create a sense of dread, an atmosphere full of creepy, spooky mood and tone. This is, to me, a 3 out of 5 star film. Definitely could use more work on the plot itself, I would’ve been even more impressed with this independent horror movie if the writer brothers cultivated better characters. Still, the acting wasn’t typically atrocious like a lot of indie horror, and the palpable atmosphere from the first scene right to the last is enough to keep you glued. Plenty of gorgeously dark imagery and the house/the forest is captured visually with such eeriness it’s hard to deny. With a little more work, though, the Rasmussen Brothers are on their way to making really solid horror movies. I hope they’ll keep it up.
The Innkeepers. 2011. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, Alison Bartlett, Jake Ryan, Brenda Cooney, George Riddle, John Speredakos, and Lena Dunham. Glass Eye Pix.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
Every time I’ve got a particular bias going into a review, one that I can recognize, I always like to take a moment to recognize that. Such is the case with myself and Ti West. I love his work, even when others tell me personally they don’t like a movie of his I can’t help but find myself thinking “Why the hell not?”. I just love his movies. Years ago I got the chance to see The Roost, which I thought was a clever genre film and a gnarly creature feature horror movie. After that I had him on my radar, then as soon as I’d seen that out he came with The House of the Devil, and that one floored me; an overall amazing aesthetic, harkening back to the best of the 1980s, this is a slow burn horror with that Satanic Panic edge. After that I secured a copy of Trigger Man and, while much different than his other films, I enjoyed it. Even later, after he did this movie, his segment in the first V/H/S was probably my favourite – “Second Honeymoon” – his “M is for Miscarriage” out of The ABCs of Death was a saucy piece of raw, reality driven horror. Perhaps my favourite of all his work, The Sacrament is an obvious re-telling of the Jonestown Massacre yet using found footage and the VICE News name he makes it into so much more, something visceral and savage.
So, have you got an understanding of how much I’m a fan of Ti West? Maybe that paints my view of The Innkeepers a little too subjectively. Who knows. Either way, I think this is a fun little ghost story in a spooky location. It’s got a good atmosphere, something to which West is no stranger at pulling together. As well as the fact Pat Healy and Sara Paxton give good performances which are effective and at the same time quirky, but not so quirky you want to roll the eyes out of the back of your head. This film has charm, darkness, and even a few good old fashioned horror jump scares.
In the last few days before the Yankee Pedlar Inn closes down forever, two employees – Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) – attempt to find evidence of the ghost of a woman named Madeline O’Malley (Brenda Cooney) who supposedly haunts the halls. They’re amateur ghost hunters; Luke runs a website about Pedlar’s apparent hauntings, Claire just dropped out of college.
As the last few guests arrive for a stay at the Pedlar, Claire in particular gets closer and closer to the spirit of Madeline, whose story is a sad one; how and why she ended up trapped at the hotel in the afterlife. But once Claire gets a little too close, things may change – and definitely for the worse.
One unique little scene/shot I love is when Claire (Paxton) is using the recording equipment. The first moment is so cool, as the camera tracks along as if on a soundwave, moving slowly around almost wandering. The music and everything make this a creepy little bit, even with nothing creepy happening. I think this is the first scene where Ti West begins to set up a definitive atmosphere and tone for the scarier bits of the film.
The music gives way to more of a silence, a dim hum, some static, while watching Claire listening in another room than the one previous. This also leads into Claire discovering a presence in the big dining room, a piano playing softly amongst the hum of the static in her headphones. Nice little scene following her as she finds the piano itself around the lobby and watches it play by itself. Or rather it bangs the keys by itself. Spooky and an effective jump scare.
Really dig the score for The Innkeepers. Sure enough, when I looked up the composer it was Jeff Grace. For those who may not know, Grace has worked on some incredible stuff. Most recently he’s composed scores for Jim Mickle’s Cold in July and We Are What We Are, Night Moves, Mickle’s Stake Land, Meek’s Cutoff. Then he’s done other probably lesser known films – though they ought to be more recognized – such as Bitter Feast, The House of the Devil, The Last Winter, Joshua, and another of Ti West’s again The Roost.
Part of any great horror, in my opinion, is a solid score to help with the atmosphere. Grace’s excellent music feels very haunted house worthy. This is, essentially, a haunted house horror movie. Instead of a house, we’re getting the Yankee Pedlar Inn, which is just as creepy in the end. Grace does a good job with ambient noise, strings, and some electronic sounds in aiding the direction of West to supply a nice feeling from start to finish. At times it grabs us, gripping hold and not letting go, other times it lulls us into a spooky mood or a false sense of security before a nice scare; proper horror score.
Aside from the lead characters played by Healy and Paxton, I couldn’t get enough of the fact West included Kelly McGillis in the cast. What a wonderful surprise. Most known for her work in the ’80s like Witness, Top Gun, and The Accused, in the past few years she’s been a part of the indie horror revival. Particularly, after being cast in Stake Land by Jim Mickle, McGillis put in a performance here, as well as in the remake of We Are What We Are again from Mickle. So I love that she’s been a part of these films. She adds a great air of authenticity, I’m not sure what it is, but there’s an elegant quality to her; no matter the character. One of those classy older women with a lot of grace, at the same time there’s something sassy and fun about her, too. Here her turn as an actress turned psychic is a good show, wonderful addition and she works great opposite Paxton.
Which leads me to Pat Healy and Sara Paxton. They’ve got real good chemistry in their scenes, reminding me of employee-employee relationships I’ve had at jobs in the past. What I love is that they aren’t two characters of the same age, like two young people. Having the character of Luke (Healy) as a bit of an older guy compared to Claire (Paxton) made for a more interesting relationship between the two, in opposition to so many horror movies featuring all young, teenage-ish characters with the same attitudes, same inflections in their voice, same problems and lives. Not saying it’s some revolutionary tactic, but I do think it was a smart writing move on the part of West, who could’ve easily strayed into complete typicalness. Rather, here he gives us two fun, weird characters who’ve got an equally fun, weird relationship.
Paxton is my favourite, though. Because so often horror movies have characters that do not feel real. Claire, on the other hand, feels real to me, she’s a new college dropout, she works at an old school hotel that’s shutting down after one last weekend. There’s a sort of angst built up inside Claire that I understand; a lot of people could understand her. Yet she isn’t some snotty young girl or anything, merely she gives me that sense of being a woman who is straddling the edge of being young – a woman, maybe not totally prepared to become one.
Most likely the greatest part of The Innkeepers is how Ti West shot it on film. I mean, I don’t have anything against digital, not in the slightest. That being said, there’s something to be said for movies still shot on film. There’s a depth to it, perhaps that’s the best way I can describe it – a fullness – that isn’t always present when shooting on digital. I don’t know, I could be talking out my ass. My love for the look of film has to do with a richness, a broader spectrum of what it can capture. This provides West the opportunity here to frame so many wonderful shots and catch every last bit of it in lush, dark detail. Makes a haunted house horror movie creepier. Honestly, I think that’s part of why so many found footage horrors ultimately fall flat is because on digital the exposure issues end up blocking out so much of a frame that, at times, this renders much of what’s in the frame not as creepy as it might have been had the movie been shot with film. With this movie, it helps West insisted on using film because there are a lot of wonderfully constructed shots here which pull their style from out of every corner of the frame.
I think some of the complaints about The Innkeepers seem to revolve around the fact there’s not a HUGE amount of ghost activity or full-on horror. However, I’d say to those detractors that it isn’t mean to be that sort of film. If you want that type of haunted house horror, stick with even something more like Insidious – West works more here at mood and tone than anything else, and I think that’s totally fine. There are most CERTAINLY a few classic horror movie scares, both of the jumpy variety and real tense, suspenseful moments. They don’t come in spades, it’s a slow burn film. Regardless, to me the all-out scary stuff here pays off because West does a good job slowly cultivating a spooky atmosphere.
With a slow and deliberate style – aided by great editing – a creepy backstory that isn’t served up for us like a prequel within the movie itself but rather alluded to appropriately, and good writing/directing, Ti West’s The Innkeepers is a pretty solid haunted house horror. 4.5 out of 5 stars on this one, all the way. Again, as I started out in this review, I could be biased towards West and his films because I’m such a hardcore fan of his. I don’t think so, though, because there’s just something special about his filmmaking to me. He has old school sensibilities while also bringing a modern, fresh edge to his subjects at the same time.
If you haven’t yet seen anything by West, I suggest starting with The Roost if you can find a DVD copy; worth it. Afterwards, move on to this, The House of the Devil, The Sacrament, and see if there’s anything about him you’ll agree with me on. I know others who feel he’s decent but nothing special. Me? I think he’s one of the new hopes for horror cinema and genre filmmaking, right alongside Adam Wingard (The Guest, You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die).
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 8: “Rubber Man”
Directed by Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt, Chuck & Buck)
Written by Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the next episode, “Spooky Little Girl” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Open House” – click here
In the opening of this scene, Nora Montgomery (Lily Rabe) bemoans the state of her modern house. Trapped in ghostland, she does not realize yet she is dead either, like Tate (Evan Peters). In the darkness behind Nora, as she weeps for her baby and wants another, Tate comforts her; he’ll help get her a child.
Then he goes out to the trash, he finds the Rubber Man suit. This is a flashback to the Pilot, when Rubber Man had sex with Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton); she, of course, thought that was husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) at the time. Now we’ve confirmed for sure that Tate is the one who did the deed. Chilling and highly unsettling, I love and hate it all at once.
Vivien is still disturbed by the events at the end of last episode, “Open House”, when Violet (Taissa Farmiga) showed her an old picture of the house in the 1920s, one featuring Nora Montgomery. Naturally, Marcy (Christine Estabrook) thinks Vivien is nuts, but Moira (Frances Conroy) offers comfort; no surprise there.
One aspect I loved in “Rubber Man” is how Chad (Zachary Quinto) and Patrick (Teddy Sears) come back into the picture. Crosscut with Vivien complaining she feels as if she’s going crazy, we head back to Chad who is upset, worried about him and his better half. It appears Patrick is stepping out on the internet; he’s secretly into S&M subculture. Chad does all he can to try and please his man, but Patrick seems to not care at all. Sadly, the Rubber Man suit Chad buys for the two of them to enjoy later ends up as part of their death. In this episode, the full view of what happened to Chad and Patrick – only partly shown previously in “Halloween: Part I” – is given a nasty, brutish treatment here.
Even more interesting is how their deaths play into the overall story of the house. Turns out, the fact Patrick seemed to have lost interest in having a child/children with his partner Chad became the reason for their savage murders. The house/Nora needs a baby, so Rubber Man – a.k.a Tate Langdon – will go to any lengths required in order to secure one. Even if that means murdering, raping, torturing, terrifying until the seed is planted.
More of Hayden (Kate Mara) now, as all the ghosts are in cohabitation. She comes across Nora weeping, shedding some light on the newly discovered situation of Mrs. Montgomery for her. Sadly, Nora still does not get it yet. Slowly she is beginning to understand what’s going on. I feel really bad for Hayden; while she was banging a married man, she never deserved anything which happened to her, and definitely not being trapped for eternity in Murder House. She and Poe bond in a brief scene, rolling the ball back and forth – neither of them asked to be stuck there on that property, each murdered brutally under false pretence.
What I loved is how Hayden has afterlife sex with Constance’s (Jessica Lange) dead husband Hugo (Eric Close) – she takes out the anger inside on him, banging then stabbing him to death, only for him to keep on after-lifting. It’s a naughty cycle, I just thought that was an excellently twisted scene.
Furthermore, Nora is being led to the river by Hayden who believes they ought to take Vivien’s twins for themselves. Also, Hayden drops the hint for us in the audience that poor Vivien might soon be locked up in an asylum. Thus begins the true terrorising of Mrs. Harmon.
There’s so much great haunted house stuff in American Horror Story. With the ghosts actively doing poltergeist-like stuff, we get to see both sides: the family living in horror versus the ghosts trying to clue up their unfinished business/vendettas. That’s something we’re not usually treated to, even in film. More often than not, almost always, we’re seeing a family being tortured by the demons/ghosts/presences in a haunted house. Here, we get to see the motivations of the ghosts themselves and what is driving them, as well as the fact we’re watching everything happening in reality to the families and people drawn to the house. I think that’s one of the greatest things about this first season. Moreover, I think it was the best and most natural place for the series to start, as the haunted house sub-genre of horror is one almost everyone knows – even non-horror fans probably enjoy a good haunted house movie now and then. Each season has a great anthology premise, but this is most definitely the greatest starting point Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk could’ve decided on.
More concerning Violet falls out of the plot into our laps. It turns out Violet has not been to school in two weeks. Strange. Even while the family is in shambles, you’d think someone would have realized something was wrong before now. Yet everything else happening around Ben and Vivien, all the weird and unexplained and eerie events, it detracts from Violet and her issues. More every episode, we come to see there’s something else happening to Violet that her parents cannot yet see or understand.
My favourite part of “Rubber Man”, though there is a ton, is the scene between Moira (Frances Conry) and Vivien. Moira recounts the basic plot of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which goes along fittingly well with the events happening to Vivien. Especially going forward through the remainder of the episode, the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” comes as an allegory for the story of Vivien – however, in Murder House, Ben Harmon is not doing anything purposefully trying to damage his wife, but instead the house itself is making Ben and everyone else around Vivien believe she has gone completely mad.
Moira pushes her towards this, warning Vivien she must leave or else something bad might happen. This is when we start to see the house really working on Vivien, as it only works against her.
In the car with her daughter, ready to leave, Vivien sees the ghosts of the serial killer fans who broke into the house in “Home Invasion“. She runs back in, believing them to be real, and of course this further breaks down things between Vivien and Ben. Plus it makes her look absolutely nuts, even worse when Violet can’t confirm there was anything actually there.
The end of the episode is highly suspenseful, full of tension, as Vivien – believing an intruder, perhaps the sneaky undead Hayden – uses a gun she stole from real estate agent Marcy to shoot Ben. Of course, she did think it was someone else, but still. Now that gives him more ammunition to put her in a hospital, fearing her mental state is deteriorating. Which it is, yes, just not in the way anyone thinks. It’s exactly what the house has wanted. All in order to get those babies growing inside Vivien. Believing herself to be attacked by Rubber Man Tate Langdon again, with Hayden onlooking and taunting, Ben and Luke (Morris Chestnut) rush in to find Vivien rolling on the floor by herself. Even to Luke now, it’s clear something is not right.
The house is driving everyone, in their own way, off the deep end and into utter madness. It’s tragic and heartbreaking all at once and you feel for characters while also hating some of them; a big mix of hate, fear, love, and sexuality, this Season 1.
Next episode is titled “Spooky Little Girl” and is directed by John Scott (Nip/Tuck). Can’t wait to review that one, as well.
Stay tuned yet again!
Insidious: Chapter 3. 2014. Directed & Written by Leigh Whannell.
Starring Lin Shaye, Stefanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Tate Berney, Michael Reid MacKay, Steve Coulter, Hayley Kiyoko, Corbett Tuck, and Tom Fitzpatrick. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 97 minutes.
I’m a fan of the two previous Insidious films. Reason being, I think James Wan did a pretty damn good job, together with the script from Leigh Whannell, in conjuring up a tense, suspenseful, and eerie atmosphere. Above all, I love when a horror film can carry that sort of atmosphere and tone throughout its runtime. While they’re not perfect, the first two movies were scary; to me anyways. I dig a good haunted house story and Wan/Whannell provided that with Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2.
There was no surprise Blumhouse would try and pump out another one. I waited with baited breath to see exactly what might come out of it and I didn’t exactly expect that the third in the trilogy would live up to what the first two created. However, I was slightly surprised. It isn’t great, but Insidious: Chapter 3 has a good bit of that atmosphere and tone from the first two, as well as the fact Lin Shaye returns in another stellar performance as embattled demon seeker Elise Rainier. One thing I think that helps most is the fact Leigh Whannell not only writes this entry in the series, he makes his directorial debut with the third part, which extends much of the creepiness created by himself and Wan throughout the first two movies.
Taking place a long time after Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) helped a young Josh Lambert with his problems, and just before Josh’s own son Dalton went through the same trouble, Insidious: Chapter 3 begins with Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) going to see Elise Rainier unannounced. Her mother passed away and Quinn wants to contact her. Unfortunately, while trying to help Elise is clearly troubled; she advises Quinn find someone else who does the same thing and get them to help.
At home, Quinn’s single father Sean Brenner (Dermot Mulroney) tries to wrangle everything by himself. Between Quinn and her little brother Alex (Tate Berney), things are hectic.
An aspiring actress, Quinn heads to an audition. She’s looking to get into a good acting school for her post-secondary studies. Instead, out of nowhere, Quinn is hit by a car. This propels her, for the briefest of time, into The Further. After she comes back quickly, out of the darkness and back to reality, Quinn has clearly seen something inexplainable, something in another world. This sets off all the mysterious events which follow.
I thought the writing – especially the characters themselves – was fairly solid. Once again, the family is a centrepiece for all of what unfolds in terms of The Further (see my other reviews for Part 1/Part 2 if for some reason you’ve not watched the previous movies) coming into play. For instance, the teenage characters don’t come off as too forcibly written on Whannell’s part. What I mean is that they’re smart, obviously, but they don’t say these ridiculously eloquent, elaborate things NO highschooler would ever say; I can’t think of great examples off the top of my head, but you know the types, you’ve seen them before. So that’s one thing I thought Whannell did great with because too many screenwriters – especially male screenwriters trying to write female characters –
Some people say Insidious: Chapter 3 is not as scary as the others. Me, I say there’s definitely some nice, creepy stuff happening in this instalment. Even quickly off the bat, Quinn starts seeing a shadowy figure in the distance waving to her, almost calling out for Quinn to follow. First, the figure appears in the catwalk at the theatre where she’s auditioning. Then in the streets, right before she’s hit by a car, the figure – a man – waves at her from far off once more. These little bits help to make a similar dreadful atmosphere as Wan culled in the first two films. Although here it’s different, which isn’t a bad thing. Everything is still eerie, though, Whannell brings his own style to the mix.
I also liked the little quick jump-scare of the man’s face in close-up – when Quinn slips into The Further briefly while surgeons are working away on her after the car accident, the terrifying face flashes quickly. What I love most about this is how it reminds me of the quick flashes of the demon in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist; not sure if this was intentional, but it does bring that shot to my mind specifically. Also, this didn’t make me want to have a heart attack like certain jumps do. It was brief and very effective at the same time.
A huge aspect of why I enjoyed this third film is because we’re getting more out of the character Elise Rainier. Even in the slightest ways – she lays down in bed and says “Goodnight Jack” and hugs tight to what looks like a man’s sweater. So there’s depth to Elise, she isn’t merely a one-note psychic sort fo woman. And I love that, not just simply due to the fact Lin Shaye is a total badass and wonderful actress (even in her slovenly role as Landlady in Kingpin which still haunts me to this very day). Elise is a big part of why I loved both movies; I’m not huge on her sidekicks, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), but I think her alone is enough to keep anyone interested. Particularly, after we’re treated to the flashbacks showing a young Josh Lambert being plagued by demons in The Further and Elise coming to their aid, doesn’t it make you just want to know everything about her? Then there’s her relationship with Carl (Steve Coulter), who showed up in the last film, which I thought was an excellent inclusion. In this movie, we see a little more of Carl and so his character/story gets a little more broad than before.
Most of all, though, it’s Elise. She is what draws me to the franchise overall, as it’s her who has dealt most closely with demons and The Further, she knows all about it and she has all the senses. I love the scene here where she’s lying in bed, hugging her obviously late husband’s cardigan (we discover later for sure he committed suicide only a year before), and then out of nowhere she feels something, a presence, she scrambles for the light – nothing’s there, yet the air feels terrifying. Good stuff showing how sensitive Elise is to the other side opposite that of the living.
The overall aesthetic of Insidious as a franchise is something which keeps me interested. It’s the whole reason – aside from Lin Shaye – I ever bothered to go see this one.
I’m a huge fan of the score in these films. I’d not – to my shame – checked on who was the composer for the music in either of the films. So doing this review I wanted to see if it was the same person. Naturally, it was: Joseph Bishara. The reason I had to check is because, while there are plenty of similarities, Bishara does bring us some new work in the score for Chapter 3. A lot of those heavy, dreaded string bursts are still present, however, he also gives us some bright and beautiful sounding stuff such as in a few scenes with Elise. Either way, he is one part of why that finely tuned aesthetic from the series keeps going.
While the look in this film was handled by a different cinematographer, Brian Pearson, I do think he is up to snuff with how he crafts the scenes visually. Just to note, Pearson did some work as D.P on the fairly excellent series Masters of Horror, as well as a recent film I’m a big fan of – the savage and excellent American Mary. He does good stuff keeping many scenes draped in darkness, as the previous films looked. So even though it isn’t exactly the same carbon copy of style, there is a ton of similar atmosphere built up through how Pearson shoots each scene in a tone down, darkened manner.
Furthermore, the art director Jason Garner worked on the previous Chapter 2, so I think his clearly excellent work there extended to this film. For those who aren’t big on the job descriptions for film work, an art director helps to create the film’s vision in terms of locations, sets, and that in turn brings about a visual aesthetic for the film. The houses and everything which are new in this movie, they really fit in with the entire Insidious franchise world. If you watched these all simultaneously, I think they’d match up unbelievably well.
In regards to the plot, I like the character of Quinn and how she ended up in contact with The Further. Plus it plays into the whole subplot of her mother’s death, trying to reach her in the afterlife and such. It’s a great way to have spun things off from the central story of the first two Insidious films. A lot of these spin-offs can end up really spinning out of control, or just being nonsensical additions to a franchise simply for the sake of raking in money. With this movie, I don’t see it being that way. Sure – profit is the major concern of studios. However, I think especially with Leigh Whannell writing this instead of it being farmed out to writers/directors not already a part of the franchise, Insidious: Chapter 3 is able to hold up in quality near to its predecessors. It’s not as good, but I feel as if it’s pretty damn close.
Also thought it was great the way Whannell setup The Bride in Black as being an entity who actively wanted to kill Elise. This sort of explains their history, as well as why the Bride purposely got into Josh and then strangled Elise at the end of the first Insidious. Not as if there was a massive need to explain anything in detail there, I just find this movie’s script capitalized and added more depth to the other films.
All in all, I think this was a 3.5 out of 5 star film. It wasn’t perfect. My biggest complaint about Insidious: Chapter 3 is that there’s more unfunny comedy with Specs/Tucker – something I didn’t like about the others but here it’s even more unbearable with such forced comedy on behalf of the Tucker character. Very lame. Then, I also thought there was something missing about the possession angle involving Quinn. While I found Josh Lambert’s possession in the others excellent, plus Patrick Wilson played him well, I didn’t like the way they did Quinn’s possessed state. It was too similar to the rip-offs of Japanese horror in American movies. I liked lots of the stuff involving Josh being possessed, it just didn’t seem to carry over here.
The finale of the film was decent. Honestly, though, I prefer the first half to three-quarters of the film because I like the build up, the character development and a view into the already established character of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). Mostly the last quarter of the movie I found wasn’t as effective as the scariness of the previous two Insidious entries. It isn’t bad, just doesn’t pack the punch you’d expect. If there was a stronger final 25 minutes I’d be more impressed.
Still, this is not bad at all. There’s room for improvement, yet I think Leigh Whannell did a decent enough job keeping up with the other films to make this a pretty good trilogy. I recommend seeing this, though, I’ll still always enjoy the first two more.
My personal favourite is Insidious: Chapter 2. How about you? Let me know in the comments.
The Amityville Horror. 2005. Directed by Andrew Douglas. Screenplay by Scott Kosar; based on the earlier screenplay by Sandor Stern/the novel by Jay Anson.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett, Chloë Grace Moretz, Rachel Nichols, Philip Baker Hall, Isabel Conner, and Brendan Donaldson. Platinum Dunes. 18A. 90 minutes. Drama/Horror/Mystery.
3.5 out of 5 stars
I’m not someone who gets overly upset about remakes. Though I’m not necessarily always a fan of what comes out the other end of the Hollywood meat machine, there are benefits to remakes. I mean, some film fans act as if it’s a big deal somebody discovers an older movie because of its remake. Remakes have been going on since the 1950s, maybe even a little earlier, so get off the high horse first of all. Second of all, why do certain snobbish film fans expect other people to be researching the history of a movie? So what if somebody sees a movie and then realizes it’s a remake? A lot of times people will end up seeing the original and then saying “Wow that’s way better”. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say similar things, glad to have seen the original film.
Not to say The Amityville Horror remake is amazing. It’s not. I would say it’s better than just mediocre, but still not great. I think what I like about this one particularly is that Ryan Reynolds plays George Lutz pretty well, as well as the fact not everything looks like a commercial – such is the Platinum Dunes tradition of making horror look all glossy, with sexy people showing off their sexiness. There is a little of this, honestly, throughout the movie. Far less than any of the other Platinum Dunes remakes – think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, both equally abysmal and sexualized bits of horror blasphemy.
This is a decent remake, though, certainly not better than the original. Not for me, anyways. What I do like about this one is that they dive a bit further into the backstory about the Lutz house. Again as I’ve said before in my review of the original film, I don’t believe the supposed hogwash “true story” behind the whole Amityville ordeal. That being said, I still enjoy the fictionalized telling of the hoax on film. Good haunted house type of stuff, even some nastiness here and there to drive home that horror.
I won’t bore anyone with describing the plot. If you’ve not yet discovered the original, or haven’t otherwise read about the story, check it out online. Plenty of stuff out there. Aside from that, we’re going to go at it right away.
One thing I do enjoy here is the cinematography. There’s a nice atmosphere, which is my favourite thing in horror. If a director and cinematographer together can set the tone of a film off the bat, things pan out so much better from there on out, as long as the tone is upheld.
Peter Lyons Collister is the cinematographer for this film. Until I actually went and checked, I didn’t know that he was also cinematographer on Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers; I’m actually a big fan of that one, personally. He was also director of photography on John Singleton’s excellent film Higher Learning. What Collister does here is keep things darkened through almost every single frame of the film. Even when we’re outdoors in the light, or walking with a character through a hallway of the house where sun is shining through the windows, there’s a dim quality to everything I find keeps things eerie. Not to say it’s all drenched in darkness. There are so many scenes, though, almost every one, where Collister keeps things shadowy. Something of which I’m a huge fan. Gave the film that atmosphere I enjoy.
Something I enjoyed about this Amityville Horror is that even quicker and more immediately than the original, the plot of this film kicks in with intensity almost the minute they move into the house. The tension between George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy (Melissa George) Lutz goes up ten notches under the house’s influences. Otherwise, there is barely any real tension. Even the kids – George’s stepchildren – become more irritating to him than they ever were before. You can tell when they first get there, after a scene or two with him and the kids, there’s a tiny bit of awkwardness still left, as the kids do miss their father; obviously. But so quickly, the house exerts its grip on George, and it begins to affect everything and everyone around him.
Another thing is that I enjoyed the way the children were so affected by the house, as well. In the original they experienced quite a bit in their own right, but the majority was heaped all on George. It’s still mostly like that, however, we see the kids all get terrorized a for nice while. The youngest boy sees a ghastly image next to him in the bathroom mirror while he washes his hands in the middle of the night – a solid jump scare. Worst of all, little Chelsea Lutz (Chloë Grace Moretz) seems to be entranced by the invisible friend she calls Jodie – who is actually Jodie DeFeo (Isabel Conner), murdered by her older brother as he killed their entire family a year before the Lutz’s arrival in 1975. This goes to great lengths, as Chelsea and Jodie get closer and closer.
The downfall of The Amityville Horror remake, why it can’t surpass the original for me, is mostly because it gets that modern day Platinum Dunes treatment, as I mentioned before – the one suffered by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th remakes alike.
First of all, there’s the part with the babysitter. I mean – there was just no need to sexualize that character so much. It’s fine to have a wild babysitter, that would’ve been different than the first film, but why make her a young girl all dolled up wearing the tiniest top, low-cut jeans, showing off her ribs and her stomach? It’s just another obvious idiotic marketing film executive thinking “Hmmm how do we get more young men watching horror? Let’s add sex”. But then there’s the further idiotic idea that, because she’s an obviously sexual young woman, an even younger boy drooling all over her, and because she smokes pot in the bathroom, then OF COURSE SHE MUST BE TERRORIZED IN THE CLOSET! Sure, put her in the closet – why does it need to feel like she’s being set up to be punished, though? Make her sexy then make her pay? Dumb Platinum Dunes style crap.
I felt truly weird about the whole scene where she was laying on the bed with this kid talking to her. Such an awkward scene.
Then we can’t ignore Ryan Reynolds showing off his abs – seemingly always greased and glistening – which is just downright silly. It was like at certain times someone said “WHIP OFF THAT SHIRT, RYAN. SOMEBODY: GREASE HIM UP!” I mean, I get that sometimes people don’t have shirts on, but it’s like there’s such an intense need for Platinum Dunes remakes to try and focus on wet, slick bodies, as if that draws people somehow to the movie.
This is the sort of stuff which really tears me out of a film, regardless if it’s horror or not. Another reason for people to hate remakes, so it irks me when I see this kind of stuff. Does not help the genre whatsoever.
George Lutz: “There’s no bad houses there’s just bad people”
So, as I said before, I do like the backstory they put into the remake. I have no time for the supposedly “true story”, because it’s not true. Though I really enjoy the fictionalized telling of the story. Here, we get disturbing and weird stuff as George Lutz descends from a fairly regular, everyday man towards a pit of madness into which he gets sucked by the evil in that house. He looks tired all the time, he’s getting angrier by the minute, and his paranoia begins to pulse almost as noticeable as the blood in his veins, the beat in his heart. All due to the house and the demons living in the very foundation.
This is the best stuff. As George starts to see and hear so many things throughout the house, we’re treated to a lot of macabre and unsettling imagery. They’re not all jumpy NOISE TO SCARE YOU type shots either. A couple come up, no doubt, but they’re not relied on solely for Andrew Douglas to scare us. We get enough to be able to enjoy; I find when too many jump scares happen, I’m just desensitized and not scared any longer. With only a handful, this helps to creep me out. Most of all, it’s the weird story of the preacher, the things he did to the Indians and all that which freaks me out most. Great work on that part because it was intense and freaky.
In the end, I really enjoy Ryan Reynolds in this film as George Lutz. Not to say I put him or James Brolin over one or the other, but what I truly liked is how much of George going crazy is fit into the script for this remake. There is a lot more to him stalking around the house, digging around in the basement, in the walls, watching videos, waking up to the clock at 3:15 AM. So I think that’s something, plus the creepy as hell backstory of the house with the preacher and all that, which made me enjoy this almost as much as the original. Not quite as much, close though.
This is about a 3.5 out of 5 film. That whole bit with the babysitter, the sexualization – really takes things down a notch, and I wish Platinum Dunes would keep the needless stuff out of their remakes. It would help them if they want to appeal to true genre fans. We don’t need that sort of crap just thrown into scenes, especially if it makes no sense and serves no purpose whatsoever.
If you really want the best, go for the original. That being said, there are a lot of worse remakes than this one, and at least Andrew Douglas tried to craft a genuine atmosphere of suspense and fear instead of relying totally on shock horror or jump scares to get the response for which he was looking.
THE CHANGELING a.k.a one of the great haunted house horror movies of all time.
Insidious: Chapter 2. 2013. Directed by James Wan. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, and Tom Fitzpatrick. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 106 minutes.
Being a fan of the first film, I was excited to see what James Wan and Leigh Whannell had in store for us. I really think they make a good team. Maybe not a perfect team, but it’d be hard for me to say that there ever was a perfect writer-director team. Every combination, every artist as individual has their faults.
Regardless, Wan and Whannell obviously have very similar sensibilities. I find they know what horror is, or should be, and though there are flaws this series has a lot of the great classic style horror I grew so fond of as a teenager.
What made the first Insidious so interesting for me was that Wan created this incredible atmosphere throughout, which kept on from beginning to end. There were a couple too many jump-scare moments, but not so much it ruined the film.
Personally, I think that Insidious: Chapter 2 capitalizes on its faults from the first and turns those into something even better. From atmosphere, to performances (Patrick Wilson is fantastic here), to a bit better of a script from Whannell, I believe this sequel was able to step it up a notch not only in creepiness, in quality, as well.
Beginning directly after the events of the first, Insidious: Chapter 2 starts as Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) is being questioned concerning the supernatural activity that supposedly happened in the house, which lead to the death of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). The police have to investigate, so Renai and her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) must take their kids to his mother Lorraine’s (Barbara Hershey) house.
Unfortunately, the ghostly presence continues to haunt Renai – a woman in white appears and terrorizes her. At the same time, Josh is acting strangely; Renai can’t look at him the same, their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) hears his dad talking to someone while he appears to be alone. Even Lorraine starts to see the woman in white. Josh continues his weird behaviour, beginning to almost physically deteriorate.
Soon, Lorraine goes back to Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) to try and figure out once and for all what can be done to help the Lamberts get away from the evil presence plaguing Josh. And what follows proves to be even more difficult than bringing Dalton back from The Further.
So I’ll begin with the very few things I thought were lacking/did not work in the film.
That “Hunter Ninja Bear” moment is an instance of the dumb comedy between the two ghost hunting characters Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Sampson) that I thought hindered the first film. Luckily, this one went for much less of that comedy; there are still faint hints of it at times, but it’s less prevalent than in the first. This helps. However, it’s moments like these that make me roll my eyes. Some may find it funny, I find it tedious. Especially in a film that culls together such an pervading and perpetual atmosphere of dread/creepiness, I feel like this comedy is so far out of place that it’s not even sensible.
I get that some horror is infused with comedy, often very dark comedy, this is just not one of those movies, and I think Leigh Whannell basically jammed these bits in like puzzle pieces that don’t fit; it shows how awkward these scenes are when you look at the movie as a whole. In the moment they’re sort of laugh to yourself funny (for others – not me), but when you turn around you think, “Why were these bits of comedy stuck in here?” Just makes little sense to me. I guess that’s why I’m not a famous Hollywood writer/director.
I have long thought Patrick Wilson is a fantastically talented fella. He has that handsome leading man type thing going on, and at the same time he has this weird side to him. The two performances which woke me up to his rising talent: his role as creep photographer Jeff Kohlver opposite Ellen Page in Hard Candy, and the wonderfully pained/tender character Brad Adamson he portrayed in Little Children.
So I think, even more so than the first movie, Wilson does a phenomenal job here. To see him wither away in front of our eyes, in front of his family, is really unsettling at times. Especially once the dark force inside him starts to actual take him apart physically – a nasty, effective scene happens when Josh Lambert starts to pull teeth out of his own face, literally falling to pieces. Not only did the make-up work well in making him look caved/sunken in, Wilson did well at showing Josh fray around the edges; you could see his personality change as the Bride in Black took him over. Great, great stuff.
I thought Lindsay Seim was awesome as the young Elise. Naturally, they used Lin Shaye’s voice and dubbed it over, but Seim still had the feel of Elise in those brief flashback scenes. Excellent choice in casting.
Rose Byrne did a good job, but I also think Barbara Hershey deserves a shoutout. She is such a wonderful actress, with the small part of Josh’s mother she does get a bit of screen time. There were some nice moments with Hershey, as well as a few with her and Steve Coulter, who plays Elise’s old friend Carl.
Again, as was the case with the first film, I love how James Wan builds the atmosphere. There’s a very distinct feeling throughout the entire movie. Also, when people are in The Further, all the dead wandering around in the dark, there’s this other highly distinct feeling. Wan makes us feel that shift between the two worlds, which in turn makes it all the more immersive.
I really enjoy how Whannell chose to explore the Bride in Black character more, then we are revealed the utterly disturbed world of Parker Crane. Worst is Parker’s Mother (Danielle Bisutti) – terrifying! When Specs and Tucker, gang in tow, head to Parker’s old house and they make all those macabre discoveries, I thought that section worked so well. The whole backstory to Parker and his mother is just amazingly ghastly. I loved every second of it!
In particular, there’s a great scene with the young Lorraine (played by Jocelin Donahue from Ti West’s throwback masterpiece The House of The Devil) where she brings her then young son Josh to the hospital where she works. There, Parker Crane (Tom Fitzpatrick) grabs ahold of Josh, howling at him in a terrible voice, frightening the poor boy. MAN! What a scene. I thought it was perfect. There’s a little jump-scare, yet I still found it truly effective. Because you keep reeling moments afterwards. Excellent, well-executed horror.
Sticking to the horror and subtracting some of the outright comedy between Specs and Tucker, I really think Leigh Whannell wrote a great script. Of course, James Wan pulled off the directing near perfectly. However, I still think that there should have been no comedy, whatsoever. Insidious is truly terrifying stuff, I honestly feel that comedy is out of place in a film that has such a pitch-black atmosphere and tone. Mainly it’s the style of comedy – very dumb stuff, I found. If maybe it worked on a darker level, the comedy would have went well with the horror. It doesn’t, though. That being said, I can’t knock the script that much. It fleshes out the characters Whannell introduced with Insidious, explains some of the previously unexplained events of the first film, and there’s the backstory of the Bride in Black, serial killer Parker Crane, which I found perfectly chilling.
This is a slight head above the first, so I’m giving it a 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s near a perfect horror, for me anyways. I’ve seen it now probably 5-6 times since it first came out. I’d not seen the first in theatre, because I’m not actually a fan of being in the theatre (a cinephile with high anxiety isn’t good at times – I force myself to go for the stuff I really want to see), but I did go see this on the big screen. Good times, I must say. Everything here works, almost to perfection, from atmosphere and tone, to performances, developed characters, and the sound design is much better than the first (not so many purposefully jumpy string additions).
If you’ve not seen it, go watch NOW, and I hope you get the shit frightened out of you.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK remake does its best, but it can't hold a ghostly candle to the original.