Outcast – Season 2, Episode 1: “Bad Penny”

Cinemax’s Outcast
Season 2, Episode 1: “Bad Penny”
Directed by Tricia Brock
Written by Chris Black

* For a recap & review of the Season 1 finale, “This Little Light” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, click here.
Pic 1Can’t go wrong with starting on a Crowded House tune! And what about the demons left lurking in Rome, West Virginia?
Right now, we see a young Kyle Barnes (Asher Miles Fallica) at the diner with his mom. Inside, the woman at the cash stares at her with malicious intent. There’s a spirit possessing her. Is it the one that founds it way inside Kyle’s mom all those years ago?
In present day, Chief Giles (Reg E. Cathey) heads to that very same diner, looking for someone. Noises in the back lead him to a poor, possessed soul who runs when confronted, tearing his arms apart on barbed wire to get away.
Kyle (Patrick Fugit) and his little girl Amber (Madeleine McGraw) are doing all right. Getting by, anyways. The world they live in is still a scary place, that’s not changed. Reverend Anderson (Philip Glenister) is kicking around, too. Filled with guilt. He burned down the trailer where Sidney (Brent Spiner) was hiding out, though the malevolent demon isn’t anywhere to be found. Anderson and Kyle aren’t on the same page anymore, as the rev doesn’t feel useful in the fight against evil nowadays.
Anderson: “You think the devil is local? Sticks to the tricounty area?”
Pic 1AMegan (Wrenn Schmidt) is being kept under close watch. She’s still not right, nor will she ever be, really. Her brother’s doing all he can to help, though between the possession and the tragedy she caused while under a demonic spell it’ll be a while before she can drag herself back from this dark, despair-filled pit. There’s also Patricia (Melinda McGraw), whose boy is gone, missing. The rev tries to assure her it wasn’t her fault, forces outside of her control took hold of the boy.
Out around town Chief Giles is trying to find the trespasser he’d been chasing earlier. The Mayor (Toby Huss) certainly doesn’t see whey he’s so bent out of shape, and nobody’s too willing to buy into much Giles is saying lately after the ordeal with Anderson and everything else that happened. Later, Kyle and Giles meet to talk about Sidney. There are still so many answers left to be uncovered, understood. Neither Kyle nor Giles understand it fully, definitely not the latter. “Makes you wonder how far this thing goes,” the chief says, wondering aloud. And that’s a good point. How far have these demons reached? I’m willing to bet a lot further than only Rome.
Anderson is trying to find a way to get past his own guilt, either by helping Patricia to find her son, or even helping himself along the road. He finds his way to a sort of backwoods-type church, where they say the darkness can be cast out if you’re seeking help. Could it be entirely the opposite? Are dark forces awaiting those who come in need at that makeshift chapel?


Kyle is out demon hunting, where he runs into Ogden (Pete Burris). He says Sidney’s gone, to the “beacon” that’s been calling him. Possibly the same place where Anderson ended up in the woods. Either way, Ogden is in bad shape – “He took my wife, he took my truck. Devil took my life, who gives a fuck?” – and dangerous, as well. After doing the bidding of his possessed wife and Sidney, he’s a ruined man. Rightfully so, for all the harm and horror he’s been a part of so long. Before the man can be of any help he blows a hole through his face.
Up with her aunt Megan, Amber tries to explain she did nothing wrong to her husband; it was the “black thing” her own father knows so well and told her about before. Smart little lady. I worry, though. She’s surrounded by so much darkness, there’s always a fear she might get sucked up in it like she came so close to in Season 1. She goes on exploring the old place where her dad and aunt used to spend time as kids, a place they didn’t associate with good memories. In the attic, she finds cousin Holly by herself. She says she’s hiding from Amber, believing her cousin made her mother sick. That’s so sad, breaks my heart.
Kyle does manage to get names from Ogden before he dies, and he gets in contact with the reverend for help. They go forward to find the remaining name left on the list: Joshua Austin (Gabriel Bateman). The boy is in the dark by himself. He tells the two Sidney and his mother told him what Kyle did was wrong, that he ought to be in trouble with the law. Kyle soon gets answers from him, then he and Anderson are no their way once more.


With a burned down house and a body inside, Chief Giles is butting heads with Officer Nunez (Briana Venskus). I can see her causing him problems sooner than later.
But the real story is that Joshua’s mother returns, and Kyle lays hands on her. The reaction of the demon is clear, though Anderson believes something isn’t right. The demon has taken her over, “too far gone” to help. This sends Kyle into a rage, wanting to end this once and for all before the demons ruin another young child’s life like they did his and his mother.
So he goes to find Sidney, finding only Joshua’s father. The man isn’t well. “You just delayed the inevitable,” he tells Kyle before attacking him viciously. When the demon starts sucking the essence from him, Anderson gets there in time with Giles to pop a few shots in the guy. We discover there’s no releasing the demonic spirit after it’s integrated itself deep enough into the human host; then, dead is dead.
At the hospital, Kyle goes to see his mother. He meets with Dr. Park (Hoon Lee) about what’s going on with her; she’s actually dying now after decades of inactivity in a coma-like state. He has to face her death, alongside everything else. Simultaneously, Anderson demands Giles put him in jail for killing Patricia’s son when he burned down the trailer, trying any way he can to rid himself of the guilt he feels crushing his soul.
Pic 4There are a lot of things happening in Rome, West Virginia! Very interesting opener to Season 2. I’m looking forward to more. This series has been great since the first episode, and I feel like they’re hitting a beautiful, disturbing, fresh stride with every subsequent chapter.

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The Devil Traffics in Needful Things

Needful Things. 1993. Directed by Fraser C. Heston. Screenplay by W.D. Richter; based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.
Starring Max von Sydow, Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia, Amanda Plummer, J.T. Walsh, Ray McKinnon, Duncan Fraser, Valri Bromfield, Shane Meier, William Morgan Sheppard, Don S. Davis, Campbell Lane, Eric Schneider, Frank C. Turner, & Gillian Barber. New Line Cinema/Castle Rock Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 120 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Fantasy

★★★★
POSTER As an avid reader of Stephen King I’m always happy when I can tout one of the film adaptations as worthy of his writing. With any book the movie never seems to match up in quality, though on rare occasions this happens. What an adaptation for the screen can hope for is that it preserves the spirit of the source material. Not all adaptations of King novels work out appropriately, as I’ve mentioned in my other reviews recently. At least with a good couple hours directors and writers are capable of turning a large-sized novel into something worthwhile of the author’s efforts.
Needful Things makes use of every minute out of the two hour runtime. Screenwriter W.D. Richter manages to turn a large cast of characters into interesting people within that time frame, not jamming anything down our throats. Rather the screenplay allows for so much in 120 minutes because it’s structured well, it focuses on the right elements. Doesn’t hurt that the cast is spectacular, right down to the smaller roles. Then you’ve got Ed Harris, Max Von Sydow, Bonnie Bedelia leading the ensemble with strong performances. In particular, Sydow presents us with a version of the cinematic devil that stands out amongst so many other similar depictions of that mythic character. I can’t help loving this King film when so many never hit the mark, nor are they given the proper level of production in order to achieve what potential they have inherently. There’s a little bit of cheese here or there. Maybe you dig it, maybe not. Either way, Needful Things is a devilishly fun and mysterious mix of the supernatural and personal stories of drama, crime, and all sorts of small town issues. The novel is treated well here in this uneven yet awesome fantasy that takes place in that little town of Castle Rock, Maine.
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First and foremost, Max Von Sydow is great. A perpetually fantastic actor whom I always find interesting to watch. He’s well suited to play a man such as this, one whom we know little of but glean that he’s, essentially, the devil. Literally. Even the name works, Leland Gaunt. But Sydow is what gives this screen character such fearful depth. His voice, his way of dressing, how he laughs and sweetly ingratiates himself to the men and women alike in Castle Rock; only part of that is the writing. Sydow’s abilities as an actor come out quite nicely with such a classic character as the literary Satan in disguise. He makes the devil so flawlessly friendly to those around him. Really one of the best devils out of any movie, regardless of how you may feel about the rest of the film.
Part of the performance is also his look in terms of makeup and costume. For most of the film we get that elegant, suit wearing look that suits Sydow so well. In brief moments the makeup renders him into a nearly goblin-like creature, his long nails protruding, yellow and thick, his nasty teeth shining in the light of certain head movements. Plus, much more. This isn’t always outwardly visible, only in those brief shots is it clear and that makes it more unsettling.
Everyone else is mostly great, even if Sydow is the centrepiece. Harris and Bedelia are both excellent, just as their chemistry makes their characters relationship sweet and loveable. Even young Meier does well as Brian Rusk, a tough and complex role for an actor of any age. Most of all I love Amanda Plummer – the character is good enough, but she automatically makes ANY character that much better. She turns up and I’m usually ready to keep glued to the screen. She does not disappoint, and her final showdown, warring with neighbour Wilma (Valri Bromfield) is so satisfying in a morbid way that you’ll have trouble not cheering a little. Don’t worry, I did. So we’re both sick fucks. If the acting weren’t so good then it wouldn’t be this hard to resist.
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Visual callback to The Exorcist, as Polly (Bedelia) walks down a set of stairs and witnesses Alan (Harris) shaking hands with Danforth (J.T. Walsh). I’d never noticed that until this last time watching. Funny how that escaped me. Right now, it stood out so evident. Not in a hokey sense, but a stellar homage to William Friedkin’s supernatural, religious horror masterpiece. The movie isn’t built on homage. Not in the slightest. Everything else is pretty well shot. It doesn’t stop at the cinematography from Tony Westman. The entire flow of the film in its writing to the directing choices and the editing is a huge reason why everything works. Alone the way most scenes are edited together is good filmmaking, but better yet are certain scenes. For instance, when Brian (Shane Meier) is tossing the baseballs, then there are the flashback moments certain residents have as they make their dirty deal with Gaunt, among others.
Also have to mention the inclusion of classical pieces. I’m a huge fan of classical music, so it’s even better that the soundtrack here is used to such advantage. Beautiful, soul-filled pieces play over moments of wild destruction and violence. Always an interesting, effective juxtaposition.
Furthermore, in terms of writing, I find Richter does impressive work. A lot of movies insist that linear storytelling means you can’t move back and forth between moments in time. In a sense, yes. Many others prove that you can tell a linear story and also include plenty of non-linear aspects. What the screenplay here accomplishes is a linear plot that gives us 99% of the current story, then peppers in the whole cast of characters within that whole structure with their own histories. The overall story never gets bogged down because of how well the writing is adapted. Again, this is how Richter manages to fit all these characters into one two hour span without making a mess of things. The writing, the editing, the direction on Fraser C. Heston’s part, all comes together to make Needful Things a horrific bit of fantasy inside a story of intense human drama.
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Another solid King adaptation. Lots of negative reviews out there. Although I’m totally in the other camp, this is a fantastic little movie. Not perfect by any means and a couple of the actors leave some to be desired. I can’t fault anybody in particular for not making the movie better. Needful Things is a good deal of fun. The story is one that could easily go epic in scope, instead King’s original novel takes that type of plot about the devil making deals with ordinary people for their souls and crafts that into a tale of corrupted innocence in a coastal town in Maine, bringing the scale down to a personal, emotional level. Sydow looms large as the Satan figure, Leland Gaunt, and everyone from Harris to Bedelia to Meier and Plummer all play their respective characters well.
I know not everyone will always feel the same. A typical story is done differently and done well with this film version. In a world of terrible movies made from Stephen King stories, let’s appreciate the ones that genuinely work. We get all the character, all the setting and the terror and the familiar macabre qualities of King, including some blood and psychosis along the way. If that can’t please you, nothing will.

Damien – Season 1, Episode 1: “The Beast Rises”

A&E’s Damien
Season 1, Episode 1: “The Beast Rises”
Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Written by Glen Mazzara

* For a review of the following episode, “Second Death” – click here
Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 5.33.32 PM
A new series from former The Walking Dead showrunner Glen Mazzara begins! No doubt it was a long time coming, after all the revival series talk lately and films being turned into tv shows all around us. Mazzara does his best to transfer The Omen in all its horror glory onto the small screen, which is no easy task. Let’s see how he does.
The premiere starts out with Damien Thorn (Bradley James) heading inside an old church, moving towards the large crucifix on the altar. Candles blow out, either by wind or by him. “What do you want from me?” he asks Jesus on the cross – “Whatd I ever do to you?” A nice opener, with Damien tossing rosary beads at Christ.
Flash to three days earlier in Damascus. Damien is a photographer working in Syria currently, alongside his friend Amani Golkar (Omid Abtahi). Taking shots among the crowd, Damien witneses an armed patrol come rush out apparent illegals, who are really suspected of harbouring terrorists. He too is pushed out of the way. Then he runs into Kelly Baptiste (Tiffany Hines) also in the area. They end up having to get clear once things start to go haywire. When Damien tries to help a few people in the street, an old woman he saw earlier grabs him and recounts those oh-so-infamous words: “Damien, I love youits all for you.” We get actual flashes back to the Gregory Peck-starring classic, as the young caretaker hangs herself for little Damien. Now they’re like his flashbacks, running through his head.


This event is the catalyst for Mazzara’s series. It’s as if Damien is determined now after briefly viewing his own past, moments lost to him over the years.
Amani and Damien end up separated from Kelly, unfortunately they further end up in the hands of the authorities. Back in New York, they find themselves “banned from Syria”, which is wild. And Damien is now hooked on discovering those secrets of his past. He calls Kelly, who heard and saw what happened with the old woman. Problem is Kelly has a sore spot with Damien re: their past relationship. I like how the concept is that Damien’s forgotten or repressed his heritage, whatever the case may be, now those bits and pieces are starting to slip through the cracks. And he’s got a life, a whole existence aside from that. This being Antichrist thing sure will cramp those things. Crush them, maybe.
Damien goes to see an old buddy, likely from military academy (if that’s canon here), named Cray Marquand (Cody Ray Thompson) – he works for the International Monetary Fund, head in fact, so the old buddies Damien has kicking around certainly have high connections; or they’re at the top of the food chain.
Even further, up pops Ann Rutledge (eternally talented babe Barbara Hershey). She knows all about Damien. “The past is like a noose around our necks,” Ann says eerily: “Wouldnt you say?” She describes herself as in the “protection business“, whose job description is looking after “special interests” and such. Ominous, dare I say?


When Kelly meets up with Damien, she reveals the old woman in Syria spoke to him in Latin about a “beloved son” and a connection to John the Baptist/a voice from the sky. There’s a further connection to Christ, his supposed 30th birthday. Damien reveals “visions” that are essentially repressed memories, that they’re coming back to him; the party at his house where the nanny committed suicide, again. The words of the nanny echoed through time to set Damien on a course to discover his true self again.
Damien and Amani go about trying to find pictures of the old woman, though, the latter does not know the extent of why his boss/friend is so keen on finding her. Kelly comes to help later. She and Damien go see a professor in relation to Damien, his father, who sought out a “biblical scholar” and the professor tells him of Mr. Thorn’s obsession with finding out about Satan, and so on. Lots of “end of days” type stuff from the aging professor, which Damien doesn’t exactly buy it. “The devil has many names,” says the professor. The number 666 comes up and makes Damien look terribly uneasy. So what about the birthmark? Does he have it, or did it disappear like so many of ours?
Great atmosphere and mood so far. The tone of the show isn’t all the dark yet, but there’s a foreboding aspect, with shadowy cinematography, and a wonderfully creepy score so far. Watching the priest in his home attacked by the dogs is a brutal moment, which builds up perfectly with the score behind it. A little dose of blood, too. Dig it.


A call to Kelly informs her and Damien of what happened to the priest. Now Damien’s worries deepen. He casts her out, fairly emotionless. Their relationship is rocky as is, now he makes it worse. But perhaps it’s because of his lingering emotions, he may not want to bring anything worse on her. Especially if all this Antichrist business is true. Unfortunately, Damien doesn’t realize how damn true just yet.
When Kelly gets her car stuck, strange things begin happening. A river of mud starts to suck her into the earth, car and all. A pit of quicksand forms in the mud and the message is clear, as Damien tries to save her: she isn’t safe anywhere. The pit sucks her under, or something in it does, anyways. Cut to the daytime, as Kelly’s body is dragged from the mud. Her sister Simone (Megalyn E.K.) rushes to the scene where she at first gets mad with Damien, an already negative presence in her mind. Then they begin to bond a little. “She’s in a better place,” Simone says to Damien: “This cant be all we have. I really need to believe that right now. Death isnt the end.” All to the man who may have recently discovered his claim to the title Antichrist. Yikes.
In the meantime, in the world of the Holy Scripture there are forces gathering in preparing for the Antichrist. Word of Damien being in Damascus has spread, as well as the fact the priest who recently died had met with Damien. More callbacks to the original film here; daggers and such.


Cut to Damien stumbling into the church from our opening. He looks haggard, worn out, sickly even. He kneels before the altar and the statue of Christ crucified. And then, as if screaming out too much, the statue crumbles. The head of Christ lays at Damien’s feet. Too much, Mazzara? Plus, more flashbacks directly to the original film; edited in clips. Not digging that aspect, I must say.
Outside the church, Damien encounters the old Syrian woman. She grabs a handful of hair from his head. Will this reveal the birthmark? Yes?
Too much calling back to the original here, as Damien looks at old pictures of his – the old woman from Syria is glaringly obvious in many of them, looking sinister in windows and huts and street corners behind even old family photos of Mr. Thorn and the family.
I love that the birthmark is there and all. But how’d he not notice it for so long? Too many questions. How did he NEVER see that creepy old woman in the photo? Sure, it might just seem out of place before and now it’s relevant, but still – this entire finale reeks of being jammed in, as if they wanted Mazzara to give more connection with the first movie. Not digging that one bit.


I’ll give the series more than just its premiere before judging too heavily. There were bits I really liked, then others that were forced, contrived, and too conveniently placed in there to be organic. Hopefully it gets better with the second episode “Second Death” – show me what you’re made of Mazzara! Build on this one.

The Witch: Religious Madness and Persecution in Early America

The Witch. 2015. Directed & Written by Robert Eggers.
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Bathsheba Garnett, Sarah Stephens, Julian Richings, & Wahab Chaudhry. Parts and Labor/RT Features/Rooks Nest Entertainment/Code Red Productions/Scythia Films/Maiden Voyage Pictures/Mott Street Pictures/Pulse Films/Special Projects.
Rated 14A. 93 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★★
POSTER
People will tell you that The Witch is overhyped, that critics are simply trying to sell Robert Eggers’ feature film debut  as something more than it really is, or rather that anyone calling the movie a modern horror masterpiece is, to put it plainly, full of shit. I’ll put my two cents in to say Eggers has made an impressive, unapologetic horror about witchcraft, religion, repression, and above all paranoia. Eggers’ talent is enormous as a director, not to mention he brings with him the further talents of cinematographer Jarin Blaschke (who will no doubt see a spike in his being booked for future films), as well as a host of others who elevated this picture to its level of art. The quiet and subtle essence of the film is its strongest point. Around the edges of all the amazing cinematography and direction is a score from composer Mark Korven, which at times calls to mind classic horror films and at others brings its own feeling while keeping you on edge, engrossed in the moment and continually wondering what may come next. There are so many things to love about The Witch, from its look and entire atmosphere to the cast whose willingness to go all in on the characters makes each scene worth relishing.
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The year is 1630. In New England, William (Ralph Ineson) and his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) live as devout Christians, so much so that they do not fit in with the colony, and William’s refusal to conform with the church sends them out into the wild on their own with their children Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), Mercy (Ellie Grainger), Jonas (Lucas Dawson), as well as the newborn infant Samuel.
After settling into their new life, one day Thomasin plays with the baby. But out of nowhere, Samuel goes missing. They search for  aweek for the child, to no avail. While Katherine is distraught, blaming Thomasin for the disappearance, the children believe it is a witch hiding out in the forest, stealing and eating babies. William, steadfast in his religious ways, assures Katherine of their favour with God, that he is merely testing them. However, once Thomasin goes into the woods hunting with Caleb, and only she returns, the search is on once more. Only this time, even William begins to suspect his daughter may have been wed to the devil.
As religious paranoia and repression take hold, the family’s land becomes haunted. And the devil slowly but surely creeps his way into their hearts and minds.
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I’ll admit, maybe Eggers isn’t for all horror fans. My expectations, though they were huge and still paid off, were also subverted, completely. There were many times I expected things to happen, or the plot to go a certain way, yet Eggers defied me at nearly every turn. There isn’t anything particularly revolutionary in terms of plot here, but the way in which it plays out is lots of terrifying, horrific fun. The dialogue may be a problem for some, as I’m sure not every horror fan will enjoy the Early Modern English dialogue. But that’s part of why I love the screenplay, we truly feel in the time and part of what makes everything so scary is that the story feels real. So all the different elements to the movie make each aspect seem true to life. Part of what sometimes angers me in period pieces is that the characters don’t speak properly for that period in time (we see much of this similarly in films that have people supposedly Russian or German speaking English only with the respective accents; another piss off we sometimes have to endure for Hollywood to make the stories they want). The Witch brushes that off by having the dialogue all in Early Modern English, which drives home, along with so much of the natural-looking cinematography, the authenticity. Furthermore, I love the way Eggers keeps us guessing. Without revealing too much of any actual plot detail, other than the obvious, what intrigued me most is that we’re never quite sure whether or not what we see is reality, if everything in each scene is truly taking place. At least not until the plot develops more and certain events (see: Caleb and the apples) force us to realize exactly what is happening. Again, not an overly fresh idea as a whole, but certainly Eggers takes it and puts his spin on it, absolutely providing us with a fresh take on an old tale. And the fact there was lots of research put into the writing in terms of looking at actual records (et cetera) from the period that still remain, folktales and other bits of writing as well, only makes the movie more enjoyable for its attempts at getting things right.
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The dark beauty of the film is very much a result of Eggers’ direction, Jarin Blaschke on duty as cinematographer, and Mark Korven creating a tense, moody score to compliment their work. Even shots of the forest itself seem ominous, as it stands tall and shadowy in the midst of day, the stands of trees casting a deep sorrow within the woods. Putting Korven’s score on top, Eggers shows us ominous, foreboding frames of the vast wilderness, which itself almost becomes as terrifying as the witch out there. The natural lighting of the interior scenes, inside the family’s small barn or its main house, casts everything in long shadows, flickering on the walls and on the faces of the characters; again, this technique amplifies the authentic feeling of the entire film. The rich texture of the movie’s look makes things feel perfect, as if you’re right there in the trees watching them go by, right next to William as he chops wood, or in the field with the children playing.
Best of all, though, are the brief and unsettling scenes where we see the witch herself. Barely do we ever get a straight look at her, but still, she is a devilish presence. Very early on we’re treated to a scene where she mashes up what we’re to believe is a baby, smearing its blood all over her body, all over a large thin tree, and every last bit of this is covered in shadow, so that there’s barely much you can see. What you do see is disturbing. It sets the tone for everything to come. Another aspect of the film I dig, that Eggers gets the macabre atmosphere going almost from the start, within very little time. So much so there is rarely a moment without tension, not many moments where you’ll feel able to breathe a sigh of relief. Just another reason this film is a modern work of horror art.
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Aside from the technical aspects, The Witch is dominated by powerful acting. Each of the actors brings their role to life, even the young kids who add their own authenticity to the scenes. Particularly, both Ralph Ineson and Anya Taylor-Joy are magic here, as they are both faithful, religious people in their own rights, but who end up walking down quite different paths. Taylor-Joy does spectacular work with the character of Thomasin, which isn’t easy, and especially once the finale arrives I found myself hooked on her eyes; watching just her face in those last few minutes will chill any warm heart. Ineson is perfection as William, a man trying to keep his faith and family together as one, and a father confronted with the ultimate evil at his doorstep, invading his home; his delivery of lines will keep you glued, even if Early Modern English troubles you, as he can reel you in with just a look, a motion. Two excellent performances heading an already solid cast.
5 stars go to Robert Eggers and . Everyone in the theatre with me today seemed transfixed, whether they liked it or not. Certainly this isn’t a film for everyone, and those looking for a modern horror with all the modern cliches will be disappointed. Likewise, don’t go in expecting the same thing as It Follows or The Babadook, two other notable modern horror movies that did well recently. The Witch is entirely its own brand, despite taking on a timeworn sub-genre in witchcraft. This creeped me out royally at many points and I’m liable to see this again someday soon, as the atmosphere and the entire production itself really hit the spot, I’d love to experience it another time around. Until it hits Blu ray; then I’ll watch it to death, whether I die or the disc dies first remains to be seen.

William Friedkin Gets to the Pulse of Fear with The Exorcist

The Exorcist. 1973.  Dir. William Friedkin.  Written by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel.  Starring Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, and Linda Blair.  Warner Brothers.  18A.  132 minutes.  Horror.

5 out of 5 stars [Movie]
5 out of 5 stars [Blu ray release]

By now, everyone has either seen The Exorcist or knows all about it.  Simply put, it is the story of a young girl who is possessed by some type of demon; her non-believer mother eventually gives in and realizes what she needs is not modern medicine, not psychology, but a Catholic exorcism.  This is the plot of the film.  From there, the wild bits begin.
1380897081_1What I’d like to talk about instead of the plot itself are the effects because on the Blu ray release from Warner Brothers there are tons of amazing special features.  The best, and my most favourite, is one called “Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist“.  This basically features tons of shots from behind-the-scenes, filmed originally without sound [explained to be because they wanted the extra filming to be inconspicuous to Friedkin who might’ve gotten annoyed had they been dragging more crew around the set than was needed], and over top we get interviews with everyone from Friedkin to Blatty to Blair, to people working on the crew.  It is amazing.

One of the moments I absolutely just died for was when they show two things.  First, is a moment where Reagan [Blair] attacks a man.  Friedkin wanted a shot following the man all the way down as he fell to the floor, shot tight looking right at his face, as if from Reagan’s point-of-view.  This is brilliance right here.  Friedkin clearly has an innovative spirit.  We watch as they show the contraption they’d built to do just that one shot – it is the best thing ever.
Second, they show a bunch of shots detailing the house set for the film.  I should have known, from how some of the camerawork goes, the house was a set, open at the top and such, but just to see them doing actual shots going up the stairs with the rig they’d built to get the camera operators up and down in smooth ways.  It is crazy.  Beautiful, really, to see all the effort that went into making this film so god damn great.
Exorcist11Another aspect worthy of note in regards to The Exorcist is the lighting.  At one point on the “Raising Hell” documentary, they talk about the use of wires in the bedroom; for pulling people, as well as objects, around the room in certain shots.  It looks perfect on film, but to hear Owen Roizman [Director of Photography] talk about how he had the wires painted in broken formations of black and white so it would make the wire less visible on camera, it is an absolute treat!  These tiny tricks of the trade are really cool to hear from the mouths of those involved in the production.

Later, we get to watch as Roizman talks about all the wire work, including how they dragged all the furniture around in Reagan’s room during those frenetic scenes.  It’s wild.  I knew it had to be practical the way they’d accomplished such shots, but to actually see it and watch the process is something special.  Roizman especially has a very nostalgic memory of the production, and a lot of his comments, especially concerning a young Linda Blair and her performance/attitude on set [which seems to be remarkable for such a young actress at the time], are great to hear.  These features really help give The Exorcist even more appreciation amongst its fans, and genre fans in general.

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One of my favourite things about DVD and Blu ray is the fact we get commentary on a film while watching it.  Probably one of the best things to come along with the advent of these new technologies.  William Friedkin’s commentary on The Exorcist is fascinating and pretty damn informative.  Even in the first few moments, Friedkin puts to bed any notions people have about the opening scenes not belonging in the film.  He explains why it is there, what it means, and I love it – I understood anyways, but it helps to actually have a director of a film say “this is the reason”, and having it match up with what you thought.  I’m sure most people who love the film get it, it’s just better to hear it right from the horse’s mouth [disclaimer: William Friedkin is a human man, he is not a horse.], and know for sure.  Even further, you get a lot of really interesting tidbits and facts about the production of The Exorcist.  Just delightful to hear Friedkin talk about his experience filming the opening of the film in Iraq, how he was there without the protection of U.S government, and telling us about how he enjoyed the Iraqi people and their hospitality.  Very neat.  Hearing the director talk over beautifully framed and perfect looking images on a high quality picture of the film is sublime.

The film itself is an astounding 5 out of 5 stars.
The story works on its own, but Friedkin really hammers it home.  The acting from both Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn is on point.  Burstyn is one of the greatest actresses ever to grace the screen.  Here, she really excels, as a mother who doesn’t believe in religion or any of that stuff yet soon comes to understand the devil has taken hold of her daughter, seeking out the help of priests; not many could pull of such a horror role, but Burstyn is so wonderfully natural here.  Blair did a fabulous job as a young girl.  It’s incredible to think she was able to do such a role and give the performance she did.  On the Blu ray documentary, she talks about how Friedkin would often shelter her from the reality of what she’d be doing onscreen by joking with her; Friedkin himself talks about it, and it seems they really had a cool relationship, a lot like an uncle and niece sort of thing where he coaxed her into some of the scenes by tickling and teasing and the like.  You can tell Friedkin works well with actors and actresses just by how Blair, at such a young age then, was able to work with him and give it her all in a tough role.  Combined with the effects and the pure intensity of Blatty’s writing, the performances lift The Exorcist above a lot of trashy horror that was coming out in the 1970s and makes it an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking.
1380821626_1The Blu ray release is far beyond the state of perfect.  So many special features are available here, you’ll take days and days to get through it. “Raising Hell” is absolutely the best of them all, but there is more than just that.  You get a real in-depth look behind the making of The Exorcist.  I couldn’t believe how much bang for my buck I got when purchasing this, especially seeing as how HMV recently had it there for less than $10 [the ultimate steal of a lifetime if there ever was one!]. It is really worth it if you enjoy the film.  You get some great inside looks at the make-up effects Dick Smith pulled off; a master of the trade.  Those alone are almost worth the price of the Blu ray, just to see him work at the craft.

Anyone who has yet to see this, go buy a copy now.  If you’re a horror fan especially, don’t sleep on this.  When I first saw The Exorcist I was about 15 years old.  It didn’t really affect me at the time.  However, I still enjoyed it alot.  Years later, I revisited the film, and I couldn’t get over it.  For days, the story lingered on me like cigarette smoke.  I could not shake it off.  Burstyn and Von Sydow really pulled me in and rocked my world.  The performances and the effects, it all got to me.  It’s now one of my most treasured Blu rays, as well as one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen.  Once again, this is a film that has no hype – the hype is very real, in fact.

And if you don’t get a chill running up your spinal fluid into your brain when you hear the repeated line from early in the film, “Father – could ya help an old altar boy?“, then you know what?  Check your pulse.  Because the rest of us are absolutely terrified.

At the Devil’s Door: Open House for Satan

At the Devil’s Door.  2014.  Dir.  Nicholas McCarthy.  Starring Catalina Sandino Moreno, Naya Rivera, Ashley Rickards, and Mark Steger.  XYZ Films.  Not Rated.  91 minutes.

★★★★

Given that the horror genre is flooded with movies, and has been since the days of the first horror films, about haunted houses, there are plenty of awful films out there. At the Devil’s Door is not one of them. Though it touches on much of the familiar ground we’re used to, this film is something more, something better.

timthumb.phpIt all centers around a house, of course, being sold by a real estate agent. Right away we know there’s something not quite right; the people who own just want to be rid of it, no matter what. Throw in some family relationship between the real estate agent and her sister, one of which doesn’t want to have children while the other can’t have any and wishes one of them could. Plus the runaway girl, who we gradually learn has had to deal with the house and all its darkness before. I like how there wasn’t too much downtime.  The lead up didn’t drag things too slow, but just enough. I really enjoyed Nicholas McCarthy’s film The Pact when I first saw it. I’ve watched it several times. McCarthy is really good with tension. His writing is pretty good. Though both At the Devil’s Door and The Pact seem similar to many other films in the horror genre, it’s the way they’re handled, how they’re filmed, the look they have about them that puts them above the rest.
at-the-devils-door-indie-movieThough there are no big name actors in this film as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter.  It never matters, as long as the performances are genuine, and the script is half decent.  Although many will recognize a cast member of Glee here. The actors all play their characters fairly well. The actress who plays Leigh, Cataline Sandino Moreno, I remember her from The Bridge in Season 1, and she does a pretty decent job with the character. Naya Rivera was also good. I’ve personally never seen Glee, I can’t speak to her acting talents other than in this film.  Here, I think she played her character convincingly. The rest of the cast filled the movie out fine, in my opinion. I would highly suggest anybody who enjoyed McCarthy’s previous work in The Pact check this one out.

timthumb.phpI gave this a 4 out of 5 stars because even while treading really familiar ground (i.e haunted house, the devil, et cetera), it brings something new to the horror genre instead of the same old story. Many might disagree and say it’s completely the same, but it’s how things are presented here. There is no apocalyptic feel to the devil here- he is an evil, malevolent entity preying on those who enter the house. The devil in this film isn’t looking to overthrow the world, he simply wants some souls to own, to play with, to with as he chooses. It’s a more personal touch to the typical satanic-type horror film, in my mind, as we watch the devil prey on two sisters who inadvertently come into contact with the house’s evil.
My only complaint is that the script isn’t perfect.  They could really have worked out some of the kinks.
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However, that being said, I still really enjoyed the story, and the plot didn’t drag out or anything. There are some really creepy scenes in this one, from glimpses of the devil in the darkness, lurking behind people, to tense moments where we don’t know exactly what is happening or is going to happen. Check this one out instead of Devil’s Due and those sorts- this film is much better in respect to horror with stories about the devil, possession, and all that sort of thing.  I know I’m in the minority here, but I really do think this film is worth a shot.  Solid little horror.